Thursday, 9 June 2016

Herbert Stockton’s Strangeways

(Northern Anarchist Lives – 6)
Christopher Draper

HERBERT Stockton was one of Victorian Manchester’s most effective preachers and Anarchy was his religion. After converting his sister and brothers to what he called the 'One true faith' all four teenagers led local Salvationists and constabulary a merry dance. Perhaps his dad was inadvertently to blame for he was an embittered old soldier employed as a prison warder at Strangeways where, in 1893, Bert was incarcerated as a reward for his evangelism.  Although Bert’s name occasionally crops up in the biographies of others, until now his fascinating life story has remained untold. 

Bert’s dad, William Stockton (1839-1914) served for seven years on St Helena as a Sapper with the Royal Engineers until, 'He received a severe injury to his hand while employed on the Public Works on the 11th February 1867.  Having been accidentally caught in the machinery of a crane, three of the fingers of his right hand were permanently injured.'  An army Court of Inquiry concluded he was no longer fit for service and awarded him a non-residential 'Chelsea Pension'.  Although he’d laboured as a bricklayer with the Engineers, William was forced through invalidity to accept security work, initially as a prison warder and subsequently as a 'safe deposit attendant' 

In 1869, William met Liverpool-born Julia Farrar and the pair set up house together at 14 Armitage Street in the Ardwick district of Manchester where Bert was born on 15th July 1870.  Eleanor arrived the following year with Ernest (25.5.1874) and William (19.5.1875) completing the family. The children attended Armitage Street School before settling into careers: Herbert, mechanic; Eleanor, tailoress; Ernest, engraver and William, carver-gilder. Aged eighteen Herbert was the first to rebel and was soon assisting seasoned anarchist William Bailie, in June 1889, establish a new speaking station at Harpurhey.  Accompanied by Bailie and Alf Barton, Herbert soon made a name for himself.  At the beginning of August Commonweal newspaper presciently observed, 'Stockton has only lately begun speaking but promises to develop into a good speaker.'

Over the summer of 1889 Bert worked with Manchester comrades in “assisting the cap makers – men, women and girls – to form a union which is very much needed in this industry, where sweating is the order of the day.” In the autumn, the Manchester group supported strikers at “Berry’s Blacking Works.” Bert and his Socialist League (SL) comrades also attended the “Working Men’s Educational Club” at 122 Corporation Street where members assembled every Tuesday at 8pm.  'The branch entertained Kropotkin at the club on November 7th, when a most enjoyable evening was passed.'  Three weeks later, 'William Morris lectured for the branch on the Class Struggle. The lecture was well received; brisk discussion followed; lecturer replied amid enthusiastic applause.'

At the end of 1889 the lease expired on the old clubrooms but in February 1890 Bert and his mates announced ambitious plans:
'Suitable premises have now been secured for the new Socialist Club.  It is our aim to make it a centre for Socialist propaganda in Lancashire.  A library, reading, recreation and refreshment rooms will be some of its attractions.  Aid is invited from friends who can assist either with fittings, furniture, books or funds. The Club, 60 Grosvenor Street, All Saints, is now open for members every evening. Commonweal and other literature is on sale.' 
The following month, “on Monday 31st March Edward Carpenter lectured at the Club on the Present and Future Society”, but outdoor propaganda wasn’t forgotten.  Every Sunday the branch lectured on libertarian themes at Phillips Park gates at 11am and in Stevenson Square at 3pm and Herbert usually spoke at each venue. 

On Sunday June 15th, Herbert Stockton was a key speaker at 'a large and most enthusiastic meeting' in Stevenson Square organised by the Branch 'to protest against the Freedom of the City being conferred on H M Stanley at which the following resolution was unanimously passed:'
'That we, citizens of Manchester, in mass meeting assembled, recognising that H M Stanley’s invasion of Central Africa has brought death and destruction upon the natives and that the object of his mission is to introduce into those regions the system of commercialism which means the economic slavery of the workers of this country, the only benefit of which will be to the speculating capitalists who can no longer make large profits out of British labour hereby indignantly protest against the action of the City Council in offering the freedom of our city and paying honour at our expense to this modern hero of Christianity and Commercialism whose civilising agents have been fire and murder, the elephant-rifle and the gallows…The meeting terminated by singing the Marseillaise and giving three hearty cheers for the Social Revolution and three groans for Stanley.'

This pattern of street corner lectures, occasional large scale events and contact with anarchists both local and national nurtured Bert’s political development.  Branch morale dipped a bit when William Baillie emigrated to America in the Spring of 1891 but Herbert responded positively, expanding his own contribution and in May 1891 crossing the Pennines to lecture for Leeds SL. Everyone’s spirits were lifted on August Bank Holiday Monday when SL members from all across the Midlands and North 'met at Matlock for an outing and social intercourse… No better institution can exist than one or two of these social gatherings for putting fresh life and go into the breast of any daunted propagandist…We climbed, sang and boated till tea,.. merriment being at the climax all through.” The Branch also opened a new social centre, 'the International Club, 25 Bury Road, Strangeways, open every evening'. 

By that time the national Socialist League, Stockton’s Manchester Branch and Bert himself were all converts to the anarchist cause with scant affection for state-socialism. Before the end of the 1891 Bert and his comrades called themselves 'The Manchester Anarchist Group (MAG)'  and regular reports of their activities appeared in the Anarchist-Communist newspaper Freedom. 

When a bunch of anarchists were lured into the Walsall bomb plot by a police agent in 1892 Bert was amongst their most active supporters.  A Handsworth insurance agent, Joseph Cavargua wrongly arrested as a suspect was declared guilty by the press merely on the mistaken basis that “he was a member of Manchester Anarchist Club”.  On Sunday 17th April 1892, Herbert spoke out alongside David Nicoll, John Bingham and Alf Barton at a huge Walsall defence meeting in Stevenson Square but to no avail.
In 1893, Stockton had converted all his siblings to anarchism and with missionary zeal Bert carried the torch into the heartlands of opponents, lecturing Salford’s Marxist SDF on February 17th on, “Why I am an Anarchist” and on April 8th debating with a Temperance Reformer on 'Marriage'.  In June, young William Stockton followed his older brother’s lead with an outdoor lecture in Manchester on, “The Fallacy of Political Methods.”  But, encouraged by the success of their Walsall sting and the subsequent imprisonment of Commonweal editor David Nicoll, police began to crack down on the Manchester anarchists but first there was an opportunity for fun. 

In August 1893 anarchists from Manchester, Sheffield, Derbyshire and Leicester all travelled to Monsal Dale to enjoy fellowship, fresh air and the free exchange of political ideas:
'We roamed through splendid mountain and river scenery and forming in a group close to a waterfall, we sang revolutionary songs amidst the splashing of the water. The effect was enough to arouse the enthusiasm of all hearers. Thus without government, policemen or social democratic would-be political despots everything passed off harmoniously.  There being no authority we went where we liked and rambled in groups along the river banks till we came to some boards which said on them, Trespassers Will be Prosecuted. We held a discussion as to the meaning of the words and finally decided that they were relics of the Antedeluvian period and thought it best to knock the boards down and throw them into the river.”  After afternoon tea the comrades gathered for an al fresco conference “under the hill” where a fund was started to provide for Nicoll on his release, arrangements were agreed to “get the released Chicago Anarchists over here and to hold a big demonstration in the North…We then proceeded to the station and liberally posted it all over with little notices, such as Anarchy no Master; Revolution not Reform; Read COMMONWEAL; Read FREEDOM; etc. Then we went home after giving our comrades a hearty cheer for Anarchy and the Social Revolution.' 

On Sunday October 1st, the arrests started as soon as the anarchists gathered at Ardwick Green and Bert’s brother, Ernest Stockton was amongst the four anarchists fined 21s each the following day.  Barton also had to pay for a replacement umbrella for Inspector Caminada after the copper wrecked the original in assaulting him!  Despite many more arrests the anarchists’ free speech campaign was maintained into the new year and the umbrella incident exploited for comedic purposes.  

To the tune of “Monte Carlo” the anarchists composed a twelve verse ditty entitled, “The Scamp Who Broke the Gamp at Ardwick Green, O

'Caminada showed his valour by knocking people down,

And using his gamp well,

Good citizens to fell,

He collared all the Anarchists and marched them through the town,

And put them in the Fairfield station cell.' 

'And he walks along the street with an independent air,

The people all declare,

He is a scoundrel rare,

His head is Wood,

And is no good,

Except to provide the pigs with food,

The scamp who broke his gamp at Ardwick Green, O.' 

Bert’s sister, Eleanor participated in the 1893 campaign and was arrested. Bert was arrested twice at Ardwick Green, on Sunday 29th October and again on Sunday 12th November. The first time he paid the 40s fine but the comrades couldn’t afford to keep paying out so on the second occasion Bert spent a month in Strangeways Prison where his dad was a warder.  The authorities won the war of attrition and diverted the anarchists elsewhere although they gained support from a few independent-minded individuals.   Dr Sinclair, a member of Manchester City Council, denounced the Watch Committee’s prejudice:
'The Anarchists seemed to have been treated more as Scuttlers than what they really were – a party of misguided young men airing their opinions.'
Fellow Councillor Canon Nunn defended prejudice and added his own bizarre recommendation that Manchester Anarchists 'substitute cricket or football for firing pistols at a target in a Deansgate slum'.  Bert exposed this calumny with a letter in the Manchester Advertiser. 

A few grassroots socialists supported MAG, but at the February Independent Labour Party National Conference in Manchester, 'several motions were submitted declaring in effect that the party had no sympathy with the Anarchists.'  Labour was already on the electoral march and desperate for respectability.  In March 1894 Ernest lectured at Walsall in support of the continuing campaign and Bert’s activism continued.  His weekly meetings at Philip’s Park and New Cross generally attracted audiences of 500 to 800, but his attention was temporarily distracted by 22 year-old, Salford born, Emily Bradney, who in the summer, he married at Chorlton register office. Eleanor, Ernest and William weren’t far behind in getting married, with Nellie teaming up with Alf Barton and Ernie keeping his relationship secret. 

In July 1894, Bert was involved in a deadly 'molehunt' with David Nicoll denouncing, in print, the prominent anarchist Henry Benjamin Samuels as a police spy.  Nicoll’s accusations met with a conspiracy of silence. Herbert Stockton’s efforts to convene a formal anarchist tribunal were also rebuffed.  Bert didn’t press the point and rather left Nicoll hanging out to dry.  It wasn’t Bert’s finest hour but it didn’t shake his commitment to the cause and besides his regular Manchester lectures in 1896 he travelled to Liverpool where he delivered 'interesting lectures to large and attentive audiences, with very good results'.  By then Herbert was recognised by the movement as a popular speaker who could draw in large audiences, and towards the end of 1896 he was lured down to London where he immediately made a distinctive contribution to the November, 'Chicago Martyrs Commemoration'; “Men of science, fame and workers have already spoken but I am going to speak on behalf of the nobodies…”  

Word soon spread that Bert was in town and when the Stratford Grove anarchists appealed in the pages of FREEDOM for “some help with speakers” they specified – 'if possible (John) Turner or (Herbert) Stockton'.  'On Monday February 5th (1897) Comrade Herbert Stockton delivered a lecture on Anarchism v. Commercialism' at Christchurch Hall, Spitalfields which defined his brand of anarchy.  Bert claimed Individualist Anarchism, Social Democracy and Capitalism amounted to the same thing – “based on making people work and be good through material reward – Anarchist Communism alone striving for a system of society where man would act well to his fellows for the pleasure he would derive by it and he would work through his being interested in it.' 

In April, Bert and Anarchist-Communist comrades organised a 'Commemoration of the 26th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Commune of Paris' that, for once, included a great deal of constructive debate. Charles Quin emphasised that, 'The Communards were the first body of Workingmen to fight against governmentalism and the first who were not merely nationalist. It was not possible for any government to bamboozle all the people all the time… Government was but the shadow of their own fears thrown upon the mist of ignorance.” “Touzeau Parris said that some very striking reasons had been given for the failure of the Commune. One was that the country people did not understand what the Parisians were about. That might not be the trouble in England…but even here in London they must not forget that…the mass of the people were not with them…till the mass of the people knew what they were going in for revolt would only bring trouble and perhaps disgrace.'  'Herbert Stockton, while agreeing in the main with Touzeau Parris, deprecated the Social Democratic idea that they must not do anything till they were all in line and got the word to move. When men had got the spirit of revolt within them they could not wait for the millions of lazy devils behind but would act as their nature dictated.' 

In November, Bert chaired the November Chicago Commemoration but it produced more heat than light.  'Comrade Leggatt vowed eternal war against the present system of Society' whilst Frank Kitz reminded the audience 'how much better it would be if the Highlanders of Danghai instead of climbing the heights of the frontier of India and murdering men with whom they had no quarrel were to make a stand for their own homes in the hills of Scotland.'  French revolutionary, Georges Etievant, newly arrived after five years imprisonment for supplying explosives to Ravachol, then added his own pearls of insurrectionary encouragement (two months later he returned to France, stabbed 2 policemen, shot another and was imprisoned for life). 

Bert and his fellow Anarchists-Communists frustrated by the yawning gap between their revolutionary ardour and the slow, compromising reality of the English working class organised a London Conference for the 26th and 27th December to review and reorganise their activities.  Frank Kitz chaired the first day, Bert the second and the problem of print propaganda was a hot topic.  'Frank Kitz insisted on the usefulness of a leaflet propaganda by which the modern Socialist movement in England was begun…it reaches those who cannot buy a paper and might be started at any moment without causing the constant anxiety and hard work connection with the production of a paper.' 
Bert and a band of his associates weren’t to be quieted by new initiatives, which in any case were never carried out, and spiritedly laid into the one anarchist initiative that had endured. 'FREEDOM was described as a philosophical middle-class organ, not intelligible to the working classes, not up to date in late information and…less revolutionary than Comic Cuts, Ally Sloper and Sam Weller. It was edited and managed by an inaccessible group of arrogant persons, worse than the Pope and his seventy cardinals and written by fossilised old quill-drivers.'  

Throughout 1898, Herbert Stockton was living in London and headlining at revolutionary events like the Paris Commune Celebration and Chicago Martyrs Commemoration. Returning to Manchester on a short visit in July, 'our old and much-missed comrade Stockton' was feted as a celebrity.  Whilst relishing the revolutionary comradeship Bert was losing touch with the tragically moderate aspirations of ordinary workers. Perhaps Ernest Stockton was also unduly influenced by the metropolitan atmosphere when he visited Bert with his young wife, Louisa, and even younger sister-in-law, Esther. The newspapers relished Ernest’s resulting divorce, 'on the grounds of his incestuous adultery with petitioner’s sister…While in London petitioner thought her husband and sister were too free and on their return to Manchester petitioner’s mother shared that opinion and boxed Esther’s ears.'
Ernest’s infatuation with Esther proved as short-lived as his love for anarchy and he emigrated to New York without either and aged thirty-nine married another teenager. 

In 1899 Bert and his family returned North and settled in Sheffield with his sister who’d married Alf Barton. Together, the trio revived the local libertarian cause and in July 1899 FREEDOM reported that “the Sheffield Monolith once more resounded with the hum of successful Anarchist meetings.” Ignoring national policies, grassroots state-socialists could be comradely and when, in September, Bert embarked on a “ground-breaking” mission to Mexborough “they had a very successful meeting and received good help from the local ILP.”  Bert and Alf concentrated on anti-war activism in 1900 but the jingo’s were out in force and Herbert Stockton’s last recorded letter to FREEDOM reveals feelings of melancholy and defeat:
'Yes our propaganda has fallen on evil times. Who could have foreseen this ten years ago? Anarchists, Socialists are nothing nowadays…We must watch and wait and drift a bit perhaps…I send heartiest wishes that you may all long be spared to keep a “good heart” in the “one true faith” the hope of the ultimate

triumph of which alone makes life at present endurable viz: human liberty and happiness – Yours rebelliously, H STOCKTON.' 

When Billy MacQueen, an old comrade from his early Manchester days was arrested in America in 1902, Bert solicited money for his defence fund from his home at 39, Hammerton Road, Sheffield but in truth he’d lost hope.  Alf and Nellie remained iconoclasts but joined the ranks of State Socialists.  Nellie was big in the Coop movement and pioneered the white poppy as a peace symbol. After flirting with Communism, Alf became a Labourite and backed Britain’s involvement in WWI. 

In 1905 Bert moved back to Manchester and forgot all about the “one true faith”. His youngest brother William had abandoned hope decades before but after Britain declared war on Germany Herbert Stockton turned heretic and volunteered to kill for his country. Bert sailed from Southampton to Le Havre on 15th August 1915 and served with the army in France until May 1919. He was never again politically active and died in Levenshulme on Thursday 18th February 1937, aged 66.   

For Peace, Love & Anarchy

Christopher Draper
(nb This is the 6th in a monthly series of “Northern Anarchist Lives”. 
Next month, “Everton’s Tolstoy”)


David said...

Thanks for the information. Herbert Stockton was my grandfather but he died before I was born and my father did not tell me about him till he was 90. Is there any more information about William and Julia Farrar? Also, the William you refer to as the son seems to have worked for the Lancashire Cotton Corporation or Fine Spinners and Doublers and he went to Russia. We do not know whether it was before the revolution or after.

It seems Julia was a rather severe lady, but that is the only reference I have, it seems William and Julia separated and he lived with another woman, German I think. I think he is buried in Market Drayton cemetary.

Editor said...

David, Thanks for that response. I've passed your comment on to the author of the account on your grandfather: Chris Draper. He will reply shortly. If you want to contact us directly by e-mail the NV address is

Alan said...

A great read, thanks. Where does the passage describing Stockton's Monsal Dale trip come from? I believe the trip was organized by Robert Sykes Bingham of the Sheffield Anarchist Group (see:‘Annual Anarchist Gathering’, Freedom, 01 August 1893, p.8). I spotted it in an ad that features Bingham's 63 Blonk Street address. I've passed through Monsal Dale several times and know it well. Monsal Head is beautiful.

CD said...

Thanks for that Alan. You will appreciate that it's four years since I compiled that piece and a lot of research has since flowed under the bridge since so I can't honestly remember as I have/consult so much anarchist stuff. I have compiled literally hundreds of these anarchist lives but finding a suitable forum for publication is tricky since the death of Liz Willis and Radical History Network and the ideological death of "FREEDOM" (murder?). Anyway thanks again and do read and hopefully comment on my continuing articles on the National Trust on NV.
Peace & Love, Chris D