William Morris. Commonweal 1888

Socialist Work at Norwich

Source: “Socialist Work at Norwich” Commonweal, Vol 4, No. 137, 25 August 1888, p.268;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I am sure our comrades generally will be glad to hear a little of the course of Socialist propaganda in Norwich and its neighbourhood, which for some reason or other has become a stronghold of the cause.

Our comrades had determined on a rally in Norwich, and invited several of us Leaguers, together with Mrs Besant and Herbert Burrows, to help them. Faulkner, Mrs Schack, Mainwaring, and Morris got down to the old city on Saturday evening, and were most cordially received by the Branch at the Gordon Hall, where there was singing and recitation, and agreeable converse generally.

On the Sunday morning Mainwaring went to Yarmouth, and addressed a large meeting on the beach. Mrs Schack went to Wymondham, and though the meeting in that quiet little place was not big, it was very attentive and serious. In the city itself, Faulkner spoke at St Mary’s Plain and Morris, with Mowbray in the chair, in the Market Place. The meeting there was considerably over a thousand, and was attentive and sympathetic. Faulkner came up just before it was over, and gave a short address on the subject of Education; and the meeting held well together to the last.

In the afternoon a waggonette was drawn up under the bronze shadow of that very dull hero the Iron Duke (in bronze), and Mowbray was in the ‘chair’ there at 2.30, our comrades of the Branch being drawn round the platform. It was an exciting scene when we got there, the concourse being very large round the platform, in spite of the counter attractions of the fag end of the Salvation Army and the summons of the bells of the huge tower of St Peter Mancroft. The ‘Army’ having done speaking, moved away with its band, which presently came into the place, but with few followers, and the coming of another band of gospellers had no influence on the meeting except to swell it somewhat. Before 3 o'clock there must have been fully ten thousand persons closely packed round the waggonette. The comrades being called upon now sang ‘No Master’, in the midst of which Herbert Burrows and Mrs Besant came duly punctual, and the business began. A resolution in favour of the abolition of private property had been prepared, which was moved by Herbert Burrows, who began by telling the audience that some five years ago he lectured on Socialism in Norwich to an audience of five persons. His clear and telling speech was well received. Mrs Besant followed, and was received with much enthusiasm. Morris supported, and the resolution was put after an amendment had been called for without result, and four-fifths of the meeting or more held up their hands for and six hands against. Mrs Schack and Faulkner then spoke, and the meeting broke up, without the least disorder, except that one man, a stranger, got somewhat obstreperous (or rather the liquor in him did) and was run in by the police. This would not be worth mentioning if it were not that our comrades were vexed and indignant that the Norwich Nupkinses gave him a month next day, our comrades by no means wishing to bring the law down on their opponents for such trifles.

In the evening Burrows and Mainwaring spoke again in the Market place to a large audience, and Morris lectured (on Monopoly) at the Cordon Hall, which was as full as it would hold. No opposition could be got, and it was clear that the whole audience were really Socialists.

On the Monday Burrows, Mainwaring, and Morris spoke in the Market Place in the dinner hour; the audience was again large for a week-day, and did not break up till 2.30, having listened eagerly all the time. Burrows and Mrs Besant spoke at Carrow, close to Colman’s mustard works, in the dinner hour, and had a large and satisfactory audience, mostly composed of the workmen and girls, Mrs Besant telling her hearers of the illegality of fines. The last open-air meeting was in the Market Place at 6.30. Burrows, Mainwaring, and Morris speaking. One or two ill-conditioned persons attempted to get up a row on this occasion, but produced little or no effect on the crowd, who listened as attentively as before.

The meetings ended with Mrs Besant’s lecture in St Augustine’s School, a large room somewhat on the outskirts of the town, to which we had been driven by the refusal of the large halls in the town. This place was crammed by an eager audience, who took up every point in the lecture, which, though both eloquent and clear, would have been hard to follow by a non-Socialist who had not studied the question. The answering of the questions also which were put gave occasion to the audience to show that they appreciated the points, and certainly except for a few respectables who honoured us with their presence, there could have been but few present who were not thoroughly sympathetic.

The press, both Liberal and Tory, reported all our proceedings fully, and considering all things, quite as fairly as could be expected. In comparing the audiences there with others, one could not fail to be struck with an air of eagerness and receptiveness, which shows that the propaganda is doing its work. The audiences do not come to stare or loaf, but to listen.

The impression which Socialism has thus made in a place not very important, nor specially progressive, is the result of sheer hard work on the part of our comrades, who are all quite poor men, and have no influence but what their steadiness and enthusiasm in the cause gives them. What has been done there can be done elsewhere if only men will devote themselves to the propaganda.

Our comrades are in trouble at Yarmouth. The week before this demonstration, comrade Poynts was summoned for speaking on the Church Plain in that town, though we had held meetings there for long, and though a religious meeting was being held at the same time as he was holding the Socialist one. Our comrade has been sent to prison for a month for this terrible ‘offence’ of free speaking, and as this is clearly a piece of mere persecution of opinion, it is to be hoped that all parties who have any feeling for freedom will back up our friends, who are fighting the battle of free speech for all honest men both in the present and the future.