Framed - The Alice Wheeldon Story

by Moirai - Alice Wheeldon Project

A new collection of songs written and performed by Moirai, who are Jo Freya, Sarah Matthews and Mel Biggs.

The songs are about the plot to murder David Lloyd George in 1917. Alice Wheeldon and her daughter Winnie Mason & son-in-law Alf Mason, were imprisoned for conspiracy to murder. Alice and her family were strong socialists, great opponents of the war and supporters of Conscientious Objectors. Their stance was considered not to be in support of the war effort and the conviction was brought at a big show trial surrounded by massive publicity. They had been set-up by two undercover agents working for MI5. The family argued that the murder plan was fabricated. A fantasy “a story so strange that it seems hardly to relate to the world of reality”.

A fascinating story and a fantastic collection of songs.

For a preview of the album and an accompanying video go to this link


What happened?

In 1917, during WW1 Alice Wheeldon and her daughter Winnie Mason & son-in-law Alf Mason, were imprisoned for conspiracy to murder David Lloyd George, Prime Minister, and Arthur Henderson, Chairman Labour Party. Hettie Wheeldon was acquitted. Leave to appeal the convictions was refused. They had been set-up by two undercover agents working for MI5.

The family argued that the murder plan was fabricated. A fantasy “a story so strange that it seems hardly to relate to the world of reality”. Today the campaign to clear their names for this miscarriage of justice is being well supported, including by Alice’s great granddaughter Chloë Mason.

On Boxing Day 1916, Alice Wheeldon was at home in Derby with her husband, and daughters, Nellie and Hettie. Alexander MacDonald, a conscientious objector (CO) who was a family friend was also staying in their household.

Alice’s youngest daughter, Winnie, had married Alf Mason in 1915 and had moved to Southampton; there they supported Will Wheeldon, Alice’s son, a CO due to appear again before a military tribunal.

That night, a man “Alex Gordon” came to the door, posing as a CO needing shelter. Over the next days during their conversation, Alice told him her worries about her CO son. “Alex Gordon” told her of an emigration route to the USA possible for use by COs. He raised his own problem of freeing his friends from a detention camp guarded by dogs.

Alice entered into an agreement with “Alex Gordon” – he was to help her get her ‘three boys’ to America, and in return Alice was to obtain poison for him to use on the dogs at the detention camp. At Alice’s request, Winnie and Alf sent poison (curare) for dogs.

Two days later, “Alex Gordon” introduced his friend, Herbert Booth, another undercover agent, and wrote the letter of introduction for the emigration scheme, and Alice gave the poison to Gordon (on 4 January 1917). In front of press cameras, the family were arrested at the end of January 1917 – instant “tabloid villains”.

The trial was widely publicised and used as propaganda to continue the war to the bitter end, and to demonise the peace movement. ‘Alex Gordon’ was not produced in court, only Herbert Booth. Alice Wheeldon, Winnie and Alf Mason were convicted. In prison, Alice went on hunger strike protesting her innocence; she was released on licence and died in 1919.

1. Prologue
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
This piece tells of our connection to Alice, her family and Derby where she lived and worked in her secondhand clothes shop at 12 Pear Tree Road.

2. I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier
(Original verse and chorus lyrics Alfred Bryan and original melody Al Piantadosi / Additional overlapping lyrics and melodies Jo Freya)
Based on "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" an American anti-war song that was influential within the pacifist movement that existed in the USA before it entered WW1. This was the earliest anti war song to be scored and recorded as far as we are aware. Three differing sets of lyrics and melodies are laid on top of each other at the end to demonstrate the complexity of views at the time.

3. Bottom Up!
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
The first Clarion Cycling Club was formed in 1895 in Birmingham with clubs then springing up all over the UK. Whilst expounding the benefits of fresh air and exercise, in a time when many couldn’t afford cars, they were also hotbeds of Socialist propaganda and activism producing flyers and newspapers spreading the word as widely as possible. In Derby, Alice and her three daughters were all active members frequently running children’s clubs, soup kitchens and fundraisers. Each summer, a group of women cyclists would head off across the country in ‘caravans’ with a pony and cart full of Socialist leaflets distributing them as they saw fit - sometimes on rocks, trees or cows!

4. My Door Is Always Open
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
Introducing Alice, the mother to all. Alice was a well-known and much respected character in Derby. Her son, Willie, and three daughters, Nellie, Hettie and Winnie, were all teachers in local schools. Alice fought for them to have a good life and stood up for what she believed was right. She’s known to have spoken out for others less fortunate in her community, provided food and clothing and she sent money overseas to help workers’ uprisings in Ireland.

5. Alice
(Melody Sarah Matthews)
An eight-time waltz inspired by the complex character that was Alice Wheeldon.

6. Proper Gander
(Lyrics Mel Biggs, Jo Freya & Sarah Matthews / The tune to the verses is based on the chorus of ‘Oh that Gorgonzola Cheese’ by Harry Champion with an additional chorus written by Moirai)
In the early 1900s, the socialist movement campaigned for workers’ rights and better standards of living. Some of their views on equality, diet and exercise, healthcare, animal welfare, women’s rational dress and appearance were regarded as outrageous and unheard of at the time. The lifestyle that Alice and her family strived for was, in their view, something that should be widely available to all for the betterment of all souls. Ironically, it is the idealistic lifestyle that many choose to lead nowadays.

7. DORA Is Here For You
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
A powerful song painting the political picture at home in the UK, the introduction of the Defence Of The Realm Act (DORA), and life in 1914. This song tells us why the government felt it needed to make an example of Alice and her family and keep them quiet for the good of the War, King and country.

8. Perfect Puppet Pt. 1 / Puppet Waltz
(Lyrics Mel Biggs & Sarah Matthews / Melodies Mel Biggs)
The introduction of ‘Alex Gordon’ (or was that his name?) a complex character working as an undercover agent for PMS2, an offshoot of MI5. Alex was sent to Derby posing as a conscientious objector (CO) to hunt down and report back on any anti-war activity he found. Initially his work centred around socialist workers at the Rolls-Royce factory which supplied most of the country’s ammunition and was a suspected hot spot for sabotage. He was referred across to Hettie Wheeldon who by then was secretary of the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF). Alex turned up on Alice’s door step on 27th December 1916 and by the next day he reported back implicating Alice and her family in the poison plot to kill Prime Minister Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson.

9. Pulled Strings
(Melody Jo Freya)
A complex melody in 10/8 time to represent the pre-trial turmoil of industrial unrest in munitions, opposition of conscription and the War, and the cunning guile of ‘Alex Gordon’ to infiltrate and befriend people.

10. Poison Plot
(Lyrics Jo Freya / Melody Sarah Matthews)
The simplicity of the unaccompanied voice here tells the story, as we know it, of the manipulation and entrapment of Alice Wheeldon by government officials.

11. Courtroom Scene
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
The Courtroom proceedings, sentencing and Alice’s disbelief of what was happening to her and her family. This was probably the first Big Show Trial by media as the story had blown up in the newspapers all over the world. Initially held in The Guildhall Derby, the trial was moved to the Old Bailey in London - a more prestigious platform - as directed by Attorney General FE Smith who prosecuted the case himself. The family’s lawyer was inexperienced and ineffectual. During the trial, one juror became ill so he was replaced and the trial re-commenced and was rushed through in three days! Alice’s exasperated silences were taken as her being guilty. Alice, Win and Hettie used language in their private letters (intercepted by police) and behaved in a way thought to be vulgar and unladylike. The cards were stacked against them from the start.

12. Twisted Round
(Melody by Jo Freya)
This uneven piece in seven time represents the discomfort, confusion and unsettled feelings of Alice and her family as the unbelievable became reality.

13. Letter From Hettie To Aunt Lid
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
Lyrics drawn from the words of a letter from Hettie Wheeldon to Aunt Lid (a close family friend) in Derby on 16th February 1917. She indicates her disgust at her treatment and the establishment in general and tells Aunt Lid not to come and visit her in prison as “even walls and keyholes they have ears”. You will be drawn in by Hettie’s strength, eloquence and wit.

14. Perfect Puppet Pt. 2 / Puppet Waltz
(Lyrics Mel Biggs & Sarah Matthews / Melodies Mel Biggs)
This second part of the Perfect Puppet explores who was this man ‘Alex Gordon’? How did the government manage to manipulate him to behave in this way? Our initial research about him lead us to believe he was the ‘baddie’ in this story. But upon talking further about him to Chloë Mason (Alice’s Great Granddaughter) she came forth with information that shed light on his troubled and turbulent past. Including embargoed documents and explanations that Gordon and others were paid bonuses for reporting exciting scoops. This gave us new perspectives on his character reflected here in this song.

15. Win To Hett
(Melody by Mel Biggs)
Charm and sensitivity; this is a sentimental piece from sister to sister as if written from within the confines of prison. Win was incredibly worried about her Mother’s health during their time together at Aylesbury Prison. To start with they were rostered to share breaks together in the yard, but later this changed and Alice was moved to Holloway without Win knowing. The pain and anguish Win must have suffered not knowing what had happened to her Mam is unthinkable.

16. Alice The Soldier
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews inspired by “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier” original score by Bryan & Piantadosi)
Alice takes a quiet moment on her own in the dead of night to reflect on her situation in prison and her worries for her boy, Will, and others left ‘out there’.

17. What Am I Here For?
(Lyrics & Melody Mel Biggs & Sarah Matthews)
Inspired by Alice Wheeldon’s own words from letters and detailed accounts of her behaviour in prison. This song shows Alice’s anger and frustration by day and uses some of her own feisty words and phrases, but her vulnerability and sadness become more evident as night falls. She didn’t give up the fight and rallied round for better prison conditions for all even from within the prison walls. The time signature of this piece is complex to reflect Alice’s experience in prison.

18. Round Up
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
This piece completes the story of the key players of the Wheeldon and Mason family members from 1919 onwards. Alice, Win and Alf (Win’s husband) were sentenced to 10, 5 and 7 years penal servitude, respectively. Alice was released on license due to her deteriorating health from hunger striking. Win and Alf were released in April 1919. Will, who was imprisoned as a CO, was released along with other COs at the amnesty. Nell, who did not play a large part in this story and isn’t mentioned in this song, took a boat to America and became an organiser for the Laundresses Union.

19. Hettie’s Now With Mam
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
Verses based on the words of a letter by Winnie Mason to Aunt Lid on 14th Nov 1920. An emotional outpouring for the loss of this wonderful woman, Hettie.

21. Ivy And Tulips
(Lyrics Sarah Matthews / Melody Mel Biggs)
Inspired by the words of John S. Clarke spoken at Alice Wheeldon’s funeral including a quote from P.B. Shelley’s poem about John Keats, printed in the Derby Mercury on Wednesday 26th February 1919. Despite being written about Alice’s funeral, this is a celebration song of Alice’s life and legacy. Through the words of Shelley and Clarke, and Alice’s own attitude to life, we find the strength to continue to fight for what we believe in today.

Lyrics and Melody Sarah Matthews
Sample not available
I didn’t raise my boy to be a Soldier
Lyrics Jo Freya and Alfred Bryan / Melody Al Piantadosi
Sample not available
Bottom Up
Lyrics and Melody Jo Freya
Sample not available
My Door is Always Open
Lyrics and Melody Sarah Matthews
Sample not available
Melody Sarah Matthews
Sample not available
Proper Gander
Lyrics and Melody Jo Freya / Mel Biggs / Sarah Matthews
Sample not available
DORA is Here for You
Lyrics and Melody Sarah Matthews
Sample not available
The Perfect Puppet (PART 1)
Lyrics Mel Biggs and Sarah Matthews / Melody Mel Biggs
Sample not available
The Pulled Strings
Melody by Jo Freya
Sample not available
The Poison Plot
Lyrics Jo Freya / Melody Sarah Matthews
Sample not available
Court Room Scene
Lyrics and Melody Jo Freya
Sample not available
Twisted Round
Melody Jo Freya
Sample not available
Letter from Hettie to Aunt Lid - 16th Feb 1917
Lyrics and Melody Sarah Matthews and Hettie Wheeldon
Sample not available
The Perfect Puppet PART 2
Lyrics Mel Biggs and Sarah Matthews / Melody Mel Biggs
Sample not available
Win to Hett
Melody Mel Biggs
Sample not available
Alice The Soldier
Lyrics and Melody Sarah Matthews
Sample not available
What Am I Here For?
Lyrics and Melody Mel Biggs / Sarah Matthews / Alice Wheeldon
Sample not available
Round Up
Lyrics and Melody Jo Freya
Sample not available
Hettie’s Now with Mam
Lyrics and Melody Jo Freya
Sample not available
Ivy and Tulips
Lyrics Sarah Matthews and John S Clarke / Melody Mel Biggs
Sample not available