The Bolton Group
The Bolton Group was formed in 1886 by Tom France, who wanted to create a local branch of the Social Democratic Federation in his home town, Bolton, England. The original group had thirty members and met at Tom France’s house. In the early 1890’s the Bolton socialists rented a place in Back Cheapside and opened the town’s first Socialist Club. They served beer, established a library, and held regular meetings, often with well know guest speakers. In 1898 the local branches of the Independent Labor Party and the Social Democratic Party were combined to create the Bolton Socialist Party. In 1905 Tom France and others set up a Bolton Social Hall Ltd, which helped them raise money to buy a house, which is still the location of the Socialist Club today. After the first World War the Bolton Socialist Party began to fade away, losing members to the communist party and the Labor Party, however the Party was never formally disbanded.
Whitman and the Bolton Group
The Bolton group were devoted followers of Whitman and set up the Whitman Fellowship, and often referred to themselves as his disciples. Whitman never visited Britain, but he did develop close ties with Bolton through correspondences with J. W. Wallace and John Johnston. Both men visited Walt Whitman in America, and Johnston published the diaries he kept of his experiences as Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890- 1891.
The Bolton Group Today:
While the heyday of the Bolton group has long since past the Bolton group continues to act as forum for the discussion of today’s political problems in relation to socialism. They sponsor weekly events as well as a newsletter through which they help to continue the growth socialist political activism. They also continue on with the legacy of their founders by continuing to promote the work of Walt Whitman. Every year on the last Saturday in May close to Walt Whitman’s birthday members of the Bolton group as well as admirers of Whitman’s poetry come together to walk through the streets of Bolton in celebration of Whitman. This walk consists of members following a circular route along the streets of Bolton during which they stop to recite Whitman’s poetry and drink from the “loving cup”. The “loving cup” is a three-handled cup that was presented to the Bolton group by Whitmanites of the United States in a show of camaraderie. While the original cup is no longer used as it was donated to the Bolton Museum a new “loving cup” has been commissioned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the walk.