12th Aug 2014: The Plebs League in the North East of England 1908/1926 by Robert Clive Turnbull

Plebs League

Come along to The Central Library  (George Washington Browne Conference Room which is one floor down from the front entrance) for 5pm to listen to Robert’s talk. There will be some food provided and an opportunity to talk…

Title of talk:

Left for the Rising Sun. Right for Swan Hunter. The Plebs League in the North East of England 1908/1926

Robert Clive Turnbull

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • The background to Swords Shall Not Rust, my initial interest in the Plebs League via Ruskin
  • A brief history of the autodidact tradition in the NE the Mechanics Institutes, Joe Cowan etc. and an overview of Tyneside at the beginning of the 20c, its industrial base and political allegiances
  • The beginnings of the North East Labour College Movement, and their struggle for recognition 1908/1916, main personalities etc. Ebby Edwards, Will Lawther, George Harvey, Outreach classes in the Northumberland and Durham coalfield, educational philosophy of IWCE.
  • The High Water Mark of the IWCE Movement in the NE 1918/1926. Growth of classes, main tutors, and a revolutionary moment passed. Tommy Jackson Starr etc., Black Friday 1921 and the beginnings of decline,  The General Strike and the winding up of the Plebs League

A few paragraphs on your subject:

As an ex Ruskin student, I have always been fascinated by the Plebs League and the Independent Working Class Education Movement or IWCE. Despite being a native of the North East, I lived in South Wales for many years and it was through the South Wales/ Ruskin connection that I became aware of people such as Noah Ablett, Mark Starr etc.
South Wales has always had a vibrant autodidact tradition which stretches at least as far back as the Chartists, and I was curious to see who were the Tyneside counterparts to the likes of Ablett, Will John Edwards etc. What I found exceeded my expectations.
Tyneside despite being a late convert to the IWCE movement was to produce some of the most well-known and committed members of the working class education movement in its early years, men such as Will Lawther, George Harvey, Ebby Edwards who went on to achieve national prominence.
Just as important were the long forgotten men and women who attended the classes and the people who taught them. I was amazed to learn that Mark Starr who wrote perhaps the most famous Plebs League textbook “A Worker Looks at History” was for a time a tutor on the NE Labour College Circuit as was T.A Jackson whose autobiography Solo Trumpet is an essential read

A few paragraphs about you:

My name is Rob Turnbull. I am 45 years old and a graduate of Ruskin College Oxford and the University of Northumbria. I am a full time writer and historian as well as a parent and PT MA student. I also lecture for the Independent Working Class Education network
I have previously written for BBC History magazine, the TLS, The Morning Star and several smaller publications.  Their Swords Shall Not Rust will be my second book. After the publication of Swords I am planning to write a biography of Noah Ablett which is provisionally titled An Agitator to the End. My historical interests are the history of autodidactism, the Back to the Land Movement of the late 19/ early 20c, and the history of the Clarion movement among others.

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

The modern IWCE movement have a website at iwcenetwork.co.uk This is a great source of news and materials. Also worth a look is the website of the Working Class Movement Library, which contains numerous material on the Plebs League.

What are your weblinks?

Website – www.leftbankofthetyne
Twitter –@RedRob1968
Facebook -RobTurnbull
Public Email – [email protected]

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