Labour History Review

The Enigma of the young Arthur Horner: From Churches of Christ preacher to Communist militant (1894-1920)

Labour History Review (2001), 66, (1), 3–23.

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E. J. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire, Harmondsworth, 1968, p. 253 Industry and Empire 253 Google Scholar

K. E. Morgan, ‘Mabon and Noah Ablett’, in Labour People: Hardie to Kinnock, Oxford, 1992, p. 72 Labour People: Hardie to Kinnock 72 Google Scholar

For biographical details, see A. Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, London, 1960; H. A. Clegg, A History of British Trade Unions since 1889, Vol. II, 1911-1933, Oxford, 1985, p. 576; J. E. Bellamy and J. Saville (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, Vol. V, London, 1979, pp. 112-18; Dictionary of National Biography 1961-1970, Oxford, 1981, pp. 538-9 (by Will Paynter); Obituaries from The Times, 1961-1970, Reading, 1975, pp. 383-4; H. Oxbury, Great Britons: Twentieth-Century Lives, Oxford, pp. 171-2 Incorrigible Rebel Google Scholar

By Nina Fishman and Hywel Francis. For an earlier favourable treatment, see H. Francis, ‘Learning from bitter experience: the making of the NUM’, in A. Campbell, N. Fishman and D. Howell (eds), Miners, Unions and Politics, 1910-47, Aldershot, 1996; and H. Francis and D. Smith, The Fed: a history of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century, London, 1980 Google Scholar

Including by himself: see Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 13, an epithet followed by all the early biographers Google Scholar

E. J. Hobsbawm, Worlds of Labour: Further Studies in the History of Labour, London, 1984, p. 278 Worlds of Labour: Further Studies in the History of Labour 278 Google Scholar

E. J. Hobsbawm, Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour, London, 1964, pp. 339, 221, 237 Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour 339 Google Scholar

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See, Francis and Smith, The Fed; and P. Davies, A. J. Cook, Manchester, 1987, p. 7 Google Scholar

E. F. Biagini and A. J. Reid (eds), Currents of Radicalism: Popular radicalism, organised labour and party politics in Britain, 1850-1914, Cambridge, 1991, p. 1. They criticise ‘teleological models of historical development’ (p. 5) and challenge equally the earlier alleged rupture between ‘revolutionary’ Chartism and ‘reformist’ late-Victorian labour politics and trade unionism. C. Williams extends these arguments to South Wales, so often the paradigm for the break between radicalism and socialism, arguing that ‘Lib-Labism has been portrayed as a deviation from the "high" road to independent working class politics … a cul-de-sac on labour's "Forward March"’. See ‘Democracy and Nationalism in Wales: The Lib-Lab Enigma’, in R. Stradling, S. Newton and D. Bates (eds), Nationalism and Democracy in Modern Europe: Essays in honour of Harry Hearder, Cardiff, 1997, p. 107. More generally, see also P. Ackers, ‘Christian Brethren, Union Brother: A study of the relationship between religious nonconformity and trade union leadership, in the life of the coal mining deputies’ official, W. T. Miller (1980-1963)', PhD, University of Wolverhampton, 1993, pp. 8-16 Currents of Radicalism: Popular radicalism, organised labour and party politics in Britain, 1850-1914 1 Google Scholar

C. B. Turner, ‘Conflicts of Faith? Religion and Labour in Wales 1890-1914’, in D. R. Hopkin and G. S. Kealey (eds), Class Community and the Labour Movement, Wales and Canada 1850-1930, Cardiff, 1989, p. 82. This point is developed at length by R. Pope, Building Jerusalem: Nonconformity, Labour and the Social Question in Wales, 1906-1939, Cardiff, 1998 Class Community and the Labour Movement, Wales and Canada 1850-1930 82 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 9 Google Scholar

‘In writing and editing the book, I have had the constant assistance of Gordon Schaffer, one of our best informed industrial journalists, who knows and understands the background and shares my ideals’ (Dedication, Horner, Incorrigible Rebel) Google Scholar

See P. Ackers: ‘The Churches of Christ as a Labour Sect’, Special Note, Dictionary of Labour Biography, X, London, 2000, pp. 199-206; P. Ackers, ‘The "Protestant Ethic" and the Churches of Christ’, Labour History Review, 58, 3, 1993, pp. 67-72 ‘The Churches of Christ as a Labour Sect’ Dictionary of Labour Biography X 199 206 Google Scholar

See P. Ackers, ‘West End Chapel, Back Street Bethel: Labour and Capital in the Wigan Churches of Christ c. 1845-1945’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 47, 1996, pp. 298-329; D. Thompson, Let Sects and Parties Fall: A Short History of the Association of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland, Birmingham, 1980 ‘West End Chapel, Back Street Bethel: Labour and Capital in the Wigan Churches of Christ c. 1845-1945’ Journal of Ecclesiastical History 47 298 329 Google Scholar

Pope, Building Jerusalem, pp. 87 and 98. The stress on Welsh ‘emotionalism’ may itself be a misleading product of the 1904 revival. For as Pope shows, the emotional brands of English Methodism are weak or absent in Wales, while the main Welsh denominations, the Calvinist Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists, carry a rationalistic inflexion. In so far as all religion has an emotional content, Pope recognises that so does the political ‘conversion’ to Marxist socialism. He suggests that this new faith was hardly the paragon of reason and science its adherents claimed Google Scholar

A. F. Adams, A Brief Survey of the History of Churches of Christ in South Wales, 1870-1939, Brecon, 1939, p. 1. The only academic study of the Churches in Wales, focuses on the Welsh-speaking North: T. Witton Davies, ‘The McLeanist (Scotch) and Campbellite Baptists of Wales’, Transactions of the Baptist Historical Society, 7, 1920/1 A Brief Survey of the History of Churches of Christ in South Wales, 1870-1939 1 Google Scholar

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Bible Advocate, 12 August 1898, p. 512; 8 July 1898, p. 431 Google Scholar

Adams, A Brief Survey, p. 2 Google Scholar

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Adams, A Brief Survey, p. 10. See also Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 12 Google Scholar

Numerous reports on these activities can be found in the Bible Advocate, 21 October 1898, pp. 671-2; 11 November 1898, pp. 719-20; 17 February 1899, p. 137; 24 February 1899, p. 157; 12 May 1899, p. 377 Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 17 June 1898, p. 384; 27 November 1914. Also see Webley's own reports and appeals for help for the striking miners (Bible Advocate, 6 May 1898, pp. 285-6; 24 June 1898, p. 397. Naturally, these sources would tend to inflate his role Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, pp. 10-11 Google Scholar

Adams, A Brief Survey, p. 3 Google Scholar

Dictionary of National Biography Google Scholar

Obituaries, p. 383 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, pp. 13, 14. For Webley's encouragement of young Welsh men in the Sunday schools to develop their preaching skills see Bible Advocate, 6 March 1908 Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 25 September 1912, p. 683 Google Scholar

Thompson, Sects and Parties, p. 128 Google Scholar

See Churches of Christ Yearbook 1914, pp. 108-9 Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 25 July 1913, p. 476 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 14 Google Scholar

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Bible Advocate, 3 January 1913, p. 8 Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 25 July 1913, p. 476 Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 3 January 1916, p. 8 Google Scholar

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See P. Ackers, ‘Who Speaks for the Christians? The Great War and Conscientious Objection in the Churches of Christ: A View from the Wigan Coalfield’, The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 5, 3, 1993, pp. 153-67; M. Casey, The Old Paths Churches of Christ: An Overlooked Pacifist Tradition', The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 6, 2000 ‘Who Speaks for the Christians? The Great War and Conscientious Objection in the Churches of Christ: A View from the Wigan Coalfield’ The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society 5 153 67 Google Scholar

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K. O. Morgan, ‘Peace Movements in Wales, 1899-1945’, The Welsh History Review, X, 1981. C. Williams, Capitalism, Community and Conflict: The South Wales Coalfield, 1898-1947, Cardiff, 1998, p. 21, argues that the anti-war movement ‘was miniscule and fragmented between revolutionary socialists, syndicalists and Christian pacifists’. It may have been more significant in activists terms. Remarkably, Pope, Building Jerusalem, p. 165 detaches divisions over the war from his discussion of nonconformist attitudes to the ‘social question’ and passes over the former in little more than a page. Thus he misses the cathartic effect that the war may have had on Horner's generation of socialist activists ‘Peace Movements in Wales, 1899-1945’ The Welsh History Review X Google Scholar

G. J. Jones, Wales and the Quest for Peace, Cardiff, 1969, p. 84; K. O. Morgan, Keir Hardie: Radical and Socialist, London, 1975, p. 258: ‘Hardie was a central figure in every effort to superimpose the moral force of the peace movement throughout each major crisis.’ Though, once the First World War began, he drew back from absolute pacifism (see pp. 266-7) Wales and the Quest for Peace 84 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, pp. 14-15 Google Scholar

A Protest by Members of the Churches of Christ against the Military Service Act (two petitions, 1914 and 1916) Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 29 October 1915, p. 629 Google Scholar

Adams, A Brief Survey, p. 10 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 23 Google Scholar

A Protest; Bible Advocate, 26 May 1916, p. 334 Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 30 June 1916, p. 414; 3 May 1918, p. 149 Google Scholar

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Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, pp. 22-3 Google Scholar

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For His Names Sake, being a record of the Witness given by Members of Churches of Christ in Great Britain against Militarism during the European War, 1914-18, Heanor, 1921, p. 17 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 34 Google Scholar

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Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 37 Google Scholar

Francis and Smith, The Fed, p. 158 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 14 Google Scholar

See M. Casey, Saddlebags, City Streets and Cyberspace: A History of Preaching in the Churches of Christ, Lewiston, NY, 1995; M. Casey, The Battle Over Hermeneutics in the Stone-Campbell Movement, 1800-1870, Lewiston, NY, 1998 Saddlebags, City Streets and Cyberspace: A History of Preaching in the Churches of Christ Google Scholar

L. Oliver, New Testament Christianity or Important Themes of the New Testament Inductively Studied, Birmingham, 1911, pp. v, vi New Testament Christianity or Important Themes of the New Testament Inductively Studied v Google Scholar

Bible Advocate, 4 September 1903, p. 578. Also see Bible Advocate, 10 August 1900, p. 639 Google Scholar

J. Sanford Lamar, The Organon of Scripture: Or the Inductive Method of Biblical Interpretation, Philadelphia, 1859, p. 176 The Organon of Scripture: Or the Inductive Method of Biblical Interpretation 176 Google Scholar

See B. Lancaster, Radicalism, Co-operation and Socialism: Leicester Working Class Politics, 1860-1906, Leicester, 1987. For South Wales, see Morgan, Keir Hardie; Pope, Building Jerusalem Radicalism, Co-operation and Socialism: Leicester Working Class Politics, 1860-1906 Google Scholar

L. Billington, ‘The Churches of Christ in Britain: a study in nineteenth century sectarianism’, Journal of Religious History, 7, 1974/75. Chris Williams has suggested to us that there was a ‘harder theoretical edge’ to the ILP in the South Wales, represented by Noah Ablett. Pope, Building Jerusalem, stresses Hardie's religious idiom. But then, of course, the young Horner was also an admirer of Hardie ‘The Churches of Christ in Britain: a study in nineteenth century sectarianism’ Journal of Religious History 7 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 72, quoted Bellamy and Saville (eds), Dictionary, V, p. 113 Google Scholar

Horner, Incorrigible Rebel, p. 93. See Pope, Building Jerusalem, pp. 7, 79, on the new religion of socialism Google Scholar

D. Egan, ‘"A cult of their own": syndicalism and Miners' Next Step’, in Campbell, Fishman and Howell (eds), Miners, Unions and Politics, p. 21 Google Scholar

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Pope, Building Jerusalem, p. 138. A. Croll, ‘From Bar Stool to Choir Stall: Music and Morality in late Victorian Merthyr’, Llafur, 6, 1, 1992, pp. 17-27, is a valuable study of the complex way in which ‘respectable and rough’, chapel and pub intermingle in local mentality. Pope is prone to lose this popular synthesis behind such reified monoliths as ‘Socialism’, ‘the labour movement’ and ‘the working class’. His main vantage point, looking down from the official theology and hierarchy of the three main denominations tends to eclipse local working class congregations and sects, such as the Churches of Christ. As he recognises, ‘Ideals and principles need to be given a concrete expression in the reality of every day life’ (p. 228); but this suggests they are simply translated there, rather than actually formed in a complex, unpredictable, two-way process Google Scholar

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Bellamy and Saville (eds), Dictionary, V, p. 115 Google Scholar

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Author details

Casey, Michael

Ackers, Peter