The Last Clarion House

One of my objectives during my wander around Pendle was to visit the Clarion House on Jinny Lane, between Newchurch and Roughlee. It’s only open on a Sunday between 10.30 am and 4.00 pm., and as I’d never been over this way on that day before, I was determined not to miss my opportunity, so planned the route so I could visit.

The Clarion, was a socialist weekly, established by Robert Blatchford in Manchester in 1890. It quickly built a loyal readership selling around 30,000 copies a week. A movement started to crystallise around the paper, with Clarion Vans, initiated by Julia Dawson, touring towns and villages throughout England and Scotland between1896 and1929 to spread the Socialist message.

Perhaps influenced by Continental Socialist movements such as the German Social Democratic Party (at that time a Marxist organisation), readers groups formed clubs dedicated to leisure and educational pursuits. Today we’re used to having the weekend off plus Bank Holidays and several weeks annual leave, and there are plenty of things to keep us occupied when we have leisure time. But it wasn’t the same back then. Workers had struggled to gain Sundays and Saturday afternoons off work and activities such as walking and cycling gained in popularity, particularly as workers wanted to escape the smoke and grime of the industrial towns and cities. So, not surprisingly there were rambling and cycling societies affiliated to the Clarion Movement. Clarion Houses were set up in rural areas, initially manly by the Clarion Cycling Club, to provide refreshments, and often accommodation, for cyclists and others enjoying the countryside. Socialist organisations such as the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and Independent Labour Party (ILP) started to follow their example. These also became known as “Clarion Houses“.

The Clarion House on Jinny Lane was founded by the Nelson ILP in 1912, funded by a loan of £350 from the Nelson Weavers Association. They’d originally rented a house on Barley New Road, a short distance away, in 1899 (I passed it later in my walk on the way back to Barley) but it became so popular that larger premises were needed.

The first Clarion House in Pendle

My arrival was well timed as there were a few hours before it was due to close

On the outside of the building was plaque commemorating ILP and Clarion Cycling Club member who had fought for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. This chimed with me as a relative (a Great Uncle), who was a miner and member of the Communist Party in South Wales, was involved in the recruitment of men to fight for the International Brigades.

Inside the walls were decorated with banners, posters and photographs relating to the Socialist and Clarion movements and above the coal fire there was a stained glass window from the former ILP building in Nelson

I bought myself a pint of tea for the very reasonable price of 70 pence, and chatted with the volunteers manning the counter. I sat down on one of the long benches to drink my brew and at my sandwiches, and soon started a conversation with an elderly couple sitting opposite who had walked down from a nearby town and were regular visitors. There were plenty of others in the building enjoying refreshments and a good chat, including groups of Clarion Cyclists (the club is still in existence, but, sadly, severed its historic link to socialism in 2021.

The House sits in it’s own grounds where it organises activities and where, on a fine day, visitors can enjoy sitting in the fresh air looking over very pleasant countryside

There’s a website devoted to the Clarion House with downloadable resources including a book.

Documentary about the Last Clarion House, Pendle, Lancashire. DOP Nick Gordon-Smith Editor Cliff West Music by Vini Reilly, Durutti Column Director Charlotte Bill Clapham Film Unit and Clarion House Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

This is the very last of the Clarion Houses, cared for and maintained by volunteers. In some ways it’s a relic of other, more innocent times. For me, it represents a reminder of a sadly forgotten past but also, perhaps, a small beacon of hope and inspiration for the future.

Rosa Luxemburg Platz

Rsa Luxemburg Platz stands at the top of Rosa Luxemburg Strasse, in Mitte, Berlin, close to Alexanderplatz. The street and square are both named after the Socialist thinker and activist, born in Poland, who became a leader in the German Social Democratic Party (then a Marxist organisation) before the First World War. She was ostracised by the SPD and imprisoned when she opposed the war. Reluctanly drawn into supporting the Spartakist Uprising in 1919 during the revolutionary turmoil that followed the German defeat, she was murdered along with Karl Liebknecht by the Freikorps, a right-wing paramilitary group mainly made up of World War I veterans.

Quotations from her works are engraved into the pavement in the square and the nearby streets.

Although her political ideas were certainly not consistent with those of the Stalinists who were in charge of the German Democratic Republic, they named the street and square in her honour – an attempt to claim some legitimacy. But Rosa would have been appalled by their policies and methods.

    Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of “justice”, but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome, and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when “freedom” becomes a privilege. (Die russische Revolution. Eine kritische Würdigung, Berlin 1920 S. 109; Rosa Luxemburg)

    The square itself is dominated by the Volksbühne theatre. A large, grand neo-Classical building completed in 1914. To me it had a Modernist look about it with it's relatively simple form.
    The origin of the theatre was an organization known as the “Freie Volksbühne” (“Free People's Theater”) formed in 1892 to promote naturalist plays at prices accessible to workers. It was a cultural society and membership subscriptions were used to fund theatre productions which could be attended by the members of the club at a reduced rate. The society allowed workers – organised and led by the Social Democrats – to gain access to and participate in Berlin’s cultural life. The slogan “Die Kunst dem Volke” – Art to the people – was originally engraved on the front of the building, summed up the objective of the society.

    Karl-Liebknecht-House, formerly the headquarters of the German Communist Party (KPD) and now the Left Party (Die Linke) also stands on the Square.

    Red Rosa has also now disappeared

    Where she lies is unknown

    Because she told the truth to the poor

    The rich have hunted her out of the world.

    (Bertolt Brecht)


    Sylvia Pankhurst at Tate Britain

    File:Sylvia Pankhurst 1909.jpeg

    While we were at Tate Britain recently we made a particular point of visiting the temporary exhibition devoted to works of art by Sylvia Pankhurst. It was a little hard to locate, tucked away in a gallery in the interior of the the first floor and not particularly well signposted. The exhibition came about because Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve, who work together as “The Emily Davis Lodge” pressurised the Tate to acknowledge someone they believed was an important, but neglected female artist.

    Sylvia was one of the three daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst,  a socialist and member of the Independent Labour Party from Manchester who was the founder and leader of the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) better known as the Suffragettes. All three sisters, The older Christabel, Sylvia and the youngest, Adela, were active in the movement. But Sylvia became disenchanted with the militant tactics and political stance of the WSPU and split from the organisation in 1913 to work for the Labour Party and  founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes, which campaigned to ensure that working-class women were represented in the suffrage campaign.

    Unlike her mother and older sister she believed in universal suffrage and remained a committed socialist when her mother moved to the right. She was passionate about campaigning to improve the lives of ordinary working class women, not just for votes for wealthier women who owned property (the position adopted by the WSPU).

    Sylvia Pankhurst in her studio by Olivia Plender (Image source here)

    Sylvia had trained as an artist at the Manchester Municipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art. William Morris was a family friend and she was influenced by artists associated with the “Arts and Crafts” Movement such as Morris and Walter Crane. However she gave up her studies in 1906 to work full-time for the WSPU.

    From the works we saw in the exhibition I’d say that she was a talented artist with a lot of promise, but her activism meant that her art was firmly relegated to second place. However, she used her talents for the cause.

    The exhibition includes some of Sylvia’s designs for the WSPU including a  the ‘Holloway brooch’, presented to the suffragettes who had been on hunger strike,

    Holloway Prison brooch

    The Holloway brooch (image source here)

    and a banner and a tea set with the Suffragette’s symbol (they wouldn’t have used the word “logo” at the beginning of the 20th Century), the “Angel of Freedom”.


    The WPSU tea set (image source here)

    Given my personal background and my work, the most interesting part of the exhibition was the selection of paintings and drawings of working women.

    In 1907 she spent several months touring industrial communities documenting the working and living conditions of women workers. Her combination of artworks with written accounts provided a vivid picture of the lives of women workers and made a powerful argument for improvement in working conditions and pay equality with men. (Tate Britain website)

    The pictures feature women at work in the potteries in Stoke on Trent, the Leicester shoe-making industry, and a Glasgow cotton mill. The style of these paintings is very much “social realism”, clearly intended to

    draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions. (MOMA website)

    I snapped a few of the paintings during our visit (they’re not great pictures – I took them at an angle to minimise the reflections in the cover glass)

    There were several featuring women  working in the potteries in Stoke on Trent. In this picture women can be seen “scouring” and stamping the maker’s name on the “biscuit” (the fired but unglazed ware). “Scouring” involved removing flint dust from the biscuit, leading to exposure to crystalline silica which, over a number of years, can lead to the debilitating lung disease, silicosis.


    In this painting the worker is finishing off the edges of unfired plates on a “whirler”. Again she would have been exposed to dust containing respirable crystalline silica.


    The next two pictures (charcoal sketches) show workers in the “dipping shed” where the glaze was applied. Although at this time lead based glazes were still widely used even though alternative glazes were available.


    Workers applying the glazes could have significant lead exposures leading to industrial lead poisoning which can lead to many different symptoms such as anaemia, collic  and peripheral neuritis (where movement in the fingers hands and arms can be affected). Lead is also a teratogen – affecting the unborn child. And many pregnant workers suffered stillbirths and the mental development of surviving children would have most likely been affected.


    According to the gallery’s caption the only reasons fro the continued use of lead based glazes was commercial – i.e. they were cheaper ten the less toxic alternatives. Profits came before the health of the workers. Regulation of lead has reduced the risk considerably in modern industry. The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 require that

    No employer shall use a glaze other than a leadless glaze or a low solubility glaze in the manufacture of pottery. (Regulation 4)

    Unfortunately there will always be ruthless employers who will disregard the health of their employees in the pursuit of profit and the Regulations have played an important role in preventing lead poisoning. That’s why it’s important to resist calls for “deregulation”.

    There were a number of paintings of women working on cotton processes. Sadly not from my home county of Lancashire, but from a mill in Glasgow


    The caption to this picture tells us of how Sylvia was told of how the workers were made sick by the heat and the “bad air” when they first began working in the mills.

    Although there were no pictures to illustrate this in the exhibition, Sylvia visited my home town of Wigan and met with women who worked in the coal mining industry. Writing about the ‘pit-brow lassies’ :

    In spite of their great strength and the arduous labours they perform, they are, like most other women workers, very poorly paid… A bankswoman earns from 1s 10d to 2s 4d; whilst a banksman, doing exactly the same work gets from 4s 9d to 5s a day. It is this question of underpayment that is at the root of most of the hardship and suffering.

    Sylvia Pankhurst speaking in the East End of London in 1912

    (image source here)

    Sylvia remained a radical all her life, opposing the First World War, supporting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, helping Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and led the campaign against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. She was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but was expelled for opposing the leadership (she considered them too right wing). This exhibition revealed another aspect to her life and character.

    Gerd Arntz – Artist and Activist

    Gerd Arntz

    (Source: Gert Arntz web archive)

    While visiting the Art Turning Left exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool last week, I was particularly taken by a small number of simple wood cut prints with a political message by the German artist Gerd Arntz. I’d never heard of him before, but, curious, I decided to try to find out more.

    Although he was born into a wealthy family, he became a committed socialist. Moving to Dusseldorf in 1919, and the year after he joined the Cologne Progressives, a group of Communist artists based in Cologne and Düsseldorf. He was a “council communist” who advocated the formation of worker’s councils, like the Soviets that preceded the Russian Revolution of 1917, to replace the existing state apparatus.

    He created woodcuts for the ‘Allgemeine Arbeiter Union’ (General Labor Union) as well as the Communist ‘Intenationale Arbeiter Hilfe’.

    (source – Creative Review)

    In 1925, he took over Otto Dix’s studio in the city. Throughout his life, he specialised in producing woodcuts and linoleum cuts, criticising social inequality, exploitation and war – a technique that allowed reproduction and widespread dissemination of images for propaganda purposes.


    Bürgerkrieg (woodcut 1928)

    Linocut print by Gerd Arntz

    The Third Reich (Linocut, 1934) 


    Strike (Woodcut 1936)


    His prints were exhibited, sold to sympathetic art lovers, and published in left wing magazines.There’s a good selection of his images here.

    In 1926 he was recruited by Otto Neurath to design pictograms and further develop ISOTYPE – the International System of Typographic Picture Education –at that time, a revolutionary approach to communicating complex information using symbols.  From the beginning of 1929 Arntz worked at the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum (Social and Economic Museum) directed by Neurath in Vienna, and designed around 4000 pictograms which could be used to symbolise key data from industry, demographics, politics and economy, transcending language barriers.

    In 1930 they produced the Atlas Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft a statistical atlas on society and the economy with charts and diagrams using the pictograms.



    "Numbers of motor vehicles in the world" (USA and rest of the world).

    A selection of around 600 of Arntz’s pictograms are available on-line at the Gerd Arntz web archive website. Here are a few examples.







    gerd arntz archive

    (source Austin Kleon)

    Today these symbols and pictograms have a very familiar look. Just check out your clip art collection or look at the icons used on your phone, tablet and computer. Similar symbols are used in all sorts of applications, including representations of statistical data. But in the 1930’s they were revolutionary, from both an artistic and political perspective.

    In 1934, Arntz fleeing the fascist regime in Austria, emigrated to The Hague, and in 1934, he published a series of prints warning against the danger of Nazism. In 1943, after the German invasion of the Netherlands, as a German citizen Arntz was conscripted into German military service, but deserted to the French Resistance in 1944. After the war he moved back to the Hague and continued to work as a graphic designer. He also remained a committed socialist to the end of his life in 1980.