Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Last updated:07 May 2015

The Clarion Scouts

By the end of the cycling season in October 1894, the four Clarion Clubs formed by then were reporting their propaganda activities in the paper. Of the 25 Bradford members, 22 had formed a Scouting Corps which was doing good work in the outlying villages.

The ScoutMembers of the Liverpool Clarion Scouts had cycled out to Knowsley on the Earl of Derby's estate. Although, as they reported, his lordship had not invited them to dinner, they supplied his tenants with copies of The Clarion and Clarion leaflets. "We also called at the police station", their Secretary wrote, "and left some tracts for the edification of the gentlemen in blue."

Members of the Potteries Clarion Cycling Club, based in Hanley, had also distributed literature and claimed "the actual conversion of a few to Clarionism."

And in the November local council elections both Liverpool and Bradford cyclists helped Socialist candidates in their own cities.

In the spring of 1895, so great was the enthusiasm for propaganda work that a new monthly paper was started for the activists called The Scout - A Journal for Socialist Workers.

It was edited first by William Ranstead and then by Montague Blatchford. The first issue, in March, contained Robert Blatchford's "Instructions for Scouts", with advice about house-to-house distribution of tracts, leaflets, and the penny edition of Merrie England.

In the factories, mines and other workplaces Scouts were urged to "permeate" their companions with Socialism, and in their own districts to form branches of the Independent Labour Party or Social Democratic Federation where none existed already. They were encouraged to write letters to the press, ask questions at political meetings and place themselves at the service of Socialist candidates in elections. Remaining calm, polite and good-humoured, they should try always to build unity between the various organisations in the Labour Movement.

The importance of the bicycle in the work of the Scouts was emphasised by the paper's editor, who suggested the compiling of a list of speakers able to cycle twenty to fifty miles on Saturdays and Sundays to address public meetings in towns and villages which had, as yet, no Socialist organisations. Cyclist supporters could paste walls and fences with stickers bearing Socialist slogans, these being obtainable from the Clarion Office in London.


The Clarion and Women

It has been said with some truth that Robert Blatchford was no supporter of feminism: he once complained that women did not even try to understand politics. Yet in 1895 we find him trying to make his views clear in reply to women's criticism, writing in a Clarion editorial:

"Women must have equal rights, political, industrial, social and civic, with men. They must cease to be chattels or vassals, or servants, or inferiors. [Man had a duty to woman]... to grant her at once complete freedom and complete equality, and having done that, to add as a free gift as much affection, tenderness, reverence and admiration as his rather coarse and rather selfish nature will allow."

Whatever Nunquam's own attitude, the paper he edited gave an enormous boost to the women's movement by winning thousands of female readers for Socialism and to the struggle for equal voting rights.

The most influential part of the paper in this respect was Our Woman's Letter, written from October 1895 for the following twenty years by 'Julia Dawson' (the pen-name of Mrs D. J. Myddleton-Worrall.) It is she who must take the credit for taking up (though not inventing) a method of Socialist campaigning which was to involve thousands of Clarion cyclists during the years between 1896 and the 1920s.


The Clarion Women's Van
Clarion Van : Postcard from 1913

Clarion Van : Postcard from 1913

The idea of a touring horse-drawn caravan for spreading a political message in the countryside was pioneered by two organisations advocating common ownership of the land. The Red Van of the English Land Restoration League and the Yellow Van of the Land Nationalisation Society were already well-known when Julia Dawson announced in The Clarion on 29th February 1896 a plan which she said had been taking shape in her mind for some time.

It was for a thirteen-week Clarion Women's Van Tour starting in June that year. Women would tour with the Van two or three at a time; and a tent would be provided for a boy (somebody's young brother perhaps) who would volunteer to look after the horse, make fires and wash up the dishes - without wages.

William Ranstead, the land-owning Clarion writer and supporter who, like Julia Dawson, lived in Cheshire, had already offered a suitable vehicle. It had been used before on the streets of Liverpool as a Soup Van selling bowls of broth for a farthing to the poor and unemployed, as well as acting as a bill-board for posters advertising the Clarion and promoting Socialism. That was in the winter months, but in the previous summer it had been part of the Clarion Camp at Tabley Brook near Knutsford.

The plan was for Socialist leaflets and literature to be distributed and sold at open-air meetings held on village greens and in the market-places of small towns. Julia Dawson's appeal was for women volunteers to speak at the meetings, for the loan of a horse, and for money (about £80 initially) to buy food, fuel and equipment.

If successful this could be an annual summer activity, eventually with four or five vans on the road in various parts of the country. And the Clarion cyclists would have an important part to play in supporting the vans wherever they went.


Resources about the Clarion Scouts and the Clarion Van in the library collection

Manchester Clarion Scouts, Socialist re-union and carnival: souvenir and program (1909) - Shelfmark: AG Clarion Box 2

The Scout: a journal for socialist workers (Mar 1895-Apr 1896) - AG Clarion Box 3

What the Clarion vans are doing (ca. 1904) - Shelfmark: AG Clarion Box 2

Julia Dawson, Why women want socialism (no date) - Shelfmark: AG Clarion Box 2

Comment on this page

Cannot read text? Show another

Comments are moderated before publication