16.3.36

Last night to hear Mosley speak at the Public Hall, which is in structure a theatre. It was quite full – about 700 people I should say. About 100 Blackshirts on duty, with two or three exceptions weedy-looking specimens, and girls selling Action [1] etc. Mosley spoke for an hour and a half and to my dismay seemed to have the meeting mainly with him. He was booed at the start but loudly clapped at the end. Several men who tried at the beginning to interject questions were thrown out, one of them – who as far as I could see was only trying to get a question answered – with quite unnecessary violence, several Blackshirts throwing themselves upon him and raining blows on him while he was still sitting down and had not attempted any violence. M. is a very good speaker. His speech was the usual claptrap – Empire free trade, down with the Jew and the foreigner, higher wages and shorter hours all round etc. etc. After the preliminary booing the (mainly) working-class audience was easily bamboozled by M. speaking from as it were a Socialist angle, condemning the treachery of successive governments towards the workers. The blame for everything was put upon mysterious international gangs of Jews who are said to be financing, among other things, the British Labour Party and the Soviet. M.’s statement re. the international situation: “we fought Germany before in a British quarrel; we are not going to fight them now in a Jewish one” [2] was received with loud applause. Afterwards there were questions as usual, and it struck me how easy it is to bamboozle an un-educated audience if you have prepared beforehand a set of repartees with which to evade awkward questions eg. M. kept extolling Italy and Germany, but when questioned about concentration camps etc. always replied “We have no foreign models; what happens in Germany need not happen here.” To the question, “How do you know that your own money is not used to finance cheap foreign labour?” (M having denounced the Jewish financiers who are supposed to do this) M. replied, “All my money is invested in England,” and I suppose comparatively few of the audience realised that this means nothing.

At the beginning M. said that anyone ejected would be charged under the public meetings act. I don’t know whether this was actually done, but presumably the power to do so exists. In connection with this the fact that there are no police on duty inside the building is of great importance. Anyone who interrupts can be assaulted and thrown out and then charged into the bargain, and of course the stewards, ie. M. himself, are the judges of what constitutes an interruption. Therefore one is liable to get both a hammering and a fine for asking a question which M. finds it difficult to answer.

At the end of the meeting a great crowd collected outside, as there was some public indignation about the men who had been thrown out. I waited for a long time in the crowd to see what would happen, but M. and party did not emerge. Then the police managed to split the crowd and I found myself at the front, whereupon a policeman ordered me away, but quite civilly. I went round to the back of the crowd and waited again, but still M. did not appear and I concluded he had been sneaked out by a back door, so went home. In the morning at the Chronicle office, however, I was told there had been some stone-throwing and two men had been arrested and remanded.

G. changed this morning onto the early morning shift. He gets up at 3.45 a.m. and has to be at work, ie. At the coal face, at 6. He gets home about 2.30 p.m. His wife does not get up to get his breakfast and he says few miners will allow their wives to do so. Also that there are still some miners who if they meet a woman on their way to work will turn back and go home. It is considered bad luck to see a woman before going to work. I presume this only applies to the early morning shift.

[1] Action: journal of the British Union of Fascists. On 9 July 1936 Orwell was asked by Mrs Hastings Bonara if she could quote from the Trafalgar Square scene of A Clergyman’s Daughter in a review she was writing for Action. She wrote that she hoped he was not violently anti-Fascist and would ‘consequently say CERTAINLY NOT’. Evidently Orwell did. In later correspondence she claimed that at least the BUF had a programme ‘for ameliorating the lot of our “Misérables”.’

[2] in a Jewish one: seven months later, in October, Mosley attempted to force the BUF through the East End of London in an anti-Jewish protest march. The ensuing violent opposition led to what became known as the Battle of Cable Street.

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15.3.36

Last night with Wilde and others to the general meeting of the South Yorkshire Branch of the Working Men’s Club & Institute Union, held at one of the clubs in Barnsley. About 200 people there, all busily tucking into beer and sandwiches, though it was only 4.30 p.m. – they had got an extension for the day. The club was a big building, really an enlarged pub with one big hall which could be used for concerts etc., and in which the meeting was held. It was a bit stormy in parts, but Wilde and the chairman had them pretty well in hand and were complete masters of all the usual platform phraseology and procedure. I notice from the balance sheet that W.’s salary is £260 per annum. Before this I had never realised the number and importance of these working men’s clubs, especially in the North and especially in Yorkshire. These at this meeting consisted of pairs of delegates sent by all the clubs in South Yorkshire. There would have been I should say 150 delegates, representing therefore 75 clubs and probably about 10,000 members. That is in South Yorkshire alone. After the meeting I was taken to have tea in the committee room with about 30 of what were, I gathered, some of the more important delegates. We had cold ham, bread and butter, cakes and whisky which everyone poured into their tea. After that with W. and the others went down to the Radical and Liberal Club in the middle of the town, where I have been before. There was a sort of smoking concert going on, as these clubs, like the pubs, all engaged singers etc. for the weekends. There was quite a good knockabout comedian whose jokes were of the usual twins-mother-in-law-kippers type, and pretty steady boozing. Wilde’s accent becomes much broader when he is in these surroundings. It appears that these clubs were first started as a kind of charitable concern in the mid-nineteenth century, and were, of course, Temperance. But they escaped by becoming financially self-supporting and have developed, as I say, into sort of glorified co-operative pubs. Grey, who belongs to the Radical and Liberal Club, tells me his subscription is 1/6d a quarter and all drinks are 1d or 2d a pint cheaper than at the pubs. Youths under 21 are not admitted and (I think) women cannot be members but can go there with their husbands. Most of the clubs are avowedly non-political, and in this and in the fact that the members are mostly of the more prosperous working-class type – comparatively few unemployed – one can foresee the germs of a danger that they will be politically mobilised for anti-socialist purposes.

Talking with a man who was previously a miner but now works as a labourer for the Corporation. He was telling me about the housing conditions in Barnsley in his childhood. He grew up in a back to back house in which there were 11 people (two bedrooms, I suppose) and you not only had to walk 200 yards to get to the lavatory, but shared it with, in all, 36 people.

Have arranged to go down the Grimethorpe pit next Saturday. This is a very up-to-date pit and possesses certain machinery that does not exist anywhere else in England. Also to do down a “day hole” pit on Thursday afternoon. The man I spoke to told me it was a mile to the coal face, so if the “travelling” is bad I shan’t go the whole way – I only want to see what a “day hole” is like and am not going to incapacitate myself like last time.

When G. comes back from the pit he washes before having his food. I don’t know whether this is usual, but I have often seen miners sitting down to eat with Christy Minstrel faces – completely black expect very red lips which become clean by eating. When G. arrives he is as black as ink, especially his scalp – for this reason miners usually wear their hair short. He pours out a large basin of hot water, strips to the waist and washes himself very methodically, first his hands, then his upper arms, then his forearms, then his chest and shoulders, then his face and head. Then he dries himself and his wife washes his back. His navel is still a nest of coal-dust. I suppose from the waist down he must normally be quite black. There are public baths and the miners go to them but as a rule not more than once a week – one cannot be surprised at this, as a miner has not much time between working and sleeping. Miners’ houses with bathrooms, other than the new Corporation ones, are practically unknown. Only a few colliery companies have baths at the pit-heads.

I notice that G. does not eat very much. At present, working on the afternoon shift, he has the same breakfast as I have (an egg and bacon, bread – no butter – and tea) and has a light lunch, such as bread and cheese, about half past twelve. He says he cannot do his work if he has eaten too much. All he takes with him to the pit is some bread and dripping and cold tea. This is the usual thing. The men do not want much in the stifling air down there, and besides, they are not allowed any time off for eating. He gets home between 10 and 11 p.m., and it is then that he has his only heavy meal of the day.

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14.3.36

Much talk last night with Mr G. about his War experiences. Especially about the malingering he saw going on when he was invalided with some injury to his leg, and the astute ways the doctors had of detecting it. One man feigned complete deafness and successfully kept it up during tests lasting two hours. Finally he was told by signs that he would be discharged and could go, and just as he was passing through the door the doctor said casually “Shut that door after you, would you?” the man turned and shut it, and was passed for active service. Another man feigned insanity and got away with it. For days he was going round with a bent pin on a bit of string, pretending to be catching fish. Finally he was discharged, and on parting with G. he held up his discharge papers and said “This is what I was fishing for.” I was reminded of the malingering I saw in the Hôpital Cochin [1] in Paris, where unemployed men used to remain for months together on pretence of being ill.

Beastly cold again. Sleet this morning. But yesterday as I came on the train they were ploughing and the earth looked much more spring-like; especially in one field where the earth was very black, not like the usual clay soil hereabouts, and as the ploughshare turned it over it looked like chocolate fudge being sliced up with a knife.

I am very comfortable in this house but do not think I shall pick up much of interest in Barnsley. I know no one here except Wilde, who is thoroughly vague. Cannot discover whether there is a branch of the N.U.W.M. here. The public library is no good. There is no proper reference library and it seems no separate directory of Barnsley is published.

[1] Hôpital Cochin: Orwell was admitted for ‘une grippe’ to this Parisian hospital from 7th to 22nd March 1929. He wrote about the experience in ‘How the Poor Die’, 6 November 1946, CW, XVIII, pp. 459-67.

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13.3.36

At 4 Agnes Terrace,[1] Barnsley.

This house is bigger that I had imagined. Two rooms and tiny larder under the stairs downstairs, 3 or 4* rooms upstairs. 8 people in the house – 5 adults and 3 children. Front room which should be parlour is used as bedroom. Living room, about 14 by 12, has the usual kitchener, sink and copper. No gas stove. Electric light in all rooms save one. Outside W.C.

The family. Mr Grey, a short powerful man, age about 43, with coarse features, enlarged nose and a very fatigued, pale look. He is rather bald, has his own teeth (unusual in a working class person of that age) but they are very discoloured. A bit deaf, but very ready to talk, especially about technicalities of mining. Has worked in the pit ever since a small boy. On one occasion was buried by a fall of earth or stone – no bones broken, but it took ten minutes to dig him out and two hours to drag him to the cage. He tells me no machinery (stretchers etc.) exists for conveying injured men away from the scene of accidents. Obviously some kind of stretcher running on the trolley rails could be contrived, but this would involve stopping all the haulage of coal while it was being done. So injured men have to be carried to the cage by helpers who are themselves bending double and can only get them along very slowly. Mr G. works at removing the coal onto trucks after it is cut – “scufting” I think it is called. He and his mate are paid piece-work 2/2 per ton – 1/1 each. On full time his wages average £2-10-0 a week. His stoppages amount to 6/11. He works at Darton, about 4 miles away and goes there by bus.[35] Journeys cost 6d a day. So his net wages on full time are about £2-0-0 a week.

Mrs G. is about 10 years younger,** motherly type, always cooking and cleaning, accent less broad then her husband’s. Two little girls, Doreen and Ireen (spelling?) aged 11 and 10. The other lodgers are a widowed joiner, employed on the woodwork at the new dog-track, and his son aged about 11, and a professional singer who is going to sing at one of the pubs. All the larger pubs in Barnsley employ singers and dancers (some of these very immoral according to Mrs G.) more or less constantly.

The house is very clean and decent and my room the best I have had in lodgings up here. Flanelette sheets this time.

*3 [handwritten footnote]

**Actually their ages are 50 & 38 [handwritten footnote]

[1] Terrace: Orwell wrote ‘Terrace’ rather than ‘Avenue’ of a dozen or so lines earlier.

[2] bus: Orwell’s handwritten emendation for the original ‘tram’.

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11.3.36

On the last two evenings to “discussion groups” – societies of people who meet once a week, listen-in to some talk on the radio and then discuss it. Those at the one on Monday were chiefly unemployed men and I believe these “discussion groups” were started or at any rate suggested by the Social Welfare people who run the unemployed occupational centres. That on Monday was decorous and rather dull. Thirteen people including ourselves (one woman besides M[arjorie]), and we met in a room adjoining a public library. The talk was on Galsworthy’s play The Skin Game and the discussion kept to the subject until most of us adjoined° to a pub for bread and cheese and beer afterwards. Two people dominated the assembly, one a huge bull-headed man named Rowe who contradicted whatever the last speaker had said and involved himself in the most appalling contradictions, the other a youngish, very intelligent and extremely well-informed man named Creed. From his refined accent, quiet voice and apparent omniscience, I took him for a librarian. I find he keeps a tobacconist’s shop and was previously a commercial traveller. During the War he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. The other meeting was at a pub and the people were of higher standing. The arrangement is that M and H[umphrey] go there taking the portable radio, and the publican, who is a member of the group, lets them have a room for the evening. On this occasion the talk was called “If Plato lived Today,” but actually no one listened-in except M. and myself – H. has gone to Bedford. When the talk was over the publican, a Canadian with a very bald head, a market gardener who was already the worse for drink, and another man, rolled in and there began an orgy of drinking from which we escaped with difficulty about an hour later. Much talk on both nights about the European situation and most people saying (some of them with ill-dissembled hope) that war is certain. With two exceptions all pro-German.

Today to Barnsley to fix up about a place to stay. Wilde, secretary of the South Yorkshire Branch of the Working Men’s Club & Institute Union, has fixed it all up for me. The address is 4 Agnes Avenue. The usual 2 up 2 down house, with sink in living room, as at Sheffield. The husband is a miner and was away at work when we got there. House very disorganised as it was washing day, but seemed clean. Wilde, though kind and helpful, was a very vague person. He was a working miner till 1924 but as usual has been bourgeois-ified. Smartly dressed with gloves and umbrella and very little accent – I would have taken him for a solicitor from his appearance.

Barnsley is slightly smaller than Wigan – about 70,000 inhabitants – but distinctly less poverty-stricken, at any rate in appearance. Much better shops and more appearance of business being done. Many miners coming home from the morning shift. Mostly wearing clogs but of a square-toed pattern different from the Lancashire ones.

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9.3.36

Yesterday with H and M. to their cottage at Middlesmoor, high up on the edge of the moors. Perhaps it is only the time of year, but even up there, miles from any industrial towns, the smoky look peculiar to this part of the country seems to hang about anything. Grass dull-coloured, streams muddy, houses all blackened as though by smoke. There was snow everywhere, but thawing and slushy. Sheep very dirty – no lambs, apparently. The palm was out and primroses putting out new shoots: otherwise nothing moving.

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7.3.36

Staying till next Wed. with M[arjorie] and H[umphrey] at 21 Estcourt Avenue, Headingley. Conscious all the while of difference in atmosphere between middle-class home even of this kind and working-class home. The essential difference is that here there is elbow-room, in spite of there being 5 adults and 3 children, besides animals, at present in the house. The children make peace and quiet difficult, but if you definitely want to be alone you can be so – in a working-class house never, either by night or day.

One of the kinds of discomfort inseparable from a working-man’s life is waiting about. If you receive a salary it is paid into your bank and you draw it out when you want it. If you receive wages, you have to go and get them in somebody else’s time and are probably kept hanging about and probably expected to behave as though being paid your wages at all was a favour. When Mr Hornby at Wigan went to the mine to draw his compensation, he had to go, for some reason I did not understand, on two separate days each week, and was kept waiting in the cold for about an hour before he was paid.

In addition the four tram journeys to and from the mine cost him 1/-, reducing his compensation from 29/- weekly to 28/-. He took this for granted, of course. The result of long training in this kind of thing is that whereas the bourgeois goes through life expecting to get what he wants, within limits, the working-man always feels himself the slave of a more or less mysterious authority. I was impressed by the fact that when I went to Sheffield Town Hall to ask for certain statistics, both Brown and Searle – both of them people of much more forcible character than myself – were nervous, would not come into the office with me, and assumed that the Town Clerk would refuse information. They said, “He might give it to you, but he wouldn’t to us.” Actually the Town Clerk was snooty and I did not get all the information I asked for. But the point was that I assumed my questions would be answered, and the other two assumed the contrary.

It is for this reason that in countries where the class hierarchy exists, people of the higher class always tend to come to the front in times of stress, though not really more gifted than the others. That they will do so seems to be taken for granted always and everywhere. NB. to look up the passage in Lissagaray’s History of the Commune describing the shootings after the Commune had been suppressed. They were shooting the ringleaders without trial, and as they did not know who the ringleaders were, they were picking them out on the principle that those of better class than the others would be the ringleaders. One man was shot because he was wearing a watch, another because he ‘had an intelligent face.’ NB. to look up this passage.

Yesterday with H. and M. to Hawarth Parsonage, home of the Brontes and now a museum. Was chiefly impressed by a pair of Charlotte Bronte’s cloth-topped boots, very small, with square toes and lacing up at the sides.

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