Monday 11 January 2010

A Brief History of Bedford Labour Party


A picture allegedly of Bedford Labour Hall

Bedford Workers Union Banner Miss Saward Organiser

“The forward march will be no easier than that which has gone before. No Service is too great for such a cause for it is the cause of humanity. No enemy can defeat it in the end for it has its allies in the hearts of men and women everywhere. Hold fast to what has been altered, and march to higherachievements in the future”

James S
eamark founding Secretary Bedford Labour Party 1951

The origins of Bedford Labour Party can be traced to the work of the town's railwaymen and their unions. Bedford had a considerable number of railway work

ers and they were increasingly concerned about their wages and particularly their working conditions as this local poem printed in theBedfordshire Mercury in 1902 reveals:

The Railway Worker

Twixt labour and capital lately

A great deal of strife there has been;

I always feel happy indeed, when

A victory by Labour I’ve seen;

Some men amass wonderful fortunes,

By the sweat from the labourer’s brow,

Others toil all their life time,

And scarcely get food anyhow.

But the public are getting enlightened

And I do hope that some day

We shall see all the working people

Get much better paid, but

I wonder how long it will be.

Of Railway accidents lately,

There has been a great number I read;

To find out a plan to prevent them,

We seem very backward indeed;

What care our wealthy Directors ?

Nothing, or else I am sure,

Their servants they’d pay much better

And likewise employ a few more.

Through overworked underpaid servants,

These accidents occur, you’ll agree

But one day Directors

Will look at such things, but

I wonder how long it will be.

This piece of McGonaglesque doggerel sharply pointed up the issue involved in the Taff Vale dispute - the long working hours (up to 90 a week) which had the effect of causing accidents and endangering the lives of workmen and the public.

The strike in Taff Vale resulted in the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants being taken to court and sued for damages for loss of trade resulting from the strike. This decision reverberated round the trade union world, because in effect this meant that any union going on strike could be liable for damages.

The unions now realised that it was essential for them to have representation in Parliament in order to gain legal protection if they were to take industrial action.

A huge meeting was held at the Bedford Corn Exchange in August 1902 addressed by the General Secretary of the railwaymen’s union, Richard Bell (picture right) , who was also a Labour M.P. for Derby. Until 1906, there were only two Labour M.P.s, the other being Keir Hardie.

This meeting must have caused concern because Guy Pym,

Bedford’s Tory M.P, also asked if he could sit on the platform and expressed sympathy for the railwaymen’s case. The upshot was that trade union membership increased rapidly among local railway workers, and from a very small figure in 1900 membership rose to 250 in 1903.

This rise in union consciousness led to an increase in unionism generally, and by 1905 a Trades Council had been formed composed of railway workers, engineers, carpenters and joiners, iron founders, wood machinists, tailors and shop assistants.

The Trades Council and the Bedford Co-operative Society, which had been established in 1902 and had a shop in Mill Street, created close links with individuals from these organisations, and along with some middle class intellectuals, they established a branch of the Independent Labour Party in 1905. TheBedford I.L.P. Branch’s first chairperson was John Fletcher-Dodd, and secretary Henry Kees. It held weekly talks at the Y.M.C.A. hall, and the first one concerned the subject of ‘Municipal Socialism’.

John Fletcher-Dodd, a grocer and founder member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and active in the Clarion Cycling movement, he is famous for founding the first holiday camp at Caister Socialist Holiday Camp in 1906. (photo John Fletcher-Dodd left)

In 1905 these three groups decided to put up a candidate in the local elections. The choice was James William Seamark (picture right), a 4l year old tailor who lived in Hartington Street. Seamark had been a trade union member since 1888 and help establish the Bedford trades council in 1892.

One would have thought that a railway worker would have been a more likely candidate, but at that time most workers were hamstrung by the fact that Town Council meetings were in the mornings and this would have meant time off work and consequent loss of earnings.

Seamark stood in the West Ward which contained Queen’s Park, where lived a large number of railway workers and employees of Allen’s Works. The main election disaster for Seamark was his stance on the need for a new water supply for Bedford, Seamark backed the pumping system his opponent Mr Wells of the wealthy Brewing family, who at his own (companies) expense sunk a artisan well to supply the town. Seamark came bottom of the poll but did not diisgrace himself.

Seamark stood again in 1906 on a four point programme:

1. Evening council meetings.

2. Six wards for the town.

3. A fair wage clause in all corporation contracts.

4. Opposition to any capital expenditure being taken out of the rates.

This time he was successful (Seamark remained a councillor until 1922), and in 1907 another Labour candidate, John Smith, (a railway signalman) was elected, which gave Labour two representatives on the Town Council - a position which did not change until the 1920s. In 1918 James William Seamark was elected the first Secretary of Bedford Labour Party

The Labour movement continued agitation through the unions and in May 1909 the I.L.P. and Trades Council invited Keir Hardie to speak at the Corn Exchange. Entrance was by ticket only as there were rumours of anticipated disruptions. This proved to be true.

According to the Bedfordshire Mercury when Hardie rose to speak there were “cheers, hoots, groans, whistles and booing.” Then there were shouts of “We want Dreadnoughts (battles

hips for the navy) and “Rule Britannia” from young men. When at one point Hardie

urged votes for women more disruptions followed.

When the meeting was over a group of young hooligans waited outside for Mr. Hardie but he had left by the rear exit. These hooligans next went to Midland Road station smashing windows on the way; but Hardie had not left Bedford but was being put up in the home of an I.L.P. sympathiser.

The Bedfordshire Mercury commented “The mob having failed to find him returned to their homes from which it would have been better for their reputation had the; not emerged that night.” Is this the tranquil Edwardian England to which many look back today with nostalgia ?

Expanded notes based on "Bedford Politics 1900-1924"


April 1921 By election Frederick Felix Reily (First Labour Parliamentary candidate)

1922 A.Sells

1924 George Dixon




1945 Thomas Skeffington-Lodge - Labour Member of Parliament

1950 Thomas Skeffingston- Lodge

1950 Pater Parker


1955 Harold Aldridge

1959 Maurice Foley

1964 Brian Parkyn

1966 Brian Parkyn Labour Member of Parliament

1970 Brian Parkyn





1993 Patrick Hall

1997 Patrick Hall Labour Member of Parliament

2001 Patrick Hall Labour Member of Parliament

2005 Patrick Hall Labour Member of Parliament

Frederick Fox Riley 1921
The Frederick Fox Riley was the first Labour candidate to stand in Bedford, This during the April 1921 By-Election. Reily was the assistant secretary of the Postal Workers Union. He secured an excellent result, securing 40% of the vote. Riley later stood for Parliament a number of times for Labour and was finally elected MP for Stockton-on-Tees from 1929-31.

Thomas Skeffington-Lodge 1945
Born Pudsey, West Yorkshire 15 January 1905. Skeffington-Lodge's mother, Winifred Skeffington, had been a suffragette. Thomas Skeffington-Lodge was educated at Giggleswick and Westminister school. He joined Labour Party in the reason he gave being that he was appalled at the condition of the miners in south Yorkshire. He was greatly moved by the disease and the pit accidents which he saw in the area all around Pudsey. 'The price of coal is the price of pneumoconiosis and too often the price of life itself,' he said.

Skeffington-Lodge initial entered into a career in advertising and publicity, 1934-1939 public relations for Coal trade for Coal Utilisation Council (Northern Region), 1939-1941 Mines Department, During the second World War 1941-1945 officer in the RNVR and saw distinguished service on the big Navy carriers HMS Courageous and HMS Furious and the battleship King George V. His service was interspersed by duties on destroyers guarding the Arctic convoys.

Skeffington-Lodge had also inherited a farm in the Yorkshire Dales,. He became Chairman of Pudsey & Otley Labour party. He was also a member of the Shop Workers Union, Fabian Society, Council for the Preservation of Rural England He won the seat in the great labour landslide of 1945, winning by 288 votes, securing 19,849 votes.

After his election as MP for Bedford he took a lead in forming a group of the Socialist Christian League in the House of Commons, he took a special interest Agriculture, Coal, Country life while locally taking a keen interest in railway issues and the plight of the local Italian community.

He managed to get across Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, by pressing the cause of better treatment for Italian 'aliens'. Skeffington-Lodge had been deeply involved in the Italian community in Bedford, then by far the largest in the United Kingdom. This may have been one of the reasons why he was a ringleader of the 'Nenni- Goats' Labour MPs who in April 1948 sent a telegram of congratulations on the Socialist Pietro Nenni's electoral pact with the Communists which secured great hostility from Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin.

After his defeat in 1950 by 2,108, Skeffington-Lodge stood in York, Mid-Bedfordshire and Grantham as late as 1969 he was standing in Brighton Pavilion.

Skeffington-Lodge was an ecologist long before it became fashionable, he remained active in the Fabian Society, in which he was exceedingly active until his late eighties in Sussex.
He died Brighton 23 February 1994.

Peter Parker 1950
Born August 1924, educated Bedford school and Oxford Universities. He was chairman of Oxford University Labour Club. Major in the Intelligence Corps during WW2. A Personnel mananger.

Harold Aldridge 1955
Born 1916, educated Huddersfield and Luton technical colleges, a chartered Mechanical engineeer, Councillor on Bedfordshire County Council from 1946. Chairman of the La

bour group. Vice Chairman Bedfordshire Federation of Labour Parties and Vice chairman South Buckinghamshire Preservation Society,

Maurice Foley 1959
Born October 1925, educated Middlesborough St Mary's and Constantine Colleges, Merton & Morden (Surrey) Labour councillor, employed as an Administrive Secretary, member of the European Movement and UNESCO.

Brian Parkyn 1966

Born 28th April 1923 at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex, Parkyn was the son of a nurseryman in rural Essex who were non-conformist Labour supporters, indeed his grandfather went to prison more than once on account of his opposition to church schools.

When Parkyn's parents split up he went to stay with an uncle in Chelmsford and was educated King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford & Technical Colleges. In 1940 he joined Labour Party.

When war broke out he decided in 1941 to become a conscientious objector, a decision he later regretted accepted that he had not been fully aware of dangers and nature of fascism. after the war he became a Director of a chemical manufcturers company. One of the first chemists to develop polyester resins for reinforced plastics. Hobbies included mountaineering.

In 1964 Brian Parkyn contested the Bedford seat in 1964 and in 1966 his victory in Bedford by securing 22,257 a stunning majority 378 was one of the most spectacular high-profile result of the general election in 1966, when the Wilson government confirmed its authority with a majority of 100.

Mary Soames widow of the Tory MP he defeated stated of Parkyn "he had roots in the constituency - Brian Parkyn was local and we weren't and by 1964 an MP having roots in the constituency had begun to matter "I know at first hand from friends in the numerous and concentrated Italian community in Bedford what an excellent MP Parkyn proved to be in raising local issues and getting results."

In April 1966, he signed a Left-wing motion censuring the Wilson administration for failing to refer in the Queen's speech to "the dangerous intensification of the war in Vietnam". After losing the seat at the subsequent election he stood again in 1974 but lost again Brian Parkyn died 22 March 2006

Patrick Hall 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005
Born October 1951, educated at Bedford Modern School and Birmingham university. Local government planning officer for Bedford and Bedfordshire County Councillor 1989-1997. Labour Member of Parliament 1997 todate.

“The forward march will be no easier than that which has gone before. No Service is too great for such a cause for it is the cause of humanity. No enemy can defeat it in the end for it has its allies in the hearts of men and women everywhere. Hold fast to

what has been altered, and march to higher achievents in the future”

James Seamark 1951

James William Seamark


Bedfordshire Times

A founder member of Bedford Labour Party and its first secretary, Mr James William Seamark, formerly of Hartington Street, Bedford, died at Clapham Hospital on Sunday evening. He was 86. Mr Seamark was born at Stagsden 19th November 1865 to a poor agricultural labourers family (by 1871 the family was in Bedford Workhouse). He moved to Bedford in 1882 when he began business as a tailor. In 1886 he married at Howard Congregational Church a Miss Appleby. He had a long connection with Howard Church at various times holding the office of Secretary of the Band of Hope, Sunday School Teacher, Deacon, Secretary of the Church and Lay Preacher.

A Champion of the Labour cause, he joined the Trades Union Movement in 1888 and in 1892 assisted in the formation of the first Trades Council in Bedford. A tireless campaigner in national and municipal politics, he took a large part in organizing local meetings for Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald.

In 1906 he was elected to Bedford Town Council and so began an association with that body which was to last for 16 years. Upon the formation of the Bedford Labour Party in 1918 he became secretary and in the same year he was appointed a Justice of the Peace.

In 1923 he became Borough Housing Collector and also collector of tolls on the Market. He retired in 1933

The funeral service will take place at Howard Church tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11:30 am

source Seamark family site


The links between the Italain community and the Labour Party in Bedford run very deep, Labour MP Skeffington-Lodge did much for ex Italian POWS and Italian immigrants employed in the local brick industry.

The post war building boom had created a shortage of labour in the Bedford brickworks industry. Post war conditions were extremely difficult in Italy and unemployment was high making the offer of work in England very attractive.

They were employed by the London Brick Company who launched bulk recruitment schemes to entice Southern Italian workers to come to Bedford.

When they first arrived the Italian workers were placed in hostels, some of which were former POW camps. When they could afford it they moved into shared accommodation instead and Midland Road (a popular area) became known as 'Little Italy'.

There is one reason why Bedford is so Italian. After the war, the town's Marston Valley Brick Company found itself short of labour for the reconstruction boom. So, between 1951 and the early 1960s, it recruited more than 7,500 men from the villages of southern Italy. Many others came to the Peterborough brickworks at around the same time.

in 2000 a statute of the Anti Aparthied leader Trevor Huddleston (1913-1998) was erected in Silver Street.


George Lloyd Matthews

Born January 24th 1917, he came from a well to do farming family in Sandy, Bedfordshire. His father, who owned a 500 acre farm and market garden, was a staunch Methodist and Liberal, hence the homage to Lloyd George as a middle name. After public school, he began working on the farm from the age of 14. Matthews went to Reading University in 1937 to study agriculture.

Immersed in student politics, he became Vice President of Reading University Labour Federation and Vice President of the NUS and this contributed to his failing to complete his degree. He joined the Communist Party in 1938 but kept his membership secret for a short while being adopted the following year as prospective candidate for the Labour Party for the Mid-Bedfordshire constituency. Trying to join up in 1939, he found himself in a rejected for being in the reserved occupation of farmer.

He was involved in the Communist's Parties rural journal "Country Standard" established in 1935. later he became a Communist party full time worker but was moved to the Daily Worker, as deputy editor in 1956.

died March 20th 2005, aged 88.

Betty Matthews
She was born in Zimbabwe to an Australian farmer father and Scottish teacher mother and came to England in 1936, She studied at the London School of Economics with Eric Hobsbawm Betty Matthews was presented at the Royal Coronation Court of 1936 and gave up society life to become a communist, joining the Communist Party in 1936, she participat
ion in the 1936 Battle of Cable Street against Mosley's fascists.

She met her husband George at this time, when he was preparing to become a Bedfordshire farmer. George Matthews former Labour candidate for Mid Bedfordshire. After the second world war, both Betty and George became full-time party workers. She was initially district secretary for the South-East Midlands Communist Party area, then London district organiser. Betty regularly holidayed in Italy and was a keen supporter of ideas of Antonio Gramsci she died car crash 2002

Young Communist League in Bedfordshire

One task the Young Communist League undertook was the mobilisation of thousands of Yorkshire miners (By Percy Reily of Leeds later Communist Councillor) to spend a week’s holiday in harvest camps in Bedfordshire. YCLers also took part and made a fortune for their organisation this way. On one occasion, the miners were paid for pea picking and, whilst they enjoined the change of scene and regarded the experience as a holiday, they stubbornly and promptly went on strike when they discovered that the Bedfordshire agricultural rate was not equivalent to the Yorkshire rate! Percy was thrown out of the camp at four in the morning, for encouraging the miners in this.

Source: Graham Stevenson communist Biographies

Michael Walker