There are few better ways of spending an evening than undertaking a pointless journey of discovery. I am not using the word “pointless” in a negative sense – I’m a great believer in pointlessness – but in the sense of an exercise that is an end in itself rather than a means to some other end. It is following a path, not to see where it leads, but to see where it goes. My journey started with a postcard from Sir William Randal Cremer MP. I should explain, the card wasn’t really from him – he’s been dead and buried for getting on for 115 years so the postcard would have been seriously delayed if it was from him! – but featured his portrait. The card must have been published early in the twentieth century, when politicians as well as musical hall stars and pictures of seaside piers were seen as suitable subjects for picture postcards (oh! how the world has changed). Never having heard of Randal Cremer, I went in search of his story – and what a fascinating story it was.
He was born in 1828 in Fareham in Hampshire into poverty and a working class single parent family. He found work in the shipyards and became a carpenter and one of the early leaders of the carpenters’ trade union. He became active in politics, he was a friend of Karl Marx, and in 1865 he was elected as the Secretary of the International Workingman’s Association (also known as the First International). His radicalism didn’t extend to a belief in equality for women, however, and he left the IWA in 1867 when women were allowed participation within the organisation. His attentions switched to a belief in the concept of arbitration for the settlement of disputes, in particular international disputes, and he was a co-founder of both the International Arbitration League and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. From 1885 to 1895 and 1900 to 1908, he was a Liberal Member Of Parliament for the Haggerston constituency in East London.
His efforts in pursuit of international peace and arbitration were rewarded in 1903 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – the first ever individual recipient of the award. His work in the field of international relations also brought honours from several other European governments. He died in 1908, and perhaps it was a blessing that he didn’t live to see so much of the work he had been involved in destroyed by the Great War. His name lives on in a Primary School in the part of London where he used to be the Member of Parliament. His name also lives on in an old picture postcard that has gathered dust in the unclassified corners of my old postcard collection.