Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Bradlaugh for Northampton"

This statue of Charles Bradlaugh stands in the unlovely location of Abington Square, Northampton.

The inscription on the panel beneath it reads:


Born Sept, 26, 1833
Died Jany. 30, 1891

M.P. for Northampton 1880-1891

Four times elected to one
Parliament in vindication of
the rights of constituencies.
India, too, chose him as her
A sincere friend of the people,
his life was devoted to
progress, liberty, and justice.

Bradlaugh was an extraordinary figure - a freethinker and radical, as well as a Liberal. There is a brief note about him on the National Secular Society website, and a longer entry on Wikipedia:
In 1880 Bradlaugh was elected Member of Parliament for Northampton, and claimed the right to affirm (instead of taking the religious Oath of Allegiance), but this was denied. Lord Randolph Churchill roused the Conservatives by leading resistance to Bradlaugh. 
Bradlaugh subsequently offered to take the oath "as a matter of form". This offer, too, was rejected by the House. Because Members must take the oath before being allowed to take their seats, he effectively forfeited his seat in Parliament. He attempted to take his seat regardless and was arrested and briefly imprisoned in the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament. His seat fell vacant and a by-election was declared. Bradlaugh was re-elected by Northampton four times in succession as the dispute continued. Supporting Bradlaugh were William Ewart Gladstone, T. P. O'Connor and George Bernard Shaw as well as hundreds of thousands of people who signed a public petition. Opposing his right to sit were the Conservative Party, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other leading figures in the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church. 
On at least one occasion, Bradlaugh was escorted from the House by police officers. In 1883 he took his seat and voted three times before being fined £1,500 for voting illegally. A bill allowing him to affirm was defeated in Parliament. 
In 1886 Bradlaugh was finally allowed to take the oath, and did so at the risk of prosecution under the Parliamentary Oaths Act. Two years later, in 1888, he secured passage of a new Oaths Act, which enshrined into law the right of affirmation for members of both Houses
Around the other three faces of the plinth runs the words of the song "Bradlaugh for Northampton" - words by James Wilson, music by John Lowry.

I can find plenty of references to it on the web, but nowhere can I find the words. So, as my contribution to Bradlaugh scholarship, I have transcribed them from the photographs I took this morning.

As I did with the inscription, I have turned the block capitals of the original into more readable text. I hope I have got the puncuation right and - more importantly - I hope I have got the verses in the correct order.

Bradlaugh for Northampton

Electors of Northampton, work! The day will soon be here
When you will have to give your votes and give them without fear:
For freedom’s battle ne’er was won by coward in the past,
Nor can it ever be sustained by men who fear the blast.

Then toil, men toil in freedom’s cause
Rest not content with vain applause
Humanity needs better laws –
To win these we’ll send Bradlaugh!

‘Tis not to tread your churches down, nor chapels built by men.
Not hinder earnest worshippers on mountain or in glen;
But to give freedom to each thought that swells the brain of man.
Religious liberty for all, no state church is our plan.

‘Tis not to rob rich lords of land –oppress as they would you,
Nor property make insecure, to feed a lawless few;
But to make way for those to rise, who hard yet humbly toil,
And give to all some interest in nature’s gift, the soil.

Some cowards cry out “Heresy!” Beware! My fellow men. -
That cry’s been raised, so hist’ry says, ‘Gainst Britain’s noblest men.
Say, is he manly, is he true? Is he for justice strong?
And will he labour good to do? Then echo in your song –

We’ll toil. We’ll toil in freedom’s cause,
Nor rest content with vain applause,
But fight determined for just laws,
And make our member, Bradlaugh!


Lang Rabbie said...

The listing description says that the sculpture is made of terracotta by Tinworth, so I am assuming it is covered in fifty years layers of paint?

Jonathan Calder said...

Funnily enough, I read something about that at the tile museum at Jackfield a couple of weeks ago.

I believe "terracotta" originally referred to unglazed clay, which can be a variety of colours. The idea that it must be red-brown is a more recent one.

Paul Griffiths said...

Another addition to Glee Club, perhaps?