In March 1895 an elderly man was admitted to the hospital in Walsall. He did not survive for very long. This man was E.A. Scholey. He was a poor man and known locally as something of an eccentric. What his fellow inhabitants of Walsall did not know was this man had once been more than just an infirm and impoverished nonentity. He had once been a Chartist and on intimate terms with leading figures associated with the movement.
Scholey arrived in Walsall from Peterborough. He opened a coffee shop at his home which served as a hub for local radical activities. Working men were able to read books from Scholey’s own library as well as radical periodicals and to engage in discussions – the shop stayed open on Sunday evenings for this purpose. Scholey also sold second hand books as he scrapped together a living. When Ernest Jones was released from Tothill Fields Prison in London in July 1850, he saw a great deal of Scholey. It seems that Scholey was offering him advice on how to restore his health. Scholey also knew well two other men who had suffered in the Chartist cause – Thomas Cooper and Arthur O’Neill.
Scholey embraced not only the People’s Charter but also temperance and secularism. His coffee shop continued to display and sell secularist and republican literature into the 1880s. He became secretary of the Walsall Republican Society, and, in 1873, conducted the first secularist funeral in the town’s cemetery. It was recorded in 1878 that burglars entered Scholey’s home in George Street, making off with silver spoons and watches.
There is no doubt that we have here a remarkable working man who devoted his life to campaigning for the radical causes in which he believed. Yet Scholey is not mentioned by the secularist George Jacob Holyoake in his autobiography, nor does not appear in Miles Taylor’s biography of Ernest Jones or any of the histories of Chartism. I am sure that careful delving into local newspaper sources will reveal much more about Scholey. His story certainly does deserve to be told.