Tom Mann’s Memoirs, 1923

Book one: Europe

VII. The labour movement and the churches
1890 to 1894

First published: 1923
Publisher: The Labour Publishing Company Limited, 38 Great Ormond Street, London WC I
Transcription, mark-up: Steve Painter


During the winter of 1890-91, unemployment was rife, and I was battling as best I could for “maintenance or work” for the sufferers. Cardinal Manning wrote me a very encouraging letter, saying that the claim was a valid one. “Under the act of Elizabeth the authorities are responsible for producing one or the other, and this act has never been repealed.”

As the cardinal had been so closely identified with the wind-up negotiations of the dock strike, he maintained his interest in the welfare of the dockers, and on a number of occasions he wrote asking me to call on him in order to tell him how matters were developing. I have before commented upon his wonderful features, and upon the ultra-refined manner that always characterised him. He was perfectly natural and simple, and I was entirely at ease with him. Never once did he broach the question of religion; always his concern was to know how the men were behaving, to enquire whether the improved conditions were being maintained, and to ask if the union was thriving.

I will now relate an incident that caused me to appreciate him in an exceptional degree for the wonderfully kind disposition he showed towards me. I received a letter from him asking me to call, and adding: “This time I do not wish to talk about the docks or the dockers, but about yourself.”

I went. He looked steadily at me, and said: ”The first thing I have to say to you is that a living dog is better than a dead lion. You need a rest, and must have one.”

I expressed my sincere appreciation of his kindly regard, and said:

I really do not feel particularly in need of a rest. In any case, I am too full up with work in London and the provinces to consider your proposal.

Yes, I know you are busy; but think it over, and decide when you are least busy.

I had now taken out my diary. Looking at my numerous fixtures, I said:

Naturally, people always think their own meeting the most important, and I am booked up with meetings several months ahead.

Well, try and fix upon a couple of weeks, and let me know. And now, where would you like to go? Do you know Ireland?

I have paid short visits to Dublin and Belfast, but I don’t know it in a holiday sense.

Well, when you have fixed upon the time, if you agree to go to Ireland, I’ll give you an introduction where you can have a suitable rest, and come back refreshed for your work.

I thanked him, and promised I would write and let him know how I succeeded in cancelling some of the engagements; but this proved too difficult, and I wrote and told the cardinal so, and said possibly I should be able to manage a weekend holiday. Perhaps I would take a run over to the continent. He replied, regretting I could not spare time for a longer holiday, and enclosing a card of introduction which I might use when I managed a weekend. He advised me to go to the Rhine. I was not able to get off for a weekend or any holiday for a very long time, but I shall never forget the genuine kindheartedness of His Eminence the cardinal.

About this time I was active in addressing many public meetings in and out of London. I frequently commented upon the church, and condemned it for not grappling with the social problem. One of the young clergymen who had helped us during the dock strike (the Rev Thorry Gardiner, I think), was responsible for my receiving a number of invitations to address meetings, and I was ever ready to do so within the limits of physical possibility. One such invitation came from Lady Aberdeen, asking if I would address a meeting at her house, at which would be present a number of people interested in the social problem, who would be glad if I would talk to them about the dockers and their conditions. I went. It was a fashionable gathering indeed — West End with a vengeance, I thought — and quite a number of clergymen were present. I spoke for an hour, dealt with industrial and social conditions, and denounced the church for its deadly apathy. Discussion followed. The whole affair was, if not an opportunity for useful propaganda, at least an opportunity for me to speak in the plainest of terms to members of the exploiting class, and especially to the professors of religion.

A few days afterwards I received a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury (Benson) stating that he had been much interested in a report given to him by Miss Tait, daughter of the late Archbishop Tait, his predecessor. She had been present at the meeting at Lady Aberdeen’s, when I had commented upon the attitude of the church to social problems, and it would please him much if I would call on him at Lambeth. He had arranged to have tea in a small library, the only other person present besides ourselves being the Suffragan Bishop of Dover. After a few pleasantries, the archbishop said he had been greatly interested in the comments I had made so far as he had heard. Was it my opinion that the church should endeavour to solve the social problem? I said that such had certainly been my contention, and that I held the church to be negligent of what seemed to me the most sacred work in which she could engage, and so on. The archbishop did not combat anything I said; on the contrary, he expressed his general agreement with me, adding, however, that perhaps I hardly realised the nature of the difficulties that confronted the church. Then, reaching down a book from a shelf, he went on:


I should like to read a passage and get your opinion on it.

He read as follows:

The problems on which Christ has been consulted, and has given no uncertain answer, are the greatest problems of the past. The present has a problem of its own which may be not much less difficult or less extensive than any past questions … The problem now before us, or rather upon us, is what is called in a special way the social problem … the social problem presented by the conditions of lifelong wretchedness under which a vast part of our town populations lives its life, works its works, etc, etc. But all these social difficulties and solutions, what have they to do with the church’s work? Are these not secular and economic questions?

Yes, and therefore church questions of deepest moment. These are the phenomena of the world in which Christ is now living. These form the times of Christ.

He asked me:

Does that touch the same idea that you had?

“Yes,” I replied, “it does. What I say is that the church fails to grapple with the social problem.”

“Yes,” he rejoined, “I understand, and am largely in agreement with you, but you will see that this is a book of my own. I shall ask you to accept it.”

He signed it and handed it to me. I inferred that he wished me to understand that, in his official capacity as archbishop, he had brought the subject of the social problem before the clergy and church workers, and had urged them to study the matter carefully. He did not maintain that the church was giving due attention to this vast subject; but he obviously wanted me to realise that, theoretically at all events, the social problem had not been entirely overlooked. I considered this a clever method of enlightening me. Whenever, subsequently, I had occasion to criticise churchgoers, I did not forget to mention what I had learned from Archbishop Benson.

Amid a variety of interests and duties, I did not neglect the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and was among those who considered there was ample room for greater activity on its part. At this time I was a member of the Bow branch of the union. The general secretary, Mr Robert Austin, having died in September 1891, the branch decided to nominate me for the position in the hope that, if elected, I should be able to put life into the organisation. I agreed to accept nomination. A large election committee for the London area was formed, with Mr George N. Barnes (now the right honourable G. N. Barnes, MP) as secretary — and a very capable one he proved. The duties were considerable. The membership of the society extended to Australasia, America, and South Africa, all of which had to be dealt with. Since it had been decided to seize the opportunity of the election in order to make a propagandist and educational campaign for broadening the basis of the organisation, and if need be changing the constitution, committees were formed throughout the country, and numerous meetings were held. The ASE had a real good shaking up. The only other candidate in the running was Mr John Anderson, who had been at the head office of the union for some years as assistant general secretary. There was a third candidate, William Glennie (now assistant general secretary), but the contest was really between Mr Anderson and myself. The result of the election was: Anderson … 18,102 Mann … 17,152 Glennie … 738

Mr Anderson took up office in April 1892. About the same time Mr G.N. Barnes became assistant secretary, taking the place of Mr John Wilson, who had died soon after Mr Robert Austin. Mr John Burns, being a member of the ASE, frequently addressed meetings on behalf of the society, and in other ways rendered efficient help. In 1896, Mr Barnes, a Scotsman, born at Lochee in 1859, was elected general secretary.

The following year witnessed one of the biggest industrial struggles the ASE or any other Union had ever engaged in. It may not be uninteresting to give some of the facts. I refresh my own memory by turning to the Jubilee Souvenir of the ASE, published in 1901, for whose compilation Mr Barnes was responsible.

The year 1897 opened with 87,450 members, and but 2000 unemployed, and its first month brought the adoption of the fifty-hours standard week at Liverpool, and further advances of wages on the Clyde, at Barrow, Rochdale, Newton-le-Willows, and Cleckheaton. Many places soon followed. Messrs Platt of Oldham had also agreed to overtime conditions which the society recommended should be taken as a model for other districts, namely, time-and-a-quarter for the first two hours, time-and-a-half for the second, double-time afterwards; and for pieceworkers an addition equal to the difference between overtime and ordinary rates.

Difficulties existed, however, at Armstrong’s of Elswick in regard to outworking conditions, and at the Pallion Forge, Sunderland, there was trouble. The society demanded the standard rate of wages for the manipulation of horizontal boring machines. The then newly formed Employers Federation issued lockout notices; and although attempts to negotiate were made, they were unsuccessful. In London the men were demanding the eight-hour day. Several of the unions, including the boilermakers, agreed to make common cause with the ASE to obtain this. It transpired later that the boilermakers’ executive had refused to endorse this, so solidarity did not prevail. However, the joint committee of the three societies that did take common action, viz: the Steam Engine Makers, the Machine Workers and the ASE, struck work in three London firms on July 3. The Engineering Employers Federation, hitherto confined to the north, now extended operations to London, and informed the union executives that they (the employers) would respond to the men’s action by a general lockout in batches of 25 per cent weekly of all the members of the societies involved. This was wired to the men’s committees in the federated area, and evoked unanimous decisions in favour of a retaliatory notice being tendered to withdraw the remaining 75 per cent. These notices took effect on July 10, and for the following six months and a half a trial of strength ensued. In the end the longer purse of the employers secured them the victory.

It must here be said that the semi-skilled and the unskilled labourers were not organised, and that only three societies out of fifty took action, so that the real cause of the failure to win was the absence of solidarity. Since then something has been done to rectify this, but even yet there are quite sixty separate unions in the metal industry when one only should fill the bill. But this I shall deal with later.

Following upon these numerous activities, I devoted an increasing amount of attention to advocating the municipalisation of the docks of the Port of London. I addressed meetings on this subject, and with the aid of a lantern showed pictures of the proposed dockised area, detailing the advantages that would accrue. As a result, members of the London County Council and London members of parliament became interested, and expressed hearty approval in the main of the proposals I made. Seeing that legislative powers would be required to take such work in hand, and that this would necessitate parliamentary support from members who as yet had no knowledge of the subject, it was suggested that a reform program be drafted to suit the requirements of Londoners generally, for this would secure larger support for the dockers’ proposition than would otherwise be possible. The outcome was the formation of the London Reform Union, of which I became secretary.

I was thus brought into close contact with persons primarily concerned about matters of municipal reform, and I found good scope for effective work. A stimulus was given to a constructive and advanced policy for the London County Council and for the local borough councils. Among those who rendered substantial help as speakers and general propagandists were two clergymen, the Rev Percy Dearmer (now Dr Dearmer) and the Rev Thorry Gardiner. The latter was unmarried, and rector of St Georges in the Borough, near London Bridge. He frequently remained with me for a short talk after the meeting, and occasionally we took coffee together. As a result of considerable conversation he knew of my identification with schools and the church in earlier days, and also of my frequent criticism of the church. The speeches he made were very much like unto my own, and his views on economics were not materially different. On one occasion he asked me whether I did not look upon the work we were engaged in as religious work. I said I certainly thought it was, and, further, that if the church did its duty it would be engaged as we were, honestly striving, not only to clear out the slum areas, to provide opportunities for recreation and education, to insist upon adequate housing accommodation, etc, but also to engage definitely in establishing sound economic conditions for the effectual cure of these evils. Mr Gardiner said he heartily agreed with all this, and then surprised me by adding:

Why not join me in church work, and do this in church as well as out?

“Tell me exactly what you mean?” said I.

“Well,” he replied, “as you know, I’m in charge of that large church; there is nothing we are saying and advocating at the meetings of the Reform Union that I am not prepared to advocate regularly in church as a matter of religious duty. I have no curate. If you were ordained we could work jointly and do it more effectively.”

I replied with astonishment that although I admired the church organisation, reaching into every village in the country, it was entirely out of the question that I should be so intimately identified with it. Even if I had an inclination that way, there was the stumbling block of the thirty-nine articles. My friend Gardiner here scored against me in the following way. Often, in conversation with him, I had expressed my great admiration for Dean Stanley, whom I frequently heard preach at Westminster Abbey, and who was the nearest approach in the Anglican Church to Cardinal Manning in the Roman Catholic Church, alike in appearance and in manner. But Dean Stanley, more than any other church dignitary I had knowledge of, put an interpretation upon troublesome and complex doctrines that removed the cloudiness and opened up vistas of true knowledge concordant with the most genuinely scientific development. Mr Gardiner, knowing my appreciation of the dean, quietly said:

“Well, the church that is broad enough and tolerant enough for a Dean Stanley might possibly be the same for a Tom Mann!”

I have lost touch with Gardiner for many years, but I know that he became chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1903, and has been Canon Resident of Canterbury since 1917. It is possible that during two decades in a cathedral close there has been time for the waning of the keen interest in social questions that characterised him when I first knew him.

The force which impelled me to the beforementioned efforts on behalf of municipal reform was my desire that something effective should be done for the unification of control in the Port of London, the necessity for which was urgent. It seemed that scarcely anyone was interested in the matter, and the only way in which I could gain support for my proposals was by merging them into a general policy of London municipal reform. Once embarked on such a venture I became involved in a mass of details. At this time the old vestries still retained some power — chiefly the power of preventing anything of value being accomplished for the community. The London Reform Union united the progressive forces on municipal affairs. The administrative bodies in the metropolitan area are still complex in their variety, but three decades back their multiplicity was positively bewildering to the ordinary man who tried to get a grip of the situation.

A number of prominent members of the Fabian Society were closely identified with the London Reform Union, and its policy was characteristically Fabian and Reformist. I omit further details concerning its activities, for these have little bearing on the revolutionary problems of today.

My close friendship, at this period, with various ministers of religion, led to the circulation of a report that I was about to enter the church. One morning a pressman called upon me to ask what truth there was in the statement that appeared in The Times of that date regarding myself and the church. The brief statement was as follows, under the heading of Ecclesiastical Intelligence:

We are informed that Mr Tom Mann, the well-known labour leader, is an accepted candidate for deacon’s orders in the Church of England. Mr Mann has received a title to the curacy of a large and important parish inhabited by the industrial classes, and it is expected that his ordination will take place at Christmas.

This was on October 5, 1893. I contradicted the statement that matters were arranged, but did not deny that the subject had been under serious consideration.

To my further astonishment I found the afternoon editions of the London papers had on the placards: “Tom Mann enters the church,” and I was the recipient of numerous messages and some congratulations. One was from the Church Congress, then in session, signed by several well-known clergymen, ardent advocates of the labour cause, welcoming me among the minority as a co-worker, etc.

One of my Nonconformist friends was the Rev Mr Belcher, minister of St Thomas Square Congregational Church, Hackney. He invited me to occupy the pulpit, and I did so. There was a great congregation, and when in the heart of my address I denounced the hypocrisy of the churches, there were hisses. As I proceeded there were cheers, and for the space of thirty or forty minutes there was frequent alternations of cheering and hissing.

Another good friend, also a Congregational minister, but whose church in Southgate Road North, was already known as The Brotherhood Church, was the Rev Bruce Wallace. I preached in his church on much the same lines as I had done at St Thomas Square, Hackney. The Christian World Pulpit reported my sermon in full.

On leaving for Australia at a later date, I entrusted my correspondence and newspaper cuttings to a friend, and these were nearly all lost. My letters included a number that I set special store upon from Cardinal Manning, and a batch that I received at this particular period re the church. One cutting book only was saved; it contains items respecting this period. The following two letters, which appeared in the Westminster Gazette, are fair specimens of many others.

“Rev” Tom Mann!

To The Editor of the Westminster Gazette


It won’t do. Has our robust brother no true friend to warn him of his fate? The whole trend of clericalism is towards sacerdotalism, and sacerdotalism is the death of manhood. To take church pay is to wear church yoke, and for a modern democrat to do this would be to stultify himself for evermore. Fancy the “Rev” John Burns! But if this is simply unthinkable, where and what would be the future of Rev Tom Mann? More than twenty years ago a brave young spirit of my acquaintance who had been educated at New College was lured into the Church of England by the vision of glorious possibilities therein. Alack! I met him the other day at a mutual friend’s dinner table. Never was completer wreck! Every hope had been blasted, and he was eking out existence either as a workhouse chaplain or the chaplain of a cemetery. As a labour leader, an exceptionally glorious future seemed to lie before Mr Mann. But an essential condition of service is absolute release from official trammels. I pity even Nonconformist ministers their fatal handicapping; but a radical church parson! “If any man will serve me, let him follow me,” was the imperative condition 1800 years ago, and that following was not exactly into a snug church living.

No. There are plenty of small folk for church curacies, but we have none too many Tom Manns!

Yours, etc,



To The Editor of the Westminster Gazette

Dear Sir,

Mr Tom Mann will hardly be as “alone” in his capacity of socialist parson as the Star man imagines. Apart from the seven-and-seventy priests of the Guild of St Matthew, who are all determined socialists, the Christian Social Union is a large nursery, filled full of socialists, who are victoriously cutting their teeth; and the still greater fact remains that the church herself is a socialist body. Even the Toriest of parsons is forced and bound to read prayers, lessons and gospels, every line of which is stuffed with the associative ideas and formulas which deny with emphatic anathema the whole gospel of individualism. As one who has tried it, I can assure Mr Mann that the more thoroughly one knows the ideas set forth by the Prayer Book the more utterly one feels that they are socialist to the core. It naturally follows that those who are communists in the imperishable things should be so in the perishable also, as was felt even in the Apostolic times (see the Epistle of St Barnabas, XIX 8).

I am, Sir,


Charles L. Marson.

St Mary’s Clergy House, Charing Cross Road.

October 5, 1893

The one by that sturdy socialist parson, the Rev C.L. Marson I specially appreciated, and very many others similar in spirit, and some as emphatically opposed thereto. However, I concluded, I hope not immodestly, to use the world as my parish, and acted accordingly.

About this period, Mr Andrew Reid, a social reformer, brought together a number of persons similarly interested, each contributing to a volume entitled Vox Clamantium. To this volume the Rev Charles L. Marson contributed a chapter on the Social Teaching of the Early Fathers, in which he referred once more to the Epistle of Barnabas. This document cannot date from later than Tatian’s time. The most educated among the early churches, that of Alexandria, accepted it as genuine. It conveys the whole pith of Christian Socialism:

Thou shalt have all things in common with thy neighbour, and not call them thy private property; for if ye hold the imperishable things in common, how much more the perishable?

Is not this exactly like the words of the Rev Stewart Headlam:

Those who come to the Holy Communion are bound to be Holy Communists.

Other contributors included the Rev Professor Shuttleworth, the Rev The Honourable James Adderley, the Very Rev C.W. Stubbs, and the Honourable Roden Noel. In his essay on Christianity and Social Advance, the Rev Roden Noel says:

Surely that man or woman is no Christian at all, except in name, in so far as he or she remains indifferent to the awful abyss that yawns between rich and poor; to the insufficiency of the share in our immense wealth which falls to the lot of those who produce it; the unjust, inhuman, and horrible condition of the toilers in monstrous cities, herded together like swine, with no leisure or opportunity for living a human life, perpetually starved, stinted, stunted, maddened by carking care and anxiety for the health, well-being and very life of themselves, and of those nearest to them: the image of God well-nigh crushed out of them by the cruel machinery that makes us clean, comfortable and virtuous, with a virtue and happiness that have their root in a misery and moral degradation a millionfold more terrible than those of the slave in Greece, Rome, or modern America.

Alfred Russell Wallace, the scientist, had a chapter on Economic and Social Justice.

Mr A.E. Fletcher, who had been editor of the Daily Chronicle in its palmiest days, wrote on Christian Ethics and Practical Politics. For myself, I had an article on Preachers and Churches, in which I said:

We have a glorious and an inspiring work in hand — nothing less than the purifying of the industrial and social life of our country, and the making of true individuality possible. For, let it be clearly understood, we labour men are thoroughly in favour of the highest possible development of each individual. We seek no dead level of uniformity, and never did. Our ideal is, ”From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.” We can’t reach that right off, but when we have done so, we shall not be “far from the Kingdom”.

To engage in this work is to be occupied in the noblest work the earth affords. To do it well, we want not only men and women of good intention — the churches have these now — we shall want men and women of sound sense who will understand the science of industrial economics as well as of the highest standard of ethics. To mean well is one thing, to be able to do well is a better thing, and we cannot do well, except by accident, unless we know something of the laws that underlie and control the forces with which we shall have to deal.

It seemed to me that I could better fulfill the spirit of this contribution outside any church than by becoming an ordained churchman. My next endeavour to combine “doing well” with ”meaning well” led me to become secretary of a political organisation.