Neale, Edward Vansittart (DNB00)

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NEALE, EDWARD VANSITTART (1810–1892), Christian socialist and co-operator, of Bisham Abbey, Berkshire, and of Allesley Park, Warwickshire, was the only son of Edward Vansittart, LL.B., rector of Taplow, Buckinghamshire, by his second wife, Anne, second surviving daughter of Isaac Spooner of Elmdon, near Birmingham. The father took the surname Neale under the will of Mary, widow of Colonel John Neale of Allesley Park, his kinsman. George Vansittart of Bisham Abbey was Neale's paternal grandfather. Born at Bath in the house of his maternal grandfather, Isaac Spooner, on 2 April 1810, he was educated at home until he matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford, on 14 Dec. 1827. After graduating B.A. in 1831, he made a long tour, principally on foot, through France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, and thoroughly mastered the languages of those countries. He proceeded M.A. in 1836, entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1837, and was called to the bar. ‘But he was too subtle for the judges, and wearied them by taking abstruse points which they could not or did not choose to follow’ (J. M. Ludlow, Economic Journal, December 1892, p. 753).

Keenly interested in social reform, Neale had obtained a firm grasp of the theoretical bases of the systems of Fourier, St. Simon, and other writers. In 1850 his attention was attracted by the Working Tailors' Association, which was started in February of that year by the Society for Promoting Working Men's Associations. He became acquainted with the work of the Christian socialists, and, on the invitation of F. D. Maurice, joined the council of promoters, ‘ready to expend capital in the cause, and with many new ideas on the subject’ (Life of F. D. Maurice, ii. 75). The efforts of the promoters had hitherto been directed to the establishment of self-governing workshops on the lines of the Paris Associations Ouvrières. Neale's accession to their ranks immediately had an important influence on the movement. He desired to try experiments in co-operation on a larger scale, and his wealth enabled him to realise his wish. He founded the first London co-operative stores in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, and advanced the capital for two builders' associations, both of which ended disastrously, although the first of them began with a profit of 250l. on their contract for Neale's own house in Hill Street. So far there had been no marked divergence between Neale's views and those of the other members of the council. In 1851, however, on his own initiative, and without the direct sanction of the council, (Hughes in the Economic Review, January 1893, p. 41), he established the Central Co-operative Agency, which, so far as the state of the law at that time admitted, anticipated the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Some of the promoters strongly disapproved of this experiment. The publication of an address to the trade societies of London and the United Kingdom, inviting them to support the agency as ‘a legal and financial institution for aiding the formation of stores and associations, for buying and selling on their behalf, and ultimately for organising credit and exchange between them,’ brought matters to a crisis, and an attempt was made, but checked by Maurice, to exclude from the council both Neale and Hughes, who, without undertaking any pecuniary liability, was associated with him as co-trustee of the agency (ib. p. 42; Co-operative News, 1 Oct. 1892, p. 1103). The promoters and the agency continued to work side by side, on the understanding that the former were in no way pledged to support the latter; but two years later Neale and the agency had acquired the chief influence in the movement (Life of F. D. Maurice, ii. 75, 220).

On the great lock-out of engineers in 1852, Neale not only presided at a meeting of the metropolitan trades, held at St. Martin's Hall on 4 March, in support of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, but gave them pecuniary aid. He also published ‘May I not do what I will with my own? Considerations on the present Contest between the Operative Engineers and their Employers,’ London, 1852. When the men were forced to return to work on the employers' terms, Neale purchased the Atlas Ironworks, Southwark, where he established several of the leading engineers as a productive association. The scheme ended in total failure. The Central Co-operative Agency was at the same time involved in difficulties, and the loss on both schemes fell entirely on Neale, who is said to have spent 40,000l. in his efforts to promote co-operation (Economic Journal, December 1892, p. 753). From this time until he succeeded to the Bisham Abbey estate (November 1885) he was a poor man; but failure seemed only to make him cling more tenaciously to the cause of co-operation, in which he saw the promise of great improvement in the condition of the working classes.

Meanwhile Neale's activity in other directions was incessant. He had already (1850) given evidence before the select committee on the savings of the middle and working classes. When the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, which was the outcome of the inquiry, led to a great development of co-operation, Neale closely associated himself with the northern movement. This, however, did not prevent him from keeping in touch with the Society of Promoters, now merged in the Working Men's College, where he took a class in political economy for two terms. He frequently acted as legal adviser to co-operative societies, which sought his aid in the revision of rules for registration. Until 1876 he prepared, wholly or in part, all the amendments proposed in the act of 1852; the Consolidation Act (1862) and the Industrial and Provident Societies Act (1876) were almost entirely due to his efforts. He was a member of the executive committee appointed by the London conference of delegates from co-operative societies (July 1852), which was the germ of the central co-operative board; and, in addition to lectures and pamphlets, he found time to write ‘The Co-operator's Handbook, containing the Laws relating to a Company of Limited Liability,’ London, 1860, 8vo, which he gave to Mr. G. J. Holyoake to publish for the use of co-operators, and ‘The Analogy of Thought and Nature Investigated,’ London, 1863, 8vo. He also spent some months in Calcutta winding up the affairs of a branch of the Albert Insurance Company with which he had unfortunately been connected.

In the establishment of the central agency Neale had given practical expression to his view that associations of producers could be best promoted by concentrating the wholesale trade of the co-operative stores. Naturally therefore he was keenly interested in the formation of the North of England Co-operative Wholesale Society (1863), of which he drafted the rules for registration. He was one of the founders of the Cobden Mills in 1866, and of the Agricultural and Horticultural Association in 1867, the object of which was to introduce co-operation into agriculture (Social Economist, 1 Nov. 1868, p. 131). From 1869 he was one of the most active promoters of the annual co-operative congress. On the establishment of the central board at the Bolton congress (1872), he was elected one of the members of the London section, a position which he held until 1875. When, in that year, William Nuttall resigned the post of general secretary to the board, Neale, mainly on the suggestion of Mr. G. J. Holyoake, undertook to succeed him. That position required the exercise of great tact and patience. Some of his friends indeed regarded his appointment with anxiety, for it was doubtful how far he would be successful as the paid servant of working men. He received a salary of 250l. a year for his official work, acting gratuitously as legal adviser to the central board, until 1878, when his remuneration was increased to 350l. Devoting himself entirely to his work, he took lodgings in Manchester, visiting his family at Hampstead once a week. His succession to the Bisham Abbey estate made no difference in his habits. Though he was for some time treated ‘with a studied disrespect,’ long before he resigned the secretaryship he had completely won the confidence of the working classes, who regarded him with reverence and affection.

Neale was for seventeen years a director of the Co-operative Insurance Company, and for sixteen years a member of the committee of the Co-operative Newspaper Society. Throughout his life he kept up a large correspondence with foreign co-operators, and frequently attended the continental congresses. In 1875 he visited America, with Dr. Rutherford and John Thomas of Leeds, on behalf of the Mississippi Valley Trading Company, with a view to opening up a direct trade between the English co-operative stores and the farmers of the Western States. A diary of this visit was published in the ‘Co-operative News.’ In August 1890 Neale took part in a conference at the summer meeting of university extension students at Oxford on the relation of the university extension movement to working-class education. He resigned the general secretaryship on 11 Sept. 1891, at the age of eighty-one. Even then he did not entirely give up work in the cause of co-operation. On the formation of the Christian Social Union, he became a member of the Oxford University branch of that organisation. He wrote an article, ‘Thoughts on Social Problems and their Solution,’ for the ‘Economic Review’ (October 1892), which was passing through the press at the time of his death; and a few months before that event he read a paper before the ‘F.D.M.,’ a private society, named after Frederick Denison Maurice's initials, on ‘Robert Owen,’ which showed no diminution of his intellectual powers. He had been for some time suffering from a painful malady, aggravated by earlier neglect of his own health. He died on 16 Sept. 1892, and was buried in Bisham churchyard. A ‘Vansittart Neale’ scholarship for the sons of co-operators was founded at Oriel College (February 1890), with the subscriptions of co-operators in various parts of the country.

With rare generosity Neale devoted his wealth and energies to co-operation when it was a new and struggling movement. In his judgment, the two systems of co-operation—viz. collective control of production by combinations of consumers, and production by self-governing workshops—were not mutually exclusive, but complementary. The experiments of the Christian socialists, in which he took so prominent a part, showed that the workshops could not stand alone. On the other hand, although Neale was fully alive to the advantages which the working classes obtain by becoming their own shopkeepers, and although he himself had initiated the first wholesale society—the Central Co-operative Agency, such a system of combination among consumers with a view to their controlling production afforded in his own view no security that employés would receive better treatment from co-operative societies than they would under a competitive régime. It was his object to raise the condition of the working classes in their character of producers. When, therefore, the wholesale society undertook the manufacture of commodities, he urged that it was the duty of co-operators to grant a share of the profits to the operatives in their factories, and so take an important step in the direction of what he regarded as complete co-operation. He failed, however, to convince the wholesale society of the desirability of this course.

Neale married on 14 June 1837, at St. George's, Hanover Square, Frances Sarah, eldest daughter of James William Farrer, master in chancery, of Ingleborough, Yorkshire, and widow of the Hon. John Scott, eldest son of John, first lord Eldon, by whom he had issue Edward Ernest Vansittart (b. 23 Jan. 1840); Sir Henry James Vansittart, K.C.B. (b. 30 Nov. 1842), married, 16 April 1887, Florence, daughter of His Honour Judge Shelley Ellis, and had issue George Kenneth, who died a boy at Eton, and two daughters; Henrietta Vansittart, married, 5 Oct. 1864, Henry Dickinson, and died 1879, leaving issue; Constance and Edith.

Neale published, in addition to the works already mentioned, nineteen pamphlets issued by the Co-operative Union, model rules for societies intending to register, the congress reports, with prefaces and statistical tables, and articles contributed to the ‘Co-operator,’ the ‘Co-operative News,’ &c. 1. ‘Feasts and Fasts: an Essay on the Rise, Progress, and present State of the Laws relating to Sundays, and other Holidays and Days of Fasting,’ London, 1845, 8vo. 2. ‘The Real Property Acts of 1845 … with introductory Observations and Notes,’ London, 1845, 8vo. 3. ‘Thoughts on the Registration of the Title of Land; its Advantages and the Means of effecting it,’ &c., London, 1849, 8vo. 4. ‘The Characteristic Features of some of the principal Systems of Socialism,’ London, 1851, 8vo. 5. ‘Genesis critically analysed and continuously arranged; with Introductory Remarks,’ Ramsgate, 1869, 8vo. 6. ‘Does Morality depend on Longevity?’ London, 1871, 8vo. 7. ‘The new Bible Commentary and the Ten Commandments,’ London [1872], 8vo. 8. ‘The Mythical Element in Christianity,’ London [1873], 8vo. 9. ‘Reason, Religion, and Revelation,’ London, 1875, 8vo. 10. ‘A Manual for Co-operators. Prepared at the Request of the Co-operative Congress held at Gloucester, April 1879,’ London, 1881, 8vo, in collaboration with Judge Hughes, who wrote the preface.

[Berry's Buckinghamshire Genealogies, p. 53; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, p. 1009; Honours Register of the University of Oxford; Gentleman's Magazine, 1837, ii. 82; Life of F. D. Maurice, ii. 75, 157, 220, 232; Furnivall's Early History of the Working Men's College (reprinted from the Working Men's College Magazine), 1860; Holyoake's History of Co-operation, i. 189, ii. 55, 58, 59, 393, 435, his Co-operative Movement to-day, pp. 25, 29, 47, 51, 95, 103, 127, and his Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, 3rd edit. ii. 6; Beatrice Potter's (Mrs. Sidney Webb) British Co-operative Movement, ch. v.; Brentano's Christlich-soziale Bewegung in England; Laveleye's Socialism of To-day (translated by G. H. Ophen), p. 302; Sidney and Beatrice Webb's Hist. of Trade Unionism, pp. 198, 326; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1894, ii. 2087; Report from the Select Committee on the Savings of the Middle and Working Classes, 1850, pp. 14, 24, 39, 40; The Christian Socialist, 1850–1; The Social Economist; Co-operator; Almanach de la Co-opération Française, 1892, p. 19; Daily Chronicle, 19 Sept. 1892; Co-operative News, especially the notices of Neale by Holyoake, Hughes, and others in the numbers for 24 Sept., 1 and 8 Oct. 1892; Agricultural Economist, October 1892; obituary notice by J. M. Ludlow (Economic Journal, December 1892, pp. 752–4); Hughes's Neale as a Christian Socialist (Economic Review, January 1893 pp. 38–94, April 1893 pp. 174, 189).]

W. A. S. H.