They are also available from Bloom & Curll, 74 Colston Street at the top of Christmas Steps. If you want to display fine art. Discuss politics, poetry, Kafka or have a cup of tea. Play chess and plan the next revolution. We are available as a free space for discussion groups, clubs, workshops, rehearsals or as a place to simply sit, read and think. email@example.com. Bloom & Curll also stock No Quarter, the anarchist pirate zine.
Walter Virgo and the Blakeney
These are some of the headlines which started appearing in the Gloucester Citizen and Western Daily Press in the 1890s. This pamphlet will try and get by behind the headlines and reveal what was really going on in the Blakeney area of the Forest of Dean the time.
THE BLAKENEY OUTRAGES
“WORSE THAN IRELAND” - THE VICAR ASKS FOR EXCEPTIONAL LAW
A REIGN OF TERROR - SPEECH BY MINERS AGENT
ASSAULT ON THE POLICE IN BLAKENEY - THE RECENT OUTRAGES
MORE LAWLESSNESS AT BLAKENEY - RESIDENTS ARMED
ALLEGED POACHING AFFRAY IN DEAN FOREST
A POLICE SERGEANT MURDERED AND A CONSTABLE INJURED
POACHING IN DEAN FOREST - A POLICEMAN STONED
POACHING AT NEWNHAM - ARREST OF “SHEEPSKIN”
OUTRAGE IN DEAN FOREST - ENGINE DESTROYED
DYNAMITE OUTRAGE IN BLAKENEY
Autumn 1892 in Bristol saw a violent class war between employers, strike-breaking labour and police on one side and strikers and their mass of working class supporters on the other. Picketing, mass marches and public meetings of thousands of ‘new’ industrial unionists were common, culminating in the use of military and police by the local state to break up a pre-Christmas lantern parade organised to collect money for strikers and their families. This event, which popularly became known as ‘Black Friday’, is an iconic moment in Bristol’s history exposing the relations of force between ‘owners’ and ‘workers’.
From the earliest days of recorded history river pilots have navigated ships through the dangerous waters of the Bristol Channel and up the river Avon, with its twisting bends, shifting sand banks and strong currents. In the early nineteenth century, Bristol was granted rights to compulsory pilotage over the whole of the Channel. The Society of Merchant Venturers managed and regulated licenced pilots on behalf of Bristol Corporation. However, pilots were self-employed and operated in competition with one another. Pilots would sail up and down the Channel hoping to catch first sight of an incoming vessel. Competition was fierce. The first pilot to board an incoming ship secured pilotage rights, a tradition that was long established and well supported by the piloting community.
This pamphlet charts the experiences, in the nineteenth century, of Bristol’s pilots, and their assistants, in their struggle to defend their jobs and their traditional way of working, particularly as steam power emerged to replace sail. Their relationship with the shipowners, masters and city authorities was a complex one, and broke down periodically into open conflict. They lived almost exclusively in Crockerne Pill, a small village, five miles from Bristol, situated on the south side of the river Avon. Pill people exhibited a lack of deference and were looked upon by the Bristol authorities, and many town-dwellers, as disorderly and difficult. As the nineteenth century progressed, however, the realization took hold that the interests of the pilots and watermen of Pill had much in common with trade unionists in Bristol and the wider labour movement.
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Following on from part one, this pamphlet traces the period of industrial unrest in Bristol between January and August 1890. The lockout of boot and shoe workers that began in December 1889, and continued for the first few weeks of January 1890, provided the opportunity for combining the forces of skilled organised workers with the unskilled and unorganised, in the drive to improve working conditions. It also encouraged forms of social unionism, with links to the wider community. Employers quickly recovered from their initial shock over the first wave of industrial militancy. Part of the settlement of the boot and shoe lockout was the establishment of a permanent Board of Arbitration for the industry. The Bristol Chamber of Commerce took the initiative in sponsoring a local Board of Arbitration and Conciliation, the purpose of which was to take the sting out industrial militancy.
How the Bristol labour movement responded to this initiative and how it handled the differences that surfaced between organisers who advocated separate unions for women, and stressed welfare over militancy, and those who agitated for an alternative model of unionism open to women and men, are some of the key issues addressed. Despite their strenuous efforts in organising tailoresses in the Bristol area, the difficulties they encountered, and the defeat suffered in a second strike at John Lysaght’s galvanising plant, sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of labour organisers. This may explain why new and old trade unionists were drawn into arbitration and conciliation as a way in which to resolve disputes and establish or maintain a union presence.
While the fervent hopes of the Bristol socialists aroused by the 1889-90 strike wave were not to be realised, Bristol’s working class had appeared on the political, economic and social agenda as a force not to be ignored.
During 1889-1890, a strike wave swept across Britain hitting many major towns and cities. Bristol was not immune. The scale and intensity of industrial unrest in the city reached a level never experienced before. The city’s labour historian Samuel Bryher depicted Bristol at this time as ‘a seething centre of revolt’. This experience set in train a qualitative change in the organisation of workers; and salutary lessons emerged for consideration for those politically active in the newly formed socialist groups, in their quest to understand the significance of the strikes based upon their philosophical outlook. The self-confidence of workers grew substantially during this period. The emergence of new unionism, representing unskilled and semi-skilled labourers, women and men, was an expression of self-reliance providing an independent organisation for workers’ collective voice. And it was the first time that Bristol women workers would be able to join a general union on an equal footing to men.
This pamphlet, the first of two, charts the tumultuous period that began in September 1889 with a small strike at John Lysaght’s galvanised iron works and ended with a lockout of boot and shoe workers in late December 1889. It was a period that shook the local elite, raising hopes of a new era of labour relations and the potential for bring about a revolutionary change in society. It was also a turning point in the lives of those intimately involved in organising and agitating against poor working conditions, particularly Miriam Daniell, Helena Born and Robert Allan Nicol, members of the Bristol Socialist Society.