Clapham saw a major political change in 1885 with the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea and Clapham. This was divided into two Parliamentary constituencies: Battersea and the much larger Clapham area which included Nine Elms, and South Battersea from Lavender Hill down into north Balham. The Clapham Liberal and Radical Association was set up. It managed to get James Moulton elected with 52.1% of the vote on a high turnout of 80.7% of the 9,954 electors. He lost the following year.
Clapham Liberals and Radicals were now linked with their Battersea counterparts fighting the elections for the Battersea Vestry, so the story becomes closely linked with the liberal, radical and socialist politics of Battersea, in which John Burns welded together a Progressive Alliance, creating organisations like the Battersea Labour League and the Battersea Trades & Labour Council. Clapham also had its equivalents and these were part of the Alliance and the Battersea Trades & Labour Council. The Progressive Alliance, which achieved Burns’s election to the London County Council at the end of 1889 and as MP in 1892, went on to control the Vestry until 1900 when Clapham and Battersea were separated with Clapham going into the new Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth. The Conservatives of the period won the Clapham Parliamentary seat between 1886 and 1900 and then the new smaller constituency from 1900.
Other radical developments included the Clapham Reform Club, at which the Irish poet Yeats set up the Irish Literary Society in 1892. He also lectured on ‘Nationality and Literature’ at the Clapham branch of the Irish National league. The socialist Clarion movement had supporters. Frederick Arthur Maule of 6893 Wandsworth Rd was a member of its Field Club in 1895. W. H. Crisp , the Secretary of the Clapham Clarion cyclists lived at 43 Wirtemberg St. By 1907 they were members of the South London Club. The planned Clapham Clarion Cinderella Club quickly became the Clapham Socialist Sunday School at Marris Hall in 1907. Morris Hall was used by Clapham Independent Labour Party. In 1907 the South London Clarion cyclists supported fundraising for the London Clarion Van which was to tour promoting socialist ideas. The London Van Committee Secretary Frederick Hagger lived in Clapham. That year at a Fellowship Gathering the cyclists and their friends raised money for the Variety Artistes Federation’s Music Hall Strike Fund.
1907 also saw a fund raising benefit for Thomas Atkinson at Battersea Town Hall. Born in the North East he had been an apprentice engineer on The Rocket. He was a trade union activist from the 1830s. By 1907 he was a widower and bedridden living on a union pensions with his daughter Elizabeth at 52 Courland Grove.
By now the suffragette movement was active in the area. Mrs F Underwood of 16 Newland Terrace, Queens Rd, the Secretary of the Clapham branch of the Women’s Freedom League from 1908 became National Propaganda Secretary in 1911 and then national General Secretary, and also edited its newspaper The Voice.
Following the Russian Revolution at the end of the First World War various socialist groups across Britain merged together to form the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. The Clapham British Socialist Party (formerly SDF) branch was represented and a member A. A. Watts became the first Treasurer of the new Party. He was also a Labour London County Councillor for Battersea.
Also at the Convention was another Clapham BSP member living the compositor Alfred M. Wall (1890–1957). In 1919 he was elected to Wandsworth Borough Council for Clapham North. He was Labour candidate for Streatham in the 1924 General Election. In 1926 he was elected as Secretary of London Trades Council. The next year he became a joint secretary of the ‘Hands Off China’ campaign. He helped to set up what became Equity. Later he was a Vice-President of the Spanish medical Aid Committee. In In 1938, Wall was elected as General Secretary of the London Society of Compositors. He retired in 1945.
During the General Strike of 1926 the Nine Elms Joint Workers Committee was based at the Clapham Trades Union & Social Club at 374 Wandsworth Rd, while the Lambeth Strike Committee was based at the New Morris Hall at 79 Bedford Rd.
In the May 1929 General Election Labour fielded the ILP member J. Allen Skinner. A conscientious objector in the First World War he went on to edit Peace News (1951-5) and be on early CND committees. At the October 1931 General Election Helen Browning was the candidate standing against the National Government led by former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. She later worked at the Society for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union, and Hon. Secretary of the China Defence League raising money for China in its war against Japan. Being based with her husband in Hong King, she was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. Back in London in 1951 she became a Labour London County Councillor for Fulham East (1952-65) and chaired the Fabian Society’s Colonial bureau.
Clapham elected John Rose Battley as its first Labour MP in 1945 (to 1950).
The Labour MP for Clapham from 1964 to 1970 was Margaret McKay (1911-96), a Lancashire textile worker who became Chief Woman Officer at the TUC 1951-62. She became a campaigner for the Palestinian refugees, setting up a refugee camp in Trafalgar Square, and chaired the Jordan Refugee Week Committee. She wrote a moving autobiography Generation in Revolt (1953).
I hope that this blog posting may stimulated further research by others. There are three issues that need to be kept sight of:
- · What is Clapham, given its historic parish, parliamentary and local council boundaries? These postings have tried to concentrate on the parish boundaries.
- · In order to make sense of population statistics did the Census area called ‘Clapham’ go through boundary changes.
- · Close attention needs to be paid to the problem that some Clapham addresses are given as Battersea in early 19thC newspapers.