Thursday 17 January 2013

Dorset Agricultural Workers Excursion to London Meet MP's 1926

Rural Workers Record Gathering July 1926

Dorset County - National Union of Agricultural workers
Dorset NAWU Organiser Fred James

From the point of view of successful organisation, the great enjoyability of the occasion, and the numbers attending, the annual outing, on Saturday, July 19th, I926, of the Dorset branches of the  National  Union  of  Agricultural Workers was a record success, and the highest praise for this is due to the County Organiser, Mr. Fred. C. James, J.P., Dorset County Councillor, and the Officers and Committeemen associated with him.  

A special train left Weymouth at 6.10 a.m. calling at various stations to Dorchester and to Maiden Newton, at the latter place a special train from Bridport and the stations on that line had brought a strong-party from West Dorset.

The next and last stop before reaching Paddington was at Yeovil Penn Mill, where a goodly number of rural  workers from Bishops Caundle and Bradford Abbas joined the train in the compartments reserved for them.  Glorious sunshine made the train journey to London a very pleasant one.

The Dorset country folk take intense interest in their gardens, and they were specially interested in the glorious displays, of flowers at Messrs. Sutton's seed farms.

On arriving at Paddington just after the scheduled time of  10.10 a.m., the Dorset people were met by a goodly number of the head office staff of the N.U.A.W., and they also found a fleet of 16 large chars-a-banc awaiting them to convey them to Lyon's Corner House for breakfast. 

Over 300, of the 450 who had made the train journey, sat down to a capital meal, consisting of plenty of bacon and two eggs for each person, with rolls and butter,, jam and marmalade. tea and coffee.  

Fortified by this substantial meal the party again boarded the chars-a-banc and proceeded on the following tour of London:—Trafalgar Square, Nelson Monument, Whitehall Government Offices,  Horse Guard Parade  and Cenotaph, House of Commons (11.15 to 11.45;), St. James' Park, St. James' Palace, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Marble Arch,  Oxford Street,  Selfridges,  Oxford Circus, Tottenham  Court Road,  New  Oxford  Street,  Holborn Gamages, Gray's Inn Road (where the Head Office of the N.U.A.W. is situated and a brief halt was made),  King's Cross,  Southampton  Row,  Kingsway,  Bush House  and Australia, Strand, and to Lyons Corner House for Lunch.

At Westminster the party was met  by  three Labour members of Parliament  in  Messrs.  Broad  (Edmonton), Lawson (Chester-le-Street), and Morrison (Tottenham), who conducted them around first the House of Lords and then the House of Commons, and gave most interesting and instructive chats at the various points of interest, for which they were heartily thanked.


Labour's first Premier of Great Britain, Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald, P.C., M.P., the Prime Minister in the recent Government, and now the leader of the official Opposition in
the House of Commons, joined the company of over 350  at lunch at Lyon's Corner House, and the Labour leader was accorded a great reception.  He was supported at the chief table by Mr.  F. C. James,  J.P.,  C.C.,   the   N.U.A.W. organiser for Dorset;  Mr. W. Holmes,  President  of  the N.U.A.W. and Messrs. R. B. W. Walker (General Secretary); and A. C. Dann (of the Legal Department at head office) ; together with a number of head office staff.

At the close of the meal Mr. MacDonald, Mr. James, Mr. Holmes, and Mr. Walker went to the orchestra platform for.the speech-making.

Mr. W. Holmes, as President of the  N.U.A.W.,  said they were very proud and glad to  welcome  those  fellow members and friends, Dorset men and women, to London,
and most of those present, he said, were members of their organisation.  He hailed from Norfolk and both That county and Dorset had had agricultural workers, who, in days gone by, had fought for freedom. (Hear, hear.) 

They knew that that was not the history taught in their elementary schools, but it had been preserved for them in the tomes of some of their great writers ; both Dorset and Norfolk had contributed something towards the freedom and development of their great Labour movement in this country. 

One hundred years ago the Dorset labourers laid the foundation of trade unionism for agricultural workers, and therefore it was very fitting indeed that they should be addressed that afternoon by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, who had been the first Labour
Prime Minister of this country—(applause)—who had been  proud to declare that he earned his first shilling working on the land. (Applause).  In those old days they had to suffer penal servitude and transportation to Botany Bay for attempting to stand up and ask for an extra shilling a week.  (Cries of "Shame.") That was how the great gentry of those days rewarded a man who stood up and asked for an extra is. a week for a little more comfort and a little more bread for the children.

The day was coming, as sure as to-morrow's sun would rise, when the great working classes in this country—who were the majority of the nation, and who produced the wealth of the nation—would rule in this great land. (Applause.)  They had already had a for taste of that with their first Labour Government, and they could say without fear of contradiction  that the working men from the mills, the mines, and the  fields who formed that great Labour Government, had made  a contribution to history  that never would be gainsaid. (Applause.)    They were proud of that Government, and  proud of their guest that afternoon, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald (applause)—who would again be Prime Minister, and not  only in office, but with a powerful majority behind him in the  House of Commons.  (Loud applause.)  In introducing the  ex-Labour premier, Mr. Holmes said that if there was one  body of people who felt grateful to that  former  Prime  Minister, then it was the agricultural workers.—(Applause.)  the miners to-day were fighting the same battle that their  (the Dorset folks') forefathers had fought a century and two  or  three  centuries ago.   

The N.U.A.W. had helped the miners considerably, and would continue to do so.  In 1924 the miners' representatives in the Commons had foregone their claims in order to help the rural workers to get some measure of freedom.  (Applause).   The rural workers were also contributing their share towards .the building-up of that great Labour movement. (Applause.)


Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, who was cordially greeted on rising  to  speak,  remarked  that  he  wished,  instead of meeting them in the region of Piccadilly, he could meet them in the region of Dorchester.—(Applause, and a voice: "When be coming down?")

Mr. MacDonald proceeded: "I have just been down.  I know your county very well, a good bit of it I know every square inch of.  I have tramped over it.  I have stayed at little wayside inns. I have often dropped into your 'Traveller's Rest,'  and other  public  houses,  for a bit  of bread and cheese in the course of the day."—(Applause). 

He hoped they would take back to Dorset very pleasant memories of their sojourn in London.

Two thing's came into his mind, he said.  First, they came from the County that held in its keeping that delightful little village  of  Tolpuddle,—(Applause)—where  he always
took off his hat in front of the little chapel whose commemorative arch told them to be worthy of the men who beg at them and who were sent to Botany Bay, because of their efforts to see that their grandchildren might have a chance of  a decent life in their own homes.  He had been in the cells where those men awaited their trial, and in the great house where they were tried.  He envied his Dorset farm servant friends their precious memories. 
 The other thought which came into his mind was that they were of the county of Thomas Hardy.  Never had a man dignified, elevated, and ennobled his neighbours as Thomas Hardy had done his.— (Applause).  In his pages people met the Dorset folk just as they would meet them on the roadsides, on the downs or in the fields.

2Your life, your aspirations, your guidance, broken, thwarted, smashed by circumstances, in Thomas Hardy's hands have become a great series of dramas, where fate battles with men,  and  where life  is  in conflict with dire circumstance.  As long as people read the English language people will read about you and your neighbours as seen in the pages of Thomas Hardy.—(Applause).    And not only that: your hedges, your woods, your traditions, your way-
sides, find a place in these pages, so beautiful, so inspiring, that they have now become part and parcel of a permanent inheritance of those who value beautiful nature, described
and outlined by that master hand of a glorious genius. (Applause).

Still, my friends,  circumstance  is  against  you;  the fight is on; you are up against things, and that is why I want you to carry on the memories of Dorset, to carry on the traditions of those Botany Bay exiles, by fighting your own battles now.—Hear, hear).


"It is a disgrace to Dorset that it is represented as it is in the House of Commons to-day.—(Applause).

"We never raise a question in the House that relates to the well-being of the millions of toiling men and women, the working men, the working men's wives and children, their cupboards or their firesides ; never do we raise a question about these things in the House of Commons, but every Dorset vote goes against us.—("Shame.")

"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, and, being ashamed of yourselves you ought to make up your minds it is going  to be ended.—(Hear, hear).   And why  should you not end it?  Why should you turn to us, and not to  the others.  Why my friends, because we are flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood, and bone of your bone.


If there is  any honour  attaching  to  the first Labour Government—well you have it, because the first Labour Prime Minister was an agricultural labourer.' —(Applause).

"And therefore, even if we wanted to we could not forget you.  Do you mean to imagine for a moment that we can ever forget, or under any circumstances the firesides where we were born,  the kitchen tables where we were brought up, the men and the women who tended us after they had worked in the fields,  and came in, in the evening, with their hands all chaffed in the harvest time, and their clothes dripping  about  them in the winter time; those memories are far more real and more living to us than Piccadilly is.—(Applause).  The companionship of men and women is not the things round about them, but the things they have in their hearts.—(Hear, hear).   
Those are the things we have in our hearts, and so I say to you: your place is with us;  our  thoughts   are  with  you.  our  thoughts  are about your problems; to the consideration of the trouble your wives have to make ends meet, because your income is not enough; think of how your children are being brought up; imperfectly brought up, not because the fathers and mothers are bad fathers and mothers, but because circumstances are against you, fate is against you; we want to give you heart to conquer the world so that by your labour you-may possess it."(Applause).  Therefore,  he  proceeded, the Labour Party thought of the rural workers' housing, the agricultural workers houses were a disgrace to any civilised community. (Hear, hear).  
He had a dream  not of to-day, not of yesterday, but of a very very long time back, of agricultural houses being the homes, and not merely the shelters,  the spiritual homes of decent  men  and  women,  with  their gardens round about them, with peace—he did not care very much about great plenty because man's possessions very often blinded his eyes, deafened his ears, and hardened his heart.    But he did care about peace, and just enough to remove far from their thresholds the wolves of starvation and the penury that haunted their thresholds, so that the men day by day after tilling,  sowing,  weeding,  tending, and seeing Nature do her work under benign influence of human mind and skill, may come home quietly, when the evening shadows lengthen, and feel what they were anticipating, a just  peace.—(Applause and a voice:  "That is all we do want.").

In addition to that they must look after the wages. All the 8 to 9 months the Labour Government were in office they were thwarted by both Liberals  and Tories; yet the Labour Government made  a beginning in the  settlement of an adequate agricultural wage that no other Government had done before them.—(Applause).   They would  remember what the Labour Government strove to do about the Central Wages Board; well, there they were thwarted; they could not carry it through.  He did not place very much reliance on a minimum put into a Bill, because he wanted no minimum to be taken by the farmers as a maximum.


"No," he proceeded, "Give me a sense of justice, give me a body of well organised workers like yourselves, give me strong Trade Unionism, give me skillful agriculture and I will put no limits to your wages.—(Applause).  "I want you to keep on the open road.  I don't want you to say, if you go up to 30s. that you are satisfied because that is the figure in an Act of Parliament.  No, my friends, I want to leave that open.  I want you and your  organisers  to see that that figure is not the maximum ; and that, by developing the land chat figure, instead of being stationary, will go up and up in accordance with the value of the labour you put into the land.—(Applause).  If my idea of wages is a right one we must have a strong Central Board, endowed with power to declare that certain county averages and standards are not enough in relation to the work.—(Hear, hear).  I want a Central Board which will  survey  the whole of the wages question, from one end of the country to. another, from the Tweed down to Dorset, and to keep using its knowledge, using its experience, using its persuasive powers, to push up wages, so that they may go up, and up, and up.  That is my programme, and that is my conception of wages; and when we come into office again we are going to carry it out, beginning by putting back the Central Board."—(Applause).-


The time has now come for the agricultural labourer to have the benefit of unemployed insurance.—(Hear, hear). and he was so keen on this point that he did not care if the
insurance was effected under  the  present unemployment insurance scheme or if it were separate; but it had got to be adequate,  and it had to  be fitted to their needs
(Applause).   "And the Labour Party,"  declared Mr. MacDonald,  "will see that you  get  it."—(Applause).   In appealing to the men to stick  to their trade union, Mr. MacDonald said, "The wives are far and away the better part of you, you know you would go to the dogs without them—(Laughter)—and you know that perfectly well.—(Hear, hear).  Wherever trade unionism is strong, wherever the man trade unionist knows how to stick by his fellows, in nine cases out of ten it is because he has a decent woman as a wife.—(Applause).    

I have seen in the last three or four weeks in my perambulations about the mining districts, women facing sacrifices, strong in the determination to see that the fight for Right carried through; and, after talking with them and being with them, I feel we are unworthy to unfasten the latches of their shoes."—(Applause).  

To-day, just as they used the law in the Dorset Martyrs' case,  the class in power still use the  law in  their  own interests.— (Hear, hear).  They still twist the law for their own ends, still  administer  the  law  for   their  own  interests,  and  still make the law for their own purposes.—(Hear, hear).  I hope Labour will do nothing of the kind when we come into power, but that we will raise the whole thing to a higher level; that we will make and administer,  and keep the law in the interests of the great masses  of the nation.—(Applause).

All the people who gave service, all the people who are useful in the Labour movement are inspired not by class, but are inspired by humanism, by community interests, by that sense which has God as our common Father,  so that we are brothers and sisters of that great divine family.—(Applause).

"If ever you come across a wanderer on the Downs of Dorset," concluded Mr. MacDonald, "if you recognise myself in that wanderer, do remember that a shake of the hand is always an exceedingly heartening experience in the countryside. The very best of luck to you all.".—(Loud applause).

Mr. R. B. Walker, in proposing a vote of thanks to Mr. MacDonald, said at the next election, so far as the agricultural workers in Dorset and their wives were concerned, they were going to give a good account of themselves.—(Hear, hear).   They did appreciate  the  work of' the last Labour Government which had given the agricultural workers the machinery which had enabled them to work up to the position, low as it may be, which they occupied to-day—(Hear, hear).

But they aspired to something better.  Mr. MacDonald had repeated his pledge that day, so far as the Central Board was concerned, and with the help of the agricultural workers they would get that.—(Applause)

Mr. F. C. James, who  was accorded a great ovation,  seconded the proposition of thanks.   He  referred to the difficulty he had experienced in persuading Mr.  MacDonald to come down to Dorset to meet and address them.    The agricultural workers had, he said, a great lot to thank Mr. MacDonald and his Government for, whilst they were in office.—(Hear, hear).  He also wished to couple with that vote the Chairman, their friend "Billie."—(Applause).  He next expressed his thanks to the management and staff of Lyons for the splendid way in which they had met and looked after them that day.—(Applause).

The vote was carried with acclamation, musical honours and cheers.

Mr. MacDonald briefly, responded, and said he hoped next time to meet them  on the  greensward  of  Dorset. (Applause.)

Boarding the motor coaches again at the close of the luncheon speeches, the party had an exceptionally fine after-noon tour, embracing Leicester Square, Charing Cross Road, Theatre Land,  Embankment,  River Thames,  Blackfriars Bridge, Queen Victoria Street, Manor-House—Residence of Lord Mayor of London, Bank of England, Monument, Tower of London, Aldgate, Leadenhall Street,   Cheapside,   Bow Bells, Guildhall, St. Pauls (where a halt was made), General Post Office (largest Post Office in England),  Old  Bailey, Holborn Viaduct, Ludgate Hill,  Fleet  Street—where  all London newspapers are printed. Law Courts, Kingsway, and Tottennam Court Road.

After an interval for tea the party re-assembled to see a performance of a revue "Still Jazzing," at Bedford Music Hall, and the production was greatly enjoyed.

 The return train left Paddington just after midnight, following a full day of fine weather, but soon after leaving Reading the travellers witnessed between there and  Weymouth the most vivid lightning they had seen for several years past.  The. thunder rolled and crackled with unusual vehemence, and rain fell in torrents.

The whole of the arrangements for the outing had been admirably made by the N.U.A.W.  county  organiser  for Dorset (Mr. F. C. James), who supervised the outing from  start to finish of the 22-hour "day," and everything worked with  beautiful  smoothness;  on  all  sides  were  heard expressions of gratification and appreciation.  There were also countless expressions of the hope that- another London outing for Dorset Agricultural Workers will be organised next year.

Mike Walker
Co-Editor Country Standard

Ramsay MacDonald was not only the son of farm labourer, aged just fourteen the young Lossiemouth born, Ramasy MacDonald was forced to leave school and earn a living as an agricultural labourer on a nearby farm in 1881.