Clarion House - utopian dream
|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.
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 - 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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