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Harold Quinton

Harold W Quinton moved to Braintree with his wife, Gladys, around 1925 where they lived with “two young children, sleeping and eating in a two small unfurnished rooms in Clockhouse Way”. Quinton was an active member of the shop workers union and by the early 1940s had become Secretary of Braintree Communist Party.

Quinton, despite initial opposition from the Communist Party leadership, was instrumental in swinging Communist and left-wing Labour Party support behind the candidature of Tom Driberg as an “independent” candidate in the June 1942 Maldon by-election. Whilst Driberg was an ex-member of the Communist Party and still sympathetic, the Party’s official position was to support the `armistice’ between existing parliamentary parties not to contest by-election seats which had not been held by their own party.

The key factor in ensuring Quinton’s support was the attack by the Tory candidate (Reuben Hunt) upon the Soviet Union in the run up to the by-election, when he stated: “We are losing in North Africa because we’ve given too much help to the Russians.”

The Secretary of the Maldon Divisional Labour Party (established 1918), the Reverend Jack Boggis (who was also secretary of Braintree Anglo-Soviet Friendship Society) resigned from the Labour Party to become Secretary of the Driberg campaign.

Driberg secured a remarkable audience of 6,000 on the 24th June 1942 for his eve of poll meeting in Braintree Market Square. At 10pm that night, when Driberg’s victory was announced, he had sensationally beaten Hunt’s 6,226 votes with a staggering 12,219 votes. The result rocked Churchill and the war-time coalition government, coming in the same week as the fall of Tobruk in Libya to the Germans. (Accordingly, Driberg was later known as the MP for Tobruk!)

Tom Driberg’s maiden speech concerned the banning of the Daily Worker but the Braintree Communist Party seems to have secured support not only Driberg’s support but also from all left wing elements in the Labour Party. According to Driberg, Quinton was disciplined by the Communist Party for his role in ensuring support for him against the Tory “Coalition” candidate, but whatever this may have amounted to, it seems to have been only tokenistic since he remained as Secretary of Braintree Communist Party. 

During the war Quinton seems to have played a role in ensuring the Daily Worker was delivered to Party supporters in Army and RAF units stationed locally. Indeed, Gladys Quinton, according to fellow Communist, George Barnsby, who was stationed close by, “lavished many of her precious food coupons on feeding us soldiers”. (The Quinton’s daughter Dorothy (Dot) was well known to the then young George Barnsby.) Circulation in Braintree of the Daily Worker was organised during this period by a Mr J. Croft and other active Communists included Mrs Sylvia Hodson.

The Braintree Party was also active with the Essex-based monthly journal, `The Rural Crusader’, which was started in June 1946 by Bill Savage, the Islington Communist Party activist who moved to the county during the war. While Bill Savage was Editor, the treasurer was a Dr Garland of Great Bardfield. The Rural Crusader was an essential element in galvanising grass roots support throughout the villages of East Essex for progressive politics, based upon the widespread mood that after the war things must change for the better. The Rural Crusader’s circulation of over 2,500 per month was impressive when you consider each copy was read three of four times.

In 1946, Harold Quinton stood as a candidate for Braintree Urban District Council, securing 487 votes. The Party also stood Doug Arnold in a “difficult” ward in these elections, where he won 210 votes. The Communist candidates stood on a platform including local government housing, water supply, roads, street lighting and cultural facilities and also took up issues such as the plight of farm labourers in tied cottages, the use Prisoners of War (18,000 of the 37,000 of which worked in agriculture and were used to drive down wages) and homeless squatters at Sible Hedlingham and Great Saling RAF base. Quinton stated in the `Rural Crusader’ that, with “700 votes for Communist candidates, Braintree justified its reputation as a spearhead of the working class movement within the Maldon Division”.

In the following year May 1947, Harold Quinton was elected as a Communist councillor for East Ward in Braintree and soon introduced an remarkable innovation for those times, in holding advice `surgeries’ in various peoples’ homes around his ward, the first being in Barnham Avenue. Harold’s wife, Gladys Quinton, also stood for Braintree Urban District Council (East Ward) in 1948.

Braintree Communist Party meetings were held at Braintree Co-operative Society’s Co-op Hall at Bocking End. Speakers during August 1948 included Dr John Lewis and Communist Party theoretician R P Dutt. The Party also organised regular speakers on Saturdays at Braintree market square, where speakers would stand on a soap box. Regular speakers included Mr K Saunders of the Chelmsford Communist Party branch.

Unions close to the Communist Partly locally included the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU) under the branch secretary Mr E E Amos, of Holmcroft, London Road, Black Notley, Braintree and the local National Union of Agricultural branches.

To highlight the depth of support that left wing ideas had in this part of Essex, one only needs to consider that a staggering 700 people attended 1947 May Day event at Maldon, a day which included children’s activities, the Thaxted Morris Dancers and Maldon Town Band. The finale of the day ended with local MP Tom Driberg crowning the May Queen – even if he did managing to crown her with the crown upside down! The Left’s Maldon by-election victory of June 1942 and the pivotal role Harold Quinton played in this was one of the most important signposts to the 1945 Labour landslide, with its huge advances for working people of this country.

Harold Quinton died in 1979.

Michael Walker