Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Honest John Arkell

Are you still reeling from the result of last week's General Election? Does the thought of doing it all again in a few months time fill you with despair. As Brenda from Bristol famously said: "Not another one!"

How privileged we are in this country to have the vote and how sad that for so many it has become a burden. Can't be bothered, it doesn't make any difference, they all say one thing and do something different when they are elected. We've all heard these comments, possibly even uttered them ourselves.

In 1849 John Arkell, founder of the Kingsdown brewery, was writing to the local papers with some very modern and interesting ideas. He supported universal suffrage, although it is not clear whether he included votes for women in this recommendation, and a fairer society. His arguments resonate today, 168 years later.

To the Editor of the Wiltshire Independent

Sir, - As it appears from a letter in the Devizes Gazette, of Thursday last, dated from Swindon that the time has fairly arrived when some persons can be allowed sufficient space to inform the thinking world how we are going on in this neighbourhood; and as nothing but universal suffrage, or near approaching to it, and an equitable adjustment of all our national burdens, will ever stay the general ruin and confiscation of property which is now going on; I have thought it my duty again to call your particular attention to those facts which I have set before the public in your journal many times before, namely, the extension the suffrage to every householder, and the question of paper money, and how the continual reduction of country bank notes is daily affecting the community who have mortgaged their estates and entered into other monetary engagements.

 As the greater portion of the productive classes will be ruined, and the labouring population reduced to the Irish level, if some speedy means are not adopted to remedy the most strange and destructive anomalies which appear to be growing into existence throughout England, namely, the rapid accumulation of property in the hands of a few, and the great and unheard of poverty on the part of the many; and until we shall have found a complete remedy, or rather till the mass of the people will take the trouble to inquire into the great national swindle which has been, and is still be carried on against them; no positive and last good whatever can come to the industrious and productive classes ...
... At the same time, as the minds of Wiltshire Farmers and tradesmen have been roused to action more than those of many other counties, I see no reason why many of them, or at least those who are not so foolish as still to look after protection, should not join the movement which has been commenced with so much vigour in London and elsewhere, by the “Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association,” a branch of which is now in existence at New Swindon. 

Neither do I see any reason at all why the farm labourers and country tradesmen should not join the Association, even if the farmers refuse to lead them on; for I am well persuaded that since the major part of the farmers have agreed to discontinue all improvements during the coming winter, and turn away all the men they can possibly do without, so as to fill the poor-houses and create poverty amongst the people generally, for the purpose or showing their landlords and the legislature that we cannot go on under the present system and without protect on; the only hope which the tradesmen and labourers have of salvation lie in Parliamentary and Financial Reform.

And as the London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham Reformers have joined hand in hand, and are about to send deputies into the country, for the purpose of enlightening the working classes respecting the corruption of our present system of representation and public finance, what can we do better than to leave all minor disputes amongst ourselves, and advocate Parliamentary and Financial Reform as the thing wanting to make us a more contented and happy people, a truly rich and powerful nation.

Who knows but that when the farmers see that if they and their interest are to be represented and saved, it must be by those persons who represent the people, they will think it much better to trust to such men as Messrs Williams and Gladstone, and the working millions, than in rich landlords and political factions, who interest appears to be in misleading and deceiving still further those whom they ought to have protected. Even the pride of the proprietors of East India stock was greatly subdued, when they found that if they refused the assistance of such men as Sir Charles Napier any longer India would be lost to them. The same by the Great Western proprietors and the Messrs Williams and Gladstone; and the same it will be, no doubt, between the farmers and those who have been trying to open their eyes to their present situation. – Hoping by throwing out these few hints I have not trespassed too long upon your patience.

I remain, your humble servant,
John Arkell,
Kingsdown, near Swindon, Sept. 24, 1849

When John died in 1881 the Swindon Advertiser described him as a Radical Reformer, 'honest, outspoken, independent.'

John Arkell

Kingsdown brewery pictured in the 1930s