The purpose and value of a resource such as this:
- A record of a little known Historical event. When you enter Bridgwater it says “Welcome to Historic Bridgwater.” Why? Site of the Battle of Sedgemoor – the last battle fought on English soil? First town to petition against Slavery? Tne first place where an 18-year-old elector voted? Birthplace of Admiral Robert Blake, commander of the navy of the English republic? Centre of resistance for King Alfred against the Danes and from where he launched his campaign to liberate England (which is why the Somerset Wyvern Flag is shown as the Flag of Saxon England on the Bayeux tapestry)?All of the above. And now maybe more people will know to add “The only English town to vote for a Popular Front MP against Appeasement and the First British town to twin with a Czech town after the Velvet Revolution.Bridgwater has a great radical tradition and a revolutionary history that gives the lie to its depiction as some dull provincial backwater
- The history of the 1930s and the fight against Fascism is a crucial subject not just for students but for people everywhere to understand why things happen in history and politics and how what they choose to do can change them. It’s a warning from the past saying ‘get involved’ and don’t repeat the mistakes of long gone generations but respect and honour the advances towards a more fair and just world made by our ancestors.
- Its an Ongoing work. People can still input into it. And crucially people can come to their own conclusions. We don’t know , really, what would have happened if things had turned out differently. If the Progressives hadn’t won in Bridgwater, if appeasement continued throughout the 40s, if Hitler had won…..but we can make a pretty good guess…
- And finally it’s an unashamedly clear warning about the dangers of fascism. Fascists came to power by convincing people they were respectable and would solve all the ills of the world – by getting rid of groups of people who they could identify as scapegoats…..and with hindsight we now know the results.
It’s a warning not to give the fascists and their apologists an inch of credibility and to unite against them in strength wherever they raise their heads and not to wait until it’s too late, because we’ve seen the results of fascism only too well.
This website has been created by Brian Smedley with the assistance of The Engine Room, 52 High Street, Bridgwater and has been sponsored by Bridgwater Town Council so that people have access to the full story of the by-election of 1938 and can understand its role in the Fight against Fascism.
The website design was updated in 2013 by Jana Branecka with editing and proof-reading by Lieutenant-Colonel Simon ‘ Chuckle’ Hann.
The research has been based on 3 key sources:
Which I can’t reference specifically but these days anyone can click almost anywhere and find almost anything.
What can’t be accessed so easily are ‘Reminiscences’. It’s a valuable part of any communities social history that people should record their memories for posterity. In this respect I am grateful to Dave Chapple – whose Somerset Socialist Library project maintains and develops valuable records of interviews with people who took part in historical events (even if they didn’t know it at the time) and maintains them for future generations to cross reference and learn from.
Daves book Bridgwater 1924-1927 – Class Conflict in a Somerset Town, is one valuable reference source for the interwar years and will soon be joined by many more volumes based on Daves’ research.
In this respect I also personally interviewed the following people for their own memories of the Election – Sir Richard Acland, Basil Lott, Tom Edmunds, Hilda Pound, Gordon Fisher, Maurice Spender, Bert Gardner, Ivor Davies, Bob Rogers all now sadly passed away whilst John Turner and Ken Richards-both Labour councillors who grew up in the town in the 30s, are thankfully still with us.
I am also grateful to the people who visited the original website and subsequently got in touch. Notably Alastair Kinross, grand-son of Cresswell Webb, who supplied additional information and photographs. Also to Somerset author John Fletcher, whose play “Sea Change” was set during the Bridgwater By-Election and was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (link below).
It’s traditional to list a whole pile of books and other written resources so that people can delve into the same to see if I made stuff up or not, and apart from my own collection, I am again grateful to Dave Chapple but also to Dave Hanna and Eugene Byrne for the following:
- Bridgwater Mercury – 1929-1945
- Labour & The Left in the 30’s (Ben Pimlott)
- The Times (House of Commons reports 1935 + 1945)
- Tom Wintringham: The Last English revolutionary (Hugh Purcell)
- Georgi Dimitrov: Report to 7th Congress Communist International 1935, The peoples front against fascism and war, The Working Class against fascism, Letters from prison
- Nye Bevan (John Campbell)
- Chamberlain to Churchill (Penguin Hansard)
- Tuscan retreat (Vernon Bartlett)
- “And Now Tommorrow” (Vernon Bartlett)
- Bridgwater Industries Past and present (E.Porter)
- All for the Cause (George Matthews)
- Britain Fascism & the popular front (Jim Fyrth)
- The struggle against fascism and war in Britain 1931-39 (Mike Power)
- Europe of the dictators (Elizebath Wiskeman)
- The Labour Party and Socialism (James Hinton)
- Never Again (Colin Sparkes)
- Bridgwater library: The Times on microfilm, Bridgwater Trades Council minute books, Kellys Journals & Bridgwater yearbooks, Somerset County Gazette
- Picture post magazine (ed: Vernon Bartlett)
I’d also like to thank some people for their practical help. Milos Salus in Slovakia for his assistance in making some photos web friendly for me and Al Butter for technical assistance with film and video uploads plus Cllr Kath Pearce for ‘front of house’ assistance at the launch event.