Mr. F. Wilkesbarre, Coster

1845-1945, Events, Malfew Seklew, Trevor Blake / Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Will Crooks (1852 – 1921) grew up in a poor house and engaged in laborer for most of his life. When he spoke up as a labor organizer and later a politician, his expressions came from experience and not expediency. In the following uncredited article from the Kentish Independent for Friday 29 July 1904, Mr. Crooks lends his credibility to an organization organized by street sellers (or costers), registered number 1,336. Among them is Mr. F. Wilkesbarre, known to our readers as the author of the egoist epic The Gospel According to Malfew Seklew. The evening’s entertainment also included a film from Ruffle’s Imperial Bioscope, producers of the lost films Dealers in Human Lives, The Kiss of Hate and Locked in Death.

– Trevor Blake is the author of Confessions of a Failed Egoist.


Last night (Thursday) Barnard’s Theatre Royal, Woolwich, was crowded at both performances, great interest being manifested in the unfurling of the banner of the United Kingdom Male and Female Streetsellers and Hawkers’ Union. The ceremony was performed by Mr. Will Crooks, M.P.. who, during the performance of a well-arranged programme of various items, sat in a box with Mrs. Crooks, Mrs. Kline (Woolwich Guardian), Miss Lake, the Mayor of Woolwich, and Councillor Alfred Hall. Others present included Messrs. C. C. Gibson, president of the union; K. Mendez, vice-president; J. F. Jefferson, F. J. Phayer and H. Brown, trusteess; F. C. Harding, C. Channing, J. Gilbert, W. Dennard, C. Rumsey, T. W. H. Wright, G. Mansfield, J. Barnett, W. Holmes, H. Arnsby, committee; Mr. F. Wilkesbarre and H. J. Cohen, official organisers; W. Owen and A. Segain, auditors; G. S. Henderson, general secretary; and C. Robinson, assistant secretary.

In addition to the ordinary turns, special items were rendered by Harry Weston (son of a member), Harry Wright (hon. member). Paddy Gilbert (hon. member) and Harry Broughton (hon. member), and Ruffle’s Bioscope, which showed some excellent pictures of Wollwich Market.

During an interval in the programme, the ceremony of unfurling took place. In the first house it was done by Mr. Crooks, who, with the Mayor and Councillors, occupied seats on the stage. The chair was taken by Mr. Gibson. Prior to the unfurling, the “Banner Song,” composed by Mr. F. Robinson, was admirably sung by Mr. Harry Broughton, the chorus being rendered by the choir of the union, which was also on the singe.

The chairman, in introducing the member for Woolwich, said they had met for a good purpose. Very nearly twelve months ago the idea came into their heads that they would form a combination for self-protection, and be was glad to say that they had succeeded immensely up to the present. The chief idea of the organisation was to defend its members from any unjust attack made upon them in the pursuit of their calling. With regard to the special business in hand, on February 4th they had an entertainment in the Theatre Royal, by kind permission of Mr. Barnard, and by that they realised the sum of £35, with which they had purchased a banner and regalia.

Mr. Crooks, who was most cordially received, said be must first congratulate Woolwich on the possession of such a fine singer as Mr. Broughton, who would do credit to any town. It was extremely kind and generous of him to come amongst them that night. Referring to their organisation, he said that with a man at their lead like the chairman he did not think they need fear suffering any injustice. But the representatives of justice sometimes saw a little more than really happened, said it was well that, should occasion require it, there should be someone ready to explain to the magistrate. While enrolled under that banner they would be able to let people see that, although they had to get their living in the streets, in all weathers, and not always under the best of conditions, they were respectable – and very respectable – people. The shopkeeper, and the shop assistant knew what difficulties they were under. They could tell them of how some people spent half-an-hour in a shop, and then bought a halfpenny worth of pins, while the street seller often had to put up with a lot of people staring at his stall instead of moving on and making room for those who had money to spend. He hoped that they would maintain their dignity and pride for the work they bad to do. They had to put up with a deal, he knew, and be tolerant with people who were not very tolerant themselves. He had always found, and he spoke from ripe experience, that men and women were respected in accordance with the measure of respect they had for themselves, and therefore every member must be careful of his or her own dignity, as well as the dignity of the association. He congratulated the chairman and the union, which was equal with any other Trade Union in the country.

The banner, when unfurled, was found to be of blue silk, with a deep border of crimson. It bore the words, “United Kingdom Male and Female Streetsellers and Hawkers’ Union – Unity is Strength.” The design consisted of a fine representation of the market in Beresford Square, showing the stalls and shops round the Square, surmounted by emblems of fruit and bowers. It was very pretty, and capitally executed.

Mr. Councillor Hall, being called upon, said he must congratulate the streetseller and hawker upon the success they bad achieved. Solicitors, doctors, carpenters, engineers and others had their unions. and why not they? He hoped that every success would attend the branch.

Mr. Jefferson moved a vote of thanks to Mr. Crooks and Councillor Hall. When he first took a business he had hut one object – himself and his business. He had had 25 years’ experience up and down the country, and he knew the hardships of a streetseller’s life. He had always found that the fairer they dealt with the general public, the fairer the public dealt with them. He meant to do all he could for the branch, which had his fullest sympathy.

The vote of thanks being seconded, it was duly carried, and the proceedings concluded.

At the “second house,” the proceedings were very similar to those recorded above, excepting that the Mayor of Woolwich (the Rev. L. Jenkins Jones, L.C.C., J.P.) unfurled the banner. He was supported by Councillors Turnbull, jun. and Hall.

The chair was again taken by Mr. Gibson. Mr. Councillor Messent, the ex-Mayor, being unable to attend so amount of being out-of-town.

The Mayor’s remarks were very brief. He said it gave him great pleasure to be amongst his fellow citisens. He recognised the necessity on the part of people to combine for the purpose of obtaining the justice which each man was entitled to as a citizen of the Empire or the Borough in which he lived. Labour was dignified. It did not matter whether it was the Prime Minister or the gentleman whom circumstances decreed he should be King, so long as he laboured with dignity. No man need by ashamed to carry on his work, whatever it might be, provided he did it in the proper spirit. No occupation that was legal was degrading. It was rather the people who degraded the occupation. He hoped that those who went out into the streets to sell, or had a stall in the market, would never forget that they were in every way entitled to the same privileges as the greatest citizen in the country.

Mr. Turnbull said he was gratified to be present. He thought that if it was a good thing for those in factories to combine, it was a good thing also for those who sold their goods in the streets and market places to combine also.

The formation of the United Kingdom Male and Female Streetsellers and Hawkers’ Union was also reported in the London Daily News for 25 July 1904, the Walsall Advertiser for 06 August 1904, the Essex Newsman for 13 August 1904, and the Kentish Independent for 24 February 1905. – Trevor Blake
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