The Education Act Tax Resistance Campaign: January 1907

We’re now entering . The passive resistance campaign against the Education Act of has been going on for several years, and the House of Lords has successfully stymied attempts in the judiciary and in the newly Liberal-controlled House of Commons to reform the Act.

The Manchester Courier of covered the summons to court of another set of resisters. Excerpts:

More Passive Resistance.

Southport Magistrates at Variance.

, at Southport, a number of “passive resisters,” including twelve Nonconformist ministers, were summoned for non-payment of rate.

The Rev. J.T. Barkley said that they objected to payment on conscientious grounds, more especially as the will of the people had been thwarted by the House of Lords.

Dr. A. Wood, J.P., observed that that was more a matter for the political platform than for the court.

The Chairman, Mr. Jones, quite sympathised with Mr. Barkley and his friends, but the magistrates had no choice in the matter and must make an order for payment. What he objected to was the wasting of the time of the court, all for no purpose.

Mr. Lawton, another magistrate, said that was the view of only one portion of the Bench, and he and his colleague, Mr. R. Cooper, were prepared to hear what Mr. Barkley had to say.

Mr. Davy, another Justice, dissented from Mr. Lawton, whereon the Chairman observed that if they were all going to be chairmen he would resign his position.

Mr. Lawton went into the body of the court from the Bench to answer his name. He said he would like to ask the tax collector how much of the rate went to the High Church, the Broad Church, and the Low Church. (Applause and laughter.)

The Chairman said that he would not have the court made a laughing place.

The usual order for payment was made.

Would Prefer Gaol

Four “passive resisters” were summoned for non-payment of rates at Bolton .

Mr. William W. Collinson, of 58, Moncrieffe-street, said they appeared not because they could not pay the amounts due, but because they declined.

Alderman Brown: If you prefer to pay something extra in order to state your objection, we don’t object.

Mr. Collinson: We prefer to do that till such times as we can go to gaol. We should prefer the latter course.

Alderman Brown: We are not going to oblige you this morning.

Mr. Collinson: I wish you would, sir.

Orders were made in all the cases.

On there was a passive resistance demonstration at Hirst (Ashington), Northumberland. The Morpeth Herald and Reporter was there. Excerpts:

Passive Resistance Demonstration at Hirst.

Welcome to the Rev. G.R. Bell.

Resolution of Protest Against the Lords.

Remarkable Speech by the Rev. J.W. Ogden.

The return of the Rev. G.R. Bell to Ashington, after undergoing seven days’ imprisonment at Newcastle gaol, as a Passive Resister, was made the occasion of a passive resistance demonstration on in the Hirst P.M. Chapel.…

The Rev. Bastow Wilson moved the following resolution:– “This public meeting of citizens of Hirst and Ashington hereby warmly welcomes with appreciation and honour the Rev. G.R. Bell, Primitive Methodist minister, after suffering the indignity of seven days’ imprisonment in Newcastle gaol in vindication of his conscientious refusal to pay the sectarian portion of the education rate. The meeting utters its indignant protest against the mutilation and ultimate destruction of the Education Bill by the Bishops and the House of Lords, and strongly urges His Majesty’s Government immediately to give effect to the promise of the Prime Minister (in whom and the Government it has unabated confidence) that a way must be found and will be found to make the will of the people prevail; copies of this resolution to be sent to the Premier, Mr. McKenna, the newly-appointed Secretary of the Board of Education, and Mr. Charles Fenwick, M.P. for the constituency.” The reading of the resolution was greeted with applause.

Reginald McKenna succeeded Augustine Birrell as the Liberal cabinet’s President of the Board of Education after Birrell’s education bill was stymied by the House of Lords. McKenna would propose a new bill that was so watered down that it satisfied nobody, and in any case was again squashed by the House of Lords. Wilson continued:

The position of Non-conformists to-day was unchanged in the respect that they could not obey the law of . They were looking anxiously to Mr. McKenna, of whom they had great expectations. Whatever happened the Liberal party must not drop the education matter. Such pressure must be used that they would not dare to do so. (Applause.) They were glad to have the assurance of the Prime Minister, in whom they had perfect confidence, that the resources of the Government had not been exhausted in regard to the education question, which they intended to deal with. He (Mr. Wilson) hoped the Prime Minister would feel that he had the great body of public opinion to back him up. The people of England were determined that this question should be kept to the front until it was settled, and settled righteously. At present the Lords barred the way. “If they don’t mind they will be swept into oblivion, as they deserve to be,” said Mr. Wilson amid applause. “They had better be wise, and read the notice, ‘Beware of the steam roller,’ for it is coming surely on, and if they don’ get out of the way, so much the worse for them.” … The Act of , said Mr. Wilson, in conclusion, was still the law of the land. Could they in the sight of God obey that law? They were not bound to obey a law simply because it was the law. A law might infringe the most sacred rights of humanity, and were they going to obey it because it was the law? Certainly not. In the sight of God they dare not obey this law, and there came to them to-day an emphatic call for greater resistance than they had ever yet made. (Loud applause.)

“Clerical Scoundrels.”

In a stirring speech, the Rev. J.W. Ogden, who was received with great enthusiasm, seconded the resolution. … Why did Mr. Bell go to prison? Because he refused at the bidding of Cæsar to render the things he regarded as belonging to God. (Applause.) Proceeding, Mr. Ogden said he hoped those (if any) who came to that meeting expecting a comic show would be sadly disappointed. He had never yet been able to see and appreciate the comic aspect of passive resistance. If those people had seen as he had seen in ministers’ homes the sorrowing wives and children, they would not see, as they seemed to, anything of a comic character in meetings like this. “Are you going to take this lying down?” he exclaimed a few moments later. “So far as I am concerned,” he continued, “I would rot in gaol before I would permit a single penny of my Master’s money to be used by these clerical scoundrels for the poisoning of the minds of our children.” (Loud applause.)

“You never had such a chance in your life for striking a blow for God and liberty as you have at this moment,” Mr. Ogden went on to say. [“]What are you going to do? Protest and pay? The enemy can stand any amount of that. The paying of money is to me a moral act. I have ceased to speak of ‘my’ money, ‘my’ house, or ‘my’ property. They are God’s, and I shall one day give an account to my Master of the monies I have withheld for this education rate — and I hope the bishops and curates will be there to audit it.”…

Mr. Bell’s Address.

The resolution was carried with enthusiasm, and the Rev. G.R. Bell, whose rising was the signal for a prolonged round of applause, then addressed the meeting. He began by saying that he had dreaded that meeting more than he had dreaded the gaol. He expressed his very hearty appreciation of their welcome. That meeting was a great surprise to him, for he had thought that the passive resistance movement in that district was despised and rejected, and that there was not sufficient interest in it to get together such a large audience. When he heard that they wanted to have a brass band and a carriage, and to pull him up to the church, that surprised him more than ever. He really had not thought there was all that heart and soul in the people of the district towards this very important movement.… Perhaps they would be surprised when he told them that ever since the beginning of the movement in Northumberland and Durham Mr. Ogden had made it his duty, when a passive resister had been imprisoned, to ascertain the day and hour of the prisoner’s release, and meet him at the prison gates, with a full heart and a full bag. (Applause.)…

In prison, said Mr. Bell, they were not allowed to speak to one another, and they were allowed to have only one letter a week, all letters sent in being read by the Governor. He remarked that the Governor had learned quite a lot about the passive resistance movement while he (Mr. Bell) was in prison, through the letters he had to read and his conversation with Mr. Ogden when the latter was endeavouring to gain admission. He hoped that the next time he had to go to prison they would send him plenty of letters so as to further educate the Governor in regard to the movement. (Laughter.)

A second article in the same paper gave a more in-depth look at Bell’s prison time. Excerpts:

Mr. Bell’s Experiences in Prison.

His Exposition of the Passive Resistance Attitude.

The week’s imprisonment undergone by the Rev. G.R. Bell was (writes a representative of the Herald) in respect of his second commitment by the Morpeth magistrates, and as a matter of fact there is still another week in gaol “due” to him. When, on , Inspector Howey called on Mr. Bell to execute the warrant, the minister asked, “Is it for a fortnight?” The officer assured him the term was only a week, and it is therefore to be assumed that the commitment order of six months earlier has been allowed to lapse.

Mr. Bell had been laid up with influenza some days prior to the police officer’s visit, and he was still suffering from the enervating effects of the prevalent disease. He was really not fit to go away, but it is characteristic of the man that, without saying anything to his doctor as to what was about to happen, he immediately prepared himself to accompany Inspector Howey to the Newcastle Gaol. Many sneers have been directed at the “martyrdom” of the Passive Resisters; but there can be no doubt that a week in prison must be a terrible ordeal for one who has no affinity with criminals, and Mr. Bell unquestionably suffered a great deal, both physically and mentally, during his seven days’ incarceration within the walls of the prison on Tyneside.

Passive Resisters who go to prison are treated as delinquents in Class B, a division in which the food is dispensed less frugally than is the case in Class A. Mr. Bell was allowed meat twice a week, but I rather gathered that his reminiscences in connection with the commissariat of the gaol were scarcely pleasant. A man of modest disposition, he was, I found, very reluctant to talk about his prison experiences. He was allowed to wear his own clothes, this being one of the concessions for such “privileged” inmates of His Majesty’s prisons. He was, however, given a certain amount of manual labour to perform every day, this taking the shape of picking hemp. But, as will readily be believed, the day, with its anchorite fare, its exercise in the court-yard, and its hemp-picking, was more tolerable than the night when the prisoner was left to his hard pallet — and his thoughts. Mr. Bell calculates that he would sleep no more than some eighteen hours throughout the whole of the six nights that he was in custody; and the severity of the nervous strain of such sleeplessness, and strenuous reflection, on a sensitive mind can be readily imagined, though to be adequately comprehended the actual experience must be undergone.

On , Mrs. Bell was permitted to visit her husband, the interview taking place under the usual regulations of prison– that is to say it was restricted to a quarter of an hour, and was carried on in the presence of the warder. The term of imprisonment expired Unknown to Mr. Bell, the Rev. J.W. Ogden was waiting at the prison gates early in the morning; and the sight of a ministerial brother at such a moment was most welcome. As was reported in the Herald last week, Mr. Bell reached Ashington . It had been arranged at Ashington to organise a demonstration and to escort the rev. gentleman from the station to his home amid the inspiring strains of a brass band; but Mr. Bell promptly put his foot on any such outward manifestation. He was, however, accorded a tremendously enthusiastic reception at the public meeting on , a report of which appears above.