The Burston School Strike by Casey
Transcribed from the  National Labour Press Ltd. edition by David Price, email email@example.com
[Picture: Public domain book cover]
PRICE ONE PENNY.
The Burston School Strike
* * * * *
(_of THE LABOUR LEADER_).
[Picture: Decorative graphic]
This little booklet is dedicated to the BRAVE WOMEN OF BURSTON, who have since April, 1914, nobly struggled against the tyranny of the Countryside.
“_To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond_.”—HYPATIA.
In this sentence the Reverend Charles Kingsley carries forward the message left by Aristotle.
When preparing to write this little booklet I was greatly impressed with the above words. No more fitting motto could I find for it, since it deals with the tyranny of our own country side.
It is a challenge to autocracy, a protest against injustice and a warning signal to the teaching profession.
It shows how a simple, moral, God-fearing little community may be roused into action against parochial busybodies and local glebe lords. The squire and the rector have been the Lord High Tololorums of the countryside for centuries.
To dispute their divine authority, or to question their insolence, oft means social ostracism, or a tour abroad without a Cook’s guide.
Emigration returns will prove this.
The people of Burston, in Norfolk, are deeply religious and law-abiding. The reverend rector has, however, gone too far.
Their struggle against him for fifteen months, their brave devotion and loyalty to their teachers, is almost without parallel in the history of Nonconformity.
They have seceded from the Church, their children have voluntarily left the Council School, and the parents, though fined again and again, have successfully defied that poor man’s Dragon of Wantley—the Law. The struggle is not yet concluded, and Heaven knows where and how it will end.
The reverend rector finding teachers, parents, and children still true to each other, has issued notices to quit at Michaelmas, next September.
Not succeeding from the religious point of view, he is now about to try his luck as landowner.
By means of these glebe notices he seeks to remove the bravest and best so that he may once more hold the destinies of the villagers in the hollow of his hand.
The purpose of this booklet is to focus the clear white light of public opinion upon Burston. I believe I voice the wish of every true woman and man, every lover of justice and genuine freedom, when I express a hope that he may not succeed. Had he brought an atom of brotherly love or the true charity which he quotes on Sundays, or sought to crystallise the true spirit of Christianity into his dealings with his village folk, then this booklet would have remained unwritten.
However, it may serve a useful purpose if it only shows other reverend rectors what they must avoid.
When the teaching profession becomes as wide-awake to its interests as, say, the dock labourers, the miners, and cotton operatives, then will its members join their Union, loyally co-operate with each other, and form a linked breakwater against oppression.
THE BURSTON SCHOOL STRIKE.
“_If the history of England be ever written by one who has the knowledge and the courage_, _and both qualities are equally requisite for the undertaking_, _the world would be more astonished than when reading the Roman annals by Niebuhr_.”—EARL OF BEACONSFIELD.
Burston village lies eighteen miles south of Norwich.
Four and a half years ago came to this village as schoolmistress and assistant-master, Mrs. A. K. Higdon, and her husband, T. G. Higdon. They were welcomed to the Council School by friends, parishioners, etc. They gained the affection of the scholars, the approval of the parents, and the blessing of His Majesty’s Inspector. Here it is:
The Government Report, October 11th, 1912.
The present mistress has had charge of the school a little over a year and a half, and its condition is very promising.
A good tone prevails; the scholars take a pride in their work, and the work done in some of the subjects of instruction is very creditable.
Mental arithmetic is well above the average, and the written arithmetic of the first class is generally praiseworthy. The singing and much of the drawing are good, and needlework is taught on sensible lines.
On the whole the infants and first-class children are making more progress than the scholars in the middle portion of the school.
(Signed) A. H. MOORE, H.M.I.
This is the last Government report under the Higdons’ _régime_.
Mr. T. G. Higdon, the assistant-master, possesses that dreadful modern incumbrance, a _heart_.
The Daily Press oft contains an advertisement stating that “Hands are wanted,” but if they were to issue an advertisement _re_ “Hearts,” the precedent might prove disastrous to most firms.
Higdon, looking upon the countryside with the eye of a person married to it, held high hopes of betterment. He could not help observing the long hours of toil, the scant incomes, the over-crowding, etc., which that noble soul, the Reverend Charles Kingsley, pictures in “Yeast.”
Higdon, after his day’s teaching, tramped the country lanes, and made first-hand acquaintance with the joys and sorrows, aspirations and hopes of Hodge and his helpmate. He spoke words of healing and helpfulness to the Lazarus of civilisation, Carlyle’s Dumdrudge, and our poor country cousins. He saw lean labour, wrinkled, seamed and scarred by grinding toil, privation, self-denial, and short commons; so, John Ball-like, he carried the message both on Sundays and weekdays.
Unfortunately, he did not attend the local Sunday services.
Unlike Longfellow’s blacksmith, he did not go on Sundays to the church to hear his daughter’s voice. One reason was that he had no daughter which, of course, makes a deal of difference, the other reason was that he preached himself.
You require to be a very strong clergyman indeed to permit competition in well-doing. At any rate, the rector spoke to Higdon about his non-attendance at church.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THIS RECTOR.
The Rector of Burston, Reverend Charles Tucker Eland, was appointed to the living about a month after the Higdons took charge of the Council School. His stipend is £495 per annum, with rectory house, and fifty-four acres of glebe land producing £86 yearly (according to Crockford). The village numbers 315 souls, three of whom, according to latest information, attended service upon a recent Sunday. Under these circumstances one may sympathise with his desire to annex a congregation.
Higdon was cautioned, I suppose, in a friendly (half-joke-real-earnest) manner. He is very much opposed, however, to private property in Sundays.
The Reverend Charles suggested that it might be prejudicial to the school, etc., if the teacher stayed away.
Kings in the past have threatened dire penalties for non-attendance at church, but when people attend church simply because the schoolmistress, the wealthy farmer, or the large employer puts in an appearance, then they show little respect or love for Divine teaching. Attendance should be a matter of choice, not compulsion.
Timothy Sparks, who later attained world-wide celebrity by using his real name, Charles Dickens, issued a quaint little book upon this subject, entitled “Sunday under Three Heads.”
Robert Kett, Norfolk rebel, suggested in 1549 “that all bondmen should be made free, for God made all free with his precious blood-shedding.” I presume he meant that this might also apply to Council School teachers.
He likewise suggested “that someone should be appointed in every parish to teach poor men’s children catechism and the primer; that enclosing of common lands should be put a stop to; and that priests and vicars who were unable to preach and set forth the word of God should be removed from their benefices.”
What a pulpit emptying ordinance this last clause is!
It cost Kett dear. The Earl of Warwick instructed an army of German mercenaries to pursue him; 3,500 of his Norfolk followers were cut down, and he was hanged as a rebel for his presumption.
A rebel is a person who comes on earth before the people are intelligent enough to understand him. None but a rebel ever had Saviour carved on his tomb. Had he suggested that vicars should live up to their teachings we would have classed him as an Impossiblist, of course.
The keeping of Sunday will always be a matter of controversy until we in England also “Remember the week-day to keep it holy.”
Now, let us move on to the petty persecutions and puny pretexts for dismissal vouchsafed to Mr. and Mrs. Higdon after more than three years’ service and twelve years in the county.
The Reverend Charles Tucker Eland, to give him his full title, parted in the middle, departed this Burston village life for a short holiday in Switzerland.
A clergyman’s holiday has two good points. It gives both him and his congregation a well-earned rest. Whilst the Reverend School Manager was away in Switzerland, an epidemic of whooping cough had the audacity to enter the village.
Mrs. Higdon, the schoolmistress, at once sent over to another reverend school manager, the Reverend Millard (Rector of Shimpling and vice-chairman of the local Managers’ Committee), and he, after consultation, decided to close the Council School for one week. _He_ signed the notices, and made entry in the log to that effect.
When the Rector of Burston arrived back from Mount Pilatus another meeting of the school managers was held.
This Managers’ Committee informed Mrs. Higdon, through the chairman (Reverend C. T. Eland this time) “that the committee took a very serious view of her having closed the school _without_ permission, but,” added the Reverend Pulpiteer, no doubt in an outburst of holiday extravagance, “the managers will now let the matter drop.”
A VERY REVEREND COMMITTEE.
I think we might here observe a silent pause whilst we appropriately meditate upon the reverend chairman’s logic and the Managing Committee’s generosity. In fact, the names of the members of the committee should be handed down to _posterity_. Here they are:
BURSTON COUNCIL SCHOOL.
The School Managing Committee.
The Right Reverend Rector, Charles Tucker Eland.
The Right Reverend Reverend Rector’s good lady.
(_County Council_, _two votes by appointment_.)
The Right Reverend Rector’s friend, the Right Reverend Rector of Shimpling, Reverend Charles Millard.
The Right Reverend Charles Tucker Eland’s glebe tenant, Farmer Fisher.
The Right Reverend Rector’s friend’s friend, the Rector of Shimpling’s churchwarden, Farmer Stearn, and lastly, beloved, Mr. Harry Witherly.
A fitting finale to this family party—I mean Council School Managing Committee—was provided by the Right Reverend Charles Tucker Eland’s loyal glebe tenant, Farmer Fisher, who remarked upon “the harm which had been done to the parish by closing the school.”
Had Farmer Fisher been a _medico_ one might have sympathised with him in his sorrow at “whooping cough” not being allowed to attend school whilst the rector was in Switzerland, but as Mr. Fisher is not a medical gentleman by profession one is forced to the sad conclusion that though he may put money in his purse he really ought to have more furniture in his attic.
His theory for the elimination of disease is certainly original.
Children who may suffer in the future from mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever, managers, or any other disease liable to be captured by juveniles, may say to their parents, “Please don’t keep me at home. Please mother, Mr. Fisher recommends Council School treatment, so that I may share it with the others.”
“Yes, Bor. Whoop, whoop, whooping cough.”
Yes! I can safely recommend a little attic salt. I must not be too hard, however, on our friend; it is not quite safe for glebe tenants to differ from rectors as a rule. Three are already on notice for differing.
Mrs. Higdon, having faced the alternatives of being reprimanded for _not_ closing the school or for allowing the reverend gentleman from Shimpling to close it—you takes your choice—went back to attend to her bairns considerably chastened, and Burston breathed again as of yore.
Unfortunately, the only two Englishmen who could have done justice to this theme are both dead.
Set to appropriate poetry by Gilbert, composed and orchestrated with a slight Mozartean sprinkling of consecutive fifths by Sir A. Sullivan, it might have brought down the house at the Savoy, likewise the National Union of Teachers’ Executive, had the N.U.T.S. not been suffering from sleeping sickness.
However, the reverently-composed committee had not given up all hopes, although the case was against them this time.
The next act opens with the appearance of Mr. Ikin, assistant-secretary to the Norfolk Education Committee. He paid what is known as a surprise visit.
A surprise visit is the most modern form of torture.
In the olden days they always brought you something. To-day they try to take everything you’ve got. In the olden days you sometimes received a goose, to-day they send you a picture postcard.
His surprise words to Mrs. Higdon were: “What is wrong between you and the managers?”
Mrs. Higdon replied that she was not aware that there was anything wrong.
Mr. Ikin went on to say that the local managers had written to the Norfolk Education Committee, complaining that she had lighted the schoolroom fire against their instructions, and that “as she had so many faults to find with the place, would the committee kindly remove her to a sphere more genial?”
That a good, healthy, religious enemy is not to be despised the lives of Bruno, Galileo, Kepler, Wycliffe, Wesley, or a study of the Thirty Years’ War will prove.
Here is a copy of the letter sent to Mrs. Higdon:
Norfolk Education Committee, Shirehall, Norfolk,
November 29th, 1913.
BURSTON AND SHIMPLING SCHOOL.
Dear Madam,—In a communication received from the managers on the 13th of November, the committee were asked “if they will kindly remove Mrs. Higdon to a sphere more genial.”
I may remind you that this is the second place in which you have come into conflict with the managers.
The committee have decided that the managers’ instructions are to be obeyed, and as they have instructed you that the fire is not to be lit, I am to give you directions to obey these instructions. I trust there will be no further friction.
Yours faithfully, Thos. A. Cox, _Secretary_.
Mrs. A. K. Higdon, Burston School, Diss.
It seems the old method of fire-lighting still prevails. That is by friction.
In reading this parochial letter of complaint one cannot help but admire the warm interest which the Reverend Managers’ Committee display in Mrs. Higdon.
They are so solicitous about her welfare that they desire the Norfolk Education Committee to “kindly remove her to a sphere more genial.”
One is here tempted to quote Ingersoll’s advice to his wife. Once upon a day, when the lady was suffering from heat in the head—vulgarly termed temper—he turned to her, and mildly remarked:
“Darling, I am afraid that you have not yet shed all your Christian virtues.”
Unfortunately, the reverend chairman, with Machiavellian subtlety, omits to mention whether the “genial sphere” to which he recommends Mrs. Higdon’s removal is on this planet or the other one.
The many readers of Pickwick will have vivid recollections of the memorable part played by a warming pan, but who would believe that a similar amount of indignation could be aroused in the breasts of the Reverend Managers’ Committee at the lighting of a schoolroom fire to dry the wet clothes of the agricultural labourers’ children. The great difficulty one is confronted with in placing these items before the general public is to convince folks that these complaints were made against Council School teachers and not High Church ones. These backstairs, intriguing, silly, childish complaints might well be laughed out of court if they were not being launched with a definite object in view. That object was to strike at Higdon through his wife.
This is a very ancient pastime. Satan, by all accounts, was an early exponent of it. He had a similar object in view, _viz._, to assist emigration and check sympathetic vibration.
Readers may have noted the paragraph: “This is the second place in which you have come into conflict with the managers.”
To understand this sentence is to possess the key to all the petty persecution and to gain a grip upon the problems of the countryside.
Mr. Higdon has constantly, at Wood Dalling, his previous place, and at Burston, tried to secure brighter conditions of life and better housing for the tillers and toilers.
WHERE ARE THE “NUTS”?
He has been an ardent advocate of the Agricultural Labourers’ Union. He and his wife are both members of the N.U.T. to-day, and have been during the past eight years. Mrs. Higdon was this year made honorary member by her Association, East Dereham, in order to ensure her continuance of her qualification for support could she not afford to pay.
In order to relieve the anxiety of a few up-to-date doubting Thomases I here insert certificate of membership:
Received of Mrs. Higdon (1913), of Burston, Diss., following amounts on behalf of N.U.T. and the East Dereham Association.
SUBSCRIPTION. s. d. Annual to Local Association 3 0 Annual to N.U.T 12 0 Signature of Local Secretary or Treasurer, A. E. Tripp.
Mr. Higdon’s 1914 membership card is 41,534. He possesses similar receipts right up to date.
In order also to relieve the minds of a few gentlemen who know so much _that is not so_, Mr. and Mrs. Higdon have not received one penny piece from the “nuts” of the N.U.T. Executive. They have taught during the last sixteen months without fee, and the villagers, having understudied Elijah’s raven, have, out of their humble cupboards, supplied the Higdons. Pardon this digression.
Now to come to the root cause of the persecutions.
Those in authority like not the cold, clear light of public opinion to be focussed upon their apathy and neglect.
For centuries have squire and parson held the countryside in subjection. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
Low standards of living, emigration, insanitary hovels, and servility—these are the fruits. The Parish Council Elections, both at Wood Dalling and Burston, gave the _owners of the people’s lives_ a severe shock.
At each place, Assistant-Master Higdon and the agricultural labourers topped the poll. At Burston, Higdon defeated the very Reverend Rector, C. T. Eland. An unpardonable offence. He topped the poll, and with him five labourers were elected, thus displacing the parson and the landowners. After these victories, the persecutions commenced, both at Wood Dalling and Burston.
“Go, Tubal, fee me an officer, I will have the heart of him.”
I am also proud to add that in spite of the most strenuous (or strenuseless) opposition, spite of clergy and farmers’ malice, Higdon and his friends have carried their housing agitation to victory—the Local Government Board having just given their decision in favour of the Burston Parish Council against the District Council, that the houses must be proceeded with forthwith. No wonder the villagers are gratified.
Often have the younger end to wait until their elders die off ere they can get married, and the funeral-baked meats oft furnish the Matrimonial Passover.
When we learn of people crowded in small sleeping rooms, and Barnardo children occupying one-storied insanitary hovels, with outside walls only seven feet high, and damp rooms on ground floor, unfit for sleeping in, we may easily guess the fight the schoolmaster had to make.
Strange is it not that gentlemen living in the best house in the village—as clergymen generally do—should be such strong opponents of good homes for other Christians?
The only faults Mrs. Higdon had to find at school were simply faults which every lady inhabiting a house would seek to remedy. Faults of lighting, heating, drainage, and schoolhouse pump which were essential matters to the health of even labourers’ offspring.
The reverend manager and his local committee, however, objected.
The schoolroom fire was lit upon wet mornings to dry the children’s clothes, as the third radiator of the heating apparatus did not sufficiently warm the room. The Reverend Eland visited the school and the mistress explained to him her reasons for lighting this fire occasionally. Strange to say, he agreed with her, and advised her to write Mr. Wade, of Shimpling. He not replying (according to his usual practice) silence was taken as consent.
Not before a new body of managers was formed, with the reverend gentleman, who had previously given his permission as chairman (C. T. Eland), was the complaint _re_ fire re-resurrected.
So much for the fire, the whole fire, and nothing but the fire, so help your wet clothes.
“Trivialities oft usher in tragedies, however.”
WHAT “JOHN BULL” HAD TO SAY.
The next complaint was more successful. Mrs. Higdon was accused of caning two Barnardo children, discourtesy to the managers, and our dear old friendly complaint, fire-lighting, once more. These complaints, like the previous ones, were completely false and unfounded. During these complaints Mrs. Higdon was helping the reverend gentleman with his lantern entertainments.
_John Bull_, referring to the matter, says: “The role of scape-goat was reserved for the schoolmaster’s wife.”
At the last election the schoolmaster, with five labourers of his own way of thinking, was triumphantly returned to the Parish Council. Room was made for them by the unseating of the rector and the leading farmers. In these striking circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that the managers of the school should have entreated the County Education Committee to remove them “to a more genial sphere of work.”
An early opportunity was found to charge her with the ill-treatment of two of her pupils and—whisper it with bated breath—“intentional discourtesy to the rector’s wife.”
That two respectable teachers should be hounded out of house and home simply upon the testimony of a poor Barnardo waif—who privately denied what she publicly confessed, excusing herself by saying “she would have been thrashed by her foster-mother if she had not said so” seems beyond belief.
Still the fact remains that Mrs. Higdon did not cane the child, as the whole of the school children can prove. She does not belong to the cane family. Furthermore, the sequel to this complaint proves her entire innocence. Pity, indeed, is it that those who were seeking excuses for her removal could not find a _single_ parent or child belonging to the village to complain of Mrs. Higdon’s treatment of them.
1. That the head teacher has been discourteous to the managers.
2. (_a_) That in view of the direct conflict of evidence with respect to the caning of the Barnardo children they are not able to give a decision on this matter; but they are strongly of opinion that there is no evidence at all that the girl (E.C.) is mentally and morally deficient, or a danger to the school, as stated in the letters of the head teacher and her husband. (The head teacher said she was “_somewhat_” mentally deficient, which, of course, alters the context).
(_b_) That, in their opinion, these children are well treated and cared for by their foster-mother, and that the children are not afraid of being beaten by her.
(_c_) That in their opinion the communications sent by the head teacher and her husband to Dr. Barnardo’s Institution were not warranted by the facts of the case.
The sub-committee, after most carefully reviewing the whole of the evidence, advise: “That it is to the interest of elementary education in this village that the head teacher should seek other employment with as little delay as possible. That no punishment book having been kept in this school by the head teacher prior to this occurrence she be directed faithfully to keep such book.”
So the forces of reaction had triumphed. First, accused and condemned by false stories put in the mouths of babes, eight and nine years’ old respectively; secondly, because the Higdons had written to the Barnardo Institution hoping to receive real justice from an impartial tribunal, not local village justice; thirdly, insulted about an ancient rule of Sir John Gorst’s _re_ punishment book, which other teachers in the county did not possess. Thus they were supposed to have received their quietus.
The inquiry was practically a funless farce. Higdon and his wife received short notice to vacate the schoolhouse (left in the lurch by the N.U.T., as at Wood Dalling and at Burston, where the representative, after promising that a slander action would take place as soon as possible, became frightened at his own bravery, and thought better of it), they felt inclined to understudy poor Joe, and move on.
At this juncture all seemed lost. The Higdons, poor financially and politically, having no rich Liberal nor Tory champion, were confronted with that “remove to a sphere more genial,” which their most Christian friends desired.
The Burston Dyaks seemed to have succeeded, when all at once a change came o’er the scene. Here entereth the school children. Not meaningless are the beautiful words, “A little child shall lead them.”
THE CHILDREN STRIKE.
The school children struck. They refused to attend the Council School. When they knew their beloved teachers had been victimised they refused to go back. They went on strike.
This was the finest, spontaneous, and most loving act of kindness that kind teachers ever had showered upon them. It was a fitting tribute and a real answer to all the calumny and slander.
Children know when they are loved. They cannot pretend as grown-ups can. Had Higdon and his wife been disciples of Whackford Squeers or advocates of the “Big Stick,” the children would gladly have sung Tosti’s “Good-bye for ever,” and good shuttance. But they struck in sympathy.
Here are we confronted with another great factor. The mothers backed them up womanfully. There are at present 56 children on Higdons’ books. There’s a juxtaposition, as the late-lamented Dominie Sampson might have remarked. The Babes o’ Burston and the Burston Braves.
That the women showed bravery is an undeniable fact. It requires more than milksop pluck to brave the farmers, the clerics, and the law.
An open-air meeting was held on the green. The village green is that portion of England left over after the squire and parson have cast lots for the remainder.
What says the good book, slightly altered? “A certain man went to Jericho and fell among landowners.”
Here let me insert the villagers’ reply to the Reverend Managers’ Committee and the Norfolk Education Committee:
That we, the electors and ratepayers of Burston and Shimpling, in peaceable meeting assembled on Burston Common, again protest against the action of certain school managers in bringing about the dismissal of the teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Higdon, whom we all desire to keep; we who are parents have been more than satisfied with the educational progress during the past three years; the children have liked going to school, and have been more regular in their attendances than ever before; the report of His Majesty’s Inspector is a most excellent one, so that upon no grounds whatever can we see any reasonable excuse for the removal of these teachers from the school.
The children wrote essays upon these exciting incidents. I have read them. They have given me great joy. Some are quite dramatic.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE STRIKE. By a Strike Boy.
The night before we went on strike we had a meeting on the comon. (Nothing common about _his_ spelling is there?) Mr. Durbridge, who is a soldier now, had two lamps a light. All the children goin’ on strike. Went into a ring and held there hands up. So we all went into the ring. There were 66 children. The last night we went to the Council School we all had a Easter egg each and a orange each.
These were Mrs. Higdon’s parting gifts to the children. But she has not parted from them yet (Glory be!) and this was over sixteen months ago.
Other essays tell us how “the strikers marched with flags and banners, with cards on their breasts, ‘We want our teachers back.’”
One boy writes “that God sent fine weather a purpose for us strikers.” I hope he did, sonny.
Another states “how they marched round the candlestick.” This is a route march which consists of a twist and a double to pass the Council School and the Rectory, although there is no mention of the children being invited in to tea.
We gain information from these essays, “as to bobies standing round.” Evidently this boy has studied un-Natural History.
We also learn “how Mrs. Boulton brought a pale of lemonade and nuts, and we sang ‘We will all cling together like the ivy on the old garden wall,’ and we have done so except two Turncote blacklegs.” Not white Wyandottes, blacklegs.
Another budding Jim Mace perchance (for James hailed from “Swarfham where they do tree days’ trashin’ for norfun’”) informs us “that they had three or four policemen to gaurd the school, but (as he quaintly remarks) _there was no need_ for _them as we did not get to fighting_.” Evidently a good job for the policemen that Jack did not tackle them.
Yes, I have had great joy of these essays. Amy informs us “how she brought her mouth organ and Violet brought her accordeon, and how those Barnardo girls told stories, for they had not been caned.” One feels quite young as one reads of “Ben Turner borrowing two planks to write upon, how schoolmistress, whom they term governess, would come and catch us not redein, an’ we would have to do a slate full of trancription”—whatever that may mean.
One may read, mark, and learn “how the boys sat on planks with their legs in the ditch,” and “how when it was sewing day, we sat on the copper in the coal-house, and when it raned we ranned into the cottage,” and “how we had our liteness tooken twice.”
But some of the essays are grand and reflect credit upon all concerned. To read them brings back youthful days.
A SCHOOL ON THE COMMON.
So the children were taught on the Common. They had their old teachers, who taught as a labour of love and without fee. They received in return a few eggs, a little milk, butter, cheese, in fact, anything which poor people share with each other, not forgetting Burston smiles.
However, trouble was a-brewing. The Law Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold. The parents were summoned for not sending their children to school. On the 14th of May, 1914, thirty parents appeared before the magistrates at Diss, three miles away, to show cause whereby, inasmuch, as aforesaid, likewise hereinafter. Why not! Oh, Law! Lor! Perhaps you have had experience of engaging a lawyer to defend you from another lawyer?
The Burston Braves appeared before the Diss Solons for not sending their children to school.
I pause here to blame the children. Had the children been intelligent enough to choose rich parents they could have been taught in their own homes, including Windsor, Knowsley, Welbeck, or anywhere else. Rich parents have this slight advantage over Burston village bairns. Let this be a warning to the bairns.
The solicitor for the defence questioned the School Attendance Officer, who admitted that _he_ had made no inquiries to ascertain whether the children were attending another school.
By the way, what did that well-known writer say, whose name I do not know? “Man is an animal that looks above, behind, but never beneath his nose.”
The attendance officer had nothing to say on behalf of the Education Committee as to the efficiency of the old teachers.
The magistrates heard _one_ case. The Burston Brave proved that her little son had regularly attended a school conducted by the late mistress and master, so the bench inflicted a fine of five shillings upon her and 29 more women. These are hard wooden benches, aren’t they? I wonder what fine would have been inflicted if the children had not attended school!
But, knowing their antipathy to blacklegging, they could not do otherwise than stick to their old teachers.
In the certificate of membership, issued by the National Union of Teachers, is the following:
The following is a list of the actions already declared to be unprofessional:
1. For any member to take an appointment from which, in the judgment of the N.U.T. Executive, another member has been unjustly dismissed.
How could the children attend the Council School then, when the N.U.T.E. had allowed this case to go by default? However, the Braves and Babes of Burston marched back to the school, pondering on Diss Law.
Speaking without bias, as the bowler said, I am thoroughly in favour of magistrates being chosen by the shape of their heads, instead of by the size of their wallets. Fancy mulcting poor labourers’ wives (to some of whom one sovereign is a princely week’s salary) of 5s. each.
FINED BUT UNDISMAYED.
They were fined again and again. But they held indignation meetings on Burston Green. Lovers of fair play and freedom flocked in, the money was collected, and the fines paid. They refused to crook the pregnant hinges of the knee. Their children should not return to Council Block, whilst old England stands upon a rock, unless proper inquiry was held, and the teachers re-instated. The opposition has simply strengthened their resolves. A little kindness, a little Christian charity, a little of the spirit of give and take in the early stages, and all would have been better than well. To-day, however, to deny men and women who, out of their daily toil, pay for education, etc., a voice in the management of what concerns them nearly and dearly is simply autocratic presumption. Harassed by law, denied the right to choose those whom they loved to teach their children, they determined not to be coerced. They refused to attend the churches or chapels. They held huge demonstrations upon the village green. The surrounding villagers and townsfolk came to hear and see. So the revolt spreads. “Those who came to scoff oft remained to pray.” Real, live addresses were given by friends, who reanimated the hopes of the past, crystallised the spirit of the dead Christ, and made hearts throb and eyes fill as they vividly brought before others the poor, persecuted, maligned, crucified friend of fishermen, Magdalen, and poor folks. The village green blossomed; the dream of brotherhood, fellowship, and fraternity, as prophesied by murdered John Ball—the so-called mad priest of Kent—became reality.
John Sutton, sheep dipper, baptised the children. John was also christened. Christened after his Christian name, he became John the Baptist.
Higdon and his wife and the villagers hunted around to find some lowly shelter for the little mites, some of whom had come from miles away to be taught. They found one at last. A blind man took pity on them. He let a carpenter’s shop to them.
A carpenter’s shop! And where on earth may we discover a school for budding humanity so pregnant with meaning as a humble carpenter’s shop?
Surely no palace grand, no poplar-dwarfing sun-kissed steeple, no Moslem mosque gold glittering in Eastern city, contains such deep meanings to reverent minds as a carpenter’s shop. No ancient mausoleum, no Egyptian pyramid, containing swathed mummy bones of ancient Pharoah, who scuttled through life’s short day, may call forth such sentiments, or inspiration to die if need be on behalf of the poor and the needy, the homeless and friendless. So to this humble shop came the children. Here came the boys and girls who had struck against Council Syntax and Burston Junkerism.
They were helped by their mothers. If the lot of the agricultural labourer, the Lazarus of civilisation, is hard, the lot of the labourers’ labourer is harder still. Little joy in life has she. Divorced from the beauties of science and art, no electric lights, no hot and cold water on the slopstone, no airy, fairy, decorated bedrooms, no well paved and lighted streets, no quick transit, no musical evenings, scientific lectures, melodious operas, sweet string bands, no cinema, no long cycle. No! Grinding toil. Dark, slushy, snowy lanes in winter, grime and poverty, poor wages, daily struggles, patching and mending, sewing and knitting, washing and baking, sometimes toiling and moiling in rain-swept fields for bare pittance, wearing sodden shoddy, or soaking on wind-swept wastes. Go to Burston and meet your sisters, keeping up their hearts on miserable wages, and even giving out of their scant doles a little offering to their beloved strike school.
With scarce a copper to bless themselves with, they rented the carpenter’s shop at £3 per year. Out o’ poorly furnished homes they gave their chairs, their tables, stools, lamps, knick-knacks, of little value perhaps, but potent as widows’ mite. They cleaned, scrubbed, scoured, and mothered that school, as they are doing it to-day.
Lucky scholars to have so much mother-love enveloping them! To have such mem’ries clustering round. To think that the world’s toiler, sweet son o’ Mary, spent His early college days in the carpenter’s shop. Was He not apprenticed to manual labour? Did He not sanctify it? May He not have rehearsed future discourses and similar surroundings, whilst sawing and planing, mending, making, and creating in His self-chosen University of Adversity, so that He might humanise the world, the world which to-day is deaf to His teachings. Had His parables, His philosophy of honest poverty, His contempt of lordship and riches been laid to heart, Europe would not be in flames to-day.
And, as my labour of love draws to a close, I grieve to say that trouble is coming to Burston village once more. The rector has given notice to three of the glebe tenants. The blind man, who let the carpenter’s shop, is one. This means the closing down of the school. Two other parents are also in similar plight, and this is a presage of further victimisation perchance in the future.
Shall all the anxieties, the struggles, and the hopes of the past sixteen months end in this clearance of the Higdons and their friends, the closing of the carpenter’s shop, shall it end like this? If so, I do not envy the rector his victory. Nay, rather do I think it will not only be a barren one, but a distinct blow against the religion he is supposed to represent. What Christianity is this?
A BISHOP’S ADVICE.
Three people have received notice to quit the globe. The Bishop of Norwich has been appealed to. The _Eastern Daily Press_, July 28th, 1915, which lies on my knee as I write, contains his photo. He is standing outside the Hospital for the Indigent Blind, in Magdalen Street, Norwich, with the Earl and Countess of Leicester, looking as though he had his meals more regularly than many village folk.
Surely he is interested in the blind of Burston, also? Shall they be ousted? Will he allow his rector to press this injustice? But he has been appealed to. Here is his reply:
The Palace, Norwich.
Dear Sir,—I am directed by the Bishop of Norwich to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 15th, and to say that if the persons named feel aggrieved they should seek redress through the legal tribunals.
Yours faithfully, J. A. Parsons, _Secretary_.
E. B. Reeves.
So His Lordship, with income of £4,500 per year, palace, etc., advises three poor folk, one of whom is blind, to “seek redress through the legal tribunals.” This be certainly His Lordship’s grim joke. How poor folk, waxing lean and keeping families on between £40 and £50 per year, sometimes feasting on bread and lard, whilst glebe owners munch biscuits and cream, can indulge in such luxury as “_The Law_” passes what Darby Doyle would call “the wit av mortial man.”
The only law we can appeal to under these circumstances is the Law of Humanity. The ancient tribunal, _vox populi_, _vox Dei_: The voice of the people is the voice of God.
I would that these people had better advocate than myself. Their cause is founded on justice, reason, and truth. They want public inquiry which, I believe, will end in their well-beloved teachers reinstatement. The tyranny of the countryside is still a menace to freedom of thought and action. I have done my best to explain this.
To the Braves of Burston I tender my appreciation and admiration for their gallant sixteen months’ struggle. They are the pioneers. They are real live women, with red corpuscles dancing in their veins, not the phagocytes of serfdom. None but James Oppenheim, the poet, may do them justice:
BREAD AND ROSES.
As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of the day A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts grey Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses For the people hear us singing, “Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.”
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead Go crying thro’ our singing, their ancient song of bread. Small art, and love, and beauty, their drudging spirits knew; Yes! ’tis bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days, The rising of the women means the rising of the race. No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes But a sharing of life’s glories, “Bread and Roses,” Bread and Roses.
And you, chance reader, may be able, even in a small way, to focus the light of public opinion by either voice, pen, spoken word, or this booklet, upon this grave miscarriage of justice.
WHAT ARE _YOU_ GOING TO DO?
The time is quickly drawing nigh. Michaelmas Day, September 29th, 1915, sees the expiration of the glebe notices. Trades Councils, Brotherhoods, Co-operative Guilds, Associations of all kinds may help in this matter. Our brothers are laying down their lives in Flanders to preserve that heritage of the ages, Freedom. We want that freedom in Burston. The people require freedom to worship God in their own way. Freedom to have their children taught by those whom they love. Freedom to remain in the villages where their fathers died, and not to be ousted at the caprice of every gentleman whom they do not see eye to eye with.
Freedom is a goddess worth dying for. Here I express the thanks of the Higdons, and the Babes and Braves o’ Burston, to the many friends who have risen up.
A cynic once said, “Gratitude is a lively sense of favours to come.” Granted—and why not?
The recipient confers a pleasure in accepting. Our hearts are still full of hopes of help in the near future. The Trade Union Congress meets in September. Maybe we shall find more friends there. To E. B. Reeves, of The Bungalow, Norwich, I tender thanks. As Robert Louis Stevenson puts it, “He is a bonnie fechter” for freedom, vigilant, tireless, painstaking. To the many noble speakers thanks also.
Offers of help, orders for this pamphlet, friendly suggestions, and letters of advice will find him at the address: E. B. Reeves, The Bungalow, Norwich.
The fight after all is a real fight for “Bread and Roses.”
The same year that Calvin died Shakespeare came on earth. It was a real good exchange without any robbery.
* * * * *
* * * * *
The National Labour Press, Ltd., Manchester and London. 18991
* * * * *
CONTRIBUTES EACH WEEK TO
THE LABOUR LEADER
* * * * *
On Sale every Thursday. Price ONE PENNY. From All Newsagents.
* * * * *
“A Wandering Minstrel”
A BOOK OF VAGROM SKETCHES.
_With an original photograph of the Author_.
* * * * *
Price 1s. Post free, 1s. 3d.
* * * * *
From THE NATIONAL LABOUR PRESS, LTD. 30, BLACKFRIARS STREET, MANCHESTER.