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Phillip Hicken was born on 30th March 1894 in Waterloo, Pilsley, which is quite near to Clay Cross in Derbyshire. His father, also Phillip, was a coal miner from Staffordshire and his mother, Emily, managed a small shop on her own account. Phillip Junior was a pony driver at the age of 17.
Phil Hicken Junior was the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM) national council member for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
In 1931, Phil Hicken announced his intention of contesting the Clay Cross constituency as a Communist candidate. But the notion came to nought, for he was unable to raise the necessary deposit of £150.
In 1933, Phil Hicken was summonsed before the magistrates for “disturbing the public peace and inciting persons to commit the offence of wilful damage and larceny”. He had spoken at a NUWM meeting on the immorality of the starvation of the unemployed when the shops were full. This was quite unreasonably taken to mean that the unemployed should take to looting. Despite the Derbyshire Miners’ Association’s formal opposition to the NUWM, the union provided the necessary finance for legal representation for Hicken. In the end he was to win an appeal against the decidedly unjust three month prison sentence.
Not that any of this daunted Hicken. Some 400 unemployed marched from all parts of the county in 1933 to Nottingham to demand an end to the Means Test and an increase in benefits. On one spur were 22 who marched from Chesterfield to Alfreton and then to Nottingham. Phillip Hicken was the chief organiser of this NUWM event, along with J Taiton and Jake Lodge of Alfreton. Other marches went from Ripley and Heanor.
The Communist Party decided to contest the Clay Cross by election in 1933 arising from the death on July 7th of the sitting MP, Charles Duncan. This was a golden opportunity for the much reduced Parliamentary Labour Party to give its leader, Arthur Henderson, a chance to speedily get back into the Commons. Phil Hicken was mooted as a possible Communist candidate once again, but it was decided that Harry Pollitt, should stand. There was a surprisingly wide response to Pollitt’s appeal for campaign funds, £340 was collected to finance the election address (a four page special broadsheet) and a team of helpers. Interestingly, the campaign began with not a single Communist Party member in the constituency. Pollitt held a series of lively and popular open air meetings, which themselves raised as much as £150 for the election costs.
Pollitt was able to make much of the fact that Henderson’s ministerial past responsibilities in MacDonald’s Labour Government drew him £5,000 a year to add to his salary of £1,000 a year as Labour Party General Secretary, all a far cry from eight or nine shillings a week. Some formidable supporters assisted the campaign besides Hicken. Rose Smith (see separate entry), a former propagandist in the district, was one with local knowledge.
The Communist vote of 10.8%, in a constituency in which the Communist Party had not one member at the outset, was very much a protest against these many irritants by young, militant miners. Pollitt had attracted considerable kudos for the local Communist Party and it did not fail to follow this up. Phillip Hicken polled some 10% of the vote in the County Council elections of 1934, with 112 votes against Labour’s 1,134 votes. Later that year, Pollitt returned to the area, speaking at an ILP meeting in Alfreton in November. Jake Lodge presided over the event, which was designed to launch the United Front in the locality.
Hicken appears to have drifted away from the Communist Party during the war period, perhaps arising from differences over the replacement of his brother Henry on his retirement as Derbyshire Miners Association General Secretary by the Communist, Bert Wynne (see separate entry).
Whatever the case, in April 1944, Phil Hicken, then residing in Tibshelf, stood in the North East Derbyshire parliamentary by election against the position of the Communist Party, which supported Labour in an electoral truce. By now a railway worker and seemingly influenced by ultra-leftist revolutionary ideals, he stood as a “Workers Anti-Fascist Candidate”, saving his deposit with 13% of the vote.
In the post war period, Hicken seems to have been preoccupied with music. In fact, he was a brilliant and natural musician, who could read music without hearing it and taught himself to play the violin, the piano and the organ. Yet so hard was the loss, he never touched the piano again after his wife, Lizzie, died of cancer in early 1950. He composed a funeral march in the days that his wife was dying, a test piece for brass bands.
This perhaps set off an interest in composition and Hicken was a frequenter of composers’ meetings at the Royal School of Music during the 1960s. His death was registered in August 1986.
Sources: Information from Bette Armand, a relative; Derbyshire Advertiser; Miscellaneous.