Harry Ainsworth grew up amongst the cotton mills of Blackburn, moving to Preston to work as clogger. His political affiliations led to his conscientious objection and, after being judged to be a genuine CO, he was sent to Wakefield Prison as part of the Brace Scheme.
The Price Paid by Conscientious Objectors: the Case of Harry Ainsworth
Posted by Louise Cabral-Jackson
Early Life in Blackburn
Harry was born on Lambeth Street in Blackburn in 1886 to George Ainsworth and Mary Jaine Ainsworth (nee Royston).  His father was a winding master at the cotton mill. The 1891 census shows Harry living at home with his mother, father, father in law, a lodger and his three siblings: George, born in 1882; Alice, born in 1884; and the youngest son at the time, John, born in 1867.
Eight people in a small terraced house must have been overcrowded. But just ten years earlier the 1881 census recorded 764 ‘inmates’ at Blackburn Workhouse, which was built near Lambeth Street on Haslingden Road (the site of the New Royal Blackburn Hospital), the position being chosen so to be a continual reminder to the community.  Whilst I cannot confirm that Harry’s family were in the workhouse, there were eight Ainsworths on the census in 1881, four recorded as cotton weavers. The threat of the workhouse must have been ever present, especially as by the 1901 census Mary would have given birth to her ninth child. 
Mary’s large family, including Harry, were educated at Maudsley Street Infant School in Blackburn. Harry started there on 31st January 1889. 
By 1907 Harry, now in Preston, married Mary Ellen Threlfall.  The address he would later give to the court in 1917 was 25 Balcarres Road. These terraced houses are first registered by the Preston Re-evaluation Maudland Division in 1911, so it is possible they were built in 1905 with Tulketh Mill on the other side of the street. Harry’s house is registered under a Thomas Howard who also owned seven other houses on the street, so it is likely that Harry and Mary were tenants. Harry gave his occupation as a clogger at his tribunal so it possible he was working at the mill making clogs for the mill workers.
On April 2nd 1917 Harry was tried at Preston Police Court where his conscientious objector status was disallowed. He was sent for court martial for disobeying army orders.
Notice listing questions to be asked of those applying for conscientious objection at tribunal in World War 1. With kind permission from Lancashire Archives, Ref. TA/1
In 1917 Harry, like many other men up and down the country, was conscripted. As a married man, he had been exempt from the initial 1916 act. As the war dragged on and the loss of life escalated, conscription was widened to include married men and Harry was called up. When he did not join the North Lancashires at their Preston barracks he was arrested. On April 2nd 1917 Harry was tried at Preston Police Court where his conscientious objector status was disallowed.  He was sent for court martial for disobeying army orders. He was sentenced to one-year’s hard labour. This was then commuted to 56 days. After this he was transported to Wormwood Scrubs where his military service tribunal on May 5th classed him as a genuine CO.
Harry cited his membership of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and his trade union membership as his reason for objecting to going to war. Fenner Brockway, CO and ILP leader described his colleague’s politics: ‘We were not revolutionary socialists. We were democratic pacifists.’  There was an increase in trade unionism before World War 1, stretching to new and specific professions, including the Cloggers’ Union of Lancashire, Oldham and Wigan.  Harry became one of the 16,000 or so men who refused to fight due to their personal beliefs about war. 
Harry cited his membership of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and his trade union membership as his reason for objecting to going to war.
The Price Harry Paid for the Courage of his Convictions
Harry’s case was sent to the Brace Committee. This was set up because of the increasing numbers of COs and cases of cruelty being raised and was designed to allow COs to make an ‘equal sacrifice.’ These work camps were set up all over the UK; Harry was sent to the Wakefield Centre. Conditions varied at these work centres. Many were forced to undertake hard physical labour with conditions more akin to prisons than work centres.  The internment of COs in this prisons prompted riots in Wakefield on two weekends in May 1918. 
Harry’s case was sent to the Brace Committee. This was set up because of the increasing numbers of COs and cases of cruelty being raised and was designed to allow COs to make an ‘equal sacrifice.’
I don’t know how long Harry stayed at Wakefield, or what happened to his wife whilst he was away. Some of the COs remained in prison till the year after the war had ended.  Mary may have struggled financially as, although some men at the work camps were paid, this was sometimes only 1p a day.  There are no registered children to the couple and, whilst I can find no record of Harry’s death, Mary died a widow in 1938 in Blackburn at the age of 52.