Tuesday, 3 August 2010
Leiston- "Suffolk's Little Moscow"
Just over 2 weeks ago, Labour had a great victory with Tony Bavington winning the seat of Great Cornard in Suffolk. Some called this the start of a rural fightback by Labour. I for one must admit living in Ipswich, we can see ourselves as a red outpost in a sea of blue, but that has not always been true. Last week I went to Leiston to see Ipswich Town play a pre season friendly, Leiston a small town both close to Sizewll Nuclear Power Station and Aldeburgh (Chelsea on Sea!) but there is more to Leiston that that. It was once known as "Suffolk's Little Moscow". The following post was sent to me last week and appeared first on "Country Standard". The "Standard" was a radical newspaper issued in the rural area's and is now back in production.
The rural community is as much under threat as urban area's, on the day Tony won in Great Cornard the Tories scrapped the Agricultural Wage Board. Funny never heard the 'Countryside Alliance' complaining about that!
THE LEISTON LEADER
"Suffolk's Little Moscow"
The final talk was a brilliant collective one by Arthur Leslie Morton, his brother Max, Max's wife Vivienne, and Lee Chadwick,.
They talked of their activities as founder members of the Leiston Communist Party (CP) in the 1930s.
A.L. Morton began with a brief analysis of the 'environmental' factors which were important in the CP's success in the town Leiston was a one-company town
(Garretts) which, pre-1918, had had an international reputation for producing steam traction engines, but because of its failure to modernise had been left behind and then almost closed down during the Depression.
As a classic single-industry town the employer/worker relationship consisted of a blend of paternalism and repression. At first there was a fear of activism but as unemployment grew so dependence on the company decreased.
Organisation of the Left in the town consisted of a benign Labour Party which was old-fashioned and un theoretical, and a core of ultra-Leftists who were the family and friends of the South African Marxist, Bill Andrews. The Communist Party pulled in the Andrews group while still keeping on supportive terms with the Leiston Labour Party.
Summerhill School was helpful in the CP's growth, but as was pointed out, it was essentially a weakness that the party's theoretical development was done by 'outsiders' who came to Summerhill and Leiston from elsewhere,
Decisive in the party's evolution was the arrival of speakers from the 1934 Norwich to London Hunger March. They attracted an audience of over a thousand, and so a Communist Party branch in Leiston was formed.
After A.L. (Leslie) Morton's penetrating analysis, reminiscences flowed freely. There was talk of the monthly Leiston Leader, which at one point had had a Circulation of 500 in a town of 4,000, despite the fact that few had the money to buy it. The paper was first produced in 1936 on a home-made duplicator, when Vivienne Morton and Lee Chadwick would come home from a 12-hour shift in the factory and bring it out together. As they said, "it had very tight deadlines!",
They also discussed how the Leiston Communist Party was involved with the National Unemployed Workers Movement, the Hunger Marches in the 1930's, the Daily Worker, the County Standard, and chalking up meetings (on pavements) and running from the police, and their two 'greatest weapons' - Lee Chadwick's husband's ability as a cartoonist (his political satires boosted Leader sales) and Max Morton's motorbike!
The motorbike proved essential for transporting speakers and newspapers; and party workers to the monthly internal Communist Party meetings in Cambridge - despite its lack of lights, which made the night journeys sound extremely hazardous!
Three final notes of interest were the progressive nature of Methodism on the local political scene, the quality of Communist Party work on the local council (they held well-attended open-air meetings to report on council activities), and the very close relationship between the local Communist Party and the Labour Party, who held a common slate of candidates and block-voted up until the 1950s-much to the annoyance of Transport House (Labour Party headquarters).
Well known artist and Communist, Paxton Chadwick was born on 4th September 1903 at Fallowfield, Manchester. As a child he showed great talent as an artist and went on to attend Manchester Art College in the 1920s.
After leaving art college, he set up as a commercial artist in a studio first in Manchester, then in 1931 to Chelsea in London and from London’s west end to Welwyn Garden City.
Chadwick was then offered a part time post as art teacher at the pioneering and controversial Summerhill School at Leiston in Suffolk.
At Summerhill, he came into to contact with a number of teachers in the Communist Party, notably Vivien Jackson (herself the daughter of a prominent Communist Party writer and printer) Max Morton, Richard Goodman and Cyril Eyre (who had joined the Communist Party at Oxford University in 1933).
In 1934 a contingent of Hunger marchers passed through Leiston, the reception organised primarily by this group led to a crowd of over 1,000 welcoming the hunger marchers into Leiston, rallying outside the traditional public meeting place outside the Post Office Square. Soon after a branch of the National Unemployed Workers Union was formed in the town with offices in Cross Street. Unemployment in Leiston was very high in the 1930's the men dependant on work at Garretts or in Agriculture, Garrett's was completely closed during the early months of 1932 and did not return to full production until rearmament.
This in a town with effectively no history of radicalism or trade unionism. Indeed, for many years following this event Leiston became maybe not quite a “little Moscow” but never the less a beacon for progress in a sea of East Anglian darkness, known throughout the region as “That communist place” according to John Saville “a tribute to the dedication, energy and intelligence of the quite small group of political activist”
The progressive forces being helped by left wing Labour activists such as railwayman Councillor Harry Self of Stowmarket (National Council for Labour Colleges, organiser) who produced a monthly letter in the Leiston Leader , Alec Brown an author, Trevor David ex South wales miner of The National council of Labour Colleges as well as securing the support of non conformist in the town including the Welsh Methodist preacher Tom Morgan (Chairman of Leiston Left Book Club) and a number of local Quakers. In the late 1930's a Leiston Spanish Medical Aid Committee was formed to support the Republican cause in Spain against Franco's fascists and several hundred turn out in November 1937 for the visit of an ambulance on its way to Spain
By 1935 Chadwick had joined the Leiston Communist Party. The local Communist Party threw itself into “Popular Front” work encouraging local left wingers in the Labour party to join with the Communist Party in defeating the well entrenched Conservative majority on the local council. The almost unique unity of the Communist Party and the Labour Party in Leiston was to be a feature for many years to come. The focus for the Leiston popular front work would be the Leiston Leader, the first duplicated edition of which was produced at the Cross Street offices of the Unemployed Workers in January 1936 and sold for half a penny. (rising to one penny in July 1936)
Paxton Chadwick was returned as a Communist Councillor for Leiston in 1938 as the first Communist Councillor in Suffolk (Rural Norfolk also had Communist councillors).
During the war Chadwick was called up into the anti-aircraft arm of the Royal Artillery where he continued to carry out council work and produce a wall newspaper for his unit. Chadwick ended the war as a Captain. As chairman of Leiston council , he introduced a regular “open nights ”where electors could quiz councillors”, secured affordable housing, clean water, fought to abuses in the private rented sector, fought for improved war pensions and led the campaign to save the local Grammar school.
He also gave support to the annual Co-operative fete (Leiston Women's Co-opertative Guild was one of the oldest in the country), Leiston thereafter could always be relied upon to secure a sizable Communist and left Labour vote and it was not uncommon to see Chadwick’s red and white Communist posters in house windows throughout the town.
His second wife was Lee Bosence (Chadwick) also became a Communist councillor, other Communist councillors who stood in Leiston included Daphne Oliver, Sydney Woodroffe, Bill Wellford, Ernest Ling (Ernest ling was the first local engineer to join the Communist Party). (Max Morton, A.L Morton's brother, was a Communist farmer was elected as a communist councillor for Pentlow Parish Council, nr Sudbury) . Even at the height of the cold war and close to military bases the Communist Party was still polling 250-300 votes in Leiston wards
But the Communist Parties electoral work in Leiston was hampered by its size, for example in 1958 council election the Leiston Communist party could rely on just sixteen members of whom five were pensioners.
Help had to be secured by the District Secretary, Neville Carey, from Ipswich and there was only one car (one more than the Labour Party) to help get electors to the polls. Chadwick himself stood for election last in 1960 and only narrowly missing out on being elected.
Paxton Chadwick was a first class artist and produced numerous nature drawings for Penguin books from 1949 until his death. He died in Whitworth hospital, London on 6th September 1961 and his funeral address was given by Communist Party General Secretary, John Gollan.
Lee Chadwick died at her home on Leiston Common on 22 March 2003 aged 93 years. She was born in 1909 in Battersea, London, one of eight children. At the beginning of the First World War her mother took the two youngest children to Whyteleaf in Surrey, which was then a very rural area. The freedom, and the love of wildlife, established in her childhood were to become the driving influences of her life. She graduated in English and Psychology at Bedford College in Regent spark, London. In 1937, after periods of teaching in both France and England she came to work at Summerhill School in Leiston.
Here she met Paxton ‘Chad’ Chadwick, who was teaching art (she joined the Communist Party in 1937). Her stay at Summerhill was curtailed by the outbreak of war, which caused the school to move to Wales.
Lee and Chad did not move and the consequent loss of accommodation prompted them to build a very basic three bedroom house on the common at Leiston.
Building regulations at the time required this to be low enough to be hidden by the gorse. It eventually became their home for the rest of their lives, and, of course, brought Lee into close contact with heathland. When Leiston Common was requisitioned by the MOD, and with Chad away serving in the armed forces, Lee worked for two years in the women’s machine shop at Garrett engineering works. It was with the influx of women workers into Garretts that the factory was unionised in the Transport & General Workers Union, Boilermakers union and the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Richard Garrett the founder being strongly anti union.
Here she joined the TGWU. When the machine shop closed, the Land Army beckoned.
In 1941 Lee Chadwick became Secretary of the Leiston Anglo-Soviet Freindship Committee.
It was not for long though: Lee readily answered the call of the Communist Party to take up the position of Assistant Industrial Organiser, a full-time post in Ipswich. She was the first ever communist elected onto Suffolk County Council. (Lee Chadwick stood as the Communist parliamentary candidate for Eye at the General election of 1950
In 1948 Lee and Chad were allowed to return to their home. They were able to buy two pieces of heath adjacent to their bungalow. They resisted the pressure to cultivate the land for food production, preferring instead to use one part for egg production, and the other for grazing, which preserved its heathland character. Chad worked as a wildlife illustrator for Penguin books.
After Chad died in 1961 Cassell, the publisher, invited Lee to complete the “Pantoscope” series of educational paperbacks he had begun. Her research into aspects of fishing and fruit industries gave her the confidence to begin her own literary career. Subsequently she wrote a number of documentary books embracing a range of topics from the future of agriculture to lighthouses and lightships. Research for these took her from Rome to Cuba and to most of the lighthouses in the British Isles.
In 1975 Lee teamed up with artist Evangeline Dickson and Dobson Books to produce ‘In Search of Heathland’. This had been a personal ambition for many years. Its success is well known; its charm was due to the combination of Lee’s extensive knowledge of the underlying geologies and historical uses of heathland with her own observations of the biological complexities it supports and her passionate feelings for it. Lee joined the SNS in 1969.
She was very much involved with the Suffolk Sandlings Group in its formative years in the 1980’s. Throughout her life Lee was a principled, tenacious and courageous woman , with strong political views. These qualities came to the fore when she acted as Environmental Witness for the opposition at the Sizewell ‘B’ public inquiry, speaking up for heathland where others failed to.
Eric Parsons writes:,
“If I’m entitled to a ha’porth of my own I would feel sure that Lee would like to have left a few words of advice for naturalists and conservationists. She was a very experienced campaigner and many folk used to refer to her for guidance with their own endeavours at campaigning. She would stress the importance of :-
individuals taking conservation directly and actively into Planning Departments, Council Chambers and Courts of Law in a campaigning manner.
not allowing, or expecting, professional conservation organisations to make the pace in conservation campaigns,
having accurate data available in support of any statements made in support of a campaign.
She was a stickler for fact and would go any length to pull in the right people to vet anything she presented in a deposition or publication. ‘In Search Of Heathland’ has got to be an important point of reference for anybody studying sandling heaths and Lee Chadwick was a naturalist who would roll up her sleeves and get on with it herself rather than pontificate from a swivel-chair.”, She leaves a son, Peter.
based on ‘Profile: Lee Chadwick’ written by Eric Parsons for White Admiral 37
Arthur Leslie Morton 1903-1897
Leslie Morton was born on the fourth of July 1903, son of a Yorkshire farmer, who had leased Stanchils farm near Bury St Edmunds. Leslie had one brother Max and a sister Kathleen. While at Cambridge University he joined the University Labour Club. After Cambridge he taught at Steyning Grammar School in Sussex, where to the shock of Governors the teaching staff supported the 1926 General Strike, leading to his dismissal. He then taught at Summerhill before moving to London and joining the Communist Party. He worked on the Daily Worker newspaper as a reporter but left to write "A Peoples History of England" for Victor Gollancz (Left Book Club), he also founded the Communist History Group.
Leslie Morton moved to Leiston with his second wife Vivien becoming involved in the monthly Communist journal the Leiston Leader, helping to write, illustrate and sell it. He was elected as a Communist councillor for Leiston. He taught at Summerhill (as did his sister and brother) and for the local Workers Educational Association. He was a founder member of the William Morris Society. He died in 1987.
LESLIE MORTON LEISTON LEADER COURT MARTIAL
Leslie Morton: spoke of his time as editor of the Leiston Leader and his time in the Army during World War Two
"I used at this time, 1945, to write a large part of the material in our local Branch paper, the Leiston Leader, and among other things I wrote an article about the Second Front called 'Grigg Must Go!' (Sir James Grigg was War Minister) - a rather vitriolic article.
One day I was sent for to the Battery Office, and there's a large fat security sergeant-major there, bearing a copy of this article. He said 'Did you write it?' Well, there it was with my name at the bottom, so I said 'Yes, I did.' He said 'Oh, you mustn't do things like this in the Army, you know.' Then he went away and nothing happened for a long time.
Then one day I'm sent for by the Major again and he was really apologetic. He said 'It's nothing to do with me.
I'm instructed to send you on to the Colonel.' Well, the Colonel is equally apologetic. 'It's nothing to do with me. I have instructions that you are to be sent for court-martial.'
So presently a court-martial is assembled. Everyone was sympathetic because Grigg was not popular in the Army at all. It was all very technical because there was no dispute about the facts - there was the article and I had admitted writing it - it was a question of whether it did or did not infringe certain sections of King's Regulations. I had a very nice chap defending me (a solicitor in private life) very friendly, and the upshot was that I was acquitted and everybody was pleased! My immediate officer said 'Well, Morton, you certainly hit old Grigg for six. Personally I agreed with every word of it.'
There was an interesting sequence. About a year later I'd got a bit bored by this time with being an amateur builder's labourer, which is what I'd been doing for the greater part of the war - I decided to apply for a transfer to the Education Corps, for which I had every conceivable qualification. So I go up to London to be interviewed by a Selection Board. They told me 'We think you are very suited for the Education Corps', but they were outraged that attached to my papers was the report of the court-martial. 'This is absolutely disgraceful' they said, 'We shall ignore it, and we shall have no hesitation in recommending you for a transfer to the Education Corps.' But I didn't get it.
1989 Lesiton Leader
The December 1989 issue of Leiston Leader again presents a cross section of local news and events. This extract has interests beyond the Leiston boundaries. Sizewell "C" Dropped It was with quiet satisfaction that campaigners against Sizewell "C" heard that the project was to be dropped, as were plans for a new link road to the A12. This news certainly left many County and District Councillors with egg on their faces. They had steadfastly refused to listen to the views of their constituents, experts and the Sizewell "B" Inquiry Inspector, Sir Frank Layfleld and, In fact, it looked highly un-likely that they would call for a public inquiry on the Issue.
Need for vigilance
The Leiston Leader says that, as managers within the CEGB appear to be on a nuclear fix and are still agitating for a nuclear future,we need to be vigilant. 'Now Is the time to press for the abandonment of Sizewell "B" and the closure of "A".'
In the Newsletter of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, It Is noted: "It Is ironic, because of Mrs Thatcher's dogmatic pursuit of privatising everything in sight, that the truth that nuclear- power-generated electricity is some three times as expensive as other forms of electricity generation, has finally been conceded. "The City saw that too, when It showed that PWR- produced electricity would cost an extra £1,000.000 per day, ie an extra £10,000 million over the station's life: which means that there Is now no possible case for building Sizewell "B". It must be scrapped NOW and our Heritage Coast restored to its previous splendour."
May 1990 edition of the Lesiton Leader, was edition number 488 and contained articles on the Poll Tax, trade union news, May day activity as well as housing issues, building sites, road safety and even the local bard.
Leiston had a Communist councillor in the 1980's and the Leiston Leader was produced into the 1990's.
I understand that Bill Howard a signalman at Saxmunden was the last Communist Councillor in Leiston in the 1980's (he lived at Waterloo Avenue, Leiston.
Paxton Chadwick Close, Leiston is one of the few roads in Britain named after a communist.
Alex Moffatt the great Communist miners leader from Fife was stationed in Leiston for a period during the war
Max Morton farm was used for East Anglia Communist Party weekend schools in the 1950's/60s
The Communist Party was involved in both English Folk revival's and key to this was the Eel's Foot Public House, Eastbridge, where A.L. "Bert" Lloyd Communist and Workers Music Association founder, recorded the now famous BBC radio Folk session on 13th March 1939. The Leiston Communist Party can also claim the credit for this historical event having informed Bert Lloyd of the Folk sessions at Eel's Foot.
"Country Standard" can be found here and the original article here.