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    Inside Out - North West: Monday October 24, 2005

Clarion House - utopian dream

Lancashire cotton mill
King cotton - Lancashire's textile industry

More than a century ago, if you lived in Lancashire, there's a good chance that you have worked in a cotton mill.

The hours were long and hard, and the conditions were awful.

So come the weekend, what better than getting out into the countryside for a bit of fresh air and some political debate?

The workers in the Nelson area of Lancashire were at the forefront of more than just an Industrial Revolution.

Nestled in a hidden valley in the shadow of Pendle Hill, the Clarion House has stood for the best part of a century.

Serving refreshments to those out enjoying the fresh air, it may look like a tea room but it has its own unique place in history.

A hundred years ago there were scores of Clarion Houses dotted across the North West, London and Scotland.

This is the last remaining one - it's not only a meeting place but a monument to the Socialist movement.

King cotton

At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Lancashire was teeming with cotton and textile mills.

The workers would endure long, hard shifts in dirty, dusty conditions.

Clarion House
Clarion House - from socialism to sunday teas

Their only respite came when the factories closed on Saturday lunchtime for the weekend.

Jack Burrows has the Clarion House in his blood, "My maternal grandfather, Michael Wildman, was an outdoor man and a founder of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Nelson.

"He decided that the people working in the mills should come out into the country and enjoy the country air. So a land society was formed from the Independent Labour Party."

He continues, "Two years after the land society was formed they purchased this land for the Clarion House.

"It was immensely successful from the very beginning - hundreds of people used to come over - in fact it was said between 200-300 would come on a Saturday and 400-500 on a Sunday."

From escape to civil war

ILP member Roger Brown explains the principles behind the Clarion House in its heyday:

"It sounds very naïve now but it was to lead by example. It was to set up a place in the country, a place of beauty, run on a non-profit making basis, people giving their time for nothing for the general good of others in the hope that the world would come to reflect it and would become a place of beauty, and I mean the world because we're an internationalist organisation."

Shortly after the Clarion House opened in 1912 came the first rumblings of war in Europe.

Thousands of Lancashire men joined up - eager to do their bit for the nation.


The North West Clarion House is one of several ‘Clarion Houses’ that were used by the Nelson Independent Labour Party. It was built in 1912 under the direction of the trustees of the Nelson ILP Land Society.

The building was funded by a loan of £350 from the Nelson Weavers Association.

The Clarion House was built as a non-profit making co-operative. It was planned in the hope that others would take it as a model of how society ought to be organised.

The Clarion saw itself is a vision of the future, a vision of a socialist society, a commonwealth, based on co-operation and fellowship, not conflict and material greed.

The "Clarion" is situated within the "Hidden Valley" and is surrounded by a network of public footpaths. It lies close to the Pendle Way and the Two Roses Way.

The early socialist pioneers who built the Clarion chose a place of natural beauty in the hope that the rest of the world would come to resemble it and become a place of moral and social beauty.

The Clarion means 'to proclaim loudly'. It was designed to spread the socialist message, uniting the world under one banner of socialism, peace and harmony.

Source: Clarion House

But the meetings held at the Clarion had politicised the youth of Nelson and its neighbouring villages - and many refused to fight.

They were rounded up and sentenced by court martial to three years hard labour in Dartmoor prison.

In the late 1930s violence flared in Spain when the democratically elected left wing government was overthrown by fascists led by General Franco.

The ensuing Civil War inspired the young members of the Independent Labour Party who travelled to Spain to fight on the side of the workers.

Roger recalls the spirit of the times, "Some people have suggested there's a contradiction there as we were basically an anti war party but fought in the Spanish Civil War - we are an anti war organisation but we're not a pacifist organisation but we're anti war.

"The Spanish Civil war was a war against fascism as was world war two so it was ideologically fine to oppose fascism - it's a question of conscience in that respect."

With the 1980s came Margaret Thatcher and a change in the climate of British politics.

There was plenty of scope for the ILP to get het up.

Its members protested against all kinds of policies from the closure of pits to the apartheid regime in South Africa and the much maligned poll tax.

Roger says, "We regard ourselves as being the conscience of the Labour Party, trying to spread a traditional, classical socialism message to the politicians… If there's an issue and we have something to say about it, we'll get involved."

Today's Clarion House

So is Clarion House less political these days?

Susan Nike believes that the spirit of Clarion House lives on:

"Every now and then we give them a good reminder - people say 'oh yes, it's just for walkers and cyclists now', we say 'it's not really' - it's to broadcast a political message that there is an alternative to the society that people think they're living in and we'd like to make sure that's continued.

"You'd be surprised how many people agree with you once you start to discuss it with them, and that's what the point of this place is - discussion and enlightenment."

One of the regulars explains why Clarion House is so important to him:

"I've been coming about 65 years and Mum and Dad used to bring us up it was packed every Sunday.

"It's very important we always have a good walk then we meet up with friends, have a chat and put the world to rights. It's not Sunday unless we come to The Clarion. It's a meeting place, very reasonable drinks."

The network of Clarion Houses across the country, which would host political meetings and debates, has now long gone.

But the volunteers who staff the Pendle Clarion House - the last of its kind - are as keen as its founders to proclaim the socialist message.

Susan Nike extols its virtues, "I'm not disappointed - I'm very optimistic, I think if you can keep reminding people of the history you can keep them interested in where they're going and perhaps reflect on our consumer society isn't giving everyone the rewards they thought they were going to get.

"People get very disillusioned, they get all this consumer requirements and they think it'll make them happy but they start to reflect as they get a bit older and think well maybe it's not as great as I thought let's think about what real life is about - it's people that matter not things."

"It's a reminder of our history. It's in a beautiful setting and it allows you to reflect on life. We've got to keep it going for the pioneers who formed it in the first place and that's why it's so important."

If you want to enjoy the unique atmosphere, Clarion House is open on a Sunday - the best way to enjoy it is to leave the car at home and enjoy a walk or a bike ride at this time of year there's always a roaring fire and tea and coffee.

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Knives - lethal weapons?

Knives - a worrying growth in possession and purchasing

Inside Out reveals how easy it is for children to buy lethal knives and blades on the internet.

Our inquiry comes as knife crime in the North West is reported to be growing.

In the last few weeks, over 30 people across the region have been stabbed - some of the victims died, others escaped with just lacerations.

In the programme we reveal how easy it is to get potentially lethal throwing knives - for cash - and without any checks on who's buying them.

Knife culture

Inside Out visits a hospital's casualty unit on a typical Friday night - this is the sharp end of the North West's growing knife culture.

At Manchester Royal - like city hospitals across the region - they're dealing with hundreds of stabbings a year.

Many are serious enough to need more than just stitches.

Mr Jimmy Stuart, a trauma surgeon at Manchester Royal Infirmary, says he's dealing with at least two stabbings a night and on some evenings it's more.

Knife victim
Terezia Sternbergerova - victim of a vicious attack

Katherine Moore is a Salford teacher who survived one of the most vicious knife attacks ever seen in the North West.

She'd been trying to help a young woman - but paid a high price for her bravery.

Nasir Ali Alsenaidi left his Salford flat one afternoon a year ago - armed with a six inch kitchen knife, and the intention of attacking the first person he came across.

That person was Terezia Sternbergerova, a 25-year-old Slovakian student, who'd been walking home from her work in a nursing home.

Alsenaidi, later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, stabbed Terezia in the back. Their struggle was seen by Katherine Moore as she drove home.

She stopped her car and tried to help, but Alsenaidi kept attacking Terezia.

When he'd stopped, he turned his attention to Katherine:

"He just stood there and said I'm going to kill you - and I knew he meant it - and he tried." Katherine Moore.

Terezia died in the attack, and Katherine was seriously injured.

Rising tide

In the last five years, the number of convictions for carrying knives has been rising - to about 6,000 a year.

Large knife
Dangerous and potentially lethal - knife culture

Murders involving knives have also gone up - by about a third.

In the battle against increasing violence on Britain's streets, police officers have paid a high price.

Special Branch detective Stephen Oake was the last officer to die in the North West - knifed by an Al-Qaida terrorist during a police raid in 2003.

Since 1980, over 30 officers have been murdered on duty. It's surprising to find that exactly half were stabbed to death.

The Greater Manchester Police Federation told Inside Out that a knife is more dangerous than a gun, because you don't need to reload a knife.

Knives for cash

So how easy is it to get a knife?

To buy one that's more than three inches long, the law says you have to be 16-years-old. The Government is planning to increase the age to 18.

Inside Out spent ten minutes on the Internet and found a site which was offering knives for cash.

So we wondered how that worked? How would the company be able to check who was sending them cash - and what safeguards did they have in place to stop children buying whatever they wanted?

We ordered knives by letter - not very sophisticated - the sort of thing a 12-year-old could write, stuck in the cash and waited to see what would happen.

Within a week, an eight and a half inch steel blade - complete with its own nylon pouch arrived by post.

But that's not all. We were also able to order a set of what are called 'covert' knives, which can be strapped in pouches to an arm, and therefore hidden.

The web site made no contact with us asking for proof of age.

Selling knives to minors is illegal - and risks a £5,000 fine or six months' imprisonment.

Inside Out has passed its evidence onto trading standards officers.

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Allotments - back in fashion

The good life - down on the allotment

Allotments are enjoying a resurgence with more and more people enjoying the joys of gardening.

Inside Out visits the Alder Hey Road Allotments in St. Helens which are a shining example of what can be achieved.

Green fingers

Stan Pennington is 80-years-old and says that working on his allotment keeps him fit and healthy.

He's kept an allotment for 46 years and his dahlias are his pride and joy.

Stan has won countless competitions with them, and picked up first prize at the national dahlia growers' show this summer.

It takes a lot of time and hard work to grow award-winning dahlias but for Stan it's a labour of love:

"I never look at the work side as hard work because I enjoy doing it, even if at times it can be hard but it never comes across to me, like as hard work, I mean I never feel tired when I am working on the allotments because I enjoy doing it.

"I think physically it's not going to do you any harm. Like I said, there is hard work in it... getting the plot right in the first place and it does keep you fit. If you look at plot holders who've been doing it for a long time, you won't see very many fat plot holders."

In total contrast to Stan, Helen Curran is practically a novice. She decided to get a small plot three years ago.

What started out as a bit of a hobby has grown and grown. Now when she's not looking after the children or working as a physiotherapist at Aintree Hospital, you'll most likely find her down the allotment among the cabbages and pumpkins.

"Well I used to push Rachel in the pram past the gates and I'd peer through and see all the flowers," she says.

"One day I wandered on just to see what was behind the gates and I found these allotments and inquired if I could get one, because there were a few derelict, and we were lucky enough to get one because there's a waiting list now."

The waiting list is proof that allotments are booming, as Helen explains, "They're regenerating quite a few of them that have become derelict and there's a bit of a waiting list for younger people like me and families..."

Helen gets a kick out of producing her own foodstuffs:

"It's really good, especially involving the children. They like to eat the stuff that they've picked and it's quite good to get them to eat some veg."

Back to the land

There's nothing new about people growing their own fruit and vegetables.

People have been doing it for centuries and during the Second World War it played a vital role in the war effort.

As Hitler's U-boats tightened their stranglehold on the Atlantic, the nation was urged to 'Dig for Victory'.

By the height of the war allotments were producing 3 million tons of food.

But from their heyday in the 40's and 50's the popularity of allotments has dwindled over the last 30 years and many sites have made for housing developments.

Four years ago the Alder Hey Road allotments were in danger of following suit. Many of the plots were in a sorry state.

Alan from the allotments explains how they got their plots up and running again:

"We had a saying that we as a committee decided to look at the regeneration of allotments. We could see that being in line with the national trend allotments was on the decline and we knew that this would be an open invitation for a private developer to come in. So we decided we either used our allotments or lost them. That was one of the sayings we said, 'use or lose'.

"We decided that we had lots of things to offer the community... So we went to Pilkingtons and asked if we could have a lease of the land and after some negotiations when they came back and said we could if we were prepared to take over what you call self-managed. So this site now is managed by the members and the committee..."

By inviting outside organisations to make good use of the allotments Alan and the other plot holders have given the place a new lease of life.

"There's an awful lot of work gone into it but there's an awful lot of work still got to go into it," says Alan.

The scheme been a success story and the results can be seen on the ground with cauliflowers, sweetcorn, broccoli, courgettes, onions, and other produce.

The allotments are a hive of activity, and those involved can see
the scheme expanding.

There's also one or two surprises wherever you look - the SureStart group run a Tots Allotment in the far corner of the site where children can grow things or just run around and have fun.

The allotments have grown into a focal point for the local community, and their future is in safe hands.

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