Friday, April 04, 2008

Harry Quelch (1858-1913), Nunhead Socialist

In between writing about the history of health service trade unionism and jogging round South London, Michael Walker has been sending us some interesting bits and pieces of local labour history which we are following up. It's thanks to Michael that we have found out about Harry Quelch and his local connections.

Harry Quelch (1858-1913) was a key figure in the British socialist movement before the first world war. Working in factories from the age of 14, Quelch taught himself German and French and became a convinced socialist after reading Marx's Capital in French. He joined the the Social Democratic Federation in 1881, later being elected to its executive in 1883 and then becoming the editor of its paper, Justice, for 27 years. He was active in supporting the 1889 London Dockers' Strike in the South Side Strike Committee which organised the strike south of the Thames, and then helped establish the South Side Labour Protection League as a union for dock workers. In 1900, Quelch represented the SDF at the meeting that established the Labour Representation Committee (although he later left because he viewed their policies as non-socialist) and in 1905 he was the Chairman of London Trades Council.

He was buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery in Forest Hill after a huge public funeral, reported in the Times (22 September 1913):

"Several thousand Socialists and trade unionists attended the funeral on Saturday of Mr Harry Quelch, the interment taking place at Forest Hill Cemetery. Outside his house in Limesford-road, Nunhead, a procession was formed nearly a quarter of a mile long, including representatives of the British Socialist Party, the Independent Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the London Trades Council, the Labour Protection League, and numerous trade unions, who carried the banners of their organizations. At the head was the band of the Amalgamated Musicians' Union, followed by about a hundred wreath bearers.

Immediately preceding the hearse was a group styled 'The Old Guard of the SDF' in which walked Mr H.M. Hyndman, Mr Herbert Burrows, Mr J.E. Williams, and other former comrades of Mr Quelch. Mr Keir Hardie, Mr W.C. Anderson, Mr Ben Tillett, Mr Jack Jones, Mr Victor Fisher, and representatives of the International Socialist Bureau were also in the procession. The family mourners included Mrs Quelch , five sons and two daughters.

After the singing of the Socialist war song, The Red Flag, outside the house, the procession marched through Peckham Rye to Forest Hill Cemetery. Here the choir sang 'The Comrades's song of hope' and funeral orations were delivered by Mr Hyndman, Mr Burrows and others. The ceremony concluded with the singing of 'The International'".

(See also: 1890 demonstration on Blackheath)


Andrew Brown said...

If the singing was as bad as our rather feeble attempt at the Red Flag then he was probably spinning even before being buried!

Transpontine said...

Well if we had been card carrying members of the Amalgamated Musicians Union maybe we would have done a better job.

RichardA said...

Harry Quelch was the editor of "Justice" which was published and printed on the top floor of a house in Clerkenwell Green, (Now the Marx memorial library) here he gave over half of his small office space to V I Lenin who led the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, in order to publish Iskra the Russian revolutionary paper. Harry also let Lenin borrow his British Library ticket so he could use it to gain access to the reading room. Lenin never forgot Quelch's friendship and wrote an obituary to him in Iskra after his death.
Harry Quelch's memorial still stands in Camberwell Old cemetery and is in fine condition.

Unknown said...

Re Harry Quelch Memorial I am Harry Quelch,s great great great grandaughter, my father visited camberwell cemetary a few years ago and was told his memorial had been distroyed, RichardA comments in April 2008 that he saw it and "it is in a fine" condotion can anyone give me any imformation as to where it can be found? N