Mr and Mrs Clayton
Margaret Clayton was arrested in March 1907 and her husband, Joseph, in February 1909.
Margaret, whose maiden name was Souter, was born on 25th April 1863 in Stirling, Scotland to Robert and Margaret, one of seven children. Margaret’s mother died in 1876 and by the time of the 1881 census, the family had moved south to Southampton where Margaret’s father worked as a supervisor for the Inland Revenue. The census return records Margaret as her father’s housekeeper. Ten years later, the family is still living in Southampton and Margaret is earning a living as a dressmaker.
Joseph was born on 28th April 1868 in Islington, North London, the son of Francis, a collector for companies and onetime manager of St James Gazette, and Julia. Joseph joined three elder sisters: Julia (known as Dorothy), Mary, and Margaret. Four more children followed Jane, Thomas, Edith and Ralph. Joseph and Jane, a year younger than her brother, were both baptised on the same day. By the time of the 1871 census, the family was living on St Thomas Road, Finsbury Park, a few miles north of Islington.
Ten years later, the family moved to Upper Holloway, again in North London. Joseph went to Oxford University. His entry in the Oxford Men and Their Colleges 1880 to 1892 states he attended North London Collegiate School but given it is a girls’ school, it may mean he sat exams under their auspices. Joseph attended university as a non-collegiate, meaning he was not affiliated to any college, a scheme founded to allow students to attend but pay lower fees. Two years later, in 1895, Joseph moved to Worcester College.
While at Oxford, Joseph became involved with the Christian Socialists which led him to join the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He moved to Leeds becoming an active member of the city’s ILP branch. The Leeds Branch appointed Joseph secretary in April 1894 and he stood as the party’s candidate for election to the local school board. Joseph, prior to his time in Leeds, worked for a short while as a fire raker at the Vauxhall Gasworks in south London. In consequence, the Gas Workers and General Labourers proposed Joseph as a delegate to the Leeds Trade Council Union; a proposal which was rejected after much-heated debate as he did not currently work in the industry and in the past had only done so for a month. Joseph declared in a letter to the local newspaper that he was a genuine working man, but the council did not believe him as he was not wearing corduroys or a silk hat.
Meanwhile, Joseph campaigned for election to the local school board with the agenda of free education and free breakfasts which he combined with local and national political activism. The Leeds Mercury published a long letter Joseph wrote regarding the actions of John Burns, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Battersea in south London. Burns started his political career as a member of the Social Democratic Federation and Trade Unionist, but although seen as an independent radical in Parliament, he aligned with the Liberals. Joseph observed that Burns as an agitator and rioter is ‘admirable’ but ‘as a political and social oracle is ridiculous.’ In his opinion, one shared with many others including Charlotte Despard, there were two John Burns. During October 1894, Keir Hardie, then the Member of Parliament for West Ham South and a founder of the ILP, travelled to Leeds to lend his support to the campaign for the up-and-coming election. Despite a vigorous campaign, Joseph was unsuccessful.
He was appointed the General Secretary for the Leeds branch the following year. A position he held alongside heading up the Unemployed Committee formed within each branch of the ILP across the country to campaign for work and support for those who did not have jobs. In a letter to a local newspaper, he vociferously questioned the figures of unemployed provided by the Liberals arguing that the ILP’s research estimated there were 8000 in that position in Leeds alone. Across the country, the ILP lobbied for a holiday on 1 May to be known as Labour Day.
Reverend Percy Dearmer and a management committee founded a new socialist magazine, The Commonwealth, in 1896. Joseph contributed an article to the third edition published in March of that year. This marked the start of Joseph’s career as a writer. Shortly afterwards the Manchester Press published Before Sunrise and Other Pieces described as ‘a distinct contribution to the poetry of Democracy’ drawing on his own experiences ‘with remarkable force and imagination.’ Interviewed for Liberty, Joseph said he wrote the pieces ‘in the storm and stress of political agitation … in the dim, grey dawn of the Coming Day.’
An active member of the Fabian Society, Joseph gave a series of lectures in the east of England, which opened with Tom Paine and Early Radicalism given in Norwich. In April 1897, he was appointed the organising secretary of the ILP Southampton Branch. A few months later, Joseph and Delmar Bicker Caarten were accused of libel. Bicker Caarten, a commercial traveller, campaigned against poverty in Southampton for many years. An article he wrote, published in the Southampton Times, led to the publication running a series of articles investigating conditions. Greeted with horror, an inquiry followed, leading to one of the first slum clearances. The case eventually came to court in February 1898. When Joseph entered the dock, his guard informed the judge that the prisoner had refused to be searched and possibly owned a gun. The judge humorously asked Joseph if he intended to shoot him before insisting, he be searched. They did not find a gun. Found guilty, the court fined Joseph 5 shillings for libel.
Joseph campaigned in Southampton for the school board election which saw an ILP member successfully elected. During 1898 and 1899 Joseph suffered from ill health which necessitated several operations followed by a lengthy period of convalescence. Only by September was he able to resume giving lectures. In 1898 he wed Margaret. Joseph’s writing career began to take off with the publication of Grace Marlow and The Under Man. This he combined with the editorship of Labour Chronicles from 1896 to 1898 and later he owned and edited New Age from 1906 to 1907.
Joseph practised as an Anglo-Catholic and authored two biographies of leading Anglo-Catholics: Bishop Westcott and Father Dolling, Father Stanton of St Alban’s, Holborn. In 1910, Joseph converted to Catholicism and contributed to a variety of Catholic publications.
By 1907, Joseph was an active participant in the campaign for the vote and a member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage of which he became Honorary Secretary. At a meeting in Kensington, he humorously rebuked the men heckling in the audience by observing the ‘impatience set by the male voter.’ Joseph spoke at meetings arranged by the Women’s Freedom League, often sharing the platform with Amy Hicks. At one meeting in Colchester, a somewhat flustered Joseph welcomed the audience to Norwich and caused the audience to heckle when he pointed out that a woman had been handing out handkerchiefs to the poor of Manchester. In March of the same year, Margaret was arrested in connection with an attempt to deliver a petition to the House of Commons. Seventy-six women and one man were arrested and charged. Margaret, like the majority, was fined twenty shillings or fourteen days in Holloway prison. She elected to go to prison. A vegetarian, Margaret wrote of the prison food: ‘Dinner is supplied in two tins. In the deeper one lurk two potatoes in their skins; in the shallower; which fits into the top of the other, are an egg, and some cauliflower or other vegetable.’
The police arrested Joseph, alongside eight women, one of whom was Charlotte Despard for his actions in connection with an attempt to present a petition to the Prime Minister at the House of Commons. At the first court hearing, Frederick Verney, the Member of Parliament for Buckingham, appeared as a witness. Joseph had acted as Frederick’s agent at the General Election in 1906. He informed the court that Joseph attended the House of Commons to visit him. Frederick said that he would have met with him and invited Joseph inside if he had been informed of his presence. The case was adjourned. At the next hearing, Joseph told the court he had been present as a journalist. The court dismissed the charges against him.
Margaret also wrote. In 1910, she wrote a pamphlet called Mary Wollstonecraft and the Women’s Movement Today in which, she argues, that Wollstonecraft’s arguments were still relevant to the campaign for the vote in the 1900s. Margaret writes ‘to end the mastery of man over woman, and no less the mastery of woman over man.’
During the 1910 General Election campaign, Joseph campaigned North Kensington. In April 1910 the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies decided to run candidates at the next General Election in constituencies “where the sitting member holds his seat by only a small majority and is an Anti-Suffragist”. This, of course, required that men should put themselves forward on a suffrage platform. In June the League’s paper reported that Joseph Clayton was “selected by” the National Union to stand as an independent to fight “that notorious Anti-Suffragist, Mr Hilaire Belloc, the present MP for South Salford” - infamous for such remarks as: “I call it immoral...bringing of one’s women...into the political arena disturbs the relation between the sexes.” In the end, for reasons which are unclear Joseph did not contend the seat.
Through the years, Joseph regularly appeared on platforms alongside members of the Women’s Freedom League. He also spoke at the rally in Trafalgar Square held in March 1914 by the Men’s Federation and the East London Federation of Suffragettes which saw Sylvia Pankhurst, out on licence under the Cat and Mouse Act, rearrested. During the First World War, Joseph joined the London Irish Rifles and served in the Rifle Brigade in Burma and India. In 1917, he served in the Labour Corps in France until peace was declared.
Joseph went on to write biographies of Pope Innocent III and Thomas More alongside Economics for Christians, Cooperation and Trade Unions. In 1926 The Rise and Decline of Socialism in Great Britain was published. Insightfully, Joseph observed that the militant leaders of that campaign were ‘socialists who laid aside their socialism to get the reform they had set their hearts upon accomplished,’ and their activities ‘withdrew from the socialist movement certain forces which never returned.’
Joseph died in 1943 and Margaret in 1944.
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