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Harry Shepperson

Born in 1873 and named formally as Henry, his father was a machine fitter at the Raleigh cycle works in Nottingham. The family seems to have moved to Birmingham to work at the BSA works in Small Heath. By at least the age of 19, Harry was a machine planer and the following year married.

Shepperson became a member of the Boards of Guardians, the ad hoc bodies that administered the `Poor Laws' up to 1930, when their powers passed to government authorities. Although he could have taken the position, he refused to be nominated as a Justice of the Peace as, in a period of great want, this would entail sending working clas people to jail. He was a District Committee member and a Branch President of the ASE and, after 1920, the AEU, and a member of the EC of Birmingham Trades Council.

Harry Shepperson was a foundation member of the Communist Party. In the period after the general strike of 1926, any Communist open-air public meeting in the Bull Ring was beset with half a dozen to a dozen policemen employed at every meeting, which were always peaceful. Harry was one of the most popular speakers at this regular event.

Not only did he become the Birmingham Secretary of the National Unemployed Workers Movement, he was a key figure in the local tenants’ organisation, fighting evictions. In the former capacity, he represented over four hundred claimants in appeals to the court of referees over unemployment assistance.

Living himself on 6 shilling 6 pence a week, at the age of 60, he was imprisoned for six months after being charged with inciting a crowd to throw stones at the surrounding police. The meeting had been called by International Labour Defence, the Comintern inspired legal defence body, to protest against a baton charge the police had undertaken a few days before.

Shepperson recalled that he was speaking on the one hundredth anniversary of the passing of the Reform Bill. When news reached Birmingham that Parliament had much restricted the extension of the right to vote for men to only the well-to-do upper middle-class, massive demonstrations of protest had broken out. The police attempted to forcibly disperse the protestors who had only then begun to throw `stones’ (probably street cobbles) at the police. At his trial, Shepperson testified: “That was the only time I referred to throwing stones … the police evidence is a tissue of lies.”   

Harry Shepperson died in Birmingham in 1954, aged 82.

Sources: International Labour Defence 1934 Birmingham branch bulletin; additional material