SWINDON’S FIRST SOCIALIST

a letter to the Adver:

I am enjoying Steve Wakefield’s local history series about Jimmy Thomas.

However, while Steve is technically correct that Jimmy Thomas was the first politician elected on the Labour ticket in 1901 onto the newly incorporated Swindon Borough Council. Thomas was not the first socialist elected in Swindon.

Reuben George represented Swindon before then on Wiltshire County Council as a Alderman, and was also elected to the new Swindon council in 1901, as a member of the Liberal party even though he was a firebrand socialist and a follower of the Marxists William Morris, and Henry Hyndman. Indeed Alderman George was the only socialist on Wiltshire Council for many years.

Reuben George formed the first branch of the Labour Party in Swindon in 1907 long with four others, and he had been proposed as a possible Labour candidate for the 1906 general election in a crowded meeting at the Milton Road Baths, addressed by Harry Quelch.

In those days when Swindon was a GWR company town, engaging in socialist politics was a risky business, and Reuben George endured a witch-hunt with threatening letters sent to him, and his employers, and his private and personal life thrown into turmoil. He also left the Church of England at the same time, although he was a committed Christian, as he felt the church was not active enough in combatting poverty.

Alderman George devoted his life to serving the working people of Swindon, and when he was mayor in 1922 officiated at the unveiling of the diving board at Coate Water, where he surprised onlookers by stripping off and diving from the top board. He was 56 years old at the time.

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