Gus John and the Moss Side Defence Committee

Gus John lived through the 1980s as a community activist and youth worker in Moss Side, having arrived in the UK from the West Indies in the 1960s. In the aftermath of the 1981 Moss Side riots, he was a key figure in the Moss Side Defence Committee, which assisted with legal support to the youths charged by the police, challenged police violence and attempted to convey to the press and public a different interpretation of the events which had taken place. The committee would later undertake a detailed critique of the Hytner Report, established by the government to investigate the disturbances and their causes. Here Gus recalls his experiences of the times, in an interview carried out by Andrew Bowman just a week before the outbreak of rioting across England’s urban centres in summer 2011.

1981 was the year in which British people of African descent protested against racism and police oppression as never before in modern history. The Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981 brought around 25,000 people onto the streets of London to protest against the massacre of 13 young Africans in a fire, suspected to have been caused by racists, at a birthday party in New Cross in South London. Protesters also attempted to highlight the misconduct of the Metropolitan Police force in their subsequent investigation, the bias of the press, the inadequate response of the government to the tragedy and the generalised racial discrimination in British society. Added to the problem of racial discrimination, the Conservative government’s economic programme was making conditions worse in many poorer communities in inner city areas.
Between April and August that year there was violent urban unrest in St Paul’s in Bristol, Brixton in South London, Toxteth in Liverpool, Moss Side in Manchester, Handsworth in Birmingham, and elsewhere in the country.

Gus, what were conditions like when you arrived in Moss Side?

I arrived in Moss Side on the 1st January 1971, having worked on youth and race in Handsworth in Birmingham for the Runnymede Trust. There was a vibrancy about it, in that people had organised themselves around a campaign to do with housing. The local authority was doing compulsory purchases and knocking down houses which were actually rather sturdy – some of them had fallen into disrepair but structurally they were pretty fine. There were campaigns to save these houses because people were not enamoured with what they had seen in Hulme – these deck access crescent buildings, which were not just an eyesore, they became very dangerous after a while.
But the two things that stuck out for me were, first, a lot of young people coming out of school and being unemployed for a long time. It was taking the average school leaver about six months to find any employment, and some of them simply joined an earlier generation of fathers or siblings who had not worked. The second thing that was obvious was the way in which the police operated within the community – they tended to see black people as exotic … and generally formed the impression that the older people were safe and sound: they shared commonly held values, they were disciplinarians keeping the children under control, and it was really the youth which were at odds with the establishment, and the police as the most visible arm of the establishment.
It is true that at that time many parents didn’t want to see the police having cause to come near their home – it was seen as a massive stigma.  It took a long time for parents to understand, based on their own experience, that your child didn’t have to do something wrong for the police to appear on your doorstep. It wasn’t always that young person’s fault that the police got involved in their lives.
In 1972 I had got some money from the British Council of Churches to set up a hostel for young black people, because they were sleeping on their friends’ floors or sleeping rough in Moss Side, the reason being that their parents had been decanted to places like Sale and Partington, as part of the whole so-called ‘regeneration’ business. And they continued to gravitate back to Moss Side, they would be here until after the last bus left, some of them would be in the night time dives – shebeens as we used to call them – and there was generally a sense of drift and disaffection among them. That made them even more in danger of getting involved with the police.

How similar were things in Moss Side to other areas of the UK you had worked in?

The four issues I just mentioned were present in all inner city areas I had worked in. I had just come from Handsworth, and one of the reasons for the Runnymede Trust commissioning the research I did there was that the Birmingham Evening Mail had run a series of stories called ‘The Angry Suburbs’, and one of them I remember was called ‘Must Harlem come to Birmingham?’ There were issues highlighted in those reports of unrest between black and white people which I have to say were not what I found in Birmingham.
Yes, there were tensions, with some white people feeling that black people were coming in numbers, taking homes etc, but what happened in Birmingham as in other parts of the country, was that the newcomers, black people from the Caribbean especially, were coming to find employment in areas where there was already an established working class, a neglected working class. So the quality of accommodation that local whites had was pretty poor anyway. As is typical of these situations, and not just in this country, the incoming black people were blamed for the squalor that had existed for generations.
So there were nuances, but generally you could identify issues which were common to most of those former industrial towns and cities. Many black children were being sent to schools for the educationally subnormal, not because they were in any way deficient, but because the schooling system refused to believe that those children were coming with a language of their own that was not Standard English.
That early period of 1968-73 was also the time when psychologists were propounding theories of scientific racism – suggesting that the intelligence levels of black people were lower than that of whites for genetic reasons. You had to battle against that gunge, especially as it was being taught in colleges that were training teachers – it really was horrendous.

What kind of police harassment did youngsters face in Moss Side?

I remember the first situation in which I personally intervened after arriving here, the police had stopped a young boy of about 13 cycling along Moss Lane West by the Hyde Brewery for riding his bicycle without lights. They were aggressive, and he was frightened. Rather than calming the situation, they started telling him to “stop being cheeky”, and before long there was a confrontation. As you went up and asked what was going on, they would tell you to “mind your own fucking business” or they would arrest you as well, for “obstructing the police in the course of their duty”.
We became aware of how vicious the police were to young people, so that when an incident like this happened, we would begin to gather, because the community wanted the police to know that we were watching what they were doing. The police became very on edge about that, very intolerant of the idea that anyone would witness what they were doing and question their conduct.
Here in Moss Side, as I had also witnessed in Oxford, Birmingham and London, it was not just happening to young people. Caribbean families, the men in particular, were proud of their cars. To own one was prestigious, and these men worked hard and bought their cars, and they were regularly being stopped by the police, for daring to own a vehicle like that: “Is it yours? Can you prove it is yours? What is your address? What is the proof of your address?” Constant petty harassment! There was a level of crime in these urban centres anyway, petty criminals as well as organised criminals – who were white. That criminality had not contaminated the black community in any measure when I came to Manchester.
Yes, some people got involved in crimes, burglaries etc. I used to teach black history at Wakefield Prison, and I was astounded by the zeal and zest with which prisoners there took to an understanding of black history and its relevance to them. They were interested in what was happening in the United States at the time, as they were about the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act, the 1968 Race Relations Act.
I told them about the work that I and others who were members of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination did. How I would pair up with a white person and we would go looking for a room to rent or something. The black person would go in first and typically would have the door slammed in their face: “The room’s gone.” Your mate, the white person, would then go and was told, “It’s five shillings, when are you moving in?”
We did the same in relation to job applications. The black person would present a form with the best qualifications, the white person would present a form with lower qualifications, and the white person would automatically be given the job. We did this research up and down the country, and we were able to present the government with incontrovertible evidence of the extent of visceral racial discrimination, and that caused the Harold Wilson government to enact the 1968 Race Relations Act and establish the Race Relations Board which was the precursor of the Industrial Tribunal.
All those people in Wakefield Prison had what I called arrested growth: very bright people. Some could give you the most horrendous stories about their schooling, and why they dropped out of school. In some cases they had had physical altercations with teachers, and were either expelled from school or never went back.
The fact is, there was not a high degree of engagement in delinquency or criminality among the African-Caribbean population … Now relative to our numbers in the population overall, the highest proportion of people in the prisons and young offender institutions are black people.
Ever since the beginning of the 1960s there has been systemic structural and structured exclusion of black people within the society, and that has got certain consequences. It becomes easy to believe that that is because black people don’t have brains, which of course is complete nonsense. All of that is an important back-story to what people in Manchester were experiencing and grappling with in the 1970s and 1980s.

How active were organised racist groups in Manchester during the 1980s? Groups like the National Front?

Very active. In the year of the disturbances in Moss Side there were running battles between us and the NF. They had the temerity to come and hand out leaflets in Moss Side and Hulme, trying to inflame the passions of white people and encourage them to blame black people for whatever social deprivation they were suffering. What was pleasing about that was that the white community determined that they wanted nothing to do with the NF, and joined political activists such as myself, deciding that they as a white community would not allow the NF to get one inch of space within the white community, and physically booted them out.
So you had the harassment of the police, and then you had the planned collective attacks by white racists – people would be physically attacked, have excrement and firebombs put through their doors, or there would be NF signs put up around the place. That didn’t come from nowhere – the neo-fascists became emboldened by the lead politicians gave…

Such as Enoch Powell?

Yes, such as Enoch Powell, but he could be seen as the extreme end of the spectrum. His problem was that he was open and honest about those matters. It was the people who were passing laws in Parliament, one more draconian piece of immigration legislation than the one before, who were constantly conflating immigration and race relations and holding up the spectre of an alien black force destabilising an assumed settled and cohesive society.
It was like a mantra: “You can’t have good race relations unless you control immigration”.  In other words, if you don’t control immigration, the white population will get fed up that you’re expecting them to be too tolerant of these blacks. Or the black population would start creating mayhem. As a consequence, every year at a certain point, even before the Office for National Statistics published their reports; you would find some newspaper, principally the tabloids such as the Sun and Daily Mail, publishing figures about the number of live births to immigrants. It was all scaremongering, a moral panic about black people, and an insistence on keeping Britain white. And people talked openly about the need to keep Britain white.
You have to situate the 1981 uprisings in that broader context, and if you don’t, you fail to understand the structural relationship between the way black people experience living in the society, and the way they choose to resist.
And the resistance took many forms, it took political forms, it took cultural forms, through music, art, publishing or through soundsystems and travelling discos – people find ways of surviving, and not allowing their essential humanity to be debased, and expressing and affirming their creativity. Cultures of oppression inexorably spawn cultures of resistance.
Given all this background, how surprised were you when the riots broke out? A lot of the press coverage at the time, and now in reflection, talks about the riots being a ‘spontaneous’ event.
It wasn’t a surprise to me nor many other people in Moss Side. It could have happened any time before that July. It could have happened in March that year, when a cache of illegal weapons were found stashed in Moss Side police station. Those weapons were found to be knives, hatchets, coshes, clubs, and a considerable quantity of cannabis was also found.
We were alarmed because we knew the police planted cannabis on unsuspecting citizens, and would then throw the book at them for drug possession. They also used to give cannabis to prostitutes to sell, and if they didn’t comply they would be dragged in for prostituting themselves. Typically, when people got arrested and taken to Moss Side Police Station or Platt Lane Police Station, they were likely to get a good hiding from the police, to reveal the names of others or confess to some crime, or just for being ‘lippy’ and standing up for themselves, whether they did or did not commit a crime.
So it was alarming that this cache was found in the police station. What were the police going to do with them? No sooner did the reports come out than everything disappeared. That was on March 12-13 1981. Ten days earlier, six coach loads of people had left here for London, to go to the biggest march black people here have ever organised, the New Cross Massacre Black People’s Day of Action, on 2 March 1981, following the murder of those 13 young people in that Deptford fire.
That massacre did not take place in Moss Side, but it could well have. That became a metaphor for the experiences that we were having at the hands of the racists and fascists across the country, and the way the police dealt with those things. So the events in July in Moss Side could have happened at any point that year.

Gus, what was the reaction among the press and political elites to the Moss Side riots? The MEN’s recent coverage refers to it as ‘an orgy of violence’ and a ‘spontaneous eruption of hatred’. Is there a sense in which there was, and still is, an attempt to depoliticise what happened?

Yes. And it is for that reason that I do not refer to those disturbances as riots, because that is to devalue and detract from the righteous political component of the whole thing. It was a violent eruption of protest, on the part of principally black people, but lots of white people as well, because they too had experienced for generations lots of vicious, disrespectful oppressive forms of policing.
The coverage in the media of Manchester, Toxteth, Brixton and St Paul’s, was just totally racist. The tabloids have a lot to answer for. They were echoing what senior police officers were saying. They were always eager to claim that it was pure criminality – that it came from nowhere. As if these criminals suddenly drank something and decided to go and create mayhem.
I say about that, as I say about the gangs and knife crime now, I cannot believe, I refuse to believe that black people have some kind of congenital propensity to evil. If you don’t believe that, you have to ask some searching questions about what predisposes people to do this, but that’s too sophisticated for these hacks. They display their prejudices, and in a sense mirroring the bigotry of the people in leadership positions in the country generally.
How did you attempt to get your message out about what was happening when the mainstream press was like this?
There is an invention called the Gestetner. Do you remember it? No? That places us in different age bands! The Gestetner was a domestic printing machine. You typed onto a stencil, and attached it to the machine, turned a lever to make sure ink covered the drum, and then you start rolling off your hundreds of sheets of paper. Political activists of my age were friends of the Gestetner. You always knew which people were very active, because they were always covered in ink!
So, we had meetings, for the Moss Side Defence Committee, we produced masses of leaflets and handed them out door to door, outside cinemas, and indeed outside the magistrate’s court. Picketing and handing them out. And we physically hand-delivered our statements to the news media. Some of them ignored it, some of them printed stuff. On a good day, the MEN wrote respectable articles, on other days, they had some very stupid headlines. There were some good journalists at the MEN though – Paul Horrocks was a good staff reporter, more reflective than the others who just wanted to print rubbish and get a story in the paper.
So that’s what we did: loads of community meetings that were very well attended and we handed these leaflets around. And that was our political practice. We organised and campaigned around education issues, we had anti-deportation campaigns. The man in this community, Anthony Brown, who now is one of the organisers of the Manchester Carnival – he was facing deportation in the 1970s, and we launched a campaign and succeeded in having him stay here.
What kinds of people were getting involved in these protests?
Lets differentiate a bit. The anti-fascist demos drew just about everybody: old and young, black and white, as well as people from the Asian sub continent. There were large groups of women, large groups of young people, the core of whom were political activists who were running organisations or members of organisations, who came together to work in solidarity with us to work towards particular ends.
That was a regular pattern. When we established the Moss Side Defence Committee in 1981, we decided there would be a subcommittee called the ‘Labour Movement and Trade Union Committee’. We tried to visit their meetings to get individual unions to pass resolutions and donate funds to the particular campaign.
For some causes, we had university students unions supporting – materially, and with cash. Some union offices allowed us to run off leaflets, some organised coaches to demonstrations. It became a loose coalition of progressive forces, including the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. Particularly in the aftermath of the disturbances, when the police were just dragging people indiscriminately off the streets, we, the Moss Side Defence Committee, met the Haldane Society, and got pretty horrific reports about the how the courts were getting the probations service to write quick reports on individuals – used by the judge before he passed sentence. This was being done in a sausage machine mode, and the people were not getting the personal treatment they needed. It was all aimed at demonstrating to the public that the situation was in hand, and in the firm grasp of the state. As a result of protests, they discontinued this practice.
As far as the disturbances themselves were concerned, there was clearly not a conscious political decision made that this would be a form of resistance that we were going to engage in on this particular night. In any event, people would not do that, because they would be too scared of a Guy Fawkes movement: someone squealing to the police. So it was spontaneous, but attracted people who felt that they had been hard done by for a long time, and that they would take on the police.

On reflection, how successful was Moss Side Defence Committee?

We were moderately successful. Many of the people who were arrested trusted us implicitly to go and assist them in putting their case together, and in getting legal representation. We introduced a way of working with defendants where we ensured that the defendant remained in charge of the case. We took statements from people, saying we don’t care what you have told the police, you can make a statement here not under duress but it has to be truthful, and we will use that statement to organise your defence.
It sent a powerful message to the magistrates, and that was that we as a community are watching the decisions you make. We want to see evidence that you are taking as seriously the submissions of people from Moss Side as you are taking submissions from the police, and we will expose whatever endorsement you as a court give of police malpractices.
We organised ourselves and went to the court. Some of us went and sat in, some were outside giving out leaflets, and that worked pretty well. The only other thing I would say is this. We worked with individuals that had been arrested, and I believe the whole programme would have accelerated quicker if we had worked with other organisations to build a wider body of mass support. There ought to have been many more people on demonstrations outside the court.
It was a politically volatile period, but politically rich in a whole number of ways. I really had hoped that given the careful work we had put into challenging the Hytner Enquiry, boycotting the enquiry and writing a critique of his findings, having all these meetings around the place, picketing the courts every time somebody was on trial, I was rather hoping we might have built a mass movement around all of that, in pursuit of justice and against police brutality and harassment.
But I think people were happy to come together from their organisations as an alliance, which was effectively what the Moss Side Defence Committee was, rather than seeing themselves as integrally part of one collective group, seeking to build a movement of working class people around these issues. And I suppose people got tired: it had been an exhausting few months.
It has always been a regret to me that I personally and others didn’t return to our critique of the Hytner Enquiry and look at it more analytically, making the links to all that stuff I have been sharing with you, to make a more complete story that others today could look at. Young people particularly, should not be encouraged to see the so-called riots in isolation from everything else.

What changed after the disturbances?

Many, if not most young people developed – however temporarily – developed a greater sense of their own power. Many had the feeling that even if the state didn’t sit up and take account of the message they were giving on the street through these disturbances, they had made their presence felt. Not least to James Anderton and his Greater Manchester Police.
The fact that William Whitelaw, Heseltine and Thatcher introduced a range of projects around the place trying to consolidate the black voluntary sector and links with business, with the support of the banks, they gave start up grants for small entrepreneurs.
And then there was a large amount of refurbishment … and the regeneration of the centre radiated outwards towards Hulme and Moss Side, but while there has been a lot of physical regeneration, not as much has been spent on rehabilitating people.
And the demography of the community has changed: large numbers of Somalis coming in, Lebanese as well, even before the Polish started to arrive. There has been a process of constant adaptation to that.
I get a sense though that there is much less community cohesion now than there used to be. I just don’t get a feeling that communities are working together, with a sense of common purpose and a vision of the future. It is not that people are defeated as such – though Thatcherism had a toll on us all God knows – it’s that the climate is not necessarily conducive to civil action or protest, or change coming about through people becoming adamant that the status quo must change.
Maybe people don’t have a sense of their own strength?
Exactly. I tell that to young people all the time, I say, “You have got the capacity to be as organised as the teaching unions are, and within your schools you have got to sit down talk about issues, and find ways to hold the school to account. You don’t have to do it in a belligerent or antagonistic way, but simply to assert your right to comment on and influence the way the community of which you are a part functions.”
Headteachers run a mile when they hear that kind of thing. But I do feel that if all those young black people who are knifing and shooting one another on the streets had had their energies directed into serious political activism, where they consciously attempting to get their voices heard and influence policies on whatever issue it is, there would be such a sense of empowerment of the capacity to get things done and of achievements to be celebrated, people would have neither the time or the stomach for the kind of violence within our communities.

What can reflections on the disturbances tell us in the present? For people who are looking at problems of racism and police violence

Let me preface my answer by saying, I believe the greatest disservice the state does to its population is through the crappy schooling system we have. When you consider that there is such an emphasis on high level exam results, as if that’s the only mark of schools’ effectiveness, the debate about schooling is always about providing labour for the market, Britain’s economic competitiveness, and the extent to which schools and universities are churning people out.
It has nothing to do with giving people the tools to take control of their own lives, equipping people to act collectively to bring about change, and it is certainly nothing to do with understanding the evolution of British social history, such that we can as a society learn from our advances and defeats. That kind of discourse is seen as a throwback to the days of ‘red-led’ protests of the past for lefties. The assumption is that it is not necessary to think in terms of class or the individual up against the state, and that we should be counting our blessings. Meanwhile, stratification within society becomes more entrenched. Those who are poor are not just disenfranchised by lacking wages through which they can live dignified lives; they are also denied the tools by which they can organise in defence of their lives.
People fall prey to an opaque sameness, an assumed consensus in terms of the values we commonly share. Which allows clowns like Cameron to talk about the ‘Big Society’.
It is very important that we understand what led to 1981, and what gives rise to the peaks and troughs as far as the emergence of neo-fascist organisations are concerned. I would not be surprised if in the coming period as European economies begin falling in on themselves you have another upsurge of pan-European fascism.
We need to see ourselves as being in a continuity of struggle, and the struggle is never won until we are living in the kind of social democracies that do not place on a pedestal the market, with all the neo-liberal values that come with it; the rampant individualism, the greed, the abandonment of hope, the abandonment of idealism, the sense that the state has no role in regulating forces within society so those who want to prey on the weak in society have full vent to do that.
It has been taken to extreme lengths in terms of the way schooling is going now: the privatisation of everything that moves. Academies, trusts, and Michael Gove’s assertion that you can open schools all over the place, with no concern about cohesion, no concern about social inclusion.
And in due course all of that must implode upon itself, because it is not just in dictatorships that you find people being oppressed, it happens within so-called democracies as well, and we ignore that at our peril.
I’d like to think in reflecting on 30 years ago we can reflect on what happened since: why did the labour movement that had all these giants, why did it all suddenly get eclipsed? What happened to trade union basic education projects and the workers education movement? What are young people in Moss Side today grounding their sense of identity and purpose? What connection do they have with these lessons of the past? How are they being primed and equipped to make their mark in this present age as each generation has a duty to do?
If anyone tells me that those who are educated will find a way to do that because they have the social capital to do that, I would say that is complete nonsense. Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education”. The fact is, schooling is dumbing down people’s sense of history, if not their aspirations as human beings working together to shape a future. I believe the country lost a trick when there was a concentration on building a citizenship curriculum, without concentrating on the need to teach British social history: we need to understand the society, how we have come to be as we are, that rich tradition of fighting for rights. Expanding rights in the society, and with that the responsibilities people have in the present, to build a better future for those coming after them.
I don’t get a sense right now, that there is that level of awareness or political literacy.
I don’t know why people don’t ask the question more regularly, if the centralist tendency within the government is leading to the collapse of local government in safeguarding the rights of citizens, then if what matters to me is how my life in Manchester is regulated by those at the Town Hall, then why should I be concerned about what happens in Whitehall? And yet people in Whitehall feel they have the right to cut off local government and leave people to all kinds of forces without understanding that not everyone has the capacity to engage with the market in that way.
I find it a not very hopeful scenario, and that is why I spend a lot of time trying to connect people with that long sweep of historical struggle, and giving them some tools of analysis so they can better understand what is going on around them.

Article by Andrew Bowman

This article was originally published in The Mule online newspaper in August 2011, and is reproduced by permission of the author.

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Manchester Irish in Britain Representation Group

The Irish in Britain Representation group was an Irish community group which campaigned nationally across the UK and had an active branch in Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s. The organisation campaigned on a wide range of issues including anti-Irish racism, education , culture, rights of women, history, language, civil rights, miscarriages of justice and the war in the North of Ireland. Membership included both those born in Ireland and those born in Britain.

This is the first of two articles collecting memories of those involved in the Manchester branch of the IBRG.

Anti-Irish “Humour”

The Manchester branch took up a number of examples of anti-Irish “humour”, believing that such “jokes” were racist and attacked the self-confidence of the community. In July 1985 the branch wrote a letter of protest to Granada TV about the programme The Comedians, which routinely featured Irish “jokes”. Writing in response to the complaint John Hamp, Head of Light Entertainment, said that no offence had been intended:

“The Comedians reflects the sort of humour to be heard currently in summer shows, theatres and clubs around the country. No joke is intended to be interpreted seriously, and none are delivered in a malicious manner by the comedians. In fact, it’s usually the impossible or unlikely aspect of a joke which gives it humour, whatever the subject. The series employs several Irish comedians as well as comics from other parts of Great Britain. and they tell gags about themselves, their environment and each other – in a friendly and good humoured atmosphere. We feel The Comedians keeps within the accepted limits of humour and know it is enjoyed by a large audience, but regret that you feel cause to complain, and have taken note of your comments”.

In August 1986 IBRG wrote a letter of protest to the Equal Opportunities Commission over an EOC booklet entitled Do Girls Give Themselves a Fair Chance? It included a cartoon in which a young woman bricklayer on a building site is shown as being smarter and more hardworking than two male operatives who are, of course, Irish and are shown speaking in “Oirish”. In reply, the EOC’s Ann Godwin said that she very much regretted it had caused offence and that it would be revised in a new edition.

Travellers

Just before Christmas 1987 eighty DHSS investigators, accompanied by police with dogs, swamped a travellers’ camp in Salford, demanding to see children’s birth certificates. The “visit” occurred in the wake of a local press campaign which alleged that “tinkers” were flooding into the area and defrauding the benefits system. When they read of the case in the press IBRG members visited the site and offered support and practical help to the travellers as well as writing to DHSS and issuing a press release. IBRG said that it was:

“diabolical that people can be treated in this way. Whole families can be left without money at a time when most people are spending too much and eating too much. It is indicative of the way that in which people who are Irish and travellers can be hounded without any criticism of the methods or motives of organisations such as DHSS”.

Conferences

The branch thought it important to bring together Irish people to consider and discuss the issues affecting their lives, believing that it broke down the isolation many Irish people often felt when it comes to talking about issues of identity, injustice, racism and much else.

The branch’s first major conference took place on Saturday 14th November 1987 at Manchester Town Hall and was entitled “Hearts and Minds – The Irish in Britain Today”. Over 140 delegates attended, both as individuals and also representing organisations such as local authorities and North West Arts. The conference was formally opened by the Chair of Manchester City Council, Councillor Eileen Kelly. She was followed by Desmond Greaves, the noted historian and leading member of the Connolly Association, who illuminated the role that emigration has played in the lives of the Irish. This theme came up constantly during the day in the seminars.

Mary Lennon, author of a book on Irish women in Britain, looked at the pattern of Irish women’s emigration to Britain, highlighting the fact that more women than men have emigrated from Ireland and contradicting the stereotype of the Irish emigrant to Britain as being a male building worker. Moy McCrory used her book of short stories The Water’s Edge to comment on the experience of growing up in an Irish working class background in Liverpool. In her seminar on Irish Dimensions in British Education, Mary Hickman underlined the importance of having Irish studies on the curriculum of all British schools and colleges. Micheal ORiabhaigh also focused on Liverpool and commented on some of the profound obstacles that it faced in realising and expressing an Irish identity.

Pat Reynolds took up the theme of identity and anti-Irish racism. He traced the roots of this racism back to the connected history of Britain and Ireland and in this colonial relationship found the basis of present day anti-Irish racism.

IBRG judged the conference to be a great success with many important discussions in the seminars – and outside in the corridors over cigarettes and tea. It gave the Irish from all over the North West an opportunity to meet and discuss common issues. IBRG ensured that half the speakers were women and provided a creche, which was well-used

IBRG’s next conference was held to coincide with twentieth anniversary of British troops going onto the streets of the six counties and was entitled “Justice for Irish People; 20 Years On” and rook place on Saturday 10th June 1989 at Manchester Town Hall.

Another conference entitled “We Are A River Flowing…..”. took place on Saturday 3rd July 1993 at St Brendan’s Irish Centre. It encompassed a day of discussion and debate on the history of the Irish community. The final speaker Mary Nellis (a Sinn Fein councillor from Derry) spoke on Women in the Six Counties: the Struggle Goes On and On, throwing away her prepared speech after a few minutes and speaking off the cuff about her experiences in Derry in a lengthy contribution that gripped and moved the audience.

The future development of the Irish community was the subject of the next conference which was called “Irish Heartbeats” and took place on 16th March 1996 at the Friends Meeting House.

Culture

IBRG members collaborated with Adrian Mealing at Green Room to put on The Hairy Marys on 13th November 1987. The Hairy Marys were a group of talented Irish dancers from London who had tired of some of the traditions that had encrusted Irish traditional dance and used comedy and cabaret in their performance. The programme described them thus: “The HMs are a madcap gang of Irish dancers. These four raucous women dance reels to ragtime and jigs to jazz. For the past five years they have been entertaining audiences up and down the country with their irreverent mixture of traditional Irish dance, music and comedy. They are Maire Clerkin, Hester Goodman, Carmel McAree and Susan Swanton”. On the evening they went down a storm.

IBRG worked with the Green Room again to present Sean O’Neill and Company in a performance entitled Kavanagh of Inniskeen as part of the Irish week on Friday 18th March 1988. The following evening there was live music from The Jacket Potatoes, an Irish trio from London, who played both traditional tunes and a number of political songs about the situation in the North of Ireland.

The next co-promotion with the Green Room was on 16th June 1988 when Trouble & Strife Theatre Company from London performed “Now And At The Hour Of Our Death”, a play written by Sonja Lyndon. The programme notes read as follows: “It is the year 2000 and life has changed dramatically for the people of Northern Ireland. Four Irish women look back twenty years to a time when they each had a dream. Between them there is an unshakeable bond forged from the shared horror of the No Wash protest in Armagh prison in 1980. The vivid performances explore the complex relationship between women and violence and produce a magnificent piece of theatre which will shock, amuse and move.” The play lived up to the pre-publicity, according to those who saw it. Incidentally, the young women performers in the theatre company arrived a day early due to a mix-up and were all accommodated at an IBRG member’s house.

On 16th September 1988 IBRG put on Toss the Feathers at St Brendan’s Irish Centre This was at the height of the TTF mania and hundreds of people turned up. Members recall that the beerstained proceeds from the evening were carried home stuffed into pockets and helped to fund branch activities for many months afterwards.

The Hairy Marys returned to the Green Room on Sunday 19th March 1989 as part of a St Patrick’s Day Celebration, one of the “Family Fundays” being run by the Green Room at this period, running a dance workshop for children who then performed later in the afternoon.

Manchester IBRG initiated the first Irish Film Festival in Manchester in collaboration with the Cornerhouse in 1988. In all there were six seasons at the Cornerhouse between 1988 and 1993. The aim was to celebrate and showcase past and present Irish efforts in this art-form, but also to use it as a way of exploring contemporary social and political issues through the use of associated day-schools and speakers.

IBRG also organised events during the Manchester Festival in 1991 and 1992 under the title Mise Eire. These included history walks, evenings with writers Moy McCrory, Moya Roddy, Clairr O’Connor and Berlie Doherty, music from Banshee, Rattle and Reel, Red Ciel and The Jacket Potatoes, dance by The Hairy Marys, and storytelling.

History

The branch organised a number of events in April 1991 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, an anniversary which was virtually ignored by the Irish government, part of the so-called “revisionist” attack on celebrations of past Irish struggle which were supposedly giving aid and sustenance to the armed struggle in the north.

The first event was on Thursday 18th April, an evening entitled Poetry and Songs of the Rising held at St Brendan’s Irish centre. Actor Sean O’Neill, a good friend of Manchester IBRG, read poems by WB Yeats, Patrick Pearse, Thomas McDonough and others, followed by music from local musicians.

On that Friday evening there was a chance to Rock To The Rising at Chorlton Irish Centre. Music was provided by Tradition, one of West Yorkshire’s most popular Irish groups, who brought a coachload of young and enthusiastic supporters over with them and a good time was apparently had by all. Those who had not indulged too heavily the night before joined a history walk at lunchtime around Manchester City Centre.

The final event was on Sunday 21st April at St Brendan’s Irish Centre at which there were videos, music, bookstall, an Irish history quiz and a talk from Kevin Collins, author of The Cultural Conquest of Ireland. To accompany these events Ruth and Edmund Frow of the Working Class Movement Library in Salford put on an Easter Rising exhibition at the library.

There were many celebrations and conferences in 1998 to commemorate the bicentenary of the 1798 Rising. Manchester IBRG organised its own conference which put the Rising squarely in the context of community history and development. This took place on Saturday 20th June 1998 at the Friends Meeting House

Gaelic Language

On Wednesday 5th June 1991 the branch organised a meeting at St Brendan’s Irish Centre to discuss the attack by the Northern Ireland office on Glor na nGael. The meeting was part of a speaking tour of Manchester and London set up by IBRG to highlight the discrimination being exercised by the Northern Ireland Office against the Irish language. Glor na nGael was started in 1982 in response to the growing demand for Irish language nursery schools in the Belfast area to co-ordinate the schools and train their teachers. Patricia Campbell from Glor na nGael spoke at the Manchester meeting, which was followed by a discussion with a number of Irish speakers.

Article by Michael Herbert

Women at the Peterloo Massacre

The Peterloo massacre took place on 16 August 1819. A crowd of tens of thousands of working men and women and some children, which had gathered on St Peter’s Field on the edge of Manchester to demand political reform, was attacked without warning by armed yeomanry and soldiers with drawn swords. The crowd was brutally dispersed in a few minutes. Hundreds were injured and at least 18 people killed. It was one of the most traumatic political events in Manchester’s history, whose echoes can still be heard today. The role of women both in the events leading up to the meeting and on the day itself has often been overlooked.

Local radicals had called the open-air meeting to demand political reform of parliament as a remedy for economic distress. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester had grown from a small market town to a large industrial city, but it still had no member of parliament. No working man had the vote. The people were excluded from formal political life.

The reform movement had been in existence in one form or another since the 1790s, inspired by the American and French Revolutions and the writings of Thomas Paine. It had been driven underground by government repression during the wars against France but re-emerged after 1815. The movement attracted a new energetic audience amongst the working people of the expanding towns of the north created by the industrial revolution.

The movement included women who organised Female Reform societies in Manchester, Blackburn, Oldham and Royton.

In Blackburn, Alice Kitchen of the Blackburn Female Reform Society said that “our homes which once ample testimony of our industry and cleanliness…are now alas! robbed of all their ornaments… behold our innocent children… how appalling are their cries for bread.”

On 10 July 1819 the radical newspaper the Manchester Observer printed an address from the Blackburn Society which called on every man in England to join reform societies and fight for annual parliaments, universal suffrage and election by ballot “which alone can save us from lingering misery and premature death.” They also referred to the importance that women attached to their position as mothers and educating their children in democratic ideas. “We have already come forward with the avowed determination, of instilling into the minds of our offspring a deep-rotted abhorrance of tyranny.”

The women in the Stockport Society explained in their Articles of Association that it had been founded “for the purpose of co-operating with their male associates:”

“We who form and constitute the Stockport Female Union Society, having reviewed for a considerable time past the apathy, and frequent insult of our oppressed countrymen, by those sordid and all-devouring fiends, the Borough-mongering Aristocracy, and in order to accelerate the emancipation of this suffering nation, we, do declare, that we will assist the Male Union formed in this town, with all the might and energy that we possess, and that we will adhere to the principles, etc., of the Male Union…and assist our Male friends to obtain legally, the long-lost Rights and Liberties of our country.”

The Manchester Female Reform Society was also formed in July 1819 and issued an address entitled “Dear Sisters of the Earth”. It was an appeal directed at other women “to the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the higher and middling classes of society”:

“It is with a spirit of peaceful consideration and due respect that we are induced to address you, upon the causes of that have compelled us to associate together in aid of our suffering children, our dying parents, and the miserable partners of our woes. Bereft, not only of that support, the calls of nature require for existence; but the balm of sweet repose hath long been a stranger to us. Our minds are filled with a horror and despair, fearful on each returning morn, the light of heaven should present to us the corpse of some of our famished off spring , or nearest kindred, which the more kind hand of death had released from the oppressor…Every succeeding nights bring with it new terror, so that we are sick of life and weary of a world, where poverty , wretchedness, tyranny and injustice, have so long been permitted to reign…”

Like their sisters in other societies they blamed the aristocracy and land-owners for their plight . “The lazy boroughmongering eagles of destruction” who have “nearly picked bare the bones of those who labour” will “chase you to misery and death until the middle and useful class of society is swept by their relentless hands from the face of creation.”

The address also condemned the recent war against France and the carnage at Waterloo as having imposed upon them a burden of taxation, ended once-flourishing trade and commerce, and left thousands of widows and orphans destitute and unprotected. The only beneficiaries had been landowning MPs whose property had risen in value. They declared that could no longer “bear the ponderous weight of our chains any longer”, leaving them with no choice “but to tear them asunder and dash them in the face of our remorseless oppressor.” The address was signed by Susannah Saxton as Secretary of the Society

The Society drew up a further address to Henry Hunt, one of the principle speakers at the Peterloo meeting, which they had intended to present to him at the meeting on along with the Society’s banner, which showed a woman holding the scales of justice and treading the serpent of corruption underfoot. The meeting was dispersed before this the presentation could take place and so the address was printed in the Manchester Observer.

In these addresses the women, whilst expressing solidarity with men and asserting their right to comment publicly on political questions, made no claim for political rights for themselves, at least publicly. Their private thoughts are more difficult to discern as, unlike the men, none of the women later published political memoirs.

The description of the bloody attack on the meeting by Samuel Bamford, a leading Radical, in his book Passages in the Life of a Radical (1844) is well-known and almost invariably quoted in any account of Peterloo. Less well-known is the equally vivid account by his wife Jemima in the same book:

“I was determined to go to the meeting, and should have followed, even if my husband had refused his consent to my going with the procession. From what I, in common with others, had heard the week previous, ‘that if the country people went with their caps of liberty, and their banners, and music, the soldiers would be brought to them,’ I was uneasy, and felt persuaded, in my own mind, that something would be the matter, and I had best go with my husband, and be near him; and if I only saw him I should be more content than in staying at home. I accordingly, he having consented after much persuasion, gave my little girl something to please her, and promising more on my return, I left her with a careful neighbour woman, and joined some other married females at the head of the procession. Every time I went aside to look at my husband, and that was often, an ominous impression smote my heart. He looked very serious, I thought, and I felt a foreboding of something evil to befall us that day.
I was dressed plainly as a countrywoman in my second best attire. My companions were also neatly dressed as the wives of working men; I had seen Mr Hunt before that time; they had not, and some of them were quite eager to obtain good places, that they might see and hear one of whom so much had been reported.
In going down Mosley Street, I lost sight of my husband. Mrs Yates, who had hold of my arm, would keep hurrying forward to get a good place, and when the crowd opened for the Middleton procession, Mrs Yates and myself, and some others of the women, went close to the hustings, quite glad that we had obtained such a situation for seeing an hearing all. My husband got on the stage, but when afterwards I saw him leap down, and lost sight of him, I began to be unhappy. The crowd seemed to have increased very much, for we became insufferably pressed. We were surrounded by men who were strangers; we were almost suffocated, and to me the heat was quite sickening; but Mrs. Yates, being taller than myself, supported it better. I felt I could not bear this long, and I became alarmed. I reflected that if there was any more pressure, I must faint, and then what would become of me? I begged of the men to open a way and let me go out, but they would not move. Every moment I became worse, and I told some other men, who stood in a row, that I was sick, and begged they would let me pass them, and they immediately made a way, and I went down a long passage betwixt two ranks of these men, many of them saying, ‘make way, she’s sick, she’s sick, let her go out,’ and I passed quite out of the crowd and, turning to my right, I got on some high ground, on which stood a row of houses – this was Windmill Street.
I thought if I could get to stand at the door of one of those houses, I should have a good view of the meeting, and should perhaps see my husband again; and I kept going further down the row, until I saw a door open, and I stepped within it, the people of the house making no objections. By this time Mr Hunt was on the hustings, addressing the people. In a minute or two some soldiers came riding up. The good folks of the house, and some who seemed to be visitors, said, ‘the soldiers were only come to keep order; they would not meddle with the people;’ but I was alarmed. The people shouted, and then the soldiers shouted, waving their swords. Then they rode amongst the people, and there was a great outcry, and a moment after, a man passed without hat, and wiping the blood of his head with his hand, and it ran down his arm in a great stream.
The meeting was all in a tumult; there were dreadful cries; the soldiers kept riding amongst the people, and striking with their swords. I became faint, and turning from the door, I went unobserved down some steps into a cellared passage; and hoping to escape from the horrid noise, and to be concealed, I crept into a vault, and sat down, faint and terrified, on some fire wood. The cries of the multitude outside, still continued, and the people of the house, up stairs, kept bewailing most pitifully. They could see all the dreadful work through the window, and their exclamations were so distressing, that I put my fingers in my ears to prevent my hearing more; and on removing them, I understood that a young man had just been brought past, wounded. The front door of the passage before mentioned, soon after opened, and a number of men entered, carrying the body of a decent, middle aged woman, who had been killed. I thought they were going to put her beside me, and was about to scream, but they took her forward, and deposited her in some premises at the back of the house.”

According to recent research by historian Michael Bush for his book The Casualties of Peterloo, at least 18 people were killed , of whom four were women. These were named as:
Margaret Downes, Manchester – sabred
Mary Heys, Chorlton Row – trampled by cavalry
Sarah Jones, Manchester – truncheoned
Martha Partington, Barton – crushed in a cellar

At least 654 people were recorded as being injured of whom 168 were women.

Some of the crowd fought back. Samuel Bamford recorded the following anonymous fighter:

“A heroine, a young married woman of our party, with her face all bloody, her hair streaming about her, her bonnet hanging by the string, and her apron weighed with stones, kept her assailant at bay until she fell backwards and was near being taken; but she got way covered with severe bruises.”

The Manchester Female Reform Society continued in existence after Peterloo. Another address was made to William Cobbett in November 1819. Cobbet had returned from the USA with Thomas Paine’s bones, disinterred by William Benbow, but had been prevented from entering Manchester with them by the authorities. A third address was made to WG Lewis from Coventry when he chaired a meeting in Manchester in April 1820 to raise funds for political prisoners.

Article by Michael Herbert

Protesting Manchester Airport’s second runway

An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 82-86.

Life on the Battle Star: A Personal Account

This interview was gently extracted from a war-torn activist three days after the eviction of the last tree at Flywood camp at Manchester Airport. There were still tunnel systems being occupied, and other tree houses have gone up since. This follows one person’s experience of one of the most successfully defended tree houses from the beginning to the end of the Battle Star Galactica.

Good evening from Captain Battlestar, who is totally nameless and will put on a silly accent throughout this interview.

The Campaign Builds

Could you give us the background to the campaign?

The second runway had been on the cards for 25 years. After the public enquiry finished in 1994 Earth First! types joined up with activists from the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, forming the RunWay Coalition. We had meetings but it didn’t start to escalate until ’96.

In May ’96 we all walked the route of the runway. 20 of us went up to where Flywood would be a year later, and took photos of what turned out to be my tree. We went down through the willows and everything was so wild we had to slash a path through the undergrowth and into the meadow. We just thought Wow, it was totally awesome. We realised the main way to get people involved was to get them to experience the place. More & more walks were done with more and more people.

One night in late ’96 I got a phone call saying that the decision whether or not to build it would be announced the next day. We thought, shit we haven’t got anything ready, no tree houses rigged up. Their security were already patrolling the sites looking for protesters. So a couple of us decided to go for it. We tatted some tarps and some ply wood and joists and planned a night mission to move in. We had rekied the site in disguise as dog walkers with barber jackets and found the most strategic point. That then became Flywood. At 7pm on Saturday the advance party of 5 climbers ran across the road carrying polyprop and climbing gear and disappeared off into the woods. An hour later the tat van turned up and managed to crash through the gates, unload and get 30 people on site, all without being spotted. We managed to set up a ground camp with a tree house 70 foot up all between 7 p.m. to 7 am.

The next morning, sitting in the bow of my tree watching the birds play, I saw a police car pass without even noticing us. We had thought they were on the ball – so we took the camp the night before runway walk. At midday 100 people turned up. The first thing the police knew about our camp was on the 3 o’clock news. Lots turned up and the camp came together really fast after that.

The A30 camp was being evicted 2 days before we moved in so while they were going down we were going up. It was a really nice feeling. They could not stop us. A few weeks later the A30 refugees turned up en masse. It all came together so beautifully. Within a week we had another camp set up – Zion Tree – a 100 year old beech. We got many locals from North West moving there, many of them giving up their jobs.

Could you paint a picture of what type of ecology and landscape is being destroyed?

Most of the site was in the beautiful Bolin Valley. The woodland was called Hux Bank Wood which stretched from Zion Tree to Fly Wood down to River Rats. The whole valley was a grade A site of biological importance, just one down from a S.S.S.I. There are hundreds and hundreds of mature trees. The river meandering through the valley is to be encased in a massive concrete tube and, along with the rest of the valley, buried under rubble from a Derbyshire quarry. The whole thing is 4 million cubic metres- as large as the cutting at Twyford. The runway is around 300 hundred metres wide. All the woodland in that valley is to be completely annihilated, it is the removal of an entire landscape.

How many people from the surrounding communities were actively involved?

Virtually everybody there was from the North West, apart from the usual rent-a-mob, which was the beauty of it. We got a few from Wigan and surrounding towns. It’s not so much that there were so many locals involved but that they were new to protesting. They were defending their own land.

There was an established campaign in Mobley next door, a little town that will be right at the end of the proposed runway. One vet said after the decision was made he would start knitting a balaclava. During the eviction they organised that every Saturday they’d hold a vigil by the main gates. On the Saturday that the Battlestar came down there were 400 of them. One of the women from Mobley came up in the first week saying she was just a housewife but what could she do. After telling her there was no such thing she made a wish list which she took around the village. She collected tat every day in her vehicle and the villagers made up sealed eviction stashes with games and drinks and things. It was really amazing – they were thoroughly behind us.

We heard that ‘defencing’ often ended up quite full on?

The security started putting up fences between the camps with razor wire. You could lose your finger on it. We started resisting, they started arresting us. Soon the security started conniving with the police to help beat us so we pixied at night generally just snipping it and taking it back to camp for building material. Cliff Richard camp was mainly constructed out of the fence.

One night a large group went out to the fence and started to tear it down. Some people who were heading off down the valley looking for a lost child bumped into the police who were arriving to deal with the fence trashers. One copper got out of the car, pulled out his truncheon and just started attacking people, with no warning, laying into people with his baton; the result being broken knuckles from trying to block the blows, broken ribs, missing teeth, battered heads. The people acted in self defence. The police Land Rover ended up getting some of its lights and windows smashed in. As a result the police withdrew, the security withdrew and the fences were left unguarded, 100 metres was removed that night, flattened and destroyed.

On another night police starting laying into people and arrests were made for ‘violent disorder’, ‘riot’ which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, and ‘using a dangerous dog as a weapon’. One person who was rescued from the police had broken ribs. He was jumped on by cops waving their batons on the way to hospital. Inside the hospital they surrounding him saying “do you want some”, then they quick-cuffed & dragged him off. Some are on remand now but as usual the police’s statements are cocking up so they should be out soon.

Tell us about the tree house you lived in – BattleStar Galactica. What tactics did you use to actually keep your tree house pig-proof.

The logical process was: (A) get rid of the cherry picker. That was done with a system of tunnels strategically surrounding the trees making the ground unstable for heavy machinery on one side, and with a steep bank on the other side that was too high for the Cherry Pickers. (B) make it climber-proof – this was quite difficult, because the little bastards climb everywhere! However if you have a tree house wall which is six feet or more and the edge of it is covered in barbed wire, and grease, and razor fence, and there’s someone there who’s not going to let you over it, it is virtually impossible to climb round it. So that was the starting point: to make the scab-proof “battle” platform.

We lashed these big brackets onto the tree, built the frame, boarded it, and then we covered the top-side in razor fence, which meant that they couldn’t chain-saw or saw through it. There was a coil of barbed wire on the underside of the platform, on the top, and right round the edge, so that you couldn’t get hold of the thing. It was hideously difficult to get round it, even with no one on it, but of course with eight people running around on it, saying “No, you’re not coming up”, and being very strong and resisting them, basically they were stuffed. Then just to make it a little bit more fun, we decided to actually stop them being able to get up the trunk full-stop. So at a height of about twelve feet above the ground, we put coils of barbed wire, like you’d see on top of a prison. Then we thought, tree-surgeons with their spiky boots will just spike up it, but the only thing that can stop spikes is metal. So we got some corrugated sheet, and nailed that on the tree, then greased it just to make it even more unpleasant.

And then just to make it a little bit more unpleasant, I put another 10-15 feet of coiled barbed wire, this time vertically down the trunk, stapled on quite firmly, before I realised that I may have just put a set of hand-holds up the tree. So we stopped there and put another seven feet collar at the top, then greased that. The main thing with the collars is to make sure that they’re really thoroughly nailed on – you need to put a helluva lot of nails in, which people do not like doing to trees, unfortunately. But we decided that we’d rather kill one tree and save a wood than not do it and just inevitably lose. A gas bottle was hung amongst the coils of barbed wire, untethered so it was just sat there- a deterrent.

I had a sun-lounger on the top, for sitting in the sun and having breakfast on. And then came along two activists who pitched a ridge tent on top it. So there was a two man tent on top of a sun lounger on top of a razor wire covered tree house 65 foot up. This was ridiculous! That is when it became a proper shanty town.

How long were you up in the trees for?

Well I moved in and lived up there until I got taken out. The evictions started on the Tuesday and nine-days later they hit Flywood. Once we were under proper eviction it was three and a half days until me and #### were down.

The Eviction

Can you describe how the eviction started?

At 3.45am, an advance guard of Manchester cops bolt-cropper’d their way into Zion camp under the cover of aircraft noise – people heard them and went over to investigate. They were met by a large number of balaclava’d, riot-helmeted, baton-wielding men-in-black, who charged down a path after them. They beat the campaigners on the back of the head, and when they were either knocked to the ground or got on the ground, they sat on them and told them not to say a word. People up in Zion Tree couldn’t see what was happening, but knew something was. They shouted “Are you alright?”, and no one could reply coz they were gonna get their fucking heads kicked in.

Less than quarter of an hour later they hit Zion and Jimi Hendrix, which was where this journalist was – he was in a bender just before the main camp – they smacked him across the face and it split quite nastily – there was a lot of blood. It was a big mistake to start whacking HTV journalists across the face, because it just backs up the stories of violence against us.

Largely as a result they didn’t go into any of the camps in quite the same full-on manner. The original raiders, about ten people, went in there absolutely psyched to attack people. If ten anti-roads activists went piling into somewhere wearing ballies, wielding sticks, they’d all be done for riot, getting eight years each. The whole thing is totally one-sided and ridiculous.

What was the media pen?

Well they fenced us off relatively early on. When they did the Zion, Jimmy and Garlic evictions, journalists were taken to a bit of field by the airport and from there you could see very little. They were deliberately being kept away from good shots. This was part of the whole strategy of the eviction, which was to control and limit the number of people that could see what was going on. It is ironic in a way coz in terms of the state it was one of the safest and most non-violent evictions to date. So, as other people could tell you from Newbury, you’ve got a private eviction here, and they could quite easily have trashed us.

On the whole, there was no violent resistance. We didn’t need to, because the climbers moved so slowly. They weren’t interested in rushing. It took nine days to get through four tree camps, none of which in their own right were particularly difficult. They just went really slowly, and generally pretty carefully. Which doesn’t justify it at all, but it neutralises your anger.

When they came to the Battlestar they didn’t even attempt to climb up into it, but one of the first things they did was to ring bark it. They took out a section of bark about three or four inches right round, this kills the tree. I think it was done as a bit of a sick joke, to wind us all up. They saw us as a challenge, and it did shake us up. We lost our cool. Basically it was “bollocks” to fluffy – you start sawing into our tree, we’re gonna get a bit hardcore. In the end we all calmed down, but something that we’ll all remember is the moment when the chain saw guy took a 24 inch chain saw to our tree and we didn’t actually know what he’s was going to do with it. Imagine he said, “You’re not going to believe this!” and then started cutting into the tree, basically we thought that he was going to cut a wedge out of it. Or cut it in some seriously destabilising way to scare us off. If it had been a bluff it wouldn’t have worked because we’d all have stayed up no matter what.

Beyond Battlestar there were the twigs, and the branches at the very top. One of our crew, who’s a bit of a nutter, came up with an idea. He tied a set of hangman’s nooses to the very top of the branches, you could just about get to them but it was pretty dangerous. People from below wouldn’t be able to get to the nooses to cut them, and they wouldn’t be able to get a harness on the person in the noose and in theory they wouldn’t be able to pull you off because it would hang you. And it did work, as I found out! I did it. They did attempt to scare me, trying to get me to think they were gonna come and get me anyway. The boss climber, Richard Turner, reassured me that the branch the noose was tied to would snap like a carrot before it hanged me. This wasn’t very reassuring, coz if the branch snapped like a carrot I’d fall 50-60 feet to the ground and die. But in the end, either they decided to back down anyway, or they were bluffing- it was just too much for them. Most of the time I was in the noose and they were below me, I was in front of the Press Association and the BBC, saying, “Get the fucking camera to the other side of the bank, coz I’m about to die and I want it to be on telly!”

And how did they actually evict you in the end?

The Battlestar really worked- it delayed them and meant that they had to bring in a cherry picker rather than simply use climbers. They came up late on a Sunday after we’d been sitting down on the platform chilling out in the sun carving chess-pieces. I sussed what they were up to – that they were clearing trees to bring a cherry-picker in, and I saw that they were building a bridge. But I couldn’t really believe they were going to come in that late on a Sunday. Then we saw a bulldozer and Chief Climber Richard Turner said, “You’d better pack your bags. Are you coming down?”. It was late on a Sunday, all the Sheriff’s men had gone. There was no press, no cameras, the police evidence gatherers had gone. There were nine of us up there. So everybody apart from about two or three of us went down to the battle platform and sat with all the tat and got ready to resist. A cherry picker delivered bailiffs to the platform but it still took the state the best part of an hour to dismantle the three platforms, and throw everything out, and thoroughly smash everything up. One person went down with them which left eight of us up a bare tree, with no platforms. I had a hammock and a rucksack, but no one else had their stuff with them. However we’d managed to salvage most of the bedding, biscuits, chocolate, alcohol and a spliff – all the essentials!

Then the climbers went home, and wished us an uncomfortable night, and ++++ absailed out of the tree and got arrested – she didn’t want to stay. We had a bit of a meeting, and four of the remaining seven decided to try and build overnight an escape walkway system. It would have been quite amusing defending the tree for six days, causing them real grief, and then in the night just disappearing. They’d come back the next day to find an empty tree. I wasn’t into it at all, I was going to stay until the end, because that’s what I’d psyched myself up for over the last few months. But other people were really into the idea. So four tried, but unfortunately they believed a bailiff who promised them safe passage off the site. They came down and got nicked.

So they went, and that left three of us up there. At this stage in the eviction the climbers could have started using the battle platform as a staging point. So me and **** destroyed it. We slung a hammock up the top of a tree, put in loads of bedding and fell asleep. When the bailiffs came in the morning, they couldn’t believe we were all cozy, with food and alcohol cradled in the branches. With the entire tree so difficult to climb they realised they’d have to go off and get a cherry-picker. Every morning we took down the hammock – we wanted to hold out for at least seven days. **** came down without resisting; **** took the remaining bedding and food across neighbouring walkways to a sycamore tree.

When the cherry-pickers came, I took my harness off and waved it at them from the branches. I had my rucksack full of food and my hammock and climbed to the very top branch. I just kept climbing. The bailiff was saying, “The tree’s coming down today,” and I kept saying, “No, the tree’s not coming down today!”. He was going psychotic. Fortunately the cherry-pickers couldn’t reach me, and they knew they couldn’t reason with me not wanting to risk the thirty-foot drop with a noose round my neck. They decided to back off.

After a while they brought in a bulldozer to raise the level of the ground around the tree, after four hours the cherry-picker was back. With the extra couple of feet, they could reach us. So after much deliberation, I shot across the walkway to the sycamore, where I hoped they couldn’t reach me. But they could. I was totally fucked after all this. Traumatised. I don’t think I could go through that again. My energy was completely sapped, and therewas four in the cherrypicker basket so resistance was pretty mch futil. So I absailed it down.

Tell us about the Battlestar crew?

The original plan was to have about five people up there, but people kept coming up, wanting to join the Battlestar. So we built the sister-ship, the Pentagon, which was good coz it meant we had an extra tree defended, extra space and extra shit for the bailiffs to deal with. We had a really good crew: most of us knew each other, so we tended to get on pretty well. We had a similar approach in many ways, but diverse backgrounds. We had a teacher, some dole activists, some professional climbers, long-standing campaigners that had been to Newbury and so on. Most people, like me, hadn’t been in a tree eviction before. Basically it was one big happy family, with no stereotyped roles, sexism or whatever. We all grouped together for comfort, and gave each other strength. We made most decisions as a group, and got people to decide for themselves what they wanted to do. Since our eviction we all gone separate ways. We had all our different campaigns, so some went off to Lyminge, others to Sherwood Forest and so on.

To the Future

What message would you like to give to other campaigns?

Don’t put a noose round your neck unless you’re fucking insane! There’s a lot to be said for thinking, planning – rather than just throwing yourself into the first idea that comes to your head. Tactical thinking. Get to know the people and the area you’re working with. Make sure your house is big, so you can have plenty of food and supplies. Before you even start thinking about building, look at the terrain, the landscape, at other trees. If you’re the first there, it’s worth spending a week looking into how to deal with different types of eviction. Like in a clump of trees, where you can defend each other. Battlestar was at the hub of a group of four trees. Each of those had a Battlestar-type platform. So you can have a network of trees, all interconnected. The stronger the community, the more difficult it becomes for them to get you.

Another important issue to deal with on campaigns is the macho, lairy, male, aggressive brew-crew culture. At first there was no problem. There were as many women as men, and Flywood was the vegan camp, with a pretty sorted community. But later on, the percentage of men got higher, and things got rather alpha-male. Sorted people started leaving, and less experienced people started taking over. In the end there were only three people left at Flywood ground camp, and it became really lairy, scaring away locals. This puts people off getting involved. It has to be nipped in the bud.

Get On Down & Get Involved

This was one person’s story, but hundreds participated in the Manchester Airport evictions, up trees, down tunnels, and on the ground. More camps are being set up and as we go to print there is still someone in the tunnel system. You can be involved in the next stage of the camapign. This was just the beginning.

This article first appeared in issue 6 (1997) of Do Or Die: Voices from the Ecological Resistance, a periodical associated with movements such as Earth First! and anti-roads campaigns from 1992 to 2003. The editorial collective of Do Or Die puts no restriction on non-commercial use of material from their publications.

Anarchists on Ardwick Green, 1893

In the early 1890s, anarchist organisers in Manchester held regular public open-air meetings at a number of sites across the city. By the second half of 1893, particularly after complaints by a local vicar, the police became involved.

The earliest mention of the open-air meetings held by the Manchester Anarchist Communist Group is a date of about 1886 given in the brief autobiography of London anarchist George Cores, although he may be setting the date a little early. His recollections were that:

“Two lads, Alfred Barton, a clerk and Herbert Stockton (an odd job man and later an industrial insurance agent) commenced, with a group of other working boys and girls, to hold meetings at Preston Park Gates on Sunday mornings, at Stevenson Square on Sunday afternoons, in St Augustine’s Parish on Sunday evenings and near the market during the week. This was about 1886. Barton and Stockton were very sincere, brave lads and worked hard in the propaganda for many years. It was the custom to look to London for public speakers and I spoke at several of their open-air meetings. I felt very bashful in the presence of so many charming and enthusiastic girls.”

As an article in the anarchist newspaper Freedom, dated August 1890, described how:

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

The same group also organised a large meeting In Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter in April 1892 to protest at the arrest of anarchists in Walsall. Amongst the speakers were Alfred Barton, Herbert Stockton, David Nicoll and Sheffield anarchists John Bingham.

By at least 1893 the group had started to hold meetings on Ardwick Green. It was hear that the Reverend Canon Nunn objected to his Sunday congregation having to face young men making anarchist speeches from a soap-box and reported them to the police. This set in train a series of arrests, counter-demonstrations and other provocations which saw a number of Manchester anarchists arrested, fined and even sent to jail in their stand for freedom of speech, but was commented on in the local press thus:

“In Manchester there is a handful of persons who delight in regarding themselves as Anarchists. They are chiefly tailors, and some of them allow their hair to grow long. There is nothing they dislike more than the laws and regulations provided for the peace and safety of the population. They cannot endure restraint. It is all very well for common people to be compelled to conform to orders, but they prefer to please themselves”

A highly detailed, though necessarily one-sided, account of the months from September to December 1893 is given in a chapter entitled “Manchester Anarchists at Work,” part of the autobiography of Manchester police detective Jerome Caminada, “25 Years of Detective Life.”

Caminada’s chronology goes as follows:

Late September 1893: residents in the area of Ardwick Green complain of obstruction on Sunday mornings, consisting of young men holding open-air meetings. A delegation of residents visit the Chief Constable, who tells the anarchists that Ardwick Green is a “very improper” place to hold meetings but that they are welcome to use Stevenson Square. They turn down the offer. When a man who disagrees with the anarchist speakers allegedly has to be protected by police, the Chief Constable “decided to interfere.”

Sunday October 1st 1893: Caminada and a Sergeant, Mr Button, go to Ardwick Green and find the Chief Constable there. At 11.30am a Belgian anarchist, Pellier, stands on a chair and starts to “address a crowd of several hundred people, his remarks being of a revolutionary character.” After he has been speaking for “some time” the Chief Constable tells Caminada he’s like to speak to Pellier, who complies immediately with the order to stop causing an obstruction, saying that he had a wife and family, had no desire to get into trouble, and would ask the meeting to break up. Instead, Alfred Barton stands up on the chair to speak and is pulled down, to be replaced by “a young mechanic named Patrick McCabe, who also fell into the hands of the police.”
This fired up the crowd who, when McCabe was pulled down, made “a general rush in the direction of the eight or nine policemen present.” Barton allegedly hit Caminada in the chest with the chair and knocked his hat off, and Caminada responded by laying about him with his umbrella.

Monday October 2nd: Patrick McCabe, mechanic, aged 20, William Haughton, pattern maker, aged 20, Ernest Stockton, engineer, aged 19, and Henry Burrows, clerk, aged 19 all appear in court. McCabe claimed that their supporters were being kept from the court, but was calmed when his witnesses identified themselves as present. Haughton complained that they had already been “tried and condemned” in the press, to be told by the magistrate that he took no notice of the newspapers. “The evidence was continually interrupted by Burrows shouting “It’s a lie,” and by derisive laughter and hisses by the friends of the Anarchists in the gallery, which led the Stipendiary to threaten to have that portion of the court in which they were seated cleared.”
Caminada also complained that he and other witnesses were cross-examined “in a very loud and insolent manner” and that he himself was accused by Haughton of having “a bad memory, like all policemen.” Burrows also questioned the Chief Constable, who put the police position but when he apparently could not answer some questions Haughton shouted “Are we to be gagged? He is in the hole and wants to get out of it.” Despite the uproars caused, the defendants were all found guilty and fined 21 shillings plus costs or a month’s imprisonment.
On hearing the verdict one defendant apparently shoulded “Hurrah for Anarchy” and Alfred Barton added “to hell with law and order,” for which he was arrested. He retracted the comment, but was bound over to keep the peace, with a recognisance of £5

The anarchists also responded to the incident by creating a comic song about Caminada and the ‘gamp’ (umbrella) which he had used to lash out with on October 1st:

The Scamp who Broke his Gamp at Ardwick Green
(To the tune of ‘Monte Carlo’)

The Anarchists held meetings that were orderly and good,
And the workers they did go
Just to hear the Anarchists show
How the rich church-going thieves live upon their sweat and blood,
And how the masters try and (sic) crush them low.

Chorus.

And as they walk about the street
“With an independent air,
The people all declare,
They must have knowledge rare ;
And they do say,
We wish the day,
When Anarchists shall have fair play,
And hold their meetings free at Ardwick Green, 0.

But Nunn he was a bigot and didn’t like the truth,
And he to the meetings went,
On making mischief bent.
He got policemen and detectives to attack them without ruth—
I think it’s time that he to heaven was sent.

Chorus.

And as he walks about the church
With an hypocritical air,
The people all do swear,
He is a humbug rare,
For he does yell,
And the people tell,
That all (who) think will go to hell,
The parson who interfered at Ardwick Green, 0.

Caminada showed his valour by knocking people down,
And using his gamp well,
Good citizens to fell.
He collared all the Anarchists, and marched them through the town,
And put them in the Fairfield station cell.

Chorus.

And he walks along the street
With an independent air,
The people all declare,
He is a scoundrel rare,
His head is ” Wood,”
And is no good,
Except to provide the pig’s with food,
The scamp who broke his gamp at Ardwiok Green, 0.

He brought them before the beak, and thought to give it them hot,
But his little game was off,
And he got it rather rough,
The Anarchists did bravely, and of cheek give him a lot,
And it won’t be very long before he’s had enough.

Chorus.

And as he walks along the court
With a ” big bug ” sort of air,
The people all declare,
Oh ! what a fall was there.
And they are sure,
He will never more
The Anarchists attempt to floor,
The D. who broke his gamp at Ardwick Green, 0.

He told a lot of thumpers, and spun some awful fibs,
But they soon proved him to be
A liar of high degree.
And though Headlam, like an idiot, made them fork out their ” dibs,”
They fairly got old Cam. up a tree.

Chorus.

And he walks about the street,
With an independent air,
The people all do swear,
He is a detective rare,
For he can lie,
And none can vie—
In the list of scamps, none stands so high
As the D. who broke his gamp at Ardwick Green, 0.

But the time is coming quickly when Cam. will repent
Of having tried his game
The Anarchists to lame,
Or he and his d——d crew will to that warm land be sent,
And never trouble honest folks again.
And he walks along the court,
With a hanging vicious air,
•The people will declare,
Oh ! what an awful scare.
And they will cry,
Oh ! let him die,
And deep down the gutter lie
The D. who broke his gamp at Ardwick Green, 0.

Sunday October 8th: encouraged by handbills printed to call a meeting on Ardwick Green “in spite of Caminada and his crew,” which had been fly-postered throughout the city, another crowd of several hundred people gathered, many of them hoping to see a fight. At 11:30 Patrick John Kelly, aged 22, a taxidermist, started speaking, but was quickly pulled down by the police, crying “Three cheers for Anarchy and revolution.” He was taken to Fairfield St police station, with a large crowd watching but refusing his pleas to intervene. Like his comrades the previous week, Kelly was fined 21 shillings and costs for obstructing a public highway.

Sunday October 16th: another anarchist meeting was advertised though handbills, this time drawing 3-4,000 people keen to see the notorious clashes. This necessitated “a large staff of police. The people were kept on the move, and as the Anarchists appeared they were ordered away,” according to Caminada. Eventually James Coates, a lithographic printer, mounted the rostrum to protest against the suppression of free speech by Caminada and the Reverend Canon Nunn. He and a number of other anarchists were again arrested and taken to Fairfield Street. Two men, Taylor and Payne, offered to post bail for the anarchists, but were refused because they couldn’t give the names of the men they were offering to pay for. They were then arrested themselves for causing an obstruction outside the police station.

Monday October 17th: Arthur Booth, joiner, aged 32; Max Falk, tailor, aged 28; Abraham Lewis, tailor, aged 21; James Coates, lithographic printer, aged 21; Edmund George Taylor, tutor, aged 51 ; Thomas Spaine, shoemaker, aged 26; Walter Payne, clerk, aged 29 ; William Downey Alien, printer, aged 26 ; James Beale, porter, aged 28; Charles Watts, newsagent, aged 23 ; and William Lancaster, labourer, aged 28 were all brought before the magistrate. Again, the anarchists denied obstruction. Spaine, Beale, and Lancaster were each fined 21 shillings, the others were all fined 40 shillings plus costs.

Sunday 22nd October: the police managed to stop the anticipated demonstration by deploying throughout Ardwick before a crowd could gather, although again ‘some thousands’ had turned up to watch, running around the area whenever an anarchist martyr was reported to have been seen. “These meetings were a little harvest for the publicans of the neighbourhood, some of whom had to engage extra waiters for Sundays during the agitation,” Caminada commented. The anarchists had not appeared because at a meeting the night before, they had promised that they would hold no more meetings until they had put their position before the authorities.

Monday October 23rd: a Dr Sinclair raised the issue of the Ardwick Green meetings before the City Council. His proposed solution was that the press should ask people to stay away to reduce the size of the crowds. He expressed the opinion that the police had been “high-handed and hasty” and that if the meetings were publicly ridiculed they would diminish. Mr Alderman Lloyd stated that as well as obstructing the highway, the language used at the meetings was foul. The meeting did not find in the anarchists’ favour.

Sunday 29th October: in response to a handbill reading “The Anarchists and Ardwick Green! Obstruction or Oppression? The City Council uphold Perjury and Violence! Overtures of Peace rejected! Caminada authorised to break the heads of Manchester Citizens! This Tyranny shall not succeed! The Anarchists will be at Ardwick Green on Sunday next, October 29, at 11:30. An Indignation Meeting will be held in Stevenson Square at 3. Attend in your thousands!” another large crowd gathered on Ardwick Green. After some time, and as people were starting to disperse, Herbert Stockton, a bootmaker, aged 23, crossed the park with 200 more people. He stood on the pedestal of a lamppost in the middle of the crossing of five roads, but was removed and arrested. According to George Cores, he served a month in prison “in the fight for Free Speech. An ironic feature is that his father was a warder in Strangeways Gaol while he was there.”

Sunday 5th November: summoned by handbills promising that “the sermon would be preached by an Anarchist, the lesson read by Chief Inspector Caminada, and the psalms sung by his crew,” thousands again gathered at Ardwick Green. “The crowd reached from the lamp opposite Brunswick Street to Rusholme Road in one direction, and extended up Brunswick Street, Hyde Road, Stockport Road, and Higher Ardwick, in other directions, the park and its environs being crowded,” recalled Caminada. The first speaker, James Birch, aged 21, a mechanic, was interrupted by fireworks. He was arrested and despite denouncing the suppression of the Labour movement, fined 40 shillings.

Sunday 12th November: again, thousands gathered at Ardwick Green. Herbert Stockton again tried to speak, but was picked up on the shoulders of a member of the crowd and rescued by the police from being ducked in the horse-trough. In court, he denied police allegations that he and James Birch had discussed the need to resort to bombings to get their message across, the that he had been joking when he suggested that the anarchists had “two or three Rothschilds behind them. Stockton and Birch were both fined 30 shillings and were bound over to keep the peace for six months, on bonds of £25.James Welling, a labourer, aged 24, was fined 40shillings and costs, or one month in gaol; George Storey, a tailor, aged 49, 21shillings and costs; Alfred Roberts, dyer, aged 20, Robert Warburton, warehouseman, aged 19, Frederick Froggat, turner, aged 14, and James Taylor, warehouseman, aged 16, were all bound over in one surety of £10 to keep the peace for six months.

Sunday 19th and Sunday 26th November: Henry Salop, aged 26, labourer was fined 40 shillings and costs, and James Coates was ordered to find two sureties in £30 for six months, or in default one month’s imprisonment.

Wednesday 29th November: a meeting was called at the Co-operative Hall, Downing Street to protest at the “ violence and perjury of the police in connection with the arrest” of Taylor and Payne. This was chaired by the elected Citizens’ Auditor, whose lengthy speech on the subject of councillors spending public money on “wine, beer and trips to Thirlmere” was interrupted by a firecracker thrown into the room, causing much of the crowd to leave. The few who were left battled through more shouting and crackers, passing a motion “asking for an inquiry into the matter, and a deputation was appointed to present it.” The meeting also resulted in a question being asked in the House of Commons.

Sunday 3rd December: by this time the weather was cold and interest had declined, so only “a few hundreds” turned out the the meeting. Henry Burrows started to speak “in a low, tremulous voice” but refused to stop at Caminada’s order and was arrested. In court he called Caminada “the biggest liar he had ever known” and called out “Long live Anarchy.” He was bound over in two sureties of £30, or two months’ imprisonment. Both he and Coates elected to go to prison, “probably from the difficulty of finding bail.” By this time the anarchists’ funds were running low and fines could no longer be paid, so those arrested started to go to jail, although James Coates quickly wrote to his parents, begging them to get Alfred Barton to find the money to get him out.

Sunday 10th December: Patrick Kelly, arrested weeks earlier, instituted a new tactic, trying to speak from a box on the corner of Union Street, near the Green. He was again arrested, and fined 40 shillings and costs or default of one month in prison. The following week William Haughton was arrested and bound over to keep the peace for six months. On 24th December no anarchists tried to speak, something Caminada put down to none of them being “inclined to eat their Christmas dinner in the police station.”

31st December 1893: Morris Mendelssohn, a mackintosh tailor, aged 24, became the last anarchist to be arrested on Ardwick Green. In court he was ordered to find two sureties of £10 each to keep the peace for three months, or to go to prison for a month. The meetings moved to Stevenson Square, as the police had tried to enforce months earlier, and socialists started to join the anarchists on the platform there and at New Cross. William Horrocks was arrested in 1894 when he, Alf Barton and Dvid Nicoll tried to speak in Albert Square, and the Manchester Guardian’s celebrated editor CP Scott took up their cause in the interests of free speech.

Anarchist activity carried on in Manchester, with an article by Alf Barton defining anarchism appearing in 1895 and, according to Jerome Caminada, a handbill in celebration of the Paris Commune circulating, reading as follows: “Commune of Paris !! The Manchester Anarchists will celebrate the Revolt of the Paris Workers against Masters and Governments on Sunday, March 17th, 1895, in Stevenson Square, at 3pm; New Cross (Oldham Road), at 8pm. Rebellion is Progress.” And Arthur Redford wrote in his History of Local Government in Manchester (Vol 1) that “Though police successfully maintained public order it was at the cost of both unpopularity and ridicule.”

Article by Sarah Irving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Sarah Irving

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