William Karfoot the Chorley Co-operator:
From “Self Help”to “Self Help”

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While it may never be definitely proved, it is very likely that William Karfoot was one of the Chorley men, described in a report in the Co-operator in June 1861, “We had heard of the Rochdale Stores, and a poor working man purchased that useful book “Self Help”. After reading it to a few friends they resolved, if possible, to open a grocery store in Chorley.”

That was the foundation of the Chorley Pilot Industrial Co-operative Society.

Holyoake’s “Self Help By the People”

The book by George Jacob Holyoake was described as a practical handbook for working class activists, but shares its title with a more famous book by Samuel Smiles which has been described as the bible of Mid- Victorian liberalism. The story of Karfoot’s career took him from being a co-operator in 1860 to helping to found the Chorley Liberal Reform Club, leading the local textile employers organisation and later becoming an accountant and valuer and living off his savings in his old age.

William was the son of a handloom weaver and from being a warper in Smethurst’s mill, became an overlooker. He was a member of Hollinshead Street Independent Chapel and an active and prominent Oddfellow, belonging to the Pilot that Weathered the Storm Lodge, which gave its name to the retail co-operative society.

 

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Chorley Pilot Industrial Co-operative Society Token

1n the 1860s and early 1870s, Karfoot might have been described as a working class leader in Chorley. He certainly played a leading role in the management of both the Co-operative Mill and the Chorley Pilot Industrial Co-operative Society. When the latter, retail society was formed, Karfoot was on the Committee and he appears to have stayed on the Committee for most of its life.

 When the Co-operative Mill was founded, Karfoot became a shareholder and later the manager. (In 1867 he held 33.5 £10 shares).

 

William Karfoot in 1867 shareholders list for the Co-operative Mill

Karfoot was active on many fronts, supporting temperance, the disestablishment of the Church of England, and the shorter working day, as well as being involved with the Chorley Building Society. He also supported and campaigned for the widening of the Franchise and newspapers reported his involvement and speeches. At a public meeting in 1866 he was quoted as saying:

I ask “How are the taxes to be spent that I help to pay?” Can I vote who shall be my representative in parliament or who we shall send to parliament to represent us as a borough? The answer is “Now we will trust you with bayonets, we will trust you with swords, we will trust you with anything but the power of voting, we want to reserve that to ourselves.”

It may well have been on those platforms that he became associated with William Lawrence, a leading Chorley mill owner and liberal.

As the two co-operative businesses developed, Karfoots responsibilities grew and he found himself at times to be odds with other members, employees and officers. In the retail society in 1868 there was much wrangling about the mismanagement of the Drapery Department. Karfoot was at odds with the Secretary in apportioning blame. The secretary eventually resigned, and the business started to decline.

Holyoake 

However, it was at the Co-operative Mill that Karfoot most markedly distanced himself from those he had worked with to found the co-operative businesses. Whilst on the Mill committee in 1867 he had been party to a dispute with the Weavers’ Union about a cut in pay. Two years later he became the manager of the mill and by 1873 he was Secretary of the Chorley Textile Employers Association, working with William Lawrence, and his former employers, the Smethursts, amongst others. In partnership with Lawrence he  took on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company in a dispute about a level crossing gate and both found themselves in court, charged with wilful damage of the gate.

Karfoot was the leader of the Chorley employers in the 1875 dispute with the Weavers Union. At that point it is debatable as to whether the Co-operative Mill was a co-operative in more than name, but what seems certain is that Karfoot’s activities brought co-operation into ill-repute. A trade union leader was quoted during the dispute as saying “Co-operation was never intended for the pulling down of wages."

The failure of the Co-op Mill in 1879 and the Chorley Pilot Industrial Co-operative Society in the following year was due to a mix of factors. William Karfoot’s actions and decisions may or may not have contributed. However, there was residual ill will towards co-operation in the community, as was evidenced by criticisms of plans to launch the Chorley Co-op in 1887 by members of the former co-op who had lost all their investments.

William Karfoot was one of the petitioners for the winding up of the Co-op mill and seemed to have survived the collapse of the co-operative businesses unscathed, perhaps cushioned by his friendships and contacts in the local business community.

 Census records show that he was an agent dealing in cotton goods in 1881; an accountant and valuer in 1891 and living on his own means in 1901, the year before his death. His career saw him increasingly distanced from the co-operative principles promulgated by Holyoake and he became more an exemplar of Smiles’ “Self Help”.

John E Harrison

William Karfoot in 1867 shareholders list for the Co-operative Mill

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Winding up Chorley Co-operative Mill Chorley Standard 3 May 1879

The Cotton Queen Quest

The Cotton Queen Quest was among the strategies used in the 1930’s to revive the cotton industry. Textile mill workers had suffered regular wage cuts in the 1920’s because of falling exports, a trend that led to further reductions in the early 1930’s.[i] Other industries faced a similar problem and devised competitions aimed at attracting public attention and increasing sales, but the Salt Queen, Locomotive Queen, Wool Queen, and others, were contests based on the American Beauty Queen model. Essentially, they were exploiting femininity for commercial purposes. Perhaps girls in swimsuits helped to sell products they wore or the brands they advertised, but revenue expectations depended largely on entrance fees.

 

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Undoubtedly the Cotton Queen Quest relied on titillation to some extent as well, although contestants dressed elegantly rather than scantily. But, uniquely, the winner had to fulfil an ambassadorial role for her industry which included meetings with prominent politicians and businessmen at which she was expected to promote cotton. The first Cotton Queen was Frances Lockett, a 19 year old weaver from Hyde. She held the title for a year and was regarded as a serious representative of the industry, not only by attracting customers to the department stores and trade events she visited, but by talking about cotton’s problems with cabinet ministers.[i] The role therefore demanded more than good looks, finalists were judged on personality and ‘modernity’, a nebulous quality which somehow, it was hoped, pointed to a prosperous future for cotton and was worth government support.[ii]

The Cotton Queen Contest was immensely popular in the 1930’s because it was jointly promoted by local authorities and local or national newspapers. Lancashire’s coastal resorts, especially Blackpool, were regular venues, and by the end of the decade these contests had adopted royal ceremonial forms with fanfares, thrones and crowns.[iv]

 

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Marjorie Knowles 

Lewis’s, boosted sales by targeting the locality each year’s new Queen came from. In 1936 the Daily Dispatch claimed that ‘the Cotton Queen has done a great deal to aid the restoration of the Lancashire cotton industry’.[i] However evidence that the competition helped revive the county’s mills is scarce. The Cotton Queen Quest was suspended on the outbreak of war in 1939. It was revived in 1949, but not repeated subsequently. By then, the mills wereclosing fast and Lancashire’s leadership of national prosperity was over.

 

[1] A. Fowler, Lancashire Cotton Operatives at Work 1900-1950, (Aldershot, 2003) p. 8

 

[11] Daily Dispatch, 3 July 1930

 

[111] J. B. Priestly, English Journey (London, 1934)

 

[IV] R. Conway, ‘Making the Mill Girl Modern? : Beauty, Industry and the Popular Newspaper in 1930 s’ England’, in Twentieth Century British History, vol. 24. No. 4, 2013, pp. 518-541.

 

[V] Daily Dispatch, 18 June 1936.

 

 

Dr. Roger Smalley.

 

The Quest certainly helped the contestants, for they received elocution and department lessons that enhanced their employability. Wholesalers used Cotton Queens in their advertising hoping thereby to sell more of their products, and departmental stores, particularly

 

[v] R. Conway, ‘Making the Mill Girl Modern? : Beauty, Industry and the Popular Newspaper in 1930 s’ England’, in Twentieth Century British History, vol. 24. No. 4, 2013, pp. 518-541.

About the Article 

 This month’s Lancs Latest has been kindly written by Adam Buick.

The article is a brief outline of some of the little known facts about the Burnley Branch of the SPGB (Socialist Party of Great Britain). Suffice to say that the SDF (Social Democratic Federation), under the Executive leadership of H.M. Hyndman and local leader Dan Irving, were the dominant socialist grouping in the town and district at the turn of the twentieth century. However, other splintering groups of socialist and radicals did exist in Lancashire at intermittent stages. Gangs of Luddites were reported in Bolton in April 1812 destroying mill machinery. The Chartists had town representations in Sabden, Clitheroe and Burnley in the 1840’s and The Clarion could report of a huge May Day demonstration in Manchester in 1892. No wonder then that when radical socialists within the SDF, who wished to implement non-parliamentary tactics were unsuccessful, they formed their own splinter groups. Jack Fitzgerald founded the SPGB at Printers Hall in London in June 1904. It would not take long before small local SPGB groups appeared.

Adam’s article outlines one such group.

Burnley S.P.G.B. branch (1908-1911)

At the start of the 20th century Burnley was a major centre of production of both textiles and textile machinery. The Social Democratic Federation (SDF), which was the first political organisation to introduce Marx’s ideas into Britain, targeted Burnley as a potential stronghold. Its founder and leader, Henry Myers Hyndman, stood there for the SDF in the 1895 general election, getting 12.8 percent of the votes cast.  In the January 1906 election, standing against both Liberals and Tories, he polled 32.5 percent. In the January 1910 election he got 30.2 but dropped down to 23.8 in the second election that year, in December.   In 1908 the SDF changed its name to Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The SDF was run in an undemocratic manner by a clique around Hyndman. Together with the SDF’s watering down the socialist aspects of its case to get support and elect local councillors, this lead to two breakaways by intransigent Marxists; the first, in 1903, mainly in Scotland, to form the Socialist Labour Party; the second, in 1904, in London, to form the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The SPGB’s main criticism of the SDF was that it concentrated on trying to mitigate the problems capitalism caused for workers whereas the urgent need was to get rid of capitalism altogether, to end it not mend it.

The SDF’s main man on the ground in Burnley was Dan Irving. He was also one of Hyndman’s supporters at national level.  Even before a branch had been formed in Burnley, the Socialist Standard, the SPGB’s official organ, had singled out Irving for criticism, as in the December 1906 issue commenting on his losing his seat on the council in the municipal elections that year (“Nemesis!”).  In February 1907 under the “Literary Curiosities No 4”, the Socialist Standard published one of Irving’s leaflets sent out during that election. It was addressed “To the Business and Professional Electors in the Ward” (Gannow) and began “Dear Sir or Madam” (a reminder that propertied women already had the vote in local elections at the time) and pledged to oppose “extravagant and unnecessary expenditure”. An article on the 1908 SDP Conference in Manchester criticised “Danirvinism” described as “the queerest lot of rant, cant and fustian extant” (“The Damn’d Grotesques”, June 1908). Irving had been the SDP candidate in a parliamentary by-election in North West Manchester in April (in which Winston Churchill, then a Liberal, had been sensationally defeated.) He got 276 votes, or 2.6 percent, but nation-wide publicity.

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BURNLEY Election Results 
"The two candidates we placed in the field for the recent Municipal elections polled fifteen votes between them !

Tamlyn faced Dan Irving and Schofield fought Thomas, the secretary of the Burnley Weavers’ Association. We do not claim to have won either a numerical or a moral victory, but we gave the S.D.P.’ers an opportunity for a straight vote and so made them declare themselves for what they are. Particularly between Schofield and the very orthodox Labourist Thomas one would have thought the choice was clear enough, but S.D.P.’ers did what—being what they are—they ought.

Although our poll was so minute we claim to have done good work, and are not dissatisfied with the result."

A Manchester branch of the SPGB had been formed in September 1907. The November 1907 Socialist Standard announced the coming formation of a Burnley branch.  In March 1908 it reported:

“Comrade Scholfield, of 77, Parliament Street, Burnley, is keeping our Party well to the front locally. He and others heckled Philip Snowden after his recent address there, when the latter made the remarks concerning drink and gambling which were criticised in Justice [the SDF paper]. But these same remarks were loudly applauded by members of the S.D.F. who were present.”

It wasn’t in fact until July 1908 that the formation of a branch in Burnley was announced and an entry for Burnley branch appeared in the Branch Directory:

“Another branch of the Party has now been formed in Lancashire. Burnley has opened fire, and in the district specially affected with Dan-irvinism. The members may be reckoned upon to make their presence felt.”

How they did this was reported in the succeeding months:

“Through the columns of the Burnley Express a debate between representatives of the Temperance Party and the S.P.G.B. has been conducted upon the question:  ‘Is the position of the Temperance Party economically sound?’ This is an effective change from the oral method normally adopted. The representative of the Party had small difficulty in disposing of the Temperance advocate, although the latter may not be disposed to accept that view.” (October)

“The Burnley Branch are still on the war path. They journeyed one Sunday to Accrington, where the S.D P. were demonstrating. The latter wanted questions — when they got them from the S P.G.B. they wanted to apply the closure. The audience preferred to hear questions answered, but were nevertheless disappointed.” (December).

“In the Provinces our Burnley comrades arc carrying the war into the enemy’s camp, Blackburn, Colne, and Darwen being visited and a large amount of literature disposed of.” (June 1909)

The branch felt confident enough to put up two candidates in November 1909 local council elections. The result wasn’t that impressive:

The two candidates we placed in the field for the recent Municipal elections polled fifteen votes between them ! Tamlyn faced Dan Irving and Schofield fought Thomas, the secretary of the Burnley Weavers’ Association. We do not claim to have won either a numerical or a moral victory, but we gave the S.D.P.’ers an opportunity for a straight vote and so made them declare themselves for what they are. Particularly between Schofield and the very orthodox Labourist Thomas one would have thought the choice was clear enough, but S.D.P.’ers did what—being what they are—they ought. Although our poll was so minute we claim to have done good work, and are not dissatisfied with the result.”

The first branch secretary was J. R. Tomlinson, 10 Morley Street, Burnley Wood. The branch met on Sunday mornings at the Schofield’s home in Parliament Street. Outdoor meetings were held on Sunday evenings in the Market Place (see Notice).

The branch also produced a writer for the Socialist Standard in John A. Dawson. In the October 1909 Socialist Standard he wrote a spoof account, under the title “An SDP curio”, of a meeting in “Burnleigh” of the local SDP branch. It can’t have been very wide of the mark. He had another article in the same issue on “The Position in Lancashire” which dealt with wages, the legend “that in the Lancashire textile towns a large number of workers own the houses wherein they live”, the co-operatives societies, and the trades councils. He wrote of these last:

“They will send a resolution on the housing question to the local M.P., pass a vigorous one condemning the Russian atrocities, then the painters will propose resolutions condemning the park-keepers for painting railings to occupy their time during the winter months.”  

Dawson also wrote on savings clubs (“Thrift in Clogtown”, July 1910); the 1910 lockout (“Reflections on the Cotton Lock Out”; December 1910); and cotton workers’ wages (“Working-Class ‘Progress’ in Lancashire”, February 1911),

The last mention of a Burnley branch in the Branch Directory was in the October 1911 issued, by which time G.H. Schofield was living at 23 Mitella Street, Fulledge.

Reference: all the articles referred to can be found on line at: https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/standard-index-1900s/