Blue plaque should mark sacrifice of four 'martyrs'
By Plymouth Herald | Thursday, February 14, 2013, 05:30
WITH the impending building of a new superstore on Greenbank Road, off Mutley Plain and on the site of what was once the old Plymouth prison, can I make a plea that at least a blue plaque be placed on the store when it is built, to memorialise the four Plymothians who, in the summer of 1906, gave their all in their struggle for free speech?
A crowd gathers outside Greenbank prison to protest at the imprisonment of the four. Right: two of the 'martyrs' John Tamlyn and John Parker
In what was then the separate 'Three Towns' – Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse – all four early socialists went to prison for the public expression of their political beliefs.
Should these Plymothians not be considered, along with others, for inclusion in your present search for Plymouth's Greatest Janner line-up?
I don't think any of those so far nominated divested themselves of all their earthly possessions and went to prison rather than compromise their political principles.
Who were these Plymouth 'martyrs'? John Tamlyn, Fred Edwards, John Parker and Tom Rennals were all early socialists who sought in succession and on multiple occasions over a-six week period, to proclaim what was thought of then as a call for revolution.
Moreover, they saw fit to use as a platform and venue for their open air oratory, a natural amphitheatre in Manor Street in Stonehouse of all places, then a separate local authority to both Plymouth and Devonport and a Devon County responsibility with its own police force and own magistrate.
Back in 1906 Devon County Council was conservative in both its upper and lower case forms and although the Salvation Army and local preachers had used the square in Manor Street for years without any problems and in large numbers, the presence alone of John Tamlyn in the square for the very first time, July 1906, to proclaim his political creed, led to his immediate prosecution on grounds of obstruction and sent to prison at Greenbank.
His audience on this first occasion was said to be just 'one man and his dog'.
Since Tamlyn and those who followed in his footsteps to prison, John Parker, Fred Edwards and Tom Rennals, like him had divested themselves of their money and goods, the Stonehouse magistrates had no alternative but to commit them all to prison and in the next 5 successive Sundays, which is exactly what "The Manor Street Martyrs" had wanted in the first place with its attendant publicity.
Such was the furore engendered against the Stonehouse establishment for sending the four 'martyrs' to prison with their audience growing exponentially to vast proportions with each passing Sunday, the Home Secretary of the day moved in to stop any further prosecutions. With police action no longer being taken, the citizens of the day reverted to type and the thousands who had packed into that Manor Street Square over those momentous Sundays in 1906, went back to being just 'one man and his dog' again.
For those few weeks though, the good citizens of Plymouth were motivated to organise themselves into freedom marches throughout the Three Towns, demanding the release of those early socialists incarcerated in Plymouth's prison. All honour to them and those early pioneer socialists who sacrificed themselves to ensure that the seed bags of free speech flowered throughout the Three Towns and not just in Plymouth and Devonport.
Their ghostly spirits must surely resonate even today in our Council House but wouldn't it be nice if their four names could be set in stone at the new Greenbank site or, with even greater acknowledgement, elsewhere?