|Article compiled and presented by Gill Hollis
PASSIVE RESISTANCE AND THE 1902 EDUCATION ACT
The 1902 Education Act stated that School Boards were to be abolished and replaced by local education authorities, and the Voluntary Schools were to receive further financial aid out of the rates. The intention of the Act was to bring order to the education system and establish a framework for future educational organisation. However, there was a great deal of opposition to the Act, especially from the Non-conformists, who resented paying rates to support the schools where the Anglican Creed was taught.
In July of 1903 the “Citizen’s League” was formed, in Rushden, to protest against the 1902 Education Act.
The protest was nationwide and resistance was strong in Northamptonshire, and according to the Rushden Echo “No town in the county can show such a large number of resisters in proportion to the population as Rushden.”In January 1904 the first summonses were issued and the cases brought to the Wellingborough Court on February 5th. There were 50 resisters, listed below with the amount of money they had withheld.
The following is a complete list of the defendants, with the balance remaining unpaid (averaging about 1¼d in the £, the amount which, it is estimated, is required for sectarian purposes);-
Each defendant was allowed to state his objection to the rate, and address the Court from the Solicitor’s table. Some of the defendants had very strong sectarian opinions and the objections ranged from the Act being “unfair to non-conformists” to “a discreditable Act passed by a discreditable Government.”
The Rev. R. Shorten said that he could not conscientiously and therefore would not voluntarily pay as a citizen, because the Act that levied the rate violated the fundamental constitutional principle that, where the public paid, the public should have control. He could not pay on religious grounds because the money would be devoted to sectarian teaching, much of which he believed to be false and harmful and certainly much of which was opposed to many principles he cherished. It was impossible for him to pay the rate voluntarily unless he was base enough to stain his conscience, and that he could not do.
Mr. Staniland said that if the schools got under the control of the Anglican or Roman Catholic clergy the country would be ten times worse off than in the days of the Puritans.
The first distraint of goods was carried out on the 23rd February, by the Rushden and District Rent and Debt Collecting and Inquiry Association, their two principal officers Mr. C. C. West (manager) and Mr. George Bayes (secretary) accompanying Mr. John Sargent (assistant overseer), who was armed with the warrant.
The Rushden Echo of 26th February, 1904, recorded the event as follows :-
DISTRAINTS UPON RUSHDEN’S PASSIVE RESISTERS
Distraints have been made this week upon the goods of fifty passive resisters in Rushden.The Chief Constable of the county was strongly opposed to allowing the police to make the distraints. The unpleasant duty of seizing the goods therefore fell upon the assistant overseer (Mr. John Sargent) who, it is the barest justice to say, has come out of the ordeal with flying colours. He felt - and the overseers agreed with him - that it would be far better to engage the assistance of those whose sympathies were with the passive resisters, and who would therefore carry out the work in a most courteous manner, than to import into the town one who might be inclined to exercise his “little brief authority” in a way which would have been very unpleasant and very expensive to the resisters. The matter was therefore put into the hands of the Rushden and District Rent and Debt Collecting and Inquiry Association, the two principal officers of which - Mr. C. C. West, the manager, and Mr. George Bayes, the secretary - accompanied Mr. Sargent, who was armed with the warrant. Shortly after nine a.m. on Tuesday Mr. Sargent, Mr. West and Mr. Bayes started upon their uncongenial duties. They had with them a large furniture removal van hired from Messrs. E,. Scroxton and Sons of Portland-road. The first call was at the house of the Rev. R. Shorten, High-street, where a dinner gong was accepted. The other “defaulters” in High-street were then waited upon, in every case the utmost consideration being shown by the distrainers, who, on their part had
NO GROUNDS OF COMPLAINT
at the reception accorded them. By this time telephonic and other messages had been sent to the rest of the resisters. The Victoria-road and Queen-street defaulters were next waited upon, and the distrainers then proceeded by way of Cromwell-road to the top of Newton-road, accompanied by five of the passive resisters - the Rev. W. F. Harris, the Rev. M. E, Parkin, Mr. H. J. Jacobs, Mr. C. Freeman, and Mr. C. Cross. Soon after twelve o’clock “business” was suspended for the morning and the motley collection of goods was removed to the town depot in Newton-road. Everything passed off quietly and the utmost good humour prevailed. Matters were rather livelier in the afternoon. Mr. Freeman had decorated his cart with two large portraits of Dr. Clifford, and had procured from Mr. Harry Knight a small deal coffin labelled “Education Act.” Mr. Freeman’s explanation, when asked why so small a coffin was used in which to bury the obnoxious measure, being that “the Act died young!” Apparently Mr. Freeman’s intention was to follow the distrainers in his appropriately decorated cart. In this, however, he and other resisters including some of those who were out in the morning, together with the Rev. R. Shorten, and the Rev. D. Pughe, were doomed to disappointment; Mr. West went with the van in the direction of Wellingborough-road, Mr. Sargent and Mr. Bayes managed to quickly carry out a number of distraints in Griffith-street and the neighbourhood. Later in the afternoon, however, the resisters and the distrainers met.
A LIVELY SCENE
was enacted at the factory of Messrs. Knight and Lawrence in Manton-road, where a flag, draped in black, was hoisted half-mast high. All the employees at the factory were liberated from work when the distrainers arrived, and soon formed a large group outside the premises, where they hooted the ill-begotten Education Act and gave loud cheers as Mr. Freeman drove up displaying his portraits of Dr. Clifford and the coffin for the burial of the Bill. At this point Mr. Percy Collins and Mr. G. H. Parkin, two other resisters, arrived on the scene, the latter taking a snapshot of the distrainers walking off with four pairs of boots each. After this, things quieted down. On Wednesday further distraints were made, and yesterday (Thursday) the work was brought to an end. In each case 1s is added as the cost of the assistant overseer for distraining, but Mr. Sargent forgoes this fee. The sale will be held next Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Public Hall.
The sale of the goods took place on the 2nd March, with most of the goods being bought back by the owners.
The Northampton Daily Reporter of March, 1904 reported the sale as follows :-
SALE OF RESISTERS’ GOODS
The distrained goods of fifty resisters from Rushden were sold by public auction in the Public Hall, Rushden, this Wednesday morning by J. S. Mason of Rushden. About 300 people attended the sale. The Greatest good humour prevailed throughout the proceedings which were occasionally brightened by humorous little interjections from the audience. The auctioneer was heartily applauded as soon as he took his position upon the platform. Among those on the platform were Mr. John Sargent ( assistant overseer) and Mr. J. Claridge, C.C., Mr. George Bayes and Mr. C. C. West. The audience included most of the passive resisters, prominent among them being the Rev. W. F. Harris and the Rev.R. Shorten. The names of the resisters and their goods which had been distrained in the most amicable manner possible were as follows :-
The auctioneer, before commencing the sale, said that the sale was to him an unpleasant business, but he could tell from the people he saw in front of him that there would be no ill-will (applause), and that afterwards they would all be just as good friends as ever. (Applause). The sale then commenced. The various lots were offered and sold as rapidly as possible. In most cases they were bought in by the Resisters themselves or by friends of Resisters with a view to restoring them to their owners. In nearly every case the article was knocked down as soon as the sum required was reached. Mr. Jowitt’s lot, which included a portrait of Dr. Clifford, was announced amid ringing cheers from the Resisters. The picture with a chair and table, were not bought in, but after a fairly spirited competition, were knocked down to Mr. Newell. As Mr. Jowitt’s table had been commandeered by the Press representatives, a playful demand from the back of the hall for the table to be handed down to the audience for inspection provoked hearty laughter and applause, but, fortunately for the reporters, the auctioneer did not accede to the request. There were one or two bona fide sales. The proceedings which occupied only a short time closed with a hearty vote of thanks to the auctioneer for his generous services.