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Mitchell, George
1827-1901

UMFC trade unionist, born on 6 February 1827 at Montacute, Som. He began work at the age of 5 as a crow-scarer for 6d a week, but escaped from this harsh life and the widespread rural destitution by taking up his father's trade as a stone-mason, subsequently becoming a successful marble merchant in London. Although prospering, he remained deeply aware of the light of the farm labourer. His early prejudice against trade unionists was dispelled by his finding that many of their leaders were Methodists. He played a major part in organizing meetings of Joseph Arch's National Union of Agricultural Labourers in 1872, especially in Somerset and the South West. He was a trustee of the Union c. 1880-1886, when he fell out with Arch over the use of money from the Sick Benefit Fund to defray general expenses. He nearly ruined himself by investing some £20,000 in the farm labourers' cause. His The Skeleton at the Plough: or the Poor Farm Labourers of the West (1874) described the desperate plight of the farm labourer in the Victorian age and laid the blame for it on the landlords, the parsons and (to a lesser extent) the farmers. The book included his own autobiography.

Though his earliest contacts were with the Baptists, in London he joined the Wesleyans until leaving them for the UMFC during the Reform period.

Quotations

'Finding, as I thought, more homeliness and spirituality among the dissenters, I soon joined the Wesleyan body [in London], since they invited me to do so (rather a shy young man with a strong sense of my own awkeardness) and the Baptists did not, or I think I had a leaning towards their peculiar doctrines.

The Methodists now induced me to become a Sunday School teacher, and in a moment of weakness I consented to do so, although at this time I could scarcely read, and had never learned to make a pot-hook. Why was this? Simply because the clergy and gentry of my neighbourhood intended that I should be a slave all my days, and denied me the greatest happiness of life, KNOWLEDGE…

'Well, I took a class of very little children, as I had learned my ABC at the Baptist Sunday School, Montacute, where I remained but a short time, as farm labour kept me at work on Sundays… I was now utterly ashamed to find that these infant Wesleyans were far ahead of me in their reading and that I could rather learn of them than teach them anything. I may say that I learnt to read by teaching it. However, I was for twenty-three years a Sunday School Teacher…

'When the secession from the great Wesleyan body took place [in the 1850s], I joined the followers of Dunn and Everett, always sympathising with the cause of progress and freedom, whether in Church or State. I have the greatest respect for the old Wesleyan body, but wealth and power will make the best of churches blindly tyrannical. The Conference made a mistake. The ministers of a voluntary church attempted to coerce the brethren who differed from them. The endeavoured to quash a free press in their midst, and this was fatal to the unity of Methodism. The great schism, as churchmen would call it, and as the Wesleyans have called it, of the United Free Methodist Church, vecame an accomplished fact, and I am proud to say that I have filled every office in that church, except preacher, which a man could occupy. I have been mostly associated with members of the more recent organization, but I have found that men of business who rejoice in the name of Methodist, so far as I have had dealings with them, are men of the strictest integrity and uprightness.'

George Mitchell, The Skeleton at the Plough. Or the Poor Farm Labourers of the West... {1874], pp.113, 115

Sources

  • R. Groves (1949); Winchester Gazette, 1 Feb. 1901

Entry written by: NADS
Category: Person

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