Brighton & Hove Clarion Cycling Club  



The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club - a national link-up is proposed

I reproduced the original letter about the Birmingham Clarion CC's Easter Tour in 1894 in the last Circular. It appeared at the end of April. Just a few weeks later on 26 May in a miscellany of local reports entitled 'Notes from the Front' the following piece appeared as part of a report from 'Manchester and District' by Leonard Hall.

The latest and greatest 'idea' in the world is that of a National 'Clarion' Cycling Club with local centres. The electrical Tom Grooms and the oak-hearted Harry Atkinsons of Birmingham have the honour of inspiration but there is nothing 'Brummagem' about it. These neighbours of Joseph the Pneumatic have already a lively little society of 'jiggers' who wear in their caps a natty gilt badge consisting of a miniature bugle with the legend 'Clarion' in silver letters – all permanent wear and who not only enjoy themselves but spread the gospel by way of sticking I.L.P. labels and texts wheresoever they wander on wheels. Besides which they can lend a hand – or rather a voice – at struggling branch meetings in adjacent districts wherever occasion calls
. . .
I.L.P. cyclists – and their name is now legion – all over the country can have the aforementioned emblems by applying to Comrade Chris Thompson, 253 Park Road, Hockley, Birmingham, who is the designer. And local societies that wish to fall in with the National 'C' C.C. should communicate with the same gentleman at once, as it is proposed to organise a great gathering of the clans later in the summer at some convenient centre – say Derbyshire.
. . .
By the way, why not have a great 'Clarion' picnic for all and sundry some August weekend, in some happy English valley, to which should come the faithful from the four corners of the world, on wheels, on legs, in trains, ye Bounder to preside over the revels and – er- the vittles.

Well, doesn't that last bit remind those present of our discussion at this year's (and last year's) AGM of the possibility of a summer picnic in, say, Stanmer Park? But I'm not so sure about 'all and sundry' and in the unavoidable absence of the Bounder we will have to make do with Ed. And of course the year following Hall's report the first Easter Meet took place at Ashbourne – in Derbyshire.

The badges that I am currently trying to get rid of (at £6) – and planning to return in a few weeks if not sold (or 'spoken for') - are reproductions of Chris Thompson's design. He, and Harry Atkinson and Tom Groom, appear in a contemporary photo of the original Birmingham club in Denis Pye's Fellowship is Life (£4.95). Chris Thompson seems to be one of two in the picture without a (visible) bike.

Anyone mystified by Hall's saying that 'there is nothing 'Brummagem' about it' should recall that at that time – and for many years before and after – Birmingham had the reputation of mass producing cheap and rubbishy goods, so his comment is meant as a compliment to the Clarion CC.

The writer of this piece, Leonard Hall, was a long-term ILP activist, probably best known later on, in 1910, as one of the authors of the 'Green Manifesto' (not an environmental tract, I'm afraid Joyce, but so called from the cover of the booklet). Its official name was Let Us Reform the Labour Party (yes, even then!). The story is told - I think I can allow myself a plug after all this hard work - in one of my chapters (the 'political' rather than 'union' ones) of Logie Barrow and Ian Bullock, Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement, 1880- 1914, Cambridge University Press, 1996, now available in affordable paperback from CUP!

Not to be confused with the Labour Party, that was to be founded as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 the ILP, which (confusingly) affiliated to the Labour Party and became until after the First World War the main way in which individuals, as distinct from trade unions, participated in the Party, was of course the Independent Labour Party, founded at a conference in Bradford in January 1893 – the year before our present extract. The Clarion is credited with a major role in this. 'Independent' signified then independence from the Liberal Party. There were already a number of mostly miners' union leaders in the House of Commons representing the working class or 'Labour' interest as so-called 'Lib-Labs'

In March 1894, Keir Hardie launched his own weekly paper, Labour Leader, which was later to become the official organ of the ILP. The creation of this rival was rather resented by the Clarion which over the next two decades became something like the voice of the internal opposition to the Hardie/Labour Leader 'establishment' of the ILP and also the would-be spokesperson of the 'unattached' – socialists who declined to join either the ILP or its more radical rival the SDF (Social-Democratic Federation). Blatchford urged them to join both organisations and work for unity within them. Ignore, by the way, those histories of the period which see this simply in terms of a 'Marxist' SDF and a 'moderate' ILP. Perhaps the main distinguishing characteristic of the SDF was its support for more radical forms of democracy – proportional representation, the referendum and initiative, more frequent parliamentary elections, abolition of cabinet government, accountability of both the elected and the permanent official and so on – things that the Clarion tended to support but not Keir Hardie and Co in the ILP leadership.


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