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Title: From Crow-Scaring to Westminster; an Autobiography
Author: George Edwards, 1850-1933
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Foreword by The Rt. Hon. LORD AILWYN of HONINGHAM

Introduction by W. R. SMITH, M.P.

[Illustration: _Claud Harris_






Introduction by W. R. SMITH, M.P.


[Illustration: Logo]


_First published 1922_

(_All rights reserved_)

_Printed in Great Britain by_


(Ex-Minister of Agriculture) (_Chairman of the Norfolk County Council_)

Norfolk has produced many men of whom it may be proud and among them is
the author of this book.

I am glad to know that his friends have induced Mr. George Edwards to
write the story of his life, and it is with great pleasure that I have
assented to his request to write a few introductory words, as I have
known him for a number of years and been associated with him in a great
deal of public work.

On many subjects George Edwards and I may not agree, but on two points
at least we are united--in love for Norfolk and in devotion to the
interests of agriculture.

Born at Marsham in 1850, the son of a farm worker, George Edwards is a
notable example of the way in which adverse circumstances may be
overcome by determination and natural ability. The greater part of his
life has been devoted to efforts to improve the conditions of the class
to which he belongs.

He may, on looking back in the light of experience, reflect--as most men
on reaching his age must reflect--that he has made some mistakes, but
all who know him will agree that if he has done so, they have been
mistakes of the head and not of the heart.

His honesty of purpose and sincerity of aim, his straightforwardness and
conscientiousness, his strong religious principles, are recognized by
all who have the pleasure of his acquaintance.

He is a valued member of the Norfolk County Council and a respected
Justice of the Peace.

As one of the representatives of Norfolk in the House of Commons, he
enjoys the confidence and respect of men of all classes, including many
who do not share his political views.

It is with sincere pleasure and the most hearty goodwill that I commend
to all who appreciate the record of a strenuous career spent in the
pursuit of worthy aims this self-told story of the life of a
distinguished Norfolk man.

_August 1922._


FOREWORD                               5

INTRODUCTION                          11


    I. THE HUNGRY FORTIES             15

   II. A WAGE EARNER                  22

  III. EDUCATION AT LAST              31

   IV. PIONEERS AND VICTIMS           37

    V. DARE TO BE A UNION MAN         54

   VI. A DEFEAT AND A VICTORY         61

  VII. DARK DAYS                      75

 VIII. FAREWELLS                      90

   IX. RESURRECTIONS                  98

    X. SUCCESS AT LAST               107

   XI. UNREST                        124

  XII. THE GREAT STRIKE              136

 XIII. DEFEAT                        156


   XV. THE NEW MODEL                 178

  XVI. THE GREAT WAR                 190

 XVII. THE LABOUR PARTY              201

XVIII. PARLIAMENT                    221

INDEX                                238


GEORGE EDWARDS, M.P., O.B.E.           _Frontispiece_

                                         TO FACE PAGE


UNION, GRESHAM, NORFOLK                           156

THE LATE MRS. GEORGE EDWARDS                      184


This book is more than the record of an adventurous and useful life. It
is an outline of the conditions of labour in our greatest national
industry during the last seventy years. It is the story of years of
struggle to raise the status and standard of life of the agricultural
workers of England from a state of feudal serfdom to the relatively high
level now reached, mainly through the organization of the Agricultural
Labourers' Union. In that long struggle no single person has done more
disinterested, solid and self-sacrificing work than my old friend and
colleague George Edwards. The Union which he founded some sixteen years
ago and in the ranks of which, at the age of seventy-two, he still plays
a vigorous and important part, is but the latest fruit of generations of
effort at the organization and education of the workers of rural

Born in Norfolk in 1850 George Edwards commenced farm work at the age of
six. His long life of struggle against tremendous odds should be, and I
am certain will be, an encouragement and an inspiration to many whose
opportunities and means of social service are greater than his have
been. And surely no greater service can be rendered in our time to the
cause of national well-being than work devoted to the establishment of
labour conditions in the field of British agriculture in keeping with
the vital importance of that great industry.

It would be an unprofitable speculation to try to think of what the
author of this book might have achieved had his early life been spent
under happier conditions. Poverty, servitude, oppression, the lack of
what is regarded as education, as well as the active hostility of those
who sought in order to protect their menaced interests to crush him,
have all been factors in the life of George Edwards. But in spite of
adverse circumstances, and it may be because of adverse circumstances,
some men are capable of self-expression and refuse to be conquered.
George Edwards is such a man. And he has lived to see tangible results
of his life-devotion to the cause of the class to which he belonged.

I think of the author of this book as I met him first, thirty years ago,
when he was conducting a campaign on behalf of the persecuted and
exploited farm labourers of Norfolk. It is not perhaps easy for those
who dwell in towns and cities to appreciate the difficulties that had to
be encountered in the conduct of such a campaign; the fear of
victimization and perhaps the indifference of those on whose behalf the
fight was being waged, as well as the prejudice and hostility of those
in authority. It is no exaggeration to say that the man who dared to
raise his voice on behalf of the agricultural labourer at that time was
in imminent danger of suffering injury to purse and person. A born
fighter, George Edwards never counted the cost to himself of his
agitations and propagandist activity. Never had any body of workers a
more devoted or loyal servant. I have cycled with him, twenty miles or
more, to meetings in various parts of Norfolk, attended by thousands of
men, women and children from the surrounding districts, and even in his
later years I have listened to him as he spoke with that vigour and
enthusiasm and real eloquence which only strong conviction and deep
human feeling can command.

Like Arch, his co-worker in the cause of the agricultural labourer,
George Edwards inherited his fighting spirit and independence of mind
from his mother. And from his wife, in his early manhood, he acquired
the rudiments of the elementary education which was to equip him for the
business side of his life-work.

A true record of the life of George Edwards would not only be a record
of deep human interest on its personal side. He is the most lovable of
the many lovable men it has been my privilege to know. But the main
public interest and value of this book lies, I think, in the fact that
it will give readers a glimpse of the conditions of agricultural England
during the last seventy years, and some idea of the ideals and objects
of those who have laboured to bring the country worker into line with
other workers in the fight for democratic rights and political and
economic freedom.

Wellnigh seventy years have passed since George Edwards, the Norfolk
farmer's boy of six, entered on his life-work. In that time he has been
continually in harness. He is an ex-General Secretary of the
Agricultural Labourers' Union. Early in the war period he was elected an
alderman of the Norfolk County Council, of which he is a member. He
reached in 1920 the goal on which I believe his mind was fixed. In that
year he was returned to the House of Commons as the representative of
South Norfolk, the constituency in which a great part of his life had
been spent and which he had unsuccessfully contested in 1918. In the
House of Commons his contributions to debates on agricultural questions
are listened to with the respect they deserve, and I can sincerely say
that I share the feeling of all who know him, that George Edwards,
O.B.E., M.P., J.P., is not only a worthy representative of the great
cause with which he is associated, but a man whom I am proud to count
amongst my dearest friends.


From Crow-Scaring to Westminster



In the middle of the nineteenth century there lived in the parish of
Marsham, Norfolk, (a little village about ten miles from Norwich and one
and a half miles from Aylsham), a couple of poor people by the name of
Thomas and Mary Edwards. Thomas Edwards was the second husband of Mary
Edwards, whose first husband was Robert Stageman. He died in consumption
and left her with three little children to support. In due course she
married Thomas Edwards, by whom she had four children, the entire family
numbering seven. Thomas Edwards enlisted in His Majesty's Army, served
ten years, was sent over to Spain, and fought in the interests of the
young Queen Isabel.

In those days a man who had been a soldier was looked upon as being an
inefficient workman, no matter what his experience had been before
enlistment, and further, he was looked upon by the general public as a
rather undesirable character, no matter what his record might have been
whilst in the Army, and was considered fit only to be thrown on the
scrapheap. Such was the experience of Thomas Edwards.

Before his enlistment he was an experienced agricultural labourer.
Nothing was known against his character and during his ten years'
service in His Majesty's Army he bore a most exemplary character. When
the Civil War broke out in Spain this country decided to render help to
the Queen. Thomas Edwards was sent over with the 60th Rifles. The war
lasted about eighteen months and our troops suffered the greatest
privations. Few of the troops returned to tell the tale. Of those that
were not killed in action, many died of disease.

These heroes were made to believe that although they were fighting in a
foreign country, they were fighting for their own King and Country, and
were promised that at the conclusion of the war each man that returned
should receive a bounty of £9. This promise was never fulfilled, so far
as Thomas Edwards was concerned, nor anyone else so far as he knew.

Thomas, on being discharged from the Army, returned to his native
village penniless. The Army pay was only 1s. 1d. per day, and on being
discharged he expected that a grateful country would assist him to make
a start again in civilian life. But no such good fortune awaited him. On
returning to his village he sought to obtain work as an agricultural
labourer, but no such employment could he find. For weeks he walked the
roads in search of work, but could not find any.

At this period there was a great depression in trade, especially in
agriculture. It was in the years 1830 to 1833. It is on record that more
than half of the people were receiving poor relief in some shape or
form. Bread was 1s. 6d. per 4 lb. loaf. Married men received a wage of
9s. per week, single men 6s. per week. The Guardians adopted a system of
supplementary wages by giving meal money according to the number in
family, and by so doing enabled the farmers to pay a scandalously low
wage. The poor-rate rose to 22s. in the pound, unemployment was most
acute. In a large number of villages half the men were without work.

Thus this hero, like many others, was workless. The unemployed grew
restless and on November 6, 1833, a village meeting was held to demand
food. The inhabitants of the parish of Marsham held a meeting which was
largely attended, the unemployed turning up in strong force and showing
a very threatening attitude. The meeting, however, commenced with the
repetition of the Lord's Prayer. Following some very angry words, a
resolution was moved demanding work and better wages. To the resolution
were added the words: "The labourer is worthy of his hire."

This resolution was moved by Thomas Edwards, and a farmer who was
present told him he might go and pluck blackberries again or starve, for
he should have no work, and he kept his word.

What this threat meant was soon discovered. My father on his return home
penniless, unable to get work, and without food, was forced to pick
blackberries from the hedges to eat. One day this particular farmer
caught him in his field and ordered him off, telling him he would have
no ---- tramps in his field picking blackberries.

So insult was added to injustice to this honest man who had fought, he
was told, for his country.

Before Christmas in that year he sought shelter in the workhouse, which
was then at Buxton. There he remained all the winter. In the following
spring he took himself out and got work as a brickmaker.

The summer being over, he obtained employment as a cattle-feeder, but at
1s. per week less than other labourers; and although he had to work
seven days, he received the noble sum of 8s. per week. The reason given
for paying this low wage was that he had been in the Army and was not an
able-bodied workman. No more unjust treatment could be meted out to

It was in the year of 1840--the year of Queen Victoria's marriage--that
Thomas Edwards married the young widow, Mary Stageman. She had been
left with three little children, and had herself been an inmate of the
workhouse during her late husband's illness.

The first child born to this couple was a son, whom they named Joseph,
the second was named John, and the third was a girl, whom they named
Harriet. Between this child and the next to live there was a period of
five years. All of this family are now dead with the exception of my
sister and myself. As the family increased, their poverty increased.
Wages were decreased, and had it not been for the fact that my mother
was able to add a little to her husband's wages by hand-loom weaving
(which was quite a village industry at that time), the family would have
been absolutely starved. Hand-loom weaving was a most sweated industry.
One man in the village would go to Norwich and fetch the raw material
from the factory and take the finished work back. This weaving was
principally done by women, who were paid for it by the piece, that is,
so many yards to the piece at so much per piece. A certain sum was
deducted to pay the man for the time spent in carrying the work backward
and forward to Norwich. If there was any defect in the weaving, then
another sum was deducted from the price which should have been paid, and
the employers never lost an opportunity of doing this. Poor sweated
workers were robbed at every turn.

I have known my mother to be at the loom sixteen hours out of the
twenty-four, and for these long hours she would not average more than
4s. a week, and very often less than that.


It was on October 5, 1850, that Mary Edwards bore her last baby boy.

The cottage in which the child was born was a miserable one of but two
bedrooms, in which had to sleep father, mother, and six children. At
this time my father's wage had been reduced to 7s. per week. The family
at this time was in abject poverty. When lying in bed with the infant
the mother's only food was onion gruel. As a result of the bad food, or,
properly speaking, the want of food, she was only able to feed the child
at her breast a week. After the first week he had to be fed on bread
soaked in very poor skimmed milk. As soon as my mother was able to get
about again she had to take herself again to the loom, and the child was
left during the day to the care of his little sister, who was only five
years his senior, and many a shaking did she give him when he cried.

At the christening the parents named the child George, a record of which
can be found in the register of the Parish Church, Marsham.

Whether my mother had any presentiment that this child had a career
marked out for him different from the rest of the family, I am unable to
say, but I sometimes think she had. That this was indeed so has been
lately brought to my knowledge.

I have recently revisited the scenes of my childhood days, and met in
the village an old man who declares that my mother often said that one
day her son George would be a Member of Parliament! What gift of vision
this mother must have possessed, for in those days it was never imagined
that the doors of Westminster would open to the child of such humble
parentage! Her prophecy was partly fulfilled in her lifetime, for she
lived to see me a member of a Board of Guardians and Rural District
Council, and chairman of the first Parish Council for the village in
which I then lived.

At the time of my birth my father was again a bullock feeder, working
seven days a week, leaving home in the morning before it was light, and
not returning in the evening until it was dark. He never saw his
children at this time, except for a little while on the Sunday, as they
were always put to bed during the winter months before his return from
work. The condition of the family grew worse, for, although the Corn
Laws were repealed in 1849, the price of food did not decrease to any
great extent, but wages did go down. Married men's wages were reduced
from 9s. to 8s. per week, and single, men's wages from 7s. to 6s. per
week. It was the rule in those days that the single men should work for
2s. per week less than the married men. Before the repeal of the Corn
Laws had the effect of reducing the cost of living to any great extent,
the great Crimean War broke out. This, it will be remembered, was in
1854. Food rose to famine prices. The price of bread went up to 1s. per
4 lb. loaf, sugar to 8d. per lb., tea to 6d. per oz., cheese rose from
7d. per lb. to 1s. 6d. per lb.--in fact, every article of food rose to
almost prohibitive figures. The only article of food that did not rise
to such a proportionately high figure was meat, but that was an article
of food which rarely entered a poor man's home, except a little piece of
pork occasionally which would weigh about 1½ lb., and this would have to
last a family of nine for a week! Very often this small amount could not
be obtained--in fact it can be truly said that in those days meat never
entered my father's house more than once or twice a year!

The only thing which did not rise to any great extent was wages. True,
able-bodied married men's wages did rise again in Norfolk to 9s. per
week. Single men did not share in the rise. My father at this time was
taking 8s. per week of seven days.

I was then four years of age, and the hardships of those days will never
be erased from my memory. My father's wages were not sufficient to buy
bread alone for the family by 4s. per week. My eldest brother Joseph,
who was twelve years old, was at work for 1s. 6d. per week, my second
brother John, ten years old, was working for 1s. 2d. per week. My sister
worked filling bobbins by the aid of a rough hand machine to assist my
mother in weaving. My step-brothers apprenticed themselves to the
carpentering and joinery trade by the aid of a little money which was
left them by their late father's brother, who died in South America. My
other stepbrother went to sea.

In order to save the family from actual starvation my father, night by
night, took a few turnips from his master's field. These were boiled by
my mother for the children's supper. The bread we had to eat was meal
bread of the coarsest kind, and of this we had not half enough.

We children often used to ask this loving mother for another slice of
bread, and she, with tears in her eyes, was compelled to say she had no
more to give.

As the great war proceeded the condition of the family got worse. My
sister and I went to bed early on Saturday nights so that my mother
might be able to wash and mend our clothes, and we have them clean and
tidy for the Sunday. We had no change of clothes in those days. This
work kept my mother up nearly all the Saturday night, but she would be
up early on the Sunday morning to get our scanty breakfast ready in time
for us to go to Sunday-school.

This was the only schooling I ever had!

From my earliest days, as soon as I could be, I was sent to
Sunday-school to receive the teaching of the principles of religion and
goodness. My father used to keep our little boots in the best state of
repair he could. God alone knows or ever knew how my parents worked and
wept and the sufferings and privations they had to undergo. I
particularly refer to my mother. I have seen both faint through overwork
and the lack of proper food.

I owe all I am and have to my saintly father and mother. It was they who
taught me the first principles of righteousness.



It was in the year 1855 when I had my first experience of real distress.
On my father's return home from work one night he was stopped by a
policeman who searched his bag and took from it five turnips, which he
was taking home to make his children an evening meal. There was no bread
in the house. His wife and children were waiting for him to come home,
but he was not allowed to do so.

He was arrested, taken before the magistrates next day, and committed to
prison for fourteen days' hard labour for the crime of attempting to
feed his children! The experience of that night I shall never forget.

The next morning we were taken into the workhouse, where we were kept
all the winter. Although only five years old, I was not allowed to be
with my mother.

On my father's release from prison he, of course, had also to come into
the workhouse. Being branded as a thief, no farmer would employ him. But
was he a thief? I say no, and a thousand times no! A nation that would
not allow my father sufficient income to feed his children was
responsible for any breach of the law he might have committed.

In the spring my father took us all out of the workhouse and we went
back to our home. My father obtained work at brickmaking in the little
village of Alby, about seven miles from Marsham. He was away from home
all the week, and the pay for his work was 4s. per thousand bricks
made, and he had to turn the clay with which the bricks were made three
times. He was, however, by the assistance of one of my brothers, able to
bring home to my mother about 13s. per week, which appeared almost a
godsend. In the villages during the war hand-loom weaving was brought to
a standstill, and thus my mother was unable to add to the family income
by her own industry.

On coming out of the workhouse in March 1856 I secured my first job. It
consisted of scaring crows from the fields of a farmer close to the
house. I was then six years of age, and I was paid 1s. for a seven-day
week. My first pay-day made me feel as proud as a duke. On receiving my
wage I hastened home, made straight for my mother and gave her the whole
shilling. To her I said:

"Mother, this is my money. Now we shall not want bread any more, and you
will not have to cry again. You shall always have my money. I will
always look after you."

In my childish innocence I thought my shilling would be all she needed.
It was not long, however, before I discovered my mistake, but my wage
proved a little help to her. I am glad to recall in these days that I
did keep my promise to her always to look after her, and my wife had the
unspeakable pleasure of taking her to our home, and we looked after her
for six years out of my 15s. a week, without receiving a penny from
anyone, the Board of Guardians refusing to allow her anything in the
nature of poor relief. My wife's mother also lived with us for sixteen
years, and died at our house, and for twenty-two years of my married
life I maintained these two old people.

My troubles began in the second week of my employment. Having to work
long hours, I had to be up very early in the morning, soon after
sunrise, and remain in the fields until after sunset. One day, being
completely worn out, I unfortunately fell asleep. Equally unfortunately
for me the crows were hungry, and they came on to the field and began to
pick the corn. Soon after the farmer arrived on the scene and caught me
asleep, and for this crime at six years of age he gave me a severe
thrashing, and deducted 2d. from my wage at the end of the week. Thus I
had only 10d. to take home to my mother that week. But my mother was too
good to scold.

Having finished crow-scaring for that season, I was set looking after
the cows, to see that they did not get out of the field, and take them
home in the evening to be milked. This I continued to do all the summer.

In 1856, I entered upon my first harvest. During the wheat-cutting I
made bonds for the binders. There were no reaping machines in those
days, the corn all having to be cut by the scythe. Women were engaged to
tie up the corn, and the little boys made bonds with which to tie the
corn. For this work I received 3d. per day, or at the rate of 1s. 6d.
per week.

When the wheat was carted I led the horse and shouted to the loaders to
hold tight when the horse moved. When this work was finished and there
was nothing further for me to do, I went gleaning with my mother. In
those days it was the custom for the poor to glean the wheatfields after
they had been cleared. This was a help to the poor, for it often
provided them with a little bread during the winter months, when they
would not have had half enough to eat had it not been that they were
allowed to glean. The men used to thresh the corn with a flail, dress it
and clean it, and send it to the mill to be ground into meal. The rules
for gleaning were very amusing. No one was allowed in the field while
there was a sheaf of corn there, and at a given hour the farmer would
open the gate and remove the sheaf, and shout "All on." If anyone went
into the field before this was done the rest would "shake" the corn she
had gleaned.

This was a happy time for the women and children. At the conclusion of
the harvest they would have what was called a gleaners' frolic. In the
year to which I am referring, after harvest, I went keeping cows until
the autumn, working for a farmer named Thomas Whighten. At the next
wheat-sowing I was again put to scaring crows, and when this was
finished I was set to work cleaning turnips, and what cold hands I had
when the snow was on the ground! And what suffering from backache! Those
who know anything about this class of work may judge how hard it was for
a child of six and a half years. My mother did all she could to help me.
She would get up in the morning and make a little fire over which to
boil some water. With this she would soak a little bread and a small
piece of butter. This would constitute my breakfast. For dinner I had,
day after day for weeks, nothing but two slices of bread, a small piece
of cheese, and an apple or an onion.

In the spring I left this employer and went with my father to work in
the brickfield for a Mr. John Howlett, the leading farmer, who had about
two years before put my father into prison for taking home turnips, but
after a time had set him on again. This farmer used to have bricks made
in the summer, and my father was set to make them, he having learned
this trade when young. In fact, my family for generations were
brickmakers as well as agricultural labourers. Being then barely seven
years of age, my daily task was made easier by my father, and I had not
to go to work until after breakfast. My father, however, had to be up
very early, as brickmaking in those days was very hard work. I was just
man enough to wheel away eight bricks at a time. The summer being ended,
I helped my father to feed bullocks. In the spring of 1858 I again went
into the brickfield, and during the following winter was set cleaning
turnips by Mr. Howlett. By this time my wages were raised to 2s. per
week. Well can I remember the many sore backs I had given me by the old
steward, who never missed an opportunity to thrash me if I did not clean
enough turnips. I might say I do not think I ever forgave this old
tyrant for his cruelty to me. The treatment I received was no exception
to the rule, all poor boys in those days were treated badly. One farmer
I knew used to hang the poor boys up by the heels and thrash them on the
slightest provocation, and the parents dare not say anything. Had my
father complained of the treatment to his son he would have been

In the spring of 1859 I was set to work as a horseman. This was a new
experience to me, but afterwards I was to become an efficient workman,
having a liking for horses from the very first. My first job as a
horseman was to lead the fore-horse in the drill, and many times the
first day the horse trod on my feet. My next job was rolling, and I then
thought I was a man, having for the first time a pair of reins in my
hands. This change of work brought me another 6d. a week increase in my
wages. By the next spring (1860) I was so far improved that I was set to
plough, and on April 7th of that year something happened which caused me
to change my employment. The old steward, to whom I have previously
referred, rode up by the side of the horses and struck me on the
knuckles because I was not ploughing straight enough. I at once swore at
him and told him I would pay him out for that treatment when I became a
man. He forthwith got down from his horse, took me on his knee, and
thrashed me until I was black. I, however, got a little of my own back.
I kicked him in the face until he was black, and then ran home and told
my mother what had happened. She at once went after the steward, pulled
his whiskers and slapped his face. For this she was summoned, and was
fined 5s. and costs or fourteen days' hard labour. The fine was paid by
a friend.

I soon found another job with a Mr. Charles Jones and rapidly improved
in my work. I was kept using horses, taking a delight in my work, and
soon became, although very young, quite an expert in ploughing. The head
team-man was a nice fellow, and took a great interest in me, and taught
me all he knew about horses. I worked for this man about four years, and
then left because he would not pay me more than 2s. 9d. a week! I next
went to work for three old bachelors by the names of Needham, William
and James Watts, who lived together near to my home. I helped one of
them to look after their team of five horses. They also took great
interest in me, and here I was taught all kinds of skilled work on the
farm, including drilling, stacking and thatching. I worked for them
about three years, and by the time I left my wages had risen to about
6s. per week, mother taking 4s. for my board and allowing me 2s. with
which to buy clothes and for pocket-money.

I might say by this time the condition of the family had very much
improved. My elder brothers had grown up and left home. My mother by her
hand-loom weaving had managed to clear off the debts which had been
contracted while the children were small. It showed the honesty of these
poor people.

I left my work just before harvest because of my employers not being
willing to give me enough for my harvest. This was in 1866. I then
decided I would leave home. This was the first time my mother chided me
for leaving my work, and I have thought since she was right.

I obtained work during the harvest serving the thatcher at Summerfield,
near Docking, Norfolk, which was about thirty miles from my home. After
harvest I stayed on the farm and looked after the seventh team of
horses. A Mr. Freeman had the farm, which was a much larger one than I
had ever worked on before. It consisted of 1,000 acres, and one field
was 212 acres in extent. The men on the farm did not like me staying.
There was a good bit of clannishness about them, and they did not like
people coming from other parts of the county to work in their district.

Hence the men in the other stables did not treat me kindly and often
endeavoured to steal my corn. I had, however, been taught a great deal
about horses by my eldest brother, who was a stud-groom and well trained
in the medical treatment of horses. I was therefore able to treat my
horses in such a way that they looked better than any of the others. My
employer and the other men did not know my secret, and the latter, not
being able to out-do me in this direction, tried to beat me at work. I
mention this merely to show the state of ignorance the men were in. In
these days, I am happy to say, there is a much better spirit amongst the

I decided, however, not to stay there more than the year, and on October
11, 1867, I left and returned to my own home. I obtained a job as a
team-man with a farmer of the name of Thomas Blyth, at a farm called
Botnay Bay. I lived in and received a wage of 2s. per week, with board
and lodging, and had to feed and groom five horses. Here I increased my
efficiency as a horseman and workman. My employer, though an old tyrant,
did put me to all kinds of work. I was set to drill and at the harvest
to stack and thatch. The thatching I followed for several years after I
left my regular work as a farm hand. I stayed at this place until 1869,
when an unhappy affair happened that caused me to leave my farm work for
some few years. This farmer had threatened to thrash me and my fellow
worker several times. My colleague's name was Sam Spanton. One day when
we were at plough he came and accused us of stopping at the end of the
field. With an oath I denied this and called him a liar. He thereupon
struck me with his clenched fist and knocked me down. As I got up I
struck him on the side of the head with my whip-stalk and knocked him
down. I at once got on to him and struck him with my fist. My colleague
came to my assistance, and between the two of us, after a rough tussle,
we thus far came off victorious, for he never again attempted to hit us.
This, however, finished us with this employer. This affair took place in
the last week in March 1869, and I obtained work for the summer on a
brickfield at Bessingham.

It was, however, a turning-point in my life, greatly to the delight of
my mother, for I had begun to adopt rather bad habits whilst in this
man's employ. I had taken to snaring hares and catching rabbits and
selling them for pocket-money. I had also begun to visit the
public-houses, although I never got drunk. This caused my saintly mother
some anxious moments.

On leaving this employer I attended a little Primitive Methodist chapel
one Sunday evening, when a very earnest lay-preacher, by name Samuel
Harrison, was preaching. He took for his text: "How shall we escape, if
we neglect so great salvation?" His sermon was a thoroughly orthodox
one, and it certainly did appeal to me, and I was led to see I had not
been pursuing a right course. I became what we used to call in those
days "saved," but which I term now the spiritual forces coming into
contact with the forces of evil, which up till then were completely
controlling my life, and which, had I not been brought under the
influence of the Eternal Spirit at this particular time, might have
altered the whole course of my life.

I at once embraced the simple faith of Christ as the Great Saviour of
man, although in a rather different light then to what I do now. But I
continued to maintain my faith in Christ as the Eternal Son of God, and
as the Great Leader and Saviour of men, and in the principles of
righteousness advocated by Him as the true solution for all the evils
affecting humanity.

I still love my Church, and I remain a loyal supporter of that great
section of the Methodist Church, namely the Primitive Methodists, which
has during the last hundred years done so much for the uplifting of the
toiling masses of England, and brought light and comfort into thousands
of homes. The faith I then embraced created within me new ideals on life
and, although an illiterate and uneducated youth, I became very
thoughtful and most strict in my habits, thinking I had to give up
everything I had hitherto indulged in.



In the spring of 1870 I went to work in a brickfield at Alby. Here I met
a woman who was to play a wonderful part in my future life. Her name was
Charlotte Corke, daughter of the late Mr. James Corke of that parish.
She herself had felt the pinch of poverty, being the youngest child of

We became engaged, and on June 21, 1872, we married at Alby Church. A
record of this event is still to be found in the church register.

At this time I was given a note of liberty by the Aylsham Primitive
Methodist Circuit Quarterly Meeting, permitting me to speak in their
chapels, and I was appointed to accompany two accredited lay-preachers
by the names of Edward Gladden and James Applegate. This continued for
two quarters, after which my name appeared on the plan of preachers. In
October of the same year I returned to my former employment,
agriculture, obtaining a situation with Mr. James Rice of Oulton. I
hired a cottage at Oulton, which is near Aylsham (Norfolk), where we
lived for the first seven years of our married life. I worked for Mr.
Rice for two years, when a dispute arose over the right to stop work for
breakfast, and I left and again returned to brickmaking, and went to
work at Blickling, about a mile and a half from my home, which distance
I walked morning and night. Mr. James Applegate was the contractor and
foreman on this yard, on which was manufactured all kinds of ware. My
foreman was quite a skilled tradesman and he took great interest in me
and set me to manufacture all kinds of ware, and he also taught me the
art of burning the ware. I stayed with him about five years, when, by
his assistance, I obtained a situation as brick-burner with a Mr. John
Cook of Thwaite Hall and, on October 11, 1879, I moved to Alby Hill into
one of my employer's cottages.

The September Quarterly Meeting of 1872 of the Aylsham Primitive
Methodist Circuit decided that my name should appear on the preachers'
plan as an "Exhorter," and I was planned to take my first service on the
third Sunday in October of that year.

Up to this time I could not read, I merely knew my letters, but I set
myself to work. My dear wife came to my rescue and undertook to teach me
to read. For the purposes of this first service she helped me to commit
three hymns to memory and also the first chapter of the Gospel according
to St. John. It was a big task, but she accomplished it, and this is how
it was done. When I returned home from work after tea she would get the
hymn-book, read the lines out, and I would repeat them after her. This
was repeated until I had committed the whole hymn to memory.


My first three were good old Primitive Methodist hymns. The opening
verse of the first hymn I learned was:--

     Hark, the Gospel news is sounding,
       Christ has suffered on the tree.
     Streams of mercy are abounding,
       Grace for all is rich and free.
             Now, poor sinner,
       Look to Him who died for thee.

The second hymn was:--

     There is a fountain filled with blood,
       Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
     And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
       Lose all their guilty stains.

The third hymn was:--

     Stop, poor sinner, stop and think
        Before you further go.
     Will you sport upon the brink
        Of everlasting woe?
     On the verge of ruin stop,
      Now the friendly warning take,
     Stay your footsteps or you'll drop
        Into the burning lake.

The last hymn does not appear in the present-day Primitive Methodist
hymnal. Needless to say, I have long ceased to use the hymn. It was too
horrible for my humanitarian spirit. I might say that at my first
service I was not quite sure that I held the book the right way up, as I
was not quite certain of the figures. I had, however, committed the
hymns to memory correctly, and also the lesson, and I made no mistakes.
In those days we used to give out the hymns two lines at a time, as very
few people could read, and they could possibly remember the two lines.
There was no musical instrument in many of the small village chapels at
that time. My wife went with me to my first appointment and listened. My
first text was taken from the first chapter of John: "Behold the Lamb of
God which taketh away the sin of the world." I would not like to say the
sermon was a very intellectual one. It was, however, well thought out as
far as my limited knowledge would allow me to do so, and in preparing it
I had the assistance of my wife. We had spent nights in thinking it out,
and it certainly was orthodox in the extreme. I made rapid progress with
my education under the tutorship of my wife, who would sit up very late
at night to teach me. She would sit on one side of the fireplace and I
on the other. I would spell out the words and she would tell me their

By the time the next plan came out I could just manage to read my lesson
and hymns, but not until I had gone through them many times with my
wife and had mistakes rectified.

One interesting little incident occurred about this time. I went to an
appointment one Sunday about eight miles from my home. A brother
lay-preacher was planned at the chapel in an adjoining village, hence we
travelled most of the way together. Coming home it was very dark, and we
had to travel some distance by a footpath across some meadows. We lost
ourselves! I told my companion to follow me, but it turned out that it
was a case of the blind leading the blind, for no sooner had I
instructed my companion than we both walked into a ditch up to our knees
in water, and had to walk the rest of the way home with wet feet! This
was not the day of bicycles nor yet horse-hire. The circuit to which I
was attached was very large, and for many years I walked sixteen miles
on the Sunday, conducted two services, and reached home at eleven
o'clock at night. Whatever may have been our weaknesses in those days,
it must be admitted we were enthusiastic and devoted to the cause we
advocated. No sacrifice was too great.

Having once learned to read, I became eager for knowledge. Until then I
possessed only a Bible and hymn-book and two spelling-books. But I had
no money to buy other books. My wife and I talked it over, and I decided
I would give up smoking and purchase books with the money saved. I was
then smoking 2 oz. of tobacco a week, which in those days cost 6d. This
did not seem much, but it was £1 6s. a year. It was a great sacrifice to
me to give up smoking, for I did enjoy my pipe. I had, however, a thirst
for knowledge, and no sacrifice was too great to satisfy my longing. My
first purchase was Johnson's Dictionary, two volumes of _The
Lay-preacher_, which contained outlines of sermons, Harvey's
_Meditations among the Tombs_ and _Contemplation of the Starry Heavens_,
a Bible dictionary, and a _History of Rome_. These I bought second-hand
from Mr. James Applegate, who was a great reader. The _Lay-preacher_ I
used extensively for some years, and it certainly did help me for the
first few years. I ultimately discarded the two volumes and relied upon
my own resources, and I should advise every young man with the advantage
of education, who is thinking of engaging in such great and good work,
never to use such books, for it is far better for him to think out
subjects for himself and store his mind well with knowledge.

The different Primitive Methodist services of my early days would be out
of date now, and the quaint sayings of those days, though effective
then, would cause some amount of amusement to our young educated folk of
to-day. One form of service was called a "love-feast," at which small
pieces of bread were taken round with water. The meeting was thrown open
for anyone to speak, and then the simple, faithful, uneducated, saintly
people, in relating what to them was Christian experience, would express
themselves in peculiar phrases. I call to mind the statement made by a
brother at one meeting who said he felt "like a fool in a fair." At the
same meeting another said he thanked God that although that was the
first time he had attempted to speak, he was getting used to it. Others
would relate what dreadful characters they had been and what religion
had done for them.

Although my preaching efforts did not give me entire satisfaction, still
I can look back with pleasure at some of the results of my labours.
Although uneducated and not well informed and although I used such
phrases and put the Gospel in such a way that I should not think for one
moment of doing to-day, still it had its effect. I can recall instances
of ten and twelve of my hearers at my Sunday services making a stand for
righteousness. Many of them in after years became stalwarts for truth.

They also soon began to be dissatisfied with the conditions under which
they worked and lived. Seeing no hope of any improvement they migrated
to the North of England, and found work in the coalfields, and never
returned to their native county. When in Newcastle last December I met
several of my old converts and friends.

With my study of theology, I soon began to realize that the social
conditions of the people were not as God intended they should be. The
gross injustices meted out to my parents and the terrible sufferings I
had undergone in my boyhood burnt themselves into my soul like a hot

Many a time did I vow I would do something to better the conditions of
my class.



The year 1872 will throughout history be considered the most interesting
period from the standpoint of the agricultural labourers of England.
There had been some improvement in the condition of the labourers of
England through the increase of the purchasing power of their wages,
largely due to the abolition of the wicked Corn Laws and the adoption of
Free Trade. Moreover, agriculture was never more prosperous than it was
from 1849 to 1872. But, despite the increase in the purchasing power of
the labourers' wage, the condition of the workers had not improved at
the same rate as agriculture had improved. The working hours were as
long as they had been for the preceding hundred years, the labourers
were no more free to bargain with their employers than their fathers had
been for fifty years before, and there was much discontent. In fact, the
whole countryside was seething with discontent and we were much nearer a
serious upheaval than many people thought. The farmers were arrogant and
oppressive, and the gulf between the farmer and the labourer was greater
than ever before. The labourer had acquired a little knowledge and the
town workers were uprising. Many of the sons of the labourers who had
left agriculture since 1864, being disgusted with the low wages of the
labourer, had sent glowing accounts over to their friends, and a great
migration had again set in until very few young men were left in the

Early in the year 1872 a few labourers met in the village inn at
Barford, in Warwickshire, and decided to make an effort to form a Union.
But they were without a leader, and it was in search of such a person
that they turned their attention to Mr. Joseph Arch, who was a Primitive
Methodist lay-preacher. They waited upon him at his residence and
informed him that they wanted to form a Union for the agricultural
labourers and asked him if he would lead them. Mr. Arch hesitated for a
time, as his clear vision could discern that it would cause a tremendous
upheaval and he was not sure of his class. After due thought, and
through the persuasive powers of Mrs. Arch, he ultimately consented.
Accordingly it was arranged that a meeting should be held under what is
now known as the Welbourne Tree.

This meeting was attended by at least two thousand agricultural
labourers from all parts of the country, and it was there decided to
form a Union. The news of the meeting spread rapidly throughout the
country. All the newspapers gave it prominence with such headlines as
"The Uprising of the Agricultural Labourer." Numerous meetings were held
in various parts of the country, and in the second week in May a meeting
was held on the children's playground at Alby where I was at work. This
was a month before my marriage. I attended the meeting. It was addressed
by a local preacher, who was an agricultural labourer, named Josiah
Mills, and by Mr. Burton from Cromer. I also spoke, although, as stated
before, I could not read. Still, I related my experience of how I was
obliged to go to work at the age of six.

A branch of the Union was formed and I became a member. But, as Mr. Arch
had foreseen, trouble soon arose, for this new movement met with the
most bitter opposition.

Labourers were discharged by the hundred. It was evident that the
farmers were bent on crushing the movement in its infancy. Many
labourers who lived in their employers' cottages were victimized and
turned out into the road. One case which personally came to my notice
was that of a poor man and his wife and family who were turned out on to
the road with all their furniture and a friendly publican took them in.
Scores of farmers locked their men out because they would not give up
their Union cards.

This threw Mr. Arch on to his beam ends, as he and his men had no
previous knowledge of Trade Unionism. Happily for him and the movement
generally a leading Trade Unionist by the name of Mr. Henry Taylor paid
Arch a visit and offered him all the help possible. This brought help
from other Trade Unionists.

In Norfolk we were specially favoured, as the proprietors of the
_Norfolk News_ and the _Norwich Mercury_ (the latter one of the
country's earliest newspapers) opened the columns of the _Eastern Weekly
Press_ and the _Peoples' Weekly Journal_ respectively to Labour news.
Thus the news of the Union spread rapidly and the story was told of the
uprising of the agricultural labourer. Hundreds of meetings were held in
Norfolk as well as in other counties, branches of the Union were formed
everywhere, and within six months 150,000 labourers had joined some
Union. It must be remarked that in the first six months the branches
formed were all independent Unions.

During the summer Arch, with the help of Mr. Taylor, drew up a list of
rules and called a conference of the branches formed in the Warwick
district, at which it was decided to form a National Union, its central
office to be at Leamington. Mr. Arch was elected President and was sent
on a mission throughout the country to explain the rules. Arch soon
gathered around him a number of persons who were prominent in the
political world, including the late Sir Charles Dilke, Howard Evans,
John Bright, George Mitchell, and a host of others. Among those in
Norfolk who rallied to Arch were the late Mr. Z. Walker, who remained a
faithful follower to the end, the late Mr. Lane of Swaffham, the late
Mr. Colman, the late Mr. George Rix, and Mr. George Pilgrim. But all the
branches did not join with Mr. Arch. Kent and Sussex formed a Union of
their own, which became very strong in those two counties. Lincolnshire
also formed a Union and it became known as the "Lincolnshire Amalgamated
Labour League." A Mr. Banks became its General Secretary. This Union
gained considerable support in Norfolk and had several strong branches
in the county, and among its warm supporters were the late Mr. James
Applegate of Aylsham, the late Mr. James Ling of Cromer and Mr. James
Dennis of Hempton.

All these Unions grew in strength, but unfortunately a spirit of rivalry
grew up between them and much mischief was done.

My first acquaintance with Arch was at Aylsham in September 1872, when
he came over to explain the code of rules drawn up by the Warwickshire
Committee and to invite the branch there to join the Union. The meeting
was held in Aylsham Town Hall, which was packed. All in the audience
were, however, not in sympathy with the movement. There were several
farmers present.

One farmer asked Arch if his mother knew he was out?

Quick as lightning came the retort: "Yes," replied Arch, "and she sent
me out to buy a fool. Are you for sale?"

That was just such an answer as the farmer who asked the foolish
question deserved. He had, however, no further opportunity of asking
questions, for he was soon roughly handled and was promptly thrown out
of the hall.

There were many strikes and lock-outs during the first nine months of
this uprising of the labourers. The greatest opposition was raised by
the farmers.

I was involved in a strike in the first year of the Union's existence.
Although only just twenty-two years of age and recently married and
unable to read, I became greatly interested in the movement and never
lost a chance of attending a Union meeting.

The first general demand we made for an increase in wages took place in
March 1873. We asked that wages should be increased from 11s. to 13s. a
week, so far as Norfolk was concerned, and this demand was granted. It
had never reached that figure before. This gave a great stimulus to the
movement generally. The Aylsham branch of which I was a member decided
not to join Arch's Union, but joined the Lincolnshire Amalgamated
League, which governed on the principle of each district holding its own
funds and paying a quarterly levy to the central fund, on the same
principle which obtained with the Oddfellows and Foresters Friendly
Societies. The next great struggle was in the spring of 1874, when a
demand was made for another 2s. increase and time off for breakfast. Up
to that time we were not allowed to stop for breakfast, and we had no
food from tea-time the previous day until dinner-time the next day. Many
farmers allowed the concession but others would not. The man I worked
for at Oulton, Mr. James Rice, was one of the latter, although a member
and a deacon of the Congregational Church in that village. We adopted
all kinds of methods to snatch time to eat our piece of bread. Scores of
times I have held the plough with one hand and eaten the bread with the
other. Others, when a number were working together, would set one to
watch to see if the boss came while they ate their bread.

This demand was hotly contested and I became involved and struck work.
Fortunately for me I had another trade at my back, namely brickmaking.
There was a great call for brickmakers at this time and I obtained work
at once with James Applegate at Blickling, himself a leader of the
Amalgamated Labour League, so I had not to call on the funds of the
Union at all and I did not go back to farm work for several years.
During these two years I had made rapid progress with my education, and
I was so far advanced that I could begin to read a newspaper. I had,
however, not been in ignorance of happenings in the world around me, for
my wife had always read to me the weekly papers. The first newspapers I
read were the _Eastern Weekly Press_ and the _People's Weekly Journal_,
the two local papers. I had, however, not spoken at a Labour meeting
since the first meeting was held two years before, but I had been on the
preachers' plan for two years and had begun to have a little confidence
in myself. I at once begun to speak at local labour meetings.

The strike going on at this time was successful, and the village
labourer in Norfolk for the first time in his history received his 2s.
6d. per day and the right to stop for breakfast.

But the great struggle began as soon as this was settled. The farmers of
Suffolk at once locked their men out, not on the question of wages, but
because the men would not give up their Union cards. Some four thousand
men were locked out and thrown on to the funds of the various Unions.
Arch and others visited the large centres of industry and over £20,000
was collected for the funds. Religious services were held on the Sundays
and spiritual addresses given. I at once threw myself into this kind of
work, although only a young man of twenty-four years of age, and in the
village in which I then lived, Oulton, I preached my first Labour
sermons. My soul burned with indignation at the gross cruelty inflicted
on my parents and the hardships I had undergone, and I became determined
to fulfil the vow I had made when quite a lad, namely, to do all I could
to alter the conditions under which the labourers lived. I was,
however, most anxious to ensure myself that I was doing the right thing
from a religious point of view, and again by the assistance of my dear
wife I searched the Scriptures and soon was able to satisfy myself I was
doing the right thing. Then, as now, to me the Labour movement was a
most sacred thing and, try how one may, one cannot divorce Labour from

I found work when the strike took place with Mr. James Applegate, who
was many years my senior and himself a leader in the Labour League and
an advanced politician, although he possessed no vote. He had posted
himself up in Radical politics, for in those days we only knew two
political parties. Anyway, I had a real political schoolmaster, and my
first political lessons were of the Liberal school of thought. I set
myself to work hard in the study of political questions and got
possessed of every scrap of political information. My means would not
allow me to purchase literature, but I soon became a most ardent

Soon after the great struggle of 1874 the labourers began to lose
interest in the various Unions. Many of the young men again left the
villages and either migrated to the North of England or emigrated to
America. I still kept up my political studies and at the same time, by
the assistance of Mr. Applegate, I became skilled in the work in which I
was then engaged. I kept with Mr. Applegate for five years.

It was in 1880 that my father died.

In October 1879 I obtained a situation with the late Mr. John Cook of
Thwaite Hall as brickmaker and burner, and moved into part of an old
farmhouse at Alby Hill. One of the conditions of employment was that I
should take the work by contract; that I should raise the earth, make
the bricks and burn them at 10s. per thousand, the employer finding all
tools and coal for burning. Further, whilst I was not so engaged he was
to find me work as a farm labourer. I also undertook to do my harvest on
the farm. On leaving Oulton I was out of the reach of the Union to which
I then belonged.

I then joined Arch's Union and became an active member. I got along very
well with my employer for some few years, but in 1885 an agitation arose
for the granting of the franchise to the agricultural labourers and all
rural workers. I at once threw myself into the movement and spoke at
many meetings. I had become fairly well educated by this time by hard
study. I was, however, laying up in store for myself some serious
trouble, for my employer was a bigoted Tory.

The franchise was introduced into the House of Commons by Mr. Gladstone,
who was then Prime Minister, and was met with bitter opposition by the
Conservatives. As stated previously, a great campaign was commenced in
which I took a leading part, this greatly enraging the local Tories.
After my speech at a meeting one night in March 1895 my employer came to
me at my work and in a most autocratic manner said he had been informed
that I had been speaking at some Liberal meetings and demanded to know
if this was true? I at once replied that it was true. His reply to that
was that if I wished to remain a man of his I should have to give that
kind of thing up, for he would not have any man of his attending such
meetings, setting class against class. The fighting spirit that I
inherited from my mother at once rose and I replied in dignified
language that much as I respected him as an employer, I respected my
liberty a great deal more and could not on any condition comply with his
request. Further, I considered so long as I did my work satisfactorily
and did not neglect it in any way and led an honest and straightforward
life, neither he nor anyone else had any right to dictate how I spent my
evenings. I should therefore claim my liberty as a citizen. He had no
arguments to use against this, but said I would have to leave. It was
then that my spirit of independence was put to the test. I was not long
in deciding, and I told him at once I should take his notice, for my
whole soul revolted against such tyranny. This seemed to stagger him,
for it was the first time his authority had been challenged in such a
way. As soon as he had time to recover himself, he asked when I wished
the notice to expire. I told him not until I had finished my contract,
for I had already raised sufficient earth to make 100,000 bricks and I
should complete that before I left. He insisted that he would force me
to leave at once. I told him to try and put the threat into execution
and I would sue him for breach of contract. Again he was completely
taken back and asked me if I meant it? I told him I did and defied him
to break the contract. He at once saw he was in the wrong and said:
"Very well, finish your contract." I replied that I intended to and then
he could carry out his threat. Being thwarted in this direction he
thought he would hit me in another way.

My wife's mother was a widow and was living with me. The Guardians
allowed her 2s. 6d. per week. My employer was a member of that Board,
which at once took 6d. a week off her relief. My victimization was made
known throughout the country. I at once informed the leaders of the
Union, and also the Liberal Party, and this act of political tyranny was
denounced on every Liberal and Labour platform. Coming at a time when
the labourers were about to be enfranchised it caused quite a stir in
the country.

I was offered by the Liberals an organizing and lecturing position, but
this I declined, as, having insisted upon finishing my contract, I did
not intend giving the Tories an opportunity to say I had broken it.
Further, I had no wish to give up manual labour, nor had I confidence in
myself that I could do the work. I felt I was not sufficiently educated
or well informed to do that kind of work; thus I kept at my
brickmaking. Into this I put more energy than I think I had ever done
before. It was a fine season and I was able to turn out a better class
of brick than in previous seasons. At the same time I attended as many
political meetings in the evenings as I could and I also read every bit
of literature I could get hold of.

During the summer the Franchise Bill, coupled with a Redistribution
Bill, was passed, and for the first time in English history the
agricultural labourers were enfranchised. Norfolk was mapped out into
six single-member rural constituencies. Where I lived became known as
North Norfolk. It became evident that there would be a General Election
in November, and that by the time I had finished my contract the
election would be near. This the leading Tories appeared to advise my
employer would put him into a very awkward position, for he had not only
given me notice to leave my employment, but also my house on October
11th. Hence he came to me in July and said he wished to withdraw both
notices and wished all misunderstanding to cease. After consultation
with some of my friends I accepted the offer. I was, however, never
satisfied, although the offer to withdraw the notices was genuine as the
following correspondence will show.

In July I received the following letter from the late Mr. Charles Louis
Buxton, who was the then leader of the Liberal Party in North Norfolk:--

                                               BOLWICK HALL, AYLSHAM,
                                                        _July 20, 1885_.


     I was delighted to hear yesterday that your employer had withdrawn
     his notice for you to leave your work and house, and hope
     everything will go on smoothly and that you will be quite happy and
     that we shall have no more of this kind of victimization,

     Yours truly,
                  C. L. BUXTON.

I replied as follows:--


     DEAR SIR,

     I thank you for yours of the 20th _re_ my employment. I must
     confess I do not derive the same satisfaction from the withdrawal
     of the notice as you appear to do. Although it was withdrawn
     unconditionally, each of us to be free to go our own way, I feel
     convinced when the election is over he will find some excuse to get
     rid of me.

     Nevertheless, I will stand by my principles, come what may.

     Yours sincerely,
               GEORGE EDWARDS.

I finished my season's work fairly early, and I think I earned more
money than I had ever done before. Having finished my season's work, I
returned to my farm work as before.

In October the election started in all earnestness. For three weeks I
addressed six meetings a week. This I might say was all voluntary work,
as I kept at my daily employment all the time, being determined not to
absent myself from work one hour.

Mr. Herbert Cozens-Hardy, who afterwards became Lord Cozens-Hardy,
Master of the Rolls, and whose son and heir was in after years by a
strange coincidence to be my opponent in my first bid for parliamentary
honours, was chosen Liberal candidate for North Norfolk. Mr. Joseph Arch
was selected Liberal and Labour candidate for North-West Norfolk, Mr.
Robert Gurdon was chosen Liberal candidate for Mid-Norfolk, Sir William
Brampton Gurdon for South-West Norfolk, and a Mr. Falk for East Norfolk.
After a most hotly contested election, Mr. Cozens-Hardy beat his
opponent, Sir Samuel Hoare, by over 1,700 majority. Mr. Arch and Mr.
Robert Gurdon were also elected by good majorities, whilst Sir Brampton
Gurdon and Mr. Falk were defeated.

The election being over, things quieted down and, so far as I was
concerned, nothing untoward happened. My employer and myself appeared to
be on very good terms. Early in the new year, 1886, when I asked him for
my orders as usual, he informed me that he should not make any bricks
that year, as there were a good many standing on the ground and there
was not much sale for them. As a matter of fact there were not many
bricks on the ground, not so many by 20,000 as there were the year
before when he gave me the order to make 100,000 and, further, when
there was a prospect of a greater sale than in the previous year. A few
weeks later I received notice to leave the farm work, and on April 6th I
was served with another six months' notice to leave my cottage. Thus the
fear I had expressed to Mr. Buxton nine months before became true, and
proved that he only withdrew the previous notice to save himself from
the law against intimidation.

I obtained work for the season's brickmaking with Mr. Emery at Stibbard.
Strange to relate, before my notice expired to leave the cottage, my
landlord and late employer died. He had not been dead more than a month
before his brother, Mr. Herbert Cook, who was heir to the estate, called
at my house in my absence and informed my wife that he should carry out
his brother's notice. Now came the difficulty of getting another house,
and it looked for some time as if I should go homeless. I first hired a
cottage at Colby on the Gunton estate, but before I could move into it
it was let with the farm, and of course, being an agitator, I could not
have it. Thus within a few weeks of October 11th I had no prospect of a
home. It was then that a friend came along in the person of Mr. Horace
Car, who lived at Wickmere. He had hired a little farm in another
village and did not want his cottage at Wickmere and sub-let it to me.

The election of 1885 was doomed not to stand long. Mr. Gladstone
introduced his Irish Home Rule Bill, which caused a terrible split in
the ranks of the Liberal Party, and in July 1886 the Government was
defeated and a General Election took place. Mr. Cozens-Hardy again came
forward. This time his opponent was Mr. Ailwyn Fellowes, now Lord Ailwyn
of Honingham, a gentleman whom I hold in the highest esteem and who has
done me the honour of writing a foreword to this book. Mr. Arch was this
time fought by Lord Henry Bentinck, who defeated him by twenty votes. At
this election I was brought a great deal into Mr. Arch's company whilst
working in his division. I attended several of his meetings and spoke
for him. I remember being with him at one meeting during the election
when we spoke from a wagon standing close to a pond. During the
proceedings a young farmer rode into the company and endeavoured to
strike at Arch with his whip-stalk. No sooner did he do this than he was
unhorsed and ducked in the pond, greatly to his discomfort. This, I
should think, he never forgot.

Mr. Arch and I were destined in after years to work together in one
common cause, although, unfortunately, we were to belong to two
different Unions. Most of the meetings I attended in this election were
in my division and, smarting under the gross injustice that had been
meted out to me, I spoke out very strongly. My victimization had created
a bitter feeling in the division, and some very exciting scenes occurred
during the election. At one of these meetings, after being interrupted
by one or two of the most ignorant Tory farmers, I prophesied that after
the election the Tory political victimisers would be politically dead
and on their political tombstone would be written the following


This naturally caused a great deal of laughter, but my enthusiasm for
the cause I then believed to be right had somewhat blinded me to the
fact that the wheels of human progress move very slowly and that my
whole life would have to be spent before Democracy would come into its
own. Let me remark that fate sometimes seems to be cruel. It was the son
of the very man on whose behalf I suffered so much and for whom I worked
so hard to secure his return at least in three elections who fought me
in after years in South Norfolk when I stood for Parliament the first
time! I thought at the time it was rather an ungracious act.

Well, this election went badly for the Liberals in the country and the
Tories were returned to power with a majority of 100.

Some hard times were in store for me. At the end of the season my work
at Stibbard also ended. I moved to Wickmere, but no one in the district
would employ me, although I was an efficient workman. I was a horrible
Radical, setting class against class! Strange to relate, in those days
the Liberals were looked upon as being out for destruction. To be a
Liberal was looked upon as belonging to a most discreditable party. They
were classed as infidels, wanting to pull down Church and State, and
disloyal to Queen and Country.

To-day the same things are said about the Labour Party. We of the Party
are called all kinds of names. But those who make the statements know
they are untrue.

I tried everywhere to get employment, but none could I find.

At last Mr. Ketton of Felbrigg Hall offered to find me work on his home
farm, but he had no cottage to offer me. Felbrigg was six miles from
Wickmere. I accepted the employment and for eighteen months or more I
walked night and morning this six miles, a journey of twelve miles every
day! Whilst living here my wife's mother died. I had kept her for
sixteen years, her only income being parish relief. In 1878 Mr. Ketton
found me a cottage at Aylmerton and I settled down comfortably once
again as a farm labourer.

At this time agriculture was sorely depressed. The labourer's wage was
rapidly being reduced and reached the miserably low figure of 10s. per
week, and in some districts 9s. per week. The labourers had left their
Unions and were in a most helpless position. This was brought about by
many causes, one being the great falling out amongst the leaders. Arch
had the misfortune to fall out with all his best supporters. Mr. Henry
Taylor resigned his position as General Secretary. Mr. Howard Evans and
Mr. George Mitchell had left him. Mr. George Rix of Swanton Morley had
resigned, and he took with him a large district and formed a Union which
he called the Federal Union. In fact, in every county, with the
exception of Norfolk, the Unions became defunct. The Kent and Sussex
Union went smash, the Lincolnshire and Amalgamated Labour League became
defunct, and all that remained of Arch's Union were a few members
belonging to the sick benefit department, the funds of which were being
fast depleted.

Under these circumstances the political power placed in the hands of the
labourers but further enslaved them and made them easy victims for the
Tory party. Happily for me I had at last got under a Liberal employer,
who not only was favourable to the men, but showed his sympathy with
them by paying them 1s. per week above the rate paid by other employers,
and I was able to breathe freely without any fear of victimization. My
employer also assisted me by lending me books and papers on political
problems. He also put every kind of work on the farm in my way to enable
me to earn extra money. I at once settled down to study even more
closely than I had done before. Thirsting for knowledge, religious,
social and political, I set about adding to my library. I became a close
student of theology and took great interest in many of the theological
subjects which were disturbing the Christian world at that period, such
as the doctrine of eternal punishment, and I soon became what was known
then as a Liberal in theology. When I purchased a new book, I never read
any other until I had read it through and thought the matter out for
myself. I never accepted a thing as a fact just because someone else
said it was so. Included in the new works I bought at this time were
Canon Farrar's _Life of Christ_, the same author's _Eternal Hope_, Dr.
Dale's work on _Conditional Immortality_, Mr. Robertson's book entitled
_Eternal Punishment, not Eternal Torments_. I also read very closely Dr.
Parker's books. Taking the other side, I also became a regular reader of
the weekly periodical the _Christian Commonwealth_, which was published
about this time to counteract what they termed the heterodoxy of the
_Christian World_. Strange to say, this paper became a thousand times
more heterodox than the _Christian World_ ever could be, for it became a
strong advocate of the Rev. R. J. Campbell's New Theology.

My close study of these matters marked me out for trouble. In fact,
Job's description of man seemed to apply to me in every respect, for I
seemed to be born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. I was called up
before the Quarterly Meeting of my Church for what some of the elder
brethren termed heterodoxical preaching and I was regarded as almost an
infidel. Never, however, was a more false accusation made against
anyone, for my faith in the eternal Truths was never stronger. But I had
a strong supporter in my friend Mr. James Applegate, who himself was a
progressive in thought, and the matter blew over and I was left to go on
in my own way.

At this time there was a deal of discussion on the Single Tax Movement
as advocated by Henry George. I became interested in this and purchased
his books on social problems, _Protection or Free Trade_, _Progress and
Poverty_ and _The Condition of Labour_. These I closely read, sitting up
late at night. Many a time have I gone out at eleven o'clock at night
and wiped my eyes with the dew of the grass in an endeavour to keep
myself awake. I managed to get through all these books during the winter
and became a convert to the principles contained therein, and thus
became an advanced thinker on political and social questions. I think
Henry George's books did more to mould my thought on social questions
than those of any other writer. About this time I also purchased Adam
Smith's _Wealth of Nations_ and Thorold Roger's _Six Centuries of Work
and Labour_. These I soon mastered in all their details. I was thus
enabled to take a very broad view on all matters pertaining to Labour
and was able to see more clearly the cause of all the gross injustice
that was inflicted on my class. I became convinced that if there was a
revival in the Labour movement amongst the rural workers, the leaders
would have to lift the men's thoughts above the question of the mere
raising of wages and would have to take political action and seek to
remove the great hindrance to man's progress. I made one mistake. I
thought and was convinced that the Liberal Party would do these things,
and I was strengthened in my belief by a speech made by the late Mr.
Joseph Chamberlain about "ransoming the land back to the people." In my
political innocence I thought all politicians were sincere. I was,
however, to live to see my faith in some people shattered.

During this year I received again one or two offers to go on a lecturing
tour, all of which I declined. I was not, however, to remain in the
shade and inactive long. The men again began to be restless and were
anxious to have another try at organizing.



In the autumn of 1889 the men in Norfolk began to want to form a Union
again. This time they appealed to me to lead them in the district in
which I lived. For some weeks I refused to take any leading part, but
was willing to join a Union. I had only just got settled down
comfortably after my terrible eighteen months of bitter persecution, and
was just anxious to remain quietly at work. I had no wish to enter into
the turmoil of public life. But at last, through the men's constant
pleadings, I yielded to the pressure. On November 5, 1889, eleven men
formed a deputation and came to my house and stated they represented a
large number of men in the district who had decided to form a Union and
they wanted me to lead them. I questioned them in order to ascertain if
they had seriously thought the matter over. They assured me they had. I
also informed them that in my judgment no Union would stand which had no
other object than merely to raise wages and that they must go in for
something higher than that. I then asked them what Union they wished to
form, or did they wish to link up with Arch's Union which was almost
defunct. They expressed a wish to form a Union on the same lines as Mr.
Rix had formed his, and I was asked to write to Mr. Rix to come over and
address one or two meetings and explain the rules of his Union. This I
did. Mr. Rix agreed to come, and two meetings were arranged to be held
within a fortnight, one at the White Horse Inn at Cromer and the other
at the Free Methodist Church at Aylmerton. Both meetings were packed and
were addressed by George Rix and myself. Large numbers gave in their
names for membership. It was decided to form a Union on the principle of
the rules as explained by Mr. Rix, to be called the Federal Union,
Cromer District. The objects of the Union were to be as follows: To
improve the social and moral well-being of its members; to assist them
to secure allotments and representation on local authorities and even in
the Imperial Parliament; to assist members to migrate and emigrate. Ten
shillings per week to be paid in strike and victimization pay. Legal
advice to be given. Each member to pay 1s. per year harvest levy to
enable a member to have his harvest money made up to him in case of a
dispute. Each member to pay a contribution of 2¼d. per week, or 9d. per
month, 8d. per month to be sent to the district and 1d. per month to be
kept by the branch for branch management.

I was elected District Secretary, with no salary fixed for the office. I
set about the work in all earnestness, addressing five meetings a week,
and writing articles in the weekly papers each week. I kept at my daily
work all this time, my employer, Mr. Ketton, putting nothing in my way,
allowing me to leave my work an hour early whenever I required to do so
and always allowing me to go "one journey." I opened branches at Gresham
and Alby Hill (the very place at which I was turned out of my house only
five years before). Branches were also opened at Aylsham, Hindolveston,
Foulsham, Reepham, Guestwick, Kelling, Southrepps, Gunthorpe, Barney,
Guist, Cawston, Bintry, and Lenwade. To many of these places I had to
walk, as there was no train service except in a few instances and then
only one way. Numbers of the villages were ten and twelve miles from my
home. I often left a meeting at ten o'clock at night and reached home at
two o'clock in the morning. I could not cycle in those days. This work
continued for over nine months, and during this time I enrolled over
1,000 members at no expense to the Union.

In the autumn of 1890 a general meeting of the members was called, and
this meeting decided I should become a whole-time officer and offered me
£1 a week. This I at once declined on the ground that the labourers were
only receiving 10s. per week, and said I should only take 15s. per week
until the labourers received an increase in their wages. From this date,
greatly against my wishes, I became a paid official of the Union.
Although at this time there was a great revival of the Union spirit, and
men were anxious to join a Union, the National Union, of which Mr. Arch
was the leader, never again took any hold outside Norfolk. County Unions
rose rapidly in other counties under various leaders, Warwickshire under
the leadership of Mr. Ben Ryler, Wiltshire was financed by Mr. Louis
Anstie of Devizes, and Berkshire was financed by the Misses Skirrett of
Reading and led by Mr. T. Quelch. All these were, however, short-lived.
In Norfolk we made rapid progress. Arch revived many of his branches in
North-west and East Norfolk and progress was made by me in North
Norfolk. I helped to start a district in South Norfolk, of which Mr.
Edward James of Ditchingham became secretary. My district, not being
satisfied with its isolated position, made an offer to the two other
districts, namely, East Dereham and Harleston, to become amalgamated in
some way, and thus enable us to become a strong force. Both, for reasons
best known to themselves, preferred to remain independent. I, however,
was convinced that we should never be a force strong enough to meet the
farmers, who were rapidly organizing, so long as we remained little
isolated Unions. In fact, we were nothing more than tiny rural Unions. I
felt rather than continue along those lines I would give the whole thing
up, and I placed my views before my district committee--a splendid body
of men. They at once gave me full power to open correspondence with the
secretary of a Norwich Union, Mr. Joseph Foyster, now a member of the
Norwich bench of magistrates, and the late Mr. Edward Burgess, of
"Daylight" fame, who was president of the Union, which was started about
the time our Cromer district came into being. A conference of the two
Unions was held at the Boar's Head, Surrey Street, Norwich, and after
some discussion an agreement to amalgamate was arrived at, each district
to hold its own funds and to pay a quarterly levy of 2d. per member to a
central fund, which was to be used as a reserve fund in case of a
dispute in either district. An Executive was elected which was to have
control of the Union. Mr. Edward Burgess was elected president and
Messrs. John Leeder, Robert Gotts, J. Spalding, Frank Howes, Joseph
Foyster and A. Day were appointed as the Executive. A Mr. Millar of
Norwich was elected General Secretary with myself as General Treasurer.
I left my position as secretary to the Cromer district. This arrangement
did not last long. Mr. Millar soon left the city and was never known to
come back again. I was asked to accept the position of General
Secretary, which I did. In the Cromer district the following were
amongst my most staunch supporters: Messrs. John Leeder, James Leeder,
Robert Gotts, Miles Leeder, Edward Holsey, John Spalding, Thomas Painter
and Robert Leeder. These men stood by me until the last, never

The amalgamation being effected and the rules drawn up and registered,
we made rapid progress. The Norwich district boundaries were fixed east
and south of Norwich. I opened branches at Newton Flotman, Surlingham,
Crostwick, Costessey, Eaton, Lakenham, Great Plumstead, Kirby Bedon,
Rockland St. Mary, Stoke Holy Cross, Rackheath, and Salhouse. In the two
districts in twelve months we reached 3,000 members. Arch's Union also
made progress. The late Mr. Z. Walker was his Norfolk organizer, and
that Union reached about 5,000. We never exceeded these figures.
Although there was a spirit of rivalry between us, the utmost good
feeling prevailed. We never went into each other's district, and always
aimed at preventing overlapping, frequently appearing on each other's

Although I started out with the idea of avoiding strikes, we had not
gone far before we found that was impossible. The first struggle we had
was at Hindolveston. A Mr. Aberdeen set his men to cut some meadow grass
and for this he offered them 3s. 6d. per acre. These terms the men
rejected and a lock-out took place. I was informed and I sought an
interview with the employer. This was scornfully refused and a message
was sent out to me that if I went on to his place again he would set the
dog on to me. I indignantly replied that I expected I was dealing with a
gentleman, but regretted to find I was dealing with a man who was not
sufficiently intelligent to treat another with respect. I also told him
I was sure that in less than a week he would send for me and that I
would then mete him out the respect he should have shown me. This was
what did happen. The men would not consent to see him, but referred him
to me. Within a week he sent for me and I settled the dispute by making
arrangements for the men to receive 5s. per acre. That was my first
effort as a leader and peace-maker. While the dispute lasted the men
received the lock-out pay of 10s. per week. The next dispute was at
Great Plumstead in the Norwich district and was of a more serious
character for one hundred men came out in a demand for 1s. increase in
wages. The greatest enthusiasm prevailed, but we found we were in for a
very stiff fight. The Farmers' Federation found up a few men to fill the
places of those on strike, but we were not dismayed. Enthusiastic
meetings were held in every village covered by the Union, and at these
songs written by members of Arch's Union were used by permission of
those concerned. These were sung to well-known Sankey hymn tunes.

One favourite song sung to the tune of "Dare to be a Daniel" was:--

     Standing by a purpose true,
       Heeding your command,
     Honour them, the faithful men,
       All hail to the Union band.

          Dare to be a Union man,
            Dare to stand alone.
          Dare to have a purpose firm,
            Dare to make it known.

Another song we sung was "The Farmer's Boy":--

     The sun went down beyond the hills,
       Across yon dreary moor.
     Weary and lame, a boy there came
       Up to a farmer's door.
     "Will you tell me if any there be
       That will give me employ,
     To plough and sow, to reap and mow,
       And be a farmer's boy?"

Another was "The Labourer's Anthem."

     The sons of Labour in the land
       Are rising in their might.
     In every town they nobly stand,
       And battle for the right.
     For long they have been trampled on
       By money-making elves,
     But the time is come for everyone
       To rise and help themselves.

        So now, you men, remember then,
          This is to be your plan.
        Nine hours a day and better pay.
          For every working man.

This last song reveals that over forty years ago the men had the ideal
of a fuller life. The struggle in question lasted nearly a month, but we
gained the 1s. increase.

The next battle was fought side by side with Arch's Union. This was over
the resistance of a wage reduction. It was on a large scale and was
fought with great bitterness. Many of the men were evicted from their
homes. This time we were not successful by reason of the fact that the
years of 1891 and 1892 were years of great agricultural depression and
there were large numbers of unemployed in the villages. After a bitter
struggle the men went back to work at the wage offered them. This
greatly dispirited the men, though I did my best to encourage them both
on the platform and in the press.



In 1892 I fought my first political battle, and for the first time my
faith in the Liberal Party received a shock. In this year took place the
second General County Council Election, and, by special request of the
working men in the Cromer district, I allowed myself to be nominated as
a Liberal-Labour candidate for that division, expecting, of course, that
I should have the united support of the Liberal Party in whose interests
I had worked so hard for several years. Believing them when they said
they were anxious that the working man should be represented on all
Authorities, one can understand my surprise and astonishment when I
found the leading Liberal in the district nominating as my opponent the
leading Tory in the district! I lost faith in their sincerity. It was
evident they were not prepared to assist the working men to take their
share in the government of the country. The contest was turned at once
into a class contest. Many of the leading Liberals, as well as the
Tories, expressed their disgust at a working man having the audacity to
fight for a seat on the Norfolk County Council against a local landlord.
My opponent was the late Mr. B. Bond Cabbell, who was returned unopposed
at the first election of the Council.

The contest caused the greatest excitement. The late Mr. Henry
Broadhurst, M.P., came to my help. The division comprised the towns of
Cromer and Sheringham and the following villages: East and West Runton,
Weybourne, Beeston Regis, East and West Beckham, Gresham, Bessingham,
Sustead, Aylmerton, Metton and Felbrigg. The contest lasted three weeks,
and I covered the whole district and held meetings in every village. All
this I did on foot, as I could not cycle and I could not afford to hire
a conveyance. The meetings were well attended, and the only help I
received was from Mr. Broadhurst and from a few of my own members who
were local preachers. The supporters of my opponent manifested the
greatest bitterness during the contest, especially the Liberals. So far
did they carry this spirit that they descended to publishing a most
disgraceful cartoon, depicting a coffin with me lying in it and
Broadhurst standing by the side and weeping over me. Underneath were the
words: "Puzzle, find Edwards after the election." My opponent strongly
condemned such action and threatened to retire unless they withdrew the

The saddest thing of all was that it was my opponent who was dead within
three months from the day of the election.

Throughout the election I was booed at by my opponent's supporters, bags
of flour and soot were thrown at me, but my supporters heartened me with
their cheers. The poll was a heavy one and the votes were counted at
Cromer Town Hall on the night of the poll, the result being:--

     Bond Cabbell           505
     Edwards                455
           Majority          50

There was a great crowd gathered outside the hall, my opponents being
certain of victory, which they had made every preparation to celebrate.
A brass band was there in readiness, and a torchlight procession was
formed. I was informed the next morning that the band was worked up to
such a state of excitement that the drummer broke in the end of his
drum, which caused much amusement and comment not altogether to the
credit of the performers.

The result, however, did not give much satisfaction to the aristocratic
party; in fact, they were more bitter than ever. For a working man to
run the gentlemen's party so close was more than they could tolerate,
for they were afraid that at the next trial of strength Labour might
win. Owing to Mr. Bond Cabbell's death another election had to take
place, but I decided not to contest the seat again so soon, and my late
employer, Mr. R. W. Ketton, came forward and was returned unopposed.

I then turned my attention to perfecting my organization. In the autumn
of that year I opened some strong branches at Shipdham, East and West
Bradenham, Saham Toney, Ashill, Earlham, Barford, Grimston, Wood
Dalling, Swanton Abbott, Hockering and Weston. We were soon doomed to
more trouble. Early in 1893 the men got restless. The employers seemed
determined to reduce wages further. Arch's Union was seriously involved.
Strikes took place at Calthorpe, Erpingham, Southrepps, Northrepps and
Roughton, and our Union became involved, as we had members on the farms.
Our members also came out at North Barningham, Aylmerton and Alby. A
great deal of hard work and anxiety devolved upon me, as I was the only
paid official in the Union. Mr. Z. Walker, the only organizer the
National Union had at this time, was hardly pressed, as both Unions had
members on most of the farms affected, and we frequently met and held
joint meetings. I also met Mr. Arch and addressed many meetings with him
and we became great friends from that time. We both saw that to have two
Unions with the same objects and catering for the same class was a
source of weakness, but how to find a way out of it neither of us could

We decided, however, so long as the movement lasted, we would work side
by side without any friction.

The dispute lasted many weeks. The greatest use was made by the
employers of the weapon of the tied cottage and many evictions took

The magistrates never hesitated when the opportunity presented to grant
an eviction order.

In 1893 the Government appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the
administration of the Poor Law. Amongst those appointed to serve on the
Commission were the late King (then Prince of Wales), the late Lord
Aberdare, Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, M.P., Henry Broadhurst, M.P.,
Joseph Arch, M.P. and others. I was invited to give evidence before the
Commission upon the following points: Relief in kind; its quality; the
amount of allowance; the question of compelling children to support
their aged parents. I obtained my facts and prepared my evidence and was
called up to London to give it in March 1893. To prove the poorness of
the quality of flour allowed by Boards of Guardians I obtained some of
this flour and I also bought some of the best flour sold on the market.
Needless to say, the contrast was enormous. The members of the
Commission were astonished beyond degree at the poorness of the quality
of the flour doled out by the Guardians, and I was requested by the
Commission to go back and ask my wife to make some bread from the two
classes of flour before completing my evidence. This I did, and the
following week I took the bread with me before the Commission. The
contrast in the bread was more marked even than in the flour. The late
King expressed himself as shocked that such stuff was served out to the
poor to eat and thanked me for the trouble I had taken in the matter.

Dealing with the inadequacy of the relief, I was requested to give cases
of hardship that had come under my personal notice. I presented several
cases. One came from the parish of Aylmerton, being that of a widow left
with four little children, one a baby in arms. She was allowed 6d. per
week each for three children and nothing for the fourth; half a stone
of flour each for three and nothing for herself. In those days a widow
was supposed to keep herself and one child. This poor widow's suffering
was beyond degree, but this was only a sample of the suffering and
extreme poverty of those who had lost the breadwinner. The case of the
aged poor was even worse. I presented cases, giving the names of aged
couples living together and only receiving one stone of flour and 2s.
6d. in money, and of widows (aged) receiving only half a stone of flour
and 1s. 6d. in money. In fact, my own mother was only allowed 2s. 6d.
per week and no flour and, further, I was called upon by the Aylsham
Board of Guardians to contribute 1s. 3d. per week towards the sum
allowed her by the Board, although I was only receiving 15s. per week
with which to keep myself and my wife.

I also named several cases of extreme hardship of children being called
upon to support their parents. I gave the cases of two agricultural
labourers named Hazelwood, living at Baconsthorpe. Both were married men
with large families, one, I believe, had eight children. They were both
summoned before the Cromer magistrates by the Erpingham Board of
Guardians to show cause why they should not contribute towards the
maintenance of their aged parents.

I was cross-examined on my evidence for some hours by Mr. Joseph
Chamberlain. At the close of my examination I was thanked by the late
King and the other members of the Commission for my evidence. The
Commission held their sittings in the Queen's Robing Room in the House
of Lords. When my evidence was published it caused quite a sensation in
the country, and I think the report of this Commission hastened on the
passing of the District and Parish Councils Act. About this time I grew
so disgusted with the treatment meted out to my mother that I absolutely
refused to contribute any more towards the sum granted her by them. I
told the Board they could stop the miserable 2s. 6d. per week and this
they did forthwith. My wife and I at once gave notice to the landlord of
the cottage in which my mother had lived for fifty years, the rent of
which we had paid between us, and I decided to take her to our home and
look after her. My sister had the furniture with the exception of the
bed on which my mother slept and an old chest of drawers. I kept my
mother until she died on February 5, 1892, without receiving a penny
from anyone.

In 1894 the Government brought in a Bill known as the District and
Parish Councils Bill, which provided for the establishment of a Council
in every parish having a population of 300 and over, and the placing of
the obtaining of allotments for the working classes in the hands of the
Council, together with the appointing of trustees for Parish Charities.
It also sought to abolish all property qualification in election as
Guardians. Mr. Z. Walker and I jointly entered into a campaign during
the passage of the Bill through Parliament, Mr. Arch paying as many
visits to the county as his parliamentary duties would permit. We also
had the valuable assistance of the English Land Restoration League, as
it was then called, Mr. Frederick Verinder being the General Secretary.
The League sent down one of their vans and a lecturer.

The Trades Union Congress was held in Norwich this year (1894). I
attended the Congress as delegate from the Norfolk and Norwich
Amalgamated Labour League and moved a resolution on the tied cottage

At the end of the session the Bill became law, and by the instructions
of my Executive I set about preparing to put the Act in force. I held
meetings in every village where we had branches of the Union and
explained the provisions of the Act. By the time the first meetings were
held to elect the Parish Councils in many of our villages we had got our
men ready and well posted up in the mode of procedure as to nominations
and how to carry on.

The first meeting was held in December in the village in which I lived.
We held a preliminary meeting in the schools to explain the Act. This
meeting was attended by the Rev. W. W. Mills, the Rector of the parish,
who caused some little amusement by his constant personal interjections.
For some years for some reason he had shown a personal dislike to me,
and he never lost an opportunity to manifest this spirit of dislike.
What influenced him I never could understand, but he always seemed
jealous of my influence in the village as a Nonconformist. A few days
after this meeting was held the Rector came to my house to inform me
that Mrs. Mills was being nominated as a candidate for the District
Council, and I informed him that I was also being nominated. He
expressed a wish that the contest might be friendly. I informed him that
so far as I was concerned it would. He then accused me of being the
cause of the meeting referred to above being disorderly, which I stoutly
denied. He then called me a liar, and it looked for a few moments as if
we were in for a scuffle, for I threatened to put him out of my house
and began to take steps to do so. He at once rose from his seat and
rushed to the door before I could lay hands on him, but in getting away
he caught my hand in the door and knocked the skin off my knuckles. My
wife was in the next room, and had she not appeared on the scene I do
not know what would have happened. She got between us, took the Rector
by the collar and put him out of the yard. This event caused some little
excitement in the village.

At the meeting held for the election of Parish Councillors all the
Labour members nominated were elected. We had nominated sufficient
candidates to fill all the seats but one, and this was taken by Mr.
Groom, the schoolmaster. The parish of Felbrigg was also joined to
Aylmerton for the purpose of forming the Parish Council, and it became
known as the Aylmerton-cum-Felbrigg Parish Council. At the first meeting
of the Council I was elected chairman. I was also elected on the Beckham
Parish Council on which I served for some years, and I was also one of
the charity trustees. One of the first things we did on the Aylmerton
Council was to obtain allotments for the labourers in the parishes of
Aylmerton and Felbrigg. In fact, our enthusiasm to do something was so
great that it was the cause of our undoing, for at the next election we
all got defeated, and I took no more interest in the affairs of the
parish while I lived there.

At the District Council election I beat my opponent by four votes. My
wife was elected for the parish of East and West Beckham unopposed, Mr.
Barker was elected for Sustead, Mr. T. Self for Felbrigg, Mr. Walter
Towler for Edgefield and Mr. B. Johnson for Sheringham. Thus we started
the new Erpingham District Council and Board of Guardians with six
direct Labour representatives, which beat the record in all rural
England. I was a member of this Council for eighteen years and my wife
for ten years.

The reception we received at the first meeting of the Council was rather
mixed. Many of the members were rather alarmed at so many Labour members
being elected, particularly myself, whom they looked upon as being the
leader of the group, and of course I was looked upon as being a rebel,
out for revolution, to upset law and order, and to go in for most
indiscriminate outdoor relief. Our arrival at the Board was rather late,
and on entering the room we found all the other members present
discussing the probable events of the day. As soon as I appeared in the
room I saw some of the members point to me and remark, that I was "the
fellow." Well, it was quite true, we were there for business and to make
a great alteration in the administration of the Poor Law. On settling
down to work we found the outdoor relief allowed by this Board was as
follows: Aged couples, one stone of flour and 2s. 6d. per week, and in a
few special cases 3s. per week; single persons, half a stone of flour
and 1s. 6d. per week; young widow with family 6d. per week and half a
stone of flour for all the children with the exception of one, which the
widow was expected to keep as well as herself. We found another shameful
practice in existence. If the late husband of the recipient was in a
sick club, the widow was requested to show all her bills as evidence of
how she had spent her husband's funeral money before any relief was

This seems almost incredible, but it is true. We made an early attempt
to alter this scandalous state of things, as the following account of a
debate that took place will prove. Although we did not get the
improvements we aimed at, still we made some advancement, and it
encouraged us to aim very soon at other improvements. We Labour members
made strict inquiries into the conditions of the poor. We also found in
those days that the Relieving Officers had not advanced far from their
predecessors in the treatment of the poor and would take any excuse to
deprive the poor of relief. On going to the Board meeting one day my
wife found that a poor sick and aged widow had had her relief stopped by
the Relieving Officer, the excuse being that the woman had given birth
to an illegitimate child. This the officer said he knew to be true as
the woman had told him so. This astounded my wife, as she knew it was
impossible for such a thing to have happened, and she undertook to
investigate the matter. This she did, and was able to inform the Board
that the so-called illegitimate child was thirty years of age, married,
and a mother herself. Needless to say, we Labour members did not fail to
denounce this cruel act for all we were worth and we got the poor woman
her money put on again. The Relieving Officer was made to pay her her
back money himself and never to come to the Board again with such a

The next question we tackled was the relief given in kind. We found
that meat tickets ordered by the doctor had been refused in numbers of
cases, so much so that the doctors had begun to complain. I raised the
question on the Board and I found up a clause in the Poor Law Act that
prohibited the Guardians from refusing to give relief in kind ordered by
the doctor. It caused a good deal of discussion, but we got the matter
put right. The quality of the flour allowed to the poor next came under
our notice. One week a poor widow living in my village brought me a loaf
of bread she had made from the flour the Relieving Officer had left her
that week. One could take the middle out and leave the crust standing
like two walls. My wife gave the woman some of her own flour, took the
other flour and made it into bread herself, with the same result. I took
this bread, with a loaf my wife made from her own flour, to the meeting
of the Guardians, and strange to say the Rev. Casson, living at
Mundesley, fourteen miles from where I lived, also took some. We
denounced this treatment and all kinds of excuses were forthcoming.
During the discussion it came to light that the contractor was only a
journeyman, and that he took the contract for his master. The result of
this exposure was the stopping of all relief in kind so far as flour was
concerned. The following report of the debate appeared in the _Eastern
Weekly Leader_:--

     The Rev. Casson brought up some bread and flour from Mundesley, and
     Mr. Edwards brought two loaves of bread and three samples of flour
     from Aylmerton, and they were laid on the table for the Guardians
     to inspect. The bread had a very bad appearance. The Rev. Casson
     moved that the contractor who supplied this flour to the poor in
     the Southrepps district be named, and that early steps be taken to
     bring him to punishment, and that his name be for ever struck out
     from the list of contractors of this Union. The rev. gentleman said
     that the man who could be villain enough to supply the poor with
     such stuff as this called flour deserved to be punished to the
     utmost limit of the law. (Cries of "Prove the flour is bad.") The
     Rev. Casson: "I have brought a sample of the bread and flour here,
     and I will ask any Guardian if he thinks it is fit for human food,
     and are we as Guardians going to sit quietly by and see our poor
     served with such stuff as this? It is not fit for the beasts to
     eat." At this stage the rev. gentleman grew very excited, and was
     exhibiting his sample of bread and flour, when Mr. Richard Mack, a
     co-opted member, took the bread and put it into the fire. The rev.
     gentleman then moved excitedly that Mr. Mack be named and expelled
     for the day for his dastardly and cowardly act--(great
     disorder).--Mr. Mack, he continued, had destroyed the only
     protection these poor people had.--Mr. Edwards said he rose as a
     protest against the conduct of Mr. Mack. He had been brought into
     contact with a large number of people, and he must say he never saw
     a more ungentlemanly act in his life. He was surprised that any
     gentleman should so forget himself as to treat another gentleman as
     Mr. Mack had treated the Rev. Casson when he was advocating the
     rights of the poor. (Cries of "shame.") Mr. Edwards: "It is a
     shame, and I appeal to the Chairman to protect the Rev. Casson and
     obtain for him a fair hearing." (Loud applause.) Mr. Edwards added,
     "Let anyone dare to destroy my sample of bread and I will soon show
     them what course I will take."--Mr. Towler said he thought it was
     most unfair that the Rev. Casson should be interrupted. Surely
     gentlemen were not afraid these things should be brought to
     light.--The Rev. Casson said he felt it very much that Mr. Mack
     should throw his bread into the fire, as it was the protection
     these poor people had whose cause he was advocating. Speaking on
     the flour, he said the complaint did not come from one person only,
     nor yet from one village, for the same complaint came from
     Trimingham, and his friend Mr. Edwards had brought the same
     complaint from Aylmerton, miles away from Mundesley, and he hoped
     the Guardians would bring the man to punishment that had been
     guilty.--Mr. Edwards said it was with mixed feelings that he
     seconded the Rev. Casson's resolution. He was pleased that he was
     on the Board to watch the interest of the poor, and he was pleased
     that the Rev. Casson had spoken out as he had. He could assure the
     Rev. Casson that he would receive the warm gratitude of hundreds of
     poor people for the course he had taken. At the same time he very
     much regretted that any man could be found in this country calling
     itself Christian so cruel as to act as this contractor had done.
     He, Mr. Edwards, had been very careful to bring flour as well as
     bread, and he had also got bread and flour from different persons
     so that it could not be said that it was all of one make and was
     the fault of the maker.--Mr. Waters moved as an amendment that we
     have some of the flour taken from the other sacks and sent to two
     or three bakers to test it before naming the contractor. Mr.
     Waters said he did not wish it to go forth that he did not wish the
     poor people to have good flour, but he thought they ought to be
     sure first that the flour was bad, or the Board might find
     themselves sued for libel. In his opinion the bread produced was
     baked badly and the yeast was not good.--Mr. Daplyn seconded the
     amendment.--Mrs. Edwards said Mr. Waters had no right to speak of
     the bread in the way he had. The bread which her husband had
     brought from Aylmerton was made of the same yeast hers was made
     from, and hers was very good--good enough even for Mr. Waters to
     eat if he wished; and further, she knew the woman that made the
     bread, and she could assure the Guardians she was a good
     bread-maker. She was sure it was not the fault of the maker nor yet
     of the yeast, but of the flour; and she would challenge anyone that
     had any knowledge of flour to prove that the flour produced was
     good. She could assure the Guardians that her neighbours and sister
     working-woman could make as good bread as anyone else if they had
     the flour to make it with.--Mr. Broadhurst said he hoped the Rev.
     Casson would not press his vote of censure upon Mr. Mack, for he
     thought he had no ill feeling.--Mr. Mack apologised and said he
     only put the bread into the fire through fun. He was anxious the
     poor should have good flour.--Mr. Broadhurst, continuing, said any
     contractor or contractors who could be found to conspire together
     to supply the poor people with such stuff as this called bread
     ought to be brought to book. He would ask anyone if they thought
     such stuff as this was fit for human food? Why, he would not give
     it to his dog, much less offer it to a poor human being. The poor
     ask for bread and we give them stuff fit only to make paste
     with.--Mr. Waters: "We do not supply them with bread, but with
     flour."--Mr. Broadhurst: "Oh, very well. Flour, if you like to call
     it such. I do not. But we have it here on the evidence of one of
     the ladies that some of the bread is made with the very same yeast
     that her bread is made with, and hers is good; and further that she
     knows one of the women who made the bread, and that she knows her
     to be a good bread-maker. Why should they doubt this Guardian's
     words? Further, we have bread and flour brought from villages miles
     apart, and it would be impossible for them to conspire together for
     the purpose of trumping up a complaint. This affair to-day is
     another strong argument in favour of giving the poor money instead
     of relief in kind, and all honour to those gentlemen who have
     brought this matter before the Board; they will receive the thanks
     of thousands of people when they read the debate."--Mr. Kimm, the
     Relieving Officer, said the sub-contractor had offered to take the
     other sacks back.--Mr. Broadhurst: "Subcontractor! What, do you
     mean to say that this Board allows its business to be done in this
     fashion? Do you mean to say that this Board puts out contracts and
     then allows the contractor to sub-contract? There is no wonder then
     that the poor people are supplied with such stuff as this. Why, if
     this kind of proceeding is allowed to continue, this Board will
     become the laughing-stock of all the country, and further, who are
     we to put our hands on if this thing be proved? I would like to ask
     the Clerk who the contractor is?"--The Clerk: "Mr. Tuck of
     Hempstead."--Mr. Daplyn: "Why, he is only a journeyman miller and
     works for Mr. Bird."--Mr. Edwards: "Yes, and he is sweated by
     someone else; that is how this Board does its business."--Mr.
     Broadhurst, continuing, said this was a strange revelation, and he
     was astonished that business men on the Board should allow this
     kind of thing to exist. Here is a working man made a tool for
     someone else to sweat, and then he puts it out to sub-contract to
     someone else, and this someone else sweats someone else. What ever
     had the House Committee been doing?--The Rev. Fitch rose to a point
     of order; the Committee were not to blame, as the recommendation of
     the Committee was accepted by the whole Board. He was a member of
     the Committee and never knew before now that Tuck was a working
     man.--Mr. Edwards said he had just found it out, and he thought the
     Committee ought to have found it out before.--Mr. Waters said the
     Committee had put out the contract to Tuck for years.--Mr.
     Broadhurst: "If that is so it is most unsatisfactory."--Continuing,
     Mr. Broadhurst asked who the sub-contractor was, and the Clerk
     replied, "Mr. Press."--Mr. Robins Cook: "Yes, and a very
     respectable tradesman too, and he would not do a wrong act if he
     knew it."--Mr. Broadhurst: "There is no one has said anything about
     the respectability of any man, but this sub-contractor has admitted
     that the flour was bad."--Mr. Waters: "No, no."--Mr. Broadhurst:
     "Mr. Waters says no, no, but the letter states that he would take
     the remaining sacks back, and what is that but admitting it?"--Mr.
     Bugden said that if the mover of the amendment and resolution would
     consent, he would suggest that a committee be formed to inquire
     into the matter, and get some of the flour from the remaining sacks
     and make it up and report to the Board.--Mr. Waters and Mr. Daplyn
     said they would withdraw their amendment in favour of Mr. Bugden's
     suggestion.--Rev. Casson said he was not disposed to withdraw his
     resolution, for it was only an attempt to baulk the question.
     (Cries of "Order.") The rev. gentlemen said the Committee had set
     up a dummy to shoot at. (Cries of "No, no.") Rev. Casson: "But you
     have; you only got us a journeyman miller to deal with."--Mr.
     Edwards said if Mr. Bugden could assure him there would be no delay
     and the matter thoroughly gone into, he would be disposed to advise
     the Rev. Casson to withhold his resolution until this day
     fortnight.--To this the Rev. Casson agreed.--Mr. Bugden then moved
     that a committee of five be appointed to investigate the matter and
     get some of the flour from the remaining sacks and make up for a
     test, and that the Relieving Officer go home at once and get the
     flour and seal it up.--Mr. Waters seconded the resolution, and it
     was carried that the committee consist of Mr. Waters, Mr. Edwards,
     Mr. Bone, and Mrs. Johnson. It was further resolved, on the motion
     of Mr. Edwards, seconded by Mr. Farmer, that the poor in the
     Southrepps district receive money equivalent to flour for the next



The continuance of bad seasons since 1890, with low prices, had brought
about a great depression in agriculture. Thousands of labourers were
discharged, and the greatest distress prevailed amongst the rural
population. Prices went down to the lowest level. Thousands of coombs of
barley were sold at 9s. per coomb and of wheat at 12s. per coomb. Had
not the root crop been exceptionally good and feeding stuffs very cheap,
which gave them a fair profit on their cattle, many of the farmers must
have been ruined. But, as now, the labourer was the first to be called
upon to bear the heaviest part of the burden. His wages were reduced to
11s. per week. This greatly dispirited them. They began to leave the
Unions in large numbers, and towards the close the Unions had become
almost helpless.

The political opponents of the Union saw their opportunity to spread
disunity amongst the men. They employed a Mr. A. L. Edwards to start a
Union in opposition to the others, and this became known as the
Labourers' Independent Federation, which proved to be a free labour
organization. The man was employed by the other side. His method of
attack was to get the balance sheets of the other Unions. The first
Union he attacked was the Suffolk Labourers' Federation, whose General
Secretary was Mr. Robinson of Ipswich. Mr. Edwards endeavoured to become
a member of this Union, but was rejected. He next attacked Arch in a
most unfair manner. After a while he attacked me unceasingly. Hundreds
of thousands of leaflets were printed and scattered broadcast, and these
followed me about wherever I went for years. This must have cost the
Tory Party hundreds of pounds. It had its effect. The leaflets were
headed: "How the Labourers' Money is Spent." The men left the Union, and
I soon became convinced that the whole movement was going.

In the early part of 1894 a new weekly paper was started in Norwich
known as the _Eastern Weekly Leader_. The Rev. Charles Peach became its
editor. This was started as an advanced Radical paper; in fact, had it
been in existence to-day, it would have ranked as a Labour paper. It
was, however, like all other advanced papers, doomed to have a short
life. I became a local correspondent and agent, and I at once reduced my
Union salary to 10s. per week. This, however, did not save the Union
from decay.

The columns of this paper were open to every phase of the Labour
movement. Stirring articles appeared in the paper week by week aimed at
encouraging the labourers. I worked hard to push its sale amongst the
labourers and for a few months it went well, but early in 1895 it became
evident that it would have to go under.

By the end of 1894 the condition of the people had become considerably
worse. Arch and myself had become terribly disheartened. We met to
discuss the best thing to do to keep the Unions alive. His sick benefit
side had become insolvent. The trade and industrial departments had
borrowed money from the sick fund, contrary to rule. Great friction
arose between Arch and the trustees of his sick fund, Mr. George
Mitchell and Mr. Howard Evans. They locked up the funds, a law suit
followed and the two trustees at once resigned. Happily for us we had no
sick fund connected with our Union. Arch and myself agreed that we would
continue for another year, if we could, and undertook to write an
article in the papers pointing out the conditions and urging upon the
labourers the necessity of banding themselves together and, if possible,
to attract public sympathy. I wrote as follows to the _Weekly Leader_:--

     The year 1894 has gone and 1895 has had its birth this week. I
     propose to still further comment upon the condition of the workers
     for the purpose of throwing further light upon the subject and
     enlightening the mind of the public upon this most important
     problem, for it is every day evident that one-half of the world
     does not know how the other half lives. First let us look at the
     conditions under which the agricultural labourer works and lives.
     His work is not only laborious but its very nature must necessarily
     be unhealthy. He is exposed to the scorching rays of the sun during
     the summer months, but also exposed to all wets and colds during
     the winter months. During the summer months in many cases the
     labourer leaves his home at the early hours in the morning to
     enable him to reach his work by six in the morning, and very often
     the first greeting he receives is a surly growl from his employer.
     He goes to work, and his hours of labour are from five in the
     morning to five in the afternoon. In the winter his work is from
     the dawn of daylight to its close. It is only those who have
     experienced it can possibly have any knowledge of the conditions
     under which the agricultural labourer works and the suffering and
     privations he has to undergo in performing his daily task. It is
     quite fresh to the mind of the writer of these comments when he had
     to shelter beneath a hedgerow to be screened from the piercing
     winds, and his teeth have chattered in his head, and many a time
     has he been soaked through with wet.

     The labourer's home after his day's work is done, if a home it can
     be called, is of the worst kind. Although, through the industry of
     the wife, it is a great deal more comfortable than one might
     expect, considering the scanty income and the wretched condition of
     the cottages in which they have to live. Very often during the
     winter months the first thing that has to be done after his return
     home is to strip himself of his wet clothes, and the wife has to
     place them in front of the small fire to dry them fit for the
     morning, and the small room is made damp. The houses in which the
     labourer has to live are neither sanitary, water-tight, nor
     wind-tight. In a house where I was staying a few days ago the poor
     people informed me that only a few nights previous they found
     themselves suddenly awakened by their bedclothes being soaked by
     the water that was coming through the roof. Can it be wondered at,
     then, that sickness is so prevalent amongst the workers? This
     description is no idle fable. In many cases the labourer barely
     ever sees his children by daylight, except on Sunday. But even
     those cottages, in spite of their wretched condition, the labourer
     has to hire under such conditions as cannot fail to place him in a
     position of the most abject slavery, and cause his wages to come
     down to the lowest minimum, stunt his intellect, and affect his
     morals. Under the present social system the labourer feels
     compelled to look upon the man who employs him as a benefactor, and
     also to feel himself under some obligation to him. The unscrupulous
     employer is quick to see this, and soon looks upon it as the
     natural order of things that it should be so, and that he is quite
     right in treating his men in this manner, and in paying them just
     what wage he pleases, without thought or care whether they are able
     to keep body and soul together.

     There have been so many men running about our county endeavouring
     to impress upon the minds of the working classes that Trade Unions
     are of no benefit, except to keep a few men with a living, that I
     am prompted to say a word or two. This idea has taken hold of a
     number of men, and thousands of labourers in Norfolk have become
     indifferent about the matter during the past year, whilst those who
     have been the means of upsetting them with their Free Labour
     Federation have made no attempt to improve the position of the
     labourers of this county. Everyone sees now that these parties are
     kept by political agents, and their only object is to get the
     labourers divided so that they may get a political advantage at the
     next General Election. The reason I speak out so plainly is this:
     If you watch the papers you will find that the men imported into
     this county during the past twelve months to upset Trades' Unions
     are generally employed at bye-elections. The Brigg election is a
     witness to this assertion. We have no cause to be ashamed of the
     history of Trades' Unions; their object was to demand a living wage
     for work performed, and also for gaining social and political
     reforms all along the line. Have we succeeded? I contend we have,
     and have done more for the improvement of the working classes than
     all the blackleg crew from Suffolk or any other county. We may not
     have succeeded in every fight that we have been engaged in, but the
     reason for it has been because the men have not been united. Look
     at the miners' struggle last year, it was most severe, and showed
     to the country the power of combination and endurance on the part
     of the sons of toil. Have not these men benefited by their Union? I
     contend that they have, and the same benefits might be derived if
     all the labourers were united in this country. Their object would
     not be to crush the farmer, but to have a standard wage, which
     should be a living wage, and not subject to alterations two or
     three times in the year. By their combination they could enforce
     this, and it would be more satisfactory to all parties concerned.
     Moreover, we should have less petty little strikes which accomplish
     nothing. It is only by combination that you can demand a living
     wage, and I contend the present advantages which the men enjoy are
     mainly due to the work of the Union in the past. We not only went
     in for the wage question, but also for political power, and to-day
     we enjoy it. The labourers have the vote and can put whom they
     choose into Parliament to represent them, and they have had pluck
     enough in this county to put a labourer into Parliament to
     represent one of the divisions, and I may say he represents the
     whole county of agricultural labourers, and is ready to serve them
     in that house at any time when their questions come up.

Unemployment amongst the labourers increased. The Government of the day
appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the cause of the depression
in agriculture and sent inspectors into the various counties to hold
inquiries. Mr. (now Sir) Henry Rew was sent down to Norfolk, and I
attended before him and gave evidence, upon which he commented in giving
his report. Nothing, however, came out of the Commission's report. The
fact was it was too big a question for the Tory Government to tackle.
During the winter I attended several meetings and gave advice. I told
the men if the employers would not employ them they were not to starve,
but to throw themselves and their families upon the rates. Many of them
did. On my own Board I moved a resolution to put into force an old Act
of Parliament that enabled the Guardians to hire fifty acres of land on
which to set the unemployed to work and to pay the men labourers' wages.
This, of course, was defeated, but I warned the Board that the day was
not far distant when they or some other authority would have to deal
with the problems of the land and the unemployed, for the men would not
starve. On May 26th the following article by me appeared in one of the
Norfolk papers, showing the acute stage the question had reached:--

     My friend Mr. Z. Walker, commenting on the labour question in one
     of the Norfolk papers, made a statement in reference to the above
     question which if true--and my experience will re-echo the same
     thing--will cast a stigma upon our boasted civilization. Mr. Walker
     stated that he knew of cases in Norfolk of young men who are in the
     Union workhouse for no other cause than that the farmers will not
     employ them, and that other men are quite willing to work, but find
     it hard to obtain employment. Now, the question that presents
     itself to one's mind is: Is it right for men to starve and remain
     idle while the land is thirsting for labour? And I should say every
     right-thinking man will answer "No," emphatically "No"; and those
     young men named by Mr. Walker took the wisest course--far better
     than migrating to the large towns, to unduly compete with their
     fellow workmen. Nevertheless, it is a disgrace to the age in which
     we live that men should be found willing and anxious for work, but
     unable to find it.

     This question of the unemployed is daily taking a more serious
     aspect. Year by year this menacing army of unemployed is on the
     increase, not only in this country, but in every other country, go
     where you may, and whatever form of Government it is, democratic or
     autocratic. Even in America, where everyone has equal political
     rights, and where we are told the Presidential chair is open to any
     man who has the ability and tact to work himself up to it, however
     humble his parentage may be, the question of the unemployed is
     becoming so serious that men stand and look on with amazement, and
     the wildest schemes are propagated as a remedy--schemes which if
     carried out would throw society into disorder and confusion.

     Various have been the reasons given for the existing state of
     things. In England we are told it is our fiscal policy, known as
     Free Trade, while others say it is our monetary system. In America,
     a highly protected country, reformers say it is Protection and
     advocate Free Trade. The same thing exists in all the nations in
     Europe. With this state of affairs, small wonder that some men are
     beginning to think that it matters not what form of Government we
     have. Various reforms have been passed in recent years which have
     been beneficial in themselves, but they do not seem to have touched
     the fringe of the question; still the bitter cry of poverty is
     heard from the workless ones, and still we are horrified by the
     fact that men and women are driven to despair and to take their own
     lives, while others are urged to commit most dastardly acts. The
     Local Government Act will do something to alter the present evils
     if the workers take proper interest in it and put men on the
     District Councils who are in touch with them, and it will go a long
     way towards establishing the right of the people to use the earth.

     But we must have something far more drastic than that: we must go
     to the root of the matter; everyone who has the true interest of
     the country and the cause of humanity at heart must set himself to
     work to find out the cause of the evil, and when once this is done
     must approach the question with an unselfish spirit, and however
     drastic the reform may be that is necessary it will have to be
     done. I confess that I hold more advanced views on the land and
     other social questions than some of the Labour leaders, but that is
     brought about after having watched every movement that has been set
     on foot for the abolition of human suffering and carefully studying
     the various arguments used in advocating various schemes to deal
     with social problems and the various causes assigned for the
     present state of things.

     I am satisfied that nothing will ever prove effectual but the
     abolition of our present land system. This huge monopoly has, like
     Belshazzar, been weighed in the balance and found wanting. All
     history condemns the idea that a few people have absolute right to
     the use of the earth, to the exclusion of the rest. History informs
     us that landowners were simply trustees to the State for the land
     held, and were under the obligation to provide and equip at their
     own cost the defences of the nation, besides having other onerous
     dues to pay and duties to perform. But gradually the landholders,
     who are now called landlords, after having seized all public and
     Church property they could lay their hands upon, shifted these
     burdens from their own shoulders on to those of the people. The
     existing land system places the landlords in the position of
     antagonists of the general public, and the people are thrown into
     the grasp of a huge octopus, which is dragging them down to despair
     and the workers to the depths of misery, crippling the trade and
     commerce of the world.

     This landed system, which has grown up under successive Kings and
     Governments, and is now upheld by bad laws, is a crime against the
     people; it is a violation of Divine order and of the inalienable
     rights of mankind. It has created pauperism, that awful evil which
     inflicts an injustice and cruelty upon the honest workers and
     drives one out of every four into the Union workhouse. Farmers are
     ruined and willing workers are cast off the land they would gladly
     cultivate to seek a miserable existence in overcrowded cities,
     where their presence aggravates the miseries already existing. This
     system is a danger to society, and if not speedily remedied must
     bring disastrous consequences.

     This question of the unemployed and the social well-being of the
     people is strictly a religious one: When I first entered into
     public life some of my closest friends with whom I had been in
     Christian society for several years were astounded when on one
     occasion I preached a sermon on the Labour movement on the Sunday,
     and I was severely taken to task for so doing. Some months before,
     yielding to the wishes of the labourers to champion their cause, I
     seriously thought the question over, as I felt that I could not on
     any account engage in anything that in any way clashed with my
     Christian principles, and it was because I was convinced that the
     great disparity existing in the social condition of the people and
     the gross inequality in the distribution of wealth were contrary to
     the Divine wish, and that the benevolent intentions of God were not
     being carried out, that I gave way to the wishes of the labouring
     men to advocate the cause of the honest toilers. I consider that
     every time I attend a Labour meeting I attend a religious service
     in the strictest sense of the word. What movement can be more
     sacred than the one that has for its object the uplifting of man,
     the beautifying of human nature, and the restoring of that likeness
     and image of God which man has so long lost? Poverty is the cause
     of so much evil and degradation. Poverty is the prolific mother of
     vice, disease, and all that is vile and ungodlike. Poverty, then,
     is what we are trying to abolish. What we claim is this, then, that
     the question of the poverty of the people, brought about by the
     selfishness of man and the undue haste of the few to get rich at
     the expense of the many, is a religious question, and it will not
     be until we get pure homes, sanitary houses, good living, good
     work, and sufficient to keep every man employed with a good and
     fair living wage that we shall ever hope to have a healthy and
     purified state of society; never until all classes truly realize
     the iniquity of our present social system, and the morality of
     Christ's Gospel finds a lodgment in our hearts, can we hope to make
     men think and act as men; never until the religion of humanity
     enables us to claim succour for the little ones, manhood for
     ourselves, and justice for the oppressed shall we ever have a happy
     and pure nation.

In spite of the indifferent attitude of those we represented, my wife
and I pressed on with our work on the Board. She was elected to the
House Committee, which gave her an opportunity to find out many of the
existing abuses in the House. One abuse was the treatment meted out to
the poor unfortunate girls whose lot it was to go into the House for
confinement. A system of punishment had sprung up in such cases. The
Guardians appeared to have come to the conclusion that it was their duty
to punish the girls severely, many of whom were more sinned against than
sinning. In fact, the Poor Law encouraged them to do so; hence the poor
girls were set to do the hardest work that could be found them. They
were often kept at the wash-tub when they were not fit to be there. On
one occasion my wife paid a surprise visit to the House and found a poor
girl hard at work in the laundry who she thought would have been in the
infirmary. The girl said she was there only five days. My wife raised
the question at the next meeting of the committee and said some very
straight things and protested very strongly. Some of the members said
they were surprised that my wife should not be in favour of punishment,
for they must put down immorality. My wife retorted that she was not
encouraging immorality--in fact she had endeavoured to set her poor
sister an example--but she was against cruel treatment being meted out
to her poor unfortunate sisters and, unless the practice was stopped,
she would raise the whole question at the full Board. This practice was
at once stopped, and after that no girl was ever set to work until at
least twelve days had elapsed after her confinement. The tramps next
came under our notice. We found they were set to work to pick an almost
impossible quantity of oakum, and if they failed to pick the allotted
quantity, they were kept in the tramp ward for two days. Despite this
the Guardians lost money on the business. We raised the whole question
and moved that the business should be abolished. The strongest
opposition to this being done was raised and at first we were defeated.
But we kept at it and finally we got it carried. I also found that the
tramps were kept none too warm. One Sunday afternoon I paid a surprise
visit to the tramps' ward, and on a cold November evening I found there
was no fire in the ward. I denounced this inhuman treatment at the
Board. Again the old idea was trotted out. These parasites, living on
the community, must be punished. I replied with the stinging retort that
the tramps were not the only people born tired, and I moved that in
future during the winter months there should be a fire in the ward.
After a good deal of discussion this was carried. The next subject we
tackled was the old peoples' dress. We moved that the distinctive dress
should be abolished and that the old ladies should be dressed in a more
homelike way. This was also adopted, but I don't think the old ladies
took to it very kindly. Still it was a step in the right direction. The
dietary table was taken in hand, and a great improvement was made in
this direction, and month by month we gradually increased the out

An amusing incident happened to me one Sunday when I was conducting a
religious service in a little chapel. A poor old widow sat right against
the pulpit. Her out relief had been increased from 1s. 6d. to 3s. per
week. After I had finished the service the old lady came up to me, put
her arms round my neck and, as innocently as a child of two, kissed me
and pronounced God's blessing upon me, saying she hoped I would live for

Early in 1896 a Poor Law conference was held at Norwich, and the Board
unanimously elected me as one of their representatives. I was put on
almost all the committees, for by this time a much better feeling
existed on the Board. We began to understand each other and we gave each
other credit for honest intentions.

Under the District and Parish Councils Act the Guardians were also
deemed to be District Councillors, except those living in urban
districts. The Council became the Highways Authority and took over all
the parish roads. They also became the Sanitary Authority. I was put on
the committees for these purposes and our first fight for Labour
commenced. As the Highways Authority, the Council became a large
employer of labour, and when we came to fixing the wages and hours a
stiff fight commenced. I moved that the men should receive 2s. 6d. per
day or 15s. per week. This proposition filled the employers on the
Council with alarm, and we were met with the point that, if we paid
that wage, all the labourers would become dissatisfied and would want
the same, and they could not afford it. I retorted that it was the duty
of the Council to set an example and pay a living wage. This was
defeated, but we did manage to get passed that the roadmen received 1s.
per week more than the labourers. In the course of two or three years we
tackled the housing question, and before I left the Council in 1910 we
had adopted Part III of the Housing Act and had built houses at Briston
and Edgefield. I look back with more pleasure to the work I was able to
do for my class on this Board and Council than to any other work I have
done during the whole of my long public life. I had the satisfaction of
knowing that comfort and pleasure was brought into many a poor old
person's home.

We commenced the year 1895 with a very large decrease of members. Our
balance sheet showed our income to be down nearly 50 per cent., and
although I had my salary reduced from 18s. to 10s. and the Executive had
cut down expenses by one half, our savings were very small. We had
several small disputes. The Executive thought they would have one more
effort to revive the Union. Again the English Land Restoration League
came to our aid and sent another of their vans and a lecturer down free
for the summer months. Many villages where branches had fallen through
were visited. Thousands of leaflets on land and labour questions were
distributed by the League. The Tory and capitalist party worked equally
hard the other way. At first they devoted all their energies against
Arch and published most scandalous leaflets about his balance sheet that
shocked every fair-minded man in all political parties. I was the first
to publish the balance sheet of 1894. No sooner had I done this than
they attacked me more ferociously than they had done Arch. They
manipulated the sheet in a shameful manner, so much so that even the
employers were ashamed of such tactics. It had, however, its desired
effect and by the end of 1895 both Unions had actually become defunct.
During the year I went without my 10s. per week, knowing the Union would
collapse within a few months, and I received my income from the _Weekly
Leader_. On December 7, 1895, I wrote to the _Leader_ the following open

     FELLOW WORKERS,--The year of 1895 is fast slipping beneath our
     feet, and it becomes us all who are in any way interested in labour
     to take a retrospect of the past months, and also to take a view of
     the present condition of the working classes, in order that a
     correct impression of the condition of the labouring classes during
     the year 1895 may be obtained. As one of the much despised Labour
     leaders I feel that the time has come when we must speak out
     plainly to the working men, and show them their exact position.
     Now, first I wish to point out to you that so far as combination is
     concerned, and the means to help yourselves to resist unfair
     treatment, you stand in a far worse condition than you did at the
     commencement of the year. You were then in a wretchedly
     disorganized condition--not more than one out of every four of the
     labourers being in an organization of any kind--but to-day you are
     in a far worse state of disorganization, and you are altogether
     powerless to help yourselves in any way; and what is far worse,
     there has been growing up amongst you a spirit of distrust and
     prejudice, until to-day your ranks are all chaos and confusion. You
     seem to be like Ishmaelites, every man's hand turned against the
     other. I must confess that I for one did expect better things of
     you. With the District and Parish Councils Act just coming into
     force, I hoped that new life would rise amongst you, and that you
     would endeavour to make the most of the opportunities that
     presented themselves to you, and that by this time you would have
     been in a much better position. But my hopes have been blighted and
     now I despair of you. All hopes that you as a class will make any
     effort to lift yourselves from your down-trodden state have
     vanished. Such being so, many of us are seriously considering
     whether the time has not come for us to step out of the field and
     leave you to fight your way the best you can. Now, so far as the
     actual state of Labour is concerned, your outlook for the future is
     most gloomy for reasons already stated, and at present the
     condition of labour is not very much improved. At the commencement
     of this year your wages as agricultural labourers were 10s. per
     week; flour was 11d. and 1s. per stone. At present your wages are
     10s. per week, and flour 1s. 2d. and 1s. 3d. per stone, and thus
     with a family using five stones of flour per week, as hundreds of
     you do, your purchasing power is reduced 1s. 3d. per week. You were
     told in July last that it would be otherwise; you were led to
     believe that if there was a change of Government, and the farmers
     made more of their produce, you would get higher wages. No other
     evidence is needed of the foolishness of your conduct, as your past
     experience ought to have told you. It is only by having a good
     organization at your back that the farmers will ever pay you a
     higher wage, and there is nothing unnatural in that. The farmer is
     a merchant: he has your labour to buy, and he will always buy it as
     cheaply as he can. That is so long as our present individualistic
     system remains, and labour is used for the sake of profit-making.

     Mr. Rew, the Assistant Commissioner on Agricultural Depression,
     said in his report, that if the labourers had never heard of a
     Union they would have had to put up with a less wage than 9s. or
     10s. per week; but fortunately or unfortunately, Mr. Rew has not
     lived as long as some of us have; neither has he had the same
     experience as we have. There is abundant evidence that when the men
     in Norfolk were well organized they received a much higher wage,
     and that they did not get it until they did organize; and the fact
     does not indicate that economic forces rule the labourers wages.
     The facts are, then, that so far as the condition of the labourer
     is concerned, they will close the year 1895 worse than they began,
     that is to say so far as wages and their purchasing power is
     concerned; and Heaven only knows it was bad enough before. It is
     not many weeks since a labourer's wife told me that after she had
     bought flour and coal she had only sixpence left. I should like
     those who are constantly harping upon the comfortable conditions of
     the labourers to take a round with me once a week and get a glimpse
     into the labourer's cottage. They would be able to detect at a
     glance the amount of poverty which exists amongst the working
     classes. They would soon see there was not much waste in the
     labourer's kitchen. They would see that so far as the labourers
     having the best end of the stick their share in the business is
     very small. It is to be hoped that the working men will seriously
     consider the position, and endeavour in the near future to better
     it. I have spoken out the plain, cruel, honest truth; I hope it
     will have the desired effect.

Arch's Union was by now completely gone. My Executive was seriously
considering winding up the whole thing. The funds of both districts had
become exhausted, as also had the central fund, hence the Union existed
only on paper. They decided to let the matter remain a few weeks more,
and commence another year if only on paper, and in the last issue of the
_Leader_ for 1895 appeared the following article by me:--

     By the time this week's issue of the _Weekly Leader_ appears the
     year 1895 will have passed away and 1896 will have been ushered in.
     It will do us no harm, especially the rural workers, to look at the
     condition of labour and ascertain, if possible, its true condition.
     We have constantly dinned into our ears that there has been such
     improvement made in the condition of the workers these last few
     years that there is nothing left to be done. We are told the life
     of the workers is all that can be desired. Now, in commencing to
     review the life of the toilers I have no wish to infer that there
     have been no improvements in the working classes; far from it, for
     the various political reforms that have been passed these last few
     years have had a tendency to give labour a stake in the country.
     But even these have not brought those unmixed blessings as many
     would have us believe they have. In fact, I think it can be shown
     that in some respects each political reform has had a tendency to
     fetter labour and somewhat enslave it, because these political
     reforms have left loopholes for the landlords and capitalist to
     tyrannize over them. With the enfranchisement came the system of
     letting the cottages to the labourers at a fortnight's notice, and
     by so doing instead of the enfranchisement of the people giving
     Labour a free hand, it bound Labour tighter; and the last great
     reform of 1894 has given the landlords and employers an opportunity
     of tyrannizing over the workers in such a way as was never dreamt
     of by the promoters of the Bill. Thus, instead of the government of
     our villages being in the hands of the people, it is in the hands
     of a wealthy clique--for the simple reason that the landlords are
     able to hold over the heads of the workers the threat of higher
     rents, and a few of the daring spirits who have come forward and
     voiced their fellows' wrongs have become marked birds for the
     aristocratic tyrants to shoot at. With these facts before us, I
     think it must be confessed that so far as the liberty and freedom
     of Labour is concerned, we have closed the year 1895 with Labour as
     fettered as ever, especially the unskilled portion of it.

     There is much being said to-day in reference to the wages of the
     workers, and an attempt is made to prove that Labour is receiving
     far the largest share of the reward of human industry, and that
     their poverty is due to the drinking and improvident habits of the
     workers. That statement I do not accept. Those who prefer that
     charge against the workers spend more money in gambling and drink
     in one day than the workers with large families have to live upon
     in a week. The wage of the agricultural labourers is at the rate of
     10s. per week, and unskilled labourers in the town about 16s. 3d.
     This is far below a fair living wage. The conditions under which
     the workers live will not bear very close inspection; some of the
     hovels in which they live are not fit for human habitation. Scores
     of the hovels in which the workers live they are compelled to nail
     up sacks to keep the wind and water out. A poor women told me a few
     days ago that she had to set bowls all over the bedroom when it
     rained. Another told me during the sharp weather, when the family
     woke up in the morning, their beds were all covered with snow; yet
     those poor creatures dare not complain for fear they would have
     nowhere to hide their heads; and if we turn our attention to the
     towns we find the workers in just as bad a condition, if not a
     little worse. Their living is of the coarsest kind, in fact it is a
     marvel how they exist at all. These comments are not for the
     purpose of disheartening anyone, but to show our critics that the
     condition of the workers is far from what it ought to be. They are
     intended further to arouse, if possible, the workers from their
     apathy, and to make a strenuous effort in the new year to better
     their position, which can only be done by combination. There is I
     still a remnant of the once strong Unions left; these have done I
     their work for you labourers in the past. If, however, you think a
     better system can be found, then by all means adopt it and get
     organized. Your opponents are getting more desperate every day;
     capital is becoming more organized for the purpose of resisting the
     just demands of labour.



In the first week of December 1895, at the request of the Cromer
District Liberal Association, I invited Mr. Arch to come to Cromer and
address a meeting there. This invitation he accepted. Mr. Ketton
presided. I was anxious to give the old man a good reception, and I
obtained the services of the Cromer and Southrepps Brass Bands to play
Arch from the house at which he was staying to the Lecture Hall. I met
him at the station in the afternoon, and as soon as I took his hand I
found he was broken-hearted and bitterly disappointed. Big tears ran
down his face. I took him to the house of his host and we had tea
together. Later we adjourned to another room by ourselves. Arch gripped
me by the hand and said: "My boy, you are younger than I, therefore you
will be able to return to work, but take my advice. When you do, never
trust our class again. I am getting old, I have given all the best years
of my life in their interest, and now in my old age they have forsaken

We had a splendid meeting, but he was not the same Arch he was in the
days of the past. The bitter disappointment had affected him even on a
political platform. I stayed with him that night and saw him off in the
morning, feeling sure we should never meet again in a public capacity.
We did not. At the General Election Arch retired, and his friends in the
House of Commons, irrespective of politics, subscribed and bought him a
life annuity.

Early in the new year (1896) the directors of the _Weekly Leader_
decided to wind up the company, as no advertisements could be obtained,
and on February 8, 1896, the last issue of the paper was published. In
it appeared my parting words to the labourers, and I did not fail to
speak out plainly.



     It is with deep regret that I write these comments this week, as
     this is the last issue of the _Weekly Leader_, the only organ in
     Norfolk that has for some time fearlessly advocated your rights.
     With its disappearance I shall have to vanish from public life too,
     and in order to make my position clear before the public I propose
     to give a brief outline of my connection with public movements,
     especially the Labour movement.

     In 1884 and 1885, when the labourer became enfranchised, I was in a
     good situation as brick-burner. My employer was a Tory, but I held
     contrary opinions. Being a working man and Nonconformist, I had the
     courage to do what little I could for the party which I thought
     would best serve the working men and the country at large, hence I
     spoke at several of the Liberal meetings in Norfolk. For this I
     lost my work, and was turned out of my house, and was only able to
     get another by a man sub-letting to me. I was never able to get
     another place as brick-burner, and I turned to that of agricultural
     labourer, which I understood as well as the other work. But I was
     only able to do this by walking twelve miles a day, as no farmer in
     my neighbourhood would employ me. This I did for eighteen months.
     Then Mr. Ketton of Felbrigg Hall, my employer at that time, found
     me a cottage where I am now living. No sooner had I got settled in
     my new home than the working men, getting dissatisfied with their
     lot in life and having no labourers' Union, turned to me to help
     them to reorganize themselves. For some weeks I refused to take any
     part. Having been once boycotted and being now only just settled
     down under a liberal employer, I felt I had no further wish to bear
     the turmoils of public life; but at last through the men's constant
     appealing I yielded to their pressure. Eleven labourers formed a
     committee and waited upon me at my house on November 5, 1889, and
     after they had decided among themselves what kind of Union they
     wished to start, I consented to act as secretary. I at once threw
     myself into the work, and in nine months enrolled in the Union
     upwards of 1,000 members, keeping at my work all the same time,
     holding meetings after I had done my day's work, many a time
     travelling twelve and fourteen miles to do so, and often not seeing
     my bed at all. At the end of nine months the committee decided that
     my whole time should be given to the work. I cautioned them and
     begged the men not to take me from my work, and for a time I
     refused to give it up. But at last, feeling that I must either give
     the movement up or give up my work, as my constitution was being
     seriously impaired, I yielded to the wishes of the men, and a
     general meeting was called to decide upon my salary. One pound a
     week was fixed, but I refused to take a pound whilst the men were
     being paid so low, and took 15s. per week only. About this time we
     became amalgamated with a Norwich Union, which was started about
     the same time as our Cromer Union, and in due time I became General
     Secretary, my salary being raised to 18s. per week. This amount I
     had for about eighteen months, when the men began to leave the
     Union, and now for several months I have had no salary at all.

     Now for a short account of the work done. We found the labourers
     working for 10s. per week, which was soon raised to 12s., and in a
     number of villages to 13s. Their harvest wages were raised from £6
     to £6 10s. to £7 and £7 5s. We also assisted a large number of the
     men to migrate and emigrate to other fields of labour. In 1892 I
     fought a spirited contest in a County Council Election at the
     express wish of the labourers themselves. At the passing of the
     District and Parish Councils Act I did my best to enable you to put
     it into operation. I have given this outline of my work and
     connection with working men's movements so that when my voice is
     silent, and my pen is still, and I go into obscurity, the public
     may be able to rightly judge of my work. One thing I can honestly
     say--in advocating the rights of the working men I have never
     studied my own personal interests or comfort. I have fearlessly
     championed your cause and have said and done for your interest what
     I have honestly believed to be right, and in doing so I have
     alienated those from me who would otherwise have been my friends,
     because in fighting your cause I have fought against their
     interests. I have in your interests made myself a bore to almost
     everyone, and have been a target for everyone to shoot at, while
     all through the work I have been grossly misrepresented. But none
     of these things have moved me, as I felt that I was fighting a
     noble and just cause. But alas! you the working men soon grew weary
     in well-doing, you allowed a spirit of apathy to grow up amongst
     you, and what is still worse, you have allowed a spirit of mistrust
     and wicked prejudice to grow up amongst you. You have believed the
     vilest calumnies that have been uttered against the leaders of the
     movement by your enemies, hence your failure to emancipate
     yourselves. Leader after leader has fallen because when victory was
     within sight you refused to hold up their hands, and now you find
     yourselves to-day in a helpless state.

     In taking my final farewell of you, let it never be said that
     George Edwards has left you. It is you that have left him. I was
     prepared at all costs to voice your interests, for I have as strong
     a faith as ever in the justness of your cause and the justness of
     your claims to live by your labour. But I have lost all faith that
     you will ever manifest manliness and independence enough to claim
     your rights. But should you ever again be prepared to assert your
     rights, I hope you will be able to find someone to lead you
     successfully on till the harvest of your rights is fully
     accomplished. In my parting words I will say to you as did Ernest
     Jones in one of his beautiful poems, because, although you cannot
     realize it, your cause will one day triumph. Fellow workers,
     farewell! It is not for me to get the work accomplished. I would
     have helped you, but ye would not. I will say to you:--

     Sharpen the sickle; how full the ears
       Our children are crying for bread;
     And the field has been watered with orphans' tears
       And enriched with their fathers' dead.
     And hopes that are buried, and hearts that broke,
       Lie deep in the treasuring sod:
     Then sweep down the grain with a thunder-stroke,
       In the name of humanity's God.

A week before this I had received an offer from the Executive of the
English Land Restoration League to undertake a tour with one of their
vans in Wiltshire in the coming season, commencing May 1st. This I
accepted. As there were several weeks before the engagement commenced, a
friend living at Sheringham, Mr. B. Johnson, offered to find me a few
weeks' work. On Monday February 10th I went to work for him a
disappointed man, having lost all faith that my class would ever be
manly enough to emancipate themselves.

To add to this disappointment I lost my seat on the District Council,
the Rev. Mills leading by four votes. This exhibition of ingratitude on
the part of the working men in my own village after all I had done for
them during my term of office was enough to crush the spirit of any man,
for I had brought to the old people in receipt of relief living in that
parish alone over £20 in increased relief. I had also obtained some few
acres of allotments. In any case I felt I could never take any more
interest in the business so long as I lived there. At the election of
the Parish Council I refused to serve again, and the Council fell into
the hands of the farmers; and there it has remained ever since.

In May I commenced my lecturing tour. I travelled by road into the
county, holding meetings every night on the way. During my tour I ran
against the law. On September 30th I was summoned by the police before
the Trowbridge bench of magistrates for an alleged obstruction of the
highway by holding a public meeting on Vickers Hill, Trowbridge, on
September 18th.

The ground on which the van stood was vacant and belonged to the
Council. The amusing part of the business was that at the time I was
supposed to be speaking and causing an obstruction I was more than half
a mile from the van. The man I left in charge of the van had got
impatient and commenced the meeting before the chairman and myself could
return. It was a most amusing case. Superintendent Tyler was
prosecuting, and when I stepped into the box he ordered me out again, as
he thought I was one of the public and was going into the wrong seat. He
did not know I was the defendant.

The campaign was most successful and pleasant, and I gained an
experience that has stood me in good stead since. Several amusing
incidents occurred during the campaign. At a place near Devizes I was
addressing a large meeting, and a Tory continually interrupted with the
remark: "You would not do it if you were not paid for it." Subsequently
a man came on to the van and informed me of my interrupter's mode of
living. This he did without anyone else's knowledge, and it prepared me
for the next interruption. I had not long to wait for the same remark,
and I retorted: "And when I am paid I cannot afford to keep two wives as
some people do." A shout went up--"That is what he does." Needless to
say I had no more interruptions from that quarter. I was in the county
twenty-six weeks, and although the work was successful from a propaganda
point of view, it did not save the Union in the interests of which I was
working, namely the Wiltshire Union, financed by Mr. Louis Anstie, for
it died out within a few weeks.

In October of the same year I returned home and again settled down to
work. I went to work for a few weeks with the late Mr. Benjamin Johnson
as a general labourer, and in January 1897 I accepted a situation as a
brick-burner with the late Mr. J. N. Neale of Baconsthorpe, who opened a
brickyard at Beeston. I kept with him some years. In the same month I
was elected unopposed to the Erpingham District Council, and for years I
lost a day a fortnight from my work to attend the meetings without fee
or reward. My wife also kept her seat for the parishes of East and West
Beckham. I was soon put on to all the committees again. In March of that
year I was sent by the Board as their representative to a Poor Law
conference at Colchester and again to one at Norwich in 1898, and in
1899 I was sent by the Board to a conference at Ipswich and was deputed
by them to read a paper on Old Age Pensions. After a lengthy discussion
the Board passed a resolution in favour of these. Strange to say, same
few years later, when the Government brought in its scheme, it adopted
in the main the principles I had advocated in my paper, with the
exception of the age and income limit. I did not recommend any income
and I advocated sixty-five as the qualifying age.

In the same week I attended a Primitive Methodist conference at Ipswich
and read a paper on Sunday-schools in the villages. In 1900 I was
elected chairman of the Erpingham Sanitary Committee, a position which I
held for ten years until I left the district. In 1902 my health failed.
I had a serious illness and was obliged to give up the brick work. I
moved to Gresham and went to work for a Mrs. Sharpen as an agricultural
labourer. I intended to settle down as a labourer for the rest of my
life, but fate ruled otherwise, and I seemed to be marked out for a
different sphere. Against my own personal wish, in the spring of 1903 I
received another pressing invitation from the Liberal Party to accept a
position as a speaker. This I refused at first, but eventually accepted,
with the understanding that I should return home once a fortnight to
attend the Guardians' meetings. In the autumn of that year, after Mr.
Chamberlain started his Tariff Reform campaign, I went with the newly
formed Free Trade Union and kept with them until the General Election of
1906. During my work with this organization I helped in almost every
bye-election, worked in almost every county and had many exciting
experiences. But even in this capacity, although all Agricultural
Labourers Unions had been defunct for some time, the Tory Party still
continued their gross libellous attacks upon me. They printed the last
balance sheets of the Unions, manipulated the figures in a scandalous
manner and endeavoured to show that I had had all the money paid by the
members, though they knew I had not received a penny. Hundreds of
thousands of these leaflets were printed and spread broadcast. My
opponents would get to know where I was addressing meetings and send men
to distribute these leaflets at the meetings. In many counties men
became so enraged at this treatment of me that when the man whose name
was on the leaflets appeared on the scene he had on several occasions to
beat a hasty retreat. In no case did this move have its desired effect,
as the great political upheaval of 1906 proved.

After the General Election of 1906 the Free Trade Union had no further
employment for the speakers and they paid them no retaining fee. I
returned home and again settled down to work as an agricultural



No sooner was the General Election over (which brought about the
greatest Tory defeat that that Party had ever experienced) than
victimization became rife. Scores of men were victimized on mere
suspicion, especially in Norfolk. The labourers appealed to me from all
parts of the country to help them to form another Union for the
agricultural labourers. The correspondence revealed most glaring cases
of victimization. I will give a sample of what was happening. One
correspondent told me that during the election a lady canvassed a man
who had had not been to any meetings of either Party. He was a very
quiet fellow and used rather quaint and witty sayings. When asked if he
would promise to vote for the Tory candidate he quietly asked her if she
could keep a secret? She replied that she could. He then said, "So can
I," and gave no promise. Within a month this man received notice to
leave his work on the plea that his employer was going to reduce hands,
and a week later he received a week's notice to leave his house. This
latter notice was put into effect. The man had a wife and five children,
and a friendly publican let him have the use of his clubroom in which to
live until he could find another house.

This was only one case out of many, and I might say that although these
cases were well known, the Liberal Party took no steps to protect these

These matters were brought to my notice in February and March 1906, and
letters kept coming to me containing most pathetic appeals to form
another Union. Why I was the one to be written to I attribute to the
fact that I was the only one of the former leaders of the men taking any
part in public life. The others were either dead or had retired into
private life. Arch had retired, Z. Walker was dead and many of the
others had gone. I had continued in public life, retaining my membership
of the District and Parish Councils. Having again settled down to work,
however, I did not feel disposed again to accept the turmoil of leading
the men and shouldering the responsibility of forming another Union. I
did not feel equal to the task, and, so far as I knew, there were no
means of raising funds for such a gigantic undertaking. For some months
I took no action and told my correspondents that, if anyone would come
forward to accept the responsibility, I would place the benefit of my
past experiences at his service, that I would not only join the Union,
but would help him in every way I could, but that I could not at my age
accept the responsibility. I had then reached the age of fifty-six.
Further than that, I could not bring myself to believe that the
labourers would ever again have the courage to assert their rights and
demand by organization justice for themselves, their wives and children.

Still letters kept coming to me from all parts of the country, but more
especially from Norfolk.

I do not think I should ever have taken any steps to comply with the
requests but for the influence of my wife. One night I returned home
from my work and read the usual batch of letters. I said to my wife: "I
do wish these poor people could find someone to lead them. I don't feel
equal to the task." Her reply was: "You must try. There is no one else
who will."

I looked into that dear face as I wish I could to-day, and I pointed out
to her what a lonely life she had led in the past and that it would mean
the same to her again in the future. Her reply was: "If you will make
the effort, I will make the sacrifice."

This was indicative of the woman's noble spirit and the faith she had in
the righteousness of the cause. I could hesitate no longer. I decided to
take steps at once to call a conference, knowing full well the huge task
which I was taking in hand. There had not been a shred of a Union
amongst the agricultural labourers for ten years.

I have gone into considerable detail with this part of my story in an
endeavour to combat the false charge that has been brought against me in
certain quarters, that all through my long public life I was always
looking for a soft job for myself and was always living on someone else
without doing anything for it. I leave this to the judgment of my
readers. I think they will agree that I have endeavoured to devote my
whole life to the cause of my fellows.

In the first week in June I took steps to devise means of calling a
conference. I first wrote to several Members of Parliament who were
known to me, laid the matter before them and appealed for their help.
Those to whom I addressed letters included Mr. (now Sir) Richard
Winfrey, Mr. A. W. Soames, who sat for a considerable number of years
for the division for which I had the honour of election in 1920, Mr.
(now Sir) Robert Price, and Mr. George Nicholls. These gentlemen all
sent donations, but some had doubts about the success of the venture.
Mr. Nicholls and Sir Richard Winfrey not only sent donations, but
promised to attend the conference when held and render all the help they
could. Amongst other gentlemen I wrote to and who sent subscriptions
were the Earl of Kimberley and Mr. Herbert Day of Norwich.

Altogether I received £10. I made arrangements to hold the conference at
North Walsham in Norfolk, and engaged the club room of the Angel Hotel
for July 6th. I also provided for a tea for the delegates. We were to
have the conference at 2 p.m. and a public meeting in the Market Place
at 7.30 p.m., and I announced that Mr. Richard Winfrey, M.P., Mr. George
Nicholls, M.P., and myself were to address the meeting. I also sent out
invitations to the following: Mr. W. B. Harris, Sleaford, Lincolnshire;
Mr. J. Binder, C.C., Cambridgeshire; Mr. Blyth, Suffolk; and the
following in Norfolk: Mr. W. G. Codling, Briston; Mr. J. Sage,
Kenninghall; Mr. H. A. Day, Norwich; Mr. Holman, Shipdham; Mr. Israel
Lake, Gresham; and Mr. Baldwin, Cromer. All attended with the exception
of the last.

At the opening of the conference Mr. George Nicholls, M.P., was voted to
the chair and Mr. W. B. Harris to the vice-chair. After the chairman had
welcomed the delegates, I was called upon to explain the objects of the
conference. Before doing so I read several letters and went on to say
that I had been asked to make another attempt to form a Union for the
agricultural labourers. I explained that I thought a Union should be
formed for securing for the labourers better conditions of living,
assisting them to obtain allotments and small holdings, to secure better
representation on all local authorities, and also representation in the
Imperial Parliament, and that its funds should be used for these

The following is a brief extract from my speech:--

     GENTLEMEN,--You have been called together to consider the
     advisability or otherwise of making another attempt to organize the
     agricultural labourers. The calling of the conference is also in
     response to a number of appeals from all parts of the Eastern
     Counties. I think the desire to form another Union is general and
     that the time is opportune for such an effort to be made. The men
     have been disorganized for over ten years, and in consequence their
     condition is no better than it was prior to 1872. But if such an
     effort is to be successful, one thing is essential. There must not
     be rival Unions. There must be one Union and one only, catering for
     the agricultural labourers. The many rival Unions that were raised
     in Arch's days were, I have no doubt, a great factor in its fall. I
     think I ought to warn you that in forming such a Union you have a
     great task in front of you. One thing must be borne in mind. You
     cannot run such a Union on the same lines as Trades' Unions are run
     in large centres of industry. In consequence of the isolated
     condition of the labourers and the great distances to travel, the
     expense will be very great and, through the miserably low wage the
     labourer receives, the contributions he will be able to pay will be
     very small. Therefore accumulation of funds will be very slow. In
     my judgment it will take years to build up a Union that will be
     effective in altering the conditions of the labourer. But I have
     faith that it can be done, and in due course the labourer will be
     able to take his place with his fellows in the towns. One thing is
     certain, however. A great deal of hard work will have to be done by
     someone. Also great sacrifices will have to be made, and those
     responsible for the running of the Union will come in for a great
     deal of abuse.

A long discussion followed as to the best method to be pursued.
Ultimately the following resolution was moved and carried:--

     That this conference of agricultural labourers considers the time
     has come when steps should be taken to form a Union for the
     agricultural labourers, and that a provisional committee should be
     formed to carry this into effect.

Then the question of name arose. It was subsequently agreed that the
name should be: "The Eastern Counties Agricultural Labourers' and Small
Holders' Union."

Then followed a long discussion as to the objects, Mr. Day contending
that they should be confined to the land question and that the Union
should be run on much the same lines as the old Irish Land League. This
was ruled out as being of no use to the labourer, and it was urged that
if it was to be successful it must be a Trade Union in the fullest
sense. This view was unanimously endorsed. It was also decided that the
rules should be so framed as to enable the Union to assist the members
to obtain land and let it to the members.

The conference then proceeded to elect a provisional committee to act
to the end of the year, this committee to use every endeavour to
inaugurate the Union in the various counties represented at the
conference. The following were elected to serve on the committee:--

     _President_: Mr. George Nicholls, M.P.

     _Vice-President_: Mr. W. B. Harris, Lincolnshire.

     _Treasurer_: Mr. Richard Winfrey, M.P., Peterborough.

     _General Secretary_: Mr. George Edwards, Gresham.

     _Executive Committee_: Messrs. J. Binder, J. Sage, W. G. Codling,
     H. A. Day, J. Bly, C. Holman and J. Stibbons.

At the conclusion of the conference the delegates took tea together at
the Angel Hotel. In the evening a large public meeting was held in the
market-place, near the old cross. Mr. R. Winfrey, M.P., presided, and
the meeting was addressed by Mr. George Nicholls, M.P., Mr. H. A. Day,
and myself. We explained what had been done at the conference, and that
we should visit the town again shortly with the object of forming a
branch of the Union.

On going through the expenses of the day's proceedings I found that they
totalled £11, having had to pay the delegates' rail fare, cost of room,
tea and printing. I had received only £10 in donations, and thus I was
£1 out of pocket on the day. It will be seen that I was left in a most
difficult position from which to commence organizing the labourers.

At the conclusion of the conference Mr. Day suggested I should have to
give all my time to the organizing work. I pointed out to him that that
was impossible as I could not live without an income. Mr. Day then said
that the work had got to be done, and he undertook to make himself
responsible for the payment to me of 13s. a week for the first twelve
months to enable me to give my whole time to the work. I realised this
was meagre remuneration, as I should have to keep my niece at home to do
the writing, whilst I went about forming branches. Still, I knew if the
movement was to be successful someone would have to make a sacrifice,
and as I had set myself the task I agreed to do it.

I did it on these terms for the first year.

I cycled about six thousand miles during that year, which averaged some
bit over one hundred miles per week, and for the first twelve months
13s. per week was all my niece and myself received for the work. She
conducted the correspondence and kept the accounts and I spent five days
in each week going about forming branches. I was not able to do much
before harvest, but I was able to form the following branches:
Kenninghall, Shipdham and St. Faith's. Kenninghall was started with
thirty members, Shipdham with forty and St. Faith's with twenty-five.

On the very day the conference met at North Walsham, July 6, 1906, I was
returned unopposed to the Norfolk County Council for the Buxton
Division. The seat became vacant on the death of Mr. Charles Louis
Buxton, who had represented the division ever since the Council was
formed. Some of my friends insisted upon me being nominated and promised
to pay all the election expenses. Mr. William Case of Tuttington was the
other candidate, but he withdrew and I was returned unopposed. I was at
once put on to the Small Holding Committee, in which work I was
interested. My return caused a great flutter in the Tory camp, and they
determined I should not be returned unopposed at the general election.
At the general election of 1907 they put up Colonel Kerrison, who beat
me by fifty votes. This proved my last defeat in seeking election to
this Council.

As soon as harvest operations were completed I commenced work for the
Union in all earnestness. During the interval the committee had been
hard at work drawing up rules. I had a few copies of the rules of the
old Norfolk and Norwich Amalgamated Labour Union, and we first decided
to adopt the principles contained therein. After careful consideration,
and whilst anxious to run the Union on democratic lines, we came to the
conclusion that the principles of the old Union would be impossible on
the grounds of expense and the smallness of the contributions of the
members. We decided on centralization, and by the time harvest was over
we had got the rules printed and ready for registration and membership
cards ready for use. We started our autumn campaign by a big
demonstration at Peterborough, at which the speakers were Mr. John Ward,
M.P., Mr. George Nicholls, M.P., Mr. R. Winfrey, M.P., and myself.
During the autumn I confined my labours to Norfolk. My method of working
was as follows: I would cycle out in the daytime into villages, engage
rooms, fill in blank bills with which I had previously furnished myself
and distribute them. I always billed meetings a week ahead. We had a
very wet autumn in 1906 and many miles did I cycle in the pouring rain.
I never missed a day in going out to arrange meetings and I never missed
a single meeting. The meetings were well attended and very seldom did I
fail to open a branch. I frequently had to act as my own chairman. After
I had spoken and explained the rules, I then appealed to the men to join
the Union. I soon found that the men I was then appealing to were of
quite a different type to those we appealed to in the seventies. They
were more thoughtful. Therefore the progress of the Union was not so
rapid as in 1872, but it was a steady growth. I had a feeling from the
first that its growth would be steady, but that it would attain a much
greater strength than the defunct Unions, and that the work which it
would be called upon to do would be of a far wider nature and of greater
importance than that of the other unions.

From September 1st to December 31st I opened forty-nine branches with a
membership of 1,500. As I look back to-day to those weary months I
often wonder how I stood the work, and my heart is sad when I think of
the lonely life led by my poor wife. I used to leave home on the Monday
morning, returning again on the Saturday evening. As soon as I reached
home I retired to a little bedroom which I had cleared in my cottage for
an office, and there would help my niece with the accounts and the
week's correspondence. Then on the Sunday I would again be away from
home, conducting services for the Primitive Methodists. I always made it
a point never to let my public work interfere with my religious work.
Besides addressing five meetings a week and attending to the Guardians
and District Council work, I wrote a weekly article on the objects of
the Union in the _Eastern Weekly Press_, the _People's Weekly Journal_
and the _Bury Free Press_, and by so doing kept the Union well before
the working people, which greatly assisted it.

I had not proceeded far before I experienced the same difficulty in
finding branch secretaries as in the old days, and young men soon became
marked men. Our first trouble of the kind arose at Ashill, Norfolk,
where a young man was elected branch secretary. He was promptly told by
his employer he must give up his office with the Union or leave his
employment. In several other places pressure was put upon the men, which
all added to the difficulties of my task. Nevertheless, with strong
faith in the justness of the cause, I pushed on with the work.

The Union was received with ridicule by the farmers at the first, and
they contended that its life would be short, for if Arch had failed,
then George Edwards, with only a little local influence, must fail. They
reckoned without their book, and by the end of the year they found that
"old George Edwards" was more successful in his work than they had given
him credit for.



At the end of the year the Provisional Committee was so satisfied with
the success of my efforts that they decided to call a general meeting of
the branches formed and to invite the branches to send one delegate
each. It was left to me to make the arrangements, and Norwich was
selected as the place of meeting in the first week in February. I
engaged the large room at the Co-operative Institute. By the time this
delegate meeting was held I had formed fifty-six branches with a
membership of nearly two thousand. Fifty-six delegates, together with
the members of the Provisional Committee, attended. After paying all
expenses incurred during the five months, postage, printing of rules,
that day's conference, etc., the treasurer was able to report a credit
balance of £47 7s 5d. A statement to this effect was afterwards given to
the new Executive Committee.

By the first week in February 1907 I had completed all the arrangements
for the meeting, had the agenda printed, prepared the Financial
Statement and also had my report printed. The meeting was most
enthusiastic. Mr. George Nicholls, M.P., presided and gave a most
inspiring address. My report was received with great enthusiasm, and the
meeting then settled down to business. A resolution was moved "That this
meeting of delegates from the newly formed Union thanks the Provisional
Committee and the Secretary for their efforts to again organize the
agricultural labourers and that we at once form ourselves into a Union
and accept the rules as drawn up by the Provisional Committee." The
Council then proceeded to elect the officers and Executive Committee,
and the following were elected:--

     _President_: Mr. George Nicholls, M.P.

     _Vice-President_: Mr. H. A. Day.

     _Treasurer_: Mr. Richard Winfrey, M.P.

     _General Secretary_: Mr. George Edwards, C.C.

     _Executive Committee_: Messrs. Thomas Thacker, W. G. Codling, C.
     Holman, J. Stibbons, and J. Binder.

It was decided that I should receive no salary until the Union had been
running twelve months. My niece, Miss Blanche Corke, was given an
honorarium of £2 for her services during the period of the past five
months. It was also decided she should receive 7s. per week in the
future as assistant secretary.

As soon as this meeting was over I again set out single-handed on a most
vigorous campaign, Mr. Thomas Thacker of East Dereham giving valuable
aid in his district. By March 31st the balance at the bank stood at £150
10s. 3½d., which represented a saving upon the quarter's working of £104
2s. 10½d. I had enrolled during the quarter 436 members. The entrance
fees amounted to £10 18s. 2d., as we only charged 6d. entrance fees and
4d. for youths under eighteen years. This spurred me on to even greater
efforts. It was, however, playing very heavily on my health, besides the
heavy organizing work. The work at home increased as the Union
increased, and I frequently had to sit up nearly all night on my return
home at the week-end, as the clerical work at home was more than my
niece could do; for, while she was a good writer and fairly good at
figures, she, like me, had had no training in book-keeping and we were
neither of us clerks, and we had to devise our own methods in keeping
the books, which was not the quickest nor yet the best method, and, as I
had no organizing help, I was obliged to be from home five whole days.

As I look back on those days and the long hours I had to put in, never
having an hour's rest, for I had to seize every moment I could to inform
myself on all the current topics of the day, when getting my meals
having a book or newspaper in front of me, arousing myself early in the
morning and giving myself to the closest study, I often think the then
Executive was anything but Trade Unionist. They were not only risking
wearing my life out with no remuneration (of which I did not complain),
but they were working my niece night and day for the miserable sum of
7s. per week, and they refused to let me have even an assistant
organizer until April 27th. Still, I do not regret the sacrifice I made
in the interest of humanity.

On April 27th the first meeting of the Executive was held at the Liberal
Club, Peterborough, and so fast had the Union grown during the four
months that the Executive was obliged to set on an assistant organizer.
Mr. Thomas Thacker was appointed until July, at a salary of 25s. per
week, but with no guarantee that they would continue the appointment
after that date. This showed how cautious the committee were and that
they did not intend to waste the members' money.

The appointment of an assistant organizer did not relieve me of any
work, for I continued my own organizing work with the same vigour as
before, and in addition I had to organize my assistant's work, which
also added to the clerical work at home, and the Executive made no
effort to give me any assistance at home. By July our contributions had
increased from £116 9s. 11d. to £133 0s. 1d. We had enrolled during the
quarter 350 members. The entrance fees received for the quarter ending
July were £9 15s. 8d. Our balance at the end of July stood at £242 3s.
4d., which was a saving on the quarter of £91 5s. 9d.

The second meeting of the Executive was held at Cozens' Temperance
Hotel, King's Lynn, on Saturday, August 3rd, when I presented my second
quarterly report as shown above. At this meeting Mr. Day, who had been
responsible for my 13s. per week, said that he considered that the Union
had got into such a position that he thought it ought to be able to pay
its secretary, especially as the Executive was employing a whole-time
organizer. It was then decided that I should receive a salary of 23s.
per week and travelling and out-of-pocket expenses, and that my niece
should continue to receive 7s. per week as assistant secretary. Thus
ended my year's work for this Union. During the year I had cycled 6,000
miles, which was over 100 miles per week.

In spite of the hard work and the long weary miles I cycled on lonely
roads, often late at night, still it was a pleasant year's work, as I
felt I was building up an organization that would accomplish some great
things for this long neglected class, and I never felt that I was
engaged in a more divine work than I was then doing. I had enrolled
during the year 6,379 members. We had taken in contributions during the
two quarters we had been officially started £299 10s., and with the £46
7s. 5d. handed over by the Provisional Committee as a balance left over
after paying all expenses with £63 7s. in donations from sympathizers,
we had saved on the two quarters' working £242 3s. 4d., which I think
everyone must admit was no discredit to me after the twelve months most
strenuous work I had put in. But the year's work was not without its
humorous side. At one crowded meeting I was addressing a man was present
who was evidently primed up for his job with plenty of beer. He kept up
a running fire of interruption. Some of the women present wrote on a big
card: "Here is the fool of the fair who has sold himself to Bung." Then
a number of strong young fellows pinned it on his coat and lifted him
bodily on to the platform amidst the laughter and jeers of the audience.

At this committee meeting Mr. Thacker was re-engaged at a salary of
25s. per week. Having now been appointed a paid official, I felt that
the responsibility resting on me was great, being the chief official of
the Union, and, as the committee had decided to meet only once a
quarter, they had placed great power into my hands to deal with the
various problems such as small disputes, lock-outs, victimization,
accident, and all cases needing legal assistance. They also appointed
Mr. W. E. Keefe of Norwich the Union's solicitor, before whom I was
instructed to put all cases needing legal assistance. This I felt was
power and responsibility that ought never to be placed upon one man,
especially in an organization that was so rapidly growing, and besides
it was making one man an autocrat, which I, as a democrat, strongly
objected to. But the Executive were staunch economists and decided to
keep the working expenses down to the lowest possible point and they
determined it should be so. The one thing they closely scrutinized was
the finance. My colleague Mr. Thacker and myself set out in all
earnestness, each holding five meetings per week with good results.
During the quarter I had several lock-out cases and victimization cases
to deal with, which cost the Union several pounds. I also put several
cases of accidents into the hands of Mr. Keefe which were successfully
dealt with by him. I ought to say here that Mr. Keefe has been a most
able and loyal solicitor to the Union. The Executive also decided that I
should prepare a quarterly financial statement and present to them at
their quarterly meeting and also send it to each branch of the Union.

The disbursement during the midsummer quarter was heavy owing to several
cases of lock-out I was called upon to support. Nothing particular
happened to cause much trouble during the autumn quarter. We enrolled
800 members and saved £127. Our balance stood on December 31, 1907, at
£361 8s. 2d. At the fourth quarterly meeting held at Lynn, January 18,
1908, the Executive again became anxious about the cost of management
and appointed a sub-committee to draw up a scheme and report as to
putting the Union on a safer and cheaper basis. They also decided that
the General Council Meeting be held at Lynn on Saturday February 22nd,
and I be instructed to make all arrangements. Further, that I be
instructed to provide each delegate with lunch and pay him his rail fare
together with 2s. for loss of time. I don't think this can be said to be
extravagant, in fact to-day the Trade Union world would consider it very
mean. I think what alarmed the committee was that the Tories had
commenced their old game and had raked up the balance sheets of the old
Union and were spreading them broadcast. They would get to know where I
was advertised to speak and send a man to distribute the lying leaflets
from house to house in the village. But the Executive need not have been
alarmed, for the man whom they were vilifying had got the confidence of
the labourers this time and they were not going to be disorganized by
such libellous leaflets. Hence the more often the attack was made, the
faster the Union grew. The General Council Meeting was held on February
22, 1908, in the Central Hall, King's Lynn, and my balance sheet showed
that we had a balance in hand on December 31st of £457 3s. 9d., a saving
since the Union was officially formed on February 4, 1907, of £410 16s.
5d., which no one can say was bad achievement out of 2d. per week

The following is an extract from my report:--

     FELLOW WORKERS,--In presenting to you my first balance sheet and
     report, I wish to thank you for the confidence you have placed in
     me during the year. Also to thank the officers and friends who have
     given me such valuable service in establishing the Union. Our
     worthy President, Mr. George Nicholls, M.P., has spared no effort
     to help us and has attended as many meetings as his parliamentary
     duties would permit him. Mr. Herbert Day has rendered able
     assistance.... During the year I have attended 183 meetings for the
     Union, and in addition to these meetings I have attended 83
     meetings in connection with my duties as Guardian and County
     Councillor. Mr. Thacker has addressed, since his appointment in
     March, 170 meetings and has cycled 3,240 miles. I have cycled since
     January over 4,000 miles, and since I commenced to organize for the
     Union in July 1906, over 7,000 miles.

     We have received urgent appeals to visit other counties, but the
     committee up to the present have only permitted me to visit
     Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, outside of Norfolk branches. In
     these two counties have been formed:--Cambridgeshire: Friday
     Bridge, Leverington and Wisbech St. Mary's. Lincolnshire: Gidney
     Drove End, Gosberton, Holbeach, Sutton, Sutterton, Walpole St.
     Andrews, Gedney Dyke, Sutton St. Edmunds and Billingborough. In
     Norfolk we have made rapid progress during the year. We have been
     called upon to place a large number of cases in our solicitor's
     hands, which he has dealt with in a most able manner. In three
     cases he was able to effect a settlement which put into our
     members' pockets £236 12s. 6d. I think the Union ought to
     congratulate itself that it has such an able advocate as Mr. Keefe.
     Brethren, in closing my report, let me give you a note of warning.
     We are on the eve of a great social upheaval, the greatest the
     world has ever seen. It has already begun by the great Labour
     unrest throughout the industrial world. It is a proof that the
     workers are determined upon better conditions of labour. There is,
     however, a great fear that the capitalist class will use every
     means in their power to prevent the emancipation of the workers,
     and to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Alas! how often have we in
     the days of the past in our efforts to bind you together in the
     bonds of unity had to exclaim, like the prophets of old, "who have
     believed our report?" Our class has been contented for so long to
     be blinded by the capitalist class and has put too much faith in
     the political parties instead of thinking and acting for
     themselves. This spirit of apathy and childlike dependence must
     cease. You must think and act for yourselves and take an
     intelligent interest in all the great social problems that affect
     you as a class.

     Considering all the opposition that we shall have to meet, it will
     require our united efforts to prevent the privileged class crushing
     the noble efforts that are now being made for industrial freedom.
     We are now celebrating the first anniversary of the establishment
     of our Union. Its progress has not been quite so rapid as some of
     us had hoped after the bitter experience of the rural workers
     during their disorganized state. We thought that it would have
     required very little effort to have organized at least 20 per
     cent., and it would not have been necessary to have spent a large
     amount of money and time. I was well aware by my past experience
     that a great deal of opposition would have to be encountered, but
     the cost of organizing is certainly beyond my expectations.
     Notwithstanding all this, there is a good awakening, and I have
     strong faith that before many years our Union will become a great
     national movement, which certainly will be essential if the rural
     worker is to take his part in the social battle that is about to be

     You are the worst paid and worst housed and work the longest hours
     of any other class. While every other class have their holidays,
     you have none. The system under which you hire your cottages makes
     you complete slaves. Your poverty-stricken condition is a standing
     disgrace to a country that boasts of its high state of civilization
     and calls itself Christian. It is unjust and inhuman. This terrible
     curse and stigma will have to be abolished. It will, however, be a
     most arduous task. The battle will be fierce and long. Some of us
     may have to lay down our weapons of warfare before the battle is
     over, but it will have to be fought and the victory won. Take
     courage, then, my brethren, go forward with manly conduct, be
     sober, let your action be honest and straightforward to your
     employers, and your complete emancipation is assured.

     Courage then, my Brother,
       The day has come at last;
     The clouds are lifting quickly,
       The night is breaking fast.
     Be strong then of courage,
       Our cause is just and right,
     And he who holds by justice
       Is sure to win the fight.

     Yours faithfully,

     (_Signed_) GEORGE EDWARDS,
          _General Secretary_.

      GRESHAM, _December 31, 1907_.

A resolution was passed adopting my report and balance sheet and a vote
of thanks was given me for my year's work. The Council elected an almost
new Executive. Mr. Petch was put on representing Lincolnshire, Mr.
Arnett, Mr. Giles and Mr. Reeder were new members. A new spirit was
infused by the election of the new members, but even these were afraid
to launch out and engage more organizers and extend our borders into
other counties, but decided to confine my labours to the Eastern
Counties. The new system of working the Union, however, increased the
clerical work at home, as I was responsible for the mapping out of the
districts for the superintendents and for keeping a record of their
work. I was also expected to continue my organizing work as before,
which I did. We made rapid progress, and by March 31st we had enrolled
700 new members during the quarter, and when the Executive met on April
25th I felt, unless there was speedily an alteration, I should soon have
a serious breakdown, as the night and day work was telling on my health.
It took my niece all her time to keep the accounts, hence I had to have
all correspondence sent on to me day by day for me to answer, and,
further, there were so many small cases of disputes and victimization
that had to be investigated. The responsibility upon me was too great a
mental strain, still I kept at it, as success was attending my work and
it buoyed me up and kept me going. Still, the evil day had to come, and
in June I broke down and had to take three weeks' complete rest. My
niece was also on the point of getting married. The committee met to
receive the report for the June quarter, the meeting being held in Lynn
on July 14th. I was able to report that we had enrolled 1,040 members
during the quarter and that we had added to our capital £175 during the
quarter, and that our capital now stood at £632 12s. 6d. The committee
decided to give me a free hand to do such work as I felt able to, with
the understanding that the committee wished me to take sufficient rest
to enable me to recoup my health. I took three weeks' rest from all
public meetings. At this meeting the committee presented my niece with a
case of knives and forks and an artistic address in recognition of her
services to the Union. They also decided to increase my salary 5s. per
week to enable me to secure another assistant. The joint salary of my
niece and myself was 30s., 7s. per week for her and 23s. for myself.
Now I was to pay an assistant 12s. per week and I receive 23s. as
before. My niece was married on August 4th. She and her husband, Mr. W.
Painter, went to Lancashire to live, and Miss Alice Pike of Gresham
entered the service of the Union as an assistant secretary. We still
kept my small bedroom for an office, for which I never charged a penny.
It was, however, being crowded out, and what the Sanitary Inspector
would have said if he had made an inspection I often wonder.

At this time I received an application from the East Winch Branch
secretary to hold a Sunday meeting on the common in that village. I
objected, and only consented on the condition that the meeting should be
of strictly religious character. This was agreed to, and on the last
Sunday in July the meeting was held, and I advertised it as follows:--


     A Camp Meeting will be held under the auspices of the above on
     Sunday on the Common, East Winch. Services to commence at 2.30 and
     6.30 p.m. Addresses will be given by C. Reynolds, George Edwards,
     General Secretary, and others. The Westacre Brass Band will be in
     attendance. Sankey's hymns will be sung.

It was a beautifully fine Sunday, and the services were attended by over
2,000 people. Such a sight had never been witnessed before in the
village. The singing was most hearty, accompanied by the band. I took
for my text in the afternoon "The labourer is worthy of his hire," and
in the evening my text was "Thy kingdom come." The evening discourse was
fully reported in the _Lynn News_. This caused a great stir. Some
denounced it as mixing up politics with religion, others said they had
never heard the Gospel preached like it before, and demands for Sunday
meetings came in rapidly. Before the summer was over similar meetings
were held at Wells, South Creake and Swaffham, which were attended by
thousands of people. The later meetings were addressed by Mr. George
Nicholls, M.P., Mr. R. Winfrey, M.P., Mr. H. A. Day and myself. This was
the beginning of the Sunday meetings, and so long as I was responsible
for conducting them they were always conducted on strictly religious
lines. We always opened with prayer and lessons from the Scriptures were
always read. Large collections were received. So great was the interest
taken in them that the committee decided to continue them in 1909. They
also decided to have some Labour hymns of their own, and Mr. Day, Mr.
Green and I were asked to make a selection. Mr. Green composed some of
the most beautiful verses I have ever seen, and they were set to
Sankey's tunes. I often wish the Union had kept them, for they have
never found better. The following are a few of them:--

              THE MODEL CHURCH.
            (_Tune_: Sankey 608.)

     Wife, I have found the Labour Church
       And worshipped there to-day:
     It's not like those so long we've known
       Where parsons preach for pay.
     But one that's built of human love
       To bless the human race,
     No church that ere before it stood
       Filled so divine a place.

     It's such a church that I, dear wife,
       This very day have found.
     There's no deception in its faith,
       It stands on hallowed ground.
     Ground sanctified by martyr's blood
       Who o'er its surface trod,
     When battling for their liberty
       Their Conscience and their God.

     Oh, come with me, I pray thee, wife,
       And worship at its shrine,
     Give thy adhesion to its Cause,
       And make its interest thine,
     Its songs are of the right to live
       For every one who toils,
     With their freedom of accession
       To live upon the soil.

     My heart grew restive at its words,
       My spirit caught the fire,
     I joined the utmost of my voice
       To that most ardent choir,
     And sang as in my youthful days,
       Let tyrants prostrate fall,
     Bring forth the honest man of toil,
       And crown him, crown him, crown him.
         Crown him best of all.

     Come, wife, that fight will soon be o'er
       The victory's nearly won:
     The better land is just ahead,
       I see its rising sun.
     We're nearing now its happy shore,
       Where streams of plenty run,
     And there we'll never want again,
       There'll be no sorrow there,
     In that just land where all is love,
       There'll be no sorrow there.

             THE UNION LIGHT.
     (_Tune_: "Stand up for Jesus.")

     Stand up, the men of Labour,
       Who toil upon the land,
     For better homes and wages
       Make one united stand.
     Your captains, they will lead you,
       If you will follow on,
     Now is the time, O comrades,
       Haste age to come along.

                  STRONG HUMAN LOVE
            (_Tune_: "Lead, Kindly Light.")

     Strong, human love! within whose steadfast Will
               Is always peace.
     O stay with me, storm-tossed on waves of ill;
               Let passions cease.
     Come thou in power within my heart to reign.
     For I am weak and struggle has begun.

This book, which contains some of the finest phrases with twenty-six
songs, was used for years at our meetings as our official hymn-book, but
after a time it was revised and in my judgment some of the best hymns
were left out. Still, I must not complain, as young folks are anxious to
keep up to date.

The committee at their last meeting took the step of forming
Conciliation and Arbitration Councils, and they decided to move the
following resolution at the General Council Meeting:--

     That the Executive be authorized to endeavour to form Conciliation
     and Arbitration Boards for the area in which the Union works. On
     such Boards the employers and labourers be equally represented and
     an outside Chairman be appointed, and they shall have power to
     consider all questions in this area of wages and conditions of work
     and for the immediate future. Pending the carrying out of this, the
     Executive Committee be instructed to request the Farmers'
     Federation to agree to a rise of 1s. per week from March next.

So far as this resolution was concerned the Farmers' Federation refused
to meet us. It was, however, evident that the men were getting restless,
and I could see that unless the Farmers' Federation were prepared to
meet us there would be a grave danger of a serious outbreak in the near
future. We closed the year 1908, however, with a balance of £997 18s.

In September 1908 Mr. Rippingall of Langham died and a vacancy was
caused in the Walsingham County Council Division. At the request of the
members living in this district and with the permission of the Executive
I was put forward as a Labour candidate. This time I decided I would run
purely as an independent Labour candidate, and that I would have nothing
more to do with either political party. I had all my bills printed in
the Union colour, green. I also used the motto I selected for the Union:
"Be just and fear not." I fought the election single-handed. I acted as
my own agent and arranged my own meetings, the only assistants I had
being my colleague Mr. Thomas Thacker and Mr. Robert Green. My assistant
did the clerical work. We addressed all the envelopes, folded all the
addresses ourselves and posted them. We had meetings in every parish in
the district. The labourers were very enthusiastic. I soon found the
leading Liberals were most anxious to find some excuse to vote against
Labour in spite of what I had done for the party in North Norfolk. The
excuse they found was no party politics in County Council elections.
Yet, strange to say, my opponent Mr. Walker and his agent were strong
Tories. No one thought I stood a shadow of a chance as a direct Labour
candidate. The contest lasted three weeks and it was a most strenuous
fight. My colleague Mr. Thacker and myself worked night and day. We
threw all our strength into the contest, holding meetings and addressing
envelopes during the day. As the election drew near we realized it would
be a close contest. My opponents were confident that they were winning.
On the day of the election the farmers and tradesmen rallied up to the
support of my opponent. Every available conveyance was brought up to his
support and all my supporters had to walk. Many had to walk three and
four miles to vote after they had done their day's work, but did it
cheerfully, many going to vote before going home to tea. At the close of
the poll everyone realized it was a very close fight. Even the Tories
were not so sure that they had won. I appointed my colleague and Mr. H.
J. Gidney, who rendered valuable help during the election, as my
counting agents. The counting of the votes was done in the Returning
Officer's house, and then for the first time I found out that his son
was my opponent's agent and had been acting as Deputy Returning Officer.
To this arrangement I raised the strongest protest. The counting was
most exciting; we kept side by side all the time, and at the close the
Returning Officer declared we had tied. We were not satisfied and
demanded a recount, and, further, the number of votes did not correspond
with counterfoils. The result of the recount left us as before. Still,
there were four papers short. At this stage the keen eye of my colleague
detected four papers under the looking-glass, and these four votes were
mine. None knew how the ballot papers got under the glass, but they were
there and were mine, and I was declared elected. My opponents were
indignant, and protested that when the general election for the Council
came their candidate would fight again. But this the poor man was not
allowed to do, for within three months after this contest he was taken
seriously ill and died.

At the yearly meeting in March 1909, when the election of the committees
took place, I was put on to the Small Holdings Committee, Public Health
Committee and Old Age Pensions Committee. These committees I felt more
deeply interested in. The first was a movement which the Union had made
a part of its object.

On squaring up the accounts of the election I found that it had cost £3
19s., which was caused by hire of rooms, printing and postages.

I was the first direct Labour representative elected on to the County
Council, and, being free from any political ties, I felt myself free to
take any action I thought was best in the interest of the class I
directly represented. I devoted most of my energies to the working of
the Small Holdings Act. I soon found, however, we were up against a big
problem and that land was not so easy to get as I had thought it was
before I was a member of the committee. The Act was surrounded with so
much red tape and the landlords' interests were safeguarded at every
turn, which enabled them to put obstacles in the way and make it most
difficult to obtain land that we could let to the men at reasonable
rents, and our progress was very slow. Hundreds of applications for
land were sent in, varying from five acres to fifty, especially after my
election, as they apparently thought I, being a Labour member, would
carry everything before me. Apparently they thought that we had nothing
to do but to go and take the land and buy it in the same way as we go
and buy any other article. Hence hundreds of men got tired of waiting.
But we made good progress, and by October 1909 we had obtained over a
thousand acres of land and put over 115 men on to the land.

At the general election of the Council in 1910 I moved from the
Walsingham District to the Free Bridge Lynn Division, according to the
promise I had made previous to my going to Walsingham at the
bye-election. This time I was fighting a sitting member and one of the
largest farmers in Norfolk. I again stood as a direct Labour candidate.
This time I had less help than before, as my colleague was fighting the
Litcham Division for a seat on the Council and Mr. Robert Green was
fighting the Walsingham Division which I had left. The only helper as a
speaker was my old friend Mr. Thomas Higdon, the hero of the Burston
School Strike. The contest was a sharp one. My opponent had the help of
several of the members of the Council, both Liberal and Tory, who were
being returned unopposed. This contest nearly knocked my assistant Miss
Pike and myself up, but in spite of the number of speakers brought into
the division, I won the election by a majority of eighty. I had,
however, in this contest a good deal of local help from amongst my own
people, as we were better organized in this division, notably Mr.
Matthew Berry of East Winch and Mr. James Coe of Castleacre.

At the first meeting of the new Council I was put on to the following
committees: Public Health, Mental Hospital, Small Holdings, Old Age
Pensions, Western Highways. From this moment I was treated with the
greatest amount of respect by every member of the Council and listened
to with interest. I set myself to work diplomatically to accomplish the
things for which I was sent there, for I found on going into the Mental
Hospital, although the problem of dealing with those mentally affected
is a pathetic one, still to me it was pleasant work, as it touched my
humanity, and I found Dr. Thompson, the Medical Superintendent, most
human and kind, and beloved by all brought into contact with him. I
found also that whilst demanding strict discipline, as he must do, still
to his staff he was most fair and always willing to listen to a
grievance. I have had to discuss matters with him at different times as
the Trade Unions' representative on the committee, and I am pleased to
say we have been able to make many improvements in the working
conditions of the staff since I have been on the committee. About this
time they were engaged in erecting a nurses' home. This completed, we
then pushed through another scheme, new stores and hall which is used
for balls and entertainment for the inmates and staff. I am pleased to
say that every comfort for these poor unfortunate creatures is studied.
I have had to put up one fight since I have been on the committee in
connection with the dietary. I fought most strenuously the question of
margarine, but got defeated.

The Small Holdings movement made rapid progress. I soon found this added
considerably to my labours. It meant nearly two days per week, and with
my District Council and Board of Guardians work I was very heavily
harnessed with local government work. It was, however, educational and
interesting. About this time I was elected Chairman of the Erpingham
Rural District Council Sanitary Committee, but I used to so arrange my
Union work that I never neglected one of their meetings.



On February 20, 1909, the third General Council Meeting of the Union was
held in St. James's Hall, King's Lynn, and by the resolutions that were
sent in from the various branches I was satisfied that the men were
getting restless and that without great care trouble was facing us in
the near future, and that it was imperative that we should be taking
some steps to secure some improvement in the working condition of our
members. The committee, however, could not see that there was any
danger; but I could see it, and I did persuade the Executive to allow me
to write to the Farmers' Federation and invite them to meet us and
discuss the question of some readjustment in wages. This I did, but it
was again refused. On receipt of this refusal the Executive passed a
resolution at their meeting held on April 24th that Mr. Nicholls and Mr.
Winfrey be requested to take steps to have the agricultural labourers
included in any scheme of arbitration that might be formed. They also
instructed me to write every branch that when they desired increase in
wages they must communicate with me and that I would suggest what action
was to be taken, and that I was to advise all members to sign a paper
requesting a rise, and that I be instructed to enclose the same and
forward it to each employer. Here were more superhuman responsibilities
placed on my shoulders, making me absolutely responsible for every
trouble that might arise. As I look at these old minutes that were
passed, without complaining of the action of the Executive, I sometimes
wonder what kind of man the Executive thought I was. They must have
thought I was superhuman, which I was not by any means, for I had very
serious limitations. Never before had any one man such grave
responsibilities put upon him, and I knew it and it worried me beyond
degree. But I faced the work with great faith in the eternal resources
and trust in Divine help.

I had, however, one great trouble. My dear wife, who had been such a
help to me, began to fail in health, both mentally and bodily, and I saw
the end was coming. During the summer it was my misfortune to be
insulted by a drunken man, a son of a small farmer at Sharrington. I was
advertised to address a meeting near the old cross at Sharrington. On my
arrival at the place of meeting this man lay on the green drunk. As soon
as I commenced to speak he commenced to brawl and shout so that no one
could be heard. When I asked him to be quiet he got up and struck me a
violent blow in the chest. What else he would have done had he not been
stopped I am unable to say. As it was I was laid up for a week and had
to go to a doctor. The man was summoned before the Holt Bench and he was
fined £1.

The Executive at the meeting held on April 24th decided that the Union
should be affiliated with the Trade Union Congress, and that we should
pay on the basis of 3,000 members. I was elected delegate to attend the
Congress at Ipswich on September 6th, which I did, and had a most
cordial reception by the delegates and was especially mentioned in the
President's address. I attended the Congress and spoke on the system of
tied cottages. Mr. Smillie, on behalf of the miners, moved the following

     This Congress urges upon the Labour Members in the House of Commons
     to take up at once the question of the eviction of workmen and
     their families from their homes during trade disputes and do
     everything possible to pass into law a measure that would put an
     end to this cruel method of warfare.

Although this resolution did not quite meet the case of the agricultural
labourer, I supported it, as it gave me an opportunity to bring before
the public's notice the difficult position the tied cottage system put
the agricultural labourers in. I made the following speech:--

     The delegates coming from the large centres of industry have no
     idea of the seriousness of the question from the standpoint of the
     agricultural labourers. If a town worker is evicted from his house
     he can soon get another in an adjoining street. That is not the
     case with the agricultural labourer. If he is evicted from his
     cottage he cannot get another in the same village nor in any of the
     five or six villages near him. I hold in my hand a copy of an
     agreement which an agricultural labourer has to enter into with the
     landlord on some estates before he takes his cottage. It reads as

     "I, the undersigned, agree to hire the cottage in the Parish
     of................the property of....................at a rental
     of................and agree to give the cottage up at a week's
     notice should the landlord require it for any other workman.

     I also agree not to keep any pigs or fowls without first obtaining
     permission from the landlord or his agent.

     I will also act as night-watchman when required, and give any
     information I may have that will lead to the conviction of anyone
     seen poaching on the estate.

     I also undertake not to harbour any of my family who may misconduct
     themselves in any way.

     I also agree on leaving my cottage to hand over my copper and oven
     to the landlord or his agent and not to disturb the bricks or to
     remove these utensils until the landlord or his agent have refused
     to purchase them.

     I will also undertake to live at peace with my neighbours and to
     lead an honest and respectable life.

     I will, before admitting any of my family home, apply to the
     landlord or his agent for permission, giving particulars on a form
     provided by the landlord, their names and ages, also if married or
     single, and how long they want to stay."

     That is the kind of agreement agricultural labourers are called upon
     to sign. It shows the Congress the nature of the difficulties that
     confront agricultural labourers. You might say the labourers are not
     intelligent enough to combine: they are intelligent enough if they
     have the freedom. Only this week, since I have been at this
     Congress, I have received a telegram from our solicitor who is
     contesting a case before the Grimston Bench on behalf of the
     Agricultural Labourers' Union. It relates to a labourer who obtained
     permission for a holiday. But when he went back to work he was
     discharged and received a week's notice to leave his cottage. He
     could not get another, and an ejectment order was applied for. Our
     solicitor in his telegram says the magistrates would have granted
     the ejectment order, but he was able to defeat it on technical
     grounds. This poor man's wife is within a month of her confinement,
     and, had the ejectment order been granted, his wife and four
     children would have been thrown on to the road. I ask you to do all
     you can to bring this matter to an issue and see if a Bill cannot be
     brought into Parliament giving the agricultural labourer security of
     tenure. Labourers who live under conditions such as I have described
     can neither make applications for allotments nor yet serve on local
     authorities. If they attempted to do such things, they are marked
     men and are turned out of their cottages at a week's notice. I trust
     that the cruel eviction business will soon become a thing of the

After some further discussion the resolution was carried unanimously,
and for the first time the system under which the labourer has to hire
his cottage was brought before the public. It has been a hardy annual at
the Trade Union Congress ever since.

This exposure caused a tremendous sensation throughout the country. For
months I was inundated with letters asking for the names of estates.
Others sought for information for the purpose of writing articles in the
press. It gave a wonderful impetus to the Union.

During the summer I held a number of Sunday services under the auspices
of the Union. After I had addressed one of these meetings a rather
exciting incident happened. When attending a meeting in a village in
Norfolk a clergyman was at the meeting and expressed a wish to speak
privately to me, and we adjourned to a room in the inn. On entering the
room he said he had heard that I had been blaspheming the name of Jesus
and demanded that I make an apology to him (the clergyman). I told him
I had done nothing of the kind, and, so far as apologizing to him, he
would be the last man I should apologize to. Whereupon he informed me he
was a lightweight champion boxer, and if I did not there would be
bloodshed, and he came towards me. I at once pushed him over and left
the room and went back to the meeting and reported what had taken place.
Needless to say he had very soon to leave for his own safety.

During the autumn it became evident to me that trouble was looming in
the near future. Numbers of small disputes took place, which I had to
deal with on my own responsibility and which caused a good deal of

As we approached the end of the year the branches were asked to send in
resolutions for the General Council. Most of them were demanding that
the Executive should take up the question of an increase in wages,
Saturday half-holiday and a forty-eight hour week. At the December
Executive I again warned the Executive that I feared we should soon have
to face trouble as I was sure the members would soon press for an
increase in consequence of the rise in the cost of living. I urged them
to allow me to call them together at any time to discuss the best method
of grappling with the situation and to obtain the increase so long

But they seemed to think I was able to deal with the situation. The
General Council of the Union was not held in 1910 until March 19th. It
was held in the Central Hall, King's Lynn. The reason for the Council
meeting not being held until March was the General Election in January
and the County Council Election in March. This Council Meeting was
attended by nearly one hundred delegates. The greatest interest was
taken in the proceedings. There were many resolutions on the agenda
dealing with hours of labour and wages. The resolution dealing with
Saturday half-day was warmly debated and a resolution carried that the
new Executive be instructed to take steps to secure the Saturday
half-day, one journey all the year round and an increase of 1s. per week
at once. At the close of the Council a short meeting of the new
Executive was held. Mr. George Nicholls presided. I again pointed out to
them the seriousness of the situation and told them I was sure there was
trouble looming in the near future, and that the labourers, so far as
Norfolk was concerned, would insist on an attempt being made for an
increase in wage and an improvement in their working conditions. I urged
them to give me more help and to allow me to bring them together at any
time, even by wire if necessary; but this they refused and held that I
was quite able to deal with any dispute that might arise without calling
the committee together. The fact was that, while I had an Executive who
were able and earnest and anxious to do their best to build up the
Union, they were inexperienced so far as Trade Unionism was concerned.
They were always anxious to keep working expenses down. At the committee
the night before the Council the Treasurer, Mr. Richard Winfrey, wrote
complaining about the increased expenditure during the year for
organizing work, although we had saved during the year 1909 £503 11s.
8½d. and had only spent £771 9s. 9½d. out of a total income of £1,275
1s. 6d. This expenditure was for lock-out pay, postages and rent of
rooms. Salaries paid during the year were for my assistant secretary,
Miss Pike, and myself £91; divided as follows: Miss Pike 12s. per week,
£31 4s.; myself £1 3s. per week, £59 16s.; my assistant organizer, Mr.
Thomas Thacker, £1 5s. per week, £65. Total salaries for the three of us
£156. Yet the Treasurer, in his anxiety to save money, thought this was
too high an expenditure. Probably as an economist he was right, but no
one can say that those who did the work were overpaid. I left the
Executive and the General Council on March 19, 1910, with a very heavy
heart, for I could see by the temper of the men that they were
determined within a very short time to press for an improvement in their
conditions of living and in my judgement they were justified. In fact,
it was long overdue, for the cost of living was rapidly rising, and I
also knew that the farmers, as they had done in the days of the other
Union, would fight this honest desire on the part of the labourers to
its bitter end. The saddest thing for me was I could not get my
Executive to see it and they left me to face it single-handed. But I set
to work to prepare for the inevitable whenever it did come. I was
determined to put my back against the wall and stand by the men, and at
the same time to do all I could, whenever the trouble did arise, to
bring the two sides together.

I had not long to wait. On April 5th I received a letter from Mr.
Harvey, the secretary of the Trunch Branch, informing me that his
members objected to working ten hours a day unless they received a rise
of 1s. per week, a not very extravagant demand. I saw at once that the
trouble I had for so long tried to impress upon my Executive had
arrived, in fact I felt convinced the farmers were anxious to try their
strength. On receipt of the letter I at once wrote to the branch
secretary, instructing him to call a special meeting of his members for
April 11th and at the same time telling him that no action must be taken
until I had met them and obtained full particulars and laid them before
the Executive, for in spite of what the Executive had done I was
determined I would not take on my shoulders the responsibility of a
strike without the Executive being called together to decide it and take
their share of responsibility. I received no further information during
the week, and I expected nothing would take place until I had an
opportunity of meeting the men and discussing the matter with them. But
to my surprise on Monday April 11th I saw in the _Daily Press_ that the
men had struck work. Altogether thirty men were affected. It appears
that the farmers had forced a lock-out by refusing to withdraw the
notice until the men had time to meet me and discuss the matter with
them. I was, however, determined to prevent an open rupture if possible.
On Monday April 11th I attended the Erpingham Board of Guardians, of
which the Secretary of the Farmers' Federation was deputy clerk. During
the day we had an interview, and I promised that if he would prevent the
importation of Federation labour I would try and persuade the men to go
back to work until representatives of the two organizations could meet
and come to some arrangement, he undertaking to persuade the farmers to
reinstate all the men without prejudice. This he did. I, with Mr. Robert
Green, Mr. W. Codling and Mr. Herbert Day, met the men at Trunch in the
evening and thoroughly discussed the cause of the dispute with them. The
facts were as follows: In March, as was the custom, the farmers
requested the men to work ten hours a day. This the men agreed to on
condition that the employers would give them an increase of 1s. per
week. This the employers refused to do and gave the men a week's notice
to leave unless they worked the ten hours, the men accepting the notice,
which expired on April 8th. I advised the men to go back to work until
the committee could meet and some arrangement could be made in reference
to their hours of labour and conditions of work. This the Knapton men
agreed to do, and on Tuesday morning I received a report that the
Knapton men had gone back to work on a nine-hour day. I at once wrote to
Mr. J. T. Willis the following letter, which will show how anxious I was
to avoid a dispute and to meet the farmers, which I regret to say the
farmers for years refused to do.

     _April 10, 1910_.

     J. T. WILLIS, ESQ.,
       Secretary, Farmers' Federation,

     DEAR SIR,

     I was pleased to hear from my representative at the Trunch district
     before leaving home this morning that some kind of a truce had been
     arranged between the employers and their men, which I think is a
     credit to both parties concerned; but to avoid any unpleasantness
     in the future and in order to arrive at a settlement that will be
     satisfactory to both parties, I beg to suggest to your committee
     that a committee be formed consisting of an equal number of
     employers and employed without prejudice to any one, with you and
     myself in addition, to represent the two organizations and discuss
     the whole question of hours and wages. I have hurried my committee
     on, and they will meet on Monday April 18th, probably at
     Sheringham, when the whole question will be discussed from our
     point of view. I shall be glad to hear from you before that date in
     reference to the above suggestion, and hope the truce will be
     maintained until after that date.

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) GEORGE EDWARDS,
     General Secretary,
     Agricultural Labourers' and Small Holders' Union.

To this letter I received no reply, but I heard from my representative
during the week that the farmers had broken the truce and were again
demanding that the men should work a ten-hour day, which they resolutely
refused to do. When the men at Trunch met me on Saturday April 16th I
found them all out again and very indignant at the treatment they had
received from the employers. I soon found that all hope of a settlement
was gone. The meeting was largely attended and most enthusiastic. I had
never before witnessed such a spirit of determination. I addressed the
men in a most hopeful tone, although in the first instance they were a
little out of order. A resolution was passed without a dissentient voice
urging upon the Executive to support them, and thus the trouble began.

My first effort to effect a settlement by peaceful means had failed. I
could plainly see what was in front of me. I knew that the brunt of the
battle would fall on me and I should have poured on my head showers of
abuse and the grossest misrepresentation. But I knew the men's cause was
just and their demands moderate, and I made up my mind I would fight
their battle honestly and justly. The Executive met on Monday April 18th
and decided to support the men to the utmost.

The struggle commenced in earnest. The men set themselves to it like
grim death. The farmers became furious. The Farmers' Federation imported
non-unionists into the villages, but no one would lodge them, so the
farmers had to make provision for them. These men were not many of them
efficient workmen. They received 10s. per week more than the labourers
had asked. They also had lodgings free and a cook found to look after
them. They were also supplied with plenty of beer. Policemen were sent
into the village to keep order, as they said, but there was no need for
it. For one thing I had pressed on the men that they must conduct the
dispute in a peaceful way and not on any account allow themselves to be
provoked into breaking the peace, for if they did I would not lead them.
They received many provocations, but with no avail. Many threats were
thrown out to them. The women dressed up an effigy and set it up in
their garden and made its legs black, and wrote on it "blackleg." This
the police ordered them to take down. I came into the village at the
time and told the police to mind their own business or I should report
them. No more was heard of it. Many attempts were made to evict these
men from their houses, but failed. One thing in the men's favour was
that Mr. Bircham of Knapton was under notice to leave his farm. It was
up for sale. I was on the County Council and a member of the Small
Holdings Committee. I advised these men to make an application to the
County Council for a small holding, which many of them did for five,
ten, and even up to twenty acres, and so great was the demand that, when
the farm was put up for sale, the Small Holdings Committee was one of
the bidders and bought it. When this became known the farmers became
more furious than ever.

I, of course, came in for all the credit for this and they were not far
wrong. I look upon this as one of the best pieces of work I have been
able to do for my people. So angry did the opponents of the men become
that they became threatening in their attitude towards me, so much so
that the men would insist on acting as my bodyguard when I went into the
district, and it would have been a sorry day for any man who dared to
have attempted to molest me. I set myself at once to collect funds to
enable me to pay the men that had families more than strike pay, which
was 10s. per week. The subscriptions came in fast. Our first collection
was at a meeting held on a Sunday at Knapton when over a thousand people
were present. The meeting was addressed by myself, Mr. Day, Mr. Robert
Green, Mr. Thacker, and in the evening some friends came over from
Norwich, amongst them being Mr. W. R. Smith, now the able President of
the Union. This was the first time we had met and we soon became fast
friends. The result of the day's collection was over £7 10s., and thus a
good start was made. The men themselves were in fine form. This meeting
did the greatest good in every respect. It awakened a spiritual interest
such as there had not been for a very long time. I devoted my time
during the week to holding public meetings and making collections for
them. I never missed a Saturday night in going over to pay the men.
This, however, meant many a long weary night cycle ride and long hours
for my poor assistant at home. But the worst had yet to come. The
struggle continued all the summer, and I don't think any one man
suffered a penny loss. All the applicants for small holdings and
several of the men who had been locked out became tenants in October on
the very farm on which they had been locked out a few months before. All
of them were allowed to keep in their houses, so that we were able to
find work elsewhere for those that could not take any land. Thus in this
district, although the dispute lasted over six months, we won a notable
victory and its effects are felt to-day, for the Trunch Branch is one of
our largest branches in the Union, and Mr. Harvey, their first branch
secretary, is still their secretary, and is to-day a member of the
Norfolk County Council and a Justice of the Peace. In this district we
have a fine type of the Norfolk labourers.



On April 25th I got the committee together again. This time they met in
the Cozens' Temperance Hotel, King's Lynn. There attended the following:
Mr. George Nicholls, M.P., President; Mr. Richard Winfrey, M.P.,
Treasurer; Messrs H. Day, J. Stibbons, T. Thacker, W. Codling, A. P.
Petch, G. Giles, M. Berry and myself. The first minute that was passed
was that my quarterly report be received and that my action in giving
support to the Trunch members out on strike be endorsed. The last part
of the resolution was not necessary as the Emergency Committee I had
called together on April 18th had decided that I should support the men,
but it was an attempt on the part of some who were not at the meeting on
the 18th to ignore the Emergency Committee, as they were opposed to my
calling the meeting; but I stuck to my guns and said I would do it again
if such an occasion arose. The malcontents, however, were determined I
should not, so they passed the following resolution on the motion of Mr.

     That an Emergency Committee be formed consisting of the officers of
     the Union and three other members of the Union living nearest to
     the District where any dispute takes place, and that they have
     power to deal with any dispute that may arise and report the same
     to the next Executive Committee.

I warned them of the folly of such a resolution and told them that we
were within measurable distance of another dispute of much greater
magnitude than the one we had got on at the moment. I asked them if they
thought it was right for one or two men to commit the Union to a strike?
No one knew where it might end. The reply I received was that they were
not going to the expense of calling the committee together more than
once a quarter. Mr. Day, who was in close touch with the enormous amount
of work that was being heaped upon me and my assistant and knew that we
were utterly unable to cope with it, moved a resolution that another
organizer be appointed in order that I might devote more time to office
work. This was turned down, although the Union was going up by leaps and
bounds, which all added to the work of the Union, and we were left to
struggle on as best we could. Can it be wondered at that the matters at
the office got into a state of chaos? For it was humanly impossible for
any one person to grapple with the work, especially in a room four feet
by six feet and I never at home.

Events soon proved how true my forecast was, for on May 10th I received
a letter from Mr. George Hewitt, branch secretary St. Faith's Branch,
informing me that there was a great deal of unrest in the St. Faith's
district in reference to the hours of labour and rate of wages and
urging me to go over and hold a meeting and discuss the matter with
them. I at once summoned a special meeting of the branch for May 14th. I
also summoned Mr. H. A. Day, Mr. Robert Green and Mr. Thomas Thacker,
members of the Executive, to an Emergency Committee according to the
minute passed at the last Executive Committee.

All of them attended. The branch room was packed, every member being
present. Mr. G. E. Hewitt presided. I asked the members to state
definitely what alteration they required and what demands they wanted to
have made on the employers. Their reply was that they wanted 1s.
increase on their present wage, which would bring their wages up to
14s. per week, and wished to have their hours of labour so arranged that
their working week should finish at one o'clock on Saturdays. I could
not say this was an unreasonable demand, in fact I had made the one
o'clock stop on Saturdays one of the chief planks on my platform ever
since the days of Arch, and so far as the rise of wages was concerned I
felt it was long overdue. The labourer had not had an increase in wages
for years, yet the cost of living had been steadily going up meanwhile.
But the temper of the men was of such a nature that I felt the utmost
caution must be exercised by us who were responsible for the conduct of
the men and in whose hands the interest of the Union was placed, for I
felt that one false step would wreck the whole movement. The spirit of
the men was so aroused that they demanded prompt action, which meant
notices being handed in at once. This I knew would never do good, and I
then proceeded to address the members in a speech in which I felt the
grave responsibility resting upon me and which was delivered with some
emotion. I counselled the men to move slowly and not to rush into any
action without well considering the importance of such a step. And
further, I told them that so far as I was concerned I could not consent
to a strike until every other means of a peaceful nature had been tried
and failed. I told them that if they consented to this course being
taken, then, if we failed and the worst had to come, I would fight for
them to the bitter end and would be a staunch advocate of their claims
which I knew to be just. This rather damped them, and I do not think
according to the temper the men were in that they would have allowed any
other man to have said such things or have taken such an action. But I
had the satisfaction of knowing that they thoroughly trusted me and
would take any advice I thought it wise to give them, and I was able to
persuade them to pass the following resolution:--

     That the committee be asked to allow the General Secretary to
     write to every employer in the parish and district covered by the
     branch asking if they would consent to a rise of 1s. per week and
     to so arrange their hours of work as to enable their working week
     to finish at one o'clock on Saturday, and to make arrangements for
     this to commence on Saturday May 28th.

On this resolution being passed the committee withdrew to consider it.
We discussed it most seriously, and I expressed an opinion to the
committee that I considered the matter of such a serious nature that I
thought the whole committee ought to be called together and decide the
matter as a whole. Mr. Day did not think so, and reminded me of the
resolution that was passed by the committee on April 25th on the motion
of Mr. Winfrey, M.P., which absolutely prohibited me calling the
committee together for such a purpose. My other two colleagues agreed,
and they passed the following resolution:--

     That the request of St. Faith's Branch be granted and the General
     Secretary be instructed to write to every employer in the district
     as requested by the resolution passed by the branch.

They also decided that another special meeting of the branch and the
Emergency Committee should be called for May 20th to receive the reply
of the employers.

On returning to the room I informed the meeting of the decision of the
committee. This was received with the greatest enthusiasm, but I left
with a heavy heart as I could not see the end of it. I could see the
beginning, but it is one thing to commence a strike and another thing to
end it. I was, however, determined that I would do everything that was
humanly possible to prevent a strike of this magnitude. I was also
determined that so far as I was concerned the other officials and the
Executive should take their share of the responsibility of what might
happen, and that I would so frame the men's request to the employers
that it would open every avenue for a peaceful settlement and, if
trouble did arise, that the whole fault should rest with the employers.
I can't explain it, but I always had, from the moment I took a leading
part in the Trade Union movement, the greatest horror of a strike, and
would go almost any length to prevent it, so much so that many of my
friends used to say that I went too far in my peace-loving methods. But
I don't think I did, and in looking back over my long public life I
don't regret any action I took in this direction. I have made many
mistakes, but that is not one of them. When, however, I had to fight, I
gave no quarter to anyone and fought with the greatest determination.

I had no time on the Saturday or Sunday to do any correspondence. On
Saturday I had my County Council work to attend to, and on my return
home I had my week's accounts to make up with my assistant, and on the
Sunday I attended to my religious work, for I never neglected that for
anything. But on the 16th inst. I wrote the following letter to the
employers on behalf of the men:--

     DEAR SIR,

     I am directed by the men in your employ who are members of the
     Labourers' Union to ask if you will consent to raise your men 1s.
     per week. Further, if you would be willing to so arrange the hours
     of work as to make it possible for their working week to finish at
     one o'clock on Saturday. They would also be glad if this
     arrangement could be made in time to commence on Saturday May 28th.
     I would be glad to receive a reply from you at the earliest
     possible moment.

     Trusting that you will be willing to accede to the men's request,
     and, further, we would be glad to meet a number of the employers
     and discuss this matter and come to some reasonable arrangement,
     and thus prevent any dispute arising between you and your men with
     all the suffering and inconvenience that must inevitably follow.

     Yours faithfully,
       (_Signed_) GEORGE EDWARDS,

     _General Secretary_.

I also wrote to the President of the Union, Mr. George Nicholls, M.P.,
also to Mr. Winfrey, M.P., the Treasurer, telling them I was sure some
very serious trouble was taking place and that, although Mr. Day did not
think so, I was strongly of opinion that the whole Executive ought to
meet and deal with the matter at once. Unfortunately, Mr. Nicholls was
not at home and the letter did not reach him in time to reply before May
20th. Mr. Winfrey after a day or two did reply and said he thought we on
the spot could deal with the matter, and there was no doubt we should
have to support the men. I received no reply from the employers.

On May 20th the special meeting of the branch was held at the King's
Head, St. Faith's. The large club room was packed to overflowing.
Unfortunately, only Mr. Day and myself turned up. My other two
colleagues did not attend. Mr. George E. Hewitt again presided, and I
reported that I had received no reply from the employers. The men at
once became indignant at what they termed a great insult to them. I saw
at once that all hopes for peace were over. I could not but confess that
the employers had treated the men with scant courtesy. A very angry
discussion arose and in the end the following resolution was passed:--

     That we ask the committee for permission to give the employers a
     week's notice, and that, unless our demands are granted, we shall
     cease work on Friday.

Mr. Day and myself retired, and I again told him that I felt very
strongly that the whole committee ought to be called together, as I felt
this was too big a responsibility for us. He again objected and said I
must not call the committee together, especially after the Treasurer had
written and said the committee did not want to meet. I therefore decided
to face the situation bravely, and we went back into the meeting and
informed them we had decided to give them permission to hand their
notices in. I then addressed the men and urged upon them to enter into
this contest thoughtfully and seriously. Their claims were just and
reasonable, and I was sure if they acted soberly and orderly they would
have the public with them.

The question then arose as to what form the notice should take. I
advised them to draw up what is known as a round robin and each man sign
it. This was done and a notice was drawn up for each employer. It read

     We the undersigned workmen of yours hereby give you notice that
     unless we receive 1s. per week rise of wage upon our present
     ordinary rate of wage on next pay day, also an agreement come to
     whereby our hours of labour be so arranged that our working week
     finish at one o'clock on Saturday, this notice will terminate on
     Friday May 28th.

Each man signed it and a notice was handed in to each employer on the
Saturday morning May 21st. The employers received the notice as far as I
could learn without comment and very little was said during the week. I
at once took steps to grapple with the situation. I got a strike
committee formed and got proper pay-sheets printed, which every man
would be asked to sign at nine o'clock every morning at the club house.
At the same time I intended to explore every avenue during the next few
days before the final crash came to secure peace. On Monday morning May
23rd I received the following letter from Mr. J. T. Willis, Secretary of
the Farmers' Federation.

     _May 22, 1910_.

     DEAR SIR,

     On behalf of the farmers of the neighbourhood of St. Faith's, to
     whom you wrote on the 16th inst., I am directed to reply that they
     very much regret they are unable to accede to either of the men's
     applications contained in your letter to them. They quite
     appreciate the suffering and inconvenience and bad feeling which
     is the inevitable result of a strike and would do everything to
     avoid one. It is not a question of paying the farm labourers as
     little as 13s. or 14s. per week, for it is well known that the
     average earnings inclusive of piecework pay amount to a
     considerably higher figure. During the past winter farm hands in
     the St. Faith's district received wages on the scale that had been
     paid during the summer instead of being dropped during the days of
     short hours as is usual. The farmers in that district recognized
     that circumstances then justified their paying what in fact
     amounted to an increase of 1s. per week wage. If instead of
     adopting this plan they had followed the usual course of dropping
     the wages during the period of short hours in the winter and had
     now raised their men to 13s. per week, probably there would now
     have been no discontent and they would have saved money. The result
     of the farmers paying higher wages during the winter than was from
     their point of view necessary, as labour was not scarce, is that
     they are now confronted with a demand for further increase for
     which the price of farm produce affords no justification. As you
     are probably aware, the market value of wheat is about one-third
     less than it was a year ago, and this reduction is not
     counterbalanced by better prices for other farm produce. The
     employers regret to hear that many of their workmen who have been
     in their service the greater part of their lifetime are intending
     to sever such old associations, perhaps against their personal

     However, in case the threatened strike should be carried out, steps
     are being taken to fill the vacancies which will be so caused.

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) J. T. WILLIS,


To this I wrote the following reply, to which the Secretary of the
Farmers' Federation never replied:--

     _May 25, 1910_.

     DEAR SIR,

     Yours of the 23rd to hand _re_ the labourers' dispute at St.
     Faith's, and I very much regret to see by it the employers are not
     prepared to meet the men on either of their requests. I had hoped,
     considering the serious consequences involved both to the employers
     and employed, the employers would have been willing to meet the men
     and endeavour to come to some agreement without a strike having to
     be resorted to. I wish also to say my Executive entirely disagree
     with your Executive that the present state of agriculture does not
     guarantee any advance in wages on the present wage.

     We are of opinion, considering the much higher price they have to
     pay for their food and that the purchasing value of their wages is
     greatly depreciated, that they are entitled to some little advance
     further. We consider that, had the employers reduced wages last
     autumn, they would have treated the men most unjustly, and,
     further, my Executive thinks the threat thrown out in the last
     paragraph of your letter, namely to fill up the men's places, does
     not manifest a very conciliatory spirit. If the employers had first
     shown a willingness to meet the men in some way, it would have been
     much better. We hope, however, the employers and your Executive
     will yet consider their decision and meet us with a view to
     preventing a strike with all its bitter consequences.

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) GEORGE EDWARDS.

     J. T. WILLIS, ESQ.,
     Secretary, Farmers' Federation,

The receipt of Mr. Willis's letter, if I had any hopes that a strike
could be avoided, would have dashed all hopes to the ground. Still I was
anxious to catch at the last straw and to prevent a strike if possible.
Also, when the history came to be written, it should never be said that
I was the cause of it and that I did nothing to prevent it, for I did
everything that any man could do to bring about peace. And in this story
of my connection with the Trade Union movement I very much regret to say
that, until the late Great War, the farmers never would meet the men nor
their representatives, but persisted in dealing with the men in a most
highhanded autocratic manner. Had they shown any kind of a conciliatory
spirit nine strikes out of ten that have taken place during these last
fifty years would have been avoided.

On Friday May 28th the notices handed in by the men expired, and, as no
attempt on the part of employers had been made to arrive at a
settlement, the men brought their tools away. I cycled over from the
other side of Norfolk where I had been holding meetings during the week.
Also my assistant, Mr. Thomas Thacker, was present. On arriving at the
village we found the greatest excitement prevailing. We were met by the
men and their wives, also a number of Trade Union friends from Norwich.
Amongst them was Mr. W. R. Smith, Mr. W. Holmes and Mrs. Reeve. Mr. Day
was also present. A meeting was held under the tree that stood on an
open space close by the King's Head Inn. Almost the entire village was
present. Stirring addresses were delivered by the Norwich friends.
Representatives of the press were present, and in order that the public
might know that I had made every effort to prevent trouble, I read a
copy of the letter I had sent to the employers at first, also the letter
I had received from Mr. Willis, the Secretary of the Farmers'
Federation, and my reply to it. It was generally admitted that I had
gone the full length any leader of a Trade Union could go in the
direction of peace. In fact some thought I had gone a little too far,
but I felt, and I do now, that it is better to err on the side of peace
than it is on the other side. But the fight had begun and I felt the
whole brunt of it would fall on me. I therefore set my teeth and made up
my mind that, as my efforts for peace had failed, I would fight like
grim death and, if we were to suffer defeat, the fault should not be
mine. Altogether I had 105 men on my hands, 75 at St. Faith's and 30 in
the Trunch district. The Norwich friends offered to render as much help
as possible and undertook to have collections made at all the factory
gates on Saturdays to raise a fund to pay the men who were married and
with families more than strike pay. I also decided to make collections
throughout the Union. I also decided to hold big Sunday demonstrations
throughout Norfolk and to make collections. The meeting concluded about
ten o'clock, and I went home with my friend Mr. George Hewitt to stay
for the night, but not to sleep, for there was no rest for me. The
responsibility was too great for me to rest, and I wished I could have
had an Executive that would take some share of it. But I had a good lot
of local workers. My friend George Hewitt, the branch secretary,
undertook to act as strike secretary and to see the men sign the
day-sheets. The next morning the village was full of excitement. At nine
o'clock a number of mounted police arrived in the village and an equal
number of foot police, for what purpose no one ever knew. I, however,
saw the danger. Before leaving for Norwich I summoned the men with their
wives to the branch house and warned them to be on their guard and give
every instruction to the pickets to keep strictly within the law of
peaceful picketing, and not on any account to attempt to molest the
non-unionists when they were at their work, only to use peaceful
persuasion on the road and in every respect to carry the fight on in an
orderly manner and not in any way to run contrary to the authorities,
for I was satisfied they would receive the greatest provocation. This
they assured me they would do, and I am pleased to say, in spite of what
was said to the contrary, that the men through the eight months'
struggle acted in the most orderly way and only in the most technical
manner did they overstep the bounds of the law.

On Friday June 4th I received the men's first lock-out pay from the
Treasurer. On Sunday June 6th I arranged for a big demonstration at
Weasenham, which was addressed by Messrs R. Winfrey, H. A. Day, R.
Green, James Coe and myself. A collection was taken at both meetings for
the lock-out fund amounting to over £7. The meetings were attended by
over 1,500 people. An Executive Emergency Committee meeting was held
after the afternoon meeting. Mr. H. A. Day presided, and there were
present Mr. Winfrey, Mr. Robert Green and myself as General Secretary.
It was resolved that the men out on strike at St. Faith's be supported
according to the minute passed at the Executive Meeting held on April
25th, which read as follows:--

     Any member having paid three months' contributions and his entrance
     fee be paid full lock-out pay, but the General Secretary shall
     deduct from his first week's lock-out pay three months'
     contributions to bring them into compliance with Rule 6. But
     members having paid less than three months' contributions shall
     receive grants on the following scale: Married men, 7s. 6d. per
     week; single men, 5s. per week.

Mr. Winfrey also offered at this meeting to find work on the
co-partnership farm at Walpole for sixteen men, the General Secretary to
pay their rail fare. On Monday June 27th I took sixteen men over to
Walpole. Arrangements were made for the men to have all their food in
the Jepson Hall and that building to be used as a living room for the
men. I purchased earthenware and cooking utensils for their use. One of
the men was elected to act as cook and to keep the place clean. A good
building at the farm was cleaned out and made fit for the men to sleep
in and good clean straw was put into clean bags for beds. Each man took
some bedclothes for himself, and thus I got them settled and saw them at
work next morning before leaving.

The Norwich friends did splendidly. Our men stood at the factory gates
on Saturday. The boxes were never opened without us finding from £12 to
£20, and with the collections at our Sunday meetings I was able to pay
married men 2s. per week above their lock-out pay and 1s. per head for
each child, both in the St. Faith's and Trunch districts. I always paid
the men at St. Faith's on Friday and the men at Trunch on Saturday.
Never once was I an hour late. The men at St. Faith's always cycled on
the road to meet me and act as my bodyguard, for the farmers' tools had
again become threatening. Although we had nearly cleared the farms,
there were then, as there always have been, some to do the bidding of
the opponents of Labour; but the men in both districts took very good
care no one should harm me. These two disputes created great interest in
the Union. My assistant Mr. Thomas Thacker and myself held meetings
during the week, opening branches almost everywhere, and the Union went
up by leaps and bounds. The labourers joined every week in hundreds,
and, had the Executive let me have another organizer or two and more
clerical assistance at home, the strikes would not have affected the
funds of the Union to any great extent. The dispute, however, though
serious and causing me many anxious moments, was not devoid of its
humorous side. I always stayed with my friend Mr. Hewitt on Friday
nights, and after the men were paid I always held a meeting under the
tree which is now an historic one. The whole village would turn out to
these meetings; the women were most enthusiastic. They were always on
the look out for the blacklegs, as they would call them, and if one did
venture to come anywhere near the village he would have to undergo some
good-natured chaff. The employers were careful not to let these come too
near the danger zone.

The Federation had provided very comfortable huts for them to live in on
the farms and, when they had to pass through the village, they conveyed
them in carts guarded by policemen. There was no necessity for that, and
it was a wicked waste of time and money for which the county had to pay.
The men and their wives had received instructions from me that they were
not on any account to molest the strike-breakers, however great the
provocation, and they loyally carried it out, for no leader of Labour in
time of disputes ever had more loyal followers than I had in the St.
Faith's and Trunch districts. But I could not always be with them, as I
had to stump the county holding meetings in the interest of the Union,
and the young folks and the women would have a little harmless
horse-play. But the employers grew more bitter every day and apparently
were determined to compel these poor people to break the law. Writing
twelve years after this dispute I can write more calmly and yet more
deliberately, and I assert without fear of contradiction that there was
a deliberate attempt on the part of someone to compel these poor people
in some way to lay themselves open to be prosecuted, and that the
authorities were anxious to embrace the first opportunity to punish
severely these poor people for daring to demand the right to live by
their labour and to see their wives and children properly fed and

One day the occasion arose, although no one could ever say that there
was any attempt to molest the strike-breakers or in any way to use
violence towards them. When these men were being conveyed from one farm
to another guarded by the police about twelve of the men's wives
gathered together with kettles and saucepans and sang one of the Union's
songs on the approach of the blacklegs, and, although they never
approached nearer than one hundred yards to the strike-breakers, they
certainly followed them through the village, beating their tin kettles
and singing their Union ditties. They were summoned by the police and
appeared before the magistrates at the Shirehouse, Norwich. They were
ably defended by our solicitor, Mr. Keefe. Although he proved that there
was no breach of the law of intimidation, the magistrates bound these
women over to keep the peace for six months. But soon another occasion
arose for these people to be cruelly persecuted. One of the men, after
urging upon his fellow workers to strike, had gone back again to work.
One afternoon he went to work on his allotment. About twelve of the men
went to the allotment gate with tin kettles and a concertina and waited
until he came out to the road to go home, and without saying a word to
him walked about one hundred yards behind him, playing their concertina
and singing one of Sankey's hymns, "Kind words can never die." The wife,
hearing the singing, came out into the road and began to shriek out and
make a dreadful noise and shout out, "Oh, they will kill my husband!"
although no one was within a hundred yards of him, nor did they intend
to be. But this was enough. The men were summoned by the police to
appear before the magistrates at the Shirehouse, Norwich, on August
20th. Mr. Keefe was instructed to defend the men. I was unable to attend
the court as I had to attend to two other emergency committees in
connection with the harvest disputes. But Mr. Herbert Day, the
Vice-President, was present in the court on behalf of the Union, and,
although the police were unable to bring one solitary witness forward to
swear that they saw anyone touch the old man or even go near him, the
magistrates decided to convict and fined the men £5 each with costs.

The total amount was £60 16s. or three months in prison. Mr. Herbert A
Day at once wrote out a cheque for the amount and prevented the men from
going to prison. This money he paid out of his own pocket and never took
a penny from the Union, and, further, for months in addition to what the
Union, paid the men with families he gave the married men with families
1s. per child. The report of the conviction, when it appeared in the
daily papers on August 22nd, caused widespread consternation and
indignation at such a sentence being passed on poor helpless men. Never
before since the scandalous sentence of seven years' transportation
passed on the Dorchester labourers on March 15, 1834, by Judge Baron
John William, the prosecution that was ordered by Viscount Melbourne,
the Whig Home Secretary who was out to crush the rising spirit of Trade
Unionism, had there been such outspoken criticism of any magistrates'
sentences, nor had there been such a spirit of indignation. On every
Labour platform throughout the country the sentence was denounced as
being most unjust and cruel, and, instead of it in any way damping the
spirit of the labourers, it created a widespread interest, and through
the efforts of my assistant I was able to report up to September 30th
that we had enrolled into the Union in Norfolk over 1,800 members. Many
expressions of gratitude were given to Mr. Day for his great spirit of
humanity and kindness. But many of the leading Trade Unionists thought
it would have been best to have let the men go to prison and to have
taken steps at once to get the conviction quashed, which they said we
should have had no trouble in doing, as it would have been the means of
bringing even a more widespread sympathy to the men and to our cause.

During the summer months a great deal of controversy took place in the
press, and I as a rule came in for a great deal of personal abuse and
was accused of making the gulf wider and wider between employer and
employed for no other motive than my own personal interest. Well, those
that made that charge and heaped that abuse upon me would not have said
so if they had had to work night and day as I had for 23s. per week and
to bear the responsibility of a dispute with a hundred men involved and
an organization so rapidly growing in strength and influence. But on
July 3rd and 4th I embraced the opportunity of again making known to the
public that I was anxious to do anything that any human being could do
without giving away absolutely the men's case, which I knew was just and
reasonable. There appeared in the _Daily Press_ the first week in July a
letter from Mr. J. H. Bugden suggesting that a conference should be held
between the two sides with an independent chairman with a view of
arriving at a settlement that would be honourable to both sides
concerned. On going over to St. Faith's on the Friday to pay the men I
addressed a meeting and said that I had seen in the press during the
week a good deal of correspondence concerning the dispute in the St.
Faith's and Trunch districts, and I was very pleased to see a letter
from the pen of my friend Mr. J. H. Bugden suggesting a conference
between the two sides concerned, with a view of bringing this unhappy
dispute to an end, and I wished to let it be known publicly that we were
quite as willing and always had been to enter into negotiations with the
employers or the Executive of their Federation with a view of bringing
this dispute to an end, but up to the present they had declined all such
offers that I had made and now we would go a step further. If such a
conference could be held, we would accept Mr. Bugden as chairman. On
July 6th I wrote from Castleacre to the Secretary of the Farmers'
Federation the following letter:--

     _July 5, 1910_.

     J. T. WILLIS, ESQ.,
     Secretary, Farmers' Federation,

     DEAR SIR,

     As I stated in my speech on Friday last at St. Faith's, in replying
     to the correspondence in the _Daily Press_, we are quite willing to
     enter into negotiations with the Executive of your Federation _re_
     the dispute in the St. Faith's and Trunch districts, and would
     quite willingly accept Mr. J. H. Bugden as chairman of a
     conference, and, in case the parties not agreeing or not being able
     to come to terms, we would be willing to submit the whole case to
     an arbitrator, to be named and appointed by the joint members of
     the organizations assembled. Or, if the employers in each affected
     district prefer it, we would be willing to have an equal number of
     the employers and an equal number of the employees with the
     Secretaries of the Federation and the Labourers' Union to be
     members of the conference to represent the two organizations. Each
     labourer to meet without prejudice. Of course, if your Executive
     and the employers fall in with this suggestion other preliminaries
     can easily be arranged. An early reply would greatly oblige,

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) GEORGE EDWARDS.

     P.S.--If you reply to-morrow, Wednesday, please direct your letter
     to the address below,

     Visiting Committee Board Room, County Asylum,
     Thorpe, Norwich.

I ought to say I was absolutely unable to get my Executive together to
discuss the dispute further before the regular quarterly meeting, which
was not until July 30th. I wrote this letter entirely on my own
responsibility, irrespective of what they might say in reference to my
action, but I felt the responsibility too great to let an opportunity
pass that might bring peace.

On July 9th I received the following reply from the Secretary of the
Farmers' Federation:--

     _July 9, 1910_.

     DEAR SIR,

     I placed your letter of the 5th inst. before the Executive Council
     of the Farmers' Federation at their meeting to-day, and they regret
     they are unable to see that any good would result from a conference
     with representatives of the Labourers' Union. The Farmers'
     Federation has no dispute with the Labourers' Union, the present
     trouble being one between five or six employers and their
     labourers. All that the Farmers' Federation is doing is to assist
     its members in resisting the demands made upon them by the
     labourers who were in their employ.

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) J. T. WILLIS.


     Eastern Counties Agricultural Labourers'
     and Small Holders' Union.

To that letter I sent the following reply:--

     _July 11, 1910_.

     J. T. WILLIS, ESQ.,
     Secretary, Farmers' Federation,

     DEAR SIR,

     Yours of the 9th inst. to hand, and I very much regret that the
     Executive Council of the Farmers' Federation could not see their
     way to accept the offer of this Union to meet in conference with a
     view of bringing about a settlement of the St. Faith's and Trunch
     districts disputes. It must be obvious to them, as they are
     supporting their members in the dispute, that they are an
     interested party in the dispute in just the same way as the
     Labourers' Union is by giving support to its members. It would have
     been a wise and humane policy for the two organizations to meet and
     endeavour to bring about a settlement. We having made the offer and
     not for the first time, and the Federation have refused it, now the
     onus must rest on the Farmers' Federation, whatever may be the
     evils arising out of their refusal. There would have been no
     lowering of the prestige of either of the societies had they met in
     conference. But your Executive seems to ignore entirely the last
     paragraph in my letter where I offered on behalf of the men for an
     equal number of the men to meet an equal number of the employers
     and only the secretaries of the two organizations to attend the
     conference of the employers and their men. By your making no
     mention of this part of my letter I take it that that offer is
     rejected too. Such being the case, there the question must rest so
     far as we are concerned, and we must leave the public to judge
     which side has acted in the most conciliatory spirit.

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) GEORGE EDWARDS.

This ended all efforts for a settlement so far as I was concerned. All
future efforts would have to be left to others. If the men had to go
down then I would go down with them, but I would go down fighting. I
ought to say also that Sir Ailwyn Fellowes, now Lord Ailwyn, expressed a
willingness to intervene if both parties agreed. I at once on behalf of
the men agreed, but the Farmers' Federation refused. And so the dispute
continued and, as the weeks went by, the relationship became more
strained. I think I can say never was there a Labour dispute when so
many efforts at securing a settlement were made by the men's leaders as
I made on this occasion, and never a leader's efforts thwarted by the
employers' organizations as mine were by the Farmers' Federation. It
seemed that they could not bring themselves to see that the days of
autocratic methods of dealing with their men were fast passing away and
that the days of collective bargaining were rapidly approaching. They
constantly kept the old parrot cry, "I always did do as I liked with my
men, why can't I now?" Happily there is a better spirit existing now.
Both sides do meet together now and discuss these problems, but it is a
sad reflection that it took a great war to bring about this long-desired



The committee at their quarterly meeting held at Cozens' Temperance
Hotel, at King's Lynn, on Saturday, July 30th, decided, on the motion of
Mr. Winfrey, to move the office of the Union from Gresham to Fakenham,
if a suitable house could be found, and they appointed Mr. Robert Green
and myself a sub-committee to secure one if possible. This we did after
a good deal of correspondence. We first agreed on one on a seven years'
lease in Walsall Terrace, Queen's Road, Fakenham, at a rental of £17 per
annum and rates; but before the agreement could be signed and the lease
drawn up, it transpired that the house was let to another man without
the knowledge of the house agent. Then a Mr. Philips of Fakenham offered
us Wensum House at Hempton, near Fakenham, at a rental of £20 per annum.
This we accepted and took on a seven years' lease. This was a ten-roomed
house with two large attics. The two front rooms were very large. One of
the front rooms was taken as an office, and it was a very fine and
suitable room at that time, and quite large enough to be used as a board
room for the committee. The committee also decided that I should pay
them the same rent as I paid my landlord for my cottage and garden at
Gresham, namely £5 per year. The moving from my village caused me a good
deal of pain, but I knew I must bow to the inevitable, for the Union had
outgrown my little bedroom. I did, however, love my garden and my little
cottage, small as it was. I cultivated my garden as a relief early in
the morning when at home to occupy my mind from the worries of my
official duties. I always managed so that I had some kind of vegetable
all the year round. I was very fond of vegetable marrow and used to grow
a very fine kind. We ate some as vegetables, the rest we could cut and
keep and my wife would make what we called in our agricultural
labourer's phrase, "million pies." My wife, too, was very fond of fowls,
and we kept just enough to produce a few eggs for our own use. To my
little cottage my dear wife and myself were devoted. In fact, I was as
proud of it as any duke is of his palace. We had two downstair rooms,
the front room 12 ft. by 14 ft., its height about 6 ft. 8 in., the back
kitchen which we used to live in most of our time 9 ft. by 7 ft. There
was a little cooking-stove in it and a perpetual oven in the wall in
which my wife did most of her baking. The front room floor she covered
with cocoanut matting and put a nice paper on the walls, and there were
plenty of pictures and my bookshelf at one corner full of books, of
which I am so proud. As we both looked at this little cottage home,
which had so many sweet memories, one can understand how unwilling we
were to leave it. Further, I was living there amongst my own fellow
agricultural labourers, and the environments and surroundings were so
dear to me as to be part of myself.


I was also Superintendent of the Primitive Methodist Sunday-school,
Society Steward and Circuit Steward of the Sheringham and Holt Primitive
Methodist Circuit. To take me from it all was a wrench indeed, and I
don't believe my dear wife ever did settle down to the change.

In moving into a town and a bigger house I knew I should be lifted out
of my natural environment, which was no small matter now that I had
reached sixty years of age. Besides, I was moving many miles from the
spot which was so sacred to me, namely the village churchyard of
Aylmerton, where I had buried my aged mother some eleven years before.
But the movement that I had so successfully launched and for whose
success or failure I was responsible I felt had a greater claim than any
other earthly consideration, so I braced myself up to the inevitable.
Those memories of the past are still, however, sweet to me, and, if I
had my choice, I think I would prefer to go back to them again. On
October 11, 1910, I moved from Gresham to Wensum House, Hempton, near
Fakenham, with all unforeseen events to face which I think I have done

But during all my moving troubles I had still the strike troubles to
bear and the propaganda work of the Union, and no extra help allowed. My
assistant Mr. Thomas Thacker had resigned in August through ill health,
and his successor, Mr. James Coe, could not take up his duties until
after harvest. No sooner had I settled down in my new office, nicely
fitted up, than I saw I had great troubles to face which would cause me
greater worries than ever I had been called upon to bear, for the strike
continued as fiercely as ever, and I could see a crisis coming which I
knew would be either the making or the undoing of the Union. At the
conclusion of the harvest in the third week in September I met all the
men on strike in both districts who had lost their harvest through the
strike and paid them the whole harvest wages which they would have
received had they been at work. So no one man suffered the loss of one
penny through the strike. Such a thing no Union had ever done before.

During the quarter from July to October we had some few little disputes
over the harvest wages, at Swanton, Morley and Litcham, in which Mr.
Arnett, a member of the Executive, and myself were able to effect a
satisfactory settlement. On November 19, 1910, a most important meeting
of the Executive was held at Cozens' Temperance Hotel. There were
present Mr. George Nicholls, Mr. Richard Winfrey, Messrs. George
Edwards, J. Arnett, T. Giles, A. Gidney, W. Codling, A. Petch and J.
Stibbons. I presented my financial statement and quarterly report, which
read as follows:--

     In presenting you with my fifteenth quarterly report I am sorry to
     report for the first time a considerable decrease in our
     accumulated capital due to the prolonged dispute in the St. Faith's
     and Trunch districts. We have enrolled during the quarter 1,048
     members. Our contributions have been £348 17s. 8d., which is £82
     13s. more than the previous quarter and is the highest on record.
     We have held during the quarter fourteen camp meetings, which were
     all well attended. The collections taken have been devoted to
     paying the expenses of the meeting, and the balances have been
     given to a special lock-out fund for men with large families.

     The dispute at St. Faith's and Trunch still continues at a very
     heavy cost. We paid to the men from June 30th to September 30th at
     St. Faith's £683 14s. 9d., Trunch £9 5s., Swanton Morley £9,
     Litcham £3 0s. 5d., Castleacre 10s., Pulham 5s. Total amount of
     strike pay during the quarter £705 15s. 2d., a sum for such a
     purpose we must all deeply regret. We can, however, congratulate
     ourselves on the fact that we have done more for our members in the
     time we have been in existence than any other labour union has ever
     done in so short a time. I feel, however, that we must now consider
     the next step to take. The St. Faith's strike has entered upon its
     twenty-sixth week. I have done all I can to bring the dispute to a
     peaceful and honourable conclusion, but have failed. The St.
     Faith's strike is costing £35 per week. I have appealed to the
     Board of Trade and clearly pointed out the miserably low wages paid
     to the agricultural labourers in Norfolk, and asked the President
     of the Board to intervene. He has, however, refused to do so. The
     next step I should advise the committee to take is to ask the
     members to express their views by ballot and at the same time point
     out to them the seriousness of the situation. Great care, however,
     must be taken in the matter, or we shall lose a great deal of the
     ground we have gained. The special effect the strike has had on the
     Union in Norfolk is that it has prevented the farmers reducing the
     labourers' wages from 13s. to 12s. per week during the autumn. We
     have appeared to the farmers to be a great deal stronger than we
     really are. And I do not consider the money we have spent in the
     dispute has been spent in vain and, further, it has created a
     lively interest in the Union. I wish to point out that the trouble
     at Litcham and Swanton Morley would have taken a very serious turn
     had it not have been for the firm stand your Emergency Committee
     took. The dispute at Trunch still continues, but several of the men
     have found work with other employers. There is some little trouble
     arisen in one of our branches over a very difficult matter. The
     branch asks the Executive to support the case. Another little
     trouble has arisen at Felthorpe, which after very close
     investigation I am supporting, and I ask for your endorsement. In
     closing my report I wish to say we have received enormous support
     from our Norwich friends, both morally and financially, and great
     thanks are due to them from the committee. I feel I ought not to
     close this report without mentioning the fact that Mr. Herbert Day,
     our Vice-President, has been untiring in helping the men out on
     strike. He nobly came forward when they were shamefully persecuted
     and fined a sum amounting to £68 16s. and paid this himself. I hope
     the criticism and the discussion on this report and the position of
     the Union will enable us to come out of this crisis successfully. I
     also wish to report that I attended the Trade Union Congress held
     at Sheffield in September and moved the following resolution as
     instructed by the General Council:--

     "That it be an instruction to the Parliamentary Committee to take
     steps to get the agricultural labourers included in the Trades
     Board Act of 1909."

The committee endorsed my report. Mr. Arnett also reported that he had
received some communications from Mr. Leadbeater, a schoolmaster at St.
Faith's, offering to negotiate with the farmers with a view to bringing
the dispute to an end if the Executive wished.

It was resolved that Mr. Arnett be empowered to ask Mr. Leadbeater to
negotiate with the employers at St. Faith's with a view to their taking
the men back at 13s. per week, the wage which the men struck against.

To this I strongly objected, contending that the committee had no right
to authorize anyone to negotiate with the employers on such terms until
the members of the Union had given them the power to do so. I at once
found I was up against my Executive. I also could plainly see that the
Union was about to pass through a most severe crisis, and without great
care the movement for which I had worked so hard for the last four years
would be smashed. The committee also decided that a ballot of the
members should be taken and the resolution should be sent to all the
branches. It was also resolved that as soon as I received the ballot
papers from the branches, if the majority were in favour of the
resolution, I should at once inform Mr. Arnett of the result, and that I
should instruct Mr. Arnett to ask Mr. Leadbeater to make arrangement
with the employers to take the men back on the old terms, namely 13s.
per week and the hours of labour as before. Thus it will be seen all
through nothing was in the circular about the terms. The committee
decided without even meeting to discuss the ballot that the strike was
to be closed and the men sent back on the old terms. As I look back at
this proceeding I am not surprised that there was serious trouble, but I
am surprised that the whole movement did not collapse. I am sorry to
have to recount this, but I feel in writing my life-story and of the
whole facts of the progress of this movement which I founded and the
vicissitudes through which it had to pass, the whole facts should be
made known. Further, most of it is a matter of history now.

The resolution and ballot the committee themselves drew up and
instructed the President and myself to sign. This read as follows:--

     _To the Secretary of the..............Branch._



     Please call a special meeting of your branch not later than
     Saturday November 26th to consider the strike at St. Faith's. The
     Members of that branch last May asked their employers for 1s. per
     week rise and for their working week to finish at one o'clock on
     Saturdays, which was equal to shortening their hours of labour
     three hours per week. The employers refused to grant either of
     these requests. A strike ensued which has lasted just on six months
     and has cost the Union over £900, which your committee consider a
     most serious matter. We had hoped the dispute would have been
     brought to a peaceful and honourable settlement. We consider the
     time has now come when you ought to have the seriousness of the
     situation placed before you, for you to decide by your vote
     whether the committee shall not try to bring the dispute to an
     honourable conclusion. You must call a special and urgent meeting
     and put the following resolution to the meeting, sending us the
     result. Please write the number of votes for and against on your
     ballot paper signed on behalf of the committee.

     (_Signed_) GEORGE NICHOLLS, _President_.
                GEORGE EDWARDS, _Secretary_.


     That in the opinion of this Branch the Executive Committee of this
     Union should immediately take steps to bring the St. Faith's strike
     to an honourable conclusion.

                            Number of votes.

I received the ballot papers back from all of the branches by November
29th. On counting them, I at once sent the result to Mr. Arnett as
instructed by the committee. The result was as follows for closing the
strike as per resolution:--

     For                         1,558
     Against                       802
         Majority for closing      756

Mr. Arnett on receiving the result at once wrote to Mr. Leadbeater and
received the following letters:--

     _December 3, 1910._


     I had a long interview with Mr. W. W. Cook last night, and with
     slight reservations he is willing to take the men back again at the
     old rate of wages. We discussed matters very fully, and finally I
     think Mr. Cook is prepared to deal very fairly with the men. Of
     course there will be certain sore places for a time, but he will
     not be vindictive. The _modus operandi_ of closing the strike will
     require great care. The Federation men will have to be cleared away
     in a proper way and our own men will have to be prepared to take
     their places at the most convenient time. This will require
     delicate handling, and I hope any statement made before the matter
     is closed will be well guarded. I sincerely hope you will be able
     to bring the issue to a satisfactory conclusion. I believe this is
     a chance, and in any way I can help you I hope you will let me know
     and I will gladly assist. Kindest regards,

     Sincerely yours,
     (_Signed_) H. LEADBEATER.

     ST. FAITH'S,
     _December 5, 1910_.


     Mr. Cook suggested yesterday that I should write to Mr. Willis, the
     Federation Secretary, and give him an account of Friday's
     interview. I am doing so by this post. I think this is a step
     nearer and may lead to an official recognition and discussion. Mr.
     Cook also told me yesterday that he was prepared to take on the
     evening school lads at once, if I send them in to him. What do you
     say to this? Let me know as soon as you can and then some start can
     be made. Hoping for the best, believe me to be acting in your best

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) H. LEADBEATER.

     ST. FAITH'S,
     _December 13, 1910_.


     I have received an answer from Mr. Willis, the Federation
     Secretary, in which he informs me that the local masters will treat
     with their employees in a most friendly spirit and will at once
     employ them at the same rate as before. This is from the Executive
     Council, and I, knowing the feeling of our best farmers, beg to
     suggest that all pressure should be made to settle the matter at
     once. I feel sure, if the chance goes by, there will not be another
     on such good terms as now. This is the climax, and under no
     consideration will the men receive better terms. I should say if
     once acted upon there will be practically very few left outside. I
     think it is far better to keep the two or three left on the Union
     funds than to keep on a hopeless fight. Believe me, it is a
     hopeless fight, and I hope for the sake of the Union and the men
     the end has come and that your Executive can see it. Kindly let me
     know what your Executive say so that I can report finally the
     result of my endeavours to bring about a settlement which will give
     us peace.

     With my good wishes,
     Yours sincerely,
     (_Signed_) H. LEADBEATER.

This was the first stage of the trouble. On receiving these
communications from Mr. Arnett I at once summoned the Executive
together, and they met on December 17th. A strange thing happened at the
committee held on November 19th. Although the committee decided to take
this course, they suspended me and my assistant organizer Mr. James Coe
for a period during the General Election, and left only my secretary in
the office to attend to all correspondence and keep the books. Of course
I had to do all correspondence which had all to be sent on to me.

The Executive Committee met at the office of the Union on December 17,
1910, and there were present Mr. H. A. Day (Vice-President), who
presided in the absence of the President, Messrs. A. Petch, W. Codling,
J. Stibbons, M. Berry, J. Arnett, G. Edwards and T. Thacker.

It soon became evident that the committee would be hopelessly divided on
the St. Faith's dispute. I reported the result of the ballot and that I
had carried out the instructions given me at the last committee meeting,
namely I had sent the result of the ballot on to Mr. Arnett and that I
had instructed him to ask Mr. Leadbeater to make arrangements with the
employers for the men to go back on the old terms of 13s. per week and
the working hours to be as before. I had, therefore, carried out all my
instructions in reference to the matter. Mr. Arnett was asked to state
what he had done in the matter, and he then read the correspondence he
had had with Mr. Leadbeater, and he strongly recommended that the
arrangements made by Mr. Leadbeater with the employers be carried out
and that the men be instructed to return to work on the employers'
terms. Mr. Day then moved and Mr. Berry seconded that the General
Secretary be instructed to write and thank Mr. Leadbeater for his kind
efforts to bring about a settlement of the St. Faith's strike, but, as
the employers had not given any guarantee that they would take all the
men back without any further reductions, the present negotiations be
brought to an end.

This resolution caused a most heated debate, and there voted for it Mr.
Day, W. Colding and Mr. Berry, against Messrs. Arnett, Petch and
Stibbons. The chairman gave his casting vote for the resolution and it
was adopted.

The Secretary read a letter from the St. Faith's Branch containing a
resolution passed by that branch:--

     That this branch is of opinion that the resolution sent by the
     Executive to the branches to vote upon was rather misleading. We
     ask the Executive to take another clearer ballot of all the
     members. If the strike shall continue for 14s. per week or go back
     for 13s. per week, if the employers will give an undertaking to
     take all the men and lads back at one time, and that a clear
     financial statement be given with the ballot. Further we are
     prepared to loyally abide by the wishes of our fellow members.

Mr. Day then moved and Mr. Berry seconded that another ballot be taken
of all the members and that they be asked to vote on the following

     1. Shall the men stand out for 14s. per week?

     2. Or shall they go back for 13s. per week if all the men and lads
     are taken back at once?

Further, that the following circulars be sent with ballot papers:--

     _To the Secretary of the_............_Branch_.


     Seeing that the words "honourable conclusion" in the first ballot
     were not clearly understood, we ask you to call another meeting
     and take a vote of all your members present and let me have the
     ballot papers back not later than January 1, 1911. I am also
     instructed to let you know the true position of the Union. We
     report to you that since the strike commenced at St. Faith's last
     May we have enrolled nearly 2,000 members. We had in hand on
     September 30th last over £1,100. Since then we have spent £500 for
     strikes and general purposes and received about £250, so that we
     now have about £850 in hand. At this rate of expenditure and income
     we could continue the strike for another six months certain, that
     is until next May. We understand that the farmers have often
     trouble with the imported strike-breakers. The men at St. Faith's
     are prepared loyally to follow the wishes of their fellow Trade
     Unionists and either continue to stand out for the 14s. or go back
     for the 13s., if all can be taken back together. If the vote is in
     favour of the men going back for the 13s., then the General
     Secretary be instructed to act on the other resolution.

     Signed on behalf of the committee,


     _General Secretary_.

This was carried by the casting vote of the chairman. At the conclusion
of the meeting I at once had this circular printed. It was finished that
evening and I sat up all night and addressed the copies ready for post
the next Sunday, as I had a religious service to conduct on Sunday. I
would not neglect my religious work for anything. The committee also
decided by a majority in which I voted that unless guarantees were given
by the employers to the satisfaction of the General Secretary and the
Union's solicitor, Mr. W. E. Keefe, the strike was to continue.

These decisions of the committee were, however, not allowed to remain
unchallenged, for I at once received instructions from the President,
Mr. George Nicholls, to call a special meeting of the Executive, which I
did for December 28th, and there were present Messrs. George Nicholls,
R. Winfrey, George Edwards, J. Arnett, T. Giles, A. P. Petch, J.
Stibbons, M. Berry, W. Godling and T. Thacker.

The committee discussed the strike at St. Faith's. The strangest part of
the proceeding is that although they had confirmed the minutes of the
last meeting without rescinding anything, they at once set about taking
steps to ignore what was done at the Executive held on December 17th.

Mr. J. Arnett at once moved, seconded by Mr. J. Stibbons, that Mr.
George Nicholls and Mr. Richard Winfrey be instructed to visit St.
Faith's and use their endeavours to bring the dispute to a close on the
honourable terms mentioned in the first ballot papers and that they have
full power to act. Before this was put I pointed out that by the
instructions of the meeting held on December 17th I had sent out fresh
ballot papers which were not all returned. Further, they had just
confirmed what that meeting had done. But they persisted in putting it
to the vote, and Messrs. G. Nicholls, R. Winfrey, A. P. Petch, R. Green,
J. Arnett and J. Stibbons voted for it. Against it were Messrs. H. A.
Day, W. Godling, M. Berry and myself.

After the meeting Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Winfrey proceeded to St. Faith's
and interviewed Mr. W. W. Cook and the other employers and came to the
following agreement: The employers undertook to take back at once
thirty-three out of the seventy-five now on strike at the old rate of
wages, viz. 13s. per week and the hours of labour as before. This
arrangement left forty-two men for us to support. This was communicated
to me, and I at once summoned another meeting of the Executive on
Wednesday January 4, 1911. All the committee, with the exception of Mr.
Thacker, were present. Mr. Winfrey at once moved and Mr. Stibbons
seconded that the seventy-five men now on strike at St. Faith's receive
full strike pay up to Friday January 6th, and that the thirty-three men
who the employers have agreed to take back be instructed to see their
employers and proceed to work on Monday January 9th, and that strike pay
be continued to the remainder for the present, and that the committee
meet again on January 28th to consider the matter further. Mr. Day
moved and Mr. Codling seconded an amendment that a third ballot paper be
sent out, stating that Messrs. Nicholls and Winfrey had visited St.
Faith's and find that the employers were only willing to take back
thirty-three of their employees and that forty-two men would not be
taken back. Some might be taken back by degrees. The members should be
asked to vote on these points:--

     (1) Shall we accept the employers' terms?

     (2) Or shall the strike continue and a levy of 1d. per member per
     week be made to enable the men to be paid without further loss to
     the Union?

Before the question was put I pointed out to the committee that I had
received the result of the second ballot, and I did not see how they
could ignore that, for it would be an insult to the members, which I was
sure they would deeply resent, and further, how could they accept such
terms as the employers offered, when not only were the employers
exacting their own terms, but they were not willing to take back more
than 40 per cent. of their men? Such a settlement was unheard of in the
history of Trades Unionism.

In spite of this the question was put, and there voted for the amendment
Messrs. H. A. Day, W. Codling, M. Berry and myself.

For the resolution Messrs. G. Nicholls, R. Winfrey, J. Arnett, T. Giles,
A. P. Petch and J. Stibbons. The resolution was carried and I was
instructed to take steps to carry this out. I then gave the result of
the second ballot:--

     For continuing the strike                1,102
     Against continuing the strike            1,053
             Majority for standing out           49

Thus the strike that had lasted nearly eight months was brought to a
close, not because the funds of the Union were exhausted, but because
the majority of the committee honestly believed that it was to the
interest of the men and the Union that it should be closed.

I and those of the committee who were in the minority thought it was a
grave mistake, and I think so to-day.

The troubles of the Union, however, were only just beginning.

Mr. Day wrote to the press condemning the action of the committee and
publicly advised the members to take the matter into their own hands by
demanding a General Council Meeting as per Rule 3, Section 3. This
brought to me scores of telegrams and letters demanding that I should
call a General Meeting to undo what the Executive had done. Of the many
letters I received the following is a specimen, and shows the feeling
that existed amongst the members on the whole matter:--

     _January 6, 1911_.


     I have read in the press with deep regret of the way in which the
     committee have stopped the St. Faith's strike. If it is true that
     the farmers at St. Faith's have said, and I have it from good
     authority, that they were prepared to give the 1s. per week, but
     did not like giving the three hours on the Saturday, in the face of
     this how is it they were willing to send the men back without even
     asking for the 1s. or even a promise that it should be given on a
     certain date or when the men could work the full hours? And,
     further, they are sending the men back against the express wish of
     the whole Union. I certainly thought the funds of the Union
     belonged to the members and that they had power to say how their
     money should be spent and not the E.C.

     I strongly protest against the last two committee meetings being
     called at all. The first one was called before the second ballot
     had come in and when it was in the hands of the members to decide.
     The second one was called after the members had decided how their
     money was to be spent and the committee went and reversed what the
     members had decided. I say emphatically the Union never ought to
     have been saddled with the expense of either of these two. The
     expense ought to have fallen on those who called the E.C. together.
     No doubt we shall hear at the General Council that we ought to cut
     down expenses. I can see no reason, if half a dozen men can spend
     our money in that fashion, why we should not call a General Council
     to deal with the whole question as far as our members are
     concerned. They strongly protest against the entire action of the
     Executive in regard to the St. Faith's strike.

     Yours truly,
     (_Signed_) J. SAGE.

I received many more letters much more strongly worded, giving the names
and number of members who wanted a Council to be called. Eight branches
sent in requests for a Council. The Executive met again on January 12th,
when I placed in front of them the telegrams and letters I had received
demanding that the Executive Committee should call a General Council to
discuss the closing of the St. Faith's strike. By a majority of the
Executive they decided, on the motion of Mr. Winfrey, that Rule 3,
Section 3, stipulating that the E.C. shall summon a meeting of the
Council on a requisition signed by not less than fifty members
representing five branches, had not been complied with.

The whole question of the St. Faith's dispute was adjourned until the
General Council meet on February 25th. At this meeting it was evident
that the committee were hopelessly divided and that quite a party spirit
was being manifested. I also became conscious of the fact that there
would be a most bitter attack made on Mr. Day and myself at the General
Council meeting by the Treasurer of the Union on the St. Faith's
dispute. But I was determined that as far as I was concerned I would
carry out every instruction the committee had given me. On Friday
January 6th I went over to St. Faith's and paid the men out on strike
and reported what I had already informed them by letter, the conditions
of settlement, namely that the employers had agreed to set to work
thirty-three of the men out on strike at the rate of 13s. per week and
the working hours the same as before, and that these thirty-three men
were to present themselves at their employers' ready for work on Monday
morning January 9th. I also informed them that the Executive would
continue to support those left out until they met again, when the whole
situation would be revised. The men received the information with tears,
as they felt the whole case was given away, and I don't think I ever
spoke with greater emotion, to see these brave sons of the soil after so
many months of battle go back on the same terms as they had left, and
what was worse they were compelled to go back and leave forty-two of
their fellow workers still out. That was worse to them than going back.
They felt that was a sacrifice too great to make and those that had
stood by them were to be the first to be victimized.

My old friend George Hewitt, the branch secretary, was specially marked
out for victimization. No one would employ him at any price. I gave the
men as much encouragement as possible by assuring them that the Union
would not let them starve. I told them they had fought a noble battle,
and although they apparently had suffered a defeat in their first
engagement, still the day would come when their efforts would be crowned
with victory if they would but stand firm. This seemed to give them a
little courage, and we concluded the meeting by singing one of our Union
songs that we had sung many a time during the campaign, to the tune of
"Lead, Kindly Light."

     1. Strong human love, within whose steadfast will
                 Is always peace;
        O stay with me storm-tossed on waves of ill,
                 Let passions cease.

     2. The days are gone when far and wide my will
                 Drove one astray,
        Which leads thro' mist and rocks to truth and good.
        Be with me, Love, thou fount of fortitude.

     3. Whate'er of pain the passing years allot
                 I gladly bear;
        With thee I triumph whatsoe'er my lot
                 Nor can despair.
        Freedom from storm thou hast immortal song,
        Peace from the fierce oppression of all wrong.

     4. So may I far away, when night shall fall
                 On light and love,
        Rejoicing hear the quiet solemn call
                 All life must prove.
        Wounded, yet healed, by Man beloved forgiven.
        And sure that goodness is my only heaven.

As we sung it the old club room resounded again and again, and the sobs
of the women were heard above all. But a note of sadness was sounded at
the thought that they had not won. It was a time of inspiration to me,
and I had a stronger faith than ever that right would yet triumph over
wrong. I advised the men to be loyal to the decision of the Executive
and present themselves at their various employers' on the Monday and to
show no spirit of bitterness to those non-unionists they would have to
work with. This they promised they would do. I also promised those who
would be left out that I would come over each week and pay them. My old
friend George Hewitt, though he was going to be one of the scapegoats,
did not lose heart, but braced his companions up and told them to be of
good cheer.



As the time drew near for the General Council to meet there was every
evidence that the meeting would be a stormy one. Resolutions for agenda
condemning the Executive for closing the St. Faith's strike came in by
the score. Letters of protest poured into the office. I drew up my
report, got the books audited, got the balance sheet printed ready for
the meeting as instructed by the Executive, prepared the agenda, hired
the Town Hall and Assembly Rooms at Fakenham for the day and invited the
representative of the press as ordered by the Executive. I also prepared
myself for the attack that I knew was going to be made on me. The
Executive met at the office of the Union. The Executive dealt one more
blow at the St. Faith's men by carrying a motion that all strike pay
cease after a week. Five voted for it and four against. The meeting was
stormy all through.

On the Saturday morning my assistant Miss Pike and myself were up early
and got everything ready for the meeting. Every delegate was presented
with a balance sheet and a copy of my report as he came into the hall.
Exactly at 10.30 a.m. Mr. George Nicholls took the chair; on his left sat
Mr. Winfrey, the Treasurer. I sat on his right, and the following were
on the platform: Messrs. T. Giles, J. A. Arnett, J. Stibbons, A. P.
Petch and M. Berry. Mr. Godling was at the door as steward.

After the roll call was taken and the minutes of the last meeting read
and confirmed, my report was taken and discussed, at the suggestion of
the chairman, before we proceeded with the election of the officers. The
following is a summary of it:--

     FELLOW WORKERS,--In presenting you with my fifth report I wish
     again to thank you for the confidence you have placed in me during
     the year; also all the kind friends that have rendered me such
     valuable help during the year. The year has been a most eventful
     one. Great interest has been taken in the Union. We have enrolled
     over 2,000 members since I last gave my report. In May last the men
     in St. Faith's and Trunch districts got restless. The men at St.
     Faith's put in a demand to the employers for 1s. rise and their
     working week to finish at 2 p.m. on Saturday. This was refused and
     the men came out on strike on May 28th and have been out on strike
     ever since. The committee on December 28th decided to close down
     the strike at St. Faith's in consequence of the financial strain.

At the conclusion the President gave his address in which he rather
severely criticized the strike and said had he been at the committee
meeting he should not have sanctioned the men coming out on strike on
such a request.

Mr. Winfrey condemned the strike and accused Mr. Day and myself of
sanctioning the strike without consulting the rest of the committee, and
said he did not know anything about it until he went to Weasenham on
June 6th, after the men had been out on strike a week. I replied to this
rather warmly, pointing out that I carried out to the very letter the
resolution he (Mr. Winfrey) had moved at a committee meeting held on
April 25th, and, further, that I received a cheque from Mr. Winfrey on
June 4th to pay the men their first lock-out pay--so how could he say he
did not know? Further, before the strike commenced I had written both to
the President and the Treasurer begging them to let me call the
committee together to discuss the whole situation.

The discussion was carried on during the day with great spirit and
incriminations were indulged in from all sides.

A motion of censure on the Executive was moved by Mr. G. E. Hewitt on
behalf of the St. Faith's Branch for closing the strike. This was as

     That this Council protests against the dishonourable way the
     Executive closed down the St. Faith's strike.

After a long discussion the resolution was put to the meeting and
carried by a large majority.

The President, Mr. Geo. Nicholls, at once handed in his resignation, and
although he was unanimously requested several times to withdraw it, he
refused to do so. Mr. Winfrey refused to allow his name to go to the
ballot for the treasureship. Mr. Day was opposing him. Mr. W. R. Smith
was elected president by a large majority. Mr. W. B. Harris
vice-president, Mr. H. A. Day treasurer, and the following were elected
to serve on the Executive: Messrs. J. Arnett, W. Smith, G. E. Hewitt, W.
Holmes, R. Green, H. Harvey, W. G. Godling, M. Berry and James Coe.

Mr. Nicholls then left the chair, and he with Mr. Winfrey retired from
the meeting. Mr. W. B. Harris occupied it for the rest of the business,
but the meeting was too excited to transact much business and it ended
in confusion. Thus ended the first chapter of the Union.

I left the meeting greatly perplexed, wondering if the child I had
brought into being was going to be killed in its infancy. I knew its
life was in terrible danger, having passed through a similar experience
in the years that were past. I had, however, great hopes for the future.

I think that I ought not to close this stage of the Union's history
without paying a tribute to those who were going out of the movement and
who jointly with me had done their best to build up the Union to its
present position. In the previous pages in giving the facts of the
struggles we had to pass through in the early stages of the Union it
might appear that I complain rather bitterly of my colleagues who had
worked with me during the four years, but nothing of the kind is my
intention. No body of men have worked with greater honesty or were
prepared to make greater sacrifices in the cause of human progress.
Neither the president, Mr. Nicholls, nor Mr. Winfrey nor Mr. H. A. Day
ever took a penny piece for time, rail fare or out-of-pocket expenses,
and on one occasion these three gentlemen paid for the delegates' lunch
at one of the General Council meetings. No member of the committee ever
charged more than 2s. per day and his rail fare, and for the first
twelve months took only their rail fare. In fact, in March we had a
balance at the bank of £1,569 0s. 10d. saved in less than four years,
and, when it is remembered that the members only paid 2d. per week
contribution or 8d. per month, it must be admitted that there is great
credit due to those men who had given so much time and labour to build
up a movement of this kind. Most of them were inexperienced so far as
Trade Unionism was concerned.

The only mistake they made was that they endeavoured to build a strong
labourers' Union on strictly commercial lines, which was not humanly
possible; but the mistake was a creditable one, and these pioneers of
this movement will go down to history as having laid a foundation of one
of the finest movements in the world's history. I can look back with my
connection with these men in the early stages of this movement with the
greatest pleasure. The work was hard but it was of the pleasantest kind,
and although Sir Richard Winfrey, M.P., has since allied himself with a
party that is anti-progressive, he has done some good work for the
agricultural labourers. I am sorry we shall always have to remain in
opposite camps, and I feel it my duty to appear on a platform in
opposition to him, still he must be given credit for the good work he
has done.

The same must be said of my friend Mr. George Nicholls. I only wish he
had stayed with us. He could have done far more useful work, but this
separation is only what has always happened in times of strikes. I have
never known a strike so far as agricultural labourers are concerned
without it has either ended in a split or a large number of the
labourers concerned leaving the Union, and that is one of the reasons
all through my long connection with the Labour movement why I have
always been against the strike weapon being used until every other means
have failed to secure justice. Even a victory by a strike is dearly
bought. I would commend this experience to my young readers who are
coming along in the Labour movement in the future. For strikes in the
future will be more dreadful than they have been in the past.



The General Council being over and the new Executive being elected, they
were called upon to bring to a close the strike according to the
decision of the old Executive, which, though we soon found it to be a
very difficult matter, we set about in a business-like manner. In our
President, Mr. W. R. Smith, and Mr. Holmes we had two men who had had
wide experience in settling such things; this made the task much more
easy, and we closed the dispute without inflicting more hardship than we
could possibly help. Apart from this nothing eventful happened during
the year. I set myself to work to prevent the split taking wider
dimensions than could be helped, and I soon found that I had got a most
sympathetic Executive Committee which made my task very much easier. The
General Council meeting was held at Fakenham on March 9, 1912. The
President, Mr. W. R. Smith, presided. To show the progress we had made
during the year and the task devolving upon us, I will give my report as
I presented it to the General Council:--

     RESPECTED Brethren,--In presenting you with my Annual Report and
     Balance Sheet, I wish again to thank you for the continued
     confidence you have placed in me during the year; also to thank the
     officers and friends who have rendered me such valuable service in
     carrying on the work of the Union.

     Our worthy president, Mr. W. R. Smith, J.P., has thrown his whole
     soul into the work and has attended a large number of meetings, has
     cycled hundreds of miles without fee or reward, and in business
     meetings has proved himself a most able president. Mr. H. A. Day,
     our treasurer, has rendered most able assistance in putting the
     affairs of the Union on a better financial basis, while Messrs. J.
     A. Arnett, R. Green, W. Holmes and other members of the Executive
     have all done useful work. We have also had the assistance of
     Messrs. Reeves, George Roberts, M.P., George Lansbury, M.P., Keir
     Hardie, M.P., Noel Buxton, M.P., and Joseph Fell.

     We commenced the year under a very dark cloud. Differences of
     opinion had arisen over the conclusion of the unfortunate strike at
     St. Faith's, and because of these differences some of our old
     friends left us. Others prophesied that the doom of the Union was
     cast. We had also been seriously handicapped by hostile criticism
     in some journals, while others had not given us the same publicity
     as hitherto.

     One of the first things your Executive did on coming into office
     was to put the Union on to a thoroughly business-like footing. All
     monies are now banked in the Union's own banking account. All
     monies are now paid by cheque drawn by the treasurer, and an
     entirely new system of book-keeping has been adopted and every
     account receives a double entry.

     The Executive on coming into office had to bring the dispute to a
     conclusion according to the decision of the late Executive, and
     this we found to be a most difficult task. It could not be done
     without causing a deal of heart-burning amongst many of the members
     affected, and we had also to deal with one or two clear cases of
     victimization which we were bound to take up. Yet, notwithstanding
     this serious crisis, we have been able to hold our own. We have
     admitted during the year 617 new members. Our organizers have
     cycled thousands of miles in attending meetings. Mr. Coe has
     attended 183 meetings in Norfolk, 14 in Oxfordshire, 13 in Kent,
     total 210, and has cycled 3,240 miles. Mr. Codling has held 242
     meetings in Norfolk, has walked 202 miles, and cycled 2,840 miles.
     I have attended 153 meetings in Norfolk for the Union, 12 in Kent,
     18 in Oxfordshire, total number of meetings for the Union 183. In
     addition to these I have attended 83 meetings in connection with my
     duties as Guardian and County Councillor. I have attended
     altogether 266 meetings and have cycled 1,866 miles and have
     travelled by rail 1,563 miles. The total number of meetings held in
     Norfolk is 751 and in other counties 57, giving a grand total of
     808. Early in the autumn we received urgent appeals to visit other
     counties, and the committee yielded to the requests. So we have for
     some weeks past been carrying on a campaign in Kent, Oxfordshire
     and Bedfordshire, and have been able to open several new branches
     in these counties. New branches have been formed in the following
     places: Aylsham, Larkfield, East Malling, West Mailing, Offham, Ivy
     Hatch, Wateringburgh, Roughton, Monchelsea, Barming, Wardington,
     Croughton, Chacombe Evenly, Clifton, Souldren, Chipping, Warden,
     Cople, Biggleswade and Morening. Sixteen small branches have
     become defunct in Norfolk. We have held fifteen Sunday meetings
     during the summer months, which again proved a great success and
     were attended by several thousand people. Collections were made at
     each meeting to defray expenses and there is a small balance left.
     The committee had hoped to have a good balance left to form a
     benevolent fund to help needy cases. The collections, however, did
     not come up to those of last year and several of the meetings did
     not pay their way, but the committee have been able to deal with
     some few cases out of the fund.

     We have been called upon again this year to place a large number of
     cases in our solicitor's hands, and these he has dealt with in a
     most able and successful way. In three cases he was able to effect
     a settlement which put into our members' pockets £256 12s. 6d. In
     other cases he has been successful, as his report will show. I
     think the Union ought to congratulate itself that it has such an
     able advocate and adviser as Mr. Keefe. The committee wishes me to
     press upon all our members that they must not in any case settle
     the matter themselves without the solicitor's instructions when
     once they have placed the matter into our hands.

     Our Union was again this year represented at the Trade Union
     Congress held at Newcastle in September. The committee sent two
     delegates, Mr. James Coe and myself. We were treated with great
     respect by the delegates and much sympathy was expressed towards
     our class when we related the great difficulties and the hardships
     they have to endure. The Trades Board Act resolution was carried
     unanimously and the Parliamentary Committee has already taken
     action. I attended the deputation to the President of the Board of
     Trade on February 26th and pointed out to him that a labourer with
     a wife and children, when he had paid for rent, coal and clothing,
     had only just a little over ¾d. per meal, and therefore you as a
     class were receiving much below a living wage. The President of the
     Board of Trade, whilst admitting that you were underpaid, asked for
     the Government to have time to work the Act before any more trades
     were included.

     The President of the Board of Trade did the Union the honour of
     appointing two of its organizers on the Advisory Committee of the
     Labour Exchange.

     Our President also has a seat on the committee, and I think that as
     time goes on we may be able to do some good by preventing Labour
     Exchanges being used to import blackleg labour in time of disputes.

     Brethren, in closing my report let me give you a note of warning.
     We are on the eve of a great social upheaval, the greatest the
     world has ever seen. It has already begun with the great labour
     unrest through the industrial world. It is a proof that the workers
     are determined that better conditions of labour shall prevail. A
     commencement has also been made in Parliament with social
     legislation, such as Old Age Pensions and the Insurance Act. The
     latter will come into operation during the year, and for the first
     time in the history of this country the State has recognized that
     it owes a duty to its workpeople by insuring them against sickness.
     There is, however, a grave danger that the capitalist class will
     use every means in their power to saddle the entire cost of the Act
     upon the shoulders of the workers by a reduction in their wages and
     an increase in their cost of living and thus prevent the toiling
     masses from obtaining the benefits of the Act. Unless our class
     take a timely warning they will be helpless. The capitalist class
     will fight with all their force to delay the day of social
     emancipation, and it will require the united action of the workers
     to prevent the capitalist and privileged class from crushing noble
     efforts that are now being made for industrial freedom. Your Union
     has now been in existence for five years. Its progress has not been
     so rapid as some of us had hoped after the bitter experience of the
     rural workers during their disorganized state. We thought that long
     before now at least 90 per cent. of the labourers would have been
     organized. That a large amount of time and money would have to be
     spent we were well aware, and that a great deal of opposition would
     have to be encountered, but the cost of establishing the Union has
     been beyond the wildest dream of any of us. I think the time has
     come when some steps ought to be taken to obtain some financial
     help for organizing work, because, as is shown in the financial
     statement, the contributions of the members have gone down during
     the year in Norfolk, which means that there has been a decrease in
     members largely due to a number of young men leaving the country
     for other spheres of labour. Notwithstanding this there has been a
     good awakening in other counties, and there is now a prospect of
     the Union becoming a national movement, which is essential if we
     are to take our part in the social battle that is about to be

     Yours faithfully,

     (_Signed_)   GEORGE EDWARDS,
     _General Secretary_.

     _December 31, 1911_.

The officers were all elected and the delegates were well pleased with
the position of the Union after it had passed through such a terrible
crisis. The breach that was made the year before was apparently healed
and I was enabled to proceed with my work with a much lighter spirit,
as it was evident the Union would very soon leap forward during the
year. The Executive had decided to become an Approved Society under the
Insurance Act. I had been elected by the Government to serve on the
Advisory Committee under the Act. I was also elected to serve on the
Advisory Committee of the Labour Exchange. The work, however, at the
office was becoming very much more complicated through the Union
becoming an Approved Society, and the system of book-keeping required by
the Government was of such a nature that my assistant, Miss Pike, felt
she was not equal to it. I too was not up to book-keeping of that kind,
for it required an experienced clerk, and the committee were compelled
to dispense with the service of Miss Pike, greatly to my regret. Mr. R.
B. Walker, of Banbury, applied for the post, and in June was appointed
assistant secretary. This appointment released me more for outside work
and enabled me to give more attention to the organizing department, and
we were very soon able to make rapid progress.

During the year 1911 it became evident to me that my dear wife was fast
failing in health mentally as well as physically, and that her end was
drawing near. Her condition caused me the greatest concern and I looked
forward to the future with dismay. But at the commencement of the New
Year 1912 she apparently took a sudden change for the better, especially
mentally--in fact, she became her former self again. This sudden change
blinded me to the real state of her health and I seemed to buoy myself
up with the hope that she would be spared to me for some few years and
that she would again be able to stand by my side. I was, however, not to
be long deceived as to her true state, for by the beginning of April the
disease took a serious turn for the worse, she took to her bed and her
suffering was great. For three weeks I never left her day or night. I
never took my clothes off, but watched by her side. In this hour of
sorrow I had one comfort, that her intellect was as bright as ever. She
made requests that I should not leave her, and I never did, and took
great care that her every wish should be gratified. The last Sunday she
was alive she made a request that the Salvation Army band should be
asked if they would come and play under her window, and the tunes she
selected were "Lead, Kindly Light," and "Nearer my God to Thee." This
request was at once granted, and on the Sunday afternoon the band came
and played as requested. They never played more sweetly and it was
thoroughly appreciated by my dear one. On Monday we saw that the end was
drawing near. So great was her suffering that on Monday I begged of Dr.
Fisher to try to do something to ease her pain, which he did, and she
passed a peaceful night. Early on Tuesday morning the effects of the
medicine were exhausted and she was again racked with pain. About seven
o'clock I saw the end was come.

She raised herself up in bed and placed herself in my arms and breathed
her last.

The last words she said were "Good-bye, dear boy, I am going."

Her birthday was on April 22nd, and she died on April 24th. I laid her
to rest in Fakenham Cemetery. I have erected a stone at the grave to her
memory and the following inscription is on it:--

               IN LOVING MEMORY
               CHARLOTTE EDWARDS,
           WHO PASSED AWAY APRIL 24, 1912.
                 AGED 70 YEARS.

     I loved her, yes, no tongue can tell
     How much I loved her, and how well;
     Christ loved her too, and thought it best
     To take her home with Him to rest.

     "_Thy Will be done._"


Had she lived until June 21st of that year we should have been together
for forty years. We shared our joys and bore our sorrows together. Hers
had been a lonely life, but she made the sacrifice for the Cause in
which she was as deeply interested as I was myself. This shows the noble
spirit of the woman and endeared her the more to me. No one can tell the
lonely life the wife of a public man has to live, but she never

She was always anxious to help me, and if she thought I was in any way
depressed and disappointed she would cheer me up with kind words and
press me on with my work. In fact, our lives had become one. That made
the blow the heavier. I felt I had lost part of myself. In any case I
had lost a good helpmate, and a chair became vacant that could never
again be filled.

When my wife was laid to rest, then the effects of the loss fell on me
with full force. Three weeks of anxious watching and the twelve months
thought and care I had with her and the worry of the crisis the Union
was passing through had told upon me. This caused me to have a serious
nervous breakdown, and I felt sure the day was not far distant when I
should have to lay down the cares of a responsible official life. I had,
however, a most sympathetic Executive who did all they could to help me,
and with their help I pushed forward. The Union made rapid progress. We
extended our borders. We had a pressing invitation to open up a campaign
in Lancashire, and during the summer and winter I addressed several
meetings and opened up several branches in Lancashire. By the end of the
year we had several hundred members in that county, and I see by the
report which I presented to the General Council meeting held at Fakenham
on Saturday February 8, 1913, that we had made more progress than at any
time since the Union was inaugurated and had saved £138 18s. 9½d. The
Council meeting was a very successful one. I again set to work with
great earnestness, but with impaired health and broken spirit.

I devoted a deal of time to Lancashire during the first month of the
year. The Trade Union Congress held at Newport, Mon., in September 1912
elected me on the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress.
That was the second time the agricultural labourers had had a seat on
the Parliamentary Committee. Mr. Joseph Arch was the first
representative. During the year 1913 we made rapid progress in
Lancashire, but it soon became evident that we were in for some trouble
in that county, and in consequence I had in the early spring to devote
all my time to it. I soon found that the varying elements were prominent
and that I had quite a different type of man to deal with to what I had
in Norfolk. They were very near the great industrial centres and had
caught some of their spirit. I did my best to keep them calm, took every
course possible to get into touch with the farmers, and succeeded in
getting one interview at which the Union was represented by the
president and myself. We tried to effect a settlement but failed, and on
June 20th the strike took place, continuing until July 8th. The men's
demands were to cease work at 1 p.m. on Saturday, 6d. an hour overtime
pay, and a minimum wage of 24s. per week and recognition of the Union.
By the second day of the strike we had just 2,000 men out. The men,
however, displayed great determination and solidity, and obtained a rise
of 2s. per week, 6d. an hour overtime and the working week to cease at 2
p.m. on Saturday. This was the first time in the history of agricultural
labourers that they had obtained a reduction in the hours of labour.

At the commencement of the dispute I issued an appeal to the various
Trade Unions and other friends, and the response was magnificent. I
received something like £788. Mr. Noel Buxton sent a cheque for £100,
and through this response we only had to spend about £500 of the
Union's funds, although the strike and other expenses connected with it
cost £1,250. At the conclusion of the strike my old complaint returned
again worse than ever and my nervous breakdown was complete. I felt
there was no other course open for me but to resign, for I could carry
on no further, and the Union had developed so rapidly that it was now
beyond me. I came therefore to the conclusion that it would be better
for the movement for younger men to take control. I had succeeded in
getting what I had been fighting to obtain for years, namely the
Saturday half-holiday.

On my return home I placed my resignation in the hands of the Executive.
They would not accept it at the time, but gave me a month's rest. But at
the end of the month I had to give up all hope, and the committee
accepted the resignation with deep regret and allowed me to do what
organizing I felt able to do. I moved into a private house in Fakenham
with my wife's niece, Mrs. Kernick, who on the death of my wife came to
live with me and look after me. During the winter I picked up a bit and
was able to do some organizing work.

In 1914 I was appointed by the Lord Chancellor a Justice of the Peace
for the County of Norfolk.

I also took some meetings for the National Land Campaign Committee,
ceasing to receive any salary from the Union at my own request. In
August the Great War commenced. I, like most of the Labour leaders, felt
it my duty to do what I could to help the nation in the hour of need. I
believed then, and I believe still, that Germany was bent on obtaining a
world-wide military domination; I felt it my duty to put the Nation's
interest before any other consideration. Not that I believed in war, for
war to me is a crime of the deepest dye against humanity.

The Burston School Strike is one of the most interesting and peculiar
disputes I have taken part in. Here was I compelled to take sides
against one of the committee of the County Council of which I was a
member during the latter part of 1913 and the beginning of 1914. The
Burston School teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Higdon, for some reason had a
difference with the Managers, and as I read the particulars I came to
the belief that there was some other reason for the Managers' action.

An inquiry that was held on February 23 and 29, 1914, as to the charges
that the Chairman of the Managers' brought against the teachers showed
that they were of a trifling nature and never ought to have been
brought. I also thought, and still think, the decision come to inflicted
a punishment upon the teachers far more severe than the case deserved,
even if the charges were true, which I did not believe, and to me their
dismissal which took place on March 31, 1914, was a clear case of
victimization and I felt it my duty to support them. Soon after their
dismissal the children all struck and refused to attend the Council
School. Summonses were issued against the parents for neglecting to send
their children to school. A large meeting was held on the green on the
Sunday after the parents were convicted at Diss, which was attended by
nearly two thousand people, and a resolution of protest was passed
requesting that a public inquiry be held. I attended and gave an
address. The meeting was conducted on strictly religious lines, and I
took for my text "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy

After this meeting and after seeing the devotion of the people to the
teachers and having satisfied myself that the teachers and the parents
of the children were fighting a just battle, I decided that I would do
my best to champion their cause. I will say, as I look back at the fight
I have made on their behalf, I am satisfied I never championed a more
righteous cause during my long public life. I was sure, however, at the
commencement of the struggle that I should have to fight almost
single-handed so far as the County Council was concerned, for I had at
that time only one Labour colleague on the Council, and that was my
esteemed friend Mr. W. B. Taylor.

I should like to say that I never have accused any of my colleagues on
the Council or on the Education Committee of being actuated by any
spirit of unfairness or with any spirit of political or religious

I have always contended that they acted in what, in their judgment, were
the best interests of the education of the children; but I have always
contended, and do to-day, that they allowed themselves to be biassed by
the political prejudice of one or two of the Managers, and that was what
I set myself out to fight. My first effort on the Council was to move
that the Education Committee be requested to hold a public inquiry. On
this being put to the vote only my colleague and I voted for the motion.
My next effort on the teachers' behalf was to move that the Education
Committee be asked to reinstate the teachers for the period of the war,
in order that peace and concord might prevail in the village. On this
occasion I warned the Council that unless something in the direction of
peace was done, the whole great Trade Union movement would take the
matter up, and then they would probably have another school built. My
warning, however, was unheeded and the resolution was lost. This time I
received a little more support, and Mr. W. B. Taylor, Mr. Coe, Mr. Day
and Mr. Pollard voted with me. This brought public sympathy to the
teachers. Many of the Trade Union leaders took the matter up, a
subscription list was opened, hundreds of pounds were subscribed, a new
school was built, which is called the Burston Strike School, and it
stands there as a monument of what the subscribers believed to be a
great fight for religious and political freedom. I have never regretted
the part I took in this great fight. I am, however, satisfied that had
the County Council taken my advice at the time most of this
unpleasantness might have been avoided.



On August 4, 1914, the Great War commenced and, as stated, I came to the
conclusion, like most of the other Labour leaders, that according to the
information I had at my disposal we had no other alternative but to
enter the war. I felt that it was a struggle for our very existence;
further, that we were fighting to overcome one of the greatest curses to
humanity, namely the wicked spirit of militarism. I therefore decided to
put what appeared to me at the time the nation's interest before any
other consideration. I spoke at a good many recruiting meetings in the
early stages of the war. So far did I carry my patriotism that some of
my friends began to be rather nervous about me for fear I should carry
it too far, but they need not have been, for I never deviated one iota
in my views on the Labour questions nor was there any fear that I should
ever leave the cause to which I had devoted all my life. I took,
however, the view that it would be the poor that would be the first to
suffer, should we be defeated or should the enemy succeed in starving
us, as the following letter I wrote to the women of the country will
testify. It appeared in the _Eastern Daily Press_:--

     To the working-women of Norfolk, the wives and mothers and sisters
     of our brave boys who are now so gallantly fighting for their
     country in France and Belgium and other parts of the world.

     I feel constrained to make an appeal to you in the hour of our
     national danger to consider seriously the gravity of the situation
     and what it would mean to this country, especially the working
     classes, should Germany and her confederates win this war.
     Everything that is dear in our English life will be destroyed; all
     our hopes for improvements in our national life will be blighted;
     the working classes will be thrown back into far worse conditions
     than they were one hundred years ago; all our liberties so hardly
     won for us by our forefathers will be lost.

     I ask you to consider for one moment what has taken place in
     Belgian and French towns and villages. The homes of the poor have
     been destroyed by fire and sword. Old men and women have been
     murdered in cold blood, women and children outraged and killed,
     mothers separated from their children and wives from their
     husbands, not knowing whether they are dead or alive. What these
     poor people have suffered is a small thing in comparison to what
     would happen to us should our enemies ever reach these shores, and
     they will unless we are able to defeat and destroy the cruel and
     barbarous military power of Germany. Do you wish your daughters to
     be outraged, your children slaughtered? Would you like to see our
     veterans of industry murdered, our homes burnt and our towns made
     desolate? No, I know you would not. No women are more devoted to
     their homes and loving to their children than the women of Norfolk.
     The danger, however, is very great and it can only be prevented by
     everyone doing all that lies in their power to help the nation in
     the hour of distress. It is for the protection of our own hearths
     and homes that we are engaged in this terrible war, hence the great
     call on the manhood of this country. And now the time has arrived
     when the womanhood of the nation have to be appealed to, and I am
     making a patriotic appeal to you, the women of my own country, to
     come forward and help in the present crisis.

     In making this appeal to you I am asking you to do a thing which I
     had hoped you would never have been asked to do again and which, I
     am thankful to say, the improved conditions of labour have made
     unnecessary. But the crisis is so great and the danger of losing
     all that is sacred and good in our national life is so pronounced,
     that I venture to make this appeal to you to offer your services in
     cultivating the land in order that as much food can be produced at
     home as possible. There will be a great deal of work to do in the
     spring, such as hoeing and weeding, getting the land fit for the
     turnip crops and many light jobs which hitherto have been done by
     men; and, as there is a great shortage of labour, we will see that
     fair wages shall be offered to you. One of the first essentials of
     life is food, and if this cannot be produced, then a great disaster
     is staring us in the face. To prevent this our womenkind are
     called to help. I therefore appeal to you in the name of God, who
     made you free, and in the interest of your children to help in this
     hour of need.

     Yours faithfully,
     (_Signed_) GEORGE EDWARDS.
     _January 3, 1916._

At the passing of the Military Service Act and the setting up of
Tribunals, I with my old friend George Hewitt was asked by the Union to
represent Labour on the Norfolk Appeal Tribunal, which we did. On that
Tribunal we watched very closely the interest of the class we were sent
there to represent. It was, however, a most unpleasant task and one that
I would never undertake again, should the occasion arise, which I hope
never will. Before leaving this matter and the part I took in the war I
would like to say that I am bitterly disappointed at the result of the
war, and it has entirely altered my outlook on war and its causes and
has confirmed in my mind more than ever the opinion that force is no
remedy, and that, unless the nations disarm and men devote their great
inventive and scientific powers in the direction of peace, civilized man
will soon be utterly destroyed.

At the setting up of the Norfolk War Agricultural Committee Mr. G. E.
Hewitt and myself were elected on it to represent Labour. We were
enabled on this committee to do some very useful work. Our business was
to insist that the land be properly cultivated, also to force the
bringing back of land that had been laid down to grass to arable
cultivation. We had also to look after the service men who were
medically unfit for foreign service, and who were transferred to the
land, and to insist that the farmers treated them fairly. Another useful
opportunity presented itself for me to do some work for the people on
the establishment of the Food Control Committee. I was elected a Labour
representative on the Walsingham District Committee and was elected
chairman, a position I held until the committee finished its work. I
think I can claim that, with the assistance of my colleagues, we did
some most useful work and administered the Act fairly between all
classes. We certainly did prevent a great deal of profiteering and
enabled the people to obtain their food on much better terms than they
otherwise would have done.

On the passing of the War Pension Act and the setting up of War Pension
Committees, I was elected on the Norfolk County Committee. I was also
elected on the Walsingham War Pension District Committee and was
appointed its first chairman, which position I held until I was elected
a Member of Parliament, when I resigned in consequence of being unable
to attend its meetings. But I look back upon my work on this authority
with the greatest satisfaction. It was a humane work and a labour of
love. It is the greatest joy of my life to know that I have been able to
do something for these poor widows and children who have been deprived
of their bread-winners when they most needed them, and further, to know
that I have been able to help the poor fellows who have had their health
wrecked through serving their country. During my term of office on this
committee my house was always open to receive these poor fellows who
sought my aid. In fact all classes came to me for help and advice.

It became evident early in the spring of 1915 that the agricultural
labourers were becoming very unsettled and justly so. The war commenced
in August 1914, and with it the cost of living went up by leaps and
bounds, but the labourers' wages never rose a penny piece. At last the
labourers informed the officials of the Union that if we did not move in
the matter they would take the whole question into their own hands. We
appealed to the farmers to meet us in conference and discuss the
question, but they refused to meet us, and at last we had no other
alternative but to issue notices to the farmers for our men to cease
work. One Friday in March there were sent from our office 2,000 notices.
The next day, when I was at Norwich attending a County Council meeting,
I met Mr. Keith of Egmere, who was a member of the Council, and this
question of notices was discussed, and we both expressed regret that it
was necessary to take this course. Mr. Keith asked me if anything could
be done and said that Mr. H. Overman of Weasenham would like me to meet
about five of the largest farmers at the Royal Hotel that day in
Norwich. I told him that was impossible as I had no official authority
to do such a thing. The President of the Union was not in the city and I
could not get into touch with him. I therefore dared not do such a thing
on my own authority and, further, I could not think of attending such a
conference alone even if I had authority to do so. A few minutes after I
met Mr. H. Overman and he suggested that I should meet the farmers
unofficially and talk the matter over and see if it would not be
possible to do something to get an official conference called during the
next week and if possible prevent a strike. This I agreed to do on
condition that Mr. Herbert Day, Treasurer of the Union, attended with
me, and with the distinct understanding that our meeting should be
absolutely informal and there should be nothing said or done that would
have the least appearance of being official. This was agreed to, and at
3 p.m. Mr. Day and myself met Mr. H. Overman, Mr. Keith, Mr. Lionel
Rodwell, Colonel Groom and Lord Leicester, the Lord Lieutenant of the
County. In the first part of the discussion the farmers complained
bitterly of the action of the Union in issuing notices. I told them I
was not there to discuss the rights or wrongs of the action of the Union
in issuing notices, but to see if something could not be done to get the
two sides together. But I would say this: the Farmers' Federation was
responsible for what had happened, for the Executive of the Union had
asked the Federation to meet us over and over again, but they had
refused to do so. We had, therefore, no other alternative but to take
the course we did, for our men were determined they would have a
readjustment of their wages. But if there was anything I could do, even
at the eleventh hour, to get the two sides together at a conference I
would do it. After this little straight talk the farmers saw the
difficult position we were in and expressed the opinion that the
attitude taken up by the Federation was wrong. I think I ought to say
that none of the farmers present were members of the Federation, but
they were the largest farmers in the county and the most influential and
were almost able to force the issue. They promised that if the Union's
Executive would meet them they would undertake to see that, whatever
agreement was arrived at, it was carried out. With this understanding I
undertook to use my influence with the Executive to have such a
conference held at Fakenham. On my return to Fakenham I informed the
General Secretary of what had happened and asked him to get into touch
with the President and obtain his views on the matter, which he did, and
I think I ought to say that my action was rather severely criticized by
some of the Executive.

But the President put his foot down and was determined that such a
conference should be held. It was arranged to meet the above-named
farmers, with Lord Leicester in the chair, and the following were
appointed to meet them at the Crown Hotel on Thursday in that week: The
President, Mr. W. R. Smith, the vice-president, Mr. George Edwards, the
General Secretary, Mr. R. B. Walker, and Mr. G. E. Hewitt. Mr. Smith put
our case in such a reasonable and forceful way that it was unanswerable
and put in a claim for a 5s. per week increase, bringing the wages up to
£1. On receiving our requests and after some little discussion the
farmers retired, and after some few minutes they returned and made us
the following offer. They would agree to recommend to the farmers a
rise of 3s. per week at once if we would undertake to withdraw our
notices. We withdrew and discussed the farmers' offer, and after some
few minutes' discussion agreed to accept the offer as a compromise, and
undertook on our part to withdraw all our notices. At the same time we
informed the farmers that we considered we were justly entitled to the
5s. per week rise, but for the sake of peace we accepted the compromise.
To-day I rejoice that I was the means of bringing the two sides together
and preventing a terrible dispute. It was also opening up a new chapter
in the history of the Agricultural Industry, for here was collective
bargaining, something that I had been working to obtain for over forty
years. Ever since the Federation has met us every year and our
readjustments have been made in a most friendly manner, and many
differences which would have ended in bitter disputes have been avoided.
I do not think either side would like to go back to the old
individualistic system of bargaining. At least I hope not.

For years at our Annual General Council I had moved a resolution
requesting the Government to bring the industry under the Trade Boards
Act. I had also moved it at several Trades Union Congresses and had
attended as a deputation with the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades
Union Congress before the then President of the Board of Trade and put
our case in favour of it, but with very little success. My friend Mr.
Noel Buxton, who was then member for North Norfolk, had moved a
resolution upon it in the House in 1916. The matter had become so
pressing that the Government could not resist it any longer, and in the
spring of that year Mr. Lloyd George announced in a speech that the
Government intended to bring in a Bill to be called the Corn Production
Act, which was to set up an Agricultural Wage Board. This Board was to
fix wages from time to time that should enable the labourer to keep
himself and family in such a state of health as would enable him to be
an efficient labourer. It also fixed the minimum wage at 25s. per week.
The Bill was brought in early in the session of 1917, and in it was
inserted a clause fixing the minimum wage at 25s. per week. This to us
at the time appeared to be a most inadequate figure as the cost of
living had increased beyond all bounds, and we decided to use every
means within our power to get that figure struck out and 30s. put in its
place. We appointed a deputation to lobby the members when the Bill was
passing through its final stages to induce the members to vote for the
30s. I was one of the deputation and I did my best to persuade those
members I got into touch with to vote for the 30s. But the Government
had made up its mind to stand by the 25s. Hence on a division the 30s.
was rejected and the Bill became law during the session of 1917. I was
elected on the first Central Wage Board. I was one of the Government's
nominees. The Board consisted of sixteen representatives of the workers,
sixteen employers and seven appointed members who were to take an
impartial view and decide the question when the two sides failed to
agree on an equality of votes. Eight of the workers and eight of the
farmers with the appointed members were appointed by the Government and
approved by the Minister of Agriculture, and, as stated above, I was
appointed by the Government. On our side were Messrs. W. R. Smith
(National Agricultural Labourers' Union), R. B. Walker, G. E. Hewitt, T.
G. Higdon, Robert Green and W. Holmes. For the Workers' Union there were
Messrs. G. Dallas and John Beard. There was one woman on the workers'
side. The Government appointed Messrs. George Nicholls, George Edwards,
Denton Woodhead, Haman Porter, H. L. Lovell, with Messrs. Gaurd and
Richardson from Wales. We had our first meeting in November 1917. Mr. W.
R. Smith was elected leader for our side. Sir Ailwyn Fellowes, now Lord
Ailwyn, was appointed chairman, and he soon endeared himself to all
sides, proving himself to be a most able and impartial chairman. The
first business of the Board was to set up District Wage Committees. We
first decided to set up one committee for each county. Then the Board
left it for each side to select their own representatives, and for us it
was a most difficult task as we had two Unions catering for one industry
and there was a great spirit of rivalry existing between them, which
created a bitter spirit between the two secretaries. This was greatly to
be regretted and caused friction when there ought to have been harmony.
We always, however, showed a united front in the Board Room. Then there
was Mr. Denton Woodhead, who represented some independent Friendly
Society. It took us some weeks to set up the committees, and we were
into the New Year 1918 before the Board could settle down to its real
work of dealing with the wages. In the meantime the men were getting
very restless, especially in Norfolk, as the cost of living was going up
by leaps and bounds, and I could see serious trouble looming in the near
future unless the question was tackled at once. I begged of the Board to
set the Norfolk Wages Committee up at once and let us get on with our
work. This they did, and I was put on the Norfolk Committee, and at our
first meeting was elected leader of the workers' side. We had nine on
each side, and there were five appointed members. Our side consisted of
myself, Messrs. S. Peel, J. Pightling, R. Wagg, Mrs. S. Kemp, Messrs. H.
Harvey, R. Land, W. Skerry and J. Shickle. Mr. Russell Colman was
appointed chairman. At our first meeting I moved that the wages should
be raised to 30s. per week for a 54 hour week and that the working week
end at one o'clock on Saturdays. This was rejected absolutely by the
employers, and they moved an amendment that the wages should remain at
25s. per week and the working hours remain as before. We had a long
discussion, and at last the employers' section asked for the question to
stand adjourned for a week. We objected, but the appointed members
agreed, and the meeting was adjourned until the following Monday week,
when we met again and had a long discussion. The appointed members
suggested time after time that the two sides should meet and come to
some agreement. The employers withdrew their amendment and moved another
that the wages be raised to 27s. 6d. per week and that the working hours
be 57 hours per week. This we absolutely refused to accept and would not
move one inch. The appointed members retired and discussed the matter.
After a time they sent for the leaders of each side and made a
suggestion in the form of a compromise. They would be prepared to vote
for 30s. for a 55½ hours' working week. The farmers refused the offer. I
went back to my colleagues, and after some discussion we reluctantly
agreed to accept the compromise, and on the appointed members returning
to the room they put their suggestion to the vote. The employers voted
against; we voted with the appointed members, and it was carried, and
the recommendations were sent to the Central Board which met the same
week. The Central Wage Board rejected the 55½ hours and adopted our
first proposition, namely 54 hours as a working week, and that the
week's work end on Saturday at 1 p.m., or that there be one six and a
half-hour day a week, all that was worked over to be paid for as
overtime. We also fixed the overtime pay at time and a quarter for six
days and time and a half on Sundays. We also raised the pay of the
horsemen and stockmen in proportion. The Wage Board issued their notices
accordingly, but it was issued in such a way that it was open to a grave
misunderstanding and was misunderstood. The men and some of the leaders
thought it came into force at once and several disputes occurred. I,
however, took an opposite view and contended that it did not come into
force for a month. For this view I was severely criticized and was
accused of joining hands with the farmers to defraud the men. So much
was this statement spread abroad that I felt bound to defend my honour
and challenged my accusers to point to one solitary instance in which I
had played the men false. It was evident I was right in the view I held,
and if my advice had been taken, a good deal of friction would have been
avoided and the men would have had their one o'clock several months
earlier, for the Board at their next meeting, while confirming the
order, postponed the one o'clock on Saturdays until three months after
the war was over. However, the men got their one o'clock on Saturdays
after hostilities ceased, an improvement I had been fighting for for
nearly fifty years. I hope the men, now the Wages Boards are abolished,
will not barter away an improvement in their working conditions. I also
hope the farmers will act in a good spirit and cause no friction by
trying to force the men back to old conditions.



The Union had decided, after taking a ballot of the members according to
the Act of 1913, to take political action and to be affiliated to the
Labour Party. I at once decided to be loyal to my Union. Early in 1918 I
publicly announced that I intended to sever my connection with the
Liberal Party and that henceforth my influence should be given to the
political Labour Party. I had for some time been getting out of touch
with the Liberal Party. In fact, I always was an advanced Radical and
had hoped the party would have advanced in political thought. But I had
now become convinced that there was no hope that the Liberal Party would
ever advance in political thought sufficiently to meet the need of the
growing aspirations of the new democracy. I had therefore no alternative
but to separate myself from the party I had so long been associated
with. The wrench, however, was great, for I could not separate myself
from old associates lightly, especially when it was a party in which I
had received my first political education. But it had to come. My
political thought had outgrown the old political clothes I had worn so
long. Early in the spring of 1922 the Executive of the Union decided
that they would place candidates of their own in the field at the
General Election whenever it should come. They decided, however, that
this should be carried out in the most democratic way. Every branch of
the Union was asked to send in nominations. This having been done, the
Executive decided that they would send five names out of the
nominations received. They also decided that they would put three
candidates into the field, as the National Labour Party had promised to
give £1,000 towards the election expenses of two candidates that would
be run under our auspices. The candidates that went to the ballot were
R. B. Walker, George Edwards, George Nicholls, Capt. E. N. Bennett and
T. G. Higdon. Those successful were R. B. Walker, George Edwards, and
George Nicholls, Mr. Higdon being the next highest. Mr. Walker was
selected by the King's Lynn Divisional Labour Party to contest that
Division, and I was asked to meet the newly formed South Norfolk
Divisional Labour Party with a view to making a statement on the current
topics of the day. In my speech I severely criticized the Government's
war policy and claimed that the war could have been ended some months
before and a great number of precious lives have been spared had they
embraced the opportunity that presented itself and entered into
negotiations. In fact, I advocated peace by negotiation as I considered
the time was come when every effort should be made to stop this horrible
slaughter. I declared my adhesion to the Labour Party's policy and
stated that on social questions affecting the lives of the people I
stood where I did before the war. I retired for a few minutes, and on
being called into the room I was informed by the chairman, Mr. E. G.
Gooch, that the delegates had unanimously decided to invite me to become
their prospective candidate to contest the Division at the General
Election. I thanked them for their kind invitation and accepted it. On
the Monday a full report of my speech and my adoption appeared in the
press. I was, however, to have showered on my head storms of abuse. The
writer of current topics in the _Eastern Daily Press_ was particularly
severe, and other writers in the press in their anxiety to discredit me
did not hesitate to stoop to misinterpret my words. While I deeply
resented the misinterpretation of words and claimed that the services I
had rendered to my country during the war were sufficient answer to my
critics and that I was anything but disloyal to my country, I also
claimed that I had a right to hold my own views on what I thought was
the best method of bringing this terrible conflict to an end. My
opponents made as much political capital out of it as they could, but I
was satisfied that I was right, if not for any other reason, for the
sake of humanity. On November 20, 1918, at a special meeting of the
South Norfolk Divisional Labour Party I was formally adopted as their
candidate, and the following is a press report of my address.

     Mr. Edwards, who was loudly cheered, said he asked the electors to
     keep before their minds not persons but principles. He somewhat
     regretted that Mr. Soames had withdrawn, because he was certain
     that however much they might differ, he was a perfect gentleman,
     and they would have carried through the contest in a way that would
     have been creditable to them. Whoever might be their opponents, so
     far as he was concerned, he intended to act in such a way, whatever
     the result, that he should not have to look back with any regrets
     to the contest. He would give his opponents credit for being honest
     in their intentions. If he was reviled he would not revile again,
     but if character was attacked he would be compelled to defend
     character and the position he took up. No one regretted more than
     the Labour Party that the election had been brought upon them. The
     Government, however, had determined to go to the country, and the
     Labour Party took up the gauntlet and would fight for the
     principles they held dear. The Government said they wanted a
     mandate. What greater mandate could they have than a united people
     behind them, and they had a united country to back them up in their
     peace terms. What was wanted was a just and permanent peace, with
     no vindictiveness, and the Labour Party held the view that there
     was no safeguard for a permanent peace except on the grounds laid
     down by President Wilson. The Labour Party was going in for a
     League of Nations, for such a league laid down on the President's
     principles would mean a permanent peace, and bring about universal
     brotherhood. They meant by a League of Nations a league which
     should consist of all the civilized nations of the world, and that
     there should be such international dealings with all questions
     which would prevent war in the future. (Hear, hear.) What he
     understood when the President talked about a League of Nations and
     no boycott was that there should be no preferential tariffs, and
     that all the nations should be dealt with alike. He wished those
     who talked about boycotting the Germans and taxing their goods out
     of existence would think for a moment. Germany was too big a nation
     to be crushed, and the war had taught us German science and
     inventions were not dead. If it was attempted to crush her she
     would prepare for another war, and England and other nations would
     also have to prepare, and the past war would be nothing as compared
     to another war. They had to consider the best way to meet the
     difficulties which had to be met in this country, and one of the
     first things was reconstruction, and how to help the men who had
     been fighting for us. The Labour Party would not have the same
     treatment meted out to soldiers as was meted out after previous
     wars. They stood for the discharged soldier, the wounded and the
     maimed, and would see that they were kept in a condition worthy of
     the nation for which they had been fighting. (Hear, hear.) That
     would be done without the taint of charity or pauperism. (Hear,
     hear.) So far as he could see, the Government's scheme for
     discharged soldiers was free insurance, a month's furlough, and
     thirteen weeks' out of work pay if they could not obtain
     employment. The Labour Party demanded that they should be returned
     to civil life and kept out of the State until employment was found
     for them at Trade Union rate of wages. (Hear, hear.) They stood for
     the bringing into operation at once of the Home Rule Act, and to
     see that justice was done to all and injustice to no one. They
     asked for a living wage for all workers, and their class having
     made the sacrifice they had--and he did not say the other classes
     had not done their bit--was not going back to pre-war conditions.
     Touching upon agriculture, Mr. Edwards said the Labour Party were
     going in for a wage which would enable parents to raise up healthy
     children. The first function of the party when it came into power
     was to see that a long neglected class was lifted up above the
     poverty line on which it had for so long existed. Everything had to
     come from the land, and if the farmer was to pay a living wage
     agriculture must be so reorganized that he could do so. The first
     thing was the farmer must have security of tenure; this he had not
     had, and he had not been encouraged to get the best out of the
     land. (Hear, hear.) There must be security of tenure for the
     farmers, and although he was a Free Trader, he should be in favour
     of the clause of the Corn Production Act being strengthened so that
     the farmer could pay the wage which might be fixed from time to
     time. He did not suppose he should live to see it, but he wanted
     the land nationalized. (Cheers.) He, however, wanted to see the
     antiquated land laws repealed. Mr. Edwards also touched upon the
     housing question, and remarked that if Governments could find money
     for war they could find money for houses. Proper medical attention
     must be put within the reach of the poorest, and the National
     Insurance Act must be radically altered, and there should be State
     paid medical attendants. (Hear, hear.) He also advocated better
     wages for teachers, who were the greatest moulders of character in
     the country.

The campaign commenced in all earnestness. Meetings were arranged
throughout the constituency, but at this time no other candidate was in
the field. Mr. Soames, the Liberal Member for the old South Norfolk
Division, had informed the Liberal Party that he did not intend to seek
re-election, and it appeared for some days that I was not going to have
an opponent at all. But in due course the two political parties combined
to find an opponent in the person of the Hon. W. H. Cozens-Hardy, son of
the late Lord Cozens-Hardy, and a most honourable opponent he was. It
soon became evident that, while the fight would be fierce, it would be
fought on clean and honourable lines. We both decided that we would
fight on principles alone, and that we ourselves would not indulge in
personalities, nor would we allow any of our supporters to do so. This
we both carried out to the very letter. On one occasion we occupied the
same pitch. I spoke for ten minutes first and he spoke for the next ten
minutes, which was the allotted time of the meeting, it being held at
the factory gates at the dinner hour. This spirit was manifest right
through the contest. On the nomination day we both met in the Returning
Officer's room and had a very friendly chat and arranged if possible to
lunch together on the day of the poll at Diss. This arrangement,
however, I was unable to carry out, as my motor failed me on my way and
made me late. There is one peculiar feature about this contest. My
opponent was the eldest son of the man, Mr. Herbert Cozens-Hardy, for
whom I had worked so strenuously in 1885 as a Liberal and whom I had
helped to win. For doing so I had lost my situation, been turned out of
my house and, as stated before, had been compelled to travel twelve
miles a day to work as an agricultural labourer.

During the contest I received valuable help from my honorary agent, Mr.
Edwin G. Gooch of Wymondham, a well-known Norfolk journalist and now a
Justice of the Peace, a member of the County Council and other public
bodies and Hon. Secretary to the South Norfolk Divisional Labour Party,
who undertook the agency without promise of any fee or reward. The women
in Wymondham and the men rendered magnificent work. All the envelopes
were addressed and the addresses folded voluntarily. The local men
supplied the platform with speakers. I also had the assistance amongst
other visitors of the Rev. F. Softly from Fakenham and the Rev.
Starling, and amongst my most earnest local workers were Messrs. W. J.
Byles, J. Long, A. H. Cunnell, H. T. Phoenix, A. V. Gooch, George Mayes
and E. A. Beck. More than passing interest was attached to the support I
received from the Earl of Kimberley. During the contest I made my home
with Mrs. J. Long at Wymondham, who looked after me with great care. A
few days before the election I issued my address as follows:--


     I am invited by the South Norfolk Divisional Labour Party to
     contest the Division at the coming General Election, and consider
     it my duty to accept the invitation in the interests of Labour and
     Progressive Thought.

     My full address will shortly be in your hands. Meanwhile may I
     briefly state my policy?

     I stand for a League of Nations and reconstruction on sound
     principles, without reverting to the old unjust social system of
     pre-war days; for a just and generous provision for the discharged
     soldiers and sailors and their dependents, apart from either
     charity or Poor Law; for the prompt carrying through of a
     comprehensive national measure of housing and a national system of

     Full provision must be made for the reinstatement in civil
     employment on demobilization at Trade Union rate of wages and
     complete security against unemployment of all civil war-workers
     about to be discharged, and those whom the dislocation of industry
     will throw out of work. There must be a complete fulfilment of the
     nation's pledges to Trade Unions.

     The complete restoration of freedom of speech and political action,
     with protection against victimization. The immediate abolition of
     all forms of compulsory military service.

     Adult suffrage and equal rights of voting for both sexes. The
     immediate establishment of the fullest measure of Home Rule for
     Ireland. Full national control of all means of transport, and the
     retention by the State of all coal and iron mines, and all the
     means of production, distribution and exchange.

     The reorganization of agriculture and rural life in such a way as
     shall secure to the agricultural labourer a living wage that will
     lift him above the poverty line and the fear of penury and want,
     but if this is to be done agriculture must be so reorganized that
     it will secure to the farmer conditions that will enable him to
     meet it. I therefore favour first the strengthening of the clause
     in the Corn Production Act, and fixing the prices of his produce at
     a figure that will enable him to pay a living wage for his labour
     as fixed by the Wages Boards from time to time. I am also in favour
     of so controlling the price of his feeding stuffs, seeds, and raw
     material that will prevent the profiteer from taking advantage of
     his needs in carrying on his industry. If the land of this country
     is to be brought back into a proper state of cultivation and be
     made to produce all the food it is capable of, then the farmer must
     have absolute security of tenure. All antiquated land laws must be
     abolished. There must also be drastic reform in our Game Laws.
     There must be a drastic alteration in the Small Holding and
     Allotment Acts. The small holder must be able to get his holding on
     the same terms as the large farmer. I am in favour of credit banks
     and a short credit system to enable the holder and the farmer to
     pay ready money for their goods.

     The cruel and antiquated Poor Law must be abolished. A pension
     should be given to the poor widow with a family. There must be such
     a revision of pension rates and ages for eligibility for old age
     pensions as would enable the recipients to live in decency and
     comfort. A proper and adequate medical treatment ought to be
     secured to the poor, which in my judgment could be best obtained by
     a State medical service.

     I appeal for your support on the grounds of the long public service
     I have rendered to the people by my work on many public
     authorities, especially during the last four years. Should you do
     me the honour of returning me as your member I will continue to
     work in this new sphere in the interests of the great toiling
     masses to which I belong, and in whose interests all the best years
     of my life have been given.

     Yours faithfully,
     DECEMBER 1918.

I had magnificent and most enthusiastic meetings all through the
campaign and had little or no opposition. It was generally agreed that I
had by far the best meetings. I had, however, the whole force of the two
political parties against me, and some of the members of my own Church
in the Division were my bitterest opponents. But in spite of the good
reception I had an impression all through the campaign that I was
fighting a losing battle. I did not, however, let anyone of my friends
know what I thought of the matter, but braced them all up. The only
person I related my thoughts to was my dear niece, who gave me all the
encouragement she could and stood by my side. The election took place on
December 4th, but we had to wait until December 28th before the votes
were counted. Directly after the election my niece Mrs. Kernick and
myself went back to our own little home at Fakenham and anxiously waited
for the day of the count to arrive. When December 28th arrived we were
up early in the morning and made preparations to leave for Norwich where
the votes were to be counted. We left Fakenham by the 9.45 a.m. train
and arrived at the Shirehouse just after the counting had commenced. The
counting had not gone far before I realized that my fears all during the
contest were fulfilled and that, although I had fought a good fight for
the principles I held to be good, I had been badly beaten and that the
combined forces of reaction were too much for me. At four o'clock the
counting was finished and the result was as follows:--

     W. H. Cozens-Hardy              11,755
     G. Edwards                       6,596
         Coalition majority           5,159

After the declaration of the poll my friends and I returned to
Wymondham and made for the Fairland Hall, which was packed. The meeting
was of such a character as had never been held there before within the
memory of man. It was attended by the leaders of all political parties;
the Rev. E. Russell was in the chair. On one side of him was the
victorious candidate and on the other side of him was myself, the
defeated candidate. A resolution of congratulation was moved to the
member, which I supported. A resolution was moved and carried thanking
both candidates and the leaders of both parties for the clean and
friendly fight we had made, neither candidate ever having said an unkind
word towards each other, and it was expressed by both sides that we had
lifted the political life of South Norfolk on to a high level. Thus we
finished, as we had commenced, in a most friendly spirit. That election
of 1918 in South Norfolk will rank as the cleanest and purest political
fight that was ever fought.

The meeting being over, I returned to my home at Fakenham, no one
knowing but my niece the effect it had had on me. No one knew the strain
it was upon me to attend that meeting, but I intended to be brave and
manly. It had made its mark which was soon to make itself manifest. As
soon as possible I sent the following letter of thanks to all my
supporters and voluntary workers:--

           _To the Labour Party Workers in South Norfolk._


     I embrace this opportunity of thanking you for the valuable help
     you rendered me during the recent election.

     No candidate ever had a band of more loyal supporters, and I trust
     your great devotion to the Party will be recompensed by victory in
     the days that are to come. The ideals for which we stand are of the
     highest, but the forces of reaction were too strong for us this
     time. The time will come, however, when democracy will assert
     itself and the principles of righteousness and truth, for which we
     stand, will yet triumph.

     My one hope is that you will go forth with renewed vigour,
     organize your forces, exercise patience and sweet reasonableness. I
     hope to live to see South Norfolk go solid for Labour.

     Again thanking you for your support, and with best wishes for the
     New Year,

     I am,

     Yours faithfully,


     7 Lichfield Street,
     Queen's Road, Fakenham,
     _January 1919._

As days went by my life told its tale upon me. I tried to be brave. I
even endeavoured to hide my trouble from my niece, but her keen eye and
affection and deep sympathy for me detected it and she feared the worst.
But no one knew my pain outside of my home. I had, however, one little
brightness brought into my life in this time of sorrow. In December I
received a notice from the Secretary of State that the Prime Minister
had recommended me to the King for the distinction of the Grand Order of
the British Empire, known as the O.B.E. On January 3rd I was gazetted as
O.B.E., and my name appeared among the list of Honours. In due course I
received a command from the Lord Chamberlain to appear at Buckingham
Palace in February to receive the decoration at the hands of the King.
My niece feared that I should not be able to stand the journey. I also
had my doubts. I took her with me. Within a few hours, however, after I
left the Palace I broke down. My strength would hold out no longer and I
had to keep in bed at the hotel where I was staying for a few days. I
was, however, determined to get to my own home and took the risk and
travelled home to Fakenham. On my return home I went to bed. The doctor
was sent for and he considered I was in a very weak state. But with his
skill and the good nursing of my niece I was able to get about again
within a month, but was not allowed to do any public work for some
time. But as the spring came along I grew stronger and was enabled to
resume my public work, and late in the summer of 1919 the South Norfolk
Divisional Labour Party sent me an invitation to contest the Division
again in the Labour interest, as there was a rumour that the member's
father, Lord Cozens-Hardy, was very ill and could not live long, and in
that case there would have to be a bye-election since the member would
be raised to the Peerage. I gave the matter very serious consideration.
I consulted my doctor, and he considered it would be absolutely unsafe
for me to undertake another parliamentary contest. I had already fresh
local duties, for in the spring I was elected on the Fakenham Parish
Council and was elected its chairman, and, further, not being able to
accomplish my desire in 1918, namely to finish my life's work in the
House of Commons, I had no further desire to enter Parliament, but was
anxious to finish my life's work in doing local work. I therefore
decided not to accept the invitation, but to leave that part of public
work to younger men, and on September 23, 1919, I wrote declining the
invitation in a letter to Mr. Gooch, the Party's honorary agent.

During the autumn of 1919 I addressed several meetings for the Union,
and also devoted much time to local public work, the duties of which
increased rapidly. My health improved and I gained a good deal of
strength. The condition of my heart, however, caused the doctor a good
deal of anxiety. The Divisional Labour Party decided that they would not
let the seat go uncontested, and at a special meeting of the Party on
May 29, 1920, passed a resolution asking the Labourers' Union again to
find a candidate to contest the Division whenever the election took
place. The Union had already taken a ballot for candidates for the next
General Election. Accordingly they sent Mr. W. Holmes down to meet the
Divisional Party. The Party had also asked for other nominations
besides asking the Union for a candidate, and the following persons were
nominated: Mr. W. B. Taylor, Mr. T. G. Higdon, Mr. William G. Codling,
and Mr. E. G. Gooch. Mr. Codling did not attend, and Mr. Gooch withdrew.
Each of the other nominees addressed the delegates. I presided over the
meeting. After each one of the men had given their views and been
closely questioned, they were asked to retire, and, on the vote being
taken, Mr. Taylor received 40 votes, Mr. Holmes 16, Mr. Higdon 1. Mr.
Taylor was declared elected and, after a vote had been passed to me for
presiding and Mr. Taylor had been finally endorsed, the meeting
separated. Mr. Taylor at once commenced a campaign, and a subscription
list was opened. He not being the Union's official candidate, the Union
had no financial liability; in fact, they could not contribute to his
fund. He made good progress, however, and the agent succeeded in raising
several pounds, and I think if there had been no by-election by the time
the General Election came they would have raised a very considerable
sum. But Lord Cozens-Hardy died in June and a by-election had to take
place. This found the Party altogether unprepared for the fight. A
special meeting of the Party was called, and they decided to withdraw
from the election and concentrate on the General Election. The other two
political parties had selected their candidates. Mr. C. H. Roberts was
standing for the Independent Liberals, and Mr. J. H. Batty was standing
for the Coalition-Liberals, and both candidates had got their campaigns
in full swing. The Liberal candidate was delighted at the withdrawal,
and predicted that he would win. There was, however, a class of people
who were not at all pleased at Labour not fighting, and they showed
their displeasure by writing to the Executive of the Labourers' Union
and demanding that they should put a candidate of their own into the
field, threatening that if they did not they would leave the Union. The
Executive decided to call a conference of delegates from every branch
of the Union in the Division at Wymondham. The Norfolk members of the
Executive with the President attended the conference with power to act.
They also decided to invite the Executive of the Divisional Labour Party
to attend. The meeting was held in the Labour Institute. Every branch of
the Union in the Division was represented. The President, in a lengthy
speech, pointed out the difficulties, considering that the contest had
already commenced and the writ been issued, and he invited the delegates
to express their views. With one voice they requested that the Union
should put a candidate into the field, many of the delegates declaring
that, if we did not contest, their members would leave the Union. They
were also unanimous in their view that the seat could be won for Labour.
A resolution was moved that the Union be requested to put a candidate
into the field and that the Executive of the Divisional Labour Party be
invited to co-operate. This was carried with the greatest enthusiasm,
everyone standing and cheering to the echo. Then the question was asked
by the President who was to be the man, and the delegates at once said
there was only one man that could fight and win, and that was "their
George" (as they were so fond of calling me and as I like that they
should). I pointed out to them my age and my weakness, which they would
find a disadvantage to them in the contest. They said they would be
prepared to meet that if I would but consent to stand, for with me they
were sure they could win, and further, they would do all the work, and I
should have nothing to trouble me but to speak at the meetings. With
this promise I replied that if they could win the seat for Labour with
me as their candidate, then I was at their service. This was received
with loud cheering. All the ladies present volunteered at once for work
in connection with issuing my address, etc. Mr. W. B. Taylor, J.P.,
C.C., who had retired from the contest, at once volunteered to render
all the help he could and promised to enter the fight with the same
enthusiasm as if he had been the candidate. Mr. Edwin Gooch promised to
undertake the honorary agency as before, and my dear friend, the
President of the Union, Mr. W. R. Smith, who I am so fond of calling "My
Boy," undertook to throw all his influence into the contest by
addressing meetings and looking after me at the meetings and not
allowing me to overtax my strength.

The press had got a hint that, after all, Labour was not going to let
the seat go by default and that a meeting was being held for that
purpose. They had, therefore, got their reporters to gather up the first
information of what had taken place. But the public had not the
slightest idea previously who would be the candidate, and were taken by
surprise. The news was flashed over the wires to the furthest parts of
the country. On the Monday morning the papers had great headlines:
"George Edwards enters the Fight." Leading articles were written on the
matter, all agreeing that I was the strongest local candidate Labour
could bring into the field, and it became evident at once that there
would be the greatest interest taken in the contest. It also created a
great surprise in the camps of the two opposing political parties. After
the conference was over I journeyed to Stow Bedon to attend a
demonstration in connection with the Agricultural Labourers' Union at
which I had been announced to speak. Here I made my first election
speech, as we naturally turned this to some political account. The
chairman, Mr. H. T. Phoenix, announced that I had that day been adopted
as the Labour candidate. I was accompanied to this meeting by Mr. and
Mrs. Gooch and a whole host of Wymondham friends. Mr. W. B. Taylor and
the Rev. P. S. Carden, the esteemed minister of the Scott Memorial
Church, Norwich, also spoke at this meeting. The meeting was most
enthusiastic. After the meeting was over I journeyed back to Wymondham
and again made my home at Mr. and Mrs. Long's. Although the next day
was Sunday, we were compelled to devote a large part of it to making
arrangements. The election had already been in progress for over a week.
We had therefore much ground to make up. A plan of campaign was mapped
out and all arrangements made to commence the campaign the next day. My
address was got ready to print the next day, and by the Tuesday it was
published. On the Monday we opened the campaign at Hethersett and Little
Melton. I had with me Mr. G. E. Hewitt, Mr. Long and Mr. E. A. Beck.
Although the meetings were only announced that morning they were crowded
and most enthusiastic. For some unaccountable reason I had a clear
vision from the very first that we should win and I never lost heart,
which was so different to the General Election. The Liberals grew very
angry at my appearance on the scene, as they said I could not possibly
win and that I should let the Coalition candidate in. We pushed on,
however, with great vigour. Helpers came forward in great numbers. The
Earl of Kimberley again came forward as he had done at the General
Election and helped in every way possible, rendering most valuable
service during the contest. My address caused a great deal of
discussion, as it embraced the entire programme of the Party. It was as

                      TUESDAY, JULY 27TH, 1920.
                         _To the Electors._


     Owing to the lamented death of Lord Cozens-Hardy and the elevation
     of the Hon. W. H. Cozens-Hardy to the Peerage, a vacancy has
     occurred in this Division. At the unanimous request of the branches
     of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union in South Norfolk,
     endorsed by the Divisional and National Labour Parties, I have
     consented to stand as Labour candidate for the Division and have
     pleasure in submitting the following statements of my principles
     and policy.


     Although the Government has been in office for more than eighteen
     months nothing has been done to reduce the cost of living, which
     presses so hardly on all classes of the population. Every housewife
     knows prices still tend in an upward direction. The only policy
     likely to affect prices is the Labour policy of a strict limitation
     of profits, stringent control and nationalization. I strongly
     condemn the policy of waste of the present Government.


     The war having left a huge burden of debt on the country amounting
     to over 8,000 million pounds, it will be easily recognized that
     this constitutes a terrible menace to the trade of the country and
     to the earning capacity in real wages of the workers. I advocate a
     levy of the fortunes of the wealthy people in preference to the
     taxing of the food and other necessities of the workers. Those who
     have made huge profits out of the sorrow and suffering of war
     should be compelled to disgorge this wealth, and so relieve the
     nation of a burden which will otherwise be too heavy to sustain.


     I shall support all reasonable efforts to secure for the nation the
     public ownership of all key services, such as mines, railways,
     canals, shipping, transport and the supply of power.


     The foreign policy of the Government stands condemned. I favour the
     establishment of a league of free peoples, _peace with Russia_,
     open diplomacy and self-determination for all nations, _including


     The Labour Party's policy for agriculture is based upon the
     national ownership of land. Agriculture must become the first
     consideration of the State. A standard living wage, a statutory
     working week, and the abolition of the tied cottage would enable
     the land worker to enjoy equally with other workers opportunities
     for individual recreation and development. Land for small holdings
     must be obtained easily and cheaply, and co-operation amongst small
     holders assisted and developed.


     If the land is to be brought back into a proper state of
     cultivation and be made to produce all the food it is capable of,
     then the farmer must have security of tenure. I should, however,
     insist on proper cultivation of land and the employment of a
     sufficient number of efficient labourers to do so. In order to
     enforce this I should place even more drastic power in the hands of
     the Agricultural Councils than they now possess.


     I am in favour of the immediate establishment of a pensions scheme
     for all widows with dependent children; the endowment of motherhood
     and the extension of the franchise to women as it is or may be
     granted to men.


     The prompt carrying through of a comprehensive national measure of
     housing, the local authorities being everywhere required to make
     good the whole of the existing shortage in well-planned,
     well-built, commodious and healthy homes for the entire population,
     assisted by National Exchequer grants sufficient in amount to
     prevent any charge falling on the local rates.


     I should use every endeavour to secure the right to work for all.
     Industry must be organized to provide for opportunities of service
     for all. Failing such a system full maintenance must be guaranteed
     by the State. I favour drastic amendments to the Insurance Acts.


     The Government have treated the sailors and soldiers and their
     dependants with meanness. The Labour Party is pledged to just and
     generous treatment to all ex-service men with regard to pensions,
     medical and surgical treatment, reinstatement in civil employment
     at Trade Union rates of wages, and complete security against
     involuntary unemployment. Owing to the rising cost of living I
     should press for an immediate increase on present pension rates.


     There must be such a revision of pension rates and ages for
     eligibility for old age pensions as would enable the recipients to
     live in decency and comfort.


     I appeal, as a Norfolk man, for your support on the grounds of the
     long public service I have rendered to the people by my work on
     many public authorities, especially during the last five years.
     Should you do me the honour of returning me as your member I will
     continue to work in this new sphere in the interests of the great
     toiling masses to which I belong, and in whose interests all the
     best years of my life have been given.

     Yours very sincerely,

     _July 1920._

     P.S.--I cannot hope to get round before polling day to every town
     and village, but I do beg every working man and woman to go to the
     poll and vote _against_ the _waste_ of the _Government_ and the
     high cost of living. It is the only lesson to which they will

I kept to my programme all through the campaign. One amusing tribute was
paid to me at one of my opponent's (Mr. Batty's) meetings by one of his
supporters, Major Kennedy, who said I was as good a fellow as ever
walked. But he was anxious about me for, if I was elected, I should feel
so out of place having to wear a frock coat and silk top hat. Another
amusing thing happened. One of the lady canvassers for my opponent,
anxious to enhance the cause of her candidate, said I was a dear old
man, but it would be cruel to send me to Parliament at my age. All this,
however, although not intended, was to my interest and, as the election
day drew near, our people became more enthusiastic and my opponents
began to realize that they had not got so easy a job as they had
anticipated. The Independent Liberals kept encouraging their supporters
by declaring they were sure they were winning; in fact, the night before
the poll one of their speakers declared at Watton that they had won.
They counted their chickens before they were hatched. The night before
the poll our meetings were attended by hundreds and speakers flocked to
our platform. At Attleborough we had Mr. J. Mills, M.P., and other local
speakers. Mr. W. S. Royce, M.P., Lord Kimberley and Mr. Smith, M.P.,
were at Wymondham, and held the fort until I arrived. My old friend and
constant companion during the contest, Mr. G. E. Hewitt, J.P., C.C.,
accompanied me to my meetings. I spoke with him at three meetings. We
made our way to Great Hockham and addressed a large meeting there, and
then on to Attleborough, where we met with a tremendous reception. In
this place at the General Election I could scarcely get a hearing.

My opponent, Mr. Batty, was also holding a meeting at the same place,
but out of respect for me, on my arrival he adjourned his meeting until
I had spoken and left the meeting and came and stood amongst my
audience. Having spoken there I made my way to Wymondham. On arriving at
the town I was met by the band of the Discharged Soldiers' and Sailors'
Federation and a large number of my supporters, who played me up to the
Fairland, the place of meeting, where there were upwards of 1,500 people
waiting to receive me, and I was given a wonderful reception.

On the polling day my agent, Mr. Gooch, Mr. W. B. Taylor and I set out
for a tour through the constituency. All went well until we arrived at
Shotesham Common, when the motor broke down. Here we had to wait at this
lonely spot for three hours until another motor arrived, when we renewed
our journey. Everywhere we went we were received with the greatest
enthusiasm. We found our colour (green) most prominent. That was the
colour I had adopted, being the colour of the Union. On our return to
Wymondham we were met by crowds. We found the Earl of Kimberley hard at
work with his motor gaily trimmed with our colour. He had also put two
waggons on the road to fetch up distant voters. Mr. Royce, M.P., had
lent us his motor, which rendered us splendid service. At the close of
the poll our people were confident we had won. They assembled at the
Labour Institute, where a most enthusiastic meeting was held. The next
day I returned to my home to wait patiently until August 9th, when the
votes were to be counted. I was confident, however, that we had won. The
whole contest was most pleasant. Everyone seemed so confident and worked
with such good will and hope. I look back to this contest with the most
pleasant memories. I am afraid there was a good deal of betting about
the result, not amongst my supporters, but amongst the outside people.



The votes were counted at the Shirehouse, Norwich, on Monday August 9th.
My niece and I were early astir and we decorated ourselves with the
party colour. My neighbour presented me with a little toy black cat for
luck. Another sent me a small horseshoe.

On arriving at the Shirehouse I found my agent and my close friend, Mr.
W. R. Smith, all smiles and in close conversation, as the counting had
been proceeding some time before my arrival. One of the other candidates
had arrived before me, Mr. C. H. Roberts with Lady Roberts. Soon after
my arrival the other candidate, Mr. Batty, arrived, and we three gave
each other the usual friendly greeting. By a quarter to one it was
evident I was well ahead and that it was not possible that either of the
other candidates could win. About a quarter to two the counting was
completed and the High Sheriff announced the figures.

It will be seen by the figures that Mr. Batty, the Co.-Liberal, did not
receive as many votes by sixty as I did at the General Election. Thus
there was a great turnover in public opinion against the Government, for
if you add Mr. Roberts' total to mine, it makes a majority of over five
thousand against the Government. After the figures were given the High
Sheriff announced them outside, and there was a cheer from my supporters
whom I briefly thanked.

The figures were as follows:--

     George Edwards                        8,594
     J. H. Batty (Co.-Lib.)                6,476
     C. H. Roberts (Free Lib.)             3,718
         Labour majority                   2,118

The following is a press report of the speeches after the declaration:--

     The customary vote of thanks was moved inside the Council Chamber
     by Mr. Edwards. He spoke of the Acting Returning Officer as a most
     impartial, kind, and painstaking officer. As for my opponents, he
     went on, we have had a most pleasant contest. I do not think any
     one of the three has said a word or done anything that he would
     have to regret. When the General Election comes Labour cannot wish
     to have more honourable opponents than it has met on this occasion.
     This victory that we have secured is not a personal victory. It has
     been won by a noble band of men and women who have done their best
     to win success for the principles they hold dear. I shall be loyal
     to the principles that these noble men and women have fought for.

     Mr. Batty seconded the motion. They were all most grateful to the
     Returning Officer and his staff, and they hoped for Mr. Edwards'
     sake it might be a long time before there was another election in
     South Norfolk. He added: It was a personal pleasure to me to be
     able to congratulate Mr. Edwards. It was not until this morning
     that I had the pleasure of shaking his hand. I cannot but feel that
     in some respects Mr. Edwards' opinion is not quite correct. I am
     inclined to think that the result is somewhat of a personal tribute
     to his lifelong work in the constituency. I congratulate him, and I
     am sure my friend Mr. Roberts joins with me in this respect on his
     thus receiving the crown of his life's work, and I hope he may be
     spared long to enjoy it.

     Mr. Roberts, in supporting the motion, said he agreed with Mr.
     Edwards that the contest had been fought fairly and without
     bitterness. He gladly took the opportunity of offering Mr. Edwards
     his personal congratulations. The result of the election must be a
     satisfaction to Mr. Edwards, not only because it meant a victory
     for his principles, but because it was a mark of the esteem and
     confidence of his friends and neighbours.

     The Acting Returning Officer made a brief reply.

In the course of a press interview after the declaration I said:--

     Labour has won a splendid victory. I do not look upon this result
     as a personal tribute, but as a victory for Labour principles, and
     a warning to the Government to clear out and make room for those
     who will run the country better. This is practically the first
     agricultural constituency in England to return a Labour member to
     Parliament, and I shall be the second _bona fide_ agricultural
     representative to sit in the House. The first was Joe Arch, with
     whom I worked in the old days.

After the poll was declared I returned to Wymondham, where I found a
large number of telegrams awaiting me, and at seven o'clock a large
number gathered at the Fairland Hall to hold a congratulation meeting. I
returned home to Fakenham in the morning, where I found another large
batch of telegrams waiting. I also received numbers of letters of
congratulation, many of them from my political opponents.

On Tuesday August 11th I attended the funeral of the late Mr. Sancroft
Holmes (Chairman of the Norfolk County Council) who a few days before
had died in my presence at Holkham Hall when attending an Advisory
Committee for the nomination of magistrates for the County of Norfolk,
of which we were both members. My niece and I both returned to Wymondham
that night in readiness to proceed to London the next day for me to take
my seat.

On Wednesday morning we were early astir ready for our journey. From the
Monday to the Wednesday morning I had not really realized that I was
actually a Member of Parliament. It was brought home to me, however,
when I had to get ready to proceed to London, and then, strange as it
may seem, instead of my being full of joy, I actually broke down with
the deepest emotion. I cannot account for it, but it was so, and the
first words that I could utter were a desire that my poor dear wife
could know. I also offered a fervent prayer that God would keep me
humble and that I might always remain the same George Edwards, the
agricultural labourer. This might appear to be approaching very near to
cant, but it was sincere and I have tried to live it out.

A little band left Wymondham by the 9 a.m. train. I was accompanied by
my faithful agent Mr. Gooch and Mrs. Gooch, Mr. W. B. Taylor, Mr. J.
Smith (Secretary of the Wymondham Local Labour Party) and Mrs. Smith and
my niece, Mrs. Kernick. We arrived at Liverpool Street Station a little
after 12 a.m. and were due at the House of Commons at two o'clock. At
the House we found Mr. W. R. Smith waiting for us in the outer lobby,
but before we reached the House we were caught by several camera men.
Tickets for the gallery had been secured by Mr. Smith for my friends to
enable them to witness me walk up the House and take the oath.
Punctually at a quarter to four, after question time, the Speaker asked
the usual question on these occasions--if there were any new members
desirous of taking their seats? Then came the ordeal. Accompanied by Mr.
Smith and the late Mr. Tyson Wilson, who was Chief Whip of the Labour
Party at the time, I walked up to the clerk's table and took the oath
and signed the Roll Book and shook hands with the Speaker and then took
my seat amidst the cheers of my friends, one singing "The Farmer's Boy."
My friend Mr. Smith said it was the proudest day of his life when he
conducted me up the House. Such is the close friendship that exists
between us.

A peculiar incident happened when I signed the book. In my nervousness I
had one of my feet lifted up, and the Premier, Mr. Lloyd George,
unconsciously put his foot underneath mine, and when I placed my foot
down I put it on to his. I have since joked him concerning the incident
several times.

After a few minutes my friends and I went down on to the terrace and had
tea, and the first to come and congratulate me was my first opponent,
Lord Cozens-Hardy.

I stayed in London until the Friday when I returned to Wymondham. On the
Saturday I went to Norwich and attended to my County Council Committee
work, where I received most hearty congratulations from my colleagues on
the Council. But a greater surprise was awaiting me on my return to
Fakenham in the evening. Arriving at the Great Eastern Station by the
quarter to eight train I found waiting for me a large number of my
fellow townsmen of all shades of political thought, the Fakenham Town
Band and a conveyance to take me to the Market Square. This was drawn by
hand. I was practically lifted into the conveyance and by my side was my
little adopted child. The band headed the procession and played "See the
Conquering Hero Comes." The streets were lined with spectators and when
the Market Square was reached there were crowds waiting to give me a
reception. It was considered that there were over two thousand people
present. The conveyance was drawn into the square and a congratulation
speech was made by my friend Mr. Robert Watson. Mr. Walker of the
Printers' Union presided and addresses were also given by Mr. H. Allen
and others. I thanked the people for the kind reception they had given
me, which was the greatest joy of my life, to receive such a welcome by
my neighbours in my own native town. A full report of the affair was
given in the _Eastern Daily Press_ on the Monday with some very nice
comments. The report was headed "The Warrior's Return."

The House adjourned on Monday August 16th and I settled down for my
well-earned rest, but the request from the Christian Churches to conduct
special religious services was greater than I could possibly comply
with. As soon as harvest operations were completed and I had had a nice
rest I took a tour through my constituency and thanked my supporters for
the support they had given to the noble cause of Labour. I was received
everywhere with the greatest kindness and enthusiasm.

On October 19th the House reassembled for the Autumn Session, and I
returned to London to attend to my duties, and on October 21st there was
a debate on the unemployment question. I followed the Minister of Labour
and made my maiden speech as follows:--

     I have listened very attentively to the speech of the right hon.
     gentleman. I am not so much concerned with the description he gave
     us of the state of unemployment as I am with the fact that there
     are unemployed and a lack of provision made for them to find
     employment--especially among ex-service men. I find that my right
     hon. friend is very anxious to lay the responsibility for the
     unemployment and the lack of provision for the unemployed upon
     everyone except the Government. He dealt with the housing question,
     and he made a great point of the fact that housing is being delayed
     in consequence of the conduct of the Trade Unionists in the
     building industry. But he did not tell the House that the Trade
     Union workers in the trade offered that if the Government will
     guarantee there shall be no unemployed in their trade they will
     remove the restrictions of which he complains. The point I want to
     come to is this--the delay in erecting houses for ex-service men
     and for the working class in this country lies at the door of the
     Government. What are the facts? I speak with some knowledge. The
     Minister of Health, or the Government through him, pressed on the
     local authorities the responsibility of providing houses under the
     Act, and I say without hesitation that the local authorities--and
     all credit is due to them--undertook that responsibility. It has
     become notorious how their action has been defeated. Take my own

     We decided to erect 350 houses. We prepared our plans and put out
     our contracts. We erected a number of houses for the working
     classes. We were told by the Government that in deciding on the
     rents we were to fix such a rent as we deemed reasonable according
     to wages earned in the district. We fixed the rents, as some of us
     think, rather too high. We had full local knowledge. We said that
     for a six-roomed house the rent should be £20 per year, with the
     rates on top of that, and for a five-roomed house £14 per year,
     plus rates. What did the Minister of Health do? We sent him a
     return showing that the earnings of the agricultural labourers in
     the district averaged £2 6s. per week, and those of other classes
     of workers £3 10s. per week. The Minister came down on top of us
     and would not sanction the rents we had fixed. He demanded that the
     local authority should charge a man earning £3 10s. per week £1 per
     week as rent, and that for the five-roomed house 16s. 6d. per week
     should be charged. Do the Government imagine that any local
     authority, with its knowledge of the condition of things, would be
     content to erect houses and to ask agricultural labourers with
     their wives and families to pay a rent of 16s. 6d. per week out of
     a wage of £2 6s.? Do they imagine that any local authority will
     erect houses for which they are to charge a man earning £3 10s. per
     week £1 as rent? Do they imagine that out of the wages they are
     earning the men could pay such high rents as that? If they do, I
     can only suggest they should experiment on themselves for one month
     at least. This bombshell was thrown at the local authorities
     throughout the length and breadth of the country, with the result
     that they will not touch housing schemes until the Minister of
     Health abates his demands in this respect. I maintain that the
     responsibility for the delay in erecting houses falls directly upon
     the Government, but for whose action house-building might have been
     proceeded with, and the present unemployment would not have grown
     to the extent it has. Then there is the question of raw material.
     The Government were warned in 1918--in the early part of that
     year--that there would be a terrible shortage of raw material and
     especially of bricks. Labour Exchanges sent resolution after
     resolution urging the Government to take steps to reopen the
     brickfields which had gone into disuse during the war. We were
     laughed at for our efforts in pointing out that there must be a
     terrible shortage unless something in this direction was done.
     Remember, the unskilled men now waiting for training might have
     been put on this work, and the necessary raw material could have
     been provided without difficulty. What happened? Those local
     authorities which had contracts in hand found that the men had to
     stand idle for the lack of raw material. I was very much interested
     in a speech made by the Minister of Health in regard to the
     agricultural industry. I have a knowledge of this industry. I was
     engaged in it for many years, and I remember the time when there
     were 950,000 agricultural labourers and others employed on the
     land. At the present time there are only 550,000 so employed, and
     yet we have in my own county to-day 500 agricultural labourers
     standing by for want of work! I heard a question asked of the
     Minister of Health why this was so. I think I can give the reply.
     It is largely due to the gambling which is now going on in land. It
     is also due, in part, to the bad farming which has been prevalent
     for many years. That is responsible for the great decrease in the
     number of men employed on the land. We ask the Government, as far
     as the land question is concerned, to do what they did during the
     war, namely to put into force the compulsory clauses of the Defence
     of the Realm Act. We have to-day, I believe, between 2,000,000 and
     3,000,000 acres of land out of cultivation. We were told the other
     day that there were 800,000 acres less under wheat this year, and I
     believe I am correct in saying that since the Armistice 80,000
     acres of land have gone out of cultivation that were brought under
     cultivation during the war. Why do not the Government put into
     force the compulsory clauses, and compel those who call the land
     theirs to keep it in cultivation? Something has been said about
     afforestation. In my own county we have something like 3,000 acres
     of land that is useful for that purpose. I do not say, with my
     knowledge of agriculture, that all the land is suitable for
     producing food; I know it is not; but it will produce something
     that the nation wants. That land is now lying derelict. It is only
     used as rabbit warrens, because it pays the landlord better to keep
     it for game preserving than it does to produce things that we want.
     If the Government would step in, and I appeal to them to do so,
     they could at once set to work most of this unskilled labour--we
     are told that it would require no skill--if they would insist upon
     the use of this land for this purpose. I know that it is suitable
     for the production of wood, which is greatly needed.

     The Government were forewarned of these things. They know that this
     land is there ready to produce something. Indeed, I would venture
     to state that there is not an acre of land in this country which
     does not produce something that the nation needs. All that is
     necessary is that the people should have an opportunity of getting
     on the land. With regard to the Land Settlement scheme, as a County
     Councillor I have had something to do with putting this Act into
     force. What are the facts? We were told that there were £8,000,000
     set aside for this purpose. So far as my County Council is
     concerned--and I think we stand second in the country for putting
     the Small Holdings and Allotments Act into force--we were told that
     we were to have this money to purchase land. What does the Land
     Settlement Act do? It compels us to give inflated prices for the
     land, and, having given inflated prices--not pre-war value, but
     war-profit value, the price to which it has been run up in the
     market by the land gamblers--we are compelled to charge these
     ex-service men, these heroes who have fought our battles, and who
     were told by the Prime Minister that they should have a land fit
     for heroes to live in, where no inhabitants should ever hunger--we
     have to charge them a rent that we know full well they will never
     be able to pay and get a living. The Government come along and say:
     "Yes, we will lend you money, but will charge you 6 per cent. for
     it," and we have to charge that back to these poor fellows. In my
     own county we have 500 ex-service men who cannot get on the land,
     and we have spent all the money the Government will let us have. I
     would make an appeal to the right hon. gentleman opposite and to
     the Government to take this question seriously. I have spent fifty
     years of my life trying to upraise my class. I have endeavoured to
     exercise a moderating influence, and I think that up to the present
     I have been successful. No one can charge me with being an
     extremist. I want, however, to point this out to the Government.
     Our influence over men and women may be lessened when they know
     that the barns are full and the cupboard is empty. Therefore I ask
     them to use all the powers they possess under the Defence of the
     Realm Act and to deal at once with this land problem. It can be
     dealt with at once. Set these men to work. We do not plead for
     doles; we do not plead for charity. What we say is: "In Heaven's
     name, find them work!"

During the Autumn Session I never left the House nor missed a Division.
In the middle of November the Agricultural Bill was brought before the
House on its report stage. This received my whole-hearted support in all
its stages and I spoke several times when it was before the House. With
my friends Mr. Royce and Mr. Smith I tried to improve it by moving new
clauses from the point of view of giving the labourer who lived in a
tied cottage some security in his home and, after several interviews
with Sir Arthur Boscawen, the Minister who had charge of the Bill, we
were able to make a little improvement by securing to the labourers
compensation in the shape of a year's rent and expenses of removal if
compelled to leave his cottage at short notice. We also secured to the
tenant farmer some security of tenure or compensation for disturbance
and we also secured a minimum price for his corn and the
re-establishment of the Wage Board for four years, which alas! was so
soon to be abolished by the repeal of the Agricultural Act of 1921.

During the passage of the Agricultural Act we had many late nights. The
last days of the sitting, December 20th and 21st, I never left the House
for thirty-six hours and went into the Division Lobby nearly thirty
times against the Lords Amendments. This concluded my first experience
of the House of Commons.

Soon after my entrance into Parliament I was asked to become a member of
the Industrial Christian Fellowship, an association established by
leaders of the Church of England for the purpose of bringing our
industrial system more into harmony with the principles taught by Christ
Himself and further of endeavouring to create a higher spiritual life in
the great Labour movement and preventing it from becoming too
materialistic. As that had been my ideal all through my long public
life, it at once appealed to me, and I decided to accept the invitation
to become a member of the General Council. The first meeting I attended
and addressed was at Hull. Before going, however, I expressed a wish to
meet members of the Trades and Labour Council. A meeting was arranged
and I found there was a suspicion amongst the Trade Unionists in the
city that there was some ulterior motive behind it. I endeavoured to
dispel this suspicion. My address was entitled "The High Ideals of the
Labour Movement." The large hall was full and the Mayor presided.

In November of the same year (1920) I received an invitation from Canon
Newson to give an address in Newcastle-on-Tyne Cathedral on December
5th. I accepted the invitation and at Newcastle was met at the station
by Canon Newson with whom I stayed the week-end. During the afternoon I
was introduced to the Bishop with whom I had a long talk on the
religious aspect of the movement. In the evening I met members of the
Trades and Labour Council at the Canon's House. On Sunday afternoon I
gave my address on "Religion and Labour" in the cathedral.

This address was listened to with marked attention by a large
congregation. The fact that a layman and a prominent Nonconformist had
been invited to give an address in a cathedral had created widespread
interest. Many of the daily papers gave a long report of my address.
Since then I have spoken in two churches in London on "National
Righteousness." This I think is a sign that there is a great awakening
in the social consciousness of the people and that a spirit of
fellowship and goodwill is abroad such as has never been manifested
before. I consider that I have never been connected with a movement that
was calculated to bring our industrial and social life on to a higher
platform and I wish it God-speed in its good work.

In February 1921 I was invited by His Majesty the King to an afternoon
garden party at Buckingham Palace, and on my being introduced to the
King and His Majesty ascertaining that I came from Norfolk, he expressed
a wish to have a few minutes' talk with me. His Majesty asked me
concerning my early life, also the condition of the people in Norfolk.
The matter was given publicity through the press and the following
appeared in one paper:--

     By invitation of their Majesties the King and Queen, Mr. George
     Edwards, M.P., attended the afternoon party at Buckingham Palace
     last Thursday. Mr. Edwards had the honour of being presented to
     their Majesties, and during the afternoon the King expressed a wish
     to have some further conversation with the member for South
     Norfolk, to whom His Majesty directed inquiries respecting his
     early days. The King evinced deep interest in the story Mr. Edwards
     told, and later the Queen also invited the member to relate to her
     the story of his early struggles.

     After cordially greeting Mr. Edwards, the King said he was
     interested to know that he came from Norfolk, and inquired if the
     member was a native of this county. His Majesty also inquired what
     occupation Mr. Edwards' father followed.

     The remarkable story of the member's progress from workhouse to
     Westminster greatly interested the King, who plied Mr. Edwards with
     questions relative to his early life.

     Mr. Edwards told His Majesty that he was a native of Norfolk, and
     that his father, like himself, was an agricultural labourer. "At
     the time of my birth," said Mr. Edwards, "the wages of the
     agricultural labourer were 8s. a week, and at the time of the
     Crimean War in 1854 the cost of living rose to its highest, but the
     wages of the labourer remained stationary."

     "And how did you fare?" inquired the King.

     "My father and mother had to undergo the greatest privations," Mr.
     Edwards replied. "We never had bread enough and the family were fed
     largely on turnips which my father brought from his master's field.
     At five years of age I was a workhouse boy."

     "And this was really the way you lived?" exclaimed the King.

     His Majesty was obviously touched by the account given him and
     expressed the deepest sympathy.

     "One of my own labourers," said the King, "brought up a family on
     13s. a week, but this is much worse. How were you educated?"

     "I never went to school in my life," said the member. "My wife
     first taught me to read, and I put myself in a position to purchase
     books by giving up the luxury of tobacco."

     His Majesty asked as to the welfare of the labourers to-day and
     inquired if they were better off?

     "Yes, decidedly," replied Mr. Edwards, "but there is a good deal of
     privation now."

     The conversation then turned to the position of affairs on His
     Majesty's Norfolk estate at Sandringham, the King suggesting that
     working conditions there were satisfactory.

     Mr. Edwards agreed, and said he desired to express the greatest
     appreciation of the efforts of the King in regard to working
     conditions at Sandringham. "If all other landlords followed along
     the same lines," added Mr. Edwards, "there would be little

     The King expressed his best wishes for Mr. Edwards' future.

     Mr. Edwards had several minutes' conversation with the Queen, who
     gave further proof of her interest in the housing of the people.
     Her Majesty referred to housing conditions at Sandringham, and Mr.
     Edwards expressed appreciation of what had been done for the
     labourers on the estate with regard to housing, and remarked that
     everything had been done that it was possible to do for the home
     comforts of the tenants.

This brings my story almost to a close.

During my time I have seen what amounts almost to a revolution in the
lives of the people. There is no comparison between the life of the
village worker when I was a lad and now. I have seen one Trade Union
spring up and fall. But during its short life, under the leadership of
Joseph Arch, George Rix, Z. Walker and others, it did some wonderful
work for the agricultural workers. Through its influence the labourers
were enfranchised. The District and Parish Council Act was put in force,
and I look back with pleasure at the humble part I was able to take in
this matter. Many years after that, as stated above, I founded the
present Union, and I have lived to see it spread from Norfolk into every
county in England and Wales. It has gone from a little back-room of mine
in a little cottage in which I lived at Gresham to a fine block of
buildings at 72, Acton Street, London. It has accomplished much for the
agricultural labourers. It has entirely altered and brightened up the
monotonous life of the labourer. It has given him a broader outlook on
life and I hope he will let nothing separate him from the Union that has
in so short a time done so much for him, his wife and children.

As in the days of Arch there is again another attempt to divide our
forces by introducing what they call a New Union. This is being done by
those who ought to have known better. Are the labourers going to let
history repeat itself? If so, then all the sacrifice I have made and the
years of labour I have given on their behalf will be thrown away. No, I
cannot believe they will. I have too strong a faith in their good common
sense and in their devotion and gratitude towards those who laboured so
hard for them to be led away by the platitudes of some new-born friends.

In presenting my readers with my life-story let me ask them, especially
the young readers, as they read it to watch carefully my limitations and
failings (and they will detect many), to study them attentively, and in
starting out in life to try and avoid them. Also, whatever they may see
in the story that is worthy to be followed, let them try to follow it.
They are starting life now, thank God, under much better circumstances
than I did.

As they read the facts here related they will notice a touch of sadness
running through it all. They will also notice the many bitter struggles
I have had coming along this somewhat rugged road of life; how I have
battled to lift myself above my environment; how I have laboured to
educate myself and to inform myself on all public questions, and I hope
they will also detect a burning desire from the first to use the
knowledge I had obtained for the benefit of my own class, as I hope,
with some amount of success. They will, I trust, gather from the early
pages of this story that the sufferings of my parents and the privations
that they underwent for their children had branded themselves on my soul
like a hot iron and that from my very early days I became determined to
do all I could to make the life of my own class much brighter and better
than it was in those dark days.

As I look back on the years of the past and the events in my life I am
mystified. I cannot understand what has been the overruling power in my
life. As the reader will see, disappointments have been my lot over and
over again. Many times in the hour of disappointment, smarting under
what I felt to be the ingratitude of the class for whom I made so much
sacrifice, I have said I could never again make any attempt to help
them. Yet as often as I have said that some overpowering force compelled
me to re-enter the field.

There is, however, a secret behind all this and a reason for the success
that has crowned my labours although late in life. First the loving and
devoted wife it was my fortune to have. Never on any occasion, whatever
her own feelings might be, did she sound one despondent note; but in my
hours of depression would always give me a word of encouragement.
Although her death cast a great sadness on my life, yet at the opportune
moment there was light in the darkness, for at her death her niece, Mrs.
Kenrick, who is so much like her in character and, if it could be
possible, even more sympathetic, offered to come and look after me as
she has done for these last ten years. She has entered into all my
public life and has made my life brighter than it could otherwise have
been and made the road to success much easier.

Another cause of the success in my life has been the strong character I
have been able to build up by embracing Christian principles and my
strong faith in the great sacrificial life of Christ who gave His life
for the cause of humanity. It has enabled me to put my best into
everything I have taken in hand, and I would like to impress upon my
readers that in my opinion that is the only true road to success in
life. I am sure it has been the real cause of my being able to
accomplish what I have in the cause to which I have devoted so much of
my life.

Amidst all the turmoil of my public life I have remained true to my
first faith and have been loyal to the first Church of my choice, the
Primitive Methodist, and filled most of the offices open to laymen in
connection with that Church. This I would recommend to my readers as
being the one essential thing: whatever our convictions may be, to be
true to them.

I can truly say that has been my one impelling motive and is what I have
always aimed at, to be true to my conscience. I never entered into
anything until I had assured myself it was right and, when once I had
done that, nothing whatever could turn me from the path of duty.

Sometimes the members of my own Church could not quite understand me.
One point in connection with my public work on which I have differed
from them is the holding of labour meetings on Sundays. They hold strong
convictions that such meetings are not paying due reverence to the
Sunday as we ought to. I was some long time before I came to any other
conclusion and refused to take any part in Sunday labour meetings. I
thought the matter out very seriously for myself, however, and at last I
came to the conclusion that the Labour movement was built on the very
rock of Christianity and that I was as much serving God by preaching
what I believed to be the gospel of God, namely economic freedom, as
when I occupied the pulpit. When, however, responsible for arranging
such meetings I would insist upon them being conducted on strictly
religious lines. I again ask my young readers to stand by their
convictions, think out matters for themselves and, once convinced they
are right, go straight forward. But above all to be true to God and your
brother man is the only road to success.

The great human progress that has been made during this past seventy
years, especially in the lives of the agricultural labourers, in which I
have been able to take some humble part, is marvellous. Seventy years
ago the village labourer was a mere chattel in the industrial world. His
children were badly fed and uneducated.

The labourer had no voice in his local affairs. He had no vote. He was
compelled to accept such conditions as were offered him and dared not
complain. If he did so, he was a marked man. Now we have obtained for
him collective bargaining and through his organizations he has a voice
in all local authorities. This has worked a wonderful change. He has his
vote and is now qualified to be even a Justice of the Peace. Both men
and women have already been appointed. Many of the old colleagues that
helped to bring about this change have passed away. In fact, I am the
only one left to take any active part in public movements of those that
worked with the late Joseph Arch, the founder of the first Union in
1872. Many of them died before they saw accomplished what they had set
themselves out to do. But other men are reaping where they have sowed. I
have seen the first Unions come and go and with their fall the labourer
set back. And in 1906 I founded the greatest Union and, as will be seen
by this story, it was built up by hard work and at great sacrifice by
others besides myself, to whom the men owe a great debt of gratitude.
Some of these worthy men I will name: Mr. G. E. Hewitt, Mr. J. A.
Arnett, Mr. W. Holmes, Mr. T. G. Higdon, the late Mr. Robert Green, and
lastly my dear and closest friend, Mr. W. R. Smith M.P., the President
of the Union, upon whose shoulders the brunt of the Union's work is at
the moment. I ought also to say that I could not possibly have done what
I did at the early stages of the Union had it not have been for the
financial help I received from my friends the Earl of Kimberley and Mr.
Herbert Day of Norwich. Now the one great question that weighs upon my
mind is this: Are the men for whom I spent my life going to maintain the
position that has been won for them? The position is not without danger.
As in the days of Mr. Arch, so now there are forces working to divide
the men and to spread distrust amongst them if they succeed. There is a
danger of much that has been gained being lost. I have, however, great
faith in the cause of democracy and there is still a brighter day to
come for the men in our country-side. I may not live to see it. My last
word of this story to my colleagues and to the young men is to work on
in your good cause, to be reasonable and just, and to let the spirit of
moderation and goodwill dwell amongst you.

     Oh! droop not though pain, sin and anguish be round thee
     Bravely fling off the gold chain that hath bound thee.
     Look to clear Heaven shining above thee.
     Rest not content in thy darkness a clod.
     Work for some good, be it ever so slowly.
     Labour, all labour, is noble and holy.
     Let thy great deeds be thy prayer to God.


Agricultural Committee, Norfolk War, 192

Agricultural depression, 16, 51, 75

Agricultural Wage Board, 196

Ailwyn of Honingham, Lord, 5, 49, 197

Arch, Joseph, 38, 40, 47, 49, 57, 63, 76, 90

Articles and letters to the press, 77, 79, 86, 88, 91, 190

Birth, 18

Buckingham Palace, 231

Burston School Strike, 187

Cottages, tied, 126

County Council, 104, 119-123

County Council Election, 61

Cozens-Hardy, Lord, 47

Crow-scaring, 23

Depression, agricultural, 16, 51, 75

District and Parish Councils Act, 66, 84

District Council, 68

District Secretary, 55

_Eastern Weekly Leader_, 76, 86, 88, 91

Education, 21

Edwards, Mrs. George, 31, 99, 157, 183

Election address, 215

Enfranchisement of agricultural labourers, 46, 51

Fakenham, 156

Farmers' Federation, The, 132, 142, 152, 194-196

Felbrigg, 50

George V., King, 231

Guardians, 82

Imprisonment of father, 22

Industrial Christian Fellowship, 230

Justice of the Peace, 187

Labourers' Independent Federation, The, 75

Labour Party, The, 201

Marriage, 31

Official, Trade Union, 56

Parentage, 15

Parish Council, 68

Parish Councils Act, District and, 66

  Agricultural Bill, 229
  Candidatures, 203, 213
  Corn Production Act, 229
  Election, 222
  Election address, 215
  Maiden speech, 226
  Taking the Oath, 224

Pension Committee, Norfolk County, 193

Poor Law, Royal Commission on, 64, 65

Primitive Methodists, 29, 31, 32, 35

Reading, 32, 34, 52

Relief in kind, 70

Relief, outdoor, 64, 65, 69

St. Faith's, 136-155, 158-177

Smillie, Robert, 125

Smith, W. R., M.P., 11, 178, 195

Songs, Union, 59, 117, 171

Strikes and lockouts, 42, 58, 60, 133, 136-155, 158-177, 186

Sunday meetings, 116

Tied cottages, 126

Trade Boards Act, 196

Trades Union Congress, 66, 125, 186

Tribunal, Norfolk Appeal, 192

Unemployment, 17, 79, 226

  The first, 38, 51
  The second, 54, 87

Union, The present--
  Committees, 103, 108, 114, 175
  Finances, 107, 109, 111, 129
  First annual report, 112
  First general meeting, 107
  First office, 32
  Foundation, 99
  Reports, 112, 159, 174, 178
  Second office, 156

Victimization, 44, 46, 48, 98

Wage Board, Agricultural, 196

Wages, 20, 23, 27, 41, 51, 130, 193, 199

Walker, Z., 39, 57, 66

War Agricultural Committee, Norfolk, 192

War, The Great, 190

Warrior's Return, The, 225

_Weekly Leader, Eastern_, 76, 86, 88, 91

Westminster, 224

Winfrey, Sir Richard, 129, 141, 147

Workhouse, 22

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