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“Our History”

New Series No 7: 2008

Our History

History Group of the Communist Party of Britain – newsletter

To accompany the piece on labour movement history in Grantham, once a stronghold of engineering unions, carried in the last edition of `Our History’, Andrew Robinson offers this additional note…

A note on engineering history in Grantham By Andrew In this issue:


Historic texts on MIA

Communist snippets from localities

Christine Maxwell

Communist electoral interventions in Tower Hamlets

YCL history call

Branches at founding

Family pictures as a source


In the early 19th Century, Grantham became involved in the start of the Industrial Revolution. In 1815, Richard Hornsby and Richard Seamann built their ironworks in Spittlegate village, just outside Grantham at the start of St Peter’s Hill. By 1841 almost 2,000 people lived in Spittlegate village and Grantham town had a population of approximately 4,500 people. Between 1850 and 1880 the ironworks employed about 2,000 people. The railway came to Grantham in 1850, and had a station in Spittlegate. There was now another ironworks, carriage works and brewery. Spittlegate became part of Grantham under the Borough Extension Act of 1879. In 1918 Richard Hornsby & Son Ltd of Grantham amalgamated with Ruston Proctor to form Ruston & Hornsby. In Second World War the company made armoured vehicles and diesel engines for submarines and landing craft. After the Second World War Ruston & Hornsby develop gas turbines, in 1969, the firm became Ruston Gas Turbines and moved all production to Lincoln, and is now part of the Alstom Group. In 1933 Aveling-Barford came to Grantham, as a result of the merger of Aveling & Porter from Rochester and Barford & Perkins from Peterborough. Aveling-Barford was the largest of the engineering factories after the Second World War, making road rollers and dumpers. In 1937 R. H. Neal later becoming Coles Crane’s in 1970, came to Grantham on Dysart Road to manufacture cranes and construction plant. British Manufacturing and Research Company (BMarco’s) on Springfield Road made the 20mm 204 GKN Hispano-Suiza cannon used on the spitfire aircraft during the Second World War, plus the 30mm KCB Oerlikon and Raden cannon, and on Londonthorpe Road, Belton Park Kontak Manufacturing Company Limited made hydraulic equipment for the Rolls-Royce RB211 and Spay aircraft engines and industrial 1

“Our History” machinery. Grantham became an important rail depot on the East Coast main line for steam locomotives. By the 1960s engineering was the main employment in the town. The world economic recession of the1980s severely affected the engineering industries in Grantham, only part of the Aveling Barford engineering site remaining as Wordsworth Holdings.

New historic texts of the British Communist Party on MIA Recently added to the Communist Party of Great Britain Archive [Thanks to Brian Reid] What is Marxism?, by Emile Burns, 1939 The Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPGB (1932); J. T. Murphy’s Desertion to the Class Enemy (1932) Added to the Dora Montefiore Archive: May Day 1920 (poem), My Tribute to Jim Larkin; British Imperialism and Persia A Call to Our Women Comrades; The Devil’s Charter; Labour Party in Power or the Dictatorship of the Proletariat; The “Modern” Methods of Warfare of the Allies; “The Call”: Dr. E. J. Dillon on the Peace Conference; Women in Finland; Socialist Women’s Bureau (letter); Adult Suffrage (letter); Adult Suffrage (letter) Note: Brian Reid of MIA has been going through some editions of "The Communist" and "The Workers' Weekly" and has come across a couple of pseudonyms: "Practicus" and "John Ball". Does anyone know who these people were or know somebody who might know? Let OH know if you can help.


Tom Mann was the Communist candidate in the East Nottingham division in the general election of Wednesday 29th October 1924. From almost nowhere he pulled nearly 11% of the vote

WEDNESDAY 29TH OCTOBER 1924 Edmund Brocklebank (Conservative) 11,524 (47.6%) Norman Birkett (Liberal) 10,078 (41.6%) Tom Mann (Communist) 2,606 (10.8%) ELECTORATE: 32,411 TURNOUT: 24,208 (74.7%)


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MIDLANDS PARTY WOMEN’S BULLETIN – 1931 The Party history group continues to collect and record details of our past and to place them in the public environment. Below is the masthead of the Midlands Communist broadsheet that played such an important role in mobilising working women in the new industries of the 1930s. Have you such documentation you can supply to us?

MOUNTED POLICE 1984 & 1931


LEICESTER PEACE COMMITTEE IN THE EARLY 1950S… This cutting from the local press in Leicester was found recently. 3

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Contrary to any perceptions of younger comrades, a six car motorcade in 1951 is quite impressive!

SOUTH EAST LONDON Dick Maunders provides this picture of the South-East London Workers United Front march, led by a band, from the 1930s, which once belonged to his father.


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ANY INFO ON CHRISTIAN MAXWELL? John Dickie is writing a new book on his uncle George (Geordie) Dickie (aka Jack Brent) and is anxious to fill in some gaps. He is interested in Geordie’s relationship with Christian (Chris) Maxwell, sister of Gavin Maxwell and daughter of Sir Aymer Maxwell and Lady Mary Percy, of the Percys of Northumbria. John tells us: “Geordie and my father used to poach on their family estate at Monreith. Family mythology always said that Geordie and Chris met after his Spanish war experiences but new evidence from an elderly relative suggests that they were living together in London with party comrades over the capital in the early 1930s and that Chris was already a committed Communist. Gavin Maxwell described her as 'his mad Bolshevik sister' and there was some estrangement for some time - although, as a child, Chris took me to see her mother in their Eaton Square house (with a butler!). Chris and Noreen Branson worked together at LRD sometime in the 1930s. Odd that the Communist Party dominated industrial research department was run by the daughter of the Percys of Northumbria and the daughter of the earl of Sligo!! I have, thus, learned about Noreen's trips to India on behalf of Comintern but am wondering is Chris's trips to Prague were also to do with Comintern activities also? Chris Maxwell was a talented artist, who lived in Battersea in her latter years and remained loyal to the CP until her death. I understand she designed a poster for the Spanish campaign but can find no trace. After Geordie’s death, my parents and I, along with Tony Gilbert and his first wife Sheila, stayed with Chris in Geordie’s flat in Chalk Farm. It was a frequent branch meeting place for Adelaide Branch of the CP. Any help that can be given would be invaluable - the project is becoming very frustrating.” If you can shed more light on any of the above, let OH know via the Party Centre.

YCL history being prepared Above is a souvenir of the World Youth Festival in Cuba in 1978; have you got ephemera, documents, old copies of Challenge you can donate 5

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or lend to the YCL? Contact Ben Stevenson at the Party centre.

YCL contingent in unemployed workers march 1930s

YCL contingent on anti-Vietnam demo in 1960s


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Communist Review 1923 – putting the case for a YCL

1970s banner

thanks to Michael Walker for the Young Guard picture


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Communist Electoral Intervention In Tower Hamlets A review by Graham Stevenson The London Borough of Tower Hamlets was created as part of the review of London Government in the early 1960s. The area of the borough was made up of the former Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney, all of which had a tradition of significant Communist intervention in the electoral sphere going back to the foundation of the Party. The first elections to the council were on 7th May 1964 and it took over local government functions on 1st April 1965. The wards used for elections in 1964-78 were derived from those used for the old Metropolitan Boroughs. A later boundary change in 1978 saw all but six wards (Poplar East, Poplar Millwall, Poplar South, St. Katharine’s, St. Mary’s and Shadwell) substantially altered. Poplar East Ward was renamed East India Ward, Poplar Millwall Ward was renamed Millwall Ward, and Poplar South Ward was renamed Blackwall Ward. The wards used in 1964-78, the main period covered here were thus:

In 1964, the Communists were the second party in local government, indeed after Labour the only other party, discounting a Ratepayers’ Association, with two seats, as a party. (The RA was to join forces with the Tories, where it belonged by the next election.) With their thirteen candidates winning 8.6% of the vote, by concentrating the vote in one particular ward, St Mary’s, the Party earned three councillors. Three Communists were elected with some 46% of the vote. (Solly Kaye, Barney Borman and Peter Roche in St Mary’s ward, even with Labour and Liberal opponents. There was some difficulty with the new Councillor Borman since he failed to make the 8

“Our History” statutory declaration of acceptance of office within the prescribed two month period and was thus disqualified. Perhaps he had simply not expected to win and serve as a councillor?! Clearly, the Party pulled out the stops and resolved whatever it was that inspired Borman’s hesitancy, for he simply ran again! On 13th August 1964, Borman handsomely won the re-election this disqualification had obliged, much increasing his vote to 58% of the total votes cast, with 709 votes. In Spitalfields, the Party’s next best successful ward, two of the three Communists running for a four member ward beat their Liberal opponents into third place. The highest loosing Communist, Morrie Levitas, had 22.3% of the vote.

Cllrs Solly Kaye on the left, Barney Borman (fourth from left) and Peter Roche (seated)

The Party took as high as 16.5% of the vote in St Katherine’s ward, as much of the votes much as the Liberals were able to win. In straight fights with Labour, Communists won almost 12% in Poplar West, 13.4% (for Danny Lyons) in St Dunstan’s, whilst Frank) Whipple, who would fight many a contest over the next decade or so, took nearly 14% of the vote in Shadwell. Jack Dash, the dockers’ rank and file leader, was able to poll a creditable almost 12% of the Labour vote in Bethnal Green South ward an R(?) Rousay took 10% in the west ward. 1964 Party Labour Communist Liberal Conservative Residents Assoc Union Mvt (fascists) ILP Independent Total

Votes 15,449 1,828 1,392 1,059 882 238 163 130

% 73.1 8.6 6.6 5.0 4.2 1.1 0.8 0.6

Candidates 60 13 17 19 2 2 1 1

Seats 55 3 2 -





Unopp. Full Council 65 6 3 2 70



“Our History” By 1968, Labour’s unpopularity saw its vote crumble, yet the Communist vote not only held but slightly increased. The combination saw the Communist vote at its height at 18.3% of the vote. St Mary’s again returned three Communist councillors, Morrie Levitas replacing Roche, and the Communist vote reaching 57.5% of the vote, a twelve point surge. Jack Dash was able to poll just a fraction under 20% of the vote in Redcoat ward, despite the full intervention of the Liberals as the main challenger to Labour and Frank Whipple achieved as much as 21% in .? Two Communists in Bromley ward took a similar proportion of the vote in a straight fight with Labour, whilst Danny Lyons achieved over a fifth of the Labour vote in Holy Trinity ward. In St Katherine’s, B. Marten had nearly 25% of the vote an in St. Dunstan’s ward, Frank Whipple took nearly 22% in a straight contest with Labour. Kevin Halpin polled 21.3% in Shadwell and D(?) Cronin increased the Party’s vote by 6 percentage points to nearly 18% of the vote in a straight fight with Labour in Bethnal Green South and George Anthony to beyond 18%, even with Tory intervention, in Spitalfields. The Party’s vote more than held at a similar level in Bromley.

1968 Party Labour Communist Conservative Liberal Union Mvt (Fascists) Ind Lab Independent Total

Votes 6,656 1,947 1,006 577 160 143 136

% 62.6 18.3 9.5 5.4 1.5 1.4 1.3

Candidates 60 12 8 6 1 1 1

Seats 57 3 -

Unop. 23 -

Full Council 67 3 -







Labour’s vote surged back in 1971, displanting the Communist councillors; the overall Communist vote in the borough fell slightly to a little under what it has been in 1964, although there were less candidates. The Party was down by nearly 11 points in Bromley and down nearly 7 points to 13.4 in Holy Trinity.

1971 Party Labour Communist Conservative Independent Liberal Union Movement Total

Votes 17,139 1,516 1,497 534 154 22

% 82.1 7.3 7.2 2.6 0.7 0.1

Candidates 60 8 22 2 3 1

Seats 60 -





Unop. Full Council 70 15 15


By 1974, the Communist vote had recovered and the Party had almost 10% of the total vote in the borough but its councillors were gone, never to return. In the confused state 10

“Our History” of politics in 1978, voters fragmented. With three Trotskyists parties and a left-Labour independent taking nearly 2% between them, a community campaign and an independent winning 3% between them, the Communist Party was lucky to garner 3% of the vote. The right did much better, with the Tory and Liberal votes at their peak and a National Front fascist polling a tenth of the electorate. This was perhaps the moment when the electorate sensed a crisis for Communists in local elections; the Party would never again do as well as it had in the 1960s and 1970s and its implosion into warring factions that was months away from beginning would halt for a generation the possibility of a serious role in elections for the Communist Party.

1974 Party Labour Communist Liberal Conservative Independent Total

Votes 11,336 1,441 1,151 426 355

% 77.1 9.8 7.8 2.9 2.4

Candidates 60 8 10 7 2

Seats 60 -

Unop. Full Council 13 70 -










1978: Electorate 112,412; Turnout 28.3% Party



Labour Conservative Liberal National Front Communist E London Peoples’ Alliance SWP Socialist Unity Independent Ind Labour WRP

16,986 4,648 3,224 3,154 950 719 325 232 148 98 98

55.5 15.2 10.5 10.3 3.1 2.4 1.1 0.8 0.5 0.3 0.3

50 27 10 42 7 5 1 2 2 1 1

43 7 -







In 1982, various independents, fascists and community candidates would pick up almost 4%. The big winners were the realigned parties of the centre, the SDP and its Alliance with the Liberals. The Communist Party recorded, in actual votes, half its 1964 vote but it was now down to 3% of the poll and all momentum was lost in terms of a mass Communist intervention in the borough.

1982: Party Labour

Votes 14,497

% 43.2

Candidates 50

Seats 31

Unop. 2


“Our History” Liberal SDP Alliance Conservative Independent Island Independent Communist Tenants Assoc Ind Lab National Front WRP

9,497 2,899 12,396 2,836 1,994 625 448 296 193 146 122

28.3 8.6 36.9 8.5 5.9 1.9 1.3 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.4

21 13 34 22 7 2 3 1 2 5 1

18 18 1 -








Local branches at the founding congress of the British Communist Party In response to a recent query, we list the localities that were present at the foundation of the British Communist Party…. British Socialist Party Ashton-under-Lyne, Barking, Bethnal Green, Bradford, Central London, Clapham, Desborough, Dumfries, Earlestown, East Ham, Edinburgh, Edmonton, Erith, Glasgow (Central, College, Gorbals), Grays, Greenock, Grimsby, Hackney (Central), Hackney (South), Hampstead, Harlesden, Hastings, Hornsey, Huddersfield, Islington (South), Islington (West), Kentish Town, Kettering, Leeds, Liverpool (East), Manchester (Openshaw), Merthyr Vale, Paddington, Paisley, Plymouth, Rawtenstall, Reading, Rochdale, Sheffield, Southend, South Salford, Southwark, Stalybridge, Stepney, Todmorden, Tooting, Walsall, Walthamstow, Warrington, West Ham (South), Wigan, Willesden Communist Unity Group/SLP (Expelled `minority’ of the Socialist Labour Party)

Aberdare, Abertillery, Ashton-under-Lyne, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Glasgow, Littleborough, Liverpool, Netherfield, Nottingham (Central, East, South and West), Oldham, Rochdale, Rotherham, Sheffield, South Staffs, Trethomas Other Groups Action Communist Group, Barking I.L.P, Battersea Herald League, 12

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Battersea Socialist Society, Birmingham Shop Stewards Committee, Birmingham S.L.P., Bolton Communist Group, Caerphilly Central Labour College Classes, City of London Labour Party, Doncaster Workers’ Committee, Ferndale Socialist Society, Glasgow (Garngad) I.L.P., Greenock Workers’ Social Committee, Guild Communist Group, Halifax Marxian Group, Land Colonisation and Industrial Guild, Manchester Guild Communist Group, Northern Division Herald League (Communist Group), St. Helens Socialist Society, Sheffield Workers’ Committee, Socialist Prohibition Fellowship, South Norwood Communist Group, Southwark Herald League, Walthamstow Communist Party _________________________________________________________________

NORTH-EAST COLLECTION OF PHOTOS COMES TO LIGHT John Corcoran, who used to live in the North East of England for a good while before moving to Ireland, has a collection of photographs, mainly of life in a red village, from the collection of a 1930s Communist Councillor in Gateshead, James Ancrum. John notes: “These photographs were obviously not taken by Ancrum, since he features in them. The best I can elicit is that they were taken by an exiled member of the KPD who was a pretty serious photographer. I am no expert on photography but they do strike me as being particularly lively and realistic, and far less posed than so many from that era. I believe that many of them are from NUWM activities, a Colliery Strike which you can see drew in the CP in the form of the Red International of Labour Unions. There is also a lovely photograph of the Communist `Workers Bookshop’ in Westgate Road, Newcastle-on-Tyne, taken we think around 1935.” This will also have served as District Party offices.


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Family pictures as a source of history

Family photographs can be a remarkable source of new insights into history. But it can be so important to get elderly relatives to note down who’s in them and what’s going on before they pass on. This one turned up recently in an enquiry after a family death. It shows a Dock, Wharf and Riverside Union branch `float’. It appears as if this is an entry from a dockers’ branch in a local east end of London carnival, getting ready for the parade, some time around 1910. The union banner is incorporated on a cart representing a ship being `unloaded’ by the men. The photo below is of victimized Butterley miners (near Nottingham) from 1874.


Our History Bulletin 7  

Engineering, Tower Hamlets, YCL History