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A North Country Worthy

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, Vol. X, July, 1894) pp.85-8

John Hyslop Bell of Darlington was formerly proprietor of the Northern Echo. Even before that halfpenny organ of stalwart Radicalism began its eventful existence Mr. Bell had made himself a name and a position as a doughty party fighting man as pro­prietor and editor of the South Durham Mercury at Hartlepool. For the lifetime of a generation Mr. Bell has been in the forefront of the Liberal ranks in the county of Durham, nor has he ever been known to flinch or falter in his allegiance to the Gladstonian cause. I am heartily glad to see that, somewhat tardily, the chiefs of the party which he has served so long, so loyally, and so well, have set on foot a movement for making some solid recognition of his services in the shape of a substantial testimonial. If he in some respects had not been so good a man, there would have been less justification for this movement than there is to-day, for both merits and need are often due to the same high qualities, and such is the case with Mr. Bell.

John Hyslop Bell, who is now in his th (sic) year, was born in Scotland, in Carlyle's county. He crossed the Tweed in his early manhood, married and settled down in the bishopric of Durham. Although he spent some of his early years in the northern division, the real pith of his life-work has been put into South Durham and Cleveland. As the proprietor, and at one time the editor, of the only morning paper published in the county, he had more to do than any other man in maintaining and in strengthening and in deepening the devotion of the electors of Durham to the Liberal cause. Mr. Bell was no mere fair-weather friend of the party which he served. He was far more than a mere party man. He was a Radical who has a wide and comprehensive range of those principles which are ridiculed as fads before they are adopted as planks of the party platform, but none of his fads ever led him to play a scurvy trick to those in whose hands he sincerely believed the interests of the country would be safe.

Like all North Country radicals he deplored the 25th Clause of the Education Act by which denominational schools were subsidised from the rates. He really worried over that wretched Clause, wrote endless analyses of the way in which it was slipped into the Bill, made speeches against it, and generally did what he could to rouse public opinion on the subject. But when Parliament was dissolved ih 1874, so far was he from sulking in his tent or from punishing the party for Mr. Forster's sins, that his district was almost the only one in England that showed a Liberal victory. When counties and boroughs all over the land were going Tory with the most appalling unanimity, the county of Durham alone among the English counties returned an unbroken phalanx of thirteen Liberal members. It was a great and notable victory, which unfortunately was spoiled by the violence encouraged if not instigated by a Tyneside organ which cost us one of the seats for North Durham, and in its achievement the Northern Echo had the foremost part. Mr. Bell always fought elections well. He never forgot that a newspaper, even though a little one, must be a fighter. The Northern Echo was, while he owned it, a bantam of the game, by far the heartiest fighting morning paper between Leeds and Edinburgh. It was the Northern Echo, too, which, in the hour and power of the Conservative reaction, was first in the provinces to rally the scattered and dispirited ranks of the Liberals, and to revive the good old cause by the enthusiasm and dogged pertinacity with which it championed the cause of liberty in the Balkan Peninsula. When Bulgaria was liberated one of the first acts of the Bulgarian Assembly was to pass unanimously a resolution of gratitude to Mr. Gladstone, M. de Laveleye, the Daily News, and the Northern Echo. Both Mr. Gladstone and M. de Laveleye, as well as all the leading anti-Jingoes, repeatedly recognized the inestimable services which Mr. Bell's paper had rendered to what at first seemed an almost hopeless cause.

In the field of domestic and industrial politics Mr. Bell has always used his pen and his paper to promote the cause of labour, the cause of peace, and the case of woman. It is owing in no small degree to the strenuous and enthusiastic support which Mr. Bell ever gave to the cause of arbitration and conciliation that the Board of Arbitration in the finished iron trade, with which the name of Mr. David Dale was so long and so honourably associated, was able to triumph over all its difficulties, and so afford to the world the most succcessful practical illustration of arbitration. The Northern Echo was founded just when the Cleveland iron field was beginning to dominate the iron trade. From its seat in Darlington it commanded the first place in the coal and iron mining villages in South Durham and North Yorkshire, and everywhere and always the voice was for peace, for co-operation, and for the elevation of the masses. True to his creed, Mr. Bell refused to make his newspaper a tout for the tipster and the gambler, and for many years the Northern Echo shared with the Leeds Mercury the distinction of being the only organs which refused to publish the odds on the racecourse.On one occasion at least it reported the Derby in a line.

Mr. Bell, although a Scotchman, was more Irish than the Irish. He was a Home Ruler before Mr. Gladstone, and enthusiastically supported the adhesion of his chief to the green flag. He had a difficult part to play, for some of the leading South Durham Liberals are connected with Orange Ulster; but he fought straight and fought on in a fashion which entitles him to the respect and gratitude of true Liberals everywhere.

It is proposed to raise a fund of at least three thousand pounds as some recognition of the heroic fashion in which Mr. Bell has sacrificed his present ease and future prospects to the cause of Liberalism. The appeal is cordially commended to the entire Liberal party by most of the North Country Liberal members, including Mr. John Morley, Mr. Mundella, and Sir George Trevelyan. It is also approved by Lord Tweedmouth, Mr. Arnold Morley, and Mr. Stansfeld. Lord Rosebery has headed the list of subscriptions with twenty guineas, and Sir Joseph W. Pease gives £100. The secretaries are Mr. T. T. Sedgwick and Mr. W. Forster, of Darlington, to whom subscriptions should be sent. These are the terms of the appeal:-

We find a feeling exists that some acknowledgment should be made to Mr. J. Hyslop Bell on account of his great public services during his long connection with journalism in the North of England, and especially for his faithful and efficient labours in promoting the Liberal cause in the county of Durham over a period of forty years. It is well known that throughout this long period Mr. Bell has, with great ability and zeal, contended for the principles of true Liberalism in the front rank of political controversy, and has spared neither personal effort nor pecuniary sacrifice to advance those principles. 
    We have therefore resolved to appeal to the Liberal party generally to show their appreciation of the merits of a man who has worked with a consistency, fidelity, and self-sacrifice rarely equalled, and to whose advocacy in the daily Press, as well as on the platform, the Liberal cause is so much indebted for the unique position it holds in the county of Durham. 

It but remains to be added, that if the Liberal party wishes to multiply the number of counties in which it holds ten or twelve safe seats out of thirteen, it cannot do better than by multiplying such men as Mr. Bell and such papers as the Northern Echo. One of the means of encouraging their production is to see to it that there is a hearty and generous recognition of Mr. Bell's services in county Durham.

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