Born: Edinburgh? died Leicester c1960?
(Socialist Labour Party & Communist Party of Great Britain)
Dave Ramsay was a pattern maker by trade and a member of the Amalgamated
Society of Engineers. During World War One, he lived in Baker Street
and was a
member of the Socialist Labour Party. The S.L.P. had most of its membership in
Scotland and it is possible the Dave Ramsay was born in Edinburgh and had come
to Leicester to work. Of the parties to the left of the I.L.P., , the S.L.P. was much more antagonistic to the Labour
Party, than the British Socialist Party which sort to become an affiliated
Dave Ramsay was an anti-war activist and was
fined £100 on 11th May 1916 for attempting to prejudice recruiting to the
army. By the end of the war, Ramsay was part of the inner circle of activists
involved in building `workers’ committees’ across Britain, based on the
the model of the Clyde Workers Committee, though there is no evidence of such a
movement in Leicester.
In November 1918, he is described in British police files as
'advocating revolution with machine guns' at a meeting with
Sylvia Pankhurst on the platform. In 1919, he was the national treasurer of
the “Hands Off Russia” movement movement designed to stop the British
military intervention. He was also the National Treasurer and Organiser of the
National Council of Shop Stewards and Workers Committees. It is probably
that by this time he was using
Leicester as a base for his national political activities.
A speech he gave to a large Daily Herald League rally in a Croydon cinema
led to his
arrest in Leicester on the night of February 16th 1919
Defence of the Realm Act. Five policemen called at his house and
he was taken to Bow street Police station in London.
He was charged with acts likely to
cause mutiny and disaffection in the forces and civil population.
He was alleged to have told the meeting that "I am proud to call myself a Bolshevist." According to the
prosecution, he stated that he was engaged in spreading the
principles of Bolshevism, and wanted the workers of this country to
emulate the example of 'our Russian and German comrades' in bringing about
revolution in this country. They claimed that because the 'master class' would
use every means to uphold capitalism, he was prepared to use every means
from the bomb to the ballot-box. He was
sentenced to six months' imprisonment in March 1919. When sentence was
pronounced the press reported that his supporters sang The Red Flag and as he was removed
from the court, there was a noisy demonstration.
Dave Ramsay became a prominent figure in the early years of the British
Communist Party. In 1920, the British Home Secretary consulted ministerial
colleagues as to whether to allow Ramsay a passport. Secret police reports showed that he had been
present at meetings in Grosvenor Square, held to protest against UK
support for the Polish offensive against Soviet Russia. Ramsay was
recorded as saying that if workers were called up for the army they should
not refuse, but should take rifles but would “know what to do with them".
He was a delegate the 2nd Congress of the Communist
International, which was held from July 19th to August 7th 1920 in Soviet
Russia. After 1926, he became the Scottish Organiser of the
Communist Party and was Harry Pollitt’s election agent in the Seaham constituency during the
1929 general election.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Ramsay was kept under constant
Although he is believed to have died in Leicester, it seems that much of his political
activities took place outside the City.
Sources: Matthew Richardson,
Leicester in the Great War, Lancashire Evening Post,
Yorkshire Evening Post, 8th March 1919, The National Archives
c1841? Exhall, Warwickshire? (First International)
E.W. Randle was an elastic web weaver
and was Secretary of the Leicester branch of the First International. The
local branch attempted to get the local Republican Association to affiliate to
the International in 1873.
Sources: Midlands Free Press 22nd
February 1873, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism
Socialist Party, Social Democratic Party, Labour Party)
Frank Rands opposed the I.L.P.'s pre
1914 electoral pact with the Liberals. When the I.L.P. stood no candidate
in the 1913 parliamentary bye election, he was active in support of
British Socialist Party candidate intending to ‘smash
MacDonaldism and stand for Socialism.’ That year, Rands stood as
a Socialist candidate for West Humberstone
in the Council elections when
the I.L.P. again stood no candidate in deference to the electoral pact. He
advocated a municipal house building programme, taking back the land on
the outskirts of town to establish colonies for the unemployed and gas to
be supplied at cost price.
In the early 1920s, he was a member of the Social
Democratic Party which was a remnant of Henry Hyndman's pro war faction of
the B.S.P. which was eventually absorbed into the Labour Party. In the 1930s, he was active in the Labour
Party and was its president in 1935 as well as being president of Spinney
Hills Labour Party. He worked as an engineer at the the Poor Law
Institution of Swain Street. (the former workhouse) In 1951
he told the Trades Council:
"The buses ought to be run on the rates, the same as
water is. You would be able just to get on a bus and ride. It might seem
foolish at first, but there are other ways of paying for them besides
fares. There would be no tickets to be printed, no people to give them out
and no inspectors. It would do away with quite a lot of surplus labour."
Sources: Justice 7th August 1924, Leicester Daily Mercury 20th
June 1913, Leicester Chronicle, 18th October 1913, Leicester Pioneer, October 31st 1913,
Leicester Evening Mail 15ht February, 4th Match 1935, 8th April 1951
1923, died: June 1986
Harbans Ratoo was a Sikh businessman
who had come to Leicester in the late 1950s. He was prominent on the
Community Relations Council and President of the India League. In 1972,
the British Asian Welfare Society was set up to assist the arrival of
refugees from Uganda and Harbans Ratoo became its president. Its office
was behind a cinema in Belgrave Gate which he owned. However, it was not
long before Mr Ratoo was being seen as having accepted the City Council’s
policy of advising the refugees not to come to Leicester. He was strongly
criticised by the local branch of the Indian Workers Association (GB) for
‘scare mongering’ and ‘opportunism.’ He was later adopted as a Labour
candidate in the local elections.
Sources: Leicester Mercury 10th
June 1986, Valerie Marett, Immigrants Settling in the City, 1987
She became the first woman on the
Executive of the Leicester Labour Party in 1913.
Leicester (I.L.P. and Labour Party)
A.H. Reynolds was orphaned at an
early age and he was left in the charge of Henry Thomas Chambers, JP,
alderman and later mayor. Unlike many others in the I.L.P., he received
the best possible education, going to a private school on New Walk and to
the Mill Hill House School on London Road. After working in the printing
trade, he worked as a clerk for the Corporation’s Water Works Dept. for 17
years. He left to become manager of the New Pioneer Publishing Society,
who published the Leicester Pioneer.
He was very active in the temperance
movement, but he began to realise that temperance alone was not the answer
to social problems. He attended the Wycliffe Adult school and was
influenced by the election campaigns run by Joseph Burgess. He was elected
to the executive of the I.L.P. and general committee of the Labour Party.
He was apparently a speaker who was much in demand. He was a director of
the Temperance Hall Company and chairman of the executive of the Leicester
He was elected as town councillor for
Newton ward 1909 and 1912 and was Ramsay MacDonald’s agent in the 1910
election. Following the refusal of the Labour Party nationally to support the
candidature of Geo Banton in the 1913 parliamentary by-election, he
offered his services to the British Socialist Party’s candidate Hartley.
Although close to Ramsay MacDonald , Reynolds did not
support MacDonald's stance on the war. By this time, it seems that
Reynolds was not liked or trusted by the leading members of the local
I.L.P. However, it was not until 1916, that MacDonald dismissed
him as his agent. Reynolds appears to have remained at the Pioneer, which
may explain why the "Free Man" was launched by the local I.L.P. in 1917
Sources: Yorkshire Herald, 24th
June 1913, Ramsay MacDonald: The Leicester Years, John Hinks 1996.
August 1906, died December 1995 (Communist Party)
Rice was the son of a militant suffragette. In 1936, he was arrested by the
Gestapo whilst working in Germany and was released following the
intervention of Anthony Eden. He worked in France and America as a waiter
and joined the Communist Party in 1939. He worked for the gas board as a
meter reader and was the steward at the Trades Council for many years. He
was a Communist Party candidate in local elections in Castle ward in 1960
and other subsequent elections through to the 1970s. He was a familiar
figure in Gallowtree Gate on Saturday mornings where he sold the Morning
Star. He was a member of the British Soviet Friendship Society and was on
‘pro soviet’ wing of the Communist Party.
Sources: Leicester Mercury, May 1960,
author’s personal knowledge
March 1863 died: 4th October 1942 (S.D.F., I.L.P.& Labour Party)
Richards was born in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, the son of a commercial
traveller who was a Conservative. Freddy Richards was educated first at a
Church school and then at a Board school, and began work as a half-timer
at the age of eleven. A year later his father died and the family -
mother, four boys and a girl - found themselves poor. Freddy then went to
work full-time, and had a variety of ill-paid jobs until he saved enough
money to pay an apprentice's premium to become a boot-laster in
Staffordshire. He then moved to Leicester and joined the National Union of
Operative Boot and Shoe Riveters and Finishers (later the National Union
of Boot and Shoe Operatives) in 1885. He soon made his reputation as a
vigorous and lively critic of the union establishment. He led a series of
successful unofficial strikes in 1889 and challenged the Liberal
leadership of the NUBSO.
He was a keen student of
Barclay’s socialist classes, sharing his teacher’s love of Ruskin. Freddy
Richards was a committed socialist by 1889. At that time he was a member
of the S.D.F. He became a delegate to the Trades Council in 1892 and in
July 1894 helped found the I.L.P. in Leicester.
During the early 1890s, he strongly
supported the ideals of co-operative production and advocated the use of
union funds to set co-ops up. This was opposed by the union’s national
leadership. However, in 1893, the St. Crispins factory was started with
£1,000 of interest free capital given by local NUBSO branches. Although,
Richards with Matin Curley and
Edward Clarkmead lobied for more union funds for the
venture, the co-operative failed in 1895. Whilst Richards, stopped
lecturing branches on the Industrial Co-operative Scheme, he remained
involved with its successor, the Self Help Co-operative for many years. In
the 1920s, this was one of 16 boot and shoe factories owned and controlled
by the workers employed.
Richards was strongly opposed to the
principles of arbitration in his trade, and agitated within the union for
a political commitment to an advanced programme including large-scale
In December 1894, Richards became the
first Independent Labour councillor to be elected to the Town Council in
1894 for Wyggeston ward. Based on the I.L.P. programme approved on October
22 1894, during the election he advocated:
That councillors to be paid an
allowance, that aldermen should be abolished and that magistrates should
That the Borough accounts should be
published and reporters should have the right to attend council
The municipalisation of tramways and
The building of healthy council houses
and the abolition of gas meter rents
The ending of contract labour by the
council and the introduction of direct labour employed at TU rates
The establishing of municipal farms
and gardens to absorb the unemployed
An 8 hour day for all council workers,
a minimum wages for workers and a maximum wage for officials. All
council workers to be placed on an equal footing with regard to holidays
The opening of municipal bakeries and
council runs depots where coal and other items can be sold to the public
at a low cost
Opposition to compulsory vaccination
That Labour newspapers be placed in
the Town's free libraries
He was elected junior vice-president
of the important Leicester No. 1 branch in 1892, vice-president in 1894,
and president in 1897. In 1893 he had become a permanent official of his
local branch and by 1899 was on the national executive council. Richards
played an important part in persuading the union to affiliate to the
Labour Representation Committee.
Mr Richards’ pale face and sharp
almost ascetic cast of features, combined with his somewhat slender build,
fail to convey to the stranger the virility and nervous energy which he
possesses. Yet Mr Richards is full of activity and as the Town Council is
fully aware, is a born fighter. For biting sarcasm and stinging satire he
is, when occasion calls, a terror to his opponents.
In June 1900, J. Ramsey MacDonald was
invited to address the annual conference of the Boot and Shoe Operatives
in Leeds and it was Richards who proposed the motion that the membership
should be balloted on the question of affiliation - the result of which
was affirmative, although the total vote was small. When Richards, the
leading ILP member in the union, stood for the general secretaryship of
the union in 1899 he polled 3139 votes against 4501 for the Lib-Lab
candidate, W.B. Hornidge. Richards was appointed a full-time national
organiser in 1904 but he resigned during the following year, giving as his
main reason the serious difficulties involving his own Leicester branch.
But a new career was about to begin, when he was adopted by the
Wolverhampton Trades Council as the L.R.C. candidate for Wolverhampton
West in 1903. At the election, on 15 January 1906, Richards just won the
seat with 5,756 votes against 5,585.
Richards' four years in the House of
Commons followed a common enough pattern. He was elected a Junior Whip for
the Labour group. He was a good debater and controversialist and he
immersed himself in the minutiae of parliamentary business, the full
detail of which he recounted in his union's Monthly Reports. His general
attitudes, however, were becoming less radical and more moderate, and
within a year of his election he was being vigorously criticised by the
active Socialists within his own union.
During the 1900s, Freddy had mellowed
in more senses than one; in physical appearance as well as in thought and
attitude. He was counted among the first dandies of the trade union
movement. Bow-tie, carnation in his button-hole, white waistcoat and white
spats were the keynote (together with what was known in the Labour
movement, with affectionate derision, as an ‘anarchist’ or straw hat). A
few sneered at the ‘Beau Brummell’ of the trade unions; some derived an
obscure vicarious satisfaction at seeing a Labour leader dressed more
smartly than some of the employers with whom he was dealing.
He lost his Wolverhampton seat at the
January election of 1910 and unsuccessfully contested the East Northants
constituency in the second general election of that year. On this occasion
he fought without any financial help from the union. The reason given was
the Osborne judgement, but Richards was convinced there was prejudice
against him by some members of the union's council, and the incident
rankled for many years. He twice attempted to get back on the Town Council
in 1914, but failed. In 1910, he was elected president of the union and he
retained the office until 1929.
The need to increase production
during World War One strengthened the union’s position, giving it a power
and prestige which it had never previously enjoyed. Unlike his colleagues
in the I.L.P., Richards supported the war: “I advised both my boys to
join up and should have done so myself if I had thought that by doing so I
could have done more good. I have sung the ‘Red Flag’ and was prepared to
fight for it and kill militarism in this or any other land.” In August
1918, this pro-war stance was the reported reason for his rejection as the
Labour parliamentary candidate for Northampton. It is not known why, in
1917, he declined the award of a C.B.E. for his services to the war
effort. Perhaps it was a gesture towards his anti-war colleagues.
He remained a hardworking and
efficient union administrator, and found no serious difficulty in
containing the vigorous challenge to the established leadership of the
union which came from the Minority Movement in the 1920s. He became
president of the Trades Council in 1928 and retired from union work in
1929. On his retirement from union office, he was returned as Labour
councillor for the Newton ward of Leicester City Council and he served for
the next ten years.
He was twice married: firstly to Emma
Mee (c1862-1915) in 1882, by whom he had two sons and a daughter, and
then, in 1916, to Mary J. Bell, secretary of the Leicester Women's branch
of the Boot and Shoe Operatives. He died at his home in Birstall,
Leicester, in October 1942. He was survived by his wife, a son and
daughter by his first wife and an adopted son.
Sources: Leicester Trades Council,
Trade Union Congress Leicester 1903, Official Souvenir, 1903, Fox, Alan, A
History of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Workers, F. P. Armitage,
Leicester, 1933. 1958, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and
(I.L.P.& Labour Party)
The first impression one gets of him
is of a mild looking man in spectacles, very correct in dress and
manner…he doesn’t quite look like a Socialist.
Frederick Riley was born in Stoney
Stanton. Both his parents were of Irish extraction and his father was a
framework knitter. He came to Leicester at the age of 15 and worked as a
postman and then as a clerk. He became an officer of his union in 1902. He
was elected to the Town Council in 1906 and was for five years, chair of
the Arts, Libraries and Museums Committee. According to the
Leicester Pioneer, he had a notable interest in and knowledge of artistic matters and
a private collection of pictures. He was the Labour Party parliamentary
candidate for South Leicester in the khaki election of 1918. However, as a
clerk in the post office he was barred from standing for parliament and
consequently had to resign his job in order to become a candidate.
c1852 died: April 1937 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)
John Riley was born in Stoney Stanton
and had very little education as his family could not spare him to go to
grammar school. His father was a stockinger and he worked with him as a
winder as well as working on the land. He came to Leicester and worked as
a framework knitter and in Cooper and Corah’s hosiery factory. When he
went to work at a factory in Canning Place, there were some very old men
there who had belonged to the Chartist movement and had walked the streets
with Thomas Cooper. Riley had a love of books and although some of these
old Chartists could neither read nor write, one of them, Robert Bingley,
advised him to read Cobbett. He was also advised in his choice of books by
John Newell who also insisted on him going to evening classes at the
Working Men’s College. He was later able to read Virgil, Caesar and the
New Testament in Latin. He was active in the hosiery union and in his
early days used to meet with kindred spirits in the Red Cow where Tom
Barclay was a visitor.
Riley was attracted by the radicalism
of P.A. Taylor MP and was an active supporter of temperance, a member of
the Band of Hope Movement and the adult school movement. He joined the
I.L.P. in 1894 and won Aylestone as Labour candidate in 1905 after
campaigning strongly on the right to work. Unfortunately his health forced
him to retire from the council soon after. When he had recovered from his
illness, he was elected to the Executive of the Hosiery Union and was
president for three or four years. He became president of the Trades
Council in 1918. He presided over the May Day meeting of 1918 which was
disrupted by jingoistic supporters of the war and never forgot the
spectacle of the faces of men and women “so distorted almost out of
recognition by hatred and passion as on that day.” He was elected to
the board of L.C.S. c1916 and served for at least 10 years.
Sources: Leicester Pioneer, 22nd
Before coming to Leicester Helena
Roberts had be a councillor and mayor of an East London borough. She
retained Newton ward for Labour for several years before standing down in
Robinson was the uncompromising
leader of the Trotskyite Revolutionary Socialist League in Leicester in
the late 30s and early 40s. His historic legacy seems to be a wrangle with
fellow Trotskyites over whether the working class should demand deeper air
raid shelters. (This had been CP policy since 1936) In his view: “If
one favoured a deeper shelter, why not a better gas mask, a more rapid
firing machine gun, a faster tank? If revolutionaries began to make
concessions of this kind they might be led inexorably to improving the
military efficiency of capitalism: they had to desire their own
Robinson flatly opposed any demands
on the state for protection; he made this demand in midst of the blitz
from the comparative safety of Leicester. A document was issued,
‘Bolshevism or Defencism,’ which indicted the Trotskyite Centre for
capitulation and was the start of a long and tedious polemic.
Sources: Martin Upham: The History
of British Trotskyism to 1949
A specimen of Broad-leaved Pondweed (Potamogeton
natans herbarium) collected by George Robson from Thurcaston in 1880.
Leicester or Leicestershire circa 1837, died: 4th July 1889 aged 46 (Socialist League)
George Robson was a framework knitter
by trade and lived in Cranbourne Street. He was a socialist, secularist and friend of Tom Barclay and
the Unitarian social missionary. In 1876 Robson said that he was:
"one of many whom Mr. Dare
had literally 'picked out of the gutter,' and through his help he had washed off some of the dirt, and if he had the good fortune to become
quite clean he should owe it all to Mr. Dare."
Robson worked at Corah’s with
Tom Barclay and they were
both supporters of Charles Bradlaugh.
In the 1880s, Robson was an activist in the Leicester Amalgamated Hosiery
From the 1870’s, Robson was an
enthusiastic naturalist who made a complete collection of specimens of
Leicestershire moths, butterflies, beetles and plants which found their
way into the Museum’s collection. He won the botanical prize two
years running at the museum. In the Midland Naturalist of 1879,
Robson was described as ‘a Leicester stocking-maker...who has found
means for self-cultivation while bringing up a large family on the
earnings of his frame. There are probably not a dozen men in Leicester of
all classes who know as much about the Natural History of their district
as he does...’
In the same magazine, Robson
published records of 40 water beetles. He wrote that ‘Hunting the
beetles, under the invigorating influences of fresh air and sunshine was
all pleasure.’ Robson donated 92 water beetles to the Leicester Museum
in 1877 and a collection of Rove Beetles (Staphylinidae) in 1879. From
1875-1885 he gave 1,200 species of plants to the museum. One collection,
consisting of 400 species, was wholly Leicestershire. The other
collection, containing 800, was partly Leicestershire. His dried plant
specimens are in the Manchester Museum and Birmingham University
The collections were very probably a bye product of the
Sunday walks of local radicals which he also commemorated in poetry. In
1876, his book: The Twentieth Walk-out of All Saints' Open Discussion
Class, and other Poems was published in Leicester. It was given a very
favourable review in the Leicester Chronicle:
We had been told that its author was a poor
working-man: that he was born in the most forlorn and wretched quarter of
our old town; that he never had a single day's education in his life, and
yet we found that his verses evince a capacity for philosophising, a
refinement of taste and a power of expression, which prove him to be
possessed of culture and education in the very best sense of the words.
The longer poem, which gives the name to the little book, is chiefly
descriptive; and all through it the author shows an intense love of nature
and an intimate acquaintance with natural objects. Many lines, descriptive
of the varied way-side flowers are beautifully correct.
The publication was probably funded by a loan from the
Sir Thomas White’s charity, sadly a copy of the book has yet to be found.
In the 1880s, Robson and Barclay became socialists and supporters of
William Morris. They founded the Leicester Branch of the Socialist League
on Nov 1st
1885 and Robson was a frequent speaker on platforms at Russell Square and
Humberstone Gate, where he specialized in giving lectures on the 'iron law
of wages.' Robson also contributed to Tom Barclay’s Country and Midland
Eventually Robson gave up his job and sold his
collection of fossils so he could study to be a certified teacher. Barclay described him as a working man scientist and
that he was a better writer than lecturer, since he did not always speak
Sources: Leicester Chronicle 22nd
July, 5th August 1876, 7th February 1885, 13th July 1889, Midland Naturalist 1 & 2, 1879 quoted in UK
Beetle Recording, herbaria@home, The Wyvern, 16th
July 1897, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism
Deborah Ross (nee
Goddard) born: Wymeswold 9th June 1828,
died 10th January 1881 (Radical, Republican and
George Ross, born, Leicester 14th
April 1830, died in
11 Jan 1907 in
Kempston, Bedfordshire (Radical,
Republican and Secularist)
Many of the active woman suffragists in Leicester in the
late C19th came from middle class backgrounds. Comfortable incomes and
servants gave them time to indulge in philanthropy and charitable works.
Deborah Ross' background was more humble and in consequence it makes what
little we know of her more noteworthy.
Born Deborah Goddard, she was the daughter of a
framework knitter who came to live on Wharf Street. In 1841, he had been a
schoolmaster living at Frisby-on-the-Wreake, but, for reasons unknown, had moved into Leicester.
Deborah must have been an independent spirit because at the age of 22, in
1851, she was living with a female lodger in George Street and working as a
book keeper. In June that year, she married George Ross, a butcher and
cattle dealer and they had a shop at 94 Wharf Street, where they lived. By 1871, they
had six children living with them.
In 1864, George Ross was charged by Harriet Davis, a 22
woman, of Somerby, with non-payment of a bastardy order and was ordered to
pay costs. One can only speculate as to whether her husband's
infidelity had any effect on Deborah's outlook. Subsequent run ins with the
authorities over defective scales and lack of licences for game suggest
George might have been something of a risk taker.
However, at some time in their lives
both Deborah and George became ardent Radicals and Secularists. In
1867, George became a committee member of the re-established
Secular Society. At different times, in the period
1867-71, both Deborah and George were Secretary of the Society. In 1873,
George bought five £5 shares in the newly formed Secular Hall Company. George was
also elected as a Freemen's Deputy in the 1860s serving well into the 1880s.
In the early 1870's George also became involved in the Republican movement
which was campaigning against the proposed marriage grant to be given to
the Duke of Edinbugh when the Queen already had an annual income of
£385,000 from the public purse.
In 1872, Deborah collected
the subscriptions from all parts of the town for the statue of John Biggs proposed for Welford place
and in 1874, she is
listed as one of the supporters of women's suffrage. From
1872, George was active in the short-lived local Republican Club. When the
Leicester Liberal Association was formed in 1876, he became a committee
member. This replaced the old United Liberal Registration Society.
Deborah was a supporter
of Charles Bradlaugh and was the only woman reported to be among those on the platform with him at a
meeting at the Temperance Hall in 1877. This was not a meeting on
Secularism, but on the 'Relation of Population to Poverty.' It was
shortly after Bradlaugh and Annie Besant had been acquitted, on a
technicality, of breaching the Obscene Publications Act. There crime was
to have published a
book on birth control and the case attracted widespread publicity.
The press felt unable to print parts of Bradlaugh's speech in Leicester because 'Mr.
Bradlaugh spoke in terms in rather too pointed a nature to be reported.'
However, it did report him as asking why the death rate amongst the
children of the poor, was three times that of the upper classes. He also
advocated that the woman of the lower classes should have healthy
surroundings and not be compelled to work when she ought not too. He
wanted proper homes, that were not overcrowded and which had sufficient food for
mothers to enable them to have healthy children. He presumable also
advocated birth control. Clearly for Deborah,
living of Wharf Street with six children, Bradlaugh and Besant had got to the heart
of the matter.
Not all secularists had agreed with the stance taken by
Bradlaugh and Besant and the leaders of Leicester Secular Society
were among those who distanced themselves from Bradlaugh and subscribed
instead to Holyoake's
British Secular Union. However, George and Deborah Ross stayed with
Bradlaugh and in 1878, George became secretary of the local branch of Bradlaugh's National Secular Society.
Deborah died aged 52, just a couple of
months before the Secular Hall was opened. The cause of her death
was diarrhoea, which was then Leicester's killer disease. Overflowing
privies and pail closets in Leicester's slums were the root cause of this
perennial epidemic. Her funeral
was secular and conducted at Welford Road Cemetery by
Holyoak. Mrs Harriett Law, Secularist lecturer and owner and editor of the
Secularist Chronicle., who knew Deborah well, gave an address at her
Although George Ross
became bankrupt in 1887, he managed to continue in business. When
he died, he was buried alongside Deborah.
Sources: Leicester Journal,
26th April 1872, Midlands Free Press, 17th May 1873,
9th September 1876,
29th September 1877,
15th January 1881, Leicester Daily Post 2nd August 1873, Records of the Leicester Secular Society,
F. J. Gould, The History Of The Leicester Secular
Society, 1900, David Nash, Secularism, Art and Freedom,
(Framework-Knitters Association, Hampden Clubs)
was a prominent leader of the framework knitters from
around 1812 onwards. He chaired meetings of framework-knitters
representing both town and country districts. In 1812, the framework
knitters of the town and county of Leicester, "as dutiful and loyal
subjects of our venerable monarch," deprecated all violence -
presumably the Luddites nad voiced concern that they were implicated..
In 1816, Thomas Rowlett, who had passed half a century
in the hosiery trade, emerged as one of the radical leaders of the local
Hampden Clubs. The club cost a 1d a week to subscribe to an its basic
principles were that representation alone constituted political liberty,
that the vote should be given to all those who paid taxes and that
parliaments should be elected annually.
During the strike of 1817, a charge was brought against
him for breach of the Combination Laws. In May 1924, he gave evidence to
Parliamentary Committee on Artisans and Machinery which paved the way for
the repeal of the Combination Laws.
In 1818, a resolution from the framework knitters
That we are unnecessarily deprived of the anticipated
blessings of peace which we fondly hoped to enjoy: that comfort and
contentment have been banished from our dwellings by misery, wretchedness
and want; that however industrious and frugal, we must still be clothed in
rags and endure the piercings of hunger; that instead of seeing our
offspring vigorous and healthful, they are rendered a weak and puny
Leicester Journal 6th March 1812, Leicester Chronicle 28th February 1818,
8th May 1824, A. Temple Patterson,
Born: Leicester 1847,
died Sunday October 30th 1892
(Women's Liberal Association)
Mary Royce qualified as Leicester’s first female doctor in
1890 at the age of 43. She had started her studies in 1879 and had
combined them with running and financing a class for youths and men in
Lower Church-gate which was in the midst of Leicester's worst slums.
Mary Royce was the daughter of Alderman George Royce,
who carried on business as a currier (leather curing) in Belgrave-gate. Mary was sent to one of the best girls' private schools in
Leicester, Belmont House in De Montfort Square, where she received a wide
education, which included science and the classics.
In 1868, on the prompting of the minister at the Gallowtree
Gate Congregational Chapel, (now the site of Boots) she began a Sunday School
on Sanvey Gate. By 1875, her class was growing, not just in numbers but
also in its age range and and had developed beyond the traditional
Sunday school model. Mary had a good knowledge of chemistry and so began to
teach science to her young men. The class took on social aspects when Mary
arranged "pleasant Saturday evenings." when sketches, some written
by Mary herself, were performed. She also arranged rambles and
outings and later a discussion group was started. Mary was a strong advocate of the temperance movement and
expelled anyone who transgressed.
Mary Royce was also an authoress of some repute:
"Maud's Life Work," was published in London in 1873 in two volumes and
was written under the nom de plume of Leslie White. One of her
"Little Scrigget, or the Story of a Street Arab," went through
several editions. This was followed by another tale of Leicester street
"The Prodigal Son." Both books were published in Leicester in 1875
by J.&T. Spencer and had religious themes. In the late 1870s, she decided
to abandon her literary career and become a doctor.
In 1879, after her class has moved premises several
times, she financed a new building in Lower Church Gate to be known as the Royce Institute. The rooms were maintained at
her own expense and were open during the daytime for reading and
recreation, and at week- nights and Sundays for instruction in various
branches of knowledge. It also had a football team with the name 'Miss
Royce's Class.' There nearly 100 members of the class and the
Royce Institute formed a link with the Desford Industrial School for
After passing her medical exams, Mary chose not to go
into general practice. Instead she bought two cottages adjoining her Institute
which she converted to a surgery where she could treat the poor. She
usually charged one shilling for each visit, but often returned the money
when the patients left. Although there were many who would not visit a woman doctor,
there were more and more women who were pleased that
they could see another woman for help and advice. It was not long before Mary
Royce found herself treating not only the poor, but
also richer patients in the 'better off' districts of Leicester.
Mary Royce had taken the
middle class practice of charitable and philanthropic work among the 'poorer classes'
to a different level. All accounts suggest she was unostentatious, quiet
and preferred a simple and frugal life, albeit based at the very
substantial Gotha House on Gotham Street. In 1886, she was a founding
member of the Women's Liberal Association and was its treasurer. Her only recorded public
statement was an address given at a meeting of the Association on
'tight-lacing,' (tight corsets were a health risk) 'self-control,'
'over-excitement,' 'temperance,' and kindred matters of health.'
In April 1892, Mary was persuaded to stand for election
as Poor Law Guardian in St Margaret’s Ward by fellow members of the
Women’s Liberal Association. She was elected unopposed and proved a
conscientious member of the Board, attending every meeting. Sadly, her
career was cut short in October 1892, when it was reported that she died
after contracting erysipelas (St Anthony's fire) whilst visiting a
patient in the infirmary of the "the sad house on the hill."
(workhouse). Today deaths from this disease are rare.
A day or two after her visit Mary was seized with
shivering attacks, but attributing them to a cold took no precautions. She
lay unconscious for several days gradually losing strength and after
a short lucid interval, she passed away aged 46. As a result of her death, Guardians were no longer
permitted to visit the Workhouse or Cottage Homes during outbreaks of
infectious diseases in the town. Mr Page-Hopps, the Unitarian minister
officiated at her burial and the dead march was played in her honour at
the Great Meeting.
Mary Royce's Institute on South Church-gate was demolished in
May 1970 to make
way for the ring road. Instead of moving the Institute to an outer council
estate where the former residents of the area had been re-housed, a new building was created in Crane Street
next to St Margarets Church. The Royce Institute carried on largely as a
religious sect with a slowly dwindling congregation until 2020, when the trustees put the
building up for sale.
The portrait of Mary Royce and other material is now at
the Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland.
Leicester Daily Post 19th & 29th October, 1st November1892, Leicester Chronicle 23rd January,
31st October, 5th & 12th November 1892, 4th February 1893, 12th June 1970, 6th January 1978 (Bernard Elliott)
Charles Rozzell was a self-educated
framework-knitter who became by turns a teacher, official spokesman for
the framework-knitters, and bard of the local Revolution Club among other
things. He wrote on many topics of local interest, from the Leicester
Infirmary to local cricket matches, and he also produced a great deal of
Whig propaganda at election times.
June 1961 (Labour Party)
Robert Russell was elected to the
City Council for Abbey ward in 1945 and was Chair of Finance Committee
1956-60. He was also president of the City Labour Party 1949-50, a
magistrate and a member of the National Health Executive Council for
Leicester from its formation in 1948. He died in office.
Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland, 1921; died: June 1997 (Labour Party)
Ryan worked in the Scottish coalfield before moving to Leicester in 1947.
He worked in the Desford Colliery for 14 years before being elected as an
official of the N.U.M. He later became president of the Leicestershire
National Union of Mineworkers. He was chairman of the Leicester South
Labour Party in the 1970s and was elected to the County Council in 1974.
During the 1990s Martin was leader of the Labour Group on the County
Council representing Spinney Hill and later Mowmacre ward. He was chair of
the County Council in 1987. He died from a brain haemorrhage after being
taken ill at a Labour Party meeting, just one month after he had given up
his seat on the County Council.
Sources: Leicester Mercury June
1997, author’s personal knowledge
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© Ned Newitt Last revised:
June 10, 2021.
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