How trade union pioneer brought socialism to Colne Valley village

Colne Valley Museum is to remember its history as the former headquarters of Golcar Socialist Club with a special exhibition this year.
Colne Valley Museum is to remember its history as the former headquarters of Golcar Socialist Club with a special exhibition this year.
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The history of a Yorkshire socialist club started by an associate of Labour founder Keir Hardie is to be explored by the museum which replaced it. Chris Burn reports.

Tom Mann was one of the most notable trade unionists of his day – a largely self-educated colliery worker from Coventry who made pioneering calls for the working day to be limited to eight hours, managed an election campaign for future Labour Party founder Keir Hardie, and had a prison sentence quashed under public pressure after being convicted for incitement to mutiny after urging soldiers to refuse to shoot at striking workers in 1912. But one of his lesser-known achievements was here in Yorkshire, where he set up Golcar Socialist Club in 1892.

Mann had moved North in the 1880s to organise the activities of the Social Democratic Foundation, Britain’s first organised socialist political party, and in October 1892 opened Golcar Socialist Club.

He returned to the area to stand for election for Colne Valley in 1895, representing the Independent Labour Party he had helped set up two years following the reluctance of the Liberals to endorse working-class candidates. Mann finished third with 13 per cent of the vote, with Liberal James Kitson retaining the seat.

After being deported from several European countries for organising trade unions, Mann moved to Australia in 1902 to attempt to make a political impact there. But the Golcar club lived on in his absence and in 1910 moved into new headquarters – one of a set of weavers’ cottages owned by the Pearsons, a family of independent cloth manufacturers with their own colourful story.

James Pearson, who built the cottages in the 1840s, was known as James ‘Tuppence Ha’penny’ Pearson, so called because in true Yorkshire fashion he always said: “I’ll gi’ thee tuppence ha’penny,” no matter what someone was trying to sell to him.

The site was the home of the Socialist Club until the 1960s when it moved again to new headquarters and in 1970, the building was turned into the Colne Valley Museum. The museum is now celebrating its 50th anniversary with a special exhibition marking its past as the headquarters of the Socialist Club – and is calling on local residents to share relevant photographs, objects and documents for a new exhibition planned for June that is being developed by artist, illustrator and printmaker Ed Kluz.

Melanie Williams from Colne Valley Museum says: “Originally four separate weavers’ cottages and home to the Pearsons, Colne Valley Museum was also an important part of the socialist movement in the area. The end cottage, which is now home to our 1840s kitchen, was taken over by the Golcar Socialist Club in 1910. It remained the meeting place for the Socialist Club until the 1960s. We want to celebrate this important part of the museum’s history in our 50th year so we’re calling on people in the area to share their pictures, slides, ephemera and artefacts that remember Colne Valley Museum as the seat of the Golcar Socialist Club.”

The new exhibition will form part of Meeting Point, a programme led by contemporary arts agency Arts&Heritage that partners leading UK and international artists with museums to produce new artworks inspired by the museums and their collections.

Steph Allen, Executive Director at Arts&Heritage, says: “Ed’s exhibition at Colne Valley Museum will include stories from the local community and help visitors gain a deeper understanding about the venue and its role as a family home, an important part of Yorkshire’s textile industry, and as a political meeting place.”

Mann’s influence in Colne Valley lives on, almost 130 years later.

Anyone interested in loaning or donating items for the exhibition can contact Colne Valley Museum by emailing info@colnevalleymuseum.org.uk or by calling 07984 195 145.