Commemorating Joseph Arch

On Sunday 10th February 2019  commemorations were held for the hundredth anniversary of the death of trade unionist and MP, Joseph Arch. Coming from a family of agricultural labourers, he strived to become familiar with the different tasks included in agricultural labour and as such was in demand as an employee and made a reasonable wage. However, he saw the destitute state that most of his fellow agricultural labourers lived in, so he largely educated himself and, as a result, a lot of his fellow agricultural labourers turned to him for support to improve their lot.

Called to a meeting at the Stag’s Head in Chestnut Square in Wellesbourne on a February night, he was expecting an attendance of around thirty. Instead there were in excess of two thousand agricultural labourers from the local area! So it was held under an oak tree across the road. They went on to form the Warwickshire, and later the National, Agricultural Workers’ Union, which did see some improvement in their wages. Joseph Arch went onto become an MP where he agitated for the extension of the voting franchise. He retired in 1900, returning to Barford, to the house which he was born in. He died there on 12th February 1919.

One hundred years on in Barford

So on the morning of Sunday 10th February 2019, a mini bus took some of the participants in the commemorations to Barford. The day started with a service at the graveside of Joseph Arch in St Peter’s churchyard. As well as the vicar there were other dignitaries, including the local MP. One of the older participants was saying how his grandfather could remember Joseph Arch, after he had retired, sitting outside his house on fine days.
After a group photograph outside Joseph Arch’s old house, it was over to the old scout hut to rendezvous before departing on the walk to Wellesbourne. The route being followed was the route which he would have taken on the night of that first meeting in Wellesbourne all those years ago. It went through Wasperton and Charlecote before getting to Chestnut Square in Wellesbourne. The way is actually known as the Joseph Arch Way. Some speeches were recited about him, including a local Shakespearean actor reciting Joseph Arch’s maiden speech in Parliament, followed by morris dancers then some singers.


In Wellesbourne itself there are some memorials about him. The original tree which the meeting was held under died in 1948 and there is a memorial plaque under the replacement tree.  There is also a Joseph Arch Road in the village. In 1952 the National Union of Agricultural Workers had a bus shelter erected near there with a commemorative stone inside and In Barford one of the pubs was renamed the Joseph Arch.
Later on in the year some local people were asked to take part as extras, playing agricultural labourers, in film footage about Joseph Arch. That was actually shot in the nearby village of Walton. That and some footage from the walk were included in an episode of the BBC TV programme, Countryfile.


The Day we Celebrated Joseph Arch - the extended version
A collection of video clips showing the highlights of the day when the hundredth year of Joseph Arch's death was commemorated.
More from Barford
More from Wellesbourne
More from Trade Unions