Wednesday 2 June 2010

Harry Pollitt & The Manchester Clarion's

Harry Pollitt and the Clarion's

One of Harry Pollitt's early comrades was Charlie Openshaw. He was an Engineer and literature secretary at the Openshaw Socialist Society (established in 1906) and later a founding member of the Communist Party in 1920.

Charlie Openshaw states:

"We were in the Clarion Cycling Club together. Off we'd go on our bikes into the country. We'd put up fly posters round about, choose a spot, and hold a meeting. We didn't always get many listening, but by God, we enjoyed it."

Harry Pollit himself recalls the summer of 1912-13 on Clarion speaking tours.

Meeting at the Openshaw Socialist Hall they cycled into the countryside spreading the word of socialism – when they meet fellow Clarion cyclists they would greet them a chorus of "Boots", the answer was"Spurs" –

They went into villages of Cheshire and at a suitable spot would dismount from their bicycles and led by Harry Fisher or Jim Crossley would sing:

In Youth as I lay dreaming, I saw a country fair,
Where plenty shed its blessings round and all had equal share.
Where poverty's sad features were never, never seen
And idlers in brotherhood would meet with scant esteem.

The unaccustomed sound of singing brought people to stand around and Harry would then make a ten minute speech, they would wind up the meeting by by singing "England Arise". Returning in the evening they repeated the performance in another village.

A favourite destination for the Clarion cyclists was Handforth Clarion Club House opened in September 1903.

Manchester Clarion Cycling Club had been established on Wednesday 16th January 1895 with its Secretary being Mr R. Dawson, 697 Rochdale Road, Manchester, and Mr C. Ellinger, 53 Palmerston Street, Moss Side, Manchester.

Harry Pollitt states:

"I have heard a lot of scoffing at (Clarion) fellowship" ... "but in this club it was reality which made hard, poverty stricken lives much brighter." Harry Pollitt even attended the Clarion's famous Easter meet in York (March 1913) with one thousand Clarion cyclists, Harry on the Sunday speaking to a huge audience from a Clarion van.

The Openshaw Socialist Society meet at the Openshaw Socialist Hall, Margaret Street off the Ashton old road opposite the Alhambra.

Its construction by voluntary labour began in March 1907 and it was officially opened on July 20th by John Hodge MP (Smelters Union).

At the opening three inscribed stones were laid at ground level, that of the Openshaw Socialist Society to the singing of

"England arise", that of the Clarion cyclists to the "Red flag", that of the Clarion vocal union (Choir) to the "Comrades' song of hope".

The Openshaw Socialist Hall was rectangular, the long side facing on Margaret Street, the elevation pleasant and dignified, presenting a series of arched windows and a handsome doorway on the right topped by a stone inscribed "Socialist Hall 1907".

The visitors entered a vestibule from which rooms opening on each side ended in a double stair leading to the big hall on the floor above. It could seat 400 and had an excellent parquet floor for dancing. Between the two entrances was a low platform, above a gallery ran the whole width of the building, on the opposite wall was a large painting by Walter Crane, with scrolls bearing the words "When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman". The tall windows and high angled roof gave an exhilarating impression of light, space and elegance, the ample basement contained more rooms.

Charlie Openshaw along with the young Harry Pollitt polished the parquet floor of the Hall every Sunday morning.

Michael Walker


Daily Worker 11 July 1960
Harry Pollitt Kevin Morgan
Harry Pollitt John Mahon