PASSIVE RESISTANCE AT EVESHAM – LIVELY MEETING, SPIRITED OPPOSITION SPEECH
Mr William Churchill, a young market gardener of Badsey, was summoned before the Evesham county magistrates at the beginning of November for the non-payment of poor rate amounting to 8s. He did not appear, and it was ordered that a distress warrant should issue for the rate and costs, amounting altogether to 13s 6d. On December 14th the assistant overseer applied for a committal, explaining that defendant was a lodger, and there were no goods to levy on. Defendant, who again did not appear, was committed for 14 days. He was evidently determined to be a martyr, and on the following day he went to prison and spent his Christmas there. Possibly this martyrdom had been arranged so that the demonstration fixed for Thursday night could be held. During the week bills appeared in the town headed: “Government by theft, Non conformists sent to prison in carrying out the Bishops’ Education Bill” and announcing a meeting in the Town Hall “to welcome Mr W Churchill after serving 14 days’ imprisonment in Worcester prison for refusing to pay the odious and unjust education rate in support of sectarian doctrines.” There was a large attendance. It was early seen that the opposition were present in strong force. Probably they considerably outnumbered the objectors to the Education Act, but no opportunity was afforded of showing their strength, as when the Chairman put the resolution to the meeting, he asked, in the midst of some noise, for those against to hold up their hands in a tone of voice which could not be heard many yards away, and nobody responded. It was also noticeable that not a single local minister was present to support the passive resisters. Mr Richard Cadbury presided, and he was supported on the platform by the Revs J Connor (Westmancote), A B Johnson (Studley), A Hallack (Worcester), Messrs J Fairfax, J G Voice, J Everett (Secretary National Passive Resistance Committee, London), W Churchill, Mrs Fairfax and Mrs Byrd.
The meeting opened with the singing of the hymn, “Oh God our help in ages past”, and prayer, in which the local martyr was commended in the name of the Lord for showing the spirit to resist.
LETTER FROM DR CLIFFORD
Mr Voice announced letters of apology from the Rev J H Jowett of Birmingham, whose name appeared in big type on the bills, with the intimation that he “would attend if possible” and from Dr Clifford, who wrote: “Who of us expected that the 20th century would be discredited by such persecution in the name of religion, and for the support of the Parliament Church. When will men cease to preach and practice the gospel of Force?” The Bishop of Worcester is reported to have said that the Education Act has made a breach between the forces of labour and the Anglican Church which will not be healed for decades. That is bad, but it is not all. It has trampled under foot the rights of conscience and attempted to make English Protestants pay for the propagation of Popery. We will not do it. We cannot. We can suffer as our fathers did, but ‘we will not submit’. Hearty congratulations to you on your service to the cause of God and of religion and of liberty.”
EXPERIENCES OF PRISON
After a few remarks from the Chairman, Mr Churchill gave an account of his prison experiences, which was received with some good-humoured chaff by many at the back of the room. He exhibited a specimen of the breed which had sustained him in his martyrdom.
The Rev A Hallack moved, “That this meeting welcomes Mr W Churchill on his return to freedom from Worcester Prison for refusing to pay a rate levied under the unjust and sectarian Education Act, 1902, and expresses its profound indignation that at the season of good will amongst men Mr Churchill should have been made to suffer wrongfully through an Act of Parliament which, as it considers, was framed mainly at the instigation of Convocation and was supported almost unanimously by the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church.” He urges that they should elect a representative of the constituency who would strive for the repeal of the Education Act. He was accorded a fair hearing, though there were some interruptions from the back of the room, and Mr G Witts, who was sitting in the front, occasionally disagreed with his remarks.
At the close the Chairman said he hoped the meeting would try to keep order and not give Evesham a worse name than it had already.
The remark apparently did not please the audience, for when Mr Everett of London rose to address the meeting, loud cheers were given for Mr Chamberlain and Mr Balfour and cheers for Chamberlain and “Good old Joey” were repeated at intervals. Mr Witts objects to some of the speaker’s remarks, whereupon Mr Everett said his interruptor would have the opportunity of speaking later, and somebody called for three cheers for Mr Witts. The stock arguments against the Act were repeated at length, with occasional interruptions, cheers for Mr Chamberlain, and cries of “Let Fairfax have a go”. The mention of the fires of Smithfield aroused much laughter.
The Rev A B Johnson then spoke and asked, “How’s your little Mary?” and replied it was in splendid condition.
The Chairman then put the resolution to the meeting, and many hands were held up in support amidst some noise. A large number of hands were held up against the resolution before the Chairman had asked for them, and when he did so his voice was evidently not heard very far down the room, and no hands were raised. A moment later there were cries of “Put the other side” and the Chairman said: “I have put it, and you have not voted.” A great number of those present left at the close under the impression that the opposition had not been given the chance to vote.
MR WITTS TO THE FRONT
Mr G Witts asked to be allowed to speak, and was permitted to do so. He proceeded to the platform and had a mixed reception, his friends cheering heartily while the other side “booed”. He had a fair hearing. In a spirited speech he said those present had known him 26 years as a teacher in the borough, and many present had had their children educated in the Church school under his tuition, and the least they could do was to be grateful. If the Nonconformists had a grievance now why did they not spend all the energy they had exercised on that platform 50, 60 and 70 years ago and build the schools which the Church provided? As to statements made that [?] out that in Evesham they had Catholic, Church and Nonconformist [?], the Nonconformists had this great [?] the rising generation to enter the profession and to teach he asked them how many pupil teachers they had taught in the British schools during the last 25 years? Not one. Never during the 26 years he had been at Bengeworth schools had he been without a Nonconformist teacher in his school. Would the British school have a Churchman (“No.”) Half the children in his school were Nonconformists. The parents were grateful for the education they received. They had confidence in the teacher and the managers, and he asked what had they to complain of? It had been said that the Nonconformists had a grievance. He would grant it, but they must not take a grievance away from one body and put it upon a greater body. He traced the history of the education question, showing that money was given for the teachings of religious education, and that on eth faith of the State that they would teach religion the Church raised 45 millions of money. Turning to the platform, Mr Witts asked if the audience did not see what “these men” wanted them to do. Did they not see the little trick? Dr Clifford said the other day that it was not the Education Act they wanted repealed so much, but they wanted to turn the Government out. Later, he said it was not a question of education, but a question of disestablishment. (Hear, hear, from the platform.) These men, who would not put their hands in their pockets for the last 70 years, were trying to make a wholesale robbery of the schools of the Church. The Act had been in force for nine months, and in the interests of the children, which the speakers that night seemed to think nothing of, for their action was simply political, he declared that since the Act had been in force the schools had been better treated, and were in many respects improved, and the children were happier and contented under this grand new Act. (Loud applause.)
Mr H Masters seconded a vote of thanks to the chairman, and after further remarks from the Rev J Connor and Mr Everett the meeting closed with the singing of the Doxology.