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Book Title:

The Good Old Days: Then and Now


The Good Old Days: Then and Now by S. Box

Published by: S. Box, The Firs, Marden, Hereford

Printed by: Reliance Printing Works, Halesowen, Worcs.

Chapter 3.



At Stoke Lacy a body of farmers met me prior to com­mencing a meeting, invited me to a room for a quiet talk; they locked the door and said: " You will not speak to-night, Box, we intend to keep you here until the crowd has gone." I immediately informed them unless they unlocked the door, I would prosecute them for illegal detention against my will. This so frightened them that they unlocked the door, but followed me out and tried to upset the meeting. A young farmer, being the ringleader, was approached by a powerful looking worker, who threatened him by putting his fist under his nose, remarking: " Any more nonsense from you or your mates and you will not only smell my fist but feel it." The whole bunch sneaked off to the accompaniment of Boos. They did not worry us at any other meetings.


A friend of mine, speaking at Eardisland to a large crowd, mentioned that working men could not fish for salmon, which was reserved for the wealthy. A man in the crowd shouted " Liar! " which so upset the speaker he could not carry on, so I immediately jumped on the box and informed the interrupter we would deal with him. We had served a good apprenticeship dealing with wastrels of society, who had made a pile out of the workers and then come to live in the most beautiful part of Herefordshire. I proceeded to dress him down, to the delight of the crowd. He went away like a whipped cur. I was afterwards informed that he was a wealthy man from Birmingham, who had come to live at Eardisland.


Joseph Arch

Joseph Arch (10 November 1826 – 12 February 1919) was an English politician, born in Barford, Warwickshire.

It was not always so easy. At a meeting at Llangarron we had arranged in the open air, a Conservative speaker with a van took advantage of our advertised meeting and appeared on the scene just before our meeting began; we agreed to allow him to speak first for half an hour, but before commencing his address, he attempted to persuade the men to keep out of the Union by stating that Joseph Arch had started a union before and when he had made enough out of the threepences of the men, went to America and lived in luxury. I stoutly protested that this was not true. He knocked me in the mouth, breaking two of my teeth, and knocking me out. The crowd was furious and was going to run his van into the brook, when I appealed to them to give him a hearing; they finally agreed to allow him the half hour, but the majority of them went into the nearby pub, The Three Horse Shoes, As soon as the half hour was up he had to quit or be thrown into the brook. He was a powerful Irishman, but rather than risk the threatened ducking he hurried away. I was now able to address the men and explain who Joseph Arch was, his work and his retirement, with the pension for life provided by Lady Warwick.


At some meetings in those days I had to be Chairman, Speaker and Secretary, filling in the membership cards at the end of the meeting. I remember at one meeting in the large village of Leintwardine, a powerfully-built man had been sent from the local hotel to upset the meeting. The room was packed, and having appealed to him several times to keep quiet or leave, he refused to go and challenged anyone to put him out. Leaving the platform I seized him at the back and to the amazement of everyone threw him out into the street, another example of the type of opposition we had to put up with. There was no further need of an address—the men said: " Let's have the cards and we'll fill them in." Over one hundred joined the Union that night and a large branch was formed.

On the following Sunday afternoon we organised a meeting on the common at Adforton, where a very large crowd attended from all the surrounding villages. Some had walked five miles or more to be at the meeting, because the incident at the Leintwardine meeting had been talked about in the district, and they all came to see the little man from Hereford who had dealt so ably with a well-known bully.


At this meeting we were fortunate in having a well-known speaker who was a railway worker—a Mr. W. R. Morris, and we were able to open up a large area, where several branches were formed.

At Mortimers Cross several farmers came to the meeting to poison the minds of the workers against myself and the union, at the end of the address a well known farmer asked permission to ask a question and commenced a tirade against me and the union, stating I had not paid my rent before coming to live at Hereford; he was prepared to put down a sovereign if I would do likewise that his statement was true; gladly accepting the challenge I called to see his wife, who was very distressed and begged me not to take the sovereign. On my return to the hotel the farmer agreed he was wrong and apologised. The landlady who held the money gave it to me, and I gave it to the farmers wife who sadly needed it.


At Harewood End after a meeting, a farmers son who had persistantly interrupted followed us into the bar of the inn where I had to pay the room rent, he commenced to abuse me, and the landlord asked him to leave, several men tried to eject him but failed. Asking the landlord's permission let him alone and I will deal with him if he continues his abuse; the boy laughed, and said " What you with an oath " and continued his abuse. In a second I pinned him and he was out quicker than he went in, to the immense delight of the landlord and the men in the bar.

At another meeting held at Upper Hill we were told of a farmer at Gattertop paying a workman 12/- a week cottage rent free, I called at this cottage a few days later and found it in a deplorable condition, it was up a lane where the mud was a foot deep in many places; I found appalling poverty, a girl of 12 years suffering from Tuberculosis caused by lack of nourishment, the damp cottage, getting wet going to school, wet feet and no warm clothing. The cottage was very clean as far as the wife could make it. The husband was a hard working man. I sent this case as an example of many in those days 1913, to the local press.

At a meeting held a month later, I was informed that this farmer had risen his men 2/- a week and this particular one 4/- he being a Stockman. The farmer attended this meeting, a large one and was given a good reception, even addressing the company, stating he expected trouble from his neighbours for his action.


There were many decent men among the farmers, but held back by a supposed loyalty to others and for fearing them.


At an open air meeting held at Knighton Radnor on August 4th, 1914, the first we had held in that county, a very large number of all kinds of workers and a few farmers attended.

Knighton town centre

Knighton town centre
(little changed 3rd March 2007)

It was held under the Clock in the centre of the town, myself acting as Chairman and Speaker. In the middle of my address, a Vicar led a band of scouts with their drums playing past the platform with the obvious intent of disturbing the meeting. This ungentlemanly conduct so annoyed me that I challenged him upon his action, not pulling my punches, told him that his Christianity like that of many church people was far opposed to the teaching of Christ, who had urged his followers to take neither script or purse, but to preach the Gospel to the whole world beginning at Jerusalem. He also stated " He had not where to lay His head " but his followers today demanded the best house in town or village, a good salary, and servants to wait upon them. Did not Christ put the example of the Ass falling in the ditch. Now would the reverend gentleman inform the audience, where assistance, even by advocacy, to help the workers out of the pit of poverty and degradation, had been practiced by the church, except to build a few tin ones in slums to teach the children to be content in that station of life it had pleased God to call them. Did Christ condemn men and women to be content under the conditions of semi-slavery as now existed? A thousand times no! It was a frustration of God's purpose.


At the end of the address questions were invited, the Vicar came and stood near me and began in a pompous manner " Men and women of Knighton I appeal to you not to listen to this man, he is an infidel," at that he ceased and was about to hurry away, again I challenged him: " What authority have you to brand me an infidel? " His answer being: " Out of your own mouth your words condemn you." I said: " Sir, what were the words you refer to." He replied: " You stated that Christianity was a hollow mockery and a fraud." I replied: " You are wrong Sir, but some people don't mind going away from the truth when it suits them, every word I have said here tonight is true and let the audience judge between us. What I said was that Christianity as practiced by some professing Christians was a hollow mockery and a fraud." The crowd roared with delight and the Vicar beat a hasty retreat.


A gentleman owning a cafe nearby, who had stood on his doorstep throughout my meeting approached me and asked me how I was going to get back to Hereford that night, as it was 10 o'clock, I said I was cycling back. He said: " Oh no you are not, I can put you up for the night free of charge, men like you are badly needed around these parts." As a result a strong branch was formed in Knighton and the " Hereford Times " printed a whole column with the caption " An amazing speech at Knighton by Mr. S. Box."


At Yarpole a meeting was held on a Sunday evening, at 6 o'clock, as we had another at a similar village at 8 o'clock. We were busy signing up members after the meeting when the Vicar rushed up furious with anger. He happened to come straight to me and asked, which of you is the Box who is advertised to speak here tonight? I calmly answered, I am; then shaking with passion he said: " Do you know you have kept all these people away from Church to-night? " I replied: " Sir, with all respect to you, what does it prove? They prefer my gospel to yours and I make bold to say that if the clergy had done their duty to their flocks in the past, by condemning the wealthy for their poor treatment of their less fortunate brothers, I should not be at Yarpole tonight." The large crowd had listened to all this and the Vicar, unable to defend my accusation, looked menacingly around the people, unable to understand their new attitude, or to appreciate that the day of grovelling to supposed village dignitaries was passing. He walked away as the crowd quietly smiled, one young man remarking: " That's the way to tell the parson off."


As a pleasant contrast, we held a meeting and formed a strong branch at Sellack, near Ross-on-Wye. The Parish Hall was the meeting place and the committee in charge of this was composed mostly of farmers. On applying for this hall a second time for another meeting we were refused. Hearing of this, the Vicar of the parish wrote offering the Mission Room, and asking to be allowed to take the Chair; this he did, and by so doing gained the love and affection of the workers all around.


At Wellington, Herefordshire, the Vicar offered us the use of the schoolroom, to take the Chair, and to pay for the room. This meeting was a packed one of farmers and workmen, and some amusing incidents arose when question time came along.

A Farmers' wife

A workman, put up by his employer, stated I had a good job, and he would like to take my place—he was sure I could not take his. I immediately took up this challenge and offered to be at his farm first thing next morning, ready to perform any farm duties his employer wanted me to do, but only if he was willing to accept my job. The man replied: I could easy do that, but you can't do my work. Well, I said, as you say you can do mine, start right away by addressing this meeting. Oh, I can't do that, he said, I byunt eddicated enough for that. His employer then asked if he might answer some of my statements, but the Chairman said he could only accept questions unless I agreed. This I readily did.

The farmer then stated that a workman's wife had an easy life compared with the wife of a farmer. She had to manage a large house, feed and rear the poultry, make the butter, attend the markets and bring up a family. I asked him if that was all. There was no reply. Then I informed him he had forgotten one thing. What's that? he shouted. Why, the piano, I said. I told him I would not be happy until all workers had good houses, good furniture, and a piano if they wanted one. The farmer had forgotten to mention that his wife had two servants to help her, and when I had forced him to admit this there were roars of laughter from the crowd, the Vicar joining in.


Ross-on-Wye market hall

Herefordshire, Ross on Wye, Market Hall 1900's

I will quote two more of the many incidents in my first campaign. One open-air meeting on a Sunday afternoon was held in the centre of the square, close to the old Town Hall, at Ross-on-Wye, hundreds of people from the town and the countryside attending. We were supported by the Railway-men and other workers and a signalman took the Chair. It was quite evident that the majority of the people were in sympathy with us, but a few days afterwards I received a letter from a Free Church minister in Ross asking me to call at his house, which I did. He roundly chastised me for about twenty minutes for holding a meeting on Sunday. I asked him to get his Bible and read the Ten Commandments, where it stated: That the Seventh day was the one ordained by God as the Sabbath; then I asked him to turn to Christ's statement: " The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Again, Christ said: "My Father worked hitherto and I work." I said it depended on the object we have in view—the up­lifting of mankind would be in accordance with the will of God, no matter on which day the work was done. I asked him if he was aware that one of his Deacons owned some of the worst slum property in Ross, which at that time was an abomination. After a long talk the Minister and I understood each other better, and we parted the best of friends, he promising to take the Chair at my next meeting. Thus you will see we were anxious to secure the open support of the churches so that they could rightly claim the credit in the future history of the fight of the workers to obtain the justice they so rightly deserved.


Two other cases were at Bishops Frome and St. Weonards. At Bishops Frome the landlord of the village inn refused us the use of a room. The Vicar, getting to hear of this, offered the free use of his Parish Room, with fire and light, and we could have it for our Branch meetings as well. He told me he did this because he fully agreed with the work we were doing. He had seen some very bad conditions under which the men and women worked, locally, and the poor wages they received from a very large hopgrower in the district: the women being paid tenpence to one shilling a day from 8.0 a.m. to 6.0 p.m., and the men one shilling and sixpence to two shillings and sixpence a day from 6.0 a.m. to 6.0 p.m.


At St. Weonards the Vicar took the Chair and gave an address—urging unity for the workers as the only effective way of improving their conditions. He said: As a rule men employed others for the sole purpose of making profits, careless of how their employees lived. These are the only cases throughout the county where the Clergy or Ministers openly assisted us in our work. I am sorry to state that the vast majority either held aloof or were strongly opposed to our movement.


Hoping to arrange a meeting at a village in the Bromyard district, I called at the Vicarage and asked the Vicar if I could have a room to hold a meeting for the workers. He asked: What is the object? and who are you? On being informed, he curtly told me: " We have no room here." Leaving him, and walking down the village, I met a roadman and told him of my interview. He said it was a lie, because there was a good room available where meetings were normally held, and would seat 60 people comfortably. I returned to the Vicarage and bluntly told the Vicar he had misled me. He invited me into his study and in abusive language told me there was no poverty around there, and everyone was well housed.

Dilapidated cottage

From his study window I could see a cottage in a dilapidated state. This I pointed out to him, and contrasted the difference between the Vicarage and the workman's cottage. I gave him a good talking to in a quiet way, so that he was really ashamed of himself, and remarked he would see what could be done. I assured him we could do without help unless willingly given, but we must not be charged with enticing men to public houses if men in control of parish halls and schools banned us. We received a hearty welcome at the village inn and formed a good branch of the Union in that district.


Having given a few examples of the bitter opposition we met with at the meetings, it is advisable to show how such bitterness was passed on to me by bullies among the employers. Walking up Widemarsh street, in Hereford, one market day, a group of young farmers stopped me just outside the Imperial Hotel, cursing and swearing at me. I tried to ignore them, but as I was passing, one struck at me, and having learned to defend myself in cases like this, and being fairly active at this time, I managed to catch him by the wrist, twisting his arm and bringing him to his knees. I then asked him his name and address, but he refused this, and his friends, seeing his plight, were coming to his aid, but I said: " Be British, and one dog, one bone." So they held off, appreciating who was in the wrong. A crowd had gathered and in a short while a policeman was on the spot. I told him my story, and he asked my assailant for his name and address. This information was again refused, but as the officer threatened to take him to the police station he gave in.

To stop this sort of annoyance I decided to place the matter in the hands of a solicitor, asking for a written apology. This was refused at first, but realising I was in earnest, and was going to summons him for assault, he sent the apology and paid the solicitor's fees. This young man was one of many similar who had been put into farming at the commencement of the first World War to avoid being called up for military service. We were continually condemning this class of shirker at our meetings.


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