Keir Hardie and archeology

Keir Hardie was a man of many interests, but less well known is his love of archeology.

The biography of Ben Harrison of Ightham of Kent, who was an ardent archeologist, refers to visits by Keir Hardie to his house and to nearby sites.

Ben Harrison found Keir Hardie not quite what he expected. He said “He is not a firebrand, quite the reverse, and has a nice, quiet manner. His soft felt hat, blue striped shirt, and neat little check tie become him admirably.”

On his first visit in May 1901, they went to Oldbury fort and inspected the ramparts. After dinner, Keir Hardie sang to the family. In his letter thanking Harrison he said:

“I have always had leanings towards this field of study, but my life has been cast in a sphere which does not readily lend itself to the calm, philosophic cast of mind which is such an essential to success. However, I can none the less feel a sympathetic interest in what you do, and rejoice with you in your success.”

Before a visit in July 1902, which lasted three days, he also wrote:

“My whole bent is towards the kind of research in which you are engaged, but the claims of the living and the unborn leave me no option but to continue my work as an agitator.”

It would appear that the Labour movement’s gain was archeology’s loss!

(The Keir Hardie Society is grateful to Andy Sylvester who is related to Ben Harrison and forwarded this reference.)

Keir Hardie – Socialist fairytale

A 19th-century fairytale by Labour party founder Keir Hardie, which sees a gnarled, good-natured giant called Labour pitted against a king who was “much given to scheming and had a perfect hatred of work”, is to see the light of day for what is believed to be the first time in more than a century.

The History of a Giant: Being a Study in Politics for Very Young Boys, was published in the socialist newspaper Labour Leader on 8 April 1893, but has lain forgotten since. One of dozens of tales in a new collection of socialist children’s stories, Hardie’s story follows the life of Labour as he comes to the realisation that he needs to rid himself of the king and his offspring, Liberal and Tory.

The collection also includes another tale from Hardie, 1894’s Jack Clearhead. Subtitled “A Fairy Tale for crusaders”, Hardie intended for it “to be read to them by their fathers and mothers”.

Guardian review.

‘Workers’ Tales. Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain’ is published in November 2018 by Princetown University Press.