HENRY Clubb achieved national recognition in the Chartist Movement during the middle part of the 19th century, but there is nothing in his home town of Colchester to commemorate the role he played in what was ultimately a largely successful campaign to bring recognisable Parliamentary democracy to our country.
Born in Colchester on June 21, 1827, at the age of 13 he joined the Post Office as a clerk.
By 1848 he had become a Chartist, and in due course became secretary of the Colchester National Charter Association.
When he died in 1921, aged 94, he was the last of the Chartists from that great campaign (1838-1858) which had galvanised the public.
Clubb’s involvement was relatively short in terms of years, but clearly it had been energetic and enthusiastic not just in Colchester but across Essex and Suffolk. For him it ended in 1853 when, aged 26, he emigrated to the United States of America…here over the next 68 years he had a formidable and varied career including a period as a State Senator in Michigan and serving with the Union side in the American Civil War.
A devout non-conformist Christian, at other times he was a journalist and church minister. He was passionately opposed to slavery.
Henry Clubb grew up in what was then North Street, today North Station Road, in a house next to the building which a few years later became the Victoria public house.
There is now a block of new flats where the Clubb family lived, facing Causton Road.
In 1842 Clubb moved to Surrey to join a community promoting a new life-style, which was short-lived.
He then stayed in London where he learnt Pitman shorthand (it was being promoted as an aid to the “new age”). He became secretary to a leading vegetarian and wrote for the movement’s newspaper.
As recently as December 20 last year a report was published on “Chartist Ancestors” which states that Henry Clubb later returned to the Colchester area where his family were involved in a “shorthand and vegetarian colony” just over the Suffolk border at Stratford St Mary, working alongside his sister Sarah and brother Robert who was secretary of the local vegetarian society. The family were members of the small Swedenborgian sect of Christians.
By 1848 the young Henry Clubb had become a Chartist. Professor Malcolm Chase, in Chartism: A New History, refers to him as having “welded the region’s Chartist localities and land plan branches into a single Essex and Suffolk Chartist Union”.
His involvement must have been relatively short, however. The following year he was elected president of a dietetic class at the Library Institution in Salford, Lancashire, and was making a living lecturing and writing on vegetarianism.
In 1853 he emigrated to the United States, only once returning to England, which was in 1901. It is not stated if he came back to Colchester. He is buried with his three daughters at Oakwood, Philadelphia.
The Chartist campaign for greater democracy was titled The People’s Charter. Their six points were: for all men over the age of 21 being able to vote, voting to be in secret, constituencies of equal sizes, salaries for MPs, the abolition of property qualifications to be an MP, and annual parliaments. Only the last one was not achieved, which most were relaxed about because on reflection they thought it a bad idea.
It was not only as a Chartist political campaigner which established the young Henry Clubb as a leader, for he was also one of the first people in Britain to promote vegetarianism at a time when few people did not eat meat. He took this belief with him to the USA, eventually leading him to become president of the American Vegetarian Society.
Perhaps a plaque could be placed in the area of Colchester where he grew up to commemorate someone whose contribution to our nation’s democracy has been forgotten.
SIR BOB RUSSELL