The last remaining venue of its kind in the country, Pendle-in Newchurch’s Clarion House has been spreading the word of socialism to (and butter on the scones of) scores of lucky visitors since 1912.
Hidden in a valley in Jinny Lane, its construction was commissioned by the Nelson Independent Labour Party as a new non-profit and cooperative centre and was funded by a generous £350 loan from the Nelson Weavers Association. This act highlighted the growing relationship between trade unions and the emerging independent labour political parties at the time.
According to John Boardman, its members chose the location in the hope that it would provide a vision of hope for what the rest of a world under socialism could look like, with the idyllic setting representing moral and social as well as physical beauty.
Once built, the centre provided numerous cultural and educational activities to local residents working in the cotton industry, from cycling, meals, a choir and camping trips. The aim was to support a growing social movement whose main principle was the creation of a socialist commonwealth based on cooperation, peace and harmony, rather than conflict and material greed.
It gained many regular members, some of whom devoted the remainder of their lives to helping at the house due to their knowledge that their involvement would contribute to making the world a better place than when they first entered it.
Although now only open on Sundays it still provides a warm welcome and integral meeting point and tea break for all ramblers, cyclists and other visitors interested in the movement’s message.
It was one of several such centres that were established across the North in Burnley, Clitheroe, Wharfedale, Liverpool and London following the launch of The Clarion newspaper by Robert Blatchford and friends in 1891.
Blatchford, a journalist living in Manchester, had decided he wanted to spread the word of socialism after coming to the conclusion that it was the only practical way to alleviate the poverty he had witnessed first-hand in the city. When Edward Hulton, the editor of the Sunday Chronicle which he was then writing for , refused to let him write on the topic he left his post to pursue his dream independently.
He called his paper The Clarion, a reference to the instrument used to make loud proclamations. Fortunate that some of his readership followed him to his new publication and that he had a team of committed writers including writers Montague Blatchford, Alex Thompson, Edward Fay and Robert Suthers the weekly publication soon took off. Containing a mix of upbeat news, comment, stories and poetry it became a favourite in a notable number of households around the country.
Not long after Clarion readers began establishing readers’ clubs where they could meet like-minded individuals. There they engaged in cultural activities which offered an alternative to the hardships of everyday working life and allowed them to attempt to pre-figure life under socialism. Along with cycling clubs they created handicraft and rambling groups and ‘cinderella’ clubs, which provided entertainment and respite to some of the most disadvantaged city children. In 1908 the Clarion Café was opened at 50a Market Street in Manchester which remained until the 1930s.
It was only when Blatchford announced his support of the First World War in 1914 that the movement began to show signs of rupture, leading to a wane in The Clarion’s readership. As Michael Herbert highlighted in his article on its decline, many could not comprehend his decision. One member, Collin Coates, summed up the feeling when he said: “We could not equate socialism, as we had understood it, with the organised killing of others of our own class.
“This attitude aroused Blatchford to a pitch of patriotic fervour which caused him to abuse and vilify such of us as had failed to drop our socialism for a narrow nationalism.”
The increasing popularity of the Labour and Communist Parties further encouraged dwindling membership to the point that in 1927 The Clarion turned into a monthly publication. Its final edition was published in 1934, signalling the formal end of the movement and Blatchford’s dream.
Whilst the cycling and singers groups still exist today the Nelson ILP Clarion House is the only lasting physical monument to a holistic project that captured the hearts and minds of working individuals in a way not widely seen in England before.
To find out its opening times click here.