Cyclists, ramblers, singers and activists gathered in the foothills around Pendle, Lancashire, to celebrate the centenary of Clarion House on 11th and 12th August.
Owned by Nelson ILP, the rural tea room is the last surviving monument to a once thriving part of the Labour movement, the hundreds of Clarion societies that provided community to working people and propagated views for a fairer, more humane world.
A small but dedicated group of people around the Nelson ILP Clarion Society have kept the Clarion House on Jinny Lane, Newchurch in Pendle open and serving refreshments every Sunday so passing ramblers and cyclists can meet with local socialists and relax in a setting that still openly supports socialist views.
It is, in the words of writer and northern socialist campaigner Paul Salveson, “a shrine to a golden age of socialism where fellowship really was life”.
The celebratory weekend began on Saturday 11th August when walkers and ILP members came together for “butties and free tea” at the 100-year-old building with Mayor of Pendle councillor Asjad Mahmood, former Keighley MP Ann Cryer, and author Dennis Pye.
Also present was Jack Burrows, grandson of Michael Wildman, the Nelson Clarion’s first chairman whose mother and grandparents were all there on its opening day.
Speaking for the ILP, Barry Winter said: “Congratulations to the Clarion team who have kept this building going over the decades and for the service it provides, and not least the political memories it helps to preserve.
“It is a living reminder that our politics has many dimensions: that fellowship, fun and love of the countryside play a very important part in who we were are and what we believe.”
Winter recalled camping in the grounds of Clarion House en route to a Labour Party conference in Blackpool, and visiting with a 90-year-old ILPer, Arthur Raistrick, who remembered being carried to the tea rooms on his father’s shoulders, his father who had helped to build it.
He also remembered the tales he heard at the House from other ILPers, men and women such as Stan and Ivy Iveson talking about how they had prevented evictions by blocking bailiffs and police.
“The circumstances may be different but the struggle for a better society goes on,” said Winter. “And today it is young people in particular who are at the receiving end of the cuts.
“We may have saved the banks and the bankers but a generation is starting to pay the price. They face a bleak future, and we have to do what we can to back them.”
He concluded by pointing out that next year is the 120th anniversary of the ILP, its “double diamond jubilee”.
“I hope we can come to Clarion to celebrate it,” said Winter. “For the message embodied in the early ILP, that commitment to ethical socialism and democracy, is no less relevant today.
“There is a growing interest and desire to rebuild the [Labour] party on ethical foundations; not just a top-down party of careerists but a party from the people. It won’t be easy but let’s hope they can.
“But today we celebrate. It’s days like today that help to us to renew our commitment to build a better society, just like they did when the Clarion first opened it doors to an earlier generation of hikers and cyclists. Long may it continue to do so.”
The celebrations continued on Sunday 12th when walkers arrived from Barley car park, and cyclists wobbled up the hill on vintage bikes to be entertained by the combined Burnley and Bolton Clarion Choirs.
There is also an exhibition on the ILP in Nelson library throughout August, featuring the Clarion and Nelson suffragist Selena Cooper, and local member John Boardman has created a DVD about the Clarion’s history.
For more information go to the Clarion website: www.clarionhouse.org.uk