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Joseph Arch

Joseph Arch was born in Barford on 10th November, 1826, in a tiny cottage almost opposite Barford Church.

He is one of the key figures in the history of British trade unionism, and was an organiser who became the leader of England's agricultural labourers.

The son and grandson of farm labourers, Arch used his training as a Primitive Methodist lay preacher to good effect in the early 1870s when farm labourers in the south and central areas of England began to protest against low wages and harsh living conditions. Arch founded the National Agricultural Labourers' Union. In doing so, he came up against the landed establishment at a time of its greatest power and arrogance. Beginning in 1872, with a rural meeting under a chestnut tree in Wellesbourne, he soon had an organisation with a membership of 86,000. It was an astonishing feat of management and drive.

When membership in the union began to decline, Arch began to turn his attention to politics and in 1885 served the first of several terms as a Liberal Member of Parliament (1885-86, 1892-1900), representing a Norfolk constituency. He was the first agricultural labourer to become an MP. He also served on the Warwickshire County Council from 1889 to 1892. His political skills were put to use on behalf of farm workers, for Arch is credited with having played an instrumental part in obtaining the vote for them in the Reform Act of 1884-85. He served as President of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union until it was dissolved in 1896.

Joseph Arch died in Barford on 12th February, 1919, and is buried in the village churchyard. In 1922, the National Union of Agricultural Workers honoured him with an obelisk at his resting place.

Information sourced from Encyclopędia Britannica, Inc. and Joseph Arch's autobigraphy (published by MacGibbon and Key Ltd)

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