The Manchester Mechanics Institute

The Mechanics Institute began with a meeting between William Fairburn, Thomas Hopkins and Richard Roberts, who agreed to each contribute £10 towards the foundation of an Institute to teach young men the application of science to manufacturing and art. Fairburn was a noted engineer, born in Scotland, who had come to Manchester in 1813 where he made mill-machinery before moving into making boilers and ship-building. Roberts was also an engineer, born in Wales, who came to Manchester about 1815 and made his money in manufacturing high precision machine tools and also through inventions such as the self-acting spinning mule. All three men were members of the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society, at which Hopkins had contributed a number of papers.

Following this initial meeting, a public meeting was held at the Bridgewater Arms public house on High Street on 17 April 1824, chaired by Benjamin Heywood, the banker. Those present resolved to set up an institution to be known as the Manchester Mechanics Institute with the object of delivering lectures on the various sciences and their application to the arts and also to establish a reference and circulating library. Sufficient funds were pledged to allow land to be purchased on Cooper Street, where a building costing £7,000 was put up.

Control of the Institute was firmly in the hands of Manchester’s self-made manufacturing class who firmly rebuffed any suggestions for change from the working people attending the lectures. In March 1829 Rowland Detrosier led a breakaway group who founded their own Institute. Detrosier had been abandoned as a child and brought up in Manchester by Charles Barnes, a member of the Swedenborgian church. He worked as a clerk and also lectured at the Swedenborgian Sunday school. For a time he was connected with the Stockport Bible Christian church.

Although Detrosier moved to London where he lectured and became secretary of the National Political Union, he retained his links with Manchester and on 25 March 1831 he gave a lecture at the New Mechanics Institute which was later published as a pamphlet entitled On the Necessity of an Extension of Moral and Political Instruction among the Working Classes with the assistance of Francis Place, one of his London friends.

Lacking the funds of its wealthy parent, the New Mechanics Institute was based in a joiner’s shop in a timber yard near the top of Brazenose Street. It was run on democratic lines and had a small library. This group of working people appears to have connections with the Owenite movement for they were amongst those who encouraged the Owenites to build the Hall of Science in Campfield. The New Mechanics Institute appears to have lasted ten years and it seems likely that once the Hall of Science was opened they transferred their classes and library to the new building which survived until 1844.

The original Institute held regular classes in music , French and German, nature study, art appreciation and science. In 1837 it was agreed to hold classes for women for, as one of the directors pointed out, “much good would arise from the proper cultivation of their minds”. Victorian notions of the proper place of women were much in evident, however, for their classes included how to make wax flowers and household management. In addition to classes for adults the Institute also ran a school for boys and girls from 1834, which was attended by several hundred pupils.

In August 1847 a meeting was held in the Institute to set up the Lancashire Public School Association with the aim of “promoting a general system of secular education”. At this time there was no state education, only private schools which few could afford. There were religious schools but, of course, these naturally promoted the particular religion they were affiliated to.

The Institute was able to attract well-known personalities including the actors William Macready (famous for his Shakespeare performances) and Fanny Kemble (who was active in the anti-slavery movement) and Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Institute eventually outgrew its original building and a new building was constructed on Princess Street (then called David Street), costing £20,000 which opened in 1857. The architect was John Edward Gregan. It opened with a major exhibition which thousands visited.

In June 1868 the Institute was used for a congress of trade unions, the first such meeting to be held and which annual meeting continues to-day

In 1870 the government passed an Education Act which for the first time made education compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 12, establishing elected School Boards were set to build and run the new schools. This made some of the work of the Mechanics Institute unnecessary as basic provision for children was now under the aegis of the School Board. In September 1883 a Technical School was opened in the building by Oliver Heywood (son of Benjamin, who was continuing his father’s charitable work and whose statue can be seen in Albert Square). It was absorbed into the Manchester education system in 1892.

In 1910 a Day Training College was opened in the building to train teachers properly for there had been complaints for many years of the poor standard of teaching in schools., especially by pupil teachers who often had no formal training at all.

In 1917 another change took place when the building was designated the Municipal High School of Commerce. It ran day and evening classes for those hoping to pursue careers in business and included foreign languages in the curriculum. It moved out of the building in the 1960s.

By the mid 1970s the Institute was in a very bad state of repair although registered as a grade 2 listed building. Concerned trade unionists set up a campaign called MANTUC with the aim of restoring the building and re-opening it but after several years work this was not successful.

Another attempt succeeded some years later when, as the building neared collapse, a Trust was formed with backing from the City Council and the trade unions which restored the building and re-opened it as a trade union centre with meeting rooms, a main hall and a bar. The restoration included a meeting room set out with furniture, wallpaper and portraits in the style of 1868.

In 1990 the National Museum of Labour History moved its labour history archives into the ground floor of the building. (The galleries were in the Pumphouse). The official opening was on 7 May 1990 when the opening address was given by Jack Jones, former general secretary of TGWU and chair of the museum’s Trustees. In his speech he said

“I strongly believe that this gem of a museum is going to prove of great benefit to Manchester and the North of England, because of its special interest to trade unionists, members of the Co-operative movement and activist in the cause of women’s equality and progress will attract visitors from Germany, France, the other European countries and America as well as people from all parts of these islands.One of our prized possessions in Tom Paine’s table on which he wrote important parts of his famous work The rights of man. This writing of his made an enormous contribution to the American revolution and had some influence on the French revolution….

The many colourful and unique items on show to-day and others which we will be exhibiting will, I believe, demonstrate the real history of working people and their efforts to rise out of their poverty. This, I suggest, is much more important and educational than the drearysome recounting or reciting of dates of Kings and Queens and battles of the past.

All of us have a responsibility to cherish and preserve the essentials of historical development. It would be foolish to and indeed criminal to ignore and neglect that responsibility. Instead of respecting our past all too often very many objets of considerable historical value have been wantonly or inadvertently destroyed in the past by trade unions…It surely behoves both sides of industry and citizens generally to assist in avoiding the destruction of significant relics of people’s history.”

In March 2010 the labour history archives were moved out to a new home in the extended People’s History Museum (as the NMLH had by now rebranded itself). The Mechanics Institute remains open for meetings and other functions. For information on facilities offered in this historic building, please visit their website.

Article by Michael Herbert

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The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre

Set up in 1999, the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre was named after a Bangladeshi boy murdered in a racially motivated attack in Burnage in 1986. It is a resource centre on everything from the criminal justice system in the United States to the history of the local Pakistani community of Manchester.

Louis Kushnick OBE is the driving force behind the centre and has been involved in race relation issues in Manchester since the late 1960s. It was his personal collection of books, journals, articles and news cuttings that formed the basis of the archive which is located in the University of Manchester campus today. Arwa Aburawa spoke to him about the history of the centre, the projects it has worked on, the changes he has witnessed in the education system and the impact of the recent government cuts on the centre’s future.

Louis Kushnick, who was born in Brooklyn and studied at Yale, came for a one-year scholarship at the University of Manchester in 1963 and decided to stay. Now a retired professor, he has worked as a senior lecturer at the university for forty years, alongside other responsibilities such as chairing the Research Institute for Race Relations and editing the quarterly journal ‘Race Relations Abstracts’. By 1998, he had acquired such a substantial amount of material on race relations issues that it required a separate office to house it.

“It was getting out of hand so the question was well what do we do with it?,” he recalls. “A group of us got together and decided that if we gave all this material to the University of Manchester John Rylands library it would continue to used by academics but that would be it. So what we wanted to do is create some sort of centre that anyone could access.” As there was no money available for a centre, the group approached Martin Harris, vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester at the time, to ask for financial assistance. Harris agreed to support the project as it would be located within the university and he hoped it would help encourage a greater diversity of people to attend the university, which had a reputation as a place for white, upper-middle class students.

The group was given a space behind the Blackwell’s bookshop on Oxford Road which had been empty for some time; the rent was paid by the University. Once the premises had been cleaned, the group bought some cheap shelving and started moving books into the archive, categorizing them with the support of MMU postgraduate students.

The Centre Opens & The Macpherson Report

The formal opening of the centre was on February 9th 1999 and in the same week, the Macpherson Report, which identified institutional racism not only in the Metropolitan police but also in the wider criminal justice system, was launched. “I remember that on Radio Manchester that morning, Selina (the oldest daughter of the Ullah family) said that for what it was worth, at least her family got some sort of closure as the boy who killed Ahmed was convicted. She thought the Steven Lawrence family would never get that and she was right.”

When the centre opened there were three people sharing a 0.5 post which was paid for by the University of Manchester. However, the money soon ran out and so the group began looking for more support which they soon found in the Progress Trust, which works to ensure that BME communities in Greater Manchester access urban regeneration funding. The funding allowed the centre to expand its activities beyond its focus on keeping the centre open for visitors, to creating outreach programmes for teachers and working with schools.

Murder and Racism in the Playground

Working in the the education sector, racism in education and the power of anti-racism education are issues close to Kushnick’s heart. It was one of the reasons why he decided to contact the family of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah to ask if they could name the centre in his memory. Ahmed Iqbal Ullah was a 13 year old boy of Bangladeshi origin who went to Burnage High School, where a fair amount of racist bullying went on. In 1986, a fight in the playground broke out and Ahmed came to the aid of some younger Asian boys when a 13-year old white pupil took out a knife, stabbed and killed him.

“The boy [who stabbed Ahmed] himself came from an extremely disturbed background and it was a tragedy all round,” states Kushnick. “but the incident did raise the issue of racism in schools, how whiteness becomes an identity. So we wanted to send a signal and use the material in outreach programmes to teachers in schools with limited resources, a narrow curriculum and encourage an environment where all children could flourish. We wanted to challenge stereotypes that Asians should be doctors or that you don’t expect anything from working class children – we wanted to encourage more inclusive ways of teaching and encourage teachers to expect all their pupils to succeed.”

Breaking Down The Stratified Education System

Armed with funding from the Progress Trust, the Millennium Awards and pro bono support of the University of Manchester (which allowed them to use the premises rent-free and also did their payroll), the centre began to put together materials for teachers.

“At the time, Britain had a highly stratified education system. Working class students were 8 times less likely to pass the 11+ exams than middle class ones,” says Kushnick. “Meanwhile teachers went to school everyday and very few of them woke up thinking ‘another day to mess over some working-class kids, another day to lessen their self-esteem and another day to convince them to have no or very limited aspirations.’ But everyday they went to school thinking that white working class parents didn’t care about education, that girls will go off and work in Woollies for a couple of years, get married and have kids. Meanwhile the lads could get an apprenticeship, settle down, marry the girl who used to work at Woollies and have kids…”

People from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities were also approaching the centre and them asking it about their history in the country and in Manchester. The team quickly realised that whilst they had lots of really great resources on race relations, there was very little primary information or secondary sources when it came to the local level. “The people’s stories about how they came to this country, their experiences, how they created their own religious and housing education, how they dealt with the education of young children – we had very little of that,” remarks Kushnick. The centre decided to tackle both these issues through their outreach work at schools by asking pupils to collect information and stories about their communities. Not only would this help fill a gap in the archive but it would also raise the confidence of BME pupils whilst educating others about the history of the wider BME community.

Collecting Stories from Manchester’s BME Communities

BME pupils interviewed their grandparents and found that some had great aunties who worked in the Land Army in World War Two or family who served in the British Army. The interviews – 144 of them – were transcribed, printed and kept in the archive alongside family photographs and heirlooms. Children from Sikh, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Chinese and Afro-Caribbean communities contributed interviews, and four girls from Levenshulme turned these interviews into a book called ‘Strength of Spirit’ which is full of interviews and photos from the Bangladeshi community. The centre also spent a year working with Refugee Action to put together an exhibition and teaching information pack on refugees in Manchester and the hardships they face on their journey to the UK.

Over the years, more and more of the centre’s projects consisted of producing material which would contribute to the archive and also help build a record of the local BME community which was later used for teaching materials, travelling exhibitions and the annual Black History Month. Working with primary schools in Rusholme, Moss Side and Whalley Range, the centre helped to put a book together retelling the story of Olaudah Equiano, an eighteenth-century slave who was freed in London and became one of the leaders campaigning against the slave trade. A book was also published on the life of the former slave Mary Prince (c.1788- death date unknown), who presented her testimony about the horrible conditions endured by the enslaved in the Caribbean, and Noor Inayat Khan who was captured and imprisoned by the Gestapo and was executed at Dachau in 1944. Khan was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre in 1946 and the British George Cross in 1949.

Kushnick says that the centre’s future projects will continue to focus on anti-racism education and adding material to the archive. Some of the projects currently underway include school schemes exploring international folk tales as well as a funded initiative looking into the Yemeni community in Salford and documenting its experience. However, the cuts in government funding are worrying for the centre, which will be looking to find new forms of financial support in March 2012. “In this crisis no one is sure how they are going to be affected,” says Kushnick. “Of course we hope everything will be okay and we can keep the centre open but, in all honesty, we have no idea what will happen.”

The Race Relations Archive is located near Manchester Piccadilly station and includes over 8,000 resources available for use by students, practitioners and the general public. For more information and visiting hours see the centre’s website.

Article by Arwa Aburawa

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