Stephen Kingston and the Salford Star

Uncovering the darker side of regeneration and social housing, the Salford Star has been rocking the boat in Salford since 2006. The only independent, radical and community-orientated news source in Salford, it’s “produced by Salfordians for Salfordians with attitude and love.” It won the 2008 Plain English Campaign and was runner up for the Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism in 2007. Taking its name from the popular radical newspaper the Northern Star, Salford Star has not only been writing stories but jumping in with two feet to help residents fight their battles. Manchester Radical History spoke to founder and editor Stephen Kingston.

Tell us a little about yourself and how the Salford Star started…

SK: Well, I’m not a trained journalist and I didn’t become a journalist till I was 28. For fifteen years I wrote for style and music magazines, in the Evening News, but you don’t get into journalism to interview Coronation Street stars and celebrities. That’s not why I got into it anyway. In the end, although I was getting very well paid to write for the national papers, I couldn’t get the real stories across which is housing, regeneration – things that mattered to people.

So I took a back step and started teaching journalism in the community and I did that for a few years, then I got offered the chance to help on a magazine called ‘Old Trafford News’ which is a community magazine which we revamped. So I did that and it was very successful. People saw the magazine that we were doing in Old Trafford and the community invited us to do one in Salford. But I said to them ‘hold on second, Salford is a city whereas Old Trafford is one square mile’. As Salford is a big city, we’ll need a big magazine to go with it! So Salford Star was born.

What was the initial reaction from locals. Was it positive or did they not really believe it was going to last?

SK: Well before we started, we went to a lot of public meetings and I went to one guy called Guy Griffiths who is notorious in Salford because he’s the only person to have been forcibly evicted from his house. I went to him with the idea for the magazine and I said ‘well, what do you think?’. He says ‘I don’t want anything to do with it. You budget journalists are all the same’ and this and that. But he did say ‘I’ll give you one bit of advice, if it looks anything like the council magazine everyone will put it in the bin.’ So I took that advice and ran with it.

The response to the first issue was phenomenal, I’ve never seen anything like it. What we first did was to take a copy to the town hall to Council Leader John Merry and within ten minutes he was on the phone screaming blue murder so we knew we’d got something right! The second call was from a women whose mother had a house about to be knocked down and needed some help. I mean the calls, the email that we got, I’ve not seen anything like it. Reactions were phenomenal and they are continuing to be. The only problem is that we only had the funds to print 15,000 copies but Salford has a population of around 300,000 people so there are people who have never heard of it. Out in Worsley, Walkden and Swinton they are not aware of it. What we do know is that each copy is read by about 100 people as it gets passed round.

With Salford Star now only being online it’s more complicated. We do get a lot of readers but we know that two thirds of those living in Salford don’t have the Internet so we’ve excluded a lot of people before we’ve even started. The advantage is that it is more accessible to those outside of Salford and we know that we get readers from all over like London and even Devon. The stories are getting out of Salford and that’s good – apart from when journalists nick my stories and then call them exclusives which I don’t like!

What have been some of the biggest campaigns that Salford Star has been involved in?

SK: There’s a lot. One of the first that we did was to take a group of normal kids from Salford to the Lowry Centre in their street gear. They said ‘no, we’ll be kicked out’ and we thought ‘get lost’. So we took them down there with hidden cameras and lo and behold two minutes later they were kicked out. It was shocking but what happened after that was that the Lowry realised that they weren’t reaching the local community and their policy changed, not a 100% percent but now they are aware. There were groups that wanted to use the space in the Lowry but they were charging eight thousands pounds. But after that people were getting in just by waving the Salford Star and saying ‘hey, come on’! They were giving it to them for nothing so that was a real benefit that we got.

In Langworthy, just opposite the Urban Splash development, people were being offered £52,000 for the houses whereas the ones on the other side of the street were going for £90,000. So we interviewed the leader of the council, John Merry, and we told him what was going on and he said that if it was true it would be illegal. And lo and behold they all got £90,000 so that was another result. Another one was keeping the Salford Film Festival going and also getting the Tree of Knowledge in Salford listed when it was due to be demolished. We don’t just write the stories like the Evening News or an Advertiser journalist, we jump in with two feet and give people in Salford the information to fight these battles.

Housing and regeneration have been huge problem areas in Salford, could you talk us through some of the major issues the Salford Star has been looking at?

SK: If you open your eyes and you walk round so-called ‘Langworthy Village,’ there are shutters on the newsagents. Another newsagents up the road shut down a few year ago- they couldn’t even sustain a corner shop. I mean when you consider that £88 million of private and public money (that was the last time we looked, it’s probably more now) has gone into this immediate area..Where’s it gone? There’s nothing here. A report has just come out from the Manchester Independent Economic Review and it say that nothing’s changed, so where has that money gone?

If you look at where the regeneration money is going, a hell of a lot of it – I’m not saying all of it by any stretch – is going into sweeteners for developers to keep their profits high and salaries for the regenerators who don’t even live here. I interviewed the chief executive for the URC which is the regeneration company responsible for Salford regeneration and I asked him how many in his office actually lived in Salford. There wasn’t one. They don’t have a stake in the plan, but we do and so do our readers and writers.

You have been quite dubious about the council magazine ‘LIFE in Salford’. Why is that?

It’s called accountability! At the end of the day, if you go through the Evening News and any other newspaper – I used to do that when I taught community journalism – and I can tell you that’s a press release, that’s another press release. It’s all press release journalism. The council or whoever will put out a press release and then people just cut and paste it and stick their name at the top, whereas I question it. Which is what you’re supposed to do as a journalist.

We’ve lost that community journalism. I mean there is virtually nothing in the country. There are things on-line and in print but a lot of things called community magazines are just shams. They just push the council line, or the housing association line because it brings advertising. I could water that [Salford Star] down tomorrow and say ‘isn’t it wonderful what Salix Homes are doing’, ‘isn’t Urban Splash great’ and they’d all advertise with us. They’ve millions of pounds in budgets and I could be a millionaire by now!

Talking of money and advertising, how do you fund the Salford Star?

SK: What happens is that the real community places in Salford like the Langworthy Cornerstone, The Angel and small community organisations that have a bit of money will advertise in it. Small businesses that can see the magazine flying out – I mean we get a thousand copies just on this road here in Langworthy- they know that the community is looking at it and they want to be a part of it. So we do get a bit of advertising but those organisations don’t have huge budgets and they can’t afford to take pages and pages out. But through those and donations we try to get half the printing costs covered and we think that we should get public funding for the other half to keep us going.

What’s in store for Salford Star and the future?

SK: Well, we want to get a printed issue before the next election but whether we’ll be able to do that I don’t know. We’re hoping to do that through donations but I guess we’ll see. My problem is that I don’t get paid to do any of this and it takes up so much time – my wife’s had enough! We keep putting in applications to all sorts of trust funds and grants but they get ripped up every time because people perceive us as being too controversial. Yet, I don’t see what’s controversial about asking where our money is going and we’re always professional, non-political and balanced.

We have no agenda whatsoever. What we do is also different to normal journalism, where they’d go to an area, dip their toe in, get the best story and then get out again. They’re not interested in the people. Well, we live in this community and we’re still talking to those people so it’s different. We’re not playing at this, we’re for real because at the end of the day it’s our community.

Article by Arwa Aburawa

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Okasional Cafes

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, anarchists and environmental activists in Manchester organised a series of squatted cafe-social centres around the city, under the name Okasional Cafe. This article is based on interviews with two people – both of whom wished to remain anonymous – who were involved in organising several of the cafes and running events in them.

The first Okasional Cafe, in 1998, was supposed to be in a former kebab takeaway on Peter Street, near the junction with Deansgate, on the site now occupied by Bar 38.

“There was a big row of Victorian shop buildings and a takeaway called, I think, the Topkapi Palace, which had already closed down in preparation for being demolished as part of the redevelopment plans for the huge warehouses behind and Great Northern Square,” recalls one of the people involved in looking at this initial site. “Four of us went in to recce it, which involved a small person having to go through a hole in the brickwork where there had been a heating vent, and letting the others in. It was perfect – the big industrial-scale catering cookers were still there, which would have been great for events. But it stank from the barrels of kebab fat too…”

In the event, the organising group decided that this site wasn’t suitable because the demolition date for the buildings was imminent and, although the organisers were anticipating having to fight eviction orders, they didn’t want this to be the focus of their activity, or for scared developers to take aggressive action to evict them. The second choice of venue was the former Temperance Movement building on Oxford Road in South Manchester, immediately opposite the Manchester University Students’ Union, now Kro Bar.

At this point, the Riotous Assembly open radical activist meetings had not yet started, so the recce teams for both sites had been recruited at the Earth First! meetings which at that time still took place in the Friends Meeting House in Manchester city centre.

“I remember meeting the people who were going to turn it into the pub,” says one participant. “The head of what is now the Kro empire, I remember him saying, well the weekend you moved in we were planning on moving in as well, but we thought well, we can take a bit more time. His brother, who was on the dole, was helping him with the building work, and they had a month’s less rent to pay so they weren’t bothered.”

As one interviewee recalls, the cafes were meant to be “a point where social and political activity could go on reasonably freely and workshops and film showings could happen, but also secondly that it was supposed to be an access point for new people who might not come to a meeting but would be comfortable coming and having a cup of tea and a piece of cake and picking up some leaflets and then might come back again for something else a few days later and actually speak to somebody about getting involved.”

Another interviewee emphasised that “about people having an access point for ‘our’ ways of working – ie anarchist – and forms of actual direct action. I remember it definitely as being for both those purposes, and also that there were actions actually happening at the same time, so people could go to the cafe, hear about an action, go to a meeting about it and get comfortable with the idea and then actually go along on an action and get involved, as well as providing a space for people who were already involved to meet together and have that contact. It’s also in my head as a post-Manchester Airport protest camp thing – lots of people had moved to Manchester, had been active and the EF! Meetings were too big and unwieldy and some people had the idea that everything in the meetings had to be agreed by everyone and others thought they were a forum, a place to go to where you could say, we’re doing this anyone want to get involved?”

“For me,” he continued, “the reason Okasional Cafe came round was that it was a physical point of contact, because people had had the experience of living on protest camps at the Airport together, and that was really important, and there was nowhere for people to meet and spend time together. I was completely sold on the model of squatting a place, holding it for a month, saying ‘we’re going to be here for a month’, not trying to do it for longer or make it a permanent place, not trying to say we’ll keep it for longer but put that burst of energy into it for that month and then do other things the rest of the time, rather than having a permanent centre…”

The first Okasional Cafes were not simply spaces where people could come and talk, but had well-organised schedules of events, including political meetings, exhibitions, film showings and fundraising parties. A distinctive logo was designed, probably by a resident of the ‘Redbricks’ estate in Hulme, and in the weeks preceding the squatting of a new cafe several waves of publicity would take place, starting with the logo being fly-posted around town, followed by posters bearing the words ‘it’s coming’ and then after the building have been occupied posters and bookmark-format leaflets with the address and workshop timetable would be distributed in cafes, pubs, bookstores and ‘alternative’ shops like those in Afflecks Palace.

“I’m not sure I can imagine such organised publicity happening now,” commented one participant. “people rely too much on the internet, they think that when they’ve put something on Facebook they’ve publicised, whereas actually they’ve just told a load of people they’re already in touch with, and they think they can advertise something the day before, instead of having to put in some work to really get word out.”

Okasional Cafes around Manchester

After the success of the initial Okasional Cafe on Oxford Road, a number of other squat cafes took place across South and Central Manchester over the next four years. Sites for these included an old canal keeper’s cottage on Dale Street in the Northern Quarter, a second one at Kro, one on Birch Grove in Rusholme and two at the Hacienda, one of which was a fundraiser for the massive J18 anti-capitalist protests which took place in London in June 1999.

There was also an abortive attempt to hold an Okasional Cafe in St Peter’s House, opposite the Peace Gardens and Central Library. “It was in November one year,” says a participant, “and people hadn’t really thought about the issues around that but it was just before the 11th and the police really cracked down on it because they thought it was an anti-war protest in time for the Armistice Day commemorations, which it wasn’t. So they just smashed their way in through the plate glass windows, using the fact that there was a back staircase which was shared with another building as a legal pretext for evicting the squat.

The Charles Street Okasional Cafe

Another site used was a former auction house on Charles Street, just off Oxford Road next to the BBC. One memorable event held there was a showing of the film Injustice, about the struggles for justice by families of people – mainly black men like Shiji Lapite and Roger Sylvester, but also including Harry Stanley and women like Joy Gardner and Sarah Thomas – who had died in police custody.

The Police Federation had tried to take legal action to prevent the film, which called for the prosecution of several serving police officers, from being screened. Venues were harassed and threatened with having their licenses revoked, and cinemas were told by police lawyers that they might face expensive libel suits. So when the Cornerhouse Cinema on Oxford Road was intimidated into cancelling a showing, people involved with the Charles St cafe, just round the corner, stepped in to offer an alternative.

“But we managed to prime one of the directors, Tariq Mehmood, who lives in Rusholme, so that when they reached the end of their talk and had to tell the audience that they couldn’t show the film there, they announced that the people who had just stood up could lead them to a venue where they could see it.”

The Cornerhouse cinema, according to one of the people involved in the Okasional Cafe screening, event loaned chairs to allow enough audience members to go to the alternative screening, and some of the box office staff had made significant efforts to deliver the coded message to people buying tickets for the event that although the event had been formally cancelled, something else might be afoot…

The Charles Street Okasional Cafe was also the scene for exhibitions giving ongoing information about the mass protests – and police brutality – which took place at the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001. But, despite some of the good events which went on at Charles St, it was also an example of some of the things that could go wrong with such an enterprise.

“My take on what happened.” says one participant, who had been involved in many of the other cafes, “was that a lot of people were involved who nowadays would be curating slightly alternative art galleries or working for the World Development Movement or the Big Issue, but then, because it was the exciting ‘in’ thing they were there. But for the first part of the Charles St cafe, the people putting most time in were people who had less long-term experience or hadn’t made the same connections so the way it was organised was messier and events weren’t publicised. There were also problems because the site was near an all-night Spar and a big homeless hostel, and some people turned up from a protest came and stayed and behaved like arseholes, so there were social problems being dealt with by people with very little experience.”

The solution was to close the squat down for a week, regroup the organising committee and remodel the space. The main room was painted white to give it a completely different feel from the previous dark space, and the cafe was re-opened for several more weeks before it was finally evicted. “The eviction was,” says one of the people involved, “one of those classic developer things where they come to court and say they want to use the building for such-and-such and work will start straight away and the judge says ok, kick them out, and now eight years later it’s still empty, and there is still as Okasional Cafe sign over the door…”

Decentralised organising

As one interviewee who was involved in organising several of the Okasional cafes recalls, the networks and personal connections which had grown up during the protest camps at Manchester Airport were still in place during this era. “Although people were campaigning on different issues it tended to feel more like they were part of the same thing than it seems to now,” he says. “Animal rights people or whoever might be doing their thing, but a lot of the allocating work and responsibilities happened because various different people with different skills were involved. In terms of anarchist forms of organising there were weekly meetings at the cafe which set up the events for the week after and sometimes there were more regular meetings if there were other issues that came up.”

The tension between weekly and more regular meetings was, he says, “interesting, in that the people with most time and the people who were living there to hold the squat sometimes acquired more power than others. So some people were arguing that it’s more democratic to have weekly meetings because more people can actually come to them.”

Tactically, different methods were used to actually initiate the occupation of the squatted buildings. For the Hacienda events, many of the first groups of people to enter the building were asked to meet at a fairly public site in Hulme and then led away in small groups, under cover of darkness and sometimes through the gardens of squat sympathisers on a nearby estate. As a result, the police failed to notice that the crowd they were monitoring was actually slowly dispersing.

At most of the other Okasional Cafes, a small group would crack the squat in advance in order to take legal control, and then other members of the organising group would collect a larger selection of people who’d gathered at a publicly advertised meeting point and bring them to help with preparing the venue – cleaning, decorating and if necessary connecting water and electricity. “It was a balance of recognising that you have to keep some things secret for them to work, while making the process as open and participatory as possible,” commented one person who was involved in a number of the cafes. “And because we had the networks from the Airport protests and other direct action and free party scenes we knew who to get in touch with if we needed the water and gas and electrics to be turned back on. A lot of that was the result of lessons from 1990s direct action and Reclaim the Street.”

Decision-making processes about how the cafes would be run were also decentralised, bringing in a range of experiences, ages and backgrounds. “I remember in the first OK Cafe there was a No Smoking room,” recalls one participant. “When that was first brought up some people were like, Noooo! But for me that was an example of the difference between two simplified versions of anarchism – the more individualistic, which I think is called Sternerite, and the more collectivist or community-based – ‘I can do what I like’ vs ‘I can do what I like but understand its impacts on other people.’ So there were lots of debates, and in the end there were No Smoking times and room in Okasional Cafes.”

Over the course of the various cafes, many lessons were also learned about the kind of events, activities and messages participants wanted to use the sites for. “The first one was around the time of an election, and it was also near a church,” recalled one person. “Someone put a big cross up outside with a politician hanging from it and labelled it ‘use your cross wisely, crucify a politician.’ And there were things like free stalls and also what became People’s Kitchen, ie experimenting with cheap meals and food by donation. That was quite hard, because especially being in a student area you felt you were putting in lots of effort to feed lazy students who’d got enough money anyway. So it shifted, became really nice set meals with candlelight or poetry performances but also with a suggested donation. Soft drinks would be free or donations but alcohol was a set price because there was a sense that if people wanted to spend money on alcohol it should be a fundraiser. There were also party night which were fundraisers too, and usually they were donations on the door and some people would just ask casually and people would put a few coppers in, but some more savvy ones would say ‘three quid, three quid’ as people came in and a well-run night at the Kro site could easily raise a thousand pounds. People lost that ability with some of the later cafes, especially the Kickstart ones that were done by a different group of people later on, people involved in residential squatting in Whalley Range, because they just weren’t as organised and people would nick the money and they didn’t really have a sense of how to replicate some of the really creative stuff we were doing at OK Cafes.”

To evict or not to evict?

In almost all cases the OK Cafe squats were time-limited, held for just a month and then handed back to their owners. They were also largely in commercial or public buildings rather than residential ones. One exception was the sixth squat, on Birch Grove in Rusholme in 2000, which – with the approval of the house’s owner – became a residential squat for at least six months after the Okasional Cafe there closed down.

Even though it had become a residential squat, the Birch Grove site did remain a hub for some direct action activity, serving as the meeting point for groups of Manchester activists who went to the Close Campsfield noise demonstration and actions against the asylum seeker detention centre in Oxfordshire.

In some other cases the landlords of squatted properties were less co-operative, although the reputation of the protesters occupying the buildings sometimes meant that evictions weren’t carried out. “With the first Okasional Cafe,” a participant remembers, “people remembered us from the Airport, where people felt they had to power to say to a landlord, ‘yes you can take us to court and get an order and evict us, but we’re going to resist, you’ll need bailiffs. Ask the Under-Sheriff of Lancashire, Andy Wilson, he’ll tell you that we’re going to be really expensive.’ It’s in your interest and our interest to negotiate – give us a month. And landlords would go, OK. At the Kro Bar site, Andy Wilson came along and people pretended to have been in tunnels and had dirt on their faces and head torches and he just backed off and from then on we had the reputation with other landlords that – take them to court, but negotiate with them.”

The one exception to this rule was the Hacienda squat. The police had succeeded in having the superclub closed down and, as one participant thinks, saw its re-opening as a challenge. They evicted it quickly and at times brutally, and were therefore furious when it was then re-squatted a second time – giving rise to graffiti in one of the rooms reading The People 1: Police 0 which was them amended to The People 2: Police 0. A number of people arrested in the first eviction successfully sued Greater Manchester Police for wrongful arrest. “The second time,” recalls one interviewee, “only once we we had negotiated our way outside did we see that there were lines of riot cops with battering rams all lined up by the walls, where we couldn’t see them from the inside. There was also a moment where, while they were using quite a lot of violence to clear the area, we saw one riot cop who was well known for being very big and violent whack someone across the back with the truncheon, and the person he’d hit getting out his badge and saying ‘I’m undercover!’ And that was great to watch…”

Article by Sarah Irving

Manchester and the Death of Terence MacSwiney

The hunger strike and death of the Lord Mayor of Cork,Terence MacSwiney, in 1920 had a profound affect on Irish people, not just in Ireland but in many cities in Britain, including Manchester.

Terence MacSwiney was arrested on 12th August 1920 and sentenced at a British army court-martial to two years in prison. He joined the hunger strike in progress at Cork Gaol, whereupon the government moved him to Brixton prison where he continued his fast. By the end of the second week he seemed to be sinking rapidly and his death was expected at almost any hour.

When he was inaugurated as Lord Mayor of Cork after the murder of Tomas MacCurtain by British forces, MacSwiney had prophesied that “This contest on our side is not one of rivalry or vengeance, but of endurance. It is not those who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most who will conquer…” He later sent out a message from Brixton prison via Archbishop Mannix. “We must be prepared for casualties in the last battle for Irish independence. Let every man offer his life.” In the end he gave up his own life after 74 days.

A great deal of pressure had been put on Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George and the cabinet to make concessions in order to get MacSwiney to call off his fast. The British government very quickly decided, however, that this was a political battle it had to win and dug in its heels. The British ruling class understood that Empire was as much a matter of psychology as it was of soldiers and guns. If MacSwiney were to call off his hunger strike it would be a severe a blow to Irish morale. If he died it would be a lesson to the Irish of how ruthless the government was prepared to be, a view reinforced by Lloyd George himself in a controversial speech at Caernavon in early October in which he spoke of the “very strong measures” that needed to be taken in order to defeat “the real murder gang”. The Daily Herald condemned his speech as “coarse, cowardly and cruel”.

A number of organisations and leading citizens in Manchester tried to put pressure on the government to give way. On 26th August a joint meeting of the Manchester & Salford Labour Party and Manchester & Salford Trades Council passed a resolution stating that they were appalled at the callous attitude of the government and requesting that “in the interests of humanity and peace” the Lord Mayor be released forthwith. A number of local women sent a telegram also requesting MacSwiney’s release. Their number included Dr Cathleen Chisholm, Dr Florence Robinson, Annot Robinson and Mabel Hewitt.

On 27th August a meeting of Manchester citizens at Merchants Restaurant in Market Street sent a telegram to the King, asking him to exercise royal prerogative. It was signed by, amongst others, Canon Peter Green, Joe Toole, Councillor William Mellor (secretary of Manchester & Salford Trades Council), Alderman Jackson, Catherine Chisholm of the Women’s International League, Mrs Neal of the Women’s Freedom League, Annot Robinson, Councillor Hugh Lee, Agatha Watts and George Clancy of the Irish Self Determination League.

The government remained unmoved by these and many other protests from Britain and abroad. Instead they skilfully and subtly created the conditions to put maximum pressure on MacSwiney to give up his protest. Thus his friends and relatives were able to visit at any time, nurses and doctors were in attendance and there was always food by the bedside. Journalists from around the world called into Art O’Brien’s office in London where MacSwiney’s sister Mary spoke to them, giving them the latest information. Mary tried every avenue to put pressure on the government. In early September she went to Brighton where the TUC was meeting, hoping to address the assembled delegates. The TUC President J H Thomas refused to let her speak to the Congress, however, claiming that it would be too much of an emotional strain on her, and instead made a token gesture by sending another telegram to Lloyd George.

In New York a spectacular strike broke out on the docks at the end of August when a group of Irish women calling themselves American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims brought out the West Side waterfront for nearly a month. They were protesting both at the arrest of MacSwiney in Ireland and the arrest at sea of Archbishop Daniel Mannix from Melbourne, a fierce critic of British government policy in Ireland, who had sailed for Ireland from New York on the White Star liner Baltic. En route two British destroyers stopped the Baltic and arrested Mannix, landing him in Penzance, where he was handed orders forbidding him from travelling to Ireland, Liverpool, Glasgow or Manchester. In New York the women pickets brought out British stokers, Irish and black longshoremen in a strike which spread rapidly, disrupted some sailings and lasted until 21st September

On 17th October Michael Fitzgerald died on hunger strike in Cork gaol after 67 days, while MacSwiney himself died on the morning of 25th October. The two friends with him in his last hour could never bring themselves to speak of it. The Manchester Guardian commented acidly that his death was “part of a policy, the policy of ruthlessness. Ireland is to be terrorised, opposition is to be crushed.” The Manchester District committee of the ISDL, representing 36 local branches, sent a telegram to MacSwiney’s widow saying that “The Irishmen and Irishwomen of Manchester send their heartfelt sympathy with you in this your great hour of sorrow. However, you will be consoled in your grief, knowing that the Lord Mayor died that the Irish nation might live.”

Fellow Republican political prisoners carried MacSwiney’s body to the prison doors after which it was taken to the Catholic cathedral in Southwark where several hundred attended the brief service, many of them working class Irish women from South London. His body lay in its coffin before the High Altar with many coming to pay their respects. A few days later thousands attended Mass in the cathedral after which the coffin was driven slowly across London to Euston station accompanied by a huge procession, with representatives present from across Ireland and every Irish community in Britain. The train that carried his body also carried several hundred policemen.

On arriving in Holyhead those accompanying MacSwiney’s body were informed that the government had forbidden its passage to Dublin, where the whole city was waiting, and had instead provided a steamer to take the coffin directly to Cork. There was a bitter and emotional argument between Art O’Brien, Mary MacSwiney and government officials but they had no choice but to agree. In Cork nobody would receive the body from the British vessel and eventually it was landed by British soldiers. MacSwiney was finally laid to rest in his home town accompanied by a massive funeral procession. The next day eighteen year old Kevin Barry was hanged in Dublin.

In Manchester on Sunday 31st October there was a huge procession in honour of MacSwiney, perhaps the largest march ever organised by the Irish in the city. Thousands assembled in Stevenson Square and walked slowly four a breast to Moston cemetery by way of Oldham Street, Oldham Road, Livesey Street and Rochdale Road with spectators lining the whole route. Sixty taxi-cabs and carriages led the procession followed by a hearse carrying a mock coffin covered with the tricolour and flags.

Despite the cold weather there were many elderly people on the procession as well as many local Catholic priests. A squad of girls and women accompanied the hearse, some in semi-uniform, while an industrial school band played Saul’s Dead March and Chopin’s Funeral March. There were also Irish pipers playing in the march. As many as forty branches of the Irish Self Determination League were present, carrying tricolours, and many marchers wore armbands in the same colour. So great were the numbers on the procession that the tail was still in Stevenson Square by the time that the front of the procession had reached the cemetery and the last mile was unable get in to the graveyard at all. Those that managed recited prayers as wreaths were laid at the Manchester Martyrs memorial.

Article by Michael Herbert

The March 1920 Stockport By-Election

In March 1920 Irish Republicans used a by-election in Stockport to highlight the plight of Republican prisoners on hunger-strike in a British prison.

In March 1920 William O’Brien, secretary of the Irish Labour Party and a leading member of the Irish trade union movement, was arrested and taken to Wormwood Scrubs where seventy other Republican political prisoners were already being held. When they began a hunger-strike he joined in. O’Brien had helped found the Irish Transport & General Workers union and had been close colleague of James Connolly.

O’Brien’s arrest coincided with growing dissatisfaction amongst many in the Irish community in Britain at the attitude of the British Labour Party to events in Ireland and, in particular, its refusal to wholeheartedly support self-determination for the Irish people. At a meeting in the Free Trade Hall on 1st March 1920, for instance, Sean MacEntee (TD – a member of the Irish Parliament – for South Monaghan) and A Connor (TD for South Kildare) attacked the Labour party’s views on Ireland. MacEntee said that it was useless to talk to them of Dominion status. They were not a colony, but a nation with a record as proud and cleaner than England’s and nothing less than complete independence would satisfy them.

Connor ridiculed the report of the Labour party delegation to Ireland, saying that it had concluded that the Irish were rather too naughty to be entrusted as yet with the conduct of their own affairs. At the end of the speeches the packed audience passed a resolution stating that “this meeting of Irish citizens of Manchester and district hereby pledges its allegiance to the Republic of Ireland established in Easter 1916 and confirmed by the vast majority of the people of Ireland in the election of 1918.”

A parliamentary by-election was due in Stockport, following the death of Spencer Leigh Hughes and resignation of George Wardle, the two Members of Parliament. Local Irish people sent a delegation to the Labour Party NEC protesting at its attitude on self-determination and alleged inaction on the arrest of William O’Brien. In particular they wanted to know whether the Labour party was prepared to grant immediate recognition of the right of the Irish people to self-determination, even if a majority decided for an Irish Republic, whether they would release all Irish political prisoners if returned to power, and finally, whether they would specify a time for the withdrawal of the army of occupation.

The Labour Party said that these were hypothetical questions and instead handed them a long statement justifying the party’s views and actions. This evidently did not satisfy the delegation, for on 16th March a meeting of over a thousand Stockport Irish electors invited William O’Brien to contest the Stockport seat “as a protest against the apostasy of the Labour party on the question of Irish self-determination and against the inactivity in the face of military tyranny in Ireland”. The United Irish League urged support for the Labour party but by now their views carried very little weight in the Irish community which had thrown its weight behind the Republican movement.

The defection of the Irish seems to have had an effect for in his manifesto Sir Leo Money, one of the two Labour candidates, wrote that he regarded with shame the fact that “at the conclusion of a war waged for human liberty Ireland is governed by a military despotism”.

No doubt hoping that the Irish electorate would in time return to the fold, the Labour Party also allowed the Irish campaign to use its meeting rooms at Central Hall for an opening election rally. J Clancy from the ISDL presided, stating that they refused absolutely to take the gloved hand offered by the English Labour Party any more than the mailed fist of the Coalition. The Labour Party had failed dismally on the question of self-determination for Ireland and their object in fighting the election was to make Labour realise that its attitude was not consistent with the democratic principles which they professed. Thus the decision of the Irish to support O’Brien was nicely timed to expose the gap between Labour’s past rhetoric and Labour’s present position and push the party into outright support for complete self-determination.

In his election address issued from jail William O’Brien (standing as Workers Republican) said that his aim “was to raise the clear issue of the right of the Irish people to determine their own destiny. The issue is whether the people of Ireland are to have their own free choice, without the interference of any power, people or parliament, in deciding the form of government under which they will live.” He went on to argue that the Labour Party had recanted from the position it had adopted in April 1919 at an international conference in Amsterdam when it had supported the immediate application of the right of self-determination to Ireland. Now it seemed to favour some form of Home Rule which would still leave foreign affairs and defence in the hands of the British Empire. “Labour, like the British government, has one definition of freedom and self -determination when applied abroad and another interpretation of it at home.”

During the campaign Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, whose husband Francis Sheehy-Skeffington had been murdered by the British during the Easter Rising, came to speak in support of O’Brien, as did Captain MacNaghten, an Ulster Protestant who had fought in the war but afterwards joined the Republican movement. When the results were announced on 11th April O’Brien had received 2,336 votes, which the Manchester Guardian estimated was substantially the whole Irish vote in the constituency. The two seats were won by the Coalition candidates.

O’Brien continued his hunger strike until the government did a deal to move him into a nursing home (where he was visited by the veteran Fenian Dr Mark Ryan) and finally release him in early May. O’Brien was later elected to the Dail for many years and died in 1968.

Article by Michael Herbert

Ernest Jones and the 1846 Chartist gathering on Blackstone Edge

Many places in Britain have been commemorated in verse – think of Tintern Abbey (Wordsworth), or Wenlock Edge (Housman), or Adlestrop railway station (Edward Thomas), or Little Gidding (TS Eliot). Blackstone Edge can join this list, thanks to the nineteenth century political leader and poet Ernest Jones. His verse The Blackstone Edge Gathering, written more as a song than a poem and set to a popular tune of the day, was composed in 1846.

Jones begins by looking down from Blackstone Edge over the plain – or at least trying to. Instead of his eye being led to far horizons, however, what greets him is industrial smoke and pollution, the product of the cotton mills which, as we have already seen, had been transforming the landscape and the economy of this part of Lancashire. It was not a pretty sight. In fact, Jones suggests, there is something about it which is against the natural order of things:

O’er plains and cities far away

All lorn and lost the morning lay

When sank the sun at break of day

In smoke of mill and factory.

On Blackstone Edge itself, however, high above the Lancashire plains, it’s a different story:

But waved the wind on Blackstone Height

A standard of the broad sunlight

And sung that morn with trumpet might

A sounding song of liberty!

We know exactly which ‘morn’ Ernest Jones was referring to: it was Sunday, August 2nd in 1846. The poem itself, as its title suggests, commemorates an event which took place here, up on the Pennine escarpment, during the heyday of the Chartist movement.

Walking past the Blackstone Edge rocks today it’s hard to imagine this as the setting for a mass political rally. Nevertheless, that Sunday in August saw about thirty thousand people gathered here, at least according to a report a few days later in the Chartists’ own newspaper the Northern Star. There would have been banners and pennants ready to be waved by the wind, there would have been speeches (and they would have been long), but there’d have been a party atmosphere too, rather like on most demonstrations today. Chartism was strong on both sides of the Pennines, both in the larger mill towns such as Halifax, Bradford, Rochdale and Oldham and in the smaller towns such as nearby Todmorden, and rallies on moorland tops were a feature of the movement, it presumably being rather easier to discuss radical politics away from the immediate attention of the mill-owners and their supporters. Blackstone Edge was a convenient place to bring together people from both the Lancashire and Yorkshire towns “all of whom” (this is the Northern Star, again) “must have travelled three miles, and many of whom had travelled thirty to renew the covenant with their fellow men.”

It was the Chartists who helped define the shape of our modern democracy, arguing the case for a political system where voting is the responsibility and right of all, not just of those with money and wealth. And, much to the concern of the British state who periodically set about arresting and imprisoning the Chartist leaders, It was also the first time that a working class in Britain made its presence firmly felt on the national political landscape.

When Ernest Jones joined the crowds at Blackstone Edge, the Chartist movement had already been in full flow for eight or more years. Chartism took its name from the People’s Charter which carried the demands of the movement and which was first published in May 1838. There were six demands: universal male suffrage (or in other words, votes for all men 21 and over), a secret ballot, no property requirements to become an MP, payment of MPs, equal constituencies and annual parliaments. 1838 was a year of activity and mass mobilisation throughout Britain. Newcastle, for example, had a mass demonstration in June, Birmingham in August and Manchester in September. Each city and town made their choice of delegates to attend the Chartist National Convention, which met for the first time the following February. In June 1839, the first Chartist petition (three miles long, by the time it arrived in London) was presented to Parliament, and of course firmly rejected (the voting was 235 against to 46 in favour).

Thereafter followed several years of ups and downs. 1839 saw an abortive rising in Newport, Monmouthshire, and early 1840 would see other attempts at armed uprising, in places such as Sheffield, Bradford and Dewsbury. In general, this was a time generally when the state regained the upper hand, and several Chartists found themselves in prison for various alleged public order offences. The next high water mark for the movement was the year of 1842, when a second petition was taken to Parliament and when, later in the Autumn, the mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire were convulsed by a wave of industrial protests known to historians as the Plug Riots. (This had nothing to do with bathroom plumbing. An effective way, the protesters found, to stop the mills from working was to remove the plugs from the boilers of the engines which drove the machinery). Thereafter once again the tide receded. Chartists began to turn their attention from demanding parliamentary reform to creating their own land colonies, a back-to-the-land strategy more than a century before the alternative movement of the 1970s and 1980s tried the same thing.

But Chartism was to have one final year of mass political activity, in 1848, a year which was also marked in mainland Europe by a wave of revolutions. By 1846, therefore, there was perhaps a sense that the movement was once again on the move. This certainly is how the Northern Star reported the Blackstone Edge rally: “Sunday last may be considered as the resurrection day of Chartism,” the report began. Ernest Jones himself was clearly moved by the spirit of the event. His verse (and it must be time by now to get back to that) continued:

And grew the glorious music higher

When pouring, with his heart on fire

Old Yorkshire came with Lancashire

And all its noblest chivalry:

The men who give – not those who take!

The hands that bless – yet hearts that break –

Those toilers for their foeman’s sake

Our England’s true nobility.

So brave a host hath never met

For truth shall be their bayonet

Whose bloodless thrusts shall scatter yet

The force of false finality.

This last comment was something of a barb at the man who had become Prime Minister earlier that 1846 summer, Lord John Russell. Russell had a few years earlier pronounced himself completely satisfied with the way the British electoral system functioned, declaring (and I may be paraphrasing his exact words a little) “Nobody else gets the vote, and that’s final”. Thereafter to his political enemies Russell came to be known as Finality Jack.

Jones and his fellow Chartists not surprisingly had a different idea from the Prime Minister. Jones continues The Blackstone Edge Gathering in optimistic mood:

Though hunger stamped each forehead spare

And eyes were dim with factory glare

Loud swelled the nation’s battle prayer

Of – death to class monopoly!

Then every eye grew keen and bright

And every pulse was dancing light

For every heart had felt its might

The might of labour’s chivalry.

Jones concludes his poem by returning to Blackstone Edge itself, the ‘high hill’ from which the message of Chartism is to be carried out to the world:

And up to Heaven the descant ran

With no cold roof twixt God and man

To dash back from its frowning span

A church prayer’s listless blasphemy.

How distant cities quaked to hear

When rolled from that high hill the cheer

Of hope to slaves! to tyrants fear!

And God and man for liberty!

The Blackstone Edge Gathering was written by Jones immediately after the rally, and published about three weeks later in the Northern Star. The event was important for Jones, for as well as being its chronicler Jones was also one of the main speakers, the first time he had taken the platform publicly in support of the Chartist cause. He had an unusual background: his father was an Army major, his mother came from a large landowning family in Kent, and his godfather was the Duke of Cumberland, uncle to Queen Victoria. Jones was born and brought up in Germany and this upbringing gave him a natural ability with other languages. His family returned to England in 1838 when he was nineteen, and thereafter he qualified and practised as a barrister. The initial years of Chartist agitation passed him by. But something happened to change the course of his life, and by the start of 1846 he had thrown in his lot with the Chartist cause. He went on to become one of the national leaders, suffering two years of harsh treatment in prison at the end of the 1840s on what were effectively trumped-up charges. He met Karl Marx a number of times (Marx told Engels that he found Jones a little egotistical) and probably read Marx’s writings in its original German. He tried to keep the Chartist flame alive in the 1850s and for a time produced his own newspaper The People’s Paper. He also continued to write poems and songs.

Chartist orators must have had powerful lungs, particularly at large open-air events like that at Blackstone Edge. His skills as a barrister would have helped, too, to hold the large crowd. The text of the speech he made at the Blackstone Edge rally has survived and it shows him in powerful form. Here’s a short extract, just to give a flavour of his language:

“What? Are pounds sterling or living souls to be represented in our House of Parliament? What? Are the interests of a man possessing a million pounds to be cared for a million times more? This – this is what their argument involves. This, then is their philanthropy! Out upon them! They have but legislated for their money bags – we will legislate for our fellow-men. The interests they tried to promote was the interest of their vested capital – the interests we will further shall be those of humanity all over the world.”

At the time you might have accused Jones of being impossibly visionary in campaigning for votes for all and a democratic House of Commons. On the other hand, we know now that it was Jones and the Chartists who had the ear of the future, rather than Finality Jack.

This article is an excerpt from The Backbone of England: Landscape and Life on the Pennine Watershed by Andrew Bibby

Derek Antrobus and the Vegetarian Movement in Salford

Ask people what they know about vegetarianism and probably the first thing they’ll tell you is that it was invented by middle-class hippies in the 1960s. What many people don’t realise is that the modern vegetarian movement in Britain all started in a tiny church in the working-class, gritty, industrial town of Salford. Arwa Aburawa spoke to Derek Antrobus- a vegetarian of 40 years and a Salford City Councillor – who also charted the history of the Salford church in his book ‘A Guiltless Feast’, to find out how and why vegetarianism flourished in the working-class community of Salford.

What sparked your interest in the vegetarian movement?

As a teenager I loved the works of the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who is a great vegetarian, and I used a lot of his work as propaganda for vegetarianism. In the late 1980s, there was a food programme on vegetarianism and how it had increased over time and it just mentioned that wasn’t it amazing that all this had happened from a little church in Salford about which nothing is known. So, I am a vegetarian, it all started in Salford and nobody knows about it, I thought to myself I just have to find out more!

What was the context which allowed this church/vegetarian movement to flourish in Salford?

Well, there were a number of factors. One is that it was a period of rapid urbanisation and so people could come together in the city. There is a theory within historical geography that whereas people may be isolated and seen as rather quite odd in their own village community, in a city they can meet other people like themselves. So, the city become this powerhouse of innovation where there are many opportunities and different ways to look at life.

A second factor was industrialisation, as during this period people were no longer working on the land and no longer slaughtering their animals. Animals were being slaughtered elsewhere and then brought into the city and so it wasn’t a part of everyday life and the idea of having animals as meat became more remote for people. At that time, of course, you got the Romantic movement with people longing for the countryside and so although people were predominantly meat eaters, animals and nature became romanticised. So that may have been an obvious background to why people were choosing to be vegetarians as there was belief that it was wrong to harm nature.

A third reason was the ideological and philosophical chaos that was Manchester. As Lancashire was so far from London, the dominant ways to think never quite reached into society and so people were always experimenting with ways to practice their religion. The last reason is the coincidence of personalities which were brought into this environment and promoted vegetarianism.

What was the role of these key personalities for the success of the movement?

There were an early group of vegetarians who were grouped around the evangelicals, which was a group of people who challenged the complacency- as they saw it- of the Church of England. People like John Wesley are the best known. One of John Wesley’s friends was John Byrom, who lived in Kersal and was vegetarian throughout his life and the Clowes family who were relatives of John Byrom also shared his ideas.

The Clowes were interested in nature and challenged the established church by saying that all nature was connected in some way. John Bryom, who had a great love of nature, shared this with his close cousin who was the translator of the Swedish mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg. So already in Salford society these ideas were floating around and it was because of John Clowes, who promoted the ideas of Swedenborg which focused on the wholeness of nature, that William Cowherd came to Salford.

Cowherd was born in the Lake District, trained to be a priest and shared the belief in the oneness and the wholeness of nature and that god inhabited every living thing. So, for him to kill a animal was to kill a part of god which was a sin.

Whereas people like Clowes were traditional Church of England and vegetarianism was at the margins of their beliefs, Cowherd made it central to his belief. He broke away from the Church of England, joined the Swedenborgians, but broke away from them because they weren’t strong enough, as he thought, on vegetarianism. Eventually he established his own denomination, the Bible Christians Church, by preaching a sermon in his church on King’s Street on January 28th 1809. From that moment, he commanded his congregation not to eat meat and that was the first time that there was an institution in Britain dedicated to vegetarianism.

Was Cowherd the first to bring the message of vegetarianism to the Working Classes?

Very much so. Cowherd tried to relate vegetarianism to some of the issues they were dealing with such as industrialisation and urbanisation. One way he did this was through the politics of liberation because the logical conclusion of a belief that there is a bit of god in everyone is that everyone is equal and everything is of equal value. And so, the Bible Christians argued for workers’ rights, they were some of the foremost opponents to slavery and they extended this belief of liberation to the animal world.

The only thing I have not been able to find, although there must be something, is on women’s rights. I find that really surprising, especially considering the politics of the group, because they were very much aligned with people like John Stuart Mill, who wrote tracts on feminist ideas. So that may be simply due to the paucity of the material available rather than an omission from their ideology and I think it’s just an area which needs further research.

Another way that Cowherd brought vegetarianism to the working classes was the ideology of self-improvement which was really powerful in 19th century Britain. All sorts of arguments come out in vegetarian tracts which state that if you didn’t eat meat you would save money which you could then spend on more self-improving, cultural activities. You’d be more mild-mannered and there was a real belief that eating meat made you violent – so you wouldn’t be wasting your time in drunken, violent brawls but rather you would be able to spend more time in civilised pursuits. There was also a belief that meat actually weakened you and that vegetarians were stronger and could work harder and earn more money.

What were reactions to vegetarianism in Salford?

By all accounts, Cowherd was an incredibly attractive, charismatic figure, which is reflected in the fact that his congregation adopted vegetarianism and tee-totalism. Apparently one of the men who went to his congregation on that January morning in 1809 went back to his home and threw away the dinner his wife had cooked because it had meat in it.

Apart from his congregation, there were some people who thought he was mad, he was mocked and there was a rival chapel who used to refer to his chapel as the Beefeaters Chapel just to irritate him. But despite all that, when Cowherd died in 1816, not long after he established his church, there was a lot of respect for him because of the wider work that he did.

Cowherd ran a school from the church, its dome doubled up as an observatory where he taught science, he opened up his library to the public and he ran a soup kitchen. A big issue for people at that time was being buried as it was very costly to be buried in a churchyard and he offered free burials at his church which would have really had a big impact on a working class family. Cowherd was even known locally as Dr Cowherd because he provided free medical services. So he did manage to attract a significant working class congregation at the Church and it was a home for these primitive social services which earned him respect in the wider community.

Once Cowherd passed away, Joseph Brotherton took over the church and made himself known in the district as someone who attacked those charities which were ‘feeding the trustees and ignoring the poor.’ He was also involved in local politics and was even elected the member of parliament for Salford in 1832 after the great reform act, when Salford got its first MP. William Harvey, Brotherton’s brother in-law, was the mayor of Salford and other members of the congregation were councillors and so they were well respected in the community. They were also part of the great radical movement in Manchester organised around nascent liberalism and free trade, at a time when liberalism as an ideology wasn’t well developed and so it was a mixture of working class radicalism and liberal elitism.

Can you tell us a little about the transition away from the Bible Christians to the secular Vegetarian Society which is now based in Altrincham?

Joseph Brotherton chaired a meeting on Bridge Street, where his statue now stands, to establish the Vegetarian Society in 1847. Ironically, another group involved were the Alcott House Concordium named after William Alcott, who was an American philosopher and a follower of Robert Owen the Co-operator. It was quite different to the Bible Church but if you look into the history, Alcott was converted to vegetarianism by a group of missionaries from the church in Salford who went out and established a church in Philadelphia. So although one was a socialist, secular movement and the other a religious movement, in fact the two got their ideas from the same source!

So they joined forces to promote vegetarianism and the church provided the early support and William Harvey was even elected as the president of the Society at one point so that link lasted for around 50 years. Its actually astounding how popular vegetarianism was in Manchester at the turn of the century. Where Primark now stands on Piccadilly, there was a vegetarian restaurant owned by the Vegetarian Society which had two dining halls, meeting rooms, a lecture theatre, billiards – everything you would get in a Victorian gentleman’s club- but right in the heart of Manchester and only serving vegetarian food.

Round the corner, there was another vegetarian café and also a group of vegetarian cafés run by Fredrick Smallman who had around 8 cafés dotted across Manchester at one point. Now to what point people were signed up vegetarians or they thought ‘well there’s a cheap meal’ is hard to tell but there was clearly wide support. It certainly was not as odd as when it first started and it was not seen as unusual to be vegetarian.

By the early 1900s the Bible Christian Church lost a lot of its members and few of its congregation practised vegetarianism. Whether that was to do with wealth, the falling cost of meat, the way the food economy worked, ideological changes in beliefs with liberalism and egalitarianism diverging, we can’t be sure. But the church dissipated and even the vegetarian movement went through problems with tensions between the Manchester base and the London Vegetarian Society. It seems to me that it was not until the second half of the 20th century that the society was revived with a whole new set of beliefs.

Article by Arwa Aburawa

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