Tuesday, 3 July 2012

From Family History & Socialism with a Northern Accent to the Conspiracy Against the Person's Act


THE seats almost ran out at the Town Hall Tavern in Manchester last Saturday for the Northern Radical History Conference.  The attendance had a good geographical spread across the North from Cumbria in the North West to Derby and Sheffield in the South East, with Leeds, York, Huddersfield, Liverpool and Shropshire in between, not to mention Greater Manchester and Salford:  no-one came from Northumbria alas, unless we count Martin who is in exile from Durham.  There was a good mix of political tendencies including the SWP, the Labour Party as well as anarchists and libertarians , and a quarter of those present were women.  People sent in over a dozen apologies for none attendance.

As Steve Higginson from Liverpool, who was down to speak on 'Writing on the Wall', had been called to London on union business his spot was filled by Martin Bashford doing an item entitled 'Can Family History be Radical?'  Martin claimed that this kind of history could represent 'history from below'.  He said that from the 1950s there had been an evolution of family history alongside that of radical history and he referred to Raphael Samuel as hitting on the idea of studying family history and oral history.  Martin gave an example of Louise Rawe's study of the 'Match Girl's Strike' as an example of family history and likened it to investigative journalism.

Paul Salveson, as a well known northern historian living in Golcar near Huddersfield, argued that there was a distinctive Northern Socialism which, unlike the London socialists, was less influenced by Marx and more  by John Ruskin.  Paul said that Northern Socialism owed more to Carlyle, Robert Blatchford, Walt Whitman, Thoreau, Edward Carpenter, the Bolton lad Alan Clarke as well as Ruskin, and he insisted that socialism up here had a more environmental content.

The star turn of the day was Karen Springer (Derby People's History Group) speaking on 'The Alice Wheeldon Case'.  This strange First World War case, which seems to have slipped off the political and historical radar, involves a woman of working class origins, Alice Wheeldon, who became a radical and whose family living at 12, Pear Tree Road, Derby, sheltered conscientious objectors in 1916.  This ultimately led to her and her kids becoming of interest to both MI5 and the Russian KVD.  Alice was ultimately charged under the Conspiracy Against the Person's Act in 1916 and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.  This followed a trial involving witnesses like the 'amateur spy', Alex Gordon, who couldn't 'For Reasons of State' be cross-examined by the defence.  The prosecution had alleged Alice Wheeldon had acquired a quantity of poison with the intention of assassinating David Lloyd George, the then Prime Minister.  She was released from prison in late 1918 and died in early 1919.

1 comment:

bammy said...

This is a further report of the day's events sent in by Bluebell:

'There were 19 present after lunch. I arrived a little late so not entirely sure what happened before my arrival. Well haven't a clue. There was one volunteer for the role of co-ordinator, to wit Bluebell Eikonoklastes. It was felt that someone more familiar with the network would be more appropriate but in absence of a volunteer it was agreed that Bluebell Eikonoklastes would be co-ordinator with Martin Bashforth and others on the co-ordinating group. As one participant was connected to Manchester Met, we hope our next meeting in early october will be there with Leeds/Bradford as a back up, and Leeds/Bradford in January.

Martin Bashforth then talked about family and local history and their radicalising and revolutionary potential. One participant was critical of any direct connection, many family historians he had met had not been radicalised by the experience. Another participant while taking this on board felt that this did not detract from it's radical potential as such and saw family and local history informing national and international history and vice versa.

After lunch Paul Salveson talked about Socialism with a Northern Accent feeling that the North has an identity. He also mentioned the work of Louise Raw who has written about the London Matchgirls Strike of 1888 and how it wasn't won and led by Annie Bessant (though she did supportive journalism). There was further lively debate and discussion.

Next Karen Springer spoke about the Alice Wheeldon case, a woman alleged to have plotted to kill Lloyd-George and sentenced to 10 years penal servitude. A very interesting and indeed spooky case with it's involvement of the security services. It would seem that the spooks involved in the case were under thereat of redundancy and so had a motive to frame Alice and her family. In an atmosphere of jingoism the defendants had inadequate legal representation. The spooks involved were not called and the poison that Alice sent through the post was quite legal. After further analytic discussion the afternoon session was closed and departures commenced.