Posts Tagged ‘Bessie Braddock’

Mry Bamber, mother of Bessie Braddock, commemorated by the sculpture here, now housed in St George’s Hall, and the work of  Carrie Reichard  and Nick Reynolds. (Well worth looking at the links to them by the way!)

Liverpool Discovers is a site worth the visit. The extract below is from their work on Mary Bamber. There’s also a great article by Pat Ayers in Nerve Magazine, Autumn 2006 from Catalyst Media.

Born in 1874, to a prosperous, middle-class Edinburgh family, privately educated and living in one of the best parts of that city, Mary’s early life was, though, a world away from the poor of Liverpool she was ultimately to live among. However, when still a girl, her lawyer father took to the drink and one day walked out on the family never to be seen again. Her mother Margaret Little’s life up until then had been poor preparation for the rigours of single motherhood with six children to provide for. She worked hard charring and in other jobs to support her family, making a close
acquaintance with near destitution and, when her eldest son got a job with a printer in Liverpool, the family came with him.

The winter of 1906-7, with the usual misery of working-class subsistence exacerbated by severe trade depression, found Mary on the rota of women who made soup to sell at a farthing a bowl from a Clarion caravan parked on St. George’s plateau. She visited the sick, collected for the unemployed and kept open house for travelling socialists. She frequently spoke at outdoor meetings, often at Liverpool’s Hyde Park corner – the Wellington monument – but equally so on street corners or anywhere she could gather an audience. Sylvia Pankhurst described her as the
“finest, fighting platform speaker in the country”. In a city dominated by sectarianism, she refused any religious identification and was a regular heckler at both Catholic and Protestant political rallies.
It was, though, through her work as a trade union organiser that she became best known and where she becomes most visible. In the years leading up to the First World War, she worked tirelessly as an official for the Warehouse Workers Union. She travelled the length of the dock road, organising women from Johnson’s Cleaners and Dye Works in the North end to Wilson’s Bobbin Works in the South.

It was her attempts to organise those in the worst sectors of the female labour market, however, which perhaps command most respect. This was an incredibly difficult and thankless task. She was often up before dawn to catch bag women as they walked to work. They made and mended the millions of sacks used to contain and transport the products which passed through the port. Like employment in rope manufacture, which also drew Mary’s attention, this was heavy, filthy, poorly paid work often undertaken by only the most desperate – women caring for dependents, married women or those old and single.

Her work as an organiser though central to her politics was interwoven with other activity. She was present at the August 1911 Bloody Sunday demonstration. In 1919, she stood as the Labour Party candidate in the Orange stronghold of Everton. Accompanied by a bodyguard – hustings often ended in violence and the hurling of abuse; fruit, bottles and other missiles were common occurrences. Campaigning on everyday issues such as milk, education and municipal laundries, she won by a tiny majority. The same year, she became a founder-member of the local Communist Party and, in 1920, attended the Second Congress of the Third International in Moscow.



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Well be looking at George Garrett’s own account of this  event and the two preceding mass gatherings, shortly. In the meantime here’s an extract from Civil disobedience and political agitation: the art museum as a siteof protest in the early twentieth century by Suzanne MacLeod who is a Lecturer in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester where she is also Programme Director for the Art Museum and Gallery Studies Programme).

(Note that Mary Bamber and her daughter Bessie Braddock were both there. We’ll be looking at each of them separately in the City of Radicals strand.)

In September 1921, the Walker Art Gallery was ‘rushed’ and occupied by the National

Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement (NUWCM). The NUWCM was formed in the years following the First World War when thousands of men had returned from the trenches to mass unemployment and poverty in cities such as Liverpool. Resentment set in and, led by the Communist Party of Great Britain, the NUWCM organized itself under the slogan of “Work or Maintenance” and an agenda for action centred on non-violent protest, tolerance and passive demonstration (Braddock and Braddock 1963: 32; Garrett 1999; Pridmore 2002). Its principal aim in Liverpool was to raise levels of Poor Law relief for families facing starvation. These, as illustrated here by the West Derby Union Board of Guardians, barely met the requirements of subsistence:

Minimum disbursement for those accepted as in need of Poor Law relief was a food order for 7/6d., but because the guardians often bought goods under contract and in bulk, its true value might be nearer 10/-. The minimum order for a man, his wife and three children was 13/2d. The goods actually handed out to a man for himself, his wife and one child were: 6 oz. of cocoa, 16lb. of bread, 1lb.of syrup, 2lb. of rice, 1 lb. of soap, 1 lb. of margarine, 1 lb. of sugar and 4 oz. of tea.

No meat. No fuel. No money for the rent. The unemployed sold their possessions until all that remained were the clothes they wore (Braddock and Braddock 1963:32; quoted from Garrett 1999: 186).

A series of demonstrations was organized in Liverpool. The first involved the occupation of the Exchange Flags, the paved area behind the Town Hall where the merchants conducted their business. The second protest took the form of a military-style march through the streets of the city. A third demonstration was planned for Monday 12 September 1921 on St Georges Plateau, the paved area to the front of St Georges Hall and adjacent to the Gallery. Participants, Jack and Bessie Braddock later recalled that following the speeches and frustrated by their lack of progress, the organizers of the protest, who included Bessie’s mother, Ma Bamber, decided to take everybody to have a look at the pictures in the Walker Art Gallery. They were intent on staying there until the Lord Mayor gave permission for them to hold meetings in comfort in St. George’s Hall. The crowd, reported to be ‘the largest meeting yet held’ (Garrett 1999: 198), was addressed by one of the organizers who is reported to have said:

I think we’ll go for a walk… A short walk. It’s too late for anything else. We’ll all   be art critics this afternoon. We’ll go across and have a look at the pictures in the Gallery. Those places are as much for us as anybody else. They belong to the public (Garrett 1999: 199). (more…)

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