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Jan Horn Petersen: Kong Peders Helsingør

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The interested user can find a more detailed exposition of Mayor Pedersen´s importance for Elsinore in the period 1900-1940 in Jan Horn Petersen´s : King Peder´s city.

Jan Horn Petersen: Kong Peders by
For more than half a generation the dynamic mayor Peder Christensen, “King Peder”, governed Elsinore municipality. He tried to create a model municipality. It was based on an extensive social security system with co-operative initiatives and experiments, whose vision reached out far beyond the Sound.
The Background
The 20th century was the period, where the industrial society and the rules of the parliamentary system really showed itself. In Denmark it happened with the change of system in 1901, when Venstre (a Danish Liberal political party) after many years of bitter struggle against Højre (the Conservatives), came into power, and the political and welfare strategy of the Social Democracy still had not been determined.
The Role of the Municipalities
The municipalities were until the system change an important power basis for the party Venstre, and in time around the turn of the century there was a high degree of municipal self-government.
The municipalities administered the meagre social services according to a local estimate and had a decisive influence on the development of the school-, health- and housing policies. The centralisation of the Welfare State was still in the making and it gave, especially in the time from 1900 to 1920 the municipalities a large political scope.
When the reform of old age pension was carried in 1891 – the first example of modern social legislation in Denmark – it was a question of a 50% governmental reimbursement to a certain ceiling. It was characteristic, though, that the service was not universal, that is, automatically granted to everybody, and that the service varied considerably form municipality to municipality. After a tax reform in 1903 the municipalities were given a freer financial rein and little by little a governmental reimbursement system was developed, which meant that the municipalities could take on more tasks
The Unionisation of the Labour Movement
The so-called September Agreement of 1899 regulated the labour market’s conditions through the introduction of collective agreements for the whole country. This meant that the local unions and their umbrella organization, “The Co-operative Union” were forced to give up their right to negotiate and their competence. In Elsinore, where they had introduced local collective agreements at the end of the 1890´, it meant that the local Co-operative Union, which had headed the negotiations, existed in a vacuum.
“The Co-operative Union” was the organization, which represented the whole union and the labour movement, ant in the beginning it was the only link between pure union interests and the labour movement. Before 1898 the organisation was called “The Mutual Trade and Worker’s Union”, which even clearer shows the division there was. But now another division started to appear, with union questions on one side and the party, which was directed at the political system on the other.
The Role of the Co-Operative Union
If you look at the entire labour movement in a broader sense, there were many areas of interest, which the Co-Operative Unions took on, for instance the cooperative area and many common cultural interests. In Elsinore they concentrated their efforts in the cultural area, when they bought the “Workers´ Hall”, later called “The People´s House”, where the Co-Operative Union also resided.
The People´s House
The Co-Operative
The party´s superior position to the co-operation was unclear, as the party’s congress in Odense had been critical. The criticism had its roots in mistrust to the farmers´ co-operative societies, in spite of the fact that the wholesale society that they had been inspired by the English labour movement’s wholesale societies.
In Elsinore a cooperative wholesale fuel society had been formed, but the first attempts to start a co-operative society had been stopped by the Co-Operative Union. But later it was the cooperative societies, which played a central part for the social democratic mayor, Peder Christensen, a.k.a. king Peder.
King Peder´s Baptism of Fire
Peder Christensen had originally come to Elsinore to seek employment in the shipyard and joined the Social Democratic Party, when he was 20 years old in 1894. According to himself his political schooling came with activities in the People´s House in Søstræde. He was elected shop steward in the machine shop in the shipyard in 1897. In 1906 he was elected chairman of the union, but he left the shipyard to become manager in the Co-Operative Union. However, he stayed on as chairman of the union for seven years and it was in this electric field between union and movement that he really developed. He said of his job change:
“It was not really a party-political interest, which made me change my occupation in 1906, but a very strong urge to be involved in the work for an economical and cultural construction of the social democratic labour movement, in the same way as I had been a witness to the rise of peasantry through the co-operative movement, parish council work and information activities. I was not influenced by foreign methods, which did not apply to Danish circumstances.”
King Peder
The Co-Operative – a Matter of the Heart
Very early Peder Christensen had the co-operation very much at heart, and he characterized it as “perhaps the most important weapon in the hand of the workers.” Before he was appointed manager he had different for a wholesale co-operation, but it was the establishing of a co-operative bakery that became the breakthrough. Here Peder Christensen could draw on his experiences from a number of other towns and there was good propaganda value, as the established bakers, in spite of massive lowering of prices on flour, still could maintain high prices for their goods. Bread – especially rye bread – was, more than today, really a central food. The yearly consumption was 71 kilos of rye flour per person, approximately double as much as today.
The Co-Operative Bakery Is Established
Peder Christensen started, immediately after his appointment as leader of the Co-Operative Unions, negotiations to take over the bakery in Elsinore. January 20th 1907 the co-operative bakery in Elsinore became a reality with financial support from a number of members´ societies and with the support of the co-operative union. Difficult years followed with price war and tough competition with the bakers of the town, but at the outbreak of war in 1914 the bakery had become an accepted, modern and stable enterprise in town.
The establishment of a co-operative bakery became the start of long involvement in the co-operative movement. He participated in the forming of a central organization for bakeries and a wholesale society, which he led from 1916-19. The co-operation had been accepted as the “third leg” of the labour movement and was very important during the First World War, where it helped maintain the workers´ conditions of life during hard times.
”Kooperativa Bageriet”
The Municipal Work
At the election for town council in 1894 the party Venstre and the Social Democrats ran on a joint democratic list. This got the Social Democrats 3 seats (the most in the country), with Member of Parliament Christian Rasmussen as head, and that became the beginning of fifteen years of cooperative politics, headed by the royally appointed Jørgen Lyngbye. In 1919 Peder Christensen became the first mayor to be elected by the town council in Elsinore.
Reforms in the Town
One of the most important reforms of the time was a school plan (1909), where a comprehensive school was created with a seven-year primary and lower secondary school free of charge as basis.
Old age pension was another important area, where Peder Christensen made his mark. The pension area had a special legislation, which separated it from the old, humiliating poor-law authorities. In Elsinore a pensioner now (1890´s) up to seven kroner per month. The expenses to the support rose from 14.000 kroner (1891) to 66.000 (1912-13).
They also followed up with building investments. Peder Christensen suggested that the municipality buy the place of entertainment, Hammershøj, and rebuild it into an old people´s home. The plan was carried in spite of resistance and the building was opened in 1915. In 1918 an extension of 25 flats was added. During Peder Christensen´s first term of office (1919-1921) Denmark´s first municipal pensioners´ houses were built, an investment of, for the time, of the enormous sum of 1,7 million kroner.
Hammershøj
The Foundation on Gurrevej
Town Council and Co-Operative Organisation
Peder Christensen was a member of the town council and could therefore tie his work there together with his job in the Co-Operative Union. The advantages of this were especially clear in the years 1908-10, when the town was affected by unemployment problems. 42 % of the organised workers had no job and the number of employees at the largest work place in town, the shipyard, went down to approximately 300. The situation was critical to many, when the time limit for the unemployment benefit was running out. The town´s relief fund was empty and there was only the degrading poor relief. Then Peder Christensen took, on behalf of the Co-Operative Union, the initiative to ask the town council for money. At first 1150 kroner for 14 unions and 3000 extra for the relief fund, was granted.
It was also remarkable that the Co-Operative Unions were given responsibility for the administration and distribution of the means, which were also supplemented with the collection of money, goods and bread cards for the co-operative bakery.
Relief was one side of the matter, but there was also a political motive. It was an election year (1909) and it was a question of preventing people of becoming dependent of poor relief, because they would lose their right to vote. The election, where women for the first time were allowed to participate, resulted in 9 seats for the Social Democrats, 8 for the non-socialist parties, 2 for the Social Liberal Party (Radikale) and 1 for the royally appointed mayor.
War Time Economy
In the war year 1914 once again the need for extraordinary contributions arose, against the unemployment and the growing shortage of goods. The town council set up a committee for handling the cost of living, but all practical initiatives were handed over to the Co-Operative Union and Peder Christensen. In addition to extra unemployment benefit it was also a question of free a school meals service and contributions for milk and bread, but also large purchases of potatoes, herring, municipal slaughtering of pigs and during the last war winter, even the regulation of fuel and fuel prices.
The cost of living relief, where the state paid half, made up 16.000 kroner in 1915-16, but reached 1.095.000 kroner in 1918-19, which corresponded to a yearly contribution of 550 kroner for an average family with four children, two of which were school children.
The activities were many and were not always appreciated among the merchants. Depending on attitude you could these co-operative initiatives for pure planned economy or necessary depression measures. Peder Christensen himself felt that it was about initiatives, which aimed at the entire population:
“With these cost of living relieves we have emphasized, not the payment of money or a coupon system for the poor alone, but as far as it has been possible to guarantee the entire population certain basic goods at a cheap price.”
The reforms had a universal purpose, a touch, which also became characteristic of the governmental reform activity. Peder Christensen commented on the significance of the municipal regulation in Elsinore: “The town was one of the best, when it came to the provision of bread, fuel, potatoes, milk, pork and herring.”
The Movement Grows
The People´s House in Søstræde were enlarged and modernised and there was room for a union office as well as a local editorial office for the newspaper “Socialdemokraten”. In the house next door a cinema and a kiosk were established. In 1918 a hairdressing saloon was established and the co-operative shop that same year had the staggering turnover of 1.8 million kroner.
Municipal Housing Policy
Even before the world war, the town´s housing policy was the next area of work for the municipality. The arguments for the co-operation and the municipality should take up this area, was, partly the housing shortage, which was prevalent in the time before the world war and partly
labour political motives in connection with the recession during the 20´s.
In Copenhagen the Workers´ Housing Co-Operative had shown the way, and moreover it was now possible to receive contributions and loans from the state. In 1916 the Co-Operative Unions called on the town council to build “a suitable number of buildings in villa-style” in order to relieve the house shortage. There was great resistance in involving the municipality in the plans, but with the support of the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals the motion was carried. The municipality sold an appropriate plot and contributed with 35.000 kroner.
20 houses were built, but the economy of the project did not add up and the municipality had to step in as both owner and landlord. In spite of this another stage was begun and totally 66 houses were built. Later they also succeeded in cooperating with the shipyard, and in 1920 a further 60 houses were built, where the shipyard contributed with money.
King Peder as Member of Parliament
After the death of Member of Parliament Christian Rasmussen, Peder Christensen took over his seat. In 1919 he became mayor, but gave up his chairmanship of the Co-Operative Union. He only held his parliament seat until 1920, where he chose local politics. During his time in parliament Peder Christensen sat in the commission, which was to draw up the legislation on public libraries. But most important was his participation in the committee, which was to discuss the Social Democratic plank of the platform on “socialist communal property and socialist production”.
The result was a rather radical proposal, which had a wide support in the party and the labour movement, but in practise it did not have any significance, as the party prioritised another item in the programme, the increased influence on the state apparatus. The breakthrough in this matter came during the first Social Democratic-Social Liberal government under Thorvald Stauning in 1924-26.
The Empire Totters
When Peder Christensen took up his office as mayor in 1919, a new election law had abolished the earlier, royally appointed mayor. For the first time the Social Democrats now had absolute majority in the town council. Elsinore now had 15.400 inhabitants.
After the world war the co-operation had problems in line with the normalization of the market mechanisms. The main lender, The Worker´s Bank called a halt when the problems with investments, profitability and management increased. They demanded that individual companies should be separated and sold, if necessary. Peder Christensen took it upon himself to reorganize the activities.
The municipality had not done much better. The expenses had grown alarmingly during the war and the administration and staff in the municipality were out of step with the times. This task the mayor also took upon himself and he started a financing plan, which included the establishing of an operations foundation for the municipal electricity-, water- and gasworks.
Contineous development
One successful project was the so-called “Negro Village”, a non-profit building of co-operative houses, where the municipality donated the plot and support during the building.
All in all Peder Christensen could proudly sum up that the town had built 379 new houses, of which 171 in 68 private projects with a municipal guarantee. The Elsinore Shipyard had financed 60 houses and the rest had been built co-operatively with land and guarantees from the municipality. The municipality had invested a total of 1,4 million in the housing projects and almost one million in streets and sewers.
Co-operative Building
Bust of King Peder
The Continued Development of the Co-Operation
Besides all his local activities Peder Christensen also participated actively in the development of the co-operative movement on the political scene. In 1922 a national co-operative society was founded and Peder Christensen became its first chairman. He co-wrote a “handbook in co-operation” with the secretary of the society.
In the party there was still certain scepticism with reference to the activities of the co-operation and there was an aversion in the party committee, headed by Thorvald Stauning, to challenge FDB (the Danish Co-operative Wholesale Society) by establishing their own wholesale society. The idea of creating a co-operative insurance company was also met with resistance, but in still ended with the establishing of the insurance company ALKA.
In his view of the co-operation’s activity field Peder Christensen’s attitudes were often close to the Swedish attitude. Peder Christensen participated in the international co-operative world congress in 1924 and in the Co-Operative Society’s Anniversary in Stockholm, before he gave up his chairmanship in 1925.
Public Involvement
The dilemma of the co-operation was of course the question of which areas and to what extent they should run companies in direct competition with private business.
Peder Christensen had, with his building projects, often irritated private house owners and conservative politicians, and it did not help when the projects were pure manufacturing businesses. When it came to grey areas between production and public services like gas works and traffic installations it is still the authorities, which take care of these.
Public Infrastructure
In Elsinore the water works had not been owned by the municipality until 1894, while the gas works form 1853 was privately owned until 1920. By that time the works was worn down and the owner did not want to invest. In 1921 the municipality decided to buy the gas works, which was replaced by a new one, which was finished in 1925.
Another type of activity was the Hornbæk Railway, which was plagued by deficits despite the fact that it was extended to Gilleleje in 1916. In 1920 it was in fact the municipality, which ran the railway under heavy protests from the conservatives. On the other hand the conservative voters in the municipalities near the railway generally positive. They needed the railway, but could not afford to pay for the deficit. Even the state criticized Elsinore´s handling of the matter, but in spite of the uproar Peder Christensen survived the election in 1925, which did not change the relative strength of the town council.
The Slippery Slope
In his final big co-operative experiment Peder Christensen took on pure industrial production. The window glassworks in Grønnehave had had a long and changing history and the latest owner had been forced to close the company in 1919 after 13 years of operation. An engineer, Axel Hermansen, was interested in the works and spent several years trying to create a new foundation for the industry. He contacted the government, who did not want to go into the matter. In the end of the 1920´s it was possible for industries to take governmental loans and Hermansen was promised a loan of 300.000 kroner.
The economy did not balance, but Peder Christensen was enthusiastic by the idea of having a large company of national importance to the town. In 1928 he convinced the town council to step in with a building loan of 250.000 kroner. The loan was to be approved by the ministry of the interior, but after waiting for five months, it was turned down.
The project now had become political and prestigious. Peder Christensen convinced the town council to approve of a direct municipal loan to the company. This made the ministry of trade threaten to stop the already approved operation loan. The solution was, that the municipality took on the building costs for water, electricity, sewers and so on, which were within the scope of the law and the enterprise started.
The Glass Works
Victory and Defeat
At the town council election in 1929 Peder Christensen won and the Social Democrats had 11 seats, but the enterprise in Grønnehave was a ticking bomb. In the heat of the battle they had forgotten to listen to the objective criticism of the project. As early as 1929 the money ran out and the municipality was forced to pump more money into the project. By the end of the year the minister of the interior demanded explanations of the financial dispositions and even though they fell into place, the disaster was on its way. In May 1930, before the enterprise had really started, the bankruptcy was a fact.
There was never a total account of the course of events, but they referred to bad management and a poor financial basis. The mayor had his share of the responsibility, but nobody blamed him and he survived the next election too. Perhaps they felt that he acted unselfishly and in good faith. He himself said: “Employment is the most important of all. No matter the industrial policies, the state and the municipality cannot get around the workers´ rightful demand for work and support.”
The Development in the 1930´s
The adventure of the glassworks gave food for thought and there were no more prestige projects like this to the advancement of employment. In 1934 the glassworks were taken over by the rubber factory Tretorn, which was owned by Henry Dunker in Helsingborg. Tretorn and the shipyard’s great need for labour helped Elsinore to come relatively easy through the depression of the 30´s. Still, at Christmas 1933, 400 of the 750 members of the blacksmith union were unemployed.
The co-operative building activity had been slow, but it started up again. The municipality bought land in new areas and started building suburban residential areas.
The North Harbour Project
As early as the beginning of the 1920´s the town had plans for an expansion of the harbour, northwest of Kronborg. After several failed attempts to reach an agreement, they finally decided to start the building of the North Harbour in 1931. The project was very good for employment and was finished in 1934.
This project too, as well as Peder Christensen himself, was once again the object of controversy. In the capital and in the newspapers King Peder´s project once again led to ideological battles between the government and the opposition. The reason was among other things, an erroneous connection between the project and a private initiative, which was about seaside resort and an amusement park.
The North Harbour Project
War Time Initiatives
Peder Christensen this time only just avoided being involved in shady deals. The bath consortium went bankrupt in 1941 and the municipality took over beach, amusement park and restaurant. At the town council elections in 1937 king Peder somewhat hard-pressed because of the criticism of the North Harbour and the expensive constructions, which were necessary to continue the building of houses. But it was good for employment and just before the election he succeeded in getting a governmental support of 75% of the costs for a new esplanade.
The system with new construction projects, financed with generous governmental contributions, was then used extensively until 1945 and many millions were invested in new roads and sewer systems. During the occupation there were of course limited possibilities for new initiatives, but one important reform was carried through during these years.
The Mothers´- and Children Welfare in Elsinore
As early as the beginning of the century many women were employed in industry and elsewhere. The fishnet factory in Grønnehave, the two textile factories in the old railway station area and Wiibroe´s Brewery, employed many women. From this came a need for childcare facilities, which grew, when the Tretorn factory and the existing childcare institutions, for instance the Chrildren´s Asylum in Stengade, could not meet the demand.
The municipality could not afford to expand the childcare facilities, but the new law on mothers´- and children welfare (1939), made it possible to start activities, which could meet a great part of the growing demand. King Peder and 2 others called a meeting in 1941 in order to form a local
branch of The Mothers´- and Children Welfare and in August 1942 a day nursery for 35 children from 0-3 years was opened. The nursery rented rooms at the old railway station (Trækbanen) in town.
The Kindergarten Is Established
The activities expanded rapidly and the building was bought in 1943 with the aid of municipal loan guarantees. Working capital came from governmental and municipal contributions, private sponsors and taxes. When king Peder celebrated his 25th anniversary as mayor in 1944, the town council congratulated him by giving 2500 kroner per year to the kindergarten.
In 1946 the kindergarten had room for 205 children and 35 employees. In a survey from that same year you could read about the children’s background, for instance that 61 had parents, who worked for Tretorn and 70 in private work (household work). 49 had single mothers and 3 had single fathers.
The Economy of the Institution
The economy was strained after the world war and the municipality had to cover the continuous deficits. In the annual report of 1946 (probably written by Peder Christensen) you could read “the private contributions to the activities of The Mothers´- and Children Welfare have been discouraging, which goes for all groups of inhabitants in town.”
Still it must be admitted that king Peder Was successful in his social commitment. There were hardly any protests, when the municipality covered the deficits and the institution worked constantly to find alternative income sources, among them bazaars and the Children´s Day-arrangement, which made a profit. In spite of the economy the institution managed to increase its activities constantly with information activities, health care and the provision of meals.
In 1944 and 1945 the doctor K.A. Hasselbalch and his wife Antonie donated 150.000 kroner to the institution. This meant that they could build the municipal maternity home, Antoniehus, where a great part of Elsinore´s presents population has been born.
The Elsinore-Helsingborg Cooperation
Throughout his career king Peder were in close contact with the Swedish side of the Sound. He was deeply involved in the Nordic co-operative movement, but first and foremost in a practical cooperation with the neighbouring town, Helsingborg. The roots of the cooperation went back to the strong Scandinavistic current, which also had influenced the Social Democrats. The labour movement had created strong bonds across the Sound and worked to strengthen these bonds further.
The Town´s 500-Year Anniversary
King Peder had created a style, which echoed far beyond the narrow scope of the town. At Elsinore´s 500-year anniversary in 1926, they arranged a student meeting much like the 19th century´s Scandinavistic gatherings Students arrived on Midsummer Eve with boat from Copenhagen and Lund via Landskrona with the steamship, Hven. After dinner (roast lamb and strawberries) the Midsummer Eve bonfire was lit in the evening. Among the speakers was the Danish literary professor, Wilhelm Andersen, who said:
“The bonfire is a frontier fire, not a beacon, which used to signal strife, but like the Christmas tree star, a symbol of peace between nations. A large piece of Denmark was united with Sweden, but at the same time Danish blood was absorbed in Sweden. We have mixed blood and who can hate his own blood?”
June 2. 1926 the table was set for a big party. The town had been richly decorated and the inhabitants were woken up to the sound of trumpets. From Scania the governor, count de la Gardie, Member of Parliament, Johan Hansson and Helsingborg´s mayor Johan Bååth, whom king Peder through the years had had a close relation to.
It is said that Peder Christensen got his nickname in connection with his performance in a Knight´s play during the festival week in 1926, but he himself related it to Wilhelm Andersen´s principal speech three years later, where the professor referred to king Peder and duke Johann. The occasion at that time was the reopening of the banqueting hall in Kronborg with the participation of the royal Danish couple and the Swedish crown prince couple.
Tourist Pamphlet 1926
The King and the Duke
Scandinavism and Cross-Frontier Trade
One intention with these festive meetings was to strengthen the Nordic bonds, not least the relations between the two border towns. The Nordic Day, which was arranged in connection with the Festive week in 1926, was a good start on a work, which was carried on in Foreningen Norden (The Nordic Association), where the Elsinore-Helsingborg cooperation always has been a model to other cities.
But, of course, they also wanted to promote Elsinore´s commercial interests. Before the world war the cross-frontier trade in Elsinore extensive and they wanted to relive this, but that demanded a renewal of the customs union. Moreover the passport force, when travelling across the Sound, annoying. They tried to introduce an international effort to promote tourism in the Elsinore area, but that was only partly successful.

©  Øresundstid 2009