Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pluto Never Scabbed!

By David Walsh
Now we are in the school summer holiday months, as if by clockwork, a new set of Disney films will hit local cinemas and multiplexes aimed at bored 8 year olds and their parents.  An odd issue for a socialist blog to mention ?   Well, actually, Disney was a nasty piece of work, and provoked a now forgotten, but important labour dispute of the 1940's - the "Disney Strike".    Let us recall this.

Throughout the 1930's workers in the flourishing entertainment industry of Hollywood had been organising themselves into unions. Stagehands, actors, directors, editors and writers had all successfully, albeit slowly, formed their own organisations through this massive drive for union recognition.

By 1932, a union had been created for the so far unrepresented animation workers of Hollywood (although at this stage the organisation was referred to as a 'club' to keep it a secret from employers), whose members met in secret for the next several years, mainly out of fear of losing their jobs if their employers found out. However, after a successful strike was staged by animation workers in New York in 1937 forcing their employer to recognise their union, the Hollywood animators came out in the open, and announced the establishment of their branch of the Screen Cartoonists Guild (SCG) the following year.

The SCG immediately began a campaign to organise all local animation workers, and by 1941 had obtained recognition contracts with nearly all of the major animation studios in the area with relatively little resistance from employers, bar an aborted six day long lockout at the Looney Tunes studio of Warner Brothers.

However, the biggest prize in the eye of the SCG was the organisation of Disney studio's 800 animation workers, Disney being by far the biggest employer of animators in the area. At this time the SCG had about 115 members, due to the small amount of people that were usually employed at animation studios, whether the animators of Disney studios would organise was to prove the making or breaking of this attempt to organise Hollywood's cartoonists.

Disney Strike, 1941. Pic credit: Kosti Ruohomaa

The cartoonists of the Disney studios were not the most poorly paid animators in Hollywood, however, there was discontent amongst the workers for several reasons. The first being the astounding inequalities in pay, for example, a top animator could be earning up to $500 a week, while a cell painter would be earning around $12. The second was the resentment that had surfaced against their employers during and after the production of "Snow White". The cartoonists had been promised large bonuses and pay rises upon completion of the film, which was expected to be extremely successful, and on this pretext had put in many hours of unpaid overtime, with one animator actually employing assistants for Disney out of his own pocket. The film was released to great critical acclaim, and made profits four times greater than that of the next most successful film of 1937, however, instead of receiving their bonuses as promised by the company, the cartoonists were met with a series of layoffs. Many of these seeming to target SCG members, or others identified as 'troublemakers' by the studio. To add insult to injury, the animators weren't featured in the credits of the film, with all credit going to the owner of the studios himself, Walt Disney.

SCG continued to organise for the next few years, .But Disney refused to recognise the union, and maintained that the animators were represented by the 'Federation of Screen Cartoonists' (a sham union that had been set up by the studios and declared illegal by the National Board of Labor Relations). Following an angry exchange, SCG spokesman Arthur Babbitt was fired along with 16 other cartoonists belonging to the SCG. Two days later, a mass meeting was held by the Disney employees where the motion to strike was put forward by an assistant to Babbitt and the strike was called to start the next day, May 29, 1941. Incidentally, Babbitt was one of the most highly paid animators in Disney's employ, but had a strong union ethos and was instrumental in keeping the strike going over the coming weeks.

The next day, hundreds of men gathered on the picket lines outside Disney's studios, and quickly set up camp in a field across the street. Most of the cartoonists had observed the strike, including many who weren't union members. On the Wednesday after the beginning of the strike, cartoonists from the nearby Warner Bros. studios marched down to Disney dressed as French Revolutionaries of 1789 in a light-hearted show of solidarity with the strikers, and more often than not the strikers were often fed by union chefs from nearby restaurants, who when off-duty would come out and cook for the picketers for free.


Mass pickets, 300-strong, were held outside the plant. The strikers made their own picket signs animated with the characters they drew. One with the picture of Pluto on it said, “I’ve got a bone to pick with Walt” and “Pluto is not a scab”. Another, with Mickey Mouse wearing an AFL union badge and holding a placard said, “Disney unfair”. Strikers also produced weekly cartoon strips for left wing periodicals PM and Friday. Cinemas showing Disney features were picketed.

Film processing workers refused to process Disney films, and donations were sent to the strikers from car, dock and aviation workers.   

Bussed in under police escort, the scabs tried to undermine the strikers’ morale. The clowns who sing “We’re gonna Hit the Big Boss for a rise” (see YouTube video link ) were Disney strikers using their craft to raise support funding via union hall showng across the US

Mickey Mouse placard 1941

Every morning for the five weeks that the strike lasted, Walt Disney would drive through the mass of picketing workers at the gates of the studios, on one occasion leaping out of his car to attack Art Babbitt. Despite this incident, the strike was relatively peaceful compared to many other labour disputes of the time. The only other instance of violence (although it never materialised) being when a rumour went around amongst the strikers that hired thugs were to attack them, whereupon a group of Lockheed aircraft mechanics from nearby Burbank Airport, armed with wrenches were sent by local American Federation of Labor (AFL) organiser Herb Sorrell to guard the strikers' tents.

The strike began to take its toll on Disney, production on current features had been all but stopped completely, and he began to feel the damage being done to the studio by the strikers. Advised by friends to take a break away from the anxiety the strike was causing him, Disney left for a tour of Latin America five weeks after the strike had begun. In his absence the strike was settled by mediators, who ruled in favour of the SCG on every issue. The cartoonists received pay increases of nearly 50% in many cases, and have been union represented ever since. A labour practices suit filed by Art Babbitt also awarded him his job back after many years of legal wrangling whilst he was serving in the Armed Forces, which he returned to at the end of the war.

Walt Disney refused to forget the strike, which he took as a personal betrayal on the part of his artists. In the following years he looked with suspicion upon the cartoonists he employed, and whenever cutbacks to the workforce were made, union members were the first to go. Those who stayed were treated badly and lost out on bonuses and pay rises.

Later in the decade Disney was to be one of the first witnesses to testify to the famous House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), which was investigating 'communist infiltration' in Hollywood and throughout the US. Disney testified that he believed communists had played a part in the strike, a conservative writer even going so for as to label Herb Sorrell, one of the strike leaders, as a 'soviet spy'.

Despite this, the union branch  in Disney Studios thrived and still exists today as Local 839 of the Animators Guild.

The moral of this story is Pluto never scabbed – and nor should you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


An earlier PRT post on Teesside Chartist George Markham Tweddell (   talked of how he picked up his radicalism from conversations with pre - Chartist republicans in his native town.  

Given this reference I feel it was needed that more light on this movement is given as a kind of prequel.

A comprehensive history of what was called ' the Newspaper War' in Stokesley, a war fought between supporters of republicanism and local Toryism, has already been written up by local historian Alice Brannigan in 2006 and her essay can be downloaded and read here  in great detail  

The issue is also dealt with in depth by Trev Teasdel on 

Much of what is written below comes word for word  from Alice's work, and has been abridged to read as an introduction to these early influences in political thinking in this area of what was then still the North Riding.   

But before this it is worth giving a brief description of our area at the time. Bear in mind that Middlesbrough did not yet exist as a town.  In consequence the key settlements were Stockton, Yarm, Stokesley and Guisborough that acted as centres of economic activity, as market towns and service centres for local farming, as places where local courts could be held and as centres where in an age when national newspapers were non-existent and local news sheets had only a restricted circulation, news and tidings from the wider world could be disseminated.

For these purposes, we concentrate on Stokesley.

The town was then nearing the end of its liveliest and most outward-looking phase.  During the Napoleonic Wars, when demand to feed and equip fighting forces engendered a national economic boom, the town prospered. , Stokesley boasted nearly twenty inns and its markets were the trading hub of a wide area.  Hand loom weaving was its height, the many weavers bringing to the town the independent and inquiring minds for which they were well-known.  East India Company merchant seamen, whalers and men of the Royal Navy returned to Stokesley to lay up in the winter months, and to tales to tell of the wider world beyond British shores.  

A rather somnolent Stokesley

Stokesley, like most of provincial England was still quintessentially a community that still bore the imprint of the long Hanoverian years of the preceding century.   Like most settlements outside the new great industrial cities, it was a society ruled, in E P Thompson's words 'by the exercise of relentless authority 'from the ritual of the hunt, the pomp of the assizes, the theatrical power of the law courts, the segregated pews and deliberate late arrival and early departure at services".   

But change had come. Some was for good.  Some for the worse. The latter was seen in the growing enclosure of common lands and the herding of country labourers into a nascent proletariat, and the growing repression that flowed from enclosure (enclosure that in the North Riding was delegated from Parliament to the local aristocracy) whose most physical feature was the new county jailhouses in places like Northallerton and Durham City.  The former was seen in the gradual changes in occupational structures,, with a growing new breed of artisans, merchants, engineers, instrument makers and cartographers.    Freer expression too was bursting upwards, with the growth of a popular press, an explosion of news-sheets, pamphlets, squibs, cartoons and ephemera, all aided by greater literacy and better communications.    It seemed, that by the time of the Napoleonic wars that - the massive democratic debt notwithstanding -  plebeian, informal, England was, on balance, changing, and for the better.

But for Stokesley, as for most of rural England, all this was all to be radically stalled by the severe and unexpected depression in trade that followed the end of the Wars in 1815, so much so that by 1828 the town carried rather an "air of retirement than business" according to Clarke's Topographical Dictionary.

This economic downturn affected the whole country.  Agriculture lost markets, whilst industry - in sectors like shipbuilding, textiles, iron founding and food processing - faltered.  This process was begun by the deflationary polices adopted by the post war government and a severe stock exchange crash in 1825.  With hindsight, we now know that this period also saw the first stirrings of the industrial revolution and the railway age - with the pioneering opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway in 1826 - but this took time for its impact to be felt, and in the short term economic distress led to acute social tensions and demands for reform - tensions dramatically shown by the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819  None the less these tensions were intensified, not assuaged, by Lord Liverpool's Tory Cabinet who passed the Combinations Act (who declared Trade Unions and Radical Clubs as illegal) and suspended Habeas Corpus.

Peterloo 1819 -  "Conservatives with cutlasses"

A feeling that the wars between Britain and Napoleonic France were wars more designed to stamp our the spread of republican ideals than to defend what passed for 'freedom' in Great Britain became widespread and, with this,came renewed interest in the works of British republican defenders of the French Revolution like Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, her husband Thomas Godwin and Joseph Priestley. (1)

In Stokesley, this movement found its spokesman and our subject in publisher, horologist and bookseller Robert Armstrong.

About Robert Armstrong;s origins and later life, little is known.  His writings show that he was an anti-clerical deist, democrat and republican, who followed with interest the latest developments in scientific and political thought.  He declared himself  "a Materialist, who believes Vice to be its own punishment, and Virtue its own Reward".  He combined bookselling and publishing with his trade as a watch and clock maker - a perfect exemplar of the new men of the time.

In short he was a skilled craftsman, who needed to be able to absorb technical ideas, a faculty  that before compulsory schooling, was probably picked up as an autodidact who could - like George Tweddell two decades on - read widely and thoroughly.

Armstrong's description of his bookshop window in one of his surviving letters shows he carried a varied stock, catering to advanced political tastes:  "Is it that I have ventured to expose for sale Paine's "Rights of Man" in the same window with "Burke on the French Revolution"? or is it because your pious eyes have been offended at the sight of those elegant and argumentative compositions Volney's Ruins and Mirabaud's System of Nature, placed on the same shelf with Bishop Watson's Apology for the Bible, Wesley's and Watts's Hymns, and the Hymn Books of the Primitive Methodists?  If this be the real grievance, which daily insults the Methodist public, why not place it in a clear light?"

Magazines, reviews and periodicals arrived in his shop from London by coach "regularly once a fortnight". Amongst these were radical journals such as William Cobbett's 'Register,' the 'Northern Reformer' monthly magazine and Richard Carlile's weekly 'The Republican'.   Alongside the Gospel according to the Jews for sixpence and The Holy Koran for threepence, he carried most of the works prized by freethinkers of the day, including the latest publications.

William Cobbett - a remarkably prickly porcupine (2)

The enquiring minds of Stokesley would also find in Armstrong's shop books and pamphlets from people like Richard Carlile and Thomas Paine, including all three parts of The Age of Reason.  He stocked Samuel Francis's Watson refuted, an answer to Bishop Watson's own refutation of Thomas Paine's deist arguments in the second part of The Age of Reason.  William Benbow's Crimes of the Clergy, or the Pillars of priest-craft shaken, for which the author was imprisoned, appeared in Stokesley soon after its publication.  A friend of Cobbett,  Benbow (two decades before the Chartists) supported universal suffrage, annual parliaments and a secret ballot and believed this would only be achieved by revolution.  Edward Gibbons' scoffing comments on Christianity could be found on Armstrong's shelves, as could Sir William Lawrence's Lectures on Anatomy (fourteen shillings, with original plates).  The lectures had been refused a copyright when Lawrence queried the account in Genesis on medical grounds; this produced a contrary effect to that intended, as it facilitated circulation amongst freethinkers.  
Armstrong declared himself "an advocate for Free Discussion".  He had "always acted upon the only principle of Truth and Liberality, that of "hearing both sides".  He believed that  "the Printing Press, with Messrs Carlile and Cobbett  at its head, is now working a greater moral Revolution, in the opinions and sentiments of the people of this country, than ever was known to have occurred before in any nation in the world".  

Indeed, the dissemination of radical ideas to the working people by means of the press had been so successful that Carlile's paper The Republican was at one point outselling The Times.  Fear of the cheap press had led the government in 1819 to impose a tax of four pence on cheap newspapers and to stipulate a minimum price of seven pence, far beyond the means of most of the population.  

Armstrong supplied radical publications to "any person who wishes it, and whom I can trust without danger of prosecution", while "booksellers in the neighbouring Market Towns do the same, as far as lay in their power, with this difference, that what they do privately and for mercenary purposes, I do publicly and from principle".  The identity of these booksellers is not known.  It is interesting to note that when Armstrong advertised the sale of The Moralist, a new weekly publication from Richard Carlile, in the autumn of 1823, he named three other booksellers who carried the journal - T. Blakelock, Silver Street, Stockton; M Darnton, Bookseller, Darlington; and T. Bell, Bookseller, Richmond.

Alongside the standard works of piety Armstrong was selling the most contentious books of the age.  He was accused by his opponents of being an"accredited agent" of the radical publisher Richard Carlile – a phrase which suggests that Armstrong had responded to Carlile's plea from prison for volunteers to carry on disseminating his works to the public.  

Richard Carlile - and not the one in Downton Abbey.

In this near pre-revolutionary era, Carlile was a name that Tories feared.  Richard Carlile was originally a tinsmith by trade but had become a prolific writer and a well-known publisher of republican and radical books.

When he published his eyewitness account of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 charges of seditious libel were brought against him. He was sentenced in November 1819 to a term of three years' imprisonment with a very heavy fine for publishing Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, which had been banned in 1797 for its attack on organised Christianity and its advocacy of a deistic religion based on reason and logic.

From gaol Carlile continued to write for his influential working-class journal The Republican, which was published in his absence by his wife Jane.  She was in her turn sentenced to two years in Dorchester prison with her husband, where she gave birth to a daughter in June 1822.  Carlile's sister Mary took Jane's place only to be imprisoned herself six months later.  

From July 1821 Carlile called for volunteers to sell his publications and many working men came forward – more than twenty were imprisoned between 1821 and 1824.  As the campaign in Carlile's defence spread, "Zetetic Societies" were being formed in several towns – the "Zetetic Principle" being the name Carlile had given to the power of popular knowledge .  Robert Armstrong seems to have been the leader of a small Zetetic Society.  In 1822 and 1823 he was openly selling The Age of Reason in Stokesley.

His activities attracted opposition from many of the areas middle class and from local Tories.  Chief amongst these was a man called Thomas Mease.    

Thomas Mease was born in 1792, the son of John Mease, a Stokesley grocer.  In 1822 Thomas was himself in business as a grocer and draper.  He was a married man with a young family.  He had followed his father into active membership of the Wesleyan Methodist society and we know that by 1832 he was a class leader .  His beliefs are summarised in his second pamphlet:  "It is the unwavering persuasion of my mind, that the doctrines of Christianity, as taught by the late Rev. J Wesley, are strictly accordant with the tenor of Holy Writ; and, after investigating the subject to the best of my ability (I think, too, unbiassed by the influence of education) I firmly believe the Bible to be true, because, to my view, it bears the Stamp of Divine Authority/"

In the early 1820s Thomas and his younger brother John began making plans for an ambitious expansion of business, including the building of a steam-powered linen mill beside the river Leven..  In short he was an archetypal early small town capitalist, building business along the obliging grain of a changing economic and technological backdrop.   In our area, that was the new opportunities for capitalist enterprise arising from such things as enclosure of the common lands by local landowners, a move that created a new pauper workforce desperate for work and wages and to be dragooned into becoming factory fodder for new enterprises like Mease's planned Linen Mill.

Alongside this he would readily adopt the classic position of the Nonconformist businessman; he would later become a vocal supporter of the abolition of the Corn Laws and church tithes.   Mease and his allies loathed Armstrong as "an advocate for Infidelity" – that is, unbelief or unorthodox belief.  They longed to expose "his pernicious sentiments and demoralizing proceedings", believing fervently that it was impossible for a man to be moral outside the framework of formal religion and evidently sharing the view that the French Revolution was simply immoral in its very self.

Décolletage, disorder and destruction - the dread dream of  local Tories

This anxiety was fuelled by the sentiments openly expressed by Armstrong's circle that he met over his Stokesley counter, which included people he listed as "the Naturalist, Materialist, Mr Batty, Two Females, Democritus, and 'a Little Boy who laughs at Ghosts and Devils'" but  also 'A Prepared man for the approaching REVOLUTION" .

Tory fear of France and the export of revolution - demons sing 'Ca Ira' (see footnotes and embedded YouTube)

Mease seems to have been particularly disturbed by the popularity of Armstrong's shop with the young men and women of the town.  His fear of Armstrong's influence can be seen in the following comment in his introduction to the collected edition of his pamphlets, in which he makes a gratuitous suggestion of improper behaviour at Armstrong's meetings:

"by the circulation of RADICAL and DEISTICAL Books, [Armstrong] won many of the uninformed and unwary youth of both sexes over to his principles; and at length had regular meetings in his house, for purposes the writer is scarcely at liberty to disclose".  Mease's opinion of these young people – presumably only some ten to fifteen years younger than himself – was hardly complimentary:  "The Success, therefore, which has unhappily attended these Books, is not to be attributed to the cogency of the Arguments they contain, but to the suitability of their Sophisms to the taste and inclinations of the uneducated, the vicious, and the young, who have received the Bible upon trust, without caring for its Doctrines, or examining the nature of the Evidences upon which its Divinity rests."

It seems likely from all this, and also from Armstrong's comments on the decline in attendance at the Wesleyan chapel, that some of the young people were of Methodist families – certainly one "R.C" had abandoned chapel attendance for radicalism .

For his part, Robert Armstrong not only profoundly disagreed with Mease's principles but also had an additional cause for resentment against the Wesleyan Methodists, and consequently against the Mease family, its most prominent local members – the reason being that nationally the Wesleyans had supported the government after the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.

The clash between Armstrong and his enemies - and their mouthpiece, Mease, came to a head after Mease attacked at a Wesleyan Missionary Meeting what was called a 'Tea Party' to celebrate republicanism and freethought at Armstrong's home in January 1822.   

His attack was later printed on a handbill distributed through the town. Mease wrote  "I was exceedingly amused by the way in which the birth-day of Paine was lately kept in this Town. What abstruse and pithy subjects were discussed on the occasion, or what powers of elocution were displayed by the motley speakers, I have not been told, nor have I given myself any trouble to learn.  The principal objects embraced by their vain, but anxious wishes, it is probable, were, the subversion of Christianity and Monarchy, and the substitution of a Republican government, together with what they strangely reckon a scientific morality.  Now, to think of such a Tea-sipping assembly of pompous literati, so tenacious of the dignity of human nature, and meditating purposes so vast, is almost enough to produce a smile of contempt in pouting melancholy herself before she is aware. And are these pedantic things to be our guides instead of Priests, and our rulers instead of Kings?"

So what was this soiree and what actually happened there ?    Unlike Mease's implicit contention that this was some kind of secret sans-culotte soiree, the reality was that Armstrong had in fact sent a full report of the meeting to the "Republican" newspaper who reported it as follows in February that year.

"Stokesley, Yorkshire.  

A few of the lovers of Civil and Religious Freedom, met in this Town, on the Evening of the 29th of January, to celebrate the Anniversary of the Birthday of Mr Paine.    

Mr John Appleton (aged 76) In the Chair.

After partaking of a plain Supper, as most consistent with the plan of Republican economy, the following Toasts and Sentiments were given:

1. The Immortal Memory of Thomas Paine, the Masterpiece of Nature, the most useful man that ever lived. Song:- 'Come, all ye true Republicans,' being the Ranter's  Hymn, No.42 parodied for the occasion.

2. Richard Carlile, the most consistent and straight forward Advocate for the Liberty and Happiness of the Human Race.

3. The persecuted Family and Shopmen of Mr Carlile, and may they live to see their injuries redressed.

4. The Sovereignty of the People

5  Major Cartwright

6  William Cobbett

7  Henry 'Orator' Hunt, (the principal speaker at Peterloo)

8  General Bolivar (Simon Bolivar, the South American 'Liberator:)

Among the many other Toasts and Sentiments given were a toast to "the Republicans of Stockton" and a toast proposed by Mr Coates in "pure water":  "Perdition to all intoxicating Liquors, the prime cause of all the domestic Mischief, Misery, and Slavery in this Island".  (3) (4) (5)

Armstrong was not unnaturally infuriated by Mease's attack in print and replied with a Letter to Mr Mease printed on 25 July, expressing his outrage at "this infamous assassin like attack on my private Character" and describing Mease as "a Slanderer, and a malicious and revengeful Neighbour".

Unhesitatingly descending to personal invective, he spoke of Mease's "Methodistical deformity of conscience ... native blackness of heart ...[and] the dark hypocritical gravity of your Visage".  Mease, he claimed, had "wilfully and publicly slandered, and t to INJURE an honest Man; because, forsooth, he is not of the same religion as yourself ... And can you call this Christianity, is this loving your Neighbour as yourself?  But in fact I know you are no Christian, and it is known to many, that your profession of Methodism, is a mere Cloak for purposes of Trade ... You are just as much of a Christian, and of just as much benefit to the Community, as it is likely your new Steam Engine will be, which is more than probable will chiefly consist in annoying its Neighbours with Vapour and Noise".

Armstrong's main accusation against Mease was one of hypocrisy.  In his speech to the Missionary Meeting, he had spoken of "scenes of Debauchery and Prostitution carried on among the poor Indians".  Armstrong countered with "the fact that there are 50,000 common prostitutes in London alone".  Closer to home and more damaging was his next accusation.   "Do you not know that in this little town of Stokesley there are members, aye and sanctified members too, of your Methodist Society, who live in open, acknowledged fornication and adultery?  Have you not heard of the fornicating sins that have been within these few months carried on, to use your own words, in the 'innermost recesses' of one of your 'polluted Sanctuaries'  in this Neighbourhood?"

His response to Mease's call to "evangelize the heathen"  was to call attention to the "streets of the town of Manchester" and to the drunkards, the prostitutes and the Cotton Factories there where "men, women and children are locked up for fourteen hours a day, there to toil in an unwholesome atmosphere, for a scanty subsistence".

His readers will have seen in this a direct clear linkage drawn between Mease and the Manchester factory masters, with the inference that Mease's mill - then still in the planning stage - would bring the social evils of Manchester to the banks of the River Leven.

Meases's model metropolis ?  1820's Manchester.

Such accusations would always cling to Mease, and it can be seen, quite rightly; In a later 1832 pamphlet calling for the abolition of tithes and the Corn Laws, Mease was obliged to declare that he had signed petitions in favour of the Ten Hours' Bill and was not one of those who called for the emancipation of the slaves while ignoring the plight of factory children.

Mease in return spoke of Armstrong's "injurious tendency of the pestiferous principles which he assiduously endeavours to propagate".  He singled out for particular criticism "among other papers equally offensive" a Renunciation of the Christian Mythology by the Castleton dyer and thread-maker Amariah Batty, which had been posted by Armstrong in his shop window.  

Batty had declared that "having arrived at the age of 28 Years, and feeling quite competent to think, judge, and act for myself" he renounced the "Christian Religion in all its various Creeds, and all further belief of the Jew Books, commonly called the Old and New Testament, being sacred or divine, or any thing more than human Writings.  I also protest against the ecclesiastical laws of Great Britain, and all human laws relating to matters of religion, as impure, unjust and oppressive, and hereby declare that I will not yield obedience to any of them".

This incensed Mease: "What could be the intention of such an exhibition as this?  Could it possibly be anything else than a premeditated insult to the Patriotic, and Religious Public?"   Batty was one of the circle of Stokesley radicals who in 1822 sent a subscription to Carlile and his family in the Dorchester Gaol.

Batty, like Armstrong and John Coates ("Naturalist"), sent five shillings.  Further donations were sent from Stockton – "A Bishop" gave five shillings and "A Rector" one shilling, while other Stockton donors included Thomas Webber, Daniel Gibson, Peter Walker, Richard Wright ("a Republican") and John Turnbull.  According to Armstrong upward of fifty people subscribed small sums towards Carlile's cause.

The following year, May 1823, Armstrong's new periodical The Missionary included an announcement that "Subscriptions to the amount of £999 2s 6d have been received from various places (including Stokesley £6-18s) towards Mr Carlile and his sisters fines, losses and expenses and who are now detained in prison for their fines, amounting to £2000".

On 14 October 1822 Mease quoted extensively from the Stokesley subscription as it appeared in The Republican, adding to it additional comments of his own.  

Most of the donors remained anonymous, hiding their identity behind such names as "Nicodemus, the Second", "Democritus", "T.T. a young Deist" and R.C, who sent the 5% "on his Savings during last year, by non-attendance at the Methodist Chapel".  Five of the eighteen subscribers were women.  Two explicitly cited the treatment of Mrs Carlile as a reason for their donation ("A Female who was shocked and disgusted at the savage brutality practised on Mrs Carlile by Christian barbarians").  One, who contributed sixpence, described herself as "A Female Admirer of the Age of Reason, aged 62".  

Besides Armstrong, Batty and John Flounders ("an admirer of the Age of Reason and Rights of Man, Say aught against them if you can"), donors who gave their names included John Coates, William Lawn, Michael Hebden, Mr Israel "a native of Cracow in Poland", and "John Appleton, a poor Man, aged 76, who is thankful to Mr Carlile for having opened his eyes on the brink of the Grave; he can now sink calmly to rest without delusive hopes of Heaven or ridiculous fears of Hell"

John Appleton's - the chair of the 1822 republican tea party - death in September 1823 caused a great deal of friction in Stokesley.  His deathbed became the unseemly battleground of the warring sides.  

According to Armstrong's account, Appleton (known to his acquaintance as "Old Chop Logic") was a Stokesley-born flax-dresser who had worked as a journeyman in Stockton.  He returned to his native town when he was nearly seventy and found himself unable to work, in order to go on parish relief.  He seems to have had little to do with his family and entered the parish workhouse.  Brought up as a Calvinist, he became troubled by "the harshness of the religion – the Jealous God, the cruel Being".  Talking of religion became his hobby and he read avidly the works sold by Armstrong and so much feared by Mease.  

These works inspired the aged John Appleton.  He became a Deist, admiring Volney's Ruins and Principles of Nature, the work of the American Deist, Elihu Palmer.  He found that d'Holbach's System of Nature (published under the pseudonym Mirabaud in 1770) "completely cleared his mind of every particle of belief in Spiritual Beings or in any Religion whatever".

As he neared his end, the opposing forces gathered to fight for his soul.

Stephen Bowes "an old Methodist fanatic … urgently and frequently besought Appleton to repent and be saved from Hell".  The newly arrived Revd Leveson Venables Vernon sent wine, fruit and sweetmeats to the old flax-dresser.  Three parsons, according to Armstrong, together with a variety of other persons visited Appleton in the workhouse to talk "at" him.  Perplexed, Appleton turned to Armstrong, who advised him to take the sacrament as the parsons urged, and to keep the food.  

Finally the old man died.

At his funeral on 28 September 1823 the Revd Vernon claimed that Appleton had made an edifying death.  Vernon – who had lately published a work called No Man Can Be Moral, without the Aid of Religion – then had his address to the congregation printed as a sixpenny pamphlet entitled A sermon on death: occasioned by the repentance of a dying infidel.  Armstrong in response published "A True Account of the Death of Mr J Appleton" ."though not as Mease and his friend Kneeshaw notoriously do, for the purpose of laughing at the Parson".

In January 1824 Mease began publication of The Extinguisher to counter Armstrong's Missionary or Illuminator – "lest the public should be annoyed with its deadly effluvia and Atheistical glare".   Armstrong had been assisted, according to Mease, in his typical high-flown, flowery language, by "a puny Son of Aesculapius in a neighbouring town" – that is, by one of the local doctors.    

Armstrong produced three more editions of The Missionary, each of only two pages, in January, March and May 1824.  Mease in response expatiated at length on Thomas Paine, Volney and the state of affairs in America.  In this last, he excoriated, the "semi-barbarism" of the Americans and the fact that there was no proper distance maintained between man and servant.  The American issue appeared in June and by the next issue Armstrong had left the town – according to Mease, "to avoid the mortification of increasing detestation and scorn".  

Perhaps Armstrong left Stokesley because of hostile public opinion, but it is also possible that the dwindling importance of the town reduced his prospects for the future.  It may also be that Mease and his friends contrived to drive him out by other means.  In November 1822 Robert Kneeshaw, a rival watch- and clock-maker and a friend of Thomas Mease, had informed on Armstrong to the Board of Excise, accusing him of selling silver plate without paying £4-12s for the annual licence – an offence which carried a penalty of £10.  It appears from Armstrong's response that this was indeed the case.  He had delayed renewing his licence to save money and Kneeshaw had told the authorities.  

It is interesting that Armstrong's opponents did not choose to plot a prosecution against him for 'sedition' – a Stockport hatter, for example, served four years in Chester gaol for selling The Republican, while in London in 1824 the authorities attempted a final series of sedition prosecutions, sending several men to gaol for selling The Age of Reason and Palmer's Principles of Nature.  

It may have been that to make such a frontal attack would not have had the purpose intended.   It may have backfired, with Armstrong, like his national hero, Carlile, becoming viewed as a martyr persecuted by rich, illiberal opponents.  It may have been that the spread of republican and freethinking ideas in the town and the neighbouring villages had put down such deep roots that it would be that a prosecution for selling 'seditious' literature could not be mounted, or, if mounted, could have failed in the courtroom.  Better, perhaps, thought Armstrong's opponents to hound him out for other misdemeanours to which he had no ready defence.

No matter, for by that time, new players were emerging into the area, and the traditions and values argued for by Robert Armstrong carried onwards by others - people like George Markham Tweddell - into the age of Chartism and a new industrial economy.   

Mease may have won a battle.  He did not win the war.


(1)  Thomas Paine wrote probably the most influential British political work of the last 250 years - the "Rights of Man".  Norfolk born, he was Involved in the American War of Independence after moving the colony under the influence of Benjamin Franklin and latterly became a Deputy in the post Revolutionary French National Convention.  He was also an amateur engineer and designed the first Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland.  One of his quotations still rebounds today - he said that 'his religion was to do good' - a epithet still thrown in ones face by bar room bigots     Mary Wollstonecraft  was also a writer and thinker, whose 'Vindications of the Rights of Women" is seen as the first feminist treatise. She too, was a republican.  William Godwin, Wollstonecraft's husband was a philosopher and a writer who work was seen the underpinning of anarchism.   Their daughter, Mary, later became Mary Shelley, the wife of Percy Shelley and the author of "Frankenstein",  Joseph Priestley was a scientist, the discoverer of Oxygen and a supporter of the French Revolution. .

(2)    William Cobbett was probably Britain's most popular and widely read radical of the period.  A supporter of the  Great Reform movement of the 1830's, he was the editor of the Peoples Register, a mass circulation newsheet.  He was a defender of agricultural workers against changes affecting them, well documented in his book 'Rural Rides". He often wrote under the pseudonym of 'Peter Porcupine' - a name, Trev Teasdel suggests, was possibly adduced to by George Tweddell who often wrote as "Peter Proletarius".
(3)   It may seem odd to modern readers that a Methodist Minister should mock a 'temperance; toast - butt at that time the Wesleyians had not yet embraced teetotalism.   Soirees at homes and assembly halls were common for radical of that day, as public houses were seen as dens of Tory toadyism, and publicans as Tory agents.  

Song was a strong component of these occasions and I use this footnote to indulgently pass on to readers my own personal favourite revolutionary song of the period  - Ca Ira.  This song, unlike most of the dirges we see as Labour Movement Hymns, sends prickles down my spine.  'Ca Ira' was written in 1790 by a named French revolutionary soldier, Ladre, who became a street singer.  'Ca Ira" was inspired by a saying of Benjamin Franklin, Ca Ira being a literal translation of "It'll be fine" - a stock saying of Franklin's when ever pressed about the success of revolution.   The body of the song is devoted to social levelling (see translation on wiki  It was a stock ballad of the British Republicans and Paineites and I hope it was heard echoing over the cold streets of 1822 Stokesley on the night in question. The English words used at rallies such as we described in Stokelsey ran as follows.

Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Over in France there's a revolution
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Watch what you say or you'll lose your head
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Pass some time, see an execution!
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Une deux trois and you fall down dead
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Hear the tale of Marie Antoinette-a!
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
A bloodier sight you have never seen!

Embedded below is a version by Edith Piaf recorded in the late 1940's and which, as I say, makes my hair tingle (in the last verse, the Little Sparrow nearly seems to burst her tiny lungs).

(4) The other toasts were to Henry Hunt and Major Cartwright.   Hunt - 'Orator' Hunt was the principal speaker at Peterloo and was later imprisoned for simply being on the scene.    He was an early proponent of full adult suffrage and for all women to be given the vote,  Major John Cartwright (no relation thankfully to the Labour MP John Cartwright  who was one of the most notable defectors to the SDP in the 1980's) was a British Naval Officer who resigned his commission because he did not agree with making war (in succession)  on American and French Republicans. He founded and became active in the 1790's "Society for Constitutional Information" the first British Democratic political club

(5)   Finally, the toast to the 'Republicans of Stockton' is a another reference to a fascinating will o' the wisp.  They are often referenced by others, but finding out more proves difficult.   "The Republican' newspaper seems to have only two references which give little detail (a death of a supporter called a 'republican and metaphysician' and a couple of letters laying into the local Wesleyans)..  Yet they had a high civic presence, were well organised, had, supportive bookshops and, judging by Chartist references. were still going in the late 1830's. .  Web searches are unhelpful, for despite as much filtering as possible, searches just get swamped by sites run by GOP City and County Assembly Members for the city of Stockton, California.   Given that this is the first US city that they run to go formally bankrupt, I would have kept a low online presence, but there we are......................................