Picture of Edwin Russell

Edwin Russell

places mentioned

Nov. 6 to 8: Wellington Heath and Bishops Frome

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Mr. E. RUSSELL writes:— Wellington Heath, near Ledbury, Tuesday November 12th, 1872. After attending the Executive Committee, at Leamington, and being present at a labourers' meeting in the Public Hall at night, at Warwick, on Monday Nov. 4th, I proceeded on Wednesday, Nov. 6th, to Colwell in Herefordshire. At the station I met James Forster, the newly- appointed delegate for that part of the county. We went to a place called Wellington Heath, where a meeting had been arranged to take place at night at half past six o'clock. The night was very blusterous and cold, but withal stars and a new moon shining above. A good many people got together, whose numbers kept increasing as the meeting proceeded, which was very peaceable and quiet. We crept as close under a high hedge as we could, and a wood at the back screened us from the wind a good deal. Mr. T. Strange held a meeting here in August last and enrolled a good many names; but as he has never been to see them since they have lost all faith in him and the so-called 'West of England Association', and will unite with us as a national combination. Mr. Foster spoke to the men and introduced me to them. I then showed the needs for a National Agricultural Labourers' Union, and endeavoured to show the advantages to be derived therefrom. Hearty cheers were given for the speakers and the Union. Several new names were added to the list of members, and this terminated a very good meeting.

On Thursday, the 7th of November, I and Mr. Forster went from Wellington Heath to Bishop's Frome; passing through Bosbury and posting bills as we went, announcing other labourers' meetings for next week. Bishop's Frome is a large parish with a scattered population of mostly agricultural labourers. The delegates took their stand on a heap of stones between the church and a public-house called the Chase Inn, from which rough platform they advocated the claims of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union. The men at first seemed timid and faint- hearted, but when two farmers on horse-back put in an appearance, and in their rage seemed as if they would back their horses to push us from our stand, the labourers came well round and intimated their intention to stand by the men who advocated the poor labourers' rights. The two farmers, seeing the attitude of the men, backed their horses out of the crowd and rode away, the men giving three good cheers for the Union. We continued talking to the men, who are in a most unenviable position in this neighbourhood on account of low wages, and in many instances bad cottage accommodation. We succeeded in forming a branch of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union by enrolling about a dozen names. The men made choice of one Thomas Haylings, the parish clerk of Castle Frome, to manage their affairs until they can make choice of a committee to help. The men will call another meeting next week, when I expect a good many will join in Union.

From Bishop's Frome (where the delegates stayed the night), on the morning of Friday the 8th, we walked on to Bromyard, a distance of about six miles, where it was arranged to hold a meeting, and as we could not depend upon the weather being fine I was determined, if possible, to obtain the loan of a room. After a deal of trouble soliciting persons to take the chair (this being one of the conditions I must fulfill before I could be allowed the use of the Temperance Hall), I succeeded. I sent the bellman round to announce our meeting, and we certainly had a good meeting. I should say 400 people attended, mostly labourers. One person interrupted us a little, but the chairman asked the people to put him out of the room, and I can answer for it they very readily obeyed, the people rising as one man to do it. For about one hour and a half I advocated our movement, going into the subject earnestly, making an impression upon the people. At the close of the meeting we enrolled several names, and thus added another branch to the many we are establishing in Herefordshire, for I am pleased to say that in every place that I have visited (with but about one exception) branches have been formed. The poor fellows are so ignorant and so debased by surrounding circumstances that it would, indeed, be well if some of the money gathered up and spent in sending missionaries abroad to convert the heathen could be expended for the same or a similar purpose in this country, for I suppose that amongst the farm labourers in this part there is not more than one or two who are able to read or write, and few but what are cider drinkers.

Edwin Russell, Reports in the Labourers' Union Chronicle , No. 13 (Nov. 16, 1872), pp. 6-7

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