Talk Of Shooting Put Man On Path To Socialism (19 October 1973)
I arrived at Bletchley in time to attend the last meeting of what could be called its “long parliament”. This was the war-time urban council which by 1946 had reigned for seven electionless years and was due for a change. Politically it had been evenly-balanced, though after the illness and death during that period of one member, Mr. A.J. Stevens, Labour had had a virtual 6-5 majority over Independents. Three other councillors had also died during the war and one had retired through illness. They had been replaced by co-option.
It looked like other small urban councils I had attended elsewhere, so I felt pretty well at home straight away. I had covered five such councils each month at one period.
Mr Syd Maycock was the chairman, sitting on a small dais with the vice-chairman. The other members sat in a straight rank facing them, except for one at each end who sat looking inwards at right-angles to the rest. Like the chairman of other small councils, Mr. Maycock had no insignia.
At hand were the clerk, Mr. R. L. Sherwood, and the engineer and surveyor, Mr. J.F. Smithie. There was nobody on the public bench or benches, but at the press table sat Mr. Ron Stanford, Mr. Carl Moser and myself.
Of all those present, only Mr. Smithie, now in the then-unheard-of designation of Town Manager, remains with a job to do in the councils’ much-altered chamber. Many have passed away.
That meeting, besides being the last of the long council, was also notable for the retirement of Labour’s veteran fighter, Mr. Oliver Wells, who during the proceedings presented his photograph for addition to what was facetiously known as the “rogues gallery” of former chairmen.
Though he lived for some years afterwards, Mr. Wells must have sensed that his council job was done, for at the 1946 election Labour obtained an absolute majority for the first time in the council’s history and have won more than they have lost ever since, despite one period of Conservative supremacy.
As a result of that election the 12-seat council comprised: Bletchley Ward, three seats, R.E. Farwell (Lab), C.D. Flack (Lab), W.S. Johnson (Ind); Fenny Stratford Ward, six seats, F.A. Bates (Lab), E.E. Callaway (Ind), H.P. Dimmock (Lab), S. Maycock (Lab), H.J. Price (Lab), W.E. Stanton (Lab); Simpson Ward, two seats, W. D. Brinkler (Ind), W.G. Mells (Ind); Water Eaton, one seat; W.H. Gurney (Ind).
It had taken the local Labour movement getting on for 50 years to obtain that first council majority. One of the earliest active socialists in the town was Mr. Harry P. Dimmock, who is remembered with much respect by older member of all parties. He served on the council for over 30 years.
In 1953 he told me that about 50 years previously when he was a very young man, he was set on the road to Socialism by a Tory (a not infrequent happening in both directions). He was listening to a group of men talking politics when he heard the Tory say “I don’t mind a good Liberal, but these . . . Socialists ought to be shot”.
Who were these people who ought to be shot?
He found about a dozen people, mostly associated with the railway unions who “ought to be shot,” and when they formed themselves into a group he became their first secretary. Among them were Mr. Oliver Wells and also his brother, Mr. Allen Wells, who, if possible, was even more enthusiastic than Oliver.
Their problem was how to get themselves noticed. They tried many ruses, including writing letters on local topics to the papers and then replying to themselves under pseudonyms.
In that era Fenny was busiest on Saturday nights up to the closing of the shops at 10 o’clock and they succeeded in persuading Mr. G Pacey, the Aylesbury Street ironmonger, to allow them to preach Socialism from a crate on his forecourt (the later Mr. Pacey that I knew had shotguns in his window!).
They had visiting speakers but they wondered whether they were getting anywhere until once again some Tories unconsciously helped them. There were the 100 or so members of the local Working Men’s Unionist Association. They set up their own rostrum not 20 yards away and the resulting hectic but not disorderly encounters put the Socialists right in the picture.
Anon they received support from high and unexpected quarters. Dr. Gore, the Bishop of Oxford, was a Socialist, and after visiting a local church he addressed a meeting called by the NUR at the Co-op Hall the same evening.
Nearby lived Mr. Denis Hird, the first principle(sic) of Ruskin College, Oxford, a well-known lecturer on ethics. He was a friend of Sir Herbert Leon, of Bletchley Park, who was a Liberal but was also interested in rationalism.
An ethical society was formed and for its meetings – “with ethics very broadly based” – Sir Herbert allowed the use of the cricket pavilion (how that pavilion does keep cropping up!).
About this time Oliver Wells and Arthur Phillips were candidates for the Fenny Ward, and in 1911 Allen Wells had the temerity to stand against Sir Herbert himself in the Bletchley Ward, though he polled only two votes.
In 1914, however, the Labour Party won their first seat on the council. There were no elections for the duration of the first world war but by 1919 millions were deserting the Liberal Party in favour of the Labour Party all over the country and the local Labour Party had two more members elected to the council that year. Nevertheless, it took 27 more years to obtain an elected majority.
“But now,” Mr. Dimmock told me sorrowfully, “we who ought to have been shot have arrived, alas, at respectability!”