Labour History Lancs.
Lancs Latest With Bob Sproule
October was Black History Month and it seems appropriate to look at and celebrate two
Lancastrians who resided in Nelson, please do read on….
Lord Learie Constantine 1901 – 1971
‘If I had not come, I could not have been the person I am today. I am a better citizen for the time I have spent in Nelson.’
Learie Constantine came to England for the 1928 West Indies cricket tour of England. He signed a 3-year professional contract with Nelson of the Lancashire League, and eventually stayed much longer, living in Nelson until 1949. Facing down a hostile and alien environment, this extraordinary cricketer won over the locals, being adopted locally as ‘Our Connie’. He went on to another stellar career in public service, becoming Britain’s first black peer, Baron Constantine of Maraval and Nelson, in 1969.
In 1943 he was given four days’ leave from his job with the Ministry of Labour, to captain the West Indies team against England at Lord’s. Prior to his arrival he was told by the Imperial Hotel there was no objection to his colour, so he paid a deposit, but when he arrived at the hotel it was made clear that he and his family were not welcome. Constantine brought a successful action against the Imperial Hotel for breach of contract.
2-minute film on Our Connie and CLR -
One of his books (The Colour Bar, 1954) addressed the pervasive and constant racial discrimination suffered by black people.
Learie invited the writer and activist CLR James to lodge with him, on hearing that James had run out of money in London. Nelson also had a great effect on James, who helped Connie write his first book, Cricket and I.
Below is a link to a 2-minute film on Our Connie and CLR outside the house they shared for a short time. It is followed by a piece on CLR James. Whilst there, they engaged in discussion with other local activists, delivered lectures on a wide range of subjects at the ILP (Independent Labour Party) Socialist Institute and Weavers Institute and other venues in Nelson.
C L R (Cyril Lionel Robert) James
Historian, Journalist, Intellectual, Socialist and activist.
4/01/1901 to 31/05/1989
Born in Trinidad in 1910 CLR James won a scholarship to Queens Royal College (QRC), the island's oldest non-Catholic secondary school, where he became a club cricketer and distinguished himself as an athlete (he would hold the Trinidad high-jump record at 5 feet 9 inches from 1918 to 1922), as well as beginning to write fiction. After graduating in 1918 from QRC, he worked there as a teacher of English and History in the 1920s; among those he taught was the young Eric Williams who would become the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. CLR left Trinidad in 1932 to come to Britain.
After, spending a few months in Bloomsbury, London, he moved to Nelson at the invitation of his friend Learie Constantine. He worked as the cricket correspondent of the Guardian newspaper and helped Constantine prepare his book ‘Cricket And I’ for publication.
However, his time in Nelson had a profound effect on him. He arrived when the local people were boycotting 3 cinemas in the town because the projectionists had a wage cut imposed on them and a Nelson couple, Harry and Elizabeth Spencer, loaned him money to go to Paris to conduct research for his book, ‘The Black Jacobins’.
CLR wrote many books and pamphlets on national independence, race and socialism. He lived in London after leaving Nelson and for a number of years in America and was married to Selma James born 15/08/1930 an American writer, feminist and social activist. He also wrote under the pen-name of J.R. Johnson. His writings and political stance meant he was spied on by the secret service organisations of both Britain and the USA.
The ILP Socialist Institute on Vernon Street (now known as Unity Hall), Nelson contains information on Constantine’s time in Nelson.
CLR addressing a rally in Trafalgar Square.
A film on CLR, Every Cook Can Govern, was made in 2016 and some scenes shot in Nelson and at the Clarion House. A trailer is here:
Labour History Lancs.
Lancs Latest With Bob Sproule
This month Bob Sproule tells a story in LHL of a remarkable woman. Many extraordinary women lived
in Lancashire in the nineteenth century and as the industrial revolution took a firm grasp on peoples’
lives, often not for the better, these women rebelled and spoke out. Bob has volunteered to tell us
about one of these women, Helen Macfarlane. Few people are aware that Helen moved to Burnley in
1849 and lived at number 3, Bridge End. And it was here that Helen Macfarlane wrote the first ever
translation of the Communist Manifesto from German into English.
This most famous of all revolutionary literature begins with these immortal lines; "A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.” But Helen began her particular translation like this; “A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost, the ghost of Communism.
The translation appeared first in the Red Republican and as Bob himself notes, she was a, ‘rare bird,
feminist, chartist, socialist and original translator of the Communist Manifesto. Helen Macfarlane,
Burnley is proud of you’. Read on to discover more about Helen Macfarlane……
Burnley, Home of Helen MacFarlane
In 1997 Socialist Workers Party members, Stuart Marsden and Dave McNulty, were on a lobby of the Labour Party conference in Brighton, when they heard of the link between Helen Macfarlane, Burnley and the first translation from German to English of the Communist Manifesto. It was the germ of the idea to produce a pamphlet, that wouldn’t be a study in local history, but a way of showing how “The Communist Manifesto,” written in 1848, explained not only the world then, but also the world we live in now. They gleamed as much background as they could from Walter Bennett’s “History of Burnley,” and the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. It is true to say that much was unknown about Helen at that time, researchers have discovered more since.
Macfarlane's father, George Macfarlane [or McFarlane] (1760–1842), was the owner of calico -printing works at Crossmill, Barrhead and at Campsie in Stirlingshire. Her mother, née Helen Stenhouse (born 1772), came from a similar middle-class family of calico-printers. Both families prospered in the production of 'Turkey Red' bandanas, which were very popular fashion items. Helen was the youngest of the Macfarlanes' eleven children. The workforce in the calico mills was highly unionised, but during the economic distress of the 1830s, the calico printers went on strike against the introduction of unskilled labour. The mill-owners (including the Macfarlanes) were able to call on the government to break the strike by sending in the Dragoons. There is, however, some evidence of radicalism in the Macfarlane-Stenhouse families, and especially in their calico printworks. The workforce in the mill were radical Chartists and its reasonable speculation that Helen was influenced by the views of the workforce as even the mill manager named his red tulips after radical politicians of the day.
In 1842 the Macfarlane mills went under, engulfed by the rising tide of technology-driven competition between Scottish millowners. The Macfarlanes were utterly ruined. Helen and her sisters and brothers had to sign away everything, including their mills and their fine house at 5 Royal Crescent, Glasgow. Helen, who had a good education and was fluent in French and German had to take employment as a governess. The year 1848 found Macfarlane in Vienna when the Revolution in Vienna against the Hapsburg Monarchy broke out. She witnessed its brutal repression.
Following the post-1848 counter-revolutions, Helen Macfarlane returned to Britain, first residing at number 3 Bridgend in Burnley, Lancashire, where she translated The Communist Manifesto then in London. She began to write for the presses of George Julian Harney, and associated herself with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (who, in exile, had taken up residence in London and Manchester respectively). Macfarlane's first articles for Harney's monthly Democratic Review appeared under her own name in the April, May and June 1850 issues. Then, when she began to write for Harney's weekly, The Red Republican, in June 1850, she began using the nom de plume "Howard Morton" (the real identity of "Morton" was first revealed by A. R. Schoyen in 1958 in his biography of Harney). Her translation of The Communist Manifesto appeared in The Red Republican in four parts (9, 16, 23 and 30 November 1850).
Helen’s own writings show a grasp of German philosophy (especially Hegel) that was unique to British radicals of the period. Surprisingly for a "Marxist", perhaps, Macfarlane found common ground between Christ and Communism.
Helen fell out with Harney at a New Years Eve party and stopped writing for his papers in 1850, resulting according to Marx, “with the only collaborator …. Who had original ideas – a rare bird on his paper.”
As stated earlier, much was unknown about Helen, but slowly different researchers have added to the story including her biographer David Black and BBC Scotland researcher and broadcaster Louise Yeoman, who discovered much about her early and later life. Yeoman writes of Macfarlane, “It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a period drama must be in want of a feisty heroine who finds love at last. But our heroine, Helen Macfarlane was no fictional character and her life would have shocked Austin’s smocks off.”
Helen married twice. First in 1852, she married Francis Proust and in 1853 gave birth to a daughter who they named Consuela Pauline Roland Proust. In 1853 the family took a ship to Natal, South Africa to join Helen's brothers, who had emigrated there. Tragedy struck. Helen arrived in South Africa without her husband. Francis Proust was sick and had to leave the ship before it had even left British waters; he died shortly afterwards. On top of that, their eight-month-old daughter, Consuela, was also taken ill and died only days after her arrival in South Africa. Helen, widowed and bereaved, decided to return. At some point after her return to England, in 1854, she met Church of England Reverend John Wilkinson Edwards, himself recently widowed with a family of 11 children and in 1856 she accepted his offer of marriage. Helen Macfarlane, the first translator of the Communist Manifesto, became a vicar's wife, at St. Micheal’s Church in the sleepy, leafy Cheshire parish, just outside Nantwich. Helen gave birth to two boys, Herbert and Walter. She did not enjoy her quiet life for very long however. In 1860, at the age of 41, she fell ill with bronchitis and died.
St. Micheals Church, Baddiley, Cheshire, where people in recent years have gathered to honour Helen’s memory.