Help to build this part of the rebel road by sending details & photographs of plaques in your area to Mark Metcalf at or tel: 07392 852561.

Ebenezer Elliott: The poet of the poor
Joseph Rayner Stephens plaque and memorial, Stalybridge
The Battle of Bexley Square – Salford in October 1931
Stalybridge and the 1842 General Strike plaque
Mechanics’ Institute – Princess Street, Manchester
Darwen Street, Blackburn – a plaque commemorates local textile workers killed in 1842
Michael Davitt – Haslingden memorial
Derby Silk Strike Centenary, Honouring the Derby Silk Workers
Spanish Civil War Plaques, the International Brigade
The Great Strike at Penrhyn Quarry
Micky Fenn, trade unionist
Julia Varley, trade unionist and suffragette
The Chartist sculpture and plaque, Newport
Thomas Spence,  land reformer & political activist
Tom Maguire, pioneer socialist & trade unionist
Alice Wheeldon, peace activist, socialist and suffragette
Mary Barbour, one of Govan’s great working class heroes
Thomas Cooper, Chartist
Ernest Bevin, giant of the Labour movement
Tom Mann, one of Britain’s greatest trade unionists
International Workers Memorial in Bathgate, West Lothian
Caroline E.D. Martyn, early trade union organiser
Sidney and Beatrice Webb,  socialists, researchers and authors
Female Union Society, inscribed stone Ramsbottom
Andrew Hardie and John Baird, radical reformists, Stirling
Eleanor Marx, Brighton
The Bristol Bus Boycott, Bristol
Anti Apartheid plaque, Jack Jones House Liverpool
Benny Rothman, Timperley
Robert Tressell, Pembroke Place, Liverpool
The Newry dock strike and lockout of 1907
Annie Kenney – Oldham, Lancashire
Lydia Ernestine Becker, Chadderton, Oldham
Joseph Burgess, Failsworth, Oldham
Peterloo, Manchester
The International Brigade, photo album
Samuel Plimsoll, the trade unionist who improved health and safety at work
Gerrard Winstanley, Wigan

ebneezer elliotEbenezer Elliott: The poet of the poor

Ebenezer Elliott liked to call himself “the poet of the poor” and was publicly known as “the Corn Law rhymer” for his leading role in the fight to repeal the Corn Laws (1815-1848/9) that by restricting imported grain raised food prices and boosted the profits of the landowners. In turn this also restricted the growth of other economic sectors including manufacturing. When the Corn Laws were repealed during the first years of the Irish famine it was viewed as a decisive shift towards free trade in Britain.

Elliott was born at the New Foundry, Masborough, Rotherham on 17 March 1781. He contracted smallpox at an early age and this left his health permanently affected. Hating school he spent much of his time exploring the countryside around Rotherham. He began studying botany and reading extensively on his own. He wrote his first poem at aged 17.

The woman he married, Frances Gartside, was wealthy and Elliott invested her fortune in his father’s share of an iron foundry only to lose everything. In 1816 he was declared bankrupt. Over the following three years he was impoverished and desperate and this sorry state of affairs appears to have made Elliott identify with the poor from then till the end of his life on 1 December 1849.

In 1819, Elliott obtained funds from his wife’s sister and with which he began business as an iron dealer. He became a successful iron merchant and steel manufacturer. He became strident in demanding improved conditions for the manufacturer and the worker.

He called for the end of the Corn Laws, was active in the Sheffield Political Union and he chaired the Sheffield meeting when the Chartist 6 points – see to extend universal suffrage were placed before local people. The poet later withdrew from the Chartist movement when some in it began to advocate violence,

After publishing a single poem The Ranter in 1830, Elliott published in 1831 the Corn Law Rhymes, which contrasted the dreadful conditions of working people compared to the gentry. He proceeded to write a considerable number of poems along similar lines. His poems were later published in Europe and in the USA. One of his final poems was The People’s Anthem and this was later retitled Save the People and was included as a musical score in the 1971 rock musical Godspell.

ebneezer elliot 1When Ebenezer Elliott died he was buried in All Saints Church, Darfield, where the churchyard also contains a monument to the 1857 Lundhill explosion that killed 189 men and boys.

In 1854 a monument, which is not believed to be a great likeness of him, was erected and now stands in Weston Park, Sheffield.

Elliott’s birthplace of Rotherham was slower to honour him. In 2009 artwork by Martin Heron was erected at Rhymer’s Roundabout. It is titled ‘Harvest’ and depicts ears of corn as an illusion to the Corn Law Rhymes. The same year saw Wetherspoons open a new pub in Rotherham that is called The Corn Law Rhymer.

In 2013 a blue plaque commemorating the poet was unveiled at the town’s medical centre, which rests on the site of the iron foundry where he was born.

Many thanks to Gerard Dempsey for his work on this article. Gerard is the former Unite Father-of-the-Chapel at Polestar in Sheffield and a member of the GPMU & IT sector of the union.

JR StephensJoseph Rayner Stephens plaque and memorial, Stalybridge

The Tameside Metropolitan Borough plaque to Stephens is sited on Stalybridge Town Hall frontage, Waterloo Road, Stalybridge.

Stephens was a radical reformer who lived between 1805 and 1879 and was involved in the Chartist movement and campaigned against the Poor Law and for factory reform.

For more information go to:-

Download for free: Life of Joseph Rayner Stephens, preacher and political orator, which was written by George Jacob Holyoake.

The memorial to Stephens is located in Stamford Park, Stalybridge.

It was unveiled in 1888 and was commissioned by local factory workers to commemorate the work Stephens had done in promoting fair wages and better working conditions.

More details at:-

Photograph: Tony Shaw, a Unite Community member from Mytholmroyd.

Bexley Square plaqueThe Battle of Bexley Square, Salford in October 1931

This plaque is on a wall in Bexley Square in front of old Salford Town Hall.

The 1920s and 30s was an era of mass unemployment. On 1 October 1931, 10,000 unemployed men and women marched to Salford Town Hall at Bexley Square. As campaigners tried to hand in a petition protesting against means-tested benefits and unemployment they were met with awful violence from the very men charged with protecting their liberty.

Read more:

Take a look at the cinematic coverage at:

One of those arrested on the day was Eddie Frow, who later established with his wife Ruth, the Working Class Movement Library

Photograph: Tony Shaw, a Unite Community member from Mytholmroyd.

Stalybridge and the 1842 General Strike plaqueStalybridge and the 1842 General Strike plaque

Located alongside the J R Stephens plaque on Stalybridge Town Hall frontage, this plaque commemorates the first general strike which originated in 1842 in this area.

It began as a movement of resistance to the imposition of wage cuts in the mills before it quickly expanded into a movement for universals male suffrage. It spread to involve nearly half a million workers throughout Britain and represented the biggest single exercise of working class strength in nineteenth century Britain.

Photograph: Tony Shaw, a Unite Community member from Mytholmroyd.

Mechanics Institute Princess Street ManchesterMechanics’ Institute, Princess Street, ManchesterThere is a plaque on the outside of the Mechanics’ Institute, Princess Street, Manchester where the first Trade Union Congress was held from 2-6 June, 1868. Built in 1854 as a centre for working class, adult education it offered a wide range of evening classes in English grammar, writing, reading, music, arithmetic, Latin and other languages. It was also the birthplace of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and the Cooperative Insurance Society. The building, which is Grade II listed now houses the Mechanics Institute Trust and is part of the Peoples History Museum.

Photograph: Tony Shaw, a Unite Community member from Mytholmroyd.

Blackburn plaqueDarwen Street, Blackburn – a plaque commemorates local textile workers killed in 1842.

In what was probably the first strike that can be truly called general, the 1842 General Strike involved nearly half a million workers. Coming at the peak of the Chartist campaign for basic democratic rights it combined resistance to wage-cuts in the coal, cotton and engineering industries with an all-out struggle for universals suffrage.

The strike lasted almost six weeks and during which the authorities arrested over 1,500 people and killed many people, including some in Blackburn. (recent information would indicate, at least, four were killed by troops)

simon entwhistleThe plaque in Darwen Street has been up for many years and it states:-

‘Here in Darwen Street on 15th August 1842 Textile Workers protesting against Wage Cuts in the Famous ‘Plug Riot’ were fired upon by Troops of the 72nd Regiment. Up to 3 of the demonstrators are thought to have been killed.’

As this goes to press there is being assembled fresh information on events in 1842. This will be published in due course.

Simon Entwistle, a local historian, wrote this back in 2008

Simon also did a smashing interview on this and which can be viewed on youtube

There are plans to hold a 175 anniversary commemorative event on 15 August 2017 with a meeting planned for 29 June at 6pm in Blackburn.Simon Entwistle can be contacted here

michael davitt memorialMichael Davitt – Haslingden memorial

Davitt (25/03/1846 — 30/05/1906) was an Irish Republican and agrarian campaigner, who founded the Irish National Land League, which by aiming to abolish landlordism in Ireland sought to help tenant farmers by enabling them to own the land they worked on. Davitt was also a labour leader, Home Rule politician and MP.

On Wilkinson Street in Haslingden in Rossendale, Lancashire there is a memorial to Michael Davitt at the site where his house used to be. The memorial was visited by Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, on 12 April 2006 to commemorate the centenary of the death of Davitt.

land leagueThere is also a mural tablet commemorating Davitt at St Mary’s Church, Haslingden. This was unveiled in 1908. The Church organ was also given in memory of Davitt.

Just over the road from the memorial on Wilkinson Street is the Haslingden Davitt IDL Club; The Land League

There is also a Davitt Museum in a former church in Straide, Foxford, County Mayo, Ireland. Davitt was christened in the church.

To find out more about Michael Davitt then a good start would be Bryan Yorke’s excellent Haslingden Old and New blog here.Many thanks to Unite Community members Tony Shaw and John Mooney for bringing to the attention of Rebel Road the Michael Davitt memorial.

old silk mill plaqueDerby Silk Strike Centenary, 1834-1934

In March 2015, Unite unveiled the world’s first dual-purpose trade union banner, whereby historical images of a Derby strike pre-dating the Tolpuddle Martyrs have been combined with a twenty-first century communication Quick Response (QR) code. When scanned by a mobile phone this leads people to a website which encourages them to get involved by informing them of the nature of the protest.

The banner states We Honour the Derby Silk Workers 1833-34 and is carried on the annual commemorative march organised each weekend before May Day by the Derby Trades Union Council.

Honouring the sacrifices made by early trade unionists, the banner pays tribute to a moment in history when up to 2,000 Derby silk workers left work in November 1833 to June 1834. Following the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, in which Robert Owen was prominent, was established with an important branch in Derby that included weavers, iron workers, builders and silk thrusters.

old silk millWhen silk manufacturer, Mr Frost, discharged one of his employees, his fellow workmates walked out in support. Within a week 800 people, in a town of 24,000, were affected. When many local employers then declared they would not employ trade unionists, another 500 walked out and by February the numbers had leaped to 2,000. Attempts to persuade strike-breakers imported from London led to many strikers being imprisoned.

The strike continued for many months but eventually collapsed as starvation set in. Many strikers were subsequently victimised and never worked in their trade again. Nevertheless, in late 1834, the Dorchester Agricultural Labourers at Tolpuddle took up the struggle for trade unions, which only exist today because of the sacrifices made by the likes of the Derby silk workers, Tolpuddle Martyrs and London Dockers of 1889.

In 1934 a plaque was erected by Derby Trades Union Council that commemorates the struggle of Derby Silk Workers a hundred years earlier. It is mounted outside the Silk Mill Museum.

Many thanks to Bill Whitehead for sending these photographs. Bill’s book, costing £2.20, on the strike remains available for sale here.

Gerrard Winstanley

The Great Strike at Penrhyn Quarry, 1900-03

Great Strike Penrhyn Quarry memorialThe strike at Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda in North Wales, which began on 22 November 1900 lasted for three years and is the longest dispute in British industrial history.

Quarrymen were forced to endure extremely hard and dangerous work for very low levels of pay.  They were also badly treated by their employers, who often regarded them as their own property and allowed them only Christmas Day off as a holiday.

Following disputes in 1825, 1864 and 1865, the North Wales Quarrymen’s Union was established in 1874 and achieved success that year in disputes at Penrhyn and the nearby Dinorwic Quarry. Circumstances were just that little bit better for the men but in 1896 the Penrhyn quarry workers were defeated in their battle for a minimum wage after staying out on strike for eleven months.

Aristocratic families owned all of the quarries in North Wales with Penrhyn in the hands of Lord Penrhyn. His family had at one time owned thousands of slaves on their Jamaican sugar plantations. They won huge compensation for ‘loss of income’ when slavery was abolished. They invested this in developing their slate quarries and improving Penrhyn Castle.

In 1900, its owners informed 2,800 Penrhyn quarry workers that trade union contributions were to be ended at the site. Conflict with supervising contractors led to 26 men being taken to court. After taking solidarity strike action the quarrymen returned to work only to discover that 800 of them no longer had any work after eight banks had been closed. Every worker left the quarry and despite the hardships an improved company offer was refused at Christmas 1900.

Trade union donations and a special fund organised by the Daily News helped alleviate some of the suffering but many children went crying to bed unfed, with women sobbing that they could not fill their mouths.  On 11 June 1901 the quarry was re-opened with the company inviting selected quarrymen to break the strike by offering them increased wages. Only 242 returned to work, where they were joined by a similar number of newly recruited inexperienced employees. One of those driven back to work by his desire to prevent his family starving was so heartbroken he subsequently hung himself.

Those who returned were considered traitors. Cards with the wording ‘Nid Oes Bradwr yn y Ty Hwn’ (There is no traitor in this house) were displayed in the strikers’ windows. Taking down a card was a sign that a worker had returned to work. Lord Penrhyn then built new homes for strikebreakers away from the centre of Bethesda. The strikers complained of ceaseless persecution and beatings by the police and a committee of inquiry appointed by Caernarvonshire County Council found that the police acted without regard to the liberties of those on strike. Attacks on strikers by those who had gone back to work were also left unpunished.

After three years on strike the desperate suffering of the strikers forced them to return to work on Lord Penrhyn’s terms. The victorious owner refused to re-employ the strike leaders and many subsequently left the area permanently to find work elsewhere.  The memorial to the strike was unveiled in Bethesda on 11 November 2000. This was organised by the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), who inherited the mantle of the Quarrymen’s Union when the organisations merged in the 1950s.  The TGWU is now part of Unite, which represents the current workers at Penrhyn quarry, which is today owned by the Welsh Slate Company.

To find out more on the dispute then buy WHAT I SAW AT BETHESDA – Charles Sheridan Jones, who was the special correspondent, sent by the Daily News to cover the unfolding drama and his articles were collected into this book, which was originally published in 1903. His are first-hand experiences of the misery and injustice suffered by the workers families, and of the cruelty of Lord Penrhyn’s methods.  £7.99 plus postage:-

Micky Fenn (11.01.1938 to 28.7.1996)

Micky Fenn plaqueMichael Fenn was one of the most influential trade union and anti-fascist activists of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. At an early age, Micky was heavily influenced by his experiences on National Service in the Middle East during the Suez crisis where Britain wrongly entered the war on Israel’s side. He remained an anti-imperialist for the rest of his life. When Micky became a docker in 1965 he joined the ‘blue’ union, the National Association of Stevedores and Dockers (NASD), which, unlike the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), allowed Communists to be members.

Consequently, Jack Dash -a Communist Party of Great Britain member – who was heavily vilified by the conservative press in the same manner as Arthur Scargill heavily influenced Micky. Dash and Fenn were key participants in the founding of the unofficial National Port Shop Stewards movement that united NASD and TGWU dockers in 1967. The following year when dockers at Tilbury marched out in support of Enoch Powell’s inflammatory speech that demanded a ban on black immigration, Micky was one of the few shop stewards (workplace representative) to speak out. He later described it as “the worst day of my life.”

In 1972, Micky was one of the London dockers’ leaders that led industrial action when five shop stewards were imprisoned in July for refusing to obey a court order to stop picketing an East London container depot. The Edward Heath government totally misjudged what would happen next. Although many workers were on holiday, hundreds of thousands of workers took unofficial action and with many more set to join the dispute the Trades Union Congress announced a date for a General Strike. This never took place as within a week the five were released. Micky was particularly involved in picketing out Fleet Street, where most national newspapers were printed at the time.

Micky said afterwards: “It wasn’t really a dockers’ victory, but a victory for the trade union movement.”

The following year, Micky left the Communist Party and joined the International Socialists (which would later become the SWP) and where he became heavily involved in the Anti-Nazi League but soon began a series of clashes with the leadership over the need to physically confront the fascists. This was to eventually lead to him quitting the ANL and he later become involved with Anti-Fascist Action. Micky’s politics on this were described by him in a BBC Open Space programme in 1992 and which is available online at

In 1982 the NASD and TGWU merged and by which time Micky was working at Tilbury docks and where he was a leading steward. In 1989 when Thatcher abolished the National Docks Labour Scheme – designed to eliminate casual dock labour – Micky was one of many dockers who organised 11-days of unofficial strike action. He was devastated when he discovered that many ports had already surrendered and in the aftermath he was one of 152 Tilbury dockers sacked. Three years in industrial tribunals produced a successful outcome but rather than get their jobs back the men were awarded compensation. Micky did not work again, but remained active and was the chair of the London support group for the sacked Liverpool dockers in the mid 1990s. The plaque in the CASA club in Liverpool is therefore a fitting tribute to a great man who died at aged 58.

Julia Varley OBE (1871-1952) – trade unionist and suffragette

Julia Varley CJudged by any criteria, Julia Varley was an extraordinary woman who devoted her entire working life  to fighting for better working conditions for women and men employed in a range of trades and industries. She was also an ardent campaigner for women’s right to vote and was twice sent to Holloway Prison for her activities on this.

Born in Bradford in 1871 she followed her father by becoming a woollen mill worker at aged 12. Three years later she became secretary of the Bradford branch of the Weavers and Textile Workers Union and soon after also joined the Women’s Trade Union League and National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW) as she fought to organise ‘sweated labour’ where men and women worked long hours, were poorly paid and endured terrible working and welfare conditions. Julia moved to Birmingham after Edward Cadbury invited her to establish a NFWW branch at Cadbury’s Bournville Factory. The new branch Julia Varley set up became affiliated in 1909 to Birmingham Trades Council (TC) and soon after she  became the first women to be elected to its executive committee.

Within the TC she was very involved in a series of major campaigns, including a fight to limit the hours of bakery workers and to introduce a minimum wage. In 1910  she was one of the leading organisers of the historic Cradley Heath women chainmakers’ ten-week strike that attracted international attention and resulted in a famous victory for the NFWW, resulting in the payment of a minimum wage.

Although she retained a focus on working women, Julia Varley became a Midlands organiser for the Workers’ Union in 1912. This had been formed on May Day 1898 with Tom Mann, who achieved fame in 1889 as one of the leaders of the London Dock Strike,  prominent in its initial development. The paper for the union – The Record – was clear why she had been appointed: ‘we wish that more working women had the experience of Julia Varley of mill work.’

The WU organised both men and women. In 1913 Varley was a key part of the strike by Cornish China Clay workers that helped lay the ground for trade union development in that region of the country. (see Unite book of the month on this at Julia was also heavily involved in many disputes in Birmingham and the Black Country right up until the First World War, during which she particularly worked to organise the increasing numbers of women finding themselves in paid work.

Julia occupied her post with the WU until it amalgamated with the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) in 1929 at which time she became the TGWU’s Women’s Officer. She also served on the General Council of the Trade Union Congress throughout the 1920s and chaired its Women’s Group. In 1931, Julia Varley was awarded an OBE for her services to public work. She retired in 1936 and died in Bradford in 1952 at the age of 81.

A plaque in Julia’s honour was unveiled by the Birmingham Civic Society on 24 May 2013

Unite would like to thank Birmingham Civic Society and in particular the photographer Jamie Justham for allowing us to reproduce Jamie’s photo of the plaque . You can find out more about the society at: –

The Chartist sculpture and plaque, Newport

Chartist sculptureThe Chartist sculpture is positioned in Westgate Square in Newport. This was where John Frost led more than 3,000 people on 4 November 1839 to demand the release of several Chartists being held in the Westgate Hotel. This was the last armed rebellion in Britain and it was ruthlessly suppressed when 28 soldiers inside the hotel were ordered to open fire on the crowd. At least twenty people were killed and fifty wounded. Frost and other leaders of the march were subsequently found guilty of high treason and transported for life.

Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform that existed between 1838 and 1848 anSt Woolos church - Chartist's burial placed which took its name from the People’s  Charter of 1838. This had six basic reforms in order to make the political system more democratic:

1) A vote for every man over the age of 21
2) A secret ballot for elections
3) No property qualification for members of Parliament
4) Payment for MPs (so poor men could become one)
5) Constituencies of equal size
6) Annual elections for Parliament

Chartist plaque at St Woolos church, Newport
Plaque to the dead

Some of the Chartist dead were buried in the Cathedral Church of St Woolos (pictured above),  which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, in Newport where there is still a plaque to their memory.

Thomas Spence (1750 – 1814)  “Dare to be Free”

Thomas Spence plaqueThe life of land reformer and political activist Thomas Spence is  commemorated in his home city of Newcastle with a plaque on the Quayside where he was born, in 1750, and later ran a school. Its mounting in 2010 ended a 10-year campaign by the trust established in Spence’s name. One of net maker Jeremiah Spence’s nineteen children, Thomas Spence entered the world in turbulent times with land clearances and industrialisation pushing people off the land and into the factories.

After initially working alongside his father, Spence became a teacher. Disturbed by the poverty he saw all around him it wasn’t long before he began to agitate for improvements. At aged 15 he published and sold his pamphlet, The Real Rights of Man. This was inspired by a lawsuit between the freemen (a person who enjoys political and civil liberties)  and Newcastle Corporation over the use of common land. It was to be the first of many pamphlets Spence was to be involved with until his death in 1814.

He agitated for all land to be held in common ownership by each parish. People were to be given their own plots on which to grow the necessities of life with profits from the rents to be employed to support local services such as libraries and schools. Having secured the vast majority of land for themselves in 1066 and during Henry the VIII’s reign with the dissolution of the monasteries, then the large landowners were not going to allow Spence’s idea’s to gain the converts he needed to turn theory into practice. By 1794 he was facing high treason charges in court. There he took up Thomas Paine’s arguments against hereditary aristocracy by following it to a natural conclusion in arguing for the end of private property in land. He was given seven months at his majesty’s pleasure, but imprisonment failed to curb a man whose favourite slogan was “dare to be free”.

Further spells in prison followed as Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger sought to eradicate radical ideas in Britain by suspending Habeas Corpus on many occasions. Nothing though failed to dampen Spence’s enthusiasm to improve the lot of the workingman, leading him to publish the Grand Repository of the English Language. In this he outlined a new phonetic system of learning under which the written word resembled that of the spoken.

“He wanted to give the working man a chance to read as he was convinced that once they were able to do so they would want to overthrow the tyranny under which they toiled” says Joan Beal, a Sheffield University professor.

Newcastle born poet Keith Armstrong and founder of the Spence Trust said he was “delighted to see a plaque on the spot where this great man of principle lived and worked. Hopefully it will mean that those who pass it and who have never previously heard of Spence will take the time in the future to find out more about him”.

According to Newcastle Labour Councillor Nigel Todd it would be great if more people did find out about Spence as the “issues he tried to resolve over two hundred years ago remain in place today with the vast majority of land still owned by very few people, who are the descendants of the major landowners from back then.”  A fact which means that today Britain has the most imbalanced land ownership package in the world, with 64% of all land owned by just 0.28% of the population. To make matters worse, most are beneficiaries of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy programme of farming subsidies.

Tom Maguire 1866 – 1895  Pioneer socialist & trade unionist

Tom Maguire plaqueThe life of socialist and trade union organiser Tom Maguire is commemorated with a red plaque in Leeds Central Bus Station in St Peter’s Street. He was born not far from there in 1866 and although he died tragically young, Maguire was an inspirational political activist and theoretician admired by, amongst others, William Morris. Maguire helped co-found the Labour Party’s forerunner, the Independent Labour Party. However, it was as the leader of the 1890 Leeds Gasworkers’ Strike that he rose to prominence when in spite of being opposed by armed troops he organised widespread solidarity action and led workers to a famous victory.

Maguire’s name is born by the (Isabella) Ford-Maguire Society which organises events around the socialist, feminist and radical history of Leeds.

For more details see:-
For more on the life of Tom Maguire see: –

Alice Wheeldon 1866 – 1919 Peace activist, socialist and suffragette

Alice Wheeldon blue plaqueIn 2013 Derby City Council and Derby Civic Society erected a Blue Plaque as a memorial to Alice Wheeldon at her home on 29 Pear Tree Road, Derby. This was public recognition for the campaign, instigated by the Derby People’s History Group, to clear Wheeldon and her daughter and son-in-law, Winnie and Alf Mason, of their convictions for conspiracy to murder Prime Minister Lloyd George and his cabinet minister Arthur Henderson in 1917. Sentences of ten, five and seven years were imposed after a swift trial that gripped the nation.

Alice Wheeldon was a socialist who was active in the Women’s Social and Political Union until the outbreak of the First World War when along with the rest of her family she began sheltering young men fleeing conscription. In 1917, Alex Gordon, a MI5 secret agent with a lengthy list of previous criminal convictions, stayed the night at the Wheeldon home after claiming he was a conscientious objector. Gordon constructed an elaborate plot to fabricate evidence that the Wheeldon family were intent on murdering some of the most prominent politicians of the day.

When case came to the Old Bailey the Attorney General, F E Smith, led the prosecution and at the trial he refused to call Gordon, who had twice previously been diagnosed as criminally insane, as a witness. The agent later emigrated to South Africa. This prevented cross-examination of the key witness and a fair trial.
Following her conviction, Alice was sent to Aylesbury Prison, where she went on hunger strike in protest at her innocence. When her health quickly deteriorated the authorities feared she might die in prison and become a martyr in a period when increasing numbers of people were beginning to question the continuing slaughter in the trenches. She was released on 31 December 1917 but Alice never recovered from her ordeal and she died of flu during the 1919 pandemic. A red flag was placed on her coffin at the funeral. Her daughter and son-in-law were released at the conclusion of the War in 1918.

Two years ago a campaign was launched to clear the names of Alice Wheeldon, Winnie and Alf Mason. Counsel has been fully briefed to make an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and in early February 2014 the stage where the material upon which the application will be founded is only weeks away from completion. This preparation has been made possible through legal research by University of New South Wales, Australia where Deirdre and Chloe Mason; Alice Wheeldon’s living descendants live.
The case of the Wheeldon’s featured on 10 February 2014 in Jeremy Paxman’s BBC TV series Britain’s Great War and you can find out more on the campaign to clear their names at

Mary Barbour, 1875 – 1958, one of Govan’s great working class heroes

Mary Barbour plaqueThe conference suite at the Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow is dedicated to the memory of one of Govan’s great working class heroes Mary Barbour. A suitable plaque adorns the suite. Now there are plans to organise a permanent memorial to her, in time for the centenary of the 1915 Glasgow rent strike in which she helped lead tenants to victory.

Greedy landlords sought to take advantage of the increased housing demand that was the result of men pouring into Glasgow to work in the shipyards and munitions factories. Where sitting tenants could pay a higher rent they were replaced by anyone that could. With many men away at war, the property owners reasoned the women at hone would be a soft touch, even though the accommodation provided was poorly maintained.

Mary Barbour had political experience as a member of the Co-operative Women’s Guild and the Independent Labour Party. She joined other women in forming the Govan Women’s Housing Association. Meetings were held at which it was agreed to pay the pre-war rent whilst also campaigning for decent municipal housing. When fellow tenants were threatened with eviction, women rushed to prevent the sheriff’s officers throwing anyone on to the streets. Soon the strike spread across Glasgow and to other British cities.
Mary Barbour landlords demonstration
On 17 November 1915, landlords sought to take some tenants to court for unpaid rent and at which point Mary Barbour helped to organise one of the biggest marches ever seen in Glasgow. Men from the shipyards and munitions factories joined women heading for court. Frightened court officials rang the munitions minister, David Lloyd George, who instructed them to let the tenants go. Within weeks, Lloyd George pushed through a Parliamentary Bill restricting rents to pre-war levels. This was the first legislation of its kind anywhere in Europe.

Mary Barbour also campaigned against the war and often spoke at public gatherings in Glasgow Green. In 1920, she became one of the first two female Labour councillors after women over 30 were granted the vote. She battled for baths and wash-houses; child welfare centres and play parks. Better housing was a key demand and she was successful in organising a family planning centre, no easy task in a city where the church was strong and many in her own party opposed her. She also fought for many other basic welfare services.

Yet as Maria Fyfe, the former Labour MP for Govan Maryhill, says, “the name of Mary Barbour is not widely known, even in her own city.” That could be about to change as a committee has been established to raise funds for a permanent memorial to a woman who inspired others to demand decent living standards. Support is growing with backing from the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow City Council, East Renfrewshire District Council – her birthplace – and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

For more information see: –
Donations to the fund are needed, however small. Send them to STUC (Remember Mary Barbour), 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow G3 6NG.

The Pierce Institute is over a century old and is 840-860 Govan Road, Glasgow G51 3UU.

Thomas Cooper, 1805-1892 Chartist

Thomas Cooper plaqueLeicester born Thomas Cooper was left fatherless when his father died when he was four. This ensured he had very little formal education. Yet by the time he was 28 he had educated himself so well that he was able to open his own school in Gainsborough with over a hundred pupils. He later became a full-time journalist and after attending a Chartist meeting in Leicester in November 1840 he came away shocked by the accounts people in the audience gave about their working and living conditions. He decided to become a Chartist.

Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform that existed between 1838 and 1848 and which took its name from the People’s  Charter of 1838. This had six basic reforms in order to make the political system more democratic:

1) A vote for every man over the age of 21
2) A secret ballot for elections
3) No property qualification for members of Parliament
4) Payment for MPs (so poor men could become one)
5) Constituencies of equal size
6) Annual elections for Parliament

In 1841 Thomas Cooper successfully stood for Parliament as the Chartist candidate for the Nottingham constituency by-election. However he failed to retain the seat in the general election three months later. Cooper then supported those like Feargus O’Connor and George Julian Harney who were advocating the use of physical force to achieve their objectives. When some of the followers began organising strikes and riots the authorities arrested Cooper and other supporters of militant methods were arrested and charged with sedition. He was found guilty of organising the Plug Riots – named because of the fact that striking workers removed the boiler plugs form the steam engines in their factories – and imprisoned in Stafford Gaol for the next two years.

During his incarceration he changed his mind about the morality of using physical force and he was later expelled from the Chartist movement after he alleged that O’Connor was personally profiting from money that was being raised for its activities. Returning to journalism, Cooper later spent much of his time as a travelling preacher but also wrote his autobiography, The Life of Thomas Cooper in 1872. He died in 1892. The plaque which honours him is at 11 Church Gate, Leicester LE1 4AJ.

Many thanks to Ross Galbraith for taking the photograph. In 1989, Ross and Gary Sherriff, both TGWU members, refused to work on a contract that their employer, Granby Plastics Limited, had accepted from South Africa. They were sacked for standing up to apartheid and for the next three years toured the UK and Ireland speaking about the need for workers to take direct action to disrupt British trade with South Africa.

Ernest Bevin, 1881 – 1851 Giant of the Labour movement
8 South Molton Street, Mayfair, London

Ernest Bevin plaqueErnest Bevin was one of the labour movement giants of the 20th century. As a Dockers’ Union official, Bevin co-founded and served as general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) from 1922 to 1940, when he became Minister of Labour in Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition government. He successfully mobilised Britain’s workforce and became one of the most important members of Churchill’s war cabinet.

Bevin, who was orphaned at aged six and had little formal education, had previously encouraged young men – including Jack Jones, the future national TGWU leader and Tom Jones, the future TGWU leader in Wales – to join the International Brigades and go and fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s. TGWU formation cartoon
Following the Labour Party’s landslide victory in the 1945 General Election, Bevin was appointed by Prime Minister Clement Attlee as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He played an important role in the acceptance of the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO and Britain’s decision to develop nuclear weapons. In poor health, the former docker resigned from the government in March 1951 and died the following year.

Ernest Bevin newspaper article

Cartoon depicting the formation of the TGWU

Newspaper article written by Bevin after the war

Tom Mann, 1856-1941 one of Britain’s greatest trade unionists

Tom Mann plaqueTom Mann, who was one of the three main union leaders of the 1889 London Dock Strike, is one of Britain’s greatest trade unionists.

After a year working as a miner, ten year-old Mann began a seven-year engineering apprenticeship and after which he moved from Coventry to London to find work. He joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and published his pamphlet on the eight-hour day. In 1887 Mann moved to Newcastle where as the Social Democratic Foundation’s organiser he helped form the North of England Socialist Federation. Having read the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Mann became a communist who aimed to overthrow the capitalist system.

Back in London, Mann helped Ben Tillett, John Burns and Cardinal Manning to organise dockers when they struck in 1889 for 6d (2.5p) an hour and a minimum of four continuous hours of work. With the employers aiming to starve the 10,000 plus men out on strike the arrival of £30,000 from trade unions in Australia helped maintain the struggle and after five weeks the employers conceded defeat by granting all the dockers’ main demands.

Mann became President for the new General Labourers’ Union but in 1897 he helped form the Workers Union, which after a slow start blossomed in the decade prior to World War One. The WU eventually merged with the Transport and General Workers Union in 1929.  In December 1901, Mann emigrated to Australia and where he was active in trade unionism and politics and suffered imprisonment for sedition. On his return to England in 1910, Tillett as an organiser for the Dockers Union employed Mann. He played a crucial role in the successful 1911 transport workers strike in Liverpool and was also heavily involved in the unsuccessful Dublin ‘right to unionise’ strike of 1914.

MaTom Mann portraitnn, a religious person throughout his life, was strongly opposed to workers slaughtering each other during the First World War. He was a firm supporter of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 when for a brief period the working class took control of its own destiny. He retired from full-time employment in 1921, but remained actively involved for many years afterwards and he was sent to prison in 1932 after he criticised cuts in poor relief during a speech he made in Belfast.

When it was decided in 1936 to develop a volunteer international legion to fight on the side of the Spanish Republican government the Tom Mann Centuria became one of the first International Brigades formed. Tom Mann died in Leeds on 13 March 1941. He is buried in Lawnswood Cemetery in Leeds, where Leeds Trades Council has placed a plaque in his honour.

Many thanks to Alan Mann (no relation), the secretary of Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery, for this photograph of the Tom Mann plaque

International Workers Memorial in Bathgate West Lothian

International Workers Day Memorial - BathgateThis is located in Bathgate Sports Park, below which lies the remains of Balbardie Colliery, where on Tuesday 19 February 1895 a boiler explosion killed Richard Biswick, a fireman employed by the owners (Henry Walker and Cameron) and Robert Strickland, a tramp who happened to be in one of the fire holes when the boiler exploded.

In 1992 an International Workers Day Memorial was commissioned by the Lothian Federation of Trades Councils. Since when every April 28th a special ceremony is held to Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living.

For more details on the explosion see

There is book which gives greater details about the explosion: Historic Steam Boiler Explosions is by Alan McEwen and available at

Many thanks to Jim Swan, West Lothian TUC secretary and Unite member, for the photograph and information on this important memorial.

Caroline E.D. Martyn, 1867-1896

Caroline Martyn memorialDundee Trades Council have helped keep alive the memory of Caroline Eliza Derecourt Martyn by tidying up her grave in Balgay Cemetery and restoring the granite column memorial. This was originally paid for by subscriptions from the Dundee branch of the Independent Labour Party and the Dundee Textile Workers’ Union.

Carrie Martyn was born in Lincoln and was an early organiser of trade unions in the UK. Originally active in the Conservative Party, she became a radical when she lodged in Reading with her maternal aunt, Mrs Bailey, who held progressive views. After joining the Fabian Society, she devoted herself full-time to socialism after being forced to give up work due to ill-health.

She had many articles published and also toured as a lecturer. Large crowds turned up to hear her speak. In 1896, she was elected to the executive council of the Independent Labour Party and became the organisations trade union organiser for North Scotland. It was whilst she was organising female workers in Dundee that she contracted pneumonia and died at aged 29. Keir Hardie wrote that she was the leading socialist of the day.

There is an 1895 article – ‘Women in the World’ by Caroline E.D. Martyn at:-  Taken from ‘The Labour Prophet’, journal of the Labour Church, Martyn argues that “the real freedom of women” will be achieved by overcoming the wrongs “inflicted on them as a class rather than a sex.”

Many thanks to Mike Arnott, Dundee Trades Union Council secretary and chair of Dundee GMB local authority apex branch, for supplying the photographs for this article.

Read more on Caroline Martyn

Sidney Webb, 1859-1947, and Beatrice Webb, 1858-1943

Erected in 1981 by the Greater London Council, there is a blue Sidney and Beatrice Webb plaqueplaque to Beatrice and Sidney Webb at 10 Netherall Gardens, Swiss Cottage, Camden, London.

Beatrice Potter was the granddaughter of Richard Potter, the Radical MP for Wigan. In 1886 she went to work for Charles Booth, who was studying the lives of working people in London. She studied the lives of the dock workers in the East End and supported the London Dock Strike in 1889.

Sidney Webb’s father also held radical political views and in 1885 he joined the Fabian Society, which described itself as a ‘fact-finding and fact-dispensing body’ and it produced pamphlets, many written by Webb, on a wide range of different social issues.

Sidney and Beatrice Potter married in 1892 and later worked on several books together including the History of Trade Unionism (1894) and Industrial Democracy (1897). The research they carried out for these books convinced them of the need to establish a political party that was committed to obtaining socialism through parliamentary elections.  On 27 February 1900, the Fabian Society joined with the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation and trade unionists to form the Labour Representation Committee, which stood 15 candidates in that years General Election and won two seats with Keir Hardie and Richard Bell both elected. The LRC was to change its name to the Labour Party on 12 February 1906.

The Webbs were though willing to work with any party in order to obtain policies they believed in and in 1902 the pair helped draft the Conservative’s Education Act.

Beatrice Webb served on the 1905-09 Poor Law Commission and when she found herself in disagreement with most of the Commission members she and Sidney wrote and published a minority report.

In 1913, the Webbs helped start a new political weekly, the New Statesman. In 1923, Sidney Webb was elected as Labour MP for Seaham, County Durham. He subsequently served as President of the Board of Trade under Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister. Sidney later served as Secretary of State for the Colonies in MacDonald’s second Labour Government.

The ashes of Sidney and Beatrice Webb lie in the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey. The small lozenge stone bears their names and the years they were born and died.

Female Union Society inscribed stone, Ramsbottom

Female Union Society plaque in RamsbottomIn the second decade of the nineteenth century, a lack of suffrage (more than half of all MPs were elected by just 154 votes) and the poor economic conditions that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 combined to create a mass movement that demanded reform of parliamentary representation.

On 16 August 1819 at St Peter’s Field, Manchester a cavalry charge resulted in the deaths of 15 demonstrators from amongst a crowd estimated at between sixty and eighty thousand. The massacre was to become known as Peterloo, an ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo four years earlier.

Female Union Society plaqueAmongst the crowd were many women. Nevertheless, radical policy at this period was generally to press for universal male suffrage. Some female campaigners were not content and organised Female Union Societies to demand a vote for all, male and female. Many societies were established in the North-West of England industrialised cotton towns, including at Holcombe Brook, Ramsbottom, just north of Bury.

An inscribed stone at a cottage in Holcombe Brook is the only surviving evidence of this particular women’s organisation.

Andrew Hardie and John Baird, Stirling

Andrew Hardie and John Baird plaqueThere is a plaque, mounted by the Labour Party, on the Stirling Tolbooth and Cross which commemorates Andrew Hardie and John Baird. The pair were executed in Stirling on 8 September 1820 for playing a leading role in a radical uprising aimed at reforming an uncaring government.

Following the end of the long Napoleonic Wars the subsequent economic downturn brought increasing dissent, with skilled Scottish weavers at the forefront of demands for major change.  In 1812 the weavers had defied the law by striking for nine weeks after employers had refused to pay a wage increase agreed upon by magistrates.

A (28 man) Committee of Organisation for Forming a Provisional Government placed placards around Glasgow on Saturday 1 April 1820 calling for a national strike the following Monday. In the weeks leading up to the call, the committee had arranged for military training for its supporters. With his military experience, John Baird, was given responsibility for the training programme. Meantime, the government pressed ahead with constructing a network of spies and agent provocateurs.

When as many as 60,000 workers took up the call for action on April 3 some then, unsuccessfully, sought to seize weapons. James Wilson of Strathaven was identified as one of the ringleaders of men who attacked the militia as they escorted prisoners to Greenock jail. After being hung, Wilson was decapitulated as the authorities, terrified by revolutionary turmoil in Ireland and France, sought to reassert their control by brutal methods. En route with a small detachment of men to the Carron Company Ironworks in Falkirk to remove weapons manufactured there, Baird and Hardie were ordered to wait at Bonnymuir whilst others moved forward to grab the weapons. A detachment of Hussars and Yeomanry troopers were later ordered to attack the rebels at Bonnymuir, four of whom were wounded, whilst nineteen were captured and imprisoned in Stirling Castle.

In total 88 men were charged with treason in Scotland and at Glasgow and Stirling a special Court was established to prosecute them. Wilson was executed on 30 August and nine days later Hardie and Baird, who before they died defied the Sheriff of Stirling by refusing not to make political speeches from the gallows, suffered the same fate.

Baird said: “We cry to heaven for vengeance.”

Hardie said: “Our blood is shed…..for no other sin but seeking the legitimate rights of our ill used and down trodden beloved Countrymen.”

Afterwards the Sheriff warned the 2,000 crowd, “go quietly home and read your Bibles, and remember the fate of Hardie and Baird.”

In due course another 19 rebels, a number of whom had participated after being urged to do so by agent provocateurs, were transported to the penal colonies in New South Wales or Tasmania. Following a campaign in Scotland led by journalist Peter MacKenzie, they were later all granted an absolute pardon in 1835.

Many thanks to Unite member Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, for sending in the photograph of the Stirling plaque.

Andrew Hardie wrote his account of the uprising in an 8-page booklet that was smuggled out of prison and published. The radical revolt: a description of the Glasgow Rising in 1820; the march and battle of
Bonnymuir, Andrew Hardie, 1793-1820

In 1832 Peter MacKenzie had a book published: An exposure of the spy system pursued in Glasgow during the years 16-16-17-18-19 and 20: with copies of the original letters…..of Andrew Hardie, who was executed for high treason at Stirling, in September 1820…./edited …by a Ten-pounder.

Eleanor Marx, Brighton

Eleanor Marx plaqueThere is a grey plaque mounted on 6 Vernon Terrace, Brighton to Eleanor Marx, women’s rights campaigner and daughter to Karl Marx. Known as ‘Tussy’ she was interested in politics from a very early age. At sixteen she became her father’s secretary, accompanying him to socialist conferences. A disagreement however with her father over a love affair with the considerably older Prosper-Olivier Lissagray, a French journalist who had participated in the 1871 Paris Commune, saw her move to Brighton to work as a schoolteacher. She resided at 6 Vernon Terrace in the Montpelier suburb. She then assisted Lissagray to write the History of the Commune 1871.

In 1884 she joined the Social Democratic Federation, before quickly leaving to join the Socialist League, writing regularly for the paper of an organisation whose most known member was William Morris. In 1885, she helped organise in Paris the International Socialist Congress and over the following years she supported many strikes including the 1888 Bryant and May strike by women there and the London Dock Strike of the following year. Eleanor later took up acting and also translated various literary works. After discovering that her long-term partner, Edward Aveling, had secretly married, Eleanor Marx sadly committed suicide in March 1898.

There are a number of books written on Eleanor Marx.

Many thanks to Celia Stubbs, a retired Unison member, for the photograph which appears here. Celia, the partner of Blair Peach, murdered by the police at Southall in April 1979, is a remarkable woman whose tireless campaigning on, amongst many other things, miscarriage of justice cases and asylum seekers and refugees has been an inspiration to many other people.

Bristol Bus Boycott, Marlborough Street bus station, Bristol

The Bristol Bus Boycott 1963A plaque that commemorates the heroic struggle against racism on Bristol’s buses was unveiled at Marlborough Street bus station in August 2014. In 1963 the Bristol Bus Company’s refusal to recruit black people as drivers or conductors was supported by Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) members who threatened to bring the buses to a halt if black workers were employed on bus crews.This colour bar was brought to a glorious end after four young West Indians, Prince Brown, Audley Evans, Roy Hackett and Owen Henry, along with British born Paul Stephenson, set up the West Indian Development Council.

The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott inspired them, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. Black Bristolians and white anti-racists, including Bristol East Labour MP Tony Benn, boycotted the bus company who thus lost income and was badly damaged by the publicity the campaign generated. After four months the bus company announced it would it was ending its bar on ‘coloured labour’ thus forcing white trade unionists to reassess their attitudes and begin working alongside their black colleagues.

The successful struggle also helped inspire the passing two years later in Parliament of the Race Relations Act that outlaws racial discrimination.
Black and White on the Buses - book cover
In 1986, Madge Dresser wrote an account of events in 1963.

This is at:-

Madge Dresser’s book has been republished by Bookmarks with financial support from a number of trade union branches including Bristol Unite Health, Bristol Unite General services and Bristol Finance and Legal.
It is available at a cost of £5.80 plus postage from

In 2013, Unite, as the successor to the TGWU, issued an apology: –

For more on this historic struggle see:-

Many thanks to Cheryl Nelson, UNITE rep at AXA Bristol office, for sending in the photograph of the plaque and suggesting including it on Rebel Road.

Anti Apartheid plaque, Jack Jones House Liverpool

Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson and Unite general secretary Len McCluskeyThe entrance to Jack Jones House, Liverpool is the location for a Liverpool City Council plaque dedicated to Merseysiders whose spirit of international solidarity saw them risk their lives in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Internal resistance there in the forms of strikes, demonstrations and acts of sabotage encouraged international solidarity.
Seafarers and dockers have long been the most successful at organising international solidarity. Gerry Wan, deceased, was a black Liverpool-born seaman who was a chef on the Union Castle Line that sailed to South Africa.
Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey
at the plaque unveiling in Jack Jones House on 30 January 2015

According to Roger O’Hara, the Merseyside Area Secretary for the Communist Party (CP) of Great Britain in 1970, Wan delivered post, propaganda literature and parcels of money to places in Durban. These materials were hidden within ships’ cargo holds before departing from Britain. Obed MlabaAnother CP member George Cartwright, deceased, was charged with collecting a crew together to navigate a yacht, the Avventura, from Somalia to close to the coast of South Africa where 19 ANC guerrilla fighters, fresh from training in the Soviet Union, arms and ammunition would come in on two dinghies. Seagoing engineer, Pat Newman, deceased, was one of those who agreed to join the mission. Ex-seaman, Eric Caddick, formerly a professional boxer, was another. He was a local black member of the CP. His father was from Barbados and his mother was from Liverpool.
                                                                                    Obed Mlaba

Alex Moumbaris, who on a later mission was caught and sentenced to prison for twelve years, for which he served 7.5 as he escaped (1), was in charge of the landing with Bob Newland whilst there was an alternative beach where Bill McCaig and Daniel Ahern were waiting in case something unforeseen happened. In the years leading up to the proposed landing, Ahern and McCaig had worked clandestinely in South Africa on surveying beaches that were suitable for the operation.

Bill McCaigUnfortunately, just off the coast of Kenya, the yacht, which had broken down on its initial journey, developed faults in the cooling system and a lack of spare bearings meant the mission had to be eventually aborted. Sadly, later attempts to get the young men over land into South Africa saw them captured and shot by the security forces.

McCaig had earlier been involved in propaganda work in South Africa in which he had distributed booklets around cargo holds for South African dockworkers to pick up when they unloaded ships.

Bill McCaig

He was given similar material to be posted within South Africa when he sailed there as a merchant seaman for the Union Castle Line. Later he worked permanently on Durban’s docks where he constantly moved around to try and spot opportunities for bringing in people without the port authorities knowing. He later had to leave South Africa quickly when it became apparent the South African police had become aware he was part of an underground network.

McCaig details his work in South Africa in an excellent book LONDON RECRUITS – The Secret War against Apartheid. This tells the story of a small unit of white anti-racist activists operating out of London that assisted the liberation movement, which found it very difficult to escape police surveillance after the Rivonia trial of Nelson Mandela and other leaders in 1963-64, to rebuild its capacity inside South Africa.

Apartheid book coverMoving in and out of South Africa, the recruits began by circulating banned literature through the postal system. They then become more audacious by showering leaflets from city rooftops and unfurling ANC banners and later they employed firework-type ‘bucket bombs’ for discharging leaflets at busy public venues whilst simultaneously blaring out tape-recorded speeches from such as Nelson Mandela.

Security police were baffled that an organisation they had virtually destroyed had quickly regained its capacity to act whilst the subversive activities inspired the oppressed with many young guerrilla combatants later recalling that the first time they had encountered an ANC message was through such propaganda coups.

Fortunately the vast majority of London recruits were not caught by the South African Authorities, as the penalties were severe if you were. After a series of successful operations, Sean Hosey was caught in 1971 taking passbooks and money to South African comrades in Durban. He received a physical battering and had to endure solitary confinement and interrogation before he received the mandatory five years in prison for breaching the Terrorism Act that was an effective catchall for anything that threatened white supremacy. Hosey was in Liverpool when the Liverpool City Council plaque to the five Merseyside men was unveiled on Friday 30 January 2015.

Their actions were praised by Obed Mlaba, the South African High Commissioner and ANC member: “We will never forget the overseas friends of our struggle. We thank them for the wonderful, vital job they did during the hard times we experienced. We look forward to working to continuing to work with British trade unionists.”

Liverpool-born Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said; “I was an anti-apartheid movement member. All praise for the comrades who risked their lives supporting our ANC members. It is appropriate that the plaque is mounted alongside the one bearing the names of Merseysiders who sacrificed their lives fighting for democracy in Spain in the 1930s. Both are great examples of international solidarity.”

1.    Inside Out – Escape from Pretoria Prison by Tim Jenkin (Jakana Education, South Africa, 2003) and also at

London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid is published by Merlin Press at £15.99 post free.

Newry plaque

Benny Rothman, Timperley

Benny Rothman plaqueTrade unionist Benny Rothman, the man who led the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, in April 1932, is commemorated with a blue plaque at his former Timperley home, seven miles south of Manchester.

Born in 1911 it wasn’t until Benny acquired a bike in his teens that he discovered life outside the overcrowded environment of working class Cheetham in north Manchester. He soon became a keen rambler and spent his 16th birthday climbing to the summit of Snowdon. At the end of World War 1 in 1918 returning British soldiers had been promised by prime minister Lloyd George a “land fit for heroes.” Landowners, represented in Parliament and the Lords by the Tories, were intent on ensuring that didn’t include the right for those soldiers and others to roam Britain’s mountains and moorlands.

Since 1884 there had been numerous unsuccessful attempts made for an Access to Mountains Bill to be presented in Parliament and with each passing year the chances of an Act being passed seemed to recede.
In this situation the British Workers’ Sports Federation (BWSF) that started in 1928 as a working-class movement to organise sport for workers decided to trespass on Kinder Scout. It was not a universally popular move amongst ramblers.

Benny on his bicycle as a youngsterOn a sunny Sunday April 24, 1932, Benny, an active BWSF member, found himself thrust forward as the leader of 400 ‘kinder scout mass trespassers’. Together in opposition to a line of gamekeepers, the trespassers successfully crossed the Derbyshire Peak District’s ‘forbidden mountain.’ Stung by this deliberate defiance of the law the police arrested six of them.

If the authorities felt this would be the end of the matter they miscalculated by sending Benny Rothman, listed in court as a storekeeper, and four (John Anderson, Julius Clyne, Anthony Gillett and David Nussbaum) others to prison – where Benny used his time productively to learn shorthand – for up to six months. The public outrage that followed helped bring the issue of the countryside to the fore.
Benny as a youngster with his bicycle

More importantly it emboldened many access campaigners who in subse-quent negotiations with landowners over obtaining access for walks could point to the trespass when their requests were refused.

A radical post-war Labour government responded by introducing the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949. Lewis Silkin, the then Labour minster for town and country planning described it as, “a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and ramblers, for everyone who loves to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside.”

Benny proudly wearing his AEU badgesThe Peak District became the first designated national park and today there are fifteen. The passing of the Act also means there are over 50 designated areas of outstanding natural beauty and over 200 natural nature reserves that are there to protect what are seen as the most important areas of wildlife habitat and geological formations and as places of scientific information.

Th right to roam took much longer to obtain. Again, Benny played an im-portant part. In 1982, with access still restricted on many hills, 2000 ramblers celebrated the 50th anniversary of the mass trespass by following the same path. According to Terry Howard, Sheffield Ramblers chairman, “Benny Rothman addressed us in the quarry where the original trespass had started. He helped inspire a whole new generation like myself to finish what earlier campaigns had started.”

Benny proudly wearing his AEU badges

In 2000, under another Labour government, the Countryside Rights of Way Act established the right to roam on certain upland and uncultivated areas of England and Wales. Many new paths allowing open access have been created.

Benny died aged 90 in 2002. According to his son Harry, “he rarely spoke about Kinder Scout as he had far too much going on in his life as he was engaged in things that were immediately important such as trade union and Communist Party work.” His passion for a better world was shared by his wife, Lilian, a mill worker from Rochdale.

Benny training an apprenticeIn the 1930s Benny played an active role in physically opposing Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts and over forty years later he helped to inspire a new generation of anti-fascists by speaking to them about the dangers of the National Front. Benny worked as a fitter for most his life. He was regularly elected to repre-sent his fellow members in the Amalgamated Engineering Union. (one of the forerunners to Unite) At Metro-Vicks in the 1950s his reputation for winning the best piecework rates led to him being sacked and, sadly, his workmates did not support him. He was later victimised by his employers when the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 took place. He nevertheless continued to be an active trade unionist.

“There were always visitors to our home in Timperley such as guys who had been unfairly sacked.
Benny training an apprentice
“Dad was a clever bloke and had a good memory. He used his shorthand to keep good notes and so when it came to negotiations with management I understand he would constantly refer back to them when someone might like to say something different.”  Professor Harry Rothman.

Throughout the 1984-85 miners’ strike, Benny was tireless in organising support for strikers. In 1990, Benny Rothman, who was a great friend of Hugh Scanlon, was given the Amalgamated Engineering Union’s highest award, the special award of merit. Six years later he was made honorary life member of the Ramblers Association.

Robert Tressell, Pembroke Place, Liverpool

Robert Tressell plaque
Robert Noonan, formerly Croker, and better known by his pseudonym Robert Tressell (1870-1911) is commemorated with a plaque in Pembroke Place, Liverpool.

Tressell is best known for his great novel on the building trade, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, published posthumously in 1914, the full version not appearing until 1954. Tressell was taken ill en route to Canada and after spending time in the Liverpool Workhouse he died in February 1911 in the Royal Infirmary Hospital. He was subsequently buried in a pauper’s grave in Walton Park Cemetery.

The Newry dock strike and lockout of 1907

Newry plaqueA bespoke memorial plaque in honour of the Newry Dock Strike and lockout of 1907 and the man who led it, James Fearon, was unveiled by Newry and District Trade Union Council and the Newry Maritime Association on 30 March 2015.

Written information about the strike on the plaque, which is located on Merchants Quay, is accompanied by a photograph of Fearon and Newry dockers as well as a starving family and bread and roses on the plinth.

The strike started on 19 November 1907 when Newry dockers, who were members of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL), one of Unite’s predecessor unions, supported striking Belfast dockers by refusing to unload ships diverted from Belfast. Newry dockers had become organised after James Fearon had accompanied James Larkin when he returned from Britain in 1905.

Despite hostility from local and regional employers, politicians, the church and press the strikers showed great resolve as they pressed to improve wages and working conditions. Poverty ultimately brought down the strike on 30 December when those who returned to work had to agree not to belong to the NUDL, whilst those who remained members were victimised and unable to find em-ployment and feed their families.

Fearon was later forced to enter the local workhouse and in 1912 he left to move to Scotland where he continued to play a part in the trade union movement up until his death in 1924. A short book on Fearon’s life was published in 2000: The Third James(*), James Fearon, 1874-1924, An unsung hero of our struggle. This was written by Bill McCamley. Rebel Road is hoping to make this available in due course. Newry commemoration

C Patton also wrote his dissertation, titled, The Newry Dock Strike 1907, and, again, Rebel Road hopes to make this freely available in due course.

Many thanks for the information that appears here to Ronan Turley, a Unite rep in Warrenpoint and who is a delegate from his branch to Newry Trades Union Council. “I was really pleased when it proved possible to get the plaque designed and unveiled. It should encourage people to find out more about this important labour movement event,” said Ronan.

*    This is a reference to James Connolly and James Larkin.

Annie Kenney – Oldham, Lancashire

Annie Kenney plaqueThere is a blue plaque to Annie  Kenney at Leesbrook Mill in Lees in Oldham where the working class suffragette started full-time work in 1892 as a weaver’s assistant. She later suffered a serious injury when one of her fingers was ripped off by a spinning bobbin.

Kenney became involved in trade union activities but she is best known for her involvement in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). In October 1905, Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a politician meeting to ask Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey about their views on whether women should be allowed to vote.

When neither man replied and the women then got out a banner declaring ‘Votes for Women’ they were thrown out and arrested for obstruction. Kenney went to prison for 3 days. She was later in-volved in many other similar acts and suffered imprisonment on many occasions and during which time she was often force fed after participating in hunger strikes.

Kenney was unusual in that unlike many of the leading WSPU members she was working class and when the organisation decided to open a branch in the East End of London she agreed to leave the mill and work full-time for the WSPU.

When ChristabeAnnie Kenney plaque 2l Pankhurst fled to France in 1912 to avoid arrest it was Kenney who was put in charge of the WSPU in London.  After the WSPU began destroying the contents of pillar-boxes and attempted to burn down the houses of two government members opposed to women having the vote, Kenney was again arrested and sentenced to 18 months in gaol for ‘incitement to riot.’ She became the first suffragette released from prison under the provisions of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ that released women on hunger strike in order to prevent them becoming martyrs and then re-arrested them when they recovered.

Kenney escaped to France and when the First World War was declared in 1914 she returned home after the WSPU ended their campaign and backed the military conflict with Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst helping recruit men to the armed forces.

Kenney later lost interest in politics and she died on 9 July 1953 with her husband, James Taylor, claiming his wife had never properly recovered from her hunger strikes.

Rebel Road would like to thank Oldham’s Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep who is a technician at BAE systems in Middleton, Manchester, for information on the plaque to Annie Kenney.

“I am a life long socialist and my local area of Oldham has a great working class heritage that should be celebrated and brought to the attention of the current generation so they can be inspired to emulate the great people of the past,” said Alan.

Lydia Ernestine Becker, Chadderton, Oldham

Lydia Becker blue plaqueThe Lydia Becker blue plaque was unveiled at her family home of Foxdenton Hall, Foxdenton Park on 28 September 1999. She was born in 1827 and was the eldest of 15 children. After hearing Barbara Bodichon lecture on women’s suffrage at a meeting in Manchester in 1866 she became converted to the idea that women should have the vote and spent the rest of her life campaigning on the issue.

Becker supported Radical MP John Stuart Mill when added an amendment to the 1867 Re-form Act that would have given women the same voting rights as men. The amendment was lost. In 1870, Becker established the Women’s Suffrage Journal and when the 1870 Educa-tion Act allowed women to vote and serve on School Boards, Becker was elected to the Manchester School Board and took a keen interest in raising the educational standards of girls in the city.

Between 1881 and 1884 Becker was the paid secretary of the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage and was elected in 1887 as president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage. She died on 21 July 1890.

Many thanks to Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep at BAE Systems at Middleton, Manchester for ensuring Lydia Becker features on Rebel Road. “As a local Oldham lad I am proud of my town’s radical traditions and want to see them replicated today. I am delighted to know Unite has the Rebel Road project,” said Alan.

For more information on Lydia Becker go to:-

Joseph Burgess, Failsworth, Oldham

Joseph Burgess blue plaqueA blue plaque at the birthplace of journalist and Labour politician Joseph Burgess was unveiled at 64a, Old Road, Failsworth in October 2007. Failsworth Historical Society had campaigned for the erection of the plaque with Kevin McPhillips dissertation key to the resurrection of interest in Burgess’s life and work.

Burgess, a Christian Socialist, spent his life, talents and energy in the cause of the working class. He was just six when he began work in a card-cutting room and worked as a cotton operative until he was 28 when he began work as a correspondent for a local newspaper.

His talents as a journalist could have earned him an easier life but he refused to compromise to satisfy the major print employers. Burgess established and worked for a number of socialist papers including the Yorkshire Factory Times and Bradford Pioneer.

Burgess was active in the creation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), a socialist party established in Bradford in 1893 and which was affiliated to the Labour Party from 1906 to 1932. Burgess was unsuccessful on a number of occasions when he stood as an ILP Parliamentary candidate but he was elected as a member of Glasgow City Council and served between 1902 and 1905.

Burgess married three times, had six children and died January 1934.

Many thanks to Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep from Oldham, for ensuring Joseph Burgess is on Rebel Road.

“I want to help ensure that the labour movement heroes of the past are not forgotten as hopefully they can act as an encouragement to activists today.” said Alan.

Peterloo, Manchester
Manchester’s Tiananmen Square

There is a small red plaque to thPeterloo Massacre plaquee 1819 Peterloo massacre on the wall (it’s on the corner of Peter Street and Southmill Street) of the Radisson Hotel (the Free Trade Hall as was), Manchester.

In 1819 only 2% of people could vote and there was widespread poverty, due mainly to the corns laws that artificially inflated bread prices. On 16 August 1819, contingents from across the Manchester region marched in disciplined fashion to St Peter’s Field to support parliamentary reform by listening to radical speaker Henry Hunt. The crowd was at least 60,000, half the population of the immediate Manchester area.

Banners demanded REFORM, UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE AND EQUAL REPRESEN-TATION. Those in a government representing their own needs wanted no such things and sought to arrest Hunt and disperse the crowd.

Wielding sabres, Manchester and Salford Yeomanry galloped into the unarmed, peaceful masses. Two-year-old William Fildes was the first casualty when a late arriving trooper knocked him from his mother’s arms. Fifteen people, at least, were killed and 600 to 800 injured.

Amongst the dead was ex-soldier John Lees, who fought at the Battle of Waterloo. Peterloo became a mocking reference to Waterloo at which soldiers were viewed as genuine heroes. In recent times Peterloo has become compared with the slaughter of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Not content with their killings the authorities in 1819 cracked down on reform. However, liberty could not be suppressed and demands for economic and political justice multiplied. The great Reform Act of 1832 meant Manchester, previously unrepresented in Par-liament, elected two MPs. Sweeping democratic changes followed later.

Annual commemoration

Rally in 2014 to commemorate Peterloo MassacreUnite members are heavily involved in commemorating the Peterloo Massacre

Rally in 2014 to commemorate Peterloo Massacre          Unite members are heavily involved in commemorating
the Peterloo Massacre          

There is an annual commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre on the 3rd Sunday in August. This is organised by the Peterloo Massacre Memorial Campaign, which is seeking by 2019, the bicentennial anniversary of Peterloo, ’A fitting memorial to the martyrs of democracy.’

Manchester City Council is committed to a new memorial, which will be part of the redevelopments of the St Peter’s Square area. Turner prize winner Jeremy Deller has been commissioned to design the memorial.

For more information on Peterloo, including details of the annual commemoration events, go to:-

Samuel Plimsoll, the trade unionist who improved health and safety at work.

Samuel Plimsoll plaqueSamuel Plimsoll (1824-1898) is the trade unionist best known for devising a load-line to prevent ships being overloaded. To mark his achievement there is a monument to Plimsoll in Whitehall Garden, a Victoria Embankment garden in central London. In Redcar on Teesside there is also a pub, the Plimsoll Line, whilst in Sheffield there is a plaque directly opposite his childhood home.

In 1864, Samuel Plimsoll was part of a convoy of ships voyaging from London to Redcar when a severe storm not only delayed his arrival by several hours but also wrecked four of the ships. He recognised that his vessel had been properly surveyed. No such luck for the perished sailors, whose contracts meant that if they refused to sail on an unseaworthy vessel they could be, and were, imprisoned.  It was clear that shipowners, which included numerous MPs, were content to send unseaworthy, overloaded and, significantly, overinsured, boats to sea whatever the consequences for the crews.

Plimsoll, who had previously won the miners’ approval for seeking methods to prevent colliery disasters by detecting fire damp, was determined to end the horrors of the ‘coffin-ships.’ When he was elected as the Liberal MP for Derby in 1867 he vainly sought to have a bill passed introducing a safe load line in ships. When Plimsoll was told in 1875 by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, that the Merchant Shipping Bill was being dropped by the government his angry response resulted in Plimsoll being suspended from the Commons. Plimsoll though had the public with him as they knew that over a thousand merchant seaman were being drowned each year. In 1876 the Board of Trade were given inspection powers for ships and the Plimsoll line or mark was introduced.

Samuel Plimsoll plaque, Regent Street, SheffieldPlimsoll’s maiden Parliamentary speech in 1868 had put forward the case for a repeal of the criminal laws against trade unions. The subsequent 1871 Trades Union Act legalised trade unions for the first time in the UK and meant members could not be liable for criminal prosecution for taking strike action.

After voluntarily leaving Parliament in 1880, Plimsoll became in 1887 the first president of the newly inaugurated National Sailors’ and Firemen’s Union (NSFU), where he drew attention to the horrific conditions of animals being transported under appalling, over crowded conditions.

The Samuel Plimsoll plaque (on left) in Regent Street, Sheffield

Plimsoll died in 1898. In 1929 the National Union of Seamen, the NSFU’s successor, erected a memorial to Plimsoll on London’s Embankment Gardens. There is also a Plimsoll Road in many towns and a Plimsoll Bar in Bristol. The Plimsoll Line in Redcar is a Wetherspoon’s pub on the High Street and where there is also a blue plaque erected by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council in honour of Samuel Plimsoll “The Sailors Friend.” There is also a plaque commemorating Plimsoll opposite his childhood home in Sheffield.

Many thanks to John Harvey for taking the accompanying photographs for this article.

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