Ellen Wilkinson – trade unionist, feminist, socialist

Ellen Wilkinson was born in Manchester in 1891 and was an active trade unionist, feminist and Socialist. She was a councillor in Manchester and later MP for Middlesbrough and then Jarrow. She was Minister for Education in the 1945 Labour government but died suddenly in February 1947.

Ellen Wilkinson was born on 18 October 1891 at 41 Coral Street, Ardwick. Her father Richard was as a textile worker and later an insurance agent, while her mother, also named Ellen, was a dress-maker. Her father was a lay Methodist preacher but Ellen did not grow up to share her parents’ religious beliefs.

As a child she was often ill with asthma and never grew above five foot tall. After an elementary education she won a scholarship in 1902 to attend Ardwick Higher Grade school (later renamed Ellen Wilkinson Highschool in her memory). In 1906 she won a bursary to study at Manchester Day Training college for half a week, teaching at Oswald Road school for the rest of the week.

In her autobiography Myself When Young, published in 1936, she recalled:

“The boys were filling in time, bored stiff under they reached 14 years and could leave. I was an undersized girl. They all towered above me. My only hope was to interest them sufficiently to keep them reasonably quiet. One day the Headmaster came in and demanded to know why the boys were not sitting upright with their arms folded. “They are sitting that way because I am interesting them,” I replied. To which the Headmaster responded by caning almost everyone. We had a grand row, and I was sent home to be reprimanded by an Inspector. But my temper had not calmed. The surging hate of all the silly punishment I had endured in my school days prevented any awe of the Inspector. I whirled all this out at the unfortunate man, who listened quietly and advised: “Don’t do any more teaching when you have finished your two years here. Take my advice. Go and be a missionary in China.”

Ellen did not take the advice, instead in 1910 she gained a scholarship to read history at the University of Manchester, a considerable achievement for a working class young woman.

She was already involved in the Socialist movement, having joined the Independent Labour Party at the age of 16 after hearing a speech by Katherine Glasier, one of the leading women socialists of the day:

“It was a memorable meeting. I got a seat in the front row of the gallery. It seemed noisy to me, whose sole experience of meetings was of religious services. Rows of men filled the platform. But my eyes were riveted on a small slim woman, her hair simply coiled into her neck, Katherine Glasier. She was speaking on ‘Socialism as a Religion’. To stand on a platform of the Free Trade Hall, to be able to sway a great crowd, to be able to make people work to make life better, to remove slums and under-feeding and misery just because one came and spoke to them about it – that seemed the highest destiny any women could ever hope for.”

At college Wilkinson was Secretary of the Fabian Society, meeting Clifford Allen and GDH Cole, and later of the Socialist Federation, and was also active in the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage. On leaving university she got a job as the Manchester organiser for the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies, whose offices were on John Dalton Street. She spoke at many out-door meetings as well as running recruitment drives and raising funds.

Like many ILP members Ellen Wilkinson opposed the First World War and supported the No Conscription Fellowship, which opposed compulsory conscription and supported pacifists and conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the armed forces. She also joined the Women’s International League for Peacer & Freedom, which called for a negotiated end to the war.

In 1915 she was employed by the National Union of Distributive & Allied Workers to organise the Co-operative Employees, the first woman organiser to work for the union.

By now Wilkinson was an Executive menber of the National Guilds League , established by GDH Cole in 1915, to promote Guild Socialism. In August 1920 she was sent as a delegate by the Manchester branch to attend the unity convention in London which, at the urging of Lenin, brought together a number of existing socialist organisations to form the Communist Party of Great Britain. Ellen joined the party later that year, and in 1921 she attended the founding conference of the Red International of Labour Unions in Moscow.

In November 1923 Ellen Wilkinson was elected as a Councillor for the Gorton ward, standing for the Gorton Trades and Labour Council. and on 7 November she spoke at CPGB rally to mark the sixth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Also speaking on the platform was Shapurji Saklatvala, Communist MP for Battersea.

Ellen left the Communist Party in 1924 when the Labour Party proscribed dual membership. That same year she was elected as a Labour MP for Middlesbrough East, one of the very few women in parliament. In her first speech in the Commons on 3 March 1925 she criticised the arrangements for workers employed at the British Empire exhibition.

On 29 June 1926, whilst speaking during a debate on the Coal Mines Bill, she produced a rope used by miners in Somerset, who had to haul the coal tubs themselves as the roads were too narrow for horses or ponies.

“I am sorry to intrude into the polite environs of this House a thing of this kind. This is what is worn by the men. This is the rope that goes round the man’s waist; this is the chain that passes between his legs, and this is the crook that is hitched on to the tub. This was worn, not 60 years ago, as stated by certain coal-owners, but on 30th April of this year by a miner.”

In July of that same year she also attacked the Tory government’s Emergency Powers Act for imprisoning innocent people.

“One can get into the habit of giving the Government powers like this without realising what they are actually like, when they are put into operation not by the Home Secretary, or the Under-Secretary, but by the local police, and, still worse, by the magistrates, who have shown themselves in many districts completely prejudiced and acting with political bias, and the bias dictated by their own pecuniary interest. I have, through the Class War Prisoners’ Aid Association, come in contact with a number of these cases, and it has astonished me the number of magistrates who are themselves coal-owners, or large employers of labour, who have not hesitated to take their places on the Bench and to deliver judgement in cases when their own property was concerned, and certainly where their own interests were concerned.”

After the defeat of the General Strike she went to the United States to raise money for miners’ families who remained on strike until the autumn and had been left high and dry after the strike was called off by the TUC. In 1927 she wrote a book about the General Strike with Frank Horrabin. In 1929 she wrote a novel called Clash, largely autobiographical.

During the second Labour administration 1929-1931 Wilkinson worked for Susan Lawrence MP, who was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health. But she lost her seat in the catastrophic defeat of Labour in the 1931 general election following the formation of a National government. During her time out of the Commons she worked for a trade union and wrote another novel, The Division Bell Mystery. She also campaigned against the rise of fascism, co-authoring a book with Edward Conze entitled Why Fascism?

Ellen returned to the Commons in 1935 as MP for Jarrow, a town suffering massive unemployment because of the slump. In 1936 she took part in the Jarrow Crusade in which several hundred male marchers walked from Jarrow to London to highlight the plight of the unemployed. On reaching London the Prime Minister refused to receive their delegation.

Speaking in the House on 12 November 1936 about the march she said

“As I marched down that road with those men, all of whom I knew well, whom I had worked with in my own constituency, as I marched with them hour after hour, just talking—I come from the working class myself, and my father was unemployed, but I have never known what it was to miss a meal that I wanted—it was just as we walked and talked so intimately that I began to understand something of what it meant, day after day after day, to get up and not know what you were going to do, and never have a copper in your pocket for anything. I mean that it was a revelation to me, and no amount of investigation, and going down for a week, and no amount of talking with these men in the ordinary political sense would have taught me so much.”

In 1939 she wrote a book for the Left Book Club entitled Jarrow, the Town That Was Murdered.

During the war Ellen was acted as parliamentary secretary for Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary. She was in charge of air raid shelters, often visiting sites personally and urging women to get involved in civil defence.

When the Labour party won the 1945 general election with a huge majority the new Prime Minster Clement Atlee made her Minister of Education with the task of implementing the 1944 Education Act. In 1946 she was successful in getting the School Milk Act through the Commons which provided a free third of a pint of milk every day to every child in the country.

Ellen Wilkinson died suddenly on 6th February 1947 during one of the worst winters of the century. The official cause was pneumonia, although there were rumours that she had taken an overdose. She was buried in Penn, Buckinghamshire. There is a plaque marking the site of her birth place (now demolished) in Baslam Close, Beswick.

Article by Michael Herbert.

Fascism and anti-fascism in 1930s Manchester

The following article on Fascist leader Oswald Mosley’s humiliation by anti-fascists at Belle Vue is reproduced by kind permission of Manchester University’s Centre for Jewish Studies, and is by Michael Wolf of the anti-fascist periodical Searchlight. The introduction to the article is based on an article by Yaakov Wise, also on the CJS website.

One of Manchester’s most unpleasant claims to fame is its connections to Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists and supporter of Hitler and Mussolini. Mosley Street in Manchester city centre is named after his family – although not after Oswald Mosley himself. Early meetings of BUF were held in Hyndman Hall on Liverpool Street in Salford and rallies held at Queen’s Park in Harpurhey.

In 1933 a BUF meeting at the Free Trade Hall descended into rioting between fascists and anti-fascist communists and was broken up by police. The BUF also had its northern headquarters – inaugurated in a ceremony performed by Mosley flanked by two columns of blackshirts – at 17 Northumberland Street, Higher Broughton, Salford, in a house called Thornleigh.

Despite strong opposition from Manchester’s left-wing and Jewish communities, the BUF grew in 1933 and 1934, opening eighteen branches in Manchester and surrounding areas, including in Stretford, Altrincham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Hulme, Rusholme, Withington, Blackley, Oldham, Bolton, Bury and Rochdale. At one time the BUF even considered moving its HQ to Greater Manchester, after the Daily Mail and Lord Rothermere withdrew their support for the organisation in 1934. Jock Houston, one of Mosley’s violent and racist officers in London, was slated for a move to Manchester but was instead sent to Wales after objections from Greater Manchester Police.

Their presence was recalled by a Jewish member of the Young Communist League, Maurice Levine, who later fought in Spain and wrote in his autobiography “From Cheetham to Cordova: A Manchester man of the Thirties:”

“A favourite café of theirs was Walter’s on Great Ducie Street near Victoria Station, and they would walk through Strangeways along Bury New Road to Northumberland Street to provoke the Jewish population – they would often be scuffles with the inhabitants of Strangeways, who were very sensitive to the menace of fascism in their midst.”

The Jewish Chronicle of 27th October 1939 reported the activities of fascists around Manchester, including chalking slogans such as ‘Christians awake! Don’t be slaughtered for Jewish finance’ in Fallowfield. A BUF member was also fined 20 shillings by city magistrates for chalking fascist slogans on a wall at Boggart Hole Clough in Blackley. “A representative of the Manchester Parks Department said that chalking had caused them a great deal of trouble, as they had to be ‘ever-lastingly cleaning walls,” the paper recorded.

The BUF also prepared for the general election of 1940 – never held due to WW2 – by preparing a man called Dick Bellamy as a parliamentary candidate for Blackley. The BUF had also been declared illegal in 1937, but one of the staff from Mosley’s Higher Broughton office still stood as a candidate in the Middleton & Prestwich by-election (breaking the convention that in wartime a deceased’s party successor stands unopposed) in 1940, winning 418 votes against the Conservatives’ 32,036. MI5 files on Mosley record him being tracked in Manchester, including during a secret meeting in 1940 in a curtained-off booth in a restaurant called the Victoria Grill. But the day after the by-election Mosley and other BUF leaders were arrested in London and the party collapsed.

‘Bye Bye Blackshirt: Oswald Mosley defeated at Belle Vue
By Michael Wolf

After the notorious brutality of the fascist meeting earlier in 1934 Mosley thought he would have a repeat performance in Manchester. To combat this threat an anti-fascist co-ordinating committee was created to counter the fascist thugs. A dynamic campaign of leafleting, fly-posting and public meetings were organised to mobilise the opposition. Deputations were organised representing the broadest possible democratic coalition to demand the banning of the fascist meeting. In the face of all the protests the meeting was allowed, and to add insult to injury the Chief Constable banned all marches, a decision clearly taken to make anti-fascist mobilisation more difficult.

However, the anti-fascists were determined that there would be no repeat of fascist violence and intimidation. Saturday 29th September the opposition mobilised. Three marches from Openshaw, Miles Platting, and Cheetham marched to meet the hundreds already waiting to meet them at Ardwick Green to form a united demonstration of over 3,000 who would march along Hyde road to join the protest meeting outside Belle Vue. The contingent from Cheetham comprised in the main young working class Jewish activists from the Challenge Club, the Youth Front Against War & Fascism and the Young Communist League formed the backbone of the group that was to rout the fascists later in the day. When the marchers arrived at Belle Vue they were greeted by the hundreds already assembled for the protest meeting. The marchers however had not come to listen to speeches. They had come to stop Mosley.

At the agreed time they left the meeting, crossed the road and in orderly fashion queued up to pay their entrance fee for Belle Vue. Once inside the amusement park scouting parties tried to find the fascists. They had no success, as these examples of the “master race” were hiding in the halls hired for them.

Mosley was to speak from The Gallery which was protected by the lake, his supporters were to assemble on the open air dance floor which was in front of the lake. Even so the fascist leader did not feel safe and in addition to the gang of thugs he called his bodyguard, there were wooden barriers and the police. In case this was not enough searchlights were available to be directed against the anti-fascists and fire engines with water cannon at the ready. The scene was set.

500 blackshirts marched from a hall under The Gallery and formed up military style. Mosley, aping Mussolini stepped forward to the microphone to speak. He was greeted by a wall of sound that completely drowned his speech. “Down with fascism”, “Down with the blackshirt thugs!”, “The rats the rats clear out the rats!”, “One two three four five we want Mosley, dead or alive!”. Anti fascist songs, the Red Flag, and the Internationale. The sound never stopped for over an hour. In spite of the powerful amplifiers turned up to maximum Mosley could not be heard.

To quote The Manchester Guardian, “Sitting in the midst of Sir Oswald’s personal bodyguard within three yards of where he was speaking one barely able to catch two consecutive sentences.”

Mosley tried all the theatrical tricks he knew to try and make an impression but without any effective sound he appeared like a demented marionette. Defeat stared him in the face and he knew it, as did his audience which slunk away as soon as the police bodyguard was removed. The humiliation of the fascists was complete. The only sound they could now here was the singing of ‘bye bye blackshirt’ to the tune ‘bye ’bye blackbird’, a popular song of the time.

With the fascists defeated and demoralised, the protesters raised their banners and posters high and proudly rejoined the meeting outside Belle Vue.

Mosley’s humiliation was complete, what was supposed to have been his most important meeting since Olympia was in fact the first of a series of defeats he was to suffer in Manchester.

Alfred Barton: 19th century anarchism and the early 20th century Labour Party

In the 1890s, anarchism was seen by governments around the Western world as a threat as significant as Communism, and Manchester was one of the first cities in Britain where local anarchists clashed with the authorities. One of the young men involved was Alfred Barton, who later went on to an active career in left-wing politics and political writing.

Alfred Barton was born in the Bedfordshire town of Kempston in the late 1860s – 1869 according to the National Census but 30th July 1968 according to a 2009 article on his life. According to this article, “1893: The Manchester Anarchists and the Fight for Free Speech,” published on Libcom.org, he was the son of a foundry worker called Henry Barton and his wife Eliza Savill.

Young Alfred’s first job, at just 12 years old, was in a public library in Bedfordshire, and it’s perhaps through this that he started to educate himself, especially in history, philosophy and languages. According to the author of the Libcom article, Barton moved to Manchester in 1890, where he was first employed as a clerk and then at John Rylands Library. He also joined the Socialist League alongside another figure who would be significant in his life, such as Herbert Stockton. Despite its name, the Socialist League had pronounced anarchist leanings, and Manchester Anarchists started to hold a large number of meetings around the city – at Preston Park Gates on Sunday mornings, at Stevenson Square [in the Northern Quarter] on Sunday afternoons, in St Augustine’s Parish [near present-day MMU] on Sunday evenings and near the market during the week.

The anarchist periodical Freedom, in an issue dated August 1890, stated that, alongside activity in Leeds, Leicester and London:

“An extensive Anarchist propaganda is carried on [in Manchester] by the branch of the Socialist League. Several new stations have been opened lately, both in Manchester and the smaller towns round about. At one of these, in the City, where we hold very large meetings on Sunday evenings, the police have tried to stop us. They arrested Comrade Barton, but contented themselves with sending him a summons; the case is now pending. We mean to fight the authorities on this ground till their attempt at muzzling Socialism fails, as it must do. Salvationists and others may speak where Socialists cause an obstruction. It is our principles which are the obstruction in the eyes of the authorities. Our chief work lies in breaking new ground and pushing the propaganda where it has been a thing unknown. This kind of work is, as may be expected, of a very up-hill nature. No new branches or groups have yet been formed, though we have many in sympathy with our teachings. Being the only body of Anarchists in Lancashire, we are held at a stiff distance by our friends the Social Democrats. They seem afraid to permit the thorough Socialism of our speakers to be heard on their platforms. They are too busy endeavouring to get their fingers in the pie of government, municipal and otherwise, to care for Revolutionary Socialism. The idea of the General Strike is now received with enthusiasm by the workers at all our meetings.”

George Cores, a London anarchist organiser, recalled in his memoirs that:

“There [in Manchester] two lads, Alfred Barton, a clerk and Herbert Stockton (an odd job man and later an industrial insurance agent) commenced, with a group of other working boys and girls, to hold meetings at Preston Park Gates on Sunday mornings, at Stevenson Square on Sunday afternoons, in St Augustine’s Parish on Sunday evenings and near the market during the week. This was about 1886. Barton and Stockton were very sincere, brave lads and worked hard in the propaganda for many years. It is nothing against them that they supported the ILP in their older years. Bert Stockton went to prison for a month in the fight for Free Speech. An ironic feature is that his father was a warder in Strangeways Gaol while he was there. It is to the credit of the famous editor of Manchester Guardian, CP Scott, that he wrote a leading article in sympathy with Stockton. Barton and Stockton were the fearless pioneers in Manchester. The SDF made their initial start in Salford. All the other movements came later – Clarion, ILP etc.”

In April 1892 several thousand people attended a meeting in Stevenson Square, protesting the arrest of anarchist activists in Walsall. The speakers included Alfred Barton, along with Herbert Stockton and John Bingham, an anarchist from Sheffield.

By 1892 the Socialist League had had been replaced by the Manchester Anarchist Communist Group. In 1893 the Group started holding public meetings – mainly consisting of soapbox speeches – on Ardwick Green. Here, they clashed with local churchgoers, led by the Reverend Canon Nunn, described to Herbert Stockton’s grandson over a hundred years later as “a bit of a trouble maker,” and Manchester police got involved.

The story of the conflict between Manchester Anarchists and the police is told in detail – albeit one-sidedly – by Detective Inspector Jerome Caminada. He was one of the police called on the 4th October 1893 when Patrick McCabe, mechanic, 20, William Haughton, pattern maker, 20, Ernest Stockton, engineer, 19 (Herbert’s brother), and Henry Burrows, clerk, 19 were all arrested for refusing to leave Ardwick Green when ordered to do so. Caminada also became the subject of a taunting comic song by the anarchists, stemming from his having hit several of them with his umbrella at this October encounter.

Caminada later recorded of this first meeting that after the first speaker was ordered to get down from the soapbox he “walked away. His place on the chair, however, was immediately taken by a young fellow named Alfred Barton, who was at once pulled down… A young fellow named Barton seized the chair, which had served as a rostrum, and aimed a blow at me with it, hitting me on the chest, whilst some one struck me on the back of my head, knocking off my hat. To defend myself I grasped my umbrella and struck out right and left until I had cleared a space around me. ”

In court the following Monday, Caminada recorded that: “All, however, was not yet over, for immediately on hearing the decision one of the prisoners raised the cry ‘Hurrah for Anarchy,’ and this was taken up by Mr Alfred Barton, another of these renovators of the world, aged 25, and following the occupation of a clerk, who, on leaving the court, shouted “To h—1 with law and order.” This hater of the law was immediately arrested, and hauled before its representative. In answer to Mr Headlam, this terrible fellow, who proposed to turn the world upside down, admitted that he had made use of the expression, but only did so because he was indignant at the way in which his comrades had been treated ‘for doing their duty;’ the presumption, of course, being that their duty and obedience to the Anarchist group came before their duty as citizens, and ought therefore to be approved rather than punished. Mr Headlam, however, refused to take this view of the case, and Mr Alfred Barton was bound over, in his own recognisance of £5, to keep the peace for six months. Notwithstanding his hatred to all ‘law and order,’ he consented to be so bound, and the ‘tyrannical’ fines of his colleagues or ‘comrades,’ as they love to call each other, were paid.”

October 4th signalled the beginning of several months of hostilities between anarchists and the police. As news of the events spread, the crowds at Ardwick Green swelled to 3-4,000, according to Caminada’s figures, and the large numbers of police made themselves busy arresting increasing numbers of young anarchist men, including Herbert Stockton on October 29th. Some of the men accepted fines while others, including Henry Burrows, aged 19, went to jail. Caminada delighted in taunting the letters of those miserable anarchists who found the conditions in Strangeways prison too harsh. A letter from Burrows dated 27th December 1893 says:
” My dearest Father,
I am sorry to have to write this, but I am afraid my health is giving way. Will you go to comrade Barton and ask him to send sureties AS SOON AS HE POSSIBLY CAN. I can’t stand much more of this.
With love to all,
Your affectionate son,
H. BURROWS.
Barton’s address is 13, Shaftesbury Street, C[horlton]-on-M[edlock].—H.B.”

On December 24th Morris Mendelssohn, aged 26, became the last man to be arrested on Ardwick Green. But this was only because the protests had moved to Stevenson Square, where they were joined by Socialists like William Horrocks and H. Russell Smart. Horrocks was arrested in January 1894 when he tried to speak in Albert Square alongside anarchists – including Alfred Barton. Despite the evil portraits painted of anarchists after events such as the Barcelona bombings of 1892, the Manchester Anarchists were also supported by high-profile figures such as CP Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian newspaper.

Although Manchester police, including Jerome Caminada, had succeeded in suppressing widespread anarchist activity in the city, the situation was summed up by Arthur Redford in his History of Local Government in Manchester in unflattering terms: “Though police successfully maintained public order it was at the cost of both unpopularity and ridicule.”

Alfred Barton, meanwhile, carried on his anarchist activities. In 1895, giving his address as Cottenham Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock, he published “Anarchism: an Introduction” in the Labour Annual. The article outlined the basic beliefs of anarchism. Which Barton summed up as “Anarchy means no government, no rule, no constituted authority, meaning by authority the power of some to impose their will and interests on others irrespective of their wishes. Anarchism is thus an ideal of society where freedom prevails and people associate with each other on the basis of individual independence, of mutual equality alone.” He accused the State of existing to ‘maintain wage-slavery’ and to “put down strikes and labour revolts, to suppress socialistic and revolutionary agitation, and to carry on wars with weaker and more “barbarous” peoples, as in Burmah, Soudan, Matabeleland, &c., to “open up trade,” that is new spheres of capitalist exploitation.” It rejected ‘the representative principle’ – liberal forms of democracy – as having been shown in Republican France to be “almost as tyrannical and as blind to the interests of the people as autocratic [then still Tsarist] Russia. He also pronounced himself “dubious of any form of State Socialism; to our minds that only means a change of masters and of the form of government, and would be equally as oppressive and tyrannical as any which has hitherto existed.” In this last opinion he was to change in the coming years.

As well as his political activities, Barton found the time to marry Eleanor Stockton, Herbert’s sister, known as Nellie. George Cores wrote of Nellie and her female comrades that “It was the custom to look to London for public speakers and I spoke at several of their open-air meetings. I felt very bashful in the presence of so many charming and enthusiastic girls. I was supposed to be very good. I only hope I was. One of Stockton’s sisters, Mrs Eleanor Barton (she married Alf Barton), was a very prominent member of the Women’s Co-operative Guild. She always spoke of herself as an Anarchist-Communist.”

Alfred and Nellie moved to Sheffield in 1897 where their politics shifted in a more moderate direction. Alfred Barton joined the Independent Labour Party and the Shop Assistants Union. He was a Union delegate to the Trades Council and in 1907 was elected as a city councillor for Brightside. In April 1908 Barton was also a delegate to the Sixteenth Annual Conference of the Independent Labour Party, held in Huddersfield Town Hall – others delegates included some of the most famous names of the early Labour Party, including Keir Hardie and Ramsay Macdonald. Barton himself tabled a question on the compact between Independent Labour and Liberal-Labour members of the House of Commons, and lamented the impacts of such collaboration on his local political situation in Sheffield, where Liberal-Labour candidates were seen as major competitors for votes. He also seconded an unpopular (and losing) amendment on women’s suffrage which was condemned by Keir Hardie as likely to “affect the progress of the women’s cause.”

Barton lost his Brightside seat in 1910 and only a year later had become sufficiently disillusioned that he left Labour and joined the British Socialist Party, winning Brightside in 1913 for the BSP without Trades Council support. He supported British involvement in World War One despite opposition to it from many of the more radical movements of his past, and held Brightside until 1920. At some point it also seems that he found time to write “A World History for the Workers; a Story of Man’s Doings from the Dawn of Time, from the Standpoint of the Disinherited,” published by The Labour Publishing Company in London in 1922. This book covers a broad sweep of world history, beginning with human evolution and ending in a heartfelt hope that the rise of socialism in Russia heralds a new age of equality and justice. Compared with many writings of the period it is very progressive – rejecting, for example, biologically determinist ideas that African, Asian and Australasian peoples are inherently less intelligent or ‘advanced’ those of Northern Europe.

After a brief flirtation with the Communist Party, Barton rejoined the Independent Labour Party but failed in two more attempts to be re-elected. Instead, he rejoined the Trades Council and became a Sheffield alderman in 1929. But Barton was only to hold this position for a short time, dying in December 1933. Nellie emigrated to New Zealand, where she died in 1960.

Article by Sarah Irving

Ruth & Eddie Frow and the Working Class Movement Library

The Working Class Movement Library is a national collection of the history of labour movement in Britain, founded in the mid-1950s by Ruth and Edmund Frow, whose personal and political partnership lasted for over 40 years and led to the creation of this unique and wonderful archive.

Eddie Frow was born in Lincolnshire in 1906, the son of tenant farmer. After leaving school he became a toolmaker in the engineering industry. In 1924 Eddie joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and in subsequent years lost many jobs because of his political and trade union activity. During the Depression he was active in the unemployed workers movement in Salford and served four months in Strangeways prison after being badly beaten up by police after leading a march to Salford Town Hall in October 1931, an event that Walter Greenwood included in his novel Love On The Dole and which also featured in the film version. He found work again on his release, became a leading member of the engineering union and was eventually elected as the full-time Secretary for the Manchester District, a position he held for just under ten years, retiring in 1971.

Ruth Frow was born in 1922 and served in the RAF during the war, going into teaching afterwards. She joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1945, whilst canvassing amongst Kent miners during the general election. In the 1950s and 1960s she was active in the peace movement, as well as the National Union of Teachers. Ruth finished her teaching career in 1980 as deputy head of a large comprehensive school in Manchester.

Ruth and Eddie first met at a Communist Party school in 1953 and soon merged their lives – and their respective book collections. They began collecting material on the history of the trade union, radical and labour movement, travelling the country in their holidays

In 1976 they recounted their experiences in article for History Workshop journal:

Our first journeys were in a 1937 Morris van. We carried a small tent into which we crawled wherever we found a grass verge or field conveniently near a town where a bookseller traded. We formed then the pattern which we have followed in the main for over twenty years. In the morning when we are fresh and full of energy we comb the shelves of the unsuspecting bookseller. In the afternoon we laze in the summer sun reading and gloating over our morning purchases. In the evening we walk and possibly move on to the next wide open bookshop. When our money is gone or the van is full, we return to Manchester.
Later developments included a larger tent and a superior car, a Skoda which made down into beds, a larger van and our present combination of a caravan and car. The large tent was fine, although not so easy to site, but in the course of time it became torn and less water-proof. Advancing years warned that the dampness associated with tents was an invitation to rheumatism, so we bought the Skoda. This dealt with the damp situation, but there was never enough room for books. There was the additional difficulty that we could not cook in the car and since it nearly always rains when one needs to cook, our mealtimes became too erratic to be consistent with health. The Morris 1000 van was in many ways ideal. Certainly it had the same problems with cooking, but we became adjusted to cold food and the storage situation was solved by placing our purchases underneath the foam beds on which we slept. As the holiday proceeded and we were fortunate in our book buying forays, we slept ever nearer and nearer the roof of the van. Eventually we were only just able to crawl in the space between the beds and the roof, and books do tend to be unstable in a pile.

The result of these journeys was that their house in Old Trafford became a treasure trove, with bookshelves in every room as well as banners, emblems, prints and much else all meticulously catalogued by Ruth and Eddie – although they could often locate a volume with bothering to look it up so well acquainted were they . They also began writing books, pamphlets, and articles and were in great demand as lecturers, as well as being active in the Society for the Study of Labour History. News of their library spread and many researchers made their way to Old Trafford, their studies fuelled by regular cups of coffee and Ruth’s home-made buns.

By 1987 the house was full to overflowing. Fortunately at this point Salford City Council offered to provide a new home for the library, together with full-time library staff, and later that year the entire collection moved to Jubilee House, (a former nurses’ home opened in 1901) which is situated on Salford Crescent opposite Salford University. In the seventeen years since the collection has continued to grow and rarely a week goes by without some new material being donated. Often a donor will arrive unannounced with a bag full of wonderful archive material that may have been in a family for several generations.

Eddie died in May 1997, just short of his 91st birthday, His obituary appeared in the Morning Star, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent and even (this would have amused him) the Daily Telegraph. Hundreds attended his funeral.

Veteran communist to her fingertips, Ruth carried on their work, visiting the library, neatly dressed and carrying her small case with everything she needed to do for the day. Visitors to the library were often amazed (and on occasions awed) to be personally taken on a tour by Ruth, who would then make tea and happily chat about history.

Ruth died suddenly in January 2008, just hours after attending a library committee. There was no funeral as Ruth had donated her body to science but hundreds attended a commemoration with songs and poetry in her hour in Peel Hall.

The library left by Ruth and Eddie is now recognized as one of the most important labour and working class history collections in the country. It begins in the 1770s and goes up to the present day. It is open to all and welcomes visitors and researchers.

Article by Michael Herbert

The Working Class Movement Library is at Jubilee House, 51 Crescent
Salford, M5 4WX
www.wcml.org.uk
email: enquiries [at] wcml.org.uk
Tel: 0161 736 3601

Benny Rothman and the 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass

Kinder Scout 75 years after

The young man, just turned twenty-one and up on charges of riotous assembly, assault and incitement at Derby Assizes, had prepared notes of what he was going to say to the jury. He wanted to make a case, he said, for the right to go walking in the countryside.

“We ramblers after a hard week’s work, and life in smoky towns and cities, go out rambling on weekends for relaxation, for a breath of fresh air, and for a little sunshine. And we find when we go out that the finest rambling country is closed to us,” he said. “Because certain individuals wish to shoot for about ten days per annum, we are forced to walk on muddy crowded paths, and denied the pleasure of enjoying to the utmost the countryside.

“Our request, or demand, for access to all peaks and uncultivated moorland is nothing unreasonable,”
he went on.

The speaker was Benny Rothman and the trial, held in the summer of 1932, was the aftermath of what has now become an iconic event in the story of the British outdoor movement. The ‘mass trespass’ of Kinder Scout, held on Sunday April 24th that year, saw some hundreds of walkers – perhaps three hundred, perhaps four hundred – stage what amounted to a political demonstration on the flank of Kinder Scout, in the Derbyshire Peak District. They’d been summonsed by hastily duplicated flyers distributed around the Manchester area. “If you’ve not been rambling before, start now, you don’t know what you’ve missed. Come with us for the best day out that you have ever had,” said one, given out in Eccles.

In the short-term, the trespass seemed to succeed only in attracting the wrath of the British state. Benny Rothman’s uncompromising speech from the dock in Derby failed to convince the jury, who – it turned out later – comprised almost a complete cross-section of the Derbyshire county establishment. He was jailed for four months. Four other young people in the dock with him were also imprisoned, on terms from two to six months.

But the story of the Kinder trespass refused to disappear from sight. There were rallies on Kinder Scout to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary in 1982, the sixtieth in 1992 and the seventieth in 2002, and it was the memory of the trespass which helped to inspire a new generation of walkers to campaign successfully for the legislation which, finally in 2000, achieved Benny Rothman’s “not unreasonable” demand for open access to the hills and moors. And though the right to roam is now won, there will be a rally in April this year as well, to make the 75th birthday celebration of the trespass.

The problem with an event which has been retold many times and has entered legend is that it’s difficult sometimes to get a real sense of what actually happened then. It’s worth remembering that the trespassers were, like Benny himself, overwhelmingly young, and that (we know from later accounts) they were determined that they were going to have a good time. The atmosphere, like so often on demonstrations, was good-humoured, and there was plenty of singing as the walkers headed off from the village of Hayfield towards Kinder Scout. What did they sing? They probably sang the Red Flag (this is what one unsympathetic press report claimed, anyway) but they gave Tipperary several renditions too, according to Benny Rothman. And there was another song produced for the occasion, a parody of Harry Lauder’s famous The Road to the Isles:

For by Kinder, and by Bleaklow, and all through the Goyt we’ll go

We’ll ramble over mountain, moor and fen

And we’ll fight against the trespass laws for every rambler’s rights

And trespass over Kinder Scout again…

Benny Rothman was the main organiser. He’d grown up in the north Manchester inner-city area of Cheetham, like many in this part of the city the child of Jewish immigrants. It was a difficult time to be young and working class: the country was going through the great depression and unemployment was high. Walter Greenwood’s novel Love on the Dole, published in 1933, offers a lightly fictionalised account of Salford and Manchester at the time, describing among other things the major unemployed demonstration held in 1931 which had ended with police violence against the marchers.

Benny Rothman was fortunate in that he had work, his first job being an errand boy in the motor trade. In his spare time, he was discovering the countryside, like many others joining the Clarion Cycling Club. “I was a seasoned camper and cyclist at the ripe old age of 16, or so I thought when I paid my first visit to the Lake District . I was a townie on a heavy ‘sit up and beg’ bike, home made tent and Woolworths map,” he later recalled. He was also becoming politically active and when he was about sixteen began to be drawn in to the activities of the Young Communist League. Politics and outdoor interests naturally came together. In his late teens, he helped establish a Lancashire branch of the British Workers Sports Federation, a communist-inspired organisation which had already led one successful campaign, for sports facilities in working-class Tottenham.

It was what happened at the Federation’s 1932 Easter camp which provided the spark for the Kinder event a few weeks later. The camp was being held a few miles west of Kinder Scout, and the programme included an organised ramble on to Bleaklow. Or at least that was the plan. Benny later recounted what happened: “The small band was stopped at Yellow Slacks by a group of gamekeepers. They were abused, threatened and turned back. To add to the humiliation of the Manchester ramblers, a number of those present were from the London BWSF on a visit to the Peak District, and they were astounded by the incident. There were not enough ramblers to force their way through, so, crestfallen, they had to return to camp.”

Back at camp, retaliation was planned. What was needed, the young people decided, was a body of ramblers so numerous that the keepers would have to give way. Someone came up with a name: the mass trespass.

Benny Rothman later wrote his own account of the Kinder trespass, published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary in 1982. The original plan, to begin with a rally in Hayfield, was altered at the last minute to outwit the police, and instead everyone gathered in an old quarry a short distance away in the direction of the open moors. Benny Rothman clambered up to address the crowd: “There were hundreds of young men and women, lads and girls, in their picturesque rambling gear: shorts of every length and colour, flannels and breeches, even overalls, vivid colours and drab khaki (khaki shorts and shirts were fashionable at the time), multi-coloured sweaters and pullovers, army packs and rucksacks of every size and shape,” he recalled.

The idea hatched by Benny Rothman and one of his friends was to head northwards close to Kinder reservoir, taking the established right of way up William Clough (then it was generally known as Williams Clough), before breaking off to scramble up the steep hillside towards the Kinder plateau. Another of the trespassers later described what happened: “When we reached William Clough a whistle sounded and we all stopped, then turned right facing up Kinder, as a second whistle sounded. It was then that I saw against the skyline a line of keepers, some of them wielding sticks. A third blast of the whistle and we started scrambling up the steep incline. The keepers offered little or no resistance and we just walked past them…. Having got past the keepers we lined up and marched about 400 yards on to the moors where we met a group of ramblers from Sheffield.”

The plateau of Kinder had been reached, albeit some distance north-west of Kinder Downfall. It was good enough. As Benny Rothman put it, “We were on the holy of holies, the forbidden territory of Kinder.”

Later it transpired that one of the keepers had been slightly injured, and when the ramblers returned to Hayfield the police were ready to pounce. But ironically the prosecutions and prison sentences, widely regarded at the time as vindictive, helped publicise the event and the cause of countryside access. For the establishment, it was something of an own goal.

It’s necessary to add that the Kinder trespass was by no means the only attempt to put access on the political agenda. Year after year, from the mid-1920s to the outbreak of war, the ramblers’ federations held sizeable rallies in Winnats Pass near Castleton. Attempts to shepherd an Access to Mountains bill through Westminster had been regularly made since 1884, and equally regularly had failed. The more respectable ramblers’ bodies were, in fact, deeply angry that Rothman and his comrades had barged into the argument and, as they saw it, compromised their lobbying work. For his part, Rothman retaliated in kind, criticising at the time their tactics as futile (later he accepted that he had been unwise to antagonise potential allies).

Access to Kinder Scout was finally achieved through voluntary agreements in 1952 and in 1958 (though other parts of the Peak District remained forbidden land until 2004). The peat groughs at the back of the Kinder Downfall where once there were only gamekeepers are there to be walked and enjoyed by all. Benny Rothman, who died in 2002, must be there in spirit.

This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was published in TGO magazine, 2007

Bill Watson and Eccles Communist Party

Bill Watson joined the Communist Party in 1965, after a chance encounter with a Communist at a construction site in Wolverhampton. He had been working as a bricklayer for six years and after witnessing the exploitation on building sites and how his parents had suffered at work, Bill immediately joined the party. He went on to become a leading member of the Eccles branch, campaigning against Thatcher’s policy to end school milk, to save the last local cinema as well as various issues such as Northern Ireland, Unemployment and Anti-apartheid.

Bill Watson was born in Irlam in 1944 to a working-class family. His father worked as a bricklayer and his mother worked on a farm as well as in munitions factories during the Second World War. Despite the lack of active political involvement in his family, his personal experiences of work and seeing his family struggle did influence Bill’s political awakening. “My father slogged his guts out for 50 years to enrich other people and all he got out of it is bronchitis. My mother worked on a farm; the farmer drives a big car, my mother’s got rheumatoid arthritis.” Bill also remembers that since his teens, he’d always thought that socialism and communism was a great idea but believed that human selfishness would prevent its realisation. This all changed after a meeting with the Communist party when when he was 21.

“It was as if the curtains were opened and this thing about nature was a load of baloney really. Human beings are capable of being everything from terribly evil to wonderfully good, depending on the environment that they live in and how they react to it.” The meeting profoundly affected Bill, who states that he learnt to look at society in a new way and acknowledge that change was possible. “We as humans have changed so much already, we weren’t set in stone.” He moved back to Irlam and got involved with the Eccles Communist party the same year. Bill was also greatly influenced by two books he read at the time: Robert Tressell’s ‘Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ and Engels’ ‘Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’.

School milk and the last cinema

The Communist Party in Eccles was not a particularly large branch – it only had around 80 members – yet they were very active and campaigned on various local issues. One of the memorable campaigns was against Margaret Thatcher’s policy to end school milk during her time as Education Secretary in 1971. “There was a major campaign over that in Eccles. We had hundreds of school parents outside school gates with placards.” Whilst they failed to change the policy, Bill states it was an example of the party leading a campaign without actually doing in its own name, as they wanted as many different people to get involved and to just win on the issue.

Another campaign led by the party was against the proposal to shut down a local cinema in 1974. “Eccles used to have three big cinemas and this was eventually reduced to one, which was the Broadway cinema, and the proposal was to turn this into a bingo hall. We thought it was a terrible idea.” Locals were also worried that the loss of the cinema would be detrimental to the youth, who already had very limited facilities. The campaign gathered significant support with local people, who expressed their concerns to the council and Labrokes’ company which was suggesting the bingo hall. The campaign was successful in the earlier stages but it went to tribunal and they lost the cinema in the end. Even so, the 1980s saw the rise of unemployment as a major issue in Eccles and the party would play an important role in tackling it.

Working together to tackle Unemployment

Local workers staged strikes against redundancies in local factories such as Gardener, which made diesel engines, and the Eccles communists worked hard doing things like food collections to support them. They also set up an important organisation known as ‘Eccles Community Campaign Against Unemployment’ (ECCAU), working alongside local clergymen, labour supporters and Salford’s trade council. “We would always try to work on as broad a basis as possible because that’s the way that we saw politics as developing- people working together instead of in isolation with groups fighting each other.”

ECCAU campaigned against unemployment and sought practical ways to resolve it by setting up the Salford Unemployment Centre. “We approached the council and for asked for the centre, and after a lot of campaigning and hard work (which included the Labour councillors too), we got the building and some funding.” The management team reflected the role the communists had played and it was composed entirely of ECCAU members apart from a few council personnel. “I think that they were just there to keep an eye on us and make sure that we didn’t do anything stupid, which we wouldn’t anyway!” Bill speculated. There was also a people’s march for jobs which ran the whole length of the country and came through Eccles and Salford and was supported by the Eccles Communists.

Support also came from unexpected places such as Salford’s Conservative Mayor, Tom Francis. “It was the same on issues like race- there were people in the Tory party that were good on race and there were people in the Labour party that were awful on race. There were even people in the Communist Party that were awful on race.” Watson was influenced at a young age by his father’s hod-carrier (a worker who carries bricks to the bricklayer) Billy Taylor, who was Afro-Caribbean, and he went on to campaign against Apartheid and cycled from Manchester to London to raise money for the ANC after Mandela was released in 1990.

Northern Ireland and meeting Special Branch

Bill Watson and with his wife, Sheila, were also heavily involved in the Northern Ireland issue and Sheila even visited Long Kesh internment camp for Republican prisoners on behalf of the Eccles Communists. The following was published in their branch newsletter ‘Red Rag’ on April 1974, describing her time there:

“There was barbed wire and fences and soldiers and guns everywhere. We went into another hut where we were searched. They took my driving license. Then through another door and we waited until our names were called. I visited the husband of the girl I was staying with. He had served three years of a 12 years sentence. The morale was great- they weren’t miserable or anything. He kept talking about when he was out and getting things done but I just couldn’t believe the type of place he was in. Long huts. You know, just like concentration camps in films. Grey and miserable.”

A meeting was also organised by the National Council of Civil Liberties (now Liberty) on Northern Ireland at which Edwina Stewart, of Northern Ireland’s Civil Rights Association, was invited to speak. Bill, along with Bert Cottam, went to pick her up from Manchester airport to find that she had been escorted by Special Branch, straight off her plane. “Burt and I started asking questions and we both got arrested. I managed to make a phone call that Edwina had been lifted from the plane, I think it was to David Lancaster, one of the councillors here, and then they asked for our names.” Bill initially refused to give his name, but was then threatened with a week’s jail and so he cooperated to avoid imprisonment. Edwina was also later released, although the meeting she attended was viciously attacked by the Ulster Defence Force (an extreme, right-wing protestant group with links with the BNP).

“I saw them pick up chairs and just batter old people to the floor with them,” says Bill. “They had been posted round the audience and there must have been a signal, as at some point they all stood up and started battering people. It was all over in a minute and then off they went.” The UDF had sent in coaches from Liverpool and on their way back, they were stopped by the police but no-one was arrested. Students from UMIST, who had hosted the meeting, took out a private prosecution against some of the attackers, which were successful and resulted in prison sentences.

The beginning of the end

Following the collapse of communism in Russia in the early nineties, the Communist party in Britain disintegrated into smaller parties such as the ‘Democratic Left’ and the Communist Party of Britain (as opposed to the Communist Party of Great Britain). Today, both carry very little influence in mainstream politics and many other members joined the Labour party. Eccles Communist party met a similar fate because, as Bill points out, the political culture where people sign up to a party just doesn’t exist anymore. Although many of the campaigns that Bill worked on were unsuccessfully and the party collapsed, he says he has absolutely no regrets. “I absolutely loved it. I learnt a lot during my time with the party and I really hope that it benefited people in some way.”

Article by Arwa Aburawa

The Connolly Association in Manchester 1938-1962

The Connolly Association – originally the Connolly Club – was founded in 1938 from the ashes of two earlier Irish republican organisations. For nearly thirty years it campaigned from a left-wing perspective for Irish civil rights.

The Connolly Association was originally called the Connolly Club. The organisation emerged from a merger of the London branch of Republican Congress (a political organisation established in April 1934 by left-wing Republicans such as Frank Ryan and Peadar O’Donnell, which called for the creation of a Workers’ Republic) and the Irish section of the League Against Imperialism, an international socialist organisation which had been established in 1927 and disbanded in 1937.

By 1936 the Republican Congress was defunct but activity continued in London leading to the formation of the Connolly Club on 4th September 1938 at a meeting in the AEU Hall, Doughty Street. The first organiser, until his return to Ireland, was Michael McInerney. Other active members in the early years were Jim Prendergast and Patrick Musgrove.

In January 1939 the Club published the first issue of its monthly newspaper Irish Freedom (later renamed the Irish Democrat) which cost twopence. The editorial noted that it was the latest in a long line of papers with the same name and asserted that the demand for Irish freedom “will never be crushed, will never be eliminated except by satisfaction.”

An article in the paper countered the myth that the Irish were “job stealers”, arguing that the question of Irish people living in England could be used by:


“Fascist minded people in the same way as the Jewish people have been used by Hitler. In order to take the minds of the British people away from the real cause of the misery existing in England, campaigns are being organised in such places as the Midlands, Coventry, Birmingham etc where unemployment is high, against the Irish.”

The writer finished by urging the Irish to join trade unions or the National Unemployed Workers Movement. The Connolly Club used Irish Freedom to establish its organisation, gradually building up its sales in major Irish centres around Britain

At the onset of the war in September Irish Freedom proclaimed that the Connolly Club stood for “Freedom Unity and Democracy” but that they had no faith in Chamberlain. “We therefore state that the best manner in which we, as Irish workers, can play our part in this grave struggle is to unite our forces, irrespective of party or political differences, to smash the one barrier that prevents our country being able to play a more effective part in the war against fascist aggression, the partition of Ireland.” The paper also published the statement of the Communist Party of Ireland on the war.

At the annual conference of the Connolly Association in the autumn of 1945 the Manchester delegate was Jimmy McGill, a tunnelling worker from Donegal, who was warmly congratulated by delegates on his lively account of branch activities in the city. Jimmy eventually left the building trade to run a second-hand bookshop in Waterloo Place, Oxford Road. The shop was barely heated but the fortunate visitor might find a whiskey bottle in circulation amongst regulars to fend off the cold. Sadly, after his death, Jimmy’s own very extensive collection of books on Irish history did not find its way to a library. The secretary in Manchester in the late 1940s seems to have been Arthur Gracey, who lived on Talbot Road in Old Trafford.

In the immediate post-war period the organisation continued its campaigns on passports, welfare and conditions in hostels where they held a number of meetings. But as the restrictions on travel were lifted and employment conditions improved it switched its focus back to making propaganda for socialism and to raising the question of partition in the British labour movement as well as lobbying for the release of Irish Republican prisoners in Britain. Whilst there were close links with the Friends of Ireland group in parliament, there was little love lost between the Connolly Association and the Anti-Partition League, because the latter echoed the conservative Catholic nationalism of De Valera and was opposed to socialism.

Desmond Greaves became editor of the Irish Democrat in early 1948 . Greaves had been born in 1913 in Birkenhead into a Protestant family which hailed originally from Newcastle, County Down and studied at Liverpool University where he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1934, remaining a member for the rest of his life. He also became interested in Irish politics and sold the paper Republican Congress in Irish districts of Liverpool.

In 1937 he went to London where he became acquainted with leading Communists such as T A Jackson, who had a strong interest in Ireland, having known James Connolly personally. He eventually went on to write the classic Irish history Ireland Her Own. During the war Greaves worked at Woolwich Arsenal and afterwards became chief scientist at Powell Duffryn.

He joined the Connolly Club in 1941 and in 1951 he gave up full-time work to devote himself to the Connolly Association and the Irish Democrat, much of which he wrote himself as well as supervising the printing, distribution and sales. In the course of fifty years of political activity Desmond must have spoken at thousands of meetings, indoors and outdoors, from a packed public hall to a handful of people in a room above a pub.

A voluminous correspondent, he had a huge network of contacts across Ireland and Britain and beyond, which enabled the Connolly Association to wield much more influence than its modest membership might have indicated. In addition to his writing in the Irish Democrat Desmond also wrote pamphlets and somehow found the time to write a number of important history books, most notably The Life and Times of James Connolly, published in 1961, and Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, published in 1971. He died suddenly in 1988 whilst travelling back on a train from a meeting, a political activist to the end.

In 1955 the Connolly Association adopted a new constitution which expressed two aims; to win support in Britain for a united independent Ireland and to stand for equal treatment for the Irish in Britain. The organisation also pledged itself to continue to publish and make known “the teachings of the great representatives of Irish democratic republicanism, especially of the socialist James Connolly.” A pamphlet published by the Birmingham branch argued that emigration was not just the result of unemployment and low wages at home in Ireland but also caused by partition hindered industrial development. It stated that:

“…a united Ireland would make it easier to get a united working class and this would make for a higher standard of living, which is the great cause of employment.”

The report at the 1958 conference summed up the organisation’s achievements.

“Month by month members have sold the Irish Democrat. Through this means the policy of the Association have been brought before many thousands of Irish people in Britain and important sections of the trade union and labour movement. In addition to this there is readership in Ireland and other parts of the world, principally Canada and Australia. The various campaigns of the association have been publicised and anti-Irish discrimination has been exposed. Many hundreds of public meetings have been held throughout Britain; thousands of leaflets on special topics have been distributed; MPs have been effectively lobbied and regular branch meetings with talks and discussions have been held in the main centres, principally London and Manchester. London and Manchester remain the two strongholds, and organisational difficulties previously hampering the work because of the lack of premises were overcome by the acquisition of a new central office in London and new premises in Manchester.”

In 1958 the Connolly Association sent the English lawyer John Hostettler over to Belfast to cover the trial of Kevin Mallon and Francis Talbot, two Republicans accused of murdering a member of the RUC in Tyrone. Both men claimed that they had been beaten to obtain confessions. There were three trials associated with the case and Hostettler observed them all. Eventually the two men were acquitted. On his return Hostettler spoke at meetings all over Britain, including in Manchester, about what was going on in the North of Ireland and wrote a pamphlet which laid bare the workings of the Special Powers Act.

The branch in Manchester was active throughout most of the 1950s and into the 60s. Membership was boosted by the collapse of the Anti-Partition League, some of whose leading members, such as Daniel Kilcommins, now joined the Connolly Association. Joe Deighan, originally from the Falls Road, became Secretary of the Manchester Connolly Association and also served as national president of the Association. Tommy Watters was also an active member. Many of the leading members of the branch were also active in the trade union movement. Tommy Watters was a printer and Father of the Chapel, Danny Kilcommins was chairman of his ASW branch while Joe Deighan was a delegate to the Manchester Trades Union Council.

The branch had an office at 94/96 Grosvenor Street, All Saints where there was also a hall which they used for socials. There were regular meetings at these premises for members with guest speakers. In March 1961, for instance, Desmond Greaves spoke on “In Search of Connolly” while John Hostettler spoke on “Human Rights in Northern Ireland and Britain’s Responsibility.”

The branch also held meetings every Sunday at Platt Fields. These ran into trouble in April 1954 when an official from the Manchester Corporation told them to take down the Irish tricolour. They refused, so he tore it down. After protests the council eventually backed down over the issue.

In November 1959 the branch issued a manifesto which called for a good turnout for the annual Manchester Martyrs procession on 29th November and also called for the organisation to be allowed to join the memorial committee. It seems likely that they had been kept off because in the climate of the cold-war politics of the1950s they were seen as too left-wing. The manifesto called for a united front of Irish organisations in Britain, arguing that the Connolly Association had a special contribution to make to the Irish cause because of its working class membership. They also said that the involvement of the branch on the Martyrs Committee would add young people to the commemoration, noting that “the Annual Commemoration in Moston has not deeply impressed itself on the Irish who have recently come from Ireland.”

“So isn’t it obvious that the Connolly Association should be represented on the Martyrs committee – along with all other Irish organisations who are prepared to help to keep this historic national commemoration going year by year. Our participation would completely rejuvenate the event, increase the attendance by hundreds, and would not alter its fundamental character to the slightest degree – indeed we should get back to what Seamus Barratt and the original committee stood for, not the affair of some of the Irish but the affair of all the Irish.”

In March 1960 four members – Joe Deighan, Daniel Kilcommins, Michael Rabbitt and Michael Crowe – were arrested whilst selling the Irish Democrat on Oxford Road, a place they had been selling in for seven years with no trouble. The police alleged that they were causing an obstruction and next morning visited their houses, though no charges were brought in the end.

In May 1960 the Association joined with other Irish organisations in Manchester in protesting when a Mr McMillans, Park Superintendent, banned Gaelic games from Manchester parks on the grounds that they were “not a recognised game,” even though hurling had been played in Platt Fields for nearly forty years. Manchester Corporation backed down and agreed that Gaelic games could be played once more after a form had been filled in.

The Manchester branch attempted to stir public interest in what was happening in Northern Ireland by organising a protest march against the continued imposition of internment by the Stormont government. This took place on Sunday 18th September 1960 when about a thousand people walked from Platt Fields to All Saints led by the Kerry pipe band and Kathleen O’Reilly’s girl dancers clad in Irish national costume. Some unions sent banners and messages of support were received from a number of local MPs, including Frank Allaun and Konni Zilliacus.

In November 1963 the branch made a significant contribution to the history of the Irish in Manchester when they published a pamphlet entitled The Story of the Manchester Martyrs, researched and written by two members of the association Jimmy McGill and Tom Redmond. In 1966 Desmond Greaves spoke on The Epic of 1916 and What It Means For Us today at a meeting on Easter Sunday in Chorlton Town Hall.

In the summer of 1961 the Connolly Association organised a national march from London to Birmingham as a way of bringing to public attention their campaign on the Six Counties. They called for the repeal of the Special Powers Act, an enquiry into the Government of Ireland Act, an amnesty for Republican prisoners and recognition by the Stormont government of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. There were fourteen marchers (including a number from Manchester) who set off from London on 25th June carrying a banner which read “Ireland One Country”. They included Tom Redmond, Aine Redmond, Sean Redmond, Desmond Greaves and Chris Sullivan. Walking in temperatures in the mid 80s they spoke at meetings along the way and arrived in Birmingham on 2nd July when, to their great relief, it finally rained.

Planning for a second march began immediately, this time organised by the Manchester branch of the Association, which departed from Liverpool on 25th August after an address by Eric Heffer, vice-president of the Trades Council. The marchers this time were Joe Deighan, Desmond Greaves, Danny Kilcommins, Sean and Aine Redmond.

On the way into Manchester the marchers were given a police motor-cycle escort until they reached Platt Fields. After an outdoor meeting in Hulme the marchers headed north to Oldham, making a slight diversion to Moston cemetery where they intended to place a wreath on the grave of Seamus Barrett. On arrival at the gates of the cemetery they found them guarded by a large posse of police who directed them to the far side of the road. A cemetery official informed them that the grave was the property of the Gaelic League, who had not given permission for a wreath to be placed. The marchers made it clear that they would not leave without laying the wreath. The stand-off was resolved when a Brother John was summoned who said that it had already been agreed that they could lay the wreath. And so they did and departed on their way, arriving at their final destination of Nottingham on 3rd September.

The third and most ambitious of the Connolly Association marches took place in the spring of 1962. This time the route was Liverpool to London, a distance of some 250 miles. The march left Liverpool on 30th March arriving in Manchester the following day where there was a public meeting at Chorlton Town Hall at which Tony Coughlan, Desmond Greaves, Sean Redmond and Joe Deighan spoke. Attempts to hold a factory-gate meeting the next day were defeated by the weather so two marchers went the offices of the Guardian on Cross Street to hand in some information about Northern Ireland, none of which was published. When they arrived in Macclesfield they found the town in uproar over rents and the town hall being barricaded for the second night running. The march arrived in London in mid April.

Looking back nearly 30 years later Tony Coughlan reflected that the marches

“were modest enough affairs, a couple of dozen Irish men and women giving up part of their annual holidays to try to show what the British government were permitting Brookeborough and co to get up to in the Six Counties. Even though they were met with indifference and ridicule rather than brickbats, these can truthfully be said to have been the first Irish civil rights marches.”

Article by Michael Herbert