The Union Leader in Bosbury

Edwin Russell, Reports in the Labourers’ Union Chronicle , No. 9 (Oct. 19, 1872), pp. 6-7

Arrangements having been entered into for about a month’s work in this county [Herefordshire], Mr. Russell and Mr. Jordan started from Harbury on Wednesday morning, October 9th, to Colwell, a long straggling village near to the celebrated Malvern Hills. We found that several months back Mr. Thos. Strange and his party paid a visit to this place, and succeeded in forming a branch in connection with the West of England Association, several labourers giving in their names and paying the entrance fee of 6d., and although that was as far back as April, yet he has never visited them since, and thus the thing has been let slip through for want of looking after. On Thursday, October 10th, from Colwell the delegates passed on to Bosbury, where we held a meeting near the Churchyard wall, not a very good place but the best in the village. It was a very stormy, wet, cold night. About 200 people got together from the surrounding neighbourhood, who often cheered and applauded the speakers. About 26 members were enrolled to start a branch of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union. A Mr. Forster, of Wellington Heath consenting to see to the working of it for the present, a man who the people have great confidence in.

Quoted by Edwin Russell in Reports in the Labourers’ Union Chronicle

CONDITION OF FARM LABOURERS. — This county is certainly in better condition just now as regards the farm labourers than Dorsetshire. I cannot hear of any of those heartless, short-noticed evictions, which are now disgracing the upper and middle classes of the latter shire. The truth seems to be that in Herefordshire both farmers and landowners are well aware that they are working the soil with the very smallest amount of manual labour possible, and see more plainly than their brethren of Dorset the very suicidal nature of the policy of a general discharge. This county, too, is very near to the great centres of industry, that the farmers find that the men, whose spirit is just awakening, will not stand any reduction of wages, but quickly take themselves elsewhere. Since the Union agitation reached Herefordshire, the wages appear to have risen on an average about 2s. per week, or rather less; and the men are still receiving, in many instances, 12s. per week. I had, however, some conversation today with two women, who lived within three miles of Ross, and in both instances, although their husbands were receiving, nominally, 12s. a week (of which 1s. 6d. went in house rent), I found that the day’s wage was invariably deducted throughout the winter from every day that it was too stormy or wet to stand out-of-door work. But what, forsooth, are twelve shillings a week for the support of a family, even without any reduction, in the days when hour by hour the necessaries of life are rising in value, and when luxury rides its wanton race unbridled and unchecked? Correspondent of Birmingham Morning News.

Edwin Russell, Reports in the Labourers’ Union Chronicle , No. 14 (Nov. 23, 1872), pp. 6

BOSBURY.— On Monday, Nov. 11th, another meeting was held here, and on this occasion the opposition party did not come as on the previous one, or if they did they thought it much the wisest plan to keep quiet. We had a splendid meeting, although out-of-doors; the night was cold, frosty, and starlight [sic.], the muster about 400. The place of meeting was near the churchyard, and the speakers were Mr. Russell and Mr. Forster. The subject was ‘Combination: will it benefit the agricultural labourer?’ The speeches were told well, and all was peaceable and orderly. Cheers were given for the Union, and 13 new members enrolled their names, making in the newly-formed branch in Bosbury 57 members in all.

Edwin Russell was one of the twelve labourers on the initial Executive Council of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union in May 1872. Russell deputised in Joseph Arch’s absence as chairman of the Executive Council, and in July 1872 he and Arch were described as ‘the chief organising lecturers of the National Union’. He sent in much more detailed reports to the Chronicle than any of the union’s other organisers, or ‘delegates’, and these permit the organising process to be traced in great detail. From October 1872, Russell seems to have concentrated his attentions on Herefordshire, having already briefly toured the county with Arch in June. Arch went on to become a Liberal MP, but the NALU largely fell apart in the mid-1870s and little else is known about Russell. He was listed in the 1871 census as a farm labourer living in Harbury in Warwickshire, aged 45 and born in Warwick. Interestingly, his eldest son had been born in St. Johns Wood in London, so presumably Russell was not always a farm worker. The 1881 census listed him as living in Commercial Road in Hereford, working as a ‘General Dealer’ and assisted by his wife and three daughters. He was also described as being a local preacher.”

“The weekly Labourers’ Union Chronicle was effectively the National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU) journal and it reached circulation of around 35,000. However few agricultural workers could read it.”

All the above extracts are from the Great Britain Historical GIS Project 2004 as published on the Internet as “A Vision of Britain through Time” by Dr Humphrey Southall, Portsmouth University.

Ernest Selley - Village Trade Unions in Two Centuries - George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1920

The Herefordshire Union was formed in 1871. Its watchword was “Emigration, Migration, but not Strikes.” It had its origin in the village of Leintwardine, and was supported by the Rector. So successful were its operations, that in less than a year it had spread into six counties, and its membership amounted to about thirty thousand. Through its instrumentality the surplus labour was sent into Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Staffordshire, where the wages were six or seven shillings a week higher. The result was that in a very short time wages in Herefordshire rose on an average two shillings a week, and the improvement extended to the neighbouring counties. This was the largest combined effort which had yet taken place.

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