Monday, 3 September 2012

Samuel Morley of Nottingham

This picture is entitled Nottingham Arboretum : Bust of Samuel Morley and is by photographer John Sutton. Should you wish to know more about John`s work, you can click here ; .

There was a period of my life when I worked nearby and Mr Morley`s bust greeted me most weekdays as I often took my lunch-break in the aforementioned arboretum.

The  bust is accompanied by an inscription documenting his qualities and achievements ; "Member of Parliament, Merchant Philanthropist, Friend of Children, Social Reformer, Christian Citizen."

Factually, all this is correct, but it under-sells our man by a mile.

Born in London during 1809, Morley was heir to the family`s wool manufacturing business but soon ventured into publishing and politics. He became one of the proprietors of a Liberal newspaper, the Daily News, and was subsequently MP for Nottingham and later Bristol.

As a young man, Morley had attended a Congregationalist Chapel run by the Rev Dr Thomas Binney, known as The Archbishop of Nonconformity. As I`ve mentioned before, Non-Conformists (`Dissenters`) are a group opposed to state recognition of the Church of England and trace their origins to the time of the English Civil War. They have particularly deep roots in the East Midlands.

Binney was an active anti-slavery campaigner and this was a cause that Morley embraced whole-heartedly , acting as treasurer of a fund to assist escaped American slave Josiah Henson.  Morley contributed an introductory note (written jointly with one George Sturge) to Henson`s autobiography. In the book, Henson particularly highlights the support given to him by Morley and another man, George Hitchcock.

Another beneficiary of Morley`s campaigning zeal was trade unionist George Potter. Potter was the leading figure behind a trade union journal, The Bee Hive. Begun as an independently-run venture, The Bee Hive had become the journal of the London Trades Council. There followed an incident in which another trade unionist, Robert Applegarth, accused Potter of personal dishonesty and of falsifying details of an industrial dispute. The Trades Council investigated and subsequently parted company with both Potter and the Bee Hive.

Potter formed his own group, the London Working Men`s Association, and continued to produce the Bee-Hive. Without Trades Council support, the journal lost money, but was saved when Samuel Morley and another man, Daniel Platt, saved it from bankruptcy by buying up all the shares.

It might seem odd that Morley should form an alliance with Potter, a man accused even by some of his fellow trade-unionists of being a `manufacturer of strikes` and whose honesty had been called into question, but seemingly the two were happy with the outcome. The Bee Hive continued as a vehicle for trade unionists and radical liberals but eventually went under.

Potter went on to pursue a career as a trade unionist but failed in his attempts to become a politician and in a subsequent venture as a publisher of political tracts.

Josiah Henson wrote three books in all and was at different times a Canadian Army Officer and a Methodist preacher. He decided to stay in England after slavery was abolished in the US.

Morley died in 1886 and is remembered as a philanthropist and social reformer. He is buried in Abney Park Cemetery, as is Thomas Binney.



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