Blatchford, Robert (1851-1943) by Sullivan, Robert

Robert Blatchford (1851-1943) Robert Blatchford, the son of travelling actors, was born in Maidstone in 1851. At first apprenticed as a brushmaker (after the death of his father when Robert had just turned fourteen), he soon ran away from home to join the army, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant-major. He was later to take up journalism, working for several papers before landing a job at in Manchester. It was his experience here (no doubt much like that of Engels) of witnessing at first hand the awful deprivations of working-class life in the slums that turned Blatchford inevitably toward Socialism. Writing under the pseudonym Blatchford’s hard-hitting reports and his advocation of soclialist principles would lead to a confrontation with the management. He resigned his position, apparently stating: The Chronicle Nunquam, Chronicle’s You will not have Socialism in your paper—and I won’t write anything else. In 1890, Blatchford founded the Manchester Fabian Society, and in 1891 he and other Fabians launched the socialist paper . The Clarion This very popular penny weekly (sometimes affectionately referred to as the ) relied a great deal on ‘s (Blatchford’s) vast popularity with the working class. Its very first edition sold 40,000 copies, and after the magazine moved to Fleet Street, in 1895, circulation grew enormously, reaching some 80,000 by 1908. It stopped publication in 1934. The ‘s popularity engendered various social manifestations, including scouting groups, rambling societies, Clarion Choral societies, and, most ubiquitously, the Clarion Cycling Clubs. Perisher Nunquam Clarion These cycling clubs spread throughout the United Kingdom and many used their membership to advance the goal of socialism, not to mention the circulation of , carrying as they did hundreds of copies of the paper in their saddle-bags. The popularity of one of Blatchford’s columns led to the publication of a collection under the title , a title that conjured up a kind of pre-industrial England, a fit for rambling and cycling and choral singing. The pamphlet was published first as a shilling paperback and sold 20,000 copies almost immediately. A penny edition was soon printed and this sold over 700,000 copies within a year! Eventually translated into several languages, this little pamphlet sold two million copies world wide. The Clarion Merrie England green and pleasant land Blatchford’s essentially ethics-based socialism (as opposed to an international or economically-based one) was to lead to several inconsistent positions: he became unpopular with fellow socialists because of his nationalistic stance on the and his increasing ranting about the At first a supporter of women’s rights, he turned about-face on this issue as well. After the Great War, he moved steadily to the Right, eventually supporting the Conservatives in the 1924 elections. Boer War German menace. A search for either “Blatchford” or “Clarion” in the pages of will turn up numerous hits, usually of a negative nature, as his socialism, his jingoism, and his are frequent targets. See, for example, in ; or for a brief summary of the ‘s argument with Blatchford, see S. Verdad’s column in . The New Age unscientific panic-mongering Notes of the Week NA 06.08 New Age NA 07.08 —Robert Sullivan Sources The Working Class Movement Library:

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