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George Newell

Born: Great Wigston Leicestershire, 1849 died: May 4th 1901 (Trade Unionist & Co-operator)

George Newell was a framework knitter and in the early 1870s, along with Daniel Merrick, he was a leader of the Sock and Top Union. This union amalgamated with two other branches and unions to form the Leicester and Leicestershire Framework Knitters’ Union and George Newell became its secretary. Newell played a very active role in the formation of the Seamers’ and Stitchers’ Union which was formed in 1875. This was a women’s union of which Newell acted as secretary in a voluntary capacity. This new union obtained a 25% increase in rates for the out workers or the ‘poor seamers’ as they were described.

In 1875, the union bought out the hosiery producers co-operative  that had been started in 1867 and Newell took charge from premises owned by the L.C.S. The union members were not unanimous about running a workshop and when the venture did not prosper, Newell was removed from the union committee and the enterprise was closed down.

The following year, a second hosiery manufacturing co-operative was started and Newell was appointed its general manager. The Leicester Co-operative Hosiery Manufacturing Society started out using the front room of a cottage moving to two rooms, owned by LCS, in the High Street. In 1882, it acquired a factory premises in Sanvey Gate, expanded and eventually moved to the Cranbourne Street Mills in 1890. At that time there were 139 employees using powered machinery instead of the old hand frames.

Newell served as manager for at least 20 years and contemporary reports speak of the very congenial working conditions in the factory. Newell developed a close affinity with the national co-op pioneer Edward Greening and the Christian socialist E.V. Neale. He eventually became a spokesman for the Producers’ Co-operative Federation. In 1898, he wrote a history of the society with T. Blandford. He was influenced by the Christian Socialists and was a deacon at the Oxford Street Chapel and it was his religious belief that made him want to see Christian principles applied to the industrial life of the country. He was a Town Councillor from 1899-1901 and was a friend of Amos Mann and John Riley.

In 1903, the C.W.S. attempted to buy out the Hosiery Society. Initially this proposal met with strong opposition, but eventually the resistance crumbled and the factory passed to the C.W.S. in July 1903. In 1908, the C.W.S. transferred the Leicester hosiery production to a new factory in Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire. The following year, the Cranbourne Street factory commenced production as a C.W.S. box making and print works. The factory prospered and was extended in 1913.

Sources: Midlands Free Press 16th January & 22nd May 1875, The Wyvern 28th October 1898, Blandford, T. & Newell, G., Leicester Co-operative Hosiery Manufacturing Society (1898), Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism

Tom Norton

Born Kettering, Northamptonshire circa 1822  (Co-operator)

By virtue of his education, Thomas Norton became the leader of five web weavers from the factory of Wheeler & Co, Abbey Mills, who founded the Leicester Co-operative Society in 1860. He became Secretary of the Society and the manager of its first shop at 15 Belgrave Gate. In the days before the C.W.S., he had to tour the country to buy produce. He had responsibility for the society’s cash box and kept it in his house. Unemployment and poverty in the town had bred widespread crime and burglary and he could not let the cash box out of his sight. On Sunday afternoon walks, the cash box came too, disguised as a parcel. He remained secretary until his resignation in 1876 and lived to see the jubilee of society in 1910.

Sources: Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester



Abraham Odell

(Labour Party)

President of the Trades Council 1929, delegate from the National Union Of Railwaymen City Councillor for Castle ward elected in 1925. Governor of Leicester Royal Infirmary

Walter Oram

Born: 1883 (Labour Party)

Walter Oram was born in Leicester – his father was a butcher. He went to King Richard’s Board School, then to Wyggeston with the aid of an exhibition. On leaving school, he worked as a clerk and then, in 1908, went into a firm of boxmakers where he became a partner in the firm. In 1917, he introduced a 44 hour week in the factory, formed a workshop committee and induced workers to nominate their own overlookers. In 1919, he acquired the Blaby Box Co, which traded as Keats and Oram Ltd at Woodhill and Blaby. He first stood as Labour candidate in Knighton in April 1919 and became president of the Labour Party that year. He was elected, unopposed, for Latimer in 1921.

“Endowed with outstanding abilities as a forceful speaker with tact, humour and shrewd judgement, Councillor Oram soon made his mark on the Education Committee.”

During the 1920s he served as Secretary and Whip of the Council Labour group. He retired from the Council in 1927, but returned later. He served as leader of the Labour group and chair of the education committee in the early 1950s and was made an alderman in 1952. He retired from aldermanic benches in 1958.

Sources: Howes, C. (ed), Leicester: Its Civic, Industrial, Institutional and Social Life, Leicester 1927


William James Owen

Born: Blaina, South Wales (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Will Owen was one of a family of 10. Despite winning a scholarship to a grammar school, he went down the local pit with his father at the age of 14. He subsequently became an official of the South Wales Miners Federation and in 1921 won a scholarship to the London Labour College where he qualified as a social science teacher. He was a councillor in Blaina from 1927-30 and in 1930 came to Leicester as agent for E.F. Wise M.P, He was then appointed, under pressure from Wise, as the organising secretary of the I.L.P. However, when the I.L.P. branch split and the majority of local members resigned from the I.L.P. in order to stay in the Labour Party, he was put out of a job. In 1933, he was appointed secretary to the Midland Co-operative Convalescent Fund and from 1934-37 was the City Councillor for Aylestone. In 1937, he moved to Stoke where he became secretary of the Burslem Co-operative Society.

In 1954, he was elected to parliament for Morpeth. In 1970, he resigned his seat in parliament on health grounds and was then charged with eight offences under the Official Secrets Act. Although he admitted to receiving 2,300 from an official at the Czech embassy, he denied passing any secrets. He was acquitted in May 1970.

Sources: Leicester Mercury, 6th May 1970, interview with Len Hollis

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Ned Newitt Last revised: June 20, 2018.



















Radical History

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