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Theatre review: A man of humble beginnings
Tony Church, Leicester
Leicester Everybody's Reading festival is performing my play A Man of Humble Beginnings, about pioneering Leicester socialist, Amos Sherriff. Amos was born in a Leicester slum in 1856. Sent to work at six years old, he could not read or write until, at 22, the Salvation Army taught him to do so.
Amos became an officer in the 'Sallys.' But in 1894, he left the Salvationists to join the Independent Labour Party (ILP). In June 1905, he was one of three leaders of a march of 400 unemployed men from Leicester to London and back. Thousands of Londoners attended a Trafalgar Square rally to support the marchers.
As an ILP member, Amos helped get Ramsey Macdonald elected as Leicester's first Labour MP in 1906 though Amos would probably not have been impressed with Macdonald's later betrayal of Labour.
Like Macdonald, however, Amos opposed World War One. It made him unpopular with some in the ILP, but as a town councillor he successfully proposed in 1917 that Leicester should petition to regain its city status; a partial reward for the sacrifices Leicester's people had made in the interests of a capitalist war.
Amos Sherriff's role in creating my city has been almost forgotten. The Tory mayor at that 1917 meeting received a knighthood but Amos, a humble artisan, has no lasting public recognition. My play is intended to start a campaign to change that.
Amos Sherriff was not a Marxist. Most likely as a Christian, he believed in socialist evolution and not revolution. But he was a decent man and a conviction politician.
He spent much time trying to improve lives and conditions in the Leicester Union Workhouse. Given his lifelong commitment to the poor and dispossessed, I'd like to think he would be implacably opposed to the massive Labour majority on today's Leicester city council carrying out a cuts programme on behalf of the coalition government.
Amos Sherriff died on 8 May 1945 aged 89 in Leicester's Hillcrest Hospital. Ironically this unwelcoming establishment had not long before ceased to be that same workhouse that he tried so hard to improve.
Upstairs at the Western70, Western Road, LeicesterThursday 3 October, 7pm.Tickets £5.50/£4.00 concessionshttp://www.stagelefttheatre.co.uk/
In The Socialist 2 October 2013:
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