Brighton & Hove Clarion Cycling Club  



Walter Southgate and the Clarion

Info sheet found at a Morning Star fringe event at the 2006 TUC in Brighton by Ed Furey. Note especially the fifth and final paragraphs. [Some spelling and punctuation errors have been corrected.]

Walter Southgate

Walter Southgate was the quintessential rank-and-file activist, born in East London in 1890 of working class parents.

Walter enjoyed the comforts of a typical East London two-up, two-down cottage. He excelled at school and should have gone into further education, but the financial situation at home ensured that he left school at 14.

Although Walter's parents had no funds for him to be indentured into one of the arts and crafts trades, he found employment as a junior clerk in a solicitor's office and soon mastered the intricacies of the legal profession, especially trade union and labour law. When his employer asked if he wanted to be a solicitor, in typical Southgate fashion he answered, 'both you and I know I haven't the money and I come from the wrong class.'

He used his legal skills when he took up employment with the National Union of Clerks he was their delegate to Hackney Trades Council. Walter was then a member of Hyndman's marxist Social-Democratic Federation. Through his Trades Council he was a delegate to the Labour Representation Committee.

Walter Southgate was a lover of the outdoors and was instrumental in forming the Hackney Branch of the Clarion Cycling Club. Both his skills as a graphic artist and writer were used in the Clarion movement. Walter was the author and compiler of the Clarion Year Book and designed leaflets, posters and other art propaganda for the movement until the First World War.

Walter, like many Socialists, saw the First World War as an imperialist war and refused to fight. Famously, when the magistrate from the tribunal cross-examined Walter on why he wouldn't fight, asking 'didn't he want to defend his home?' Walter answered that 'the Kaiser must be really hard-up if he wants my house!' Walter then went on the trot, working where he could, keeping his head down throughout the war years. Decades later, when Walter was awarded the Golden Badge of Merit for services to the Labour Party by the then prime minister, James Callaghan, Walter enquired if the warrant was still out for him.

Walter continued to be an active Socialist throughout his life. For his full story, read his autobiography entitled That's the Way it Was, a working class autobiography, 1890-1950 published by the New Clarion Press.

T McCarthy, Walter Southgate Trust.

Contributed by Michael Walker of Unison

Walter Southgate

"We were familiar with the countryside, because I can say truthfully that one of the best periods of my life was the days I spent cycling through the Essex countryside before the motor car and lorries came to spoil it all.

In 1910 I had founded the north east London clarion cycling club and when members were too numerous for safety on the road I founded off shoots.

Membership was open to both sexes and we explored the rustic villages and pubs for drinks ands teas, there was plenty of bread and butter, cake, shrimps and lettuce.

We rode two a breast with the Captain at the front and a vice captain at the rear, giving signals to one another by coded whistles.

Our journeys would be accompanied by singing and ringing of bells – it was a real fraternal outing in the fresh air, far from the stinks and grime of East End life."

Walter Southgate born 8 May 1890 in Bethnal Green, East London.

At the age of twelve started work delivering milk in metal cans for 3s 6d a week, at fourteen a clerk in a solicitors.

Joined the Social Democratic Federation in 1905, (which was the strongest socialist grouping in London, unlike the rest of the country (except Lancashire) where the ILP was by far the dominant Socialist organisation).

Founded Hackney National Union of Clerks in 1905.

In 1910 founded north east London clarion cycling club.

Conscientious objector WW1.

Later worked for the National Union of Sheet Metal Workers.

Aged ninety four he was also one of the last quill pen cutters.

Retired 1965


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