Picture of Edwin Russell

Edwin Russell

places mentioned

Oct. 11 to Nov. 1: Condition of Farm Labourers

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On Friday, October 11th, from Bosbury Mr. Russell and Mr. Jordan walked across country to Bromyard, a small old town, which has almost grown out of remembrance. It is situated about 14 miles from Worcester, the same from Hereford, and about 14 miles from Ledbury; and there has never been a labourers' meeting held in the place, so there was some little stir occasioned by the bills announcing the meeting. As the hour of seven o'clock drew near, little groups of labourers might be seen standing at the corners of the streets discussing the subject of the Union. We started the town crier round, to say that the meeting would be held in the Market-square — a wide open square which serves for a market, which takes place now and then. Here the two delegates took their stand, and for about the space of two hours advocated the claims and advantages of the N.A.L.U., the people, five or six hundred in number, paying great attention, but every now and then giving expression to their feelings by hearty shouts and cheers. There was a good sprinkling of farmers, besides tradesmen and gentlemen of the town, but the vast majority were hard and horny- handed sons of toil, who felt that the Union was their only hope, and looked upon it as a God-send to them, to guide them from serfdom to liberty. When Mr. Russell had concluded an able speech, in which he set forth the advantages to be derived from united effort and action, a farmer wished to say a few words to the men. He said he had listened with pleasure to the address delivered, and although he could not endorse all that had been said, yet he would not only pursuade the men to join the Union, but to stick to it when they had joined it, as he believed that in the end it would benefit all parties, the farmers as well as the men. We gave the necessary instructions how to form a branch, and the men fixed a night and a place for holding a meeting, and joining in union. Ringing cheers were given for the Queen, the Union, and the speakers.

ON MONDAY, October 15th, we conducted a very interesting labourers' meeting at Sutton St. Nicholas, a small village four miles from Hereford, a place of considerable note as it used once to be the metropolis of England. Remains of its former grandeur were still to be found in the neighbourhood. Outside the Golden Cross we mounted a bench, which served as a platform, a candle inside a lantern, stuck on a post, and the moon and stars above gave good and sufficient light for the occasion. The men rallied to the Union standard as soon as it was unfurled, and we had a thorough good meeting, after which we enrolled 22 members for the new branch; the members making choice of a secretary and treasurer at the same time.

ON WEDNESDAY, October 17th, we held a good meeting at Pembridge, under the old Market Hall, about 500 labourers and their wives attending. We had engaged the crier of the town, a poor blind man, to go round and announce the meeting. He had not cried many times before one of the white slave drivers met him, and took the bell from him, and thought no doubt by this means he should prevent the meeting being held, but the people rallied well, and listened attentively to Mr. Jordan and Mr. Russell, who ably advocated the claims and advantages of the N.A.L.U. In the early days of summer there was a branch of the West of England Association started here, but had partly fallen through for want of proper organisation, and attending to. The men preferred our National, and voted the sum of 14s. which they had in hand, to our central fund. We had 14 new members join, and all the old ones held up their hands in favour of the National.

ON THURSDAY, October 18th, we proceeded from Pembridge to Dilwin where, outside the Duke public house, in the pouring rain, we held a very good meeting. The poor fellows did not get together so well as they do at most places; they seem a little bit timid and fearful. The wages in this district are very low, about 8s., 9s., and 10s. per week is the stile [sic.] of things. Surely the men need a Union to push them up. Well, we proceeded with the meeting, about 300 getting together, and although it rained hard at times, the men stood well together, and listened to the arguments advanced in favour of the N.A.L.U. Mr. Strange paid a visit to this place months ago, and after raising the hopes of the men, left the thing to die out. But we must take it up and stick to it, and I have no doubt this part will yet become a stronghold of Unionism.

FRIDAY, still on and on from Dilwin to Weobley, which is about the most singular looking place we have yet seen in this old county. Most of the houses are built in the most quaint and singular-looking manner possible. This used to be a town of much importance; a castle once stood in its feudal pride and glory here. Street upon street used to wind their lengths along, but now the glory has departed, and nothing is left but the glory of its former self; whole streets, living men can remember, being taken down. In this old town, amid the pouring rain of a very wet night, we took our stand and raised our voices on behalf of suffering humanity. About 300 stood while the rain pelted down, and the people and the speakers got a thorough soaking. The men arranged to go to Dilwin and meet the labourers there next Monday, and form a branch called the Dilwin and Weobley Branch of the N.A.L.U.

CONDITION OF FARM LABOURERS .— This county is certainly in better condition just now as regards the farm labourers than Dorsetshire. I cannot hear of any of those heartless, short-noticed evictions, which are now disgracing the upper and middle classes of the latter shire. The truth seems to be that in Herefordshire both farmers and landowners are well aware that they are working the soil with the very smallest amount of manual labour possible, and see more plainly than their brethren of Dorset the very suicidal nature of the policy of a general discharge. This county, too, is very near to the great centres of industry, that the farmers find that the men, whose spirit is just awakening, will not stand any reduction of wages, but quickly take themselves elsewhere. Since the Union agitation reached Herefordshire, the wages appear to have risen on an average about 2s. per week, or rather less; and the men are still receiving, in many instances, 12s. per week. I had, however, some conversation today with two women, who lived within three miles of Ross, and in both instances, although their husbands were receiving, nominally, 12s. a week (of which 1s. 6d. went in house rent), I found that the day's wage was invariably deducted throughout the winter from every day that it was too stormy or wet to stand out-of-door work. But what, forsooth, are twelve shillings a week for the support of a family, even without any reduction, in the days when hour by hour the necessaries of life are rising in value, and when luxury rides its wanton race unbridled and unchecked? Correspondent of Birmingham Morning News .

THE UNION DELEGATES now working in this district, Messrs. Russell and Jordan, have continued their progress through the county, breaking up fresh ground and planting branches in the various places visited. We have received the following brief report of their work:— Monday, October 28th, after spending the Sabbath, at a small village called Withington, where, on the Saturday night we succeeded in starting a branch of the N.A.L.U., and preaching to about 1,500 on the next day, we walked to Madeley, a distance of eleven miles (through the city of Hereford). There had never been a Labourers' Union meeting at this place, and therefore a great deal of excitement, both on the part of the men themselves and also their employers, the farmers (the latter doing all they could to make the meeting prove abortive.) On our arrival at the place, we found that it was well made known, and that they were a little undecided as to where it would be best to take our stand, some saying at the cross in the middle of the village, others thought that the place of the meeting should be at the Comet, a public-house some quarter of a mile back on the Hereford road. At length it was decided to go there; we found a good room, capable of holding 200 people, which had been placed at our disposal by the kindness of the landlady. But the men came in such large numbers that we soon saw that it must be in the open air. A good open space in the front of the house answered our purpose very well. Mr. Jordan mounted the horse block, and at once entered into the business of the night — the advocacy of the Union. Soon the farmers, who had mustered pretty strong on the occasion, began to sneer and insult, to storm and to rave just as if they were all going wild together. But, nothing daunted, on we went, and after Mr. Jordan had done Mr. Russell got up, and the farmers never got such a dribbling and drilling in all their lives; but they asked for it, and it was only right that they should have it. They had had a good deal to say while we were speaking, but when we invited them to come up and hold forth, not one of them could be induced to do so. But when we went into the room to enroll names for a new branch, we found that the farmers had taken possession of the room, and tried to prevent the men from joining by intimidation, and one of them even had the impudence to take out his pocket book and enter the names of those who became members. The delegates had very hard work to prevent the men from putting their opponents outside the room; but, however, we succeeded, in spite of all opposition, in enrolling 27 names, made choice of a secretary and treasurer, and thus started a good branch. The first meeting of the newly-formed society was held in the same room on Monday last, Nov. 4th, for the dispatch of business and reported progress.

On Tuesday, October 29th, from Madeley we walked into Hereford (six miles), where we met Mr. Arch, who had come up from Leamington to be present at our great meeting in the Corn Exchange to-night. We had a first-class meeting, the hall was crowded in all parts by hundreds of working men. It was computed that at least 1,500 people were present. The platform was well sustained, the speaking all good, and the interest of the meeting kept up from the commencement to the close. A branch of the N.A.L.U. will be at once started in the city of Hereford, many gentlemen and tradesmen in the place saying they are willing to help on the good cause.

On Wednesday, October 30th, from Hereford to Ross, a distance of 12 miles, where the Corn Exchange had been engaged to hold a mass meeting. It was a fine large room, and was crowded to excess; and, if anything, exceeded in interest our meeting at Hereford. The countrymen came in in great numbers, many of them wearing the blue ribbon in their hat and button hole, and several with rosettes made of red, white, and blue ribbon. The speakers were the same as at the city, with the exception of Mr. Wright, who had to return back to Birmingham. Mr. Ward presided; and the meeting concluded with cheers for the Queen, the Unions, and the speakers.

Thursday, October 31st. Mr. Arch left Ross this morning, as he had to hold a meeting at Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire. Mr. J.C.Cox went home to Belper, and Mr. Ward back to the Towers, so that Mr. Russell and Mr. Jordan went on to Llangarren, a distance of five miles, where it had been announced that we should hold a meeting at night, in a room at the Three Horse Shoes, kept by Mr. Pope, who acts as manager for the branch, which is well established at this place. We had a good meeting, and the speeches were well given and well received. Three new members were enrolled; about 200 attended. Hearty cheers were given for the Union and its supporters, and the men said it was the very best meeting they had had in this place. One pleasing feature connected with our affair to-night was the very deep interest the women manifested toward our movement.

Friday, November 1st. From Llangaran across the country some five or six miles to Harewoods End, where, although it was such a stormy bad night, we held a meeting, which, all things considered, must be set down as a good one. The population of the parish is thin and scattered, and then the night turning out so very stormy, it was a wonderful thing, and it spoke well for the Union men that they came at all. They had to look out for a room or some place wherein to hold the meeting under cover. We succeeded in getting a room at a house on the Hereford road. About 100 came; some were very wet, but we held a comfortable meeting, and all who attended appeared well satisfied of the necessity of combination as the only means of improving their condition. There is a good working branch in this place. About 98 members enrolled, and most of them with their subscriptions paid up. Hearty cheers were given for Messrs. Russell and Jordan, and the meeting quietly dispersed.

Edwin Russell, Reports in the Labourers' Union Chronicle , No. 12 (Nov. 9, 1872), pp. 6-7

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