The Clarion

The Clarion, a socialist weekly, was established by Robert Blatchford, a Manchester journalist, in 1890. The paper first appeared in Manchester on 2nd December, 1891. Blatchford announced that the newspaper would follow a "policy of humanity; a policy not of party, sect or creed; but of justice, of reason and mercy." The first edition sold 40,000 and after a few months settled down to about 30,000 copies a week.

Tom Hopkinson explained: "Its blend of biblical socialism with love of the countryside caught the mood of the time and the magazine prospered. Earnest young tradesmen and craftsmen took to their cycles at weekends to explore the 'merrie England' of which Blatchford wrote in a book that would ultimately sell two million copies, and discussed plans for a socialist Britain in evening classes and at Workers' Educational Societies during the week. The Clarion was their bible, and a network of Clarion cycling clubs carried its message round the country and pushed its circulation up to 60,000."

In 1893 the Clarion began serializing Blatchford's book Merrie England. When it was eventually published as a book it sold 750,000 copies. Philip Snowden was one of those influenced by the work of Blatchford: "In the 1890s Robert Blatchford was attracting recruits to the movement by his vigorous socialist writings. He established The Clarion, a weekly socialist and literary journal, and written Merrie England, a popular textbook on socialism written in the simple and vigorous English of which he was such a master. This book, which extended to two hundred pages, was published in a penny edition, which had a sale of a million copies. No man did more than he to make socialism understood by the ordinary working man. He based his appeal on the principles of human justice. He preached socialism as a system of industrial co-operation for the common good. His arguments and illustrations were drawn from facts and experiences within the knowledge of the common people."

The Clarion newspaper also became involved in a wide-range of different activities including missionary vans, cycling clubs, choirs, handicraft guilds and holiday camps. The newspaper also sponsored Cinderella Clubs that entertain children from the slums. Robert Blatchford boasted that he would "convert England to Socialism in seven years". However, it soon became clear that Blatchford had overestimated the power of the Clarion and when he was asked about this a few years later, he replied that "the British working classes are not fit for Socialism yet".

In 1895 began to use the work of the illustrator Walter Crane. Blatchford upset a lot of the Clarion readers with his enthusiastic support for the Boer War and opposition to organisations such as the NUWSS and the WSPU that were demanding the vote for women.

Sales fell but revived after the 1906 General Election, when 29 Labour Party MPs were elected. Blatchford increased the size of the newspaper and began to employ talented socialist writers such as George Bernard Shaw. By 1907 sales of the Clarion had reached 74,000.

After the First World War Blatchford moved to the right and became a passionate advocate of the British Empire. In the 1924 General Election he supported the Conservative Party and declared that Stanley Baldwin was Britain's finest politician. The Clarion ceased publication in 1931.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Philip Snowden, An Autobiography (1934)

In the 1890s Robert Blatchford was attracting recruits to the movement by his vigorous socialist writings. He established The Clarion, a weekly socialist and literary journal, and written Merrie England, a popular textbook on socialism written in the simple and vigorous English of which he was such a master. This book, which extended to two hundred pages, was published in a penny edition, which had a sale of a million copies. No man did more than he to make socialism understood by the ordinary working man. He based his appeal on the principles of human justice. He preached socialism as a system of industrial co-operation for the common good. His arguments and illustrations were drawn from facts and experiences within the knowledge of the common people.

(2) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

In the 1890s, before cars came to dominate roads built for the brief heyday of the stage coach, there had been a short alliance between two oddly assorted partners - socialism and the bicycle. Robert Blatchford, a journalist who had spent some years as a private soldier, founded The Clarion in 1891 as a weekly paper on a capital of £400. Its blend of biblical socialism with love of the countryside caught the mood of the time and the magazine prospered. Earnest young tradesmen and craftsmen took to their cycles at weekends to explore the 'merrie England' of which Blatchford wrote in a book that would ultimately sell two million copies, and discussed plans for a socialist Britain in evening classes and at Workers' Educational Societies during the week. The Clarion was their bible, and a network of Clarion cycling clubs carried its message round the country and pushed its circulation up to 60,000.

By 1934, however, most of the clubs had gone the way of the stage coach, and The Clarion's trumpet call had sunk to a feeble quaver. With circulation at 15,000 and next to no advertising, it appeared doomed to rapid extinction. But then Dunbar had an idea. If encyclopedias and sets of Dickens had induced two million homes to buy the Daily Herald six times a week, surely similar offers could entice a quarter of that number, the politically conscious, to pay twopence a week for a 'poor man's New Statesman'. He managed to convince his colleagues and the project went ahead.