Blue plaque for local framework knitter and working class agitator

Published Thursday, 26 September 2019

A blue plaque has been unveiled in Hinckley in recognition of a local framework knitter and political agitator for the working class.

John Sketchley – Chartist, Secularist, Republican, Socialist and Pamphleteer - was born in Hinckley in 1824. A framework knitter by trade, John was well placed to understand the distress in the hosiery industry, especially in the 1840s, and became actively involved in Chartism, the working-class movement for political reform. He was Secretary to the South Leicestershire Chartist Association for 10 years.

During the 1850s he opposed the system of paying rent for a stocking frame, especially when the wages got lower. Although he came from a Catholic family, John’s radical leanings led to him leaving the church in 1859.

In the late 1860s Sketchley left the hosiery trade and moved to Leicester where he was a bookseller and stationer. He was elected as Secretary of the Leicester Secular society in 1867. A period of bankruptcy sadly followed and then Sketchley moved to live in Birmingham. He founded the Midland Social Democratic Federation in 1878 – a truly socialist organisation. A year later he published a pamphlet called ‘The Principles of Social Democracy’.

Sketchley criticised the Reform Bill of 1884 for not bringing in universal suffrage for both men and women. He seems to have contributed many articles to the socialist press of this time attacking practically every national institution.

Sketchley was married three times but always suffered from financial problems despite his compatriots trying to support him financially. It is thought that he had 15 children of whom eight were still alive in 1911. Sketchley died in 1913 at the Billesdon Workhouse.

John Sketchley has a blue plaque dedicated to him in Baines Lane in Hinckley where he lived with his second wife Mary Ann in1861.

Heritage Champion for Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council, Cllr Paul Williams said:

We have a rich and proud heritage in Hinckley and the surrounding area and through this scheme we can honour those individuals who have made a significant contribution to the borough's cultural, industrial or civic legacy over the years. This blue plaque recognises a man who contributed widely to local and national politics, with a particular interest and experience of the hosiery trade and the harshness of working in that particular industry.

Greg Drozdz, local historian and Vice Chairman of Hinckley and District Museum, said:

When I came across details of John Sketchley on Ned Newitt's 'Radical Leicester' website a couple of years ago, I started to do some additional research myself. I had read his name on many occasions in documents about the early hosiery industry but I was surprised to learn about his national importance. I am delighted that we have been able to commemorate John Sketchley in this way. I hope more people will look into his background. I hope that people will appreciate John Sketchley as Hinckley's answer to John Wilkes or Tom Paine.