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The Badsey Martyrs – passive resistance to the Education Act of 1902

An intriguing headline in The Evesham Standard of 8th October 1904 – “Martyrdom of Badsey Passive Resisters” – led to a voyage of discovery concerning opposition to the Education Act of 1902.  Who were the Badsey martyrs?  What form did their passive resistance take?  In order to understand what they were opposing, it is necessary to go back to 1902 and the passing of Balfour’s Education Act.

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The Education Act of 1902 – the cause of the problem

The Education Act of 1902, 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.  Nonconformists and supporters of the Liberal and Labour parties campaigned against the proposed act.  David Lloyd George led the campaign in the House of Commons as he resented the idea that Nonconformists would be contributing to the upkeep of Anglican schools.  Despite the opposition to the new Education Act, it was passed in December 1902. 

The new legislation abolished all 2,568 school boards and handed over their duties to local borough or county councils. These new Local Education Authorities (LEAs) were given powers to establish new secondary and technical schools as well as developing the existing system of elementary schools.  For the first time, as a result of this legislation, church schools were to receive public funds.

Passive Resistance

Nonconformist opposition was championed by John Clifford, the Baptist pastor of Westbourne Park Church in London, who became the recognized leader of the passive resistance to the education act.  He was opposed to Arthur Balfour's bill for three main reasons:

  1. The rate aid was being used to support the teaching of religious views to which some rate-payers were opposed; 
  2. Sectarian schools, supported by public funds, were not under public control; 
  3. Teachers in sectarian schools were subject to religious tests.

Clifford formed the National Passive Resistance Committee, which hoped to convince more Nonconformists to resist the Act and stop paying their rates (or at least that portion of the rate which was to be spent in or on church schools) until it was repealed.  It was based on the strategy used by John Hampden against Ship Money in 1637.  The Committee’s motto was:  "No Say, No Pay".  However, within weeks the Anti-Martyrdom League was formed to pay the rates that the passive resisters withheld.

Rate refusals began in the spring of 1903 in various parts of the country.  In June 1903 at Campden, the North Cotswold Passive Resistance League was formed.  In August 1903 at Cowl Street Hall, Evesham, a Passive Resistance meeting was held, “to protest against the Education Act under which the doctrines of the Church of Rome and the Ritualistic doctrines of the Church of England are taught to Protestant and Nonconformist children”.  In an opinion piece in The Evesham Standard of 7th November, the following was stated:

Perhaps we may ascribe the comparative freedom of Evesham from the “Passive Resistance” absurdity to the general good sense of the district.  Three young men from the Badsey district, none of whom were householders, have been summoned to appear at Evesham County Police Court, and the rates they objected to pay amounted altogether to the great total of two and ninepence.  The School Board rates which they previously paid without murmuring amounted to more than that, and there has been no change in the teaching.  The country appears to be tired of this silly business.  Lawyers denounce the passive resistance movement as illegal and perilously near a criminal conspiracy; and “the man in the street” is out of sympathy with it because it is unconstitutional and un-English.

The Badsey Passive Resisters

So who were the three young men from the Badsey district who were summoned to appear at the Police Court?  In the same edition of The Evesham Standard there appeared the following notice:


Lionel Edward Horne, market gardener, Aldington, was summoned for the non-payment of poor rate amounting to 12s.  Mr T Byrd did not adjudicate in this case.  Defendant said he had offered to pay all but 1s 2d, the education portion of the rate, and that he should never pay willingly.  Mr Warmington said defendant rented four acres of land at Aldington.  Defendant sent part of the money, which witness returned.  The Bench ordered distress to issue for the rate and costs.

William Churchill, market gardener, Badsey, was summoned by the assistant overseer, Mr W R Warmington, for the non-payment of poor rate amounting to 8s.  Defendant did not appear.  Distress warrant was issued for rate and costs.

Lionel Edward Horne, aged 22, who was originally from Moreton-in-Marsh, had moved to Aldington within the past year.  Known as Leo, he was the brother of Frederic Thomas Horne, treasurer of the North Cotswold Passive Resistance League, and Harold Horne, another member of the League.  William Churchill, aged 26, had moved from his native Devon to Badsey in the 1890s.  Both were Nonconformists.  The third person is assumed to be Albert Wyles who was mentioned frequently in future newspaper articles for his passive resistance, but was not mentioned on this occasion.  Albert Wyles had fairly recently moved to Netherfield on Bretforton Road.  As relative newcomers to the area, it is likely that they were viewed with suspicion by locals and hence the disparaging remarks in The Standard.  

Four and a half months later, a lengthy verbatim report appeared in The Evesham Standard concerning the part payment question by passive resisters.  On this occasion, five resisters appeared:  Lionel Horne and Albert Wyles plus three others.  Lionel Horne said that he was willing pay all but the education part of the rate.  He was severely reprimanded by the Chairman who said, “We can’t listen to that.  We shall issue an execution warrant today.”  The other men summonsed were Arthur Edwin Thorne of Wickhamford and William Machin and Walter William Blake of Badsey.  An execution warrant was issued in the case of each of them.

As William Churchill did not appear in court, a distress warrant was issued for the rate and costs, amounting altogether to 13s 6d.  However, as Churchill was a lodger, there were no goods to levy on.  On 14th December 14th the assistant overseer therefore applied for a committal.  Churchill again did not appear, so was committed to Worcester Gaol for 14 days.  As the lengthy, non-sympathetic report in The Evesham Standard said:  “He was evidently determined to be a martyr, and on the following day he went to prison and spent his Christmas there.”  During his detention, posters appeared in Evesham, “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 very large attendance at the meeting held on 31st December, with a large number of the opposition present.  William Churchill gave an account of his prison experiences.  The Reverend 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.”  

Sale of Goods

If a passive resister continued to refuse to pay the rate, a distress warrant was issued authorising someone (in Badsey’s case, Walter Richard Warmington who was the assistant overseer) to distrain or seize property.  This was then auctioned to defray the rate.  In many cases, a friend of the refuser was on hand to buy back the goods.

The first sale of goods belonging to passive resisters took place at The Bell Inn, Badsey, on 5th October 1904.  Walter Warmington was licensee of The Bell Inn and personally conducted the sale.  Albert Wyles’ rate amounted to 7s 4d, and for this Mr Warmington took a watch.  William Churchill’s amounted to 1s 4d, and for this Mr Warmington received seven balls of string, while Lionel Horne’s was 1s 2d, and Mr Warmington received a ladder.  Mr Churchill bought in Mr Wyles’ watch for him for 7s 6d, Mr Pethard bought the string for 1s 6d.  Mr Churchill bought in the ladder for Mr Horne at 8s.

A second sale took place six months later on 5th April 1905, after the same three men, having been summoned before the Evesham County Bench on 20th March and still refused to pay, had their property seized.  The reporter for The Evesham Standard had great delight in giving a detailed account of proceedings, entitling the article, “The Passive Resistance Farce – Sale of Badsey Martyrs’ goods”.  The sale, at which “a fair number of amused and joking spectators” were present, commenced in The Bell Inn yard soon after 10 am.  Lionel Horne and William Churchill attended, but Albert Wyles did not attend.  

The end of the matter

The 1902 Education Act had developed into a major political issue which, together with the threat posed by tariff reform on food prices, contributed significantly to the Liberal Party defeating the Conservatives in the General Election in 1906. The Passive Resistance movement had played a major part in the defeat. Soon after coming to power, the Liberals introduced the Birrell Education Bill.  This was intended to address nonconformist grievances arising from the 1902 Act. The bill passed the Liberal-dominated House of Commons comfortably but the House of Lords, with a Conservative majority, passed wrecking amendments which undermined its meaning, and the government dropped the bill. 

By 1906, over 170 men throughout the country had been imprisoned for refusal to pay the poor rate, and yet no change to the law was made.  They had failed in their ultimate aim of getting a non-denominational act passed.

In Badsey by 1906, William Churchill appears to have given up on his quest to change the system, as his name no longer appeared in the local press.  Lionel Horne and Albert Wyles, however, continued their passive resistance for several more years and were summoned twice yearly for non-payment of the education portion of the poor rate.  The last mention of them refusing to pay was in The Evesham Standard of 14th May 1910.

Resistance, having had no impact on the school system, declined in all parts of the country and, by 1914, with the outbreak of war, it no longer seemed appropriate.
Maureen Spinks, November 2020

See also:  

Lionel Edward Horne – from passive resistance to pillar of the community