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

Riotous Assembly – 1998-2001?

In the late 1990s open meetings called Riotous Assembly took place in the Yard Theatre in Homes for Change, a housing co-operative in Hulme, South Manchester. The meetings were intended to be spaces where people involved in radical, direct action, anarchist, ecological, autonomous and non-hierarchical organising could meet, celebrate their activities, network future events and actions and educate themselves about a wide range of issues.

This article consists of the edited transcript of a discussion between two individuals, one of whom was involved from the first days of Riotous Assembly and a second who became involved in helping to run the meetings in their later years. They’re not using their real names.

James: Riotous Assembly was born out of that time when the Manchester Earth First! (EF!) meetings were just too big, they were getting 20 or 30 people every fortnight. And some people just said, OK, there’s obviously a need for a networking forum but we don’t want that function to be taken on by the EF! meetings because we want to be getting on with organising ecological actions. So the decision was taken to set up an activist networking forum, and it was the first of that generation of them in this country. The Rebel Alliance in Brighton got a lot of cred and recognition – but we were first! And there had been similar things a decade or so earlier, there was something called Liberty Hall in Liverpool, but they’d fallen away for an activist generation.

Jane: Who picked the name?

James: I remember exactly who came up with the name [names an individual active in anarchist and direct action politics at the time]. Part of it was about the fact that Riotous Assembly was a criminal charge, which we thought was quite funny. But also that it was an assembly, riotous in the sense of both a riot tactic but also in the sense of riotous laughter, so not just a really full-on thing. But also the assembly was a real attempt to create something, the concept of an assembly – something that wasn’t a group in itself, something no one person or group could take control of.

The slightly fatter-than-bookmark fliers we created for it did say something about No Dogma, we were trying to think of ways that it wouldn’t just be a target for the SWP [Socialist Workers’ Party] taking it over, and would be in form if not in name a truly anarchist way of organising. So if it’s an assembly, not a group, the idea was that there’s no power, there’s nothing to take control of, because any group can come along and say we want to organise next month’s meeting, but they’d only be doing the next month.

The format was quite regular in that there would be three parts. The later sections were a kind of review of what had been happening over the last month, actions and campaigns that people had been involved in, partly to update people but also as a small pat on the back, and to use that energy to move onto the final bit which was what was happening in the next month. That was mostly announcements, some of it was ‘this is happening but we need more people’ – so making ourselves accessible. And the first third could be around an issue of that group’s choice, and we tried to encourage people to do it in creative ways. So one time there was a little play and there might be a film but we’d make sure it wasn’t just a film where people became an audience but that there was active discussion afterwards. I think someone did a banner-making workshop and other creative things, or it could just be a speaker and discussion. But we were really hot on that section not squeezing the other two-thirds, because we really didn’t want it just becoming a talking shop.

Jane: What subjects do you remember being covered? I remember a genetics one, a Zapatista one, somebody wanting to talk about Palestine but it getting shouted down on the grounds that it was a nationalist struggle… but although I was involved in quite a lot of them from 1999 or 2000 – booking them and putting some of them on – I can’t remember many of the talks.

James: I think there was stuff about Strangeways and the prison riots there, there was stuff around racial discrimination, stuff on domestic violence, it depended on the group who organised it – the idea was always to publicise it well in advance and use different issues to pull people in… but I can’t remember all the other issues. Someone will have the fliers somewhere.

But I think I was saying before that the concept was really sound and could still work, although the practical issues meant it didn’t work at the time. I think it was partly around the process of creation, in that it came out of an Earth First! meeting and the ideas came out of that, but before it was actually launched there wasn’t another meeting to try and get more ownership from other groups that might want to get involved, and that was partly because we were naïve about it, we’d got an idea that the concept was sound and that that was enough.

We didn’t want this to turn into an SWP front or get taken over or turn into a talk shop, we want it to be there to promote discussion and action and a sense of movement-building, although that term wasn’t used, and connections between people because there were so many people doing stuff around Manchester but not necessarily in touch with each other. So the concept was sound but I don’t think we brought those other groups in early enough, and if we had done an early meeting to sort things out the danger might have been that it would have decided not to do something like that, so even if we’d done it better from a group work and community development angle we might not have ended up with the same result.

Jane: Do you think the venue was a problem? Because those Earth First! meetings were in the town centre, they were very accessible to a wide range of people, whereas being in Hulme cut it off from a lot of people. Obviously Hulme has been a hub for a lot of direct action and radical politics, but obviously for anyone not on the Chorlton bus routes, getting to Hulme means an extra bus journey on top of the one coming into the city centre, and Hulme itself, certainly then, was quite dark and isolated and scary feeling if you didn’t know it.

James: Yes, I remember a couple of the older people from Greater Manchester who would have to get a train in and then a bus out and then a bit of a walk, so they had to be very motivated, and students at that time certainly felt that it was kind of scary and off the student corridor and Oxford Road. But we still had 60 or 80 people turning up monthly, or maybe 30 or 40 later on…

Jane: Certainly my recollection is that by the time I was more involved, by 2000 or 2001, they were often down to a couple of dozen. But when do you think they actually started?

James: I’m not sure, but it was certainly the time that Earth First! meetings moved to the EF! Office in a flat on the Redbricks. Because we decided we’d got these open, accessible Riotous Assembly meetings and we’d got the squat cafes still, and what we needed was for EF! meetings to be about planning action, not fortnightly meetings where every time you’ve got new people coming along who feel a bit excluded because you’re using shorthand terms or hand signals. So they weren’t meant to be totally private, but a bit more private, so if someone specifically wanted to come to an EF! meeting they’d be collected from a pub or a bus stop and brought in, so people were more aware when there was a new person and could make that effort and explain things more clearly…

Jane: So what’s your take on why Riotous Assembly folded?

James: Well, maybe there are more reasons but my top one would be the old ‘beardies,’ by which I mean the old-style anarchists who weren’t all men and didn’t all have beards but largely were and did. They were people who’d spent decades in tiny meetings with each other, shouting across each other, not able to listen to each other, and never getting beyond little circles of Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation and little temporary groupings. They knew each other but still couldn’t communicate and were still trying to convince each other of things that they obviously weren’t going to shift each others’ opinions on. And suddenly, they had 60 people to play with and be their audience.

A lot of it was that they didn’t have the social skills to understand their impact. One of them accused EF! of running those Riotous Assemblies, and it often was people who’d done EF! who were putting most time into organising and facilitating them, but actually people from EF! were really aware that they weren’t an EF! forum, it shouldn’t be controlled or dominated by EF!, that EF! discussions didn’t discuss Riotous Assembly because we felt that was undemocratic. But for some of those older people it wasn’t just that they objected to Earth First!, it was that it was a new way of doing things that was actually more anarchist – not that I want to get into a ‘I’m more anarchist than you’ fight – but in terms of collective autonomy and groups being able to create and organise what they wanted, and take direct action together, rather than just talk about it. And using consensus decision making as well, and for some of them it was all a bit new and they had trouble adapting. They would try and block things and accuse people of doing things that they weren’t doing, so each time that happened it would drive some people away.

Equally, I have met people who said afterwards that it was really good that they’d heard these discussions and that there may only have been 6 people talking but they were ideas they’d not heard before and were interested in, so they didn’t mind that they didn’t get to talk. But I tend more to wanting people to participate…

Jane: My memory of some of the ‘beards’ is that not only did they not have some of the social skills, but also what a lot of them wanted to talk about was theory. They weren’t people who were actively doing direct action and largely what they wanted to hold forth on were points of theory, and I remember having the sense that there were 5 people there who had 3 anarchist reading groups between them because they just kept splintering off from each other over points of disagreement… and I think those people were a big problem and drained a lot of energy. But the counter-argument might be that if those meetings had been better facilitated and less hung up on feeling that you have to accommodate everybody, however dysfunctional, then you might have just told some of those people to shut up occasionally and they wouldn’t have been able to drain energy the way they ended up doing.

James: Absolutely, but I think that was partly about ownership, and those people who had the facilitation skills tended to be Earth Firsters who didn’t want to assert control over an assembly that no-one was meant to be asserting control over. So they were caught between a rock and a hard place, that we don’t want to rule these people out and tell them they were impacting on other people and that they should go and talk about it in room with themselves, or with the other 5 people you’ve been talking about it with for 15 years. But we didn’t want to exert that control, and it’s really hard because if one person, and it was just one person, is accusing something like EF! of exerting control, you do everything you can not to make that a reality, although you’re sure it’s not reality, you over-compensate. So you put yourself in a powerless position instead of saying, look, this is the original idea, it was working fine, now it’s not working fine because of some people’s lack of social skills and us not facilitating actively and strongly enough… well, it just imploded.

And it was difficult, because in amongst some of those beardies there were people who were really destructive, like the one who kept accusing EF! of running things, and others like X who was really cool and because of his links with other organisations like Solidarity Federation would turn up every so often with a hundred quid to give to ecological direct action. So there was that personal contact that was brought about through it. And we used to learn about lots of other stuff from some of the older activist generations who used to come to Riotous Assembly but wouldn’t have come to an Earth First! meeting and who had been involved in things like trade union struggles. And it was around the time of the Loombreaker [a local direct action/anarchist newspaper], so there meetings were a really good way of collecting information and finding out about other stuff that was going on…

So I can’t remember how Riotous Assembly actually ended, whether it just petered out or whether someone actually took a decision to end it, but for lots of reasons there just weren’t enough groups stepping up to facilitate the next one…

Jane: My memory of the last ones was that it was a very small group of us that dragged it along towards the end, feeling that we had to go out there and find a speaker and that one of us would have to facilitate it, rather than what it was supposed to be, with groups and campaigns taking one on and sorting out the content and facilitator and publicity and us just having to book the venue…

James: And then it had become something extra that Earth Firsters had had to do with a different hat on, but which then stopped them doing the campaigning that they actually wanted to be doing…

Article by Sarah Irving

The arrest of William O’Brien MP in Hulme Town hall, January 1889

William O’Brien, a leading Irish nationalist MP, escaped from a court in Ireland in January 1889 and was re-arrested in Hulme Town Hall after a dramatic public meeting. After being held for a night in Manchester Town Hall, he was sent back to Ireland.

O’Brien was born in 1852 in Mallow, County Cork and took up the trade of journalism as young man. Like many of his contemporaries he was attracted to the revolutionary Fenian movement and, after its defeat by the British government, became involved in the campaign for land reform and Home Rule. In 1881 Charles Stuart Parnell appointed him as editor of the United Irishmen. Within months O’Brien was imprisoned, along with Parnell and other Irish Nationalist leaders, in Kilmainham jail until a deal was done with the British government the following year. In 1883 O’Brien was elected as an MP to Westminster and was frequently arrested for his activities over land rights.

The story of this dramatic episode in Manchester begins in Ireland where O’Brien had been summoned to appear at Carrick-on-Suir courthouse on 24th January 1889. When he and his entourage arrived they found the town occupied by the Royal Irish Constabulary, who had fixed their bayonets and were preventing the townspeople from getting anywhere near the courthouse. O’Brien argued vociferously with the police, while his fellow MP and counsel Tim Healy was nearly stabbed by a police bayonet. When they eventually got to the courthouse the two men found that it too was full of police. After some fierce arguments with the magistrates O’Brien announced his intention to leave. A policeman tried to stop him but was set upon by O’Brien’s supporters and, much to his surprise, the MP found himself outside. The enraged police now set upon the crowd with batons and bayonets, beating them mercilessly whilst O’Brien fled amidst the disorder, disappearing into the darkness.

According to the Manchester Guardian he was taken to the bakery of a Miss O’Neill, who dressed him as a farmer and then escorted him through the streets. O’Brien apparently pretended to be drunk when challenged by the police and made good his escape, a local priest driving him to Wexford (in his account in the pages of United Irishman, O’Brien, perhaps mindful of the strong temperance movement in Ireland later denied that he had been disguised as a farmer or pretended to be drunk).

Attention now switched to Manchester, where O’Brien had an engagement to address a Liberal Party meeting, the annual address of local MP Jacob Bright (a Pro-Home Rule Liberal). The speech was to take place at Hulme Town Hall on Stretford Road – a site now occupied by the Zion Arts Centre and the Zion Health & Resource Centre. O’Brien had particularly wanted to go to Manchester, he had said, because he wanted to address Mr Balfour’s constituents (Balfour was the Chief Secretary for Ireland and an MP for East Manchester). There was great expectation amongst the public because O’Brien was famous for not missing engagements, although few believed that he would be able to evade the authorities when the meeting was so publicly advertised in advance.

On the evening of Monday 29th January the hall was packed to the rafters, while a very large crowd had gathered outside as had hundreds of police – personally commanded by the Chief Constable of Manchester Malcolm Wood – who guarded all entrances to the building. Inside the platform was packed with local Liberal politicians, including a number of MPs and their wives. Dr Woodcock took the chair and began some introductory remarks amidst high tension. A few minutes into his speech O’Brien himself appeared and mounted the platform, the signal for the hall to erupt into what the Manchester Guardian reporter described as “a hurricane of rapturous cheers such as a Manchester audience has hardly ever accorded to even the most famous and best beloved of Englishmen.” It was subsequently revealed that the organisers of the meeting had used a decoy dressed as O’Brien. He had drawn up in a cab at the front of the hall and attracted the attention of the crowd and the police, thereby enabling the real O’Brien to slip into the meeting by the rear entrance.

When the crowd had finally quietened Jacob Bright made a short speech before handing over to William O’Brien, who began by stating that “…as soon as this meeting is over I am at the disposal of Mr Balfour’s policemen but meanwhile I stand here in spite of him”. He then went on to speak for an hour, despite his obvious tiredness, noting that if he were a Russian or French refugee England would fight to the last man before she would surrender him but as an Irishman he could be dragged away and sent back. He attacked the conduct of the Irish police and the British government. The man from the Manchester Guardian concluded his report of the meeting by lamenting “that England as now governed can do nothing with such a man as Mr O’Brien but make a felon of him, and all honour to Mr O’Brien that has not made of him an enemy.”

Jerome Caminada, Chief Detective Inspector of the Manchester police, gave the police view of the evening’s events in his engaging memoirs Twenty Five Years of Detective Life, published some years later in Manchester. Interestingly he gets some of the facts wrong, alleging, for instance, that O’Brien had escaped from custody in late December, when in fact it had been but a few days earlier, and that the meeting was an “indignation” meeting when it was in fact a Liberal party constituency meeting. Caminada would not, of course, be the first policeman (or indeed the last) to misremember some key facts when it came to the arrest of an Irishman. Here is his account:

“I beckoned from the platform to the Chief Constable, who at once joined me, accompanied by a number of detectives. He was immediately struck on the chest and knocked backwards off the platform, carrying in his fall four of the detective officers who were following him up. I immediately struck the man who had committed the assault a violent blow on the side of the head, which sent him after the officers. The platform stands about four feet above the level of the floor, and it was not a gentle fall. Fortunately the attack upon the Chief Constable was not seen by the main body of the police; but it was difficult to restrain those who did witness it. A little space was cleared, and the Chief Constable again ascended the platform”.

After further rough and tumble (including an assault on some of the meeting organisers) the police secured the hall and O’Brien surrendered into their custody without further resistance when he was presented with the warrant. The police were wary of putting their prisoner into a cab which might easily be overturned in the course of a rescue attempt and decided instead to surround him with a square of police and walk him to Manchester Town Hall, where the Lord Mayor William Batty had agreed that he might stay in a guest room in the mayoral apartments, rather than being kept overnight in a cell.

O’Brien was cheered every inch of the way to town by large crowds who lined the route. In Lower Mosley Street a small drum and fife band struck up. The police procession and their solitary captive finally arrived in Albert Square a few minutes before eleven, where a tremendous crowd had gathered after turning out from the local theatres and places of amusement. Finally O’Brien was able to get some rest after an exhausting evening.

The following day the police arranged for the express train from Manchester to Holyhead to stop at Ordsall Lane Station where O’Brien was put on board, accompanied by Manchester detectives – including Caminada – and members of the RIC. Despite the secrecy word had got out and O’Brien was greeted by crowds at both Chester and Holyhead where the party took the steamer Ulster to Ireland. In Dublin thousands turned out to welcome the errant MP and he was joined by his counsel Tim Healy, before being taken by train back to the court-house from which he had originally escaped. O’Brien was then imprisoned for several months. Back in Manchester a packed “indignation” meeting was held in the Free Trade Hall on 4th February at which the speakers included Jacob Bright, CE Schwann MP and Robert Leake MP. The meeting received many letters of support, including one from CP Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, noting “the provocations and humiliations to which the Irish people are now exposed, I believe that it is by the sympathy of the great masses of Englishmen that they can best be supported and restrained.”

O’Brien’s ordeal did not end when he was sent to Clonmel jail, for the authorities demanded that he put on prison clothing. When he refused he was forcibly stripped, twice put in a prison uniform and shaved. When the prison warders finally let go of him, he immediately took off all the prison clothing except a shirt. News of his treatment quickly spread with the Manchester Guardian commenting “To carry out this rule against a prisoner of Mr O’Briens’s type and character is either a piece of administrative stupidity of the first water or a down right malignity”. The Freeman’s Journal accused Balfour of adopting “the tactics of the thug” and “the strategy of the garrotter”. There were protest demonstrations in Ireland and Britain. O’Brien got his clothes back and was allowed proper food and books, although in parliament Balfour maintained those convicted under the Crimes Act were not political prisoners, and even if they were, did not deserve special treatment. In practice the government compromised to defuse the issue and in the future Irish political prisoners were allowed their own clothes and other facilities with O’Brien even being able to write several novels whilst in prison.

O’Brien continued his agitation on the issue of land rights until it was finally settled in the early 1900s with Bills which granted land and housing to Irish tenants. He died suddenly in 1928.

Article by Michael Herbert

Manchester’s First Feminists – Frances Morrison

Britain’s first feminists emerged out of the Owenite Co-operative movement. They demanded equal rights and argued for a new relationship between men and women. For the first time women gave public lectures on Socialism and feminism.

The members of the radical Co-operative Movement of the 1830s, inspired by the ideas and writings of Robert Owen, wanted to create a world based on mutual co-operation and not capitalist competition. They challenged not just the social and economic structure of society but also the conventional morality of the age on issues such as marriage and relationships between men and women. For the first time women not only discussed ideas of social change but also appeared as speakers and proselytisers for a new society.

Women had been active in radical politics in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Women set up Female Reform Societies in the prelude to Peterloo, holding meetings and published addresses. Susanne Saxton was secretary of the Manchester Female Reform Society, for instance. Many women were present at the Peterloo massacre, and a number even fought the soldiers. However, their political efforts were still focused on supporting their husbands and brothers, and they did not demand political and social rights for themselves. By long standing tradition women did not speak at political meetings, which were often held outdoors or in rowdy public houses. Indeed it was seen as a radical departure when at a meeting at Lydgate, Saddleworth one of the speakers, Samuel Bamford, successfully moved that women be allowed to vote on the resolutions.

In this period women had even less rights than most men. They could not vote and were often denied an education. On marriage their separate legal existence was ended, their money passed to their husband. To all intents and purposes they became the property of their husbands. They could be legally beaten. Women who did not marry and had no inherited wealth often lived a precarious existence. Those with some education usually became governesses or teachers

In 1792, inspired by the political earthquake of the French Revolution and Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the Vindication of the Rights of Women. She was viciously attacked but the ideas in her book now entered the radical underworld and political discourse, including that of the Owenite co-operators.

Many of the Owenites called themselves Socialists, using the word for the first time. The women lecturers of the movement included Anna Wheeler, Emma Martin, Eliza Macauley, Margaret Chappelsmith and Frances Morrison.

Frances was born in Surrey, the illegitimate daughter of a farm labourer and was brought up by her grand-mother. Aged just 16 she ran off with James Morrison , a house-painter who was tramping the country looking for work. They lived together until she became pregnant, whereupon they got married. They had many children and lived in Birmingham where Frances ran a newspaper shop and began reading Robert Owen’s work. She later write to him “Long ‘ere I began to think, my reason warred with the absurd forms of society, but from an ill-cultivated and wrong direction given to my mind, I could never get a solid idea until the perusal of your Essays’

In 1833 James, who was active reformer and trade unionist, became editor of The Pioneer. France wrote for the paper under the pseudonym “A Bondswoman”, addressing issues such as equal pay and the marriage system.

In February 1834 the following letter appeared in The Pioneer, signed “A Bondswoman”.

“It is time the working females began to demand their long-suppressed rights. Let us in the first place, endeavour to throw off the trammels that have so long enshackled our minds, and get knowledge, when all are making their way to the temple of truth and justice. Let not woman –patient, suffering, long neglected woman – stay behind on the road to improvement. Not but I know the time will come, ere long, when men will see the necessity of educating their wives., in all matters that concern themselves, equally as all men see the necessity of their knowing who our government act as regards them. May be the time is not be tine is not distant when the superiority of educated women will be acknowledges over those who are kept in blind and stupid ignorance. …Sisters, let us submit to it no longer; let us once get to the knowledge of our wrongs, and our cause is won; once entered on the path to improvement, the flowers that are strewn on the road will invite us to travel on.”

After her husband’s death in 1835 Frances became a paid Owenite lecturer, speaking across the north. She moved to Salford in the late 1830s where there was a vigorous Owenite movement , based at the Salford Institute, and later the Hall of Science.

In July 1839 she spoke at a meeting in New George Street, Shudehill and the following report appeared in the New Moral World.

“…the place was crowded to suffocation. She commenced her lecture with astonishing firmness and composure., and seemed throughout to evince a spirit of devotedness to the cause she advocated which rose superior to the strange position which she , for ths first time, occupied. The subject of her lecture was confine principally to the feeling and principal should guide or actuate these who call-themselves Socialist. Her manner was peculiarly energetic, her arguments well-arranged , and her remarks judiciously adapted to the occasion, and characterised by remarkable simplicity and delicacy. She was listened to with respectful attention and seemed to give general satisfaction. She is first female in Manchester who had had the nerve to come forward in practical advocacy of our views, and it is hoped that her example will operate as stimulus to others to lend their exertions in promoting the great cause of socialism, whose interests are so completely identified with their own. An animated discussion followed, which was opened by Mr Johnson, lately a Baptist minister, who was replied to Mr Southall; we then had a female opponent who occupied the next ten minutes, and was then answered, apparently to the satisfaction of all, by Mr Shepherd.”

In a published lecture Frances wrote about a new form of marriage. “But in community, money will not be known, neither will the want of it be dreaded, for all that can minister to the comforts of life will be had in abundance. There will be no marrying for convenience merely (a very cold word), but real affection inspired by real and known worth on both sides.”

With the help of Robert Owen, Frances became a teacher in Hulme and seems to have given up lecturing for the Co-operative Movement. She enjoyed a long life and died in 1898.

Article by Michael Herbert

Paul Rose and the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster

Paul Rose, MP for Manchester Blackley, helped to set up the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster in 1965. The campaign attempted to raise the question of discrimination and civil rights abuses in northern Ireland, largely unsuccessfully.

Paul Rose was born in 1935 in Manchester and educated at Bury Grammar School and the University of Manchester. He was chair of the Manchester Federation of Young Socialists. He trained as a lawyer and in 1958 was called to the bar. Rose had no personal Irish connections, but apparently became interested in 1962 after addressing a meeting in Manchester on civil liberties and being been told about the situation in Northern Ireland. In the general election of October 1964 he was elected to the House of Commons for Blackley, Manchester. The Labour Party defeated the Tory party after 13 years with a majority of just 4 seats.

The Campaign for Democracy in Ulster was established in early 1965 at a meeting in a public house in Streatham by a group of Irish trade unionists and Labour Party members. The Vice-President was Paddy Byrne, who had been active thirty years before in Ireland in the Republican Congress. The first secretary of the organisation was Bill O’Shaughnessy. When O’Shaughnessy moved to Manchester in the late 1960s Byrne took over the post. The CDU’s aims were to achieve a reform of election laws in Northern Ireland; to secure a Royal Commission into running of the Stormont government and investigate allegations of discrimination; and to have the Race Relations Bill amended to include religion and then extended to Northern Ireland.

The CDU was publicly launched in June 1965 at a meeting in the House of Commons at which Patricia McCluskey was one of the guest speakers. They attracted interest from a number of MPs. Paul Rose agreed to become President of the CDU. As an organisation the CDU was in practice confined to London with only Manchester forming a branch for a while. In the Commons it attracted support from 60 to 80 MPs, principally Labour with a few Liberals

It soon became obvious that the Wilson government intended to follow exactly the line taken by its predecessors for nearly fifty years and claim that it was unable to interfere in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. CDU members made a number of attempts to raise issues in the Commons but were rebuffed each time. Eventually Harold Wilson himself stated in May 1966 that he was “not aware of any issue on which an inquiry is needed”. Attempts to amend the Race Relations bill to include religious discrimination failed, as did an attempt to have the remit of the Ombudsman extended to Northern Ireland. Some new impetus was given to the CDU in parliament by the election of Gerry Fitt as Republican Labour for West Belfast in March 1966 , who then worked closely with the campaign in their efforts to get Wilson to act on Northern Ireland.

Events in the summer of 1966 momentarily thrust the six counties into the headlines and provoked some British newspapers into taking a hard look at what was happening there. On 7th May an elderly Protestant woman, Mrs Gould, was killed in a petrol bomb attack on a Catholic pub next door to her home. Three weeks later a Catholic man named John Scullion was shot in Clonard Street off the Falls Road and later died of his wounds (the intended victim had been well known Republican Leo Martin). On 26th June Loyalist gunmen shot three Catholic barman from the International Hotel as they left a public house in Malvern Street, killing a young man named Peter Ward. The three killings had been carried out by a group formed by Gusty Spence (a former soldier and shipyard worker) which had taken the historic name of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Nearly thirty years later on 13th October 1994 Spence announced the Loyalist ceasefire in response to the IRA ceasefire announced several months earlier.

On 3rd July, to coincide with a royal visit to Northern Ireland, the Sunday Times published a hard-hitting article compiled by its Insight team of investigative journalists, entitled John Bull’s Political Slum. “When the flags and bunting are hauled down after the Royal visit,” it began, “Mr Wilson’s government will still be confronted with a sharp alternative; whether to use reserve powers to bring elementary social justice to Ulster or simply allow Britain’s most isolated province to work out its own bizarre destiny. During the 45 years since partition the latter has often been negligently adopted with what looks like disastrous results.” The article went on to document political gerrymandering and high levels of Catholic unemployment and emigration and noted that the new Ulster town of Craigavon was going to be built in a Protestant area between Portadown and Lurgan, while the new University was going to the Protestant town of Coleraine and not Derry, the second city and natural choice.

In October Spence and another two other man were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders. Press interest in Northern Ireland, momentarily aroused, swiftly waned.

As papers released from Stormont under the thirty years rule now reveal that behind the scenes Wilson and Home Secretary Roy Jenkins were putting some pressure on Terence O’Neill to introduce one person one vote and to abolish the business vote. At a meeting at Downing Street in January 1967 with O’Neill, Craig and Faulkner, Wilson referred to the increasing unwillingness of Labour backbenchers to accept the convention that matters transferred to Stormont could not be raised or discussed in the House of Commons, while Roy Jenkins emphasised that gerrymandering in places like Derry and the local government vote would soon come under fire from Labour MPs. They also referred to the deputations on Northern Ireland that Jenkins had received. It seems that as a result of the CDU campaign the Labour government was becoming exercised about matters in the Six Counties but was not prepared to publicly pressurise the Unionists to reform.

By June 1968 the central committee of the CDU were forced to conclude that the campaign had run out of steam. Only four members of the central committee attended meetings regularly and only three constituency Labour parties remained affiliated. They had not succeeded in getting a resolution on Northern Ireland to the party conference whilst a public meeting in Kilburn in April had only attracted 20 people, despite a large amount of flyposting. Paddy Byrne presented a bleak assessment of how things stood. “In short no mass movement has developed and there is no indication that one will”, for in his view the British left were “far too concerned to save socialism from extinction than to bother about Ulster, about which the mass of British people know little, care less.

Paul Rose, who acted as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Castle between 1966 and 1968, later claimed that after his visit to the six counties in 1967, she asked why a young man like him was concerned about Northern Ireland, “’What about Vietnam? What about Rhodesia?’ I just looked at her with incomprehension and said ‘You’ll see when they start shooting one another’. She was totally oblivious to this. I think their priorities were focused on other things to the extent that they were totally blinded as to what was going on in their own backyard”. Perhaps it was not so surprising that two years later, on 14th August 1969, Barbara Castle wrote in her diary that she “was astonished to learn from the news that British troops have moved into Derry”.

Speaking in a debate on Northern Ireland in the House of commons on 22 April 1969 (just before Bernadette Devlin made her maiden speech) Paul Rose said:

“The events in Northern Ireland this weekend are a classic illustration of unheeded warnings from my hon. Friends on this side of the House. An almost uncontrollable situation has developed because too little has been done too late.
“In the debate on Northern Ireland on 22nd February, 1965, before this situation had developed, I then advocated the setting up of a Royal Commission to investigate the grievances in Northern Ireland.
“Alas, the time for Royal Commissions is past. And the fault lies largely with hon. Gentlemen opposite from Northern Ireland, who on that occasion flatly refused to acknowledge that there was any cause for concern or anxiety at all about civil rights and discrimination in Northern Ireland. They were rightly concerned with the potato subsidy. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) informed the House that 36% of the nation’s pigs come from Northern Ireland. But not a word about discrimination or civil rights. We also faced the convention of non-interference, a convention which in that debate prompted my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr Delargy) to ask you, Mr. Speaker, what, apart from Short Brothers and Harland and Wolff, we could mention in a debate on Northern Ireland.
That convention is dead. It was killed when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr Fitt) was seen by millions of television viewers, his head streaming with blood after a vicious batoning while surrounded by a group of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.”

In 1970 Rose wrote a book called The Manchester Martyrs: a Fenian Tragedy, which was published by Lawrence & Wishart. He acknowledged the help given to him by Tom Redmond and Jimmy McGill (both members of the Connolly Association in Manchester). It was well written and readable account of the episode aimed at a general audience. Interestingly there was no mention of his involvement in Irish affairs in the introduction.

Rose left the Commons in 1979 and returned to the law, eventually becoming a Coroner and Deputy Circuit Judge.

Article by Michael Herbert