You are in [Events] [1903 Passive Resistance in Hungerford]

"Passive Resistance":

On 14th and 15th April 2018, a play written by Ros Clow entitled "Passive Resistance" was first shown in Newbury. The press release stated:

When Alan Vince, local resident, discovered through a 1903 copy of the Newbury Weekly News that his great-great-grandfather, Charles Midwinter of seed merchant fame, had been up before the magistrates, he was shocked.

Investigation threw up a forgotten story about a mass protest against the implementation of a rate increase following the 1902 Education Act.

The events surrounding this court case are explained in a new play being performed at the Phoenix Centre on Newtown Road. ‘Passive Resistance’ begins with an auction in Hungerford where musical instruments were sold in the street.

Although Alan Vince is not in the cast another great great grandson is. Dave Seward, CEO Youth, is playing his great great grandfather Samuel Seward. Samuel ran a bakery and confectionery business next to the Catherine Wheel pub and he also refused to pay his rates on conscientious grounds.

Of the 19 characters in the play nine were buried in Newtown Road Cemetery so Cemetery friends are yet again following their remit to bring the cemetery back to life. One of the magistrates is John Rankin who was friendly with several of the miscreants.

The National Passive Resistance Campaign:

The Education Act 1902 (2 Edw. VII), also known as the Balfour Act, was a highly controversial Act of Parliament that set the pattern of elementary education in England and Wales for four decades. It was brought to parliament by a Conservative government and was supported by the Church of England, opposed many by Nonconformists and the Liberal Party. The Act provided funds for denominational religious instruction in voluntary elementary schools, most owned by the Church of England and the Roman Catholics. It ended the divide between voluntary schools, which were largely administered by the Church of England, and schools provided and run by elected school boards, and reflected the influence of the Efficiency Movement in Britain.

The “passive resistance” campaign against the 1902 Education Act started in January 1903. Thousands of British nonconformists, led by Dr John Clifford, refused to pay taxes that they believed would go towards religious education not of their liking. Things continued to heat up by July, 1903. The campaign centrered around the non-payment of the rate. Dr. Clifford issued a letter to the 800 councils ofr the National Free Church Council, to which he appended the “opinion” of Mr. Edmund Robertson, K.C., with respect to the “passive resistance” policy. The latter says:– “Regarding the position Nonconformists should take up, he would advise no man to break the law, but there was no breaking the law if they told the rate collector, ‘The law has given to the county council the power to enforce payment of these demands. I am not going to volunteer payment of it. I will leave you to collect it by the means which the law places at your disposal.’ There was nothing criminal in leaving the tax-collector and the rating authority to depend upon the resources which had been placed at their disposal.”

The Nonconformist church threw its weight behind the cause.

Believers in passive resistance would use their influence in the polling booths and on every convenient occasion; but in another way some meant to form citizens’ leagues in order to protect the poor who should resist the rate. In their cases all goods seized should be bought in for them, and richer people could afford to buy in their own goods.

Elsewhere auction sales were held on goods seized under distraint for the non-payment of the education rate. A sale in Sussex proved abortive; the auctioneer, a Mr. Firdinando, having to leave the town under police protection. “The blackguardism of Hastings was let loose,” he said when subsequently interviewed by a London press representative. “We will not answer for your life” was the declaration of the constable, who in the hall forced a way for him through the mob. At the Gloucestershire sale, the crowd abstained from violence, amused itself by song and banter, and ultimately permitted a prominent Nonconformist townsman to bid for the spoil — ten chairs and a couch. These the generous sympathiser secured for £3 7s. 6d. the lot, presumably his own price. He returned the chatels without delay to their respective owners.

The Hungerford characters:

The author of the play, Ros Clow, kindly provided additional information on the Hungerford men involved, from which this article is based:

The first Act of our play is set outside Hungerford Town Hall at 11.45am on 24 Sep 1903. Local resident Wilfred John Rosier (age 24) is having his property auctioned in the street to pay his rates, plus costs.  Wilfred is supported by his friend William John Harris (age 27), a baker on the High Street and their local Primitive Methodist Minister Henry Binnell Goodwin (age 33).

This was the first auction of its kind in the area, but many others in Berkshire and across England and Wales were to end up in court.

Following the auction Goodwin and the Newbury Congregational Minister Edward Harper Titchmarsh held a political meeting where they vowed to stand together in such matters in the future.

Wilfred John Rosier:

Wilfred Rosier was born in Aldbourne, Wiltshire. He attended the Board School in Ramsbury, while boarding with his aunt and uncle Mr and Mrs John Angell.

In 1901 he was recorded as a Life Insurance Agent, boarding with Stephen New and family, in 32 High Street, next door to the Congregational Chapel. He had recently married Elizabeth Ann Angell whom he had known for a long time. He died in Reading in 1953.

William John Harris:

William Harris was a baker a nearby at 35 High Street, a member of the big family business. He had married Minnie Clara Hull, whose father and brothers were Primitive Methodist Ministers in Cambridgeshire and London.

Herbert Binnell Goodwin:

Rev Henry Thomas Binnall Goodwin (occ named Herbert Goodwin?) was Minister at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Bridge Street 1903-04. He was married with one daughter at this time. He left Hungerford in 1904 to minister in Guernsey. He died in Hertfordshire in 1913.

Follow this link for more on Rev H T Binnell Goodwin (on the My Primitive Methodist Ancestors website).

Both Wilfred Rosier and William Harris have stone tablets on the Methodist Church Hall.

The result of the Passive Resistance Campaign:

The local men's refusal to pay the new Education Rate set by the 1902 Education Act was echoed across the nation and led directly to the Liberals winning the 1906 General Election. In Berkshire William Mount was defeated by Mackarness, who supported the Passive Resistance cause.

Under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Augustine Birrell introduced the Education Bill 1906, intended to address nonconformist grievances arising from the Education Act 1902. It passed the House of Commons, but the House of Lords amended it to such an extent that it was effectively a different bill. The Commons rejected the amendment and the bill was dropped.