Hulme Mural: From Tranquil Pastures To A High-Rise Age

The 84-foot long mural at Hulme Library is an impressive work of public art which chronicles the history of Hulme from Roman times up until the present. Capturing the constant battle for decent homes, immigration following World War Two and the tumultuous periods of regeneration, the mural is a reminder of the transformation of Hulme across the ages.

The Hulme mural was designed and made by the staff and students of the pottery classes at Adult Education Services, which is currently located in the same building as Hulme Library on Stretford Road.. They originally wanted to make a sculpture to display inside the building but they decided that a mural on the outside wall would have a greater impact. The mural took two years (from 2000-2002) to complete and the history was carefully researched to make the mural factually accurate.

Brigitte Soltau, a local pottery instructor who was involved in the mural, explains why they chose to record the history of the city. “There was a lot of changes happening in Hulme as we were planning the mural. New housing was being built opposite the education centre and we felt that we were in the middle of an important time of change for the community. So recording a longer period of other significant changes for Hulme felt like an obvious subject matter for us.” The mural consists of six panels and is accompanied by a poem commemorating the changes that Hulme has been through.

From Hulme all blessings flow, in this valley there is scope for motion… flowing forwards from tranquil pastures to angry winding rivers…
Hulme received its name from the Norse (Scandinavian) word for a small island surrounded by water or marshland as it was encircled with water on three sides during the time of the Norman invasion of 1066. In fact, Hulme was a separate community from Manchester in the 15th century and was a predominately farming community until the 18th century. This is depicted in the first panel of the mural which shows Hulme as rural community with cottages surrounded by water, trees and nature.

When shadows danced like leaves across childhood…And angel raged across glittery moon… when silver cloud shadowed steel heartbeats…
Industrialisation swept into Hulme in the 18th century when the Bridgewater Canal brought trade into the surrounding neighbourhoods of Castlefield. This is illustrated in the second panel of the mural that shows the expansion of the village into a town with a library, factories, shops and inns. The canal supported the rising textile industry, which boomed at the time, bringing people into the city to work. The number of people living in Hulme multiplied 50-fold in the first half of the 19th century as they flocked to the mills and homes were built rapidly to help accommodate the rising population. However, many of the homes were of extremely low standard and poor sanitation meant that diseases such as cholera were rampant.

The situation got so bad that Manchester Borough Council (now Manchester City Council) passed a law in 1844 banning the construction of any more houses in Hulme. Even so, homes which were more accurately described as slums continued to exist and were inhabited up until the mid 20th century. Hulme’s link to the Rolls-Royce company is also depicted in the mural with a model of the car in the second panel. In 1904, Henry Royce and Charles Stewart Rolls met in the Midland Hotel in central Manchester and decided to start their own company making a unique version of a new invention – the motor car. They opened the first Rolls-Royce factory in Hulme and many nearby streets now commemorate this bit of history, including Royce Road and Rolls Crescent.

Remembering wartime, endless years of hot fire… Safe houses ‘homes fit for heroes’…
The third panel of the mural looks at the Second World War and calls for decent homes following an extended period of austerity as well as the rise in immigration and the development of a multicultural Hulme. There was a concerted effort to clear slums in the post-war period and Hulme’s slums were eventually demolished in the 1960s after local resistance delayed their clearance by a generation. Once again, however, a rush to build the homes meant that they ended up with a unique variant of the high-rise tower blocks named the Crescents. Four sets of curved low-rise buildings, the Crescents were completed in the 1971 and were architecturally based on terraced housing in Bath and Bloomsbury. More than 5,000 housing units had been built in less than eight years and the redevelopment of Hulme was said to be on a scale surpassed only in Rotterdam, Warsaw or Hiroshima.

From the sea, a rush wind blowing…Embers turn to carnival glow, universe spinning strong below our feet…
The fourth panel of the mural is of the annual carnival that paraded through Hulme following the Second World War. Migrants from the West Indies and Asia came to the UK and settled in the large cities such as Manchester and in particular areas such as Rusholme, Moss Side, Cheetham Hill and Hulme. “Immigration after the Second World War had a huge impact on the area and we wanted to show that in a positive sense…” remarks Soltau, who helped to design and make the mural. “The carnival scene was important to us as it showed the resilient and positive aspects of Hulme and I think lots of people had many fond memories of the carnival procession. Loads of local people were involved in the planning of it so we wanted to show that and the creative sense of community during the 70s and 80s, before the redevelopment phase.”

In a high-rise age, in a delicate rage, we do not shrink before them… Demolition like thunder, all ears stiffen to the vast flooding scream…
The fifth panel records the rising concerns around housing, demolition and the regeneration of Hulme in the 1990s. Housing is a recurring issue in the mural and reflects the fact that Hulme became is widely known for its social and economic decline during the 1970s and 80s and (questionably) more successful regeneration in the 1990s. As Soltau explains: “Hulme was re-developed three times in a short period of time, so that means that buildings were razed to the ground three times which is a significant amount of upheaval for such a tiny place. To be wiped out and reinvented that many times over is quite unusual.”

Shortly after residents began moving into the Crescents in 1971, it became apparent that the buildings were poorly designed (cutting Hulme off from the rest of the city), the workmanship of low quality and the houses required a level of maintenance that was not forthcoming. The oil crisis of the 1970s made the homes almost impossible to heat for the low-income residents, families moved out of the Crescents by the 1980s and were replaced by students, artists and travellers as well as drug addicts. The Crescents became notorious for being cold, damp and riddled with cockroaches and crime. In 1977, people living in Hulme were seven times more likely to commit suicide compared to the national average and thirty-one times more likely to be a victim of crime. In 1986, over 59% of adult males in Hulme were unemployed and youth unemployment was recorded at 68%.

The situation got so bad that reports state that “there must have been times when simply abandoning Hulme to the forces of nature would have seemed the easier option.” (cited in Alison Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment, 2001, p230). The sense of community and neighbourhood friendliness of the former slums of Hulme had been lost, to be replaced by a huge social and economic problem. Within a decade of their construction, the Crescents were declared unfit for purpose and new plans were under way to try and resolve the issues that they had thrown up.

In the 1990s it was agreed that the best solution to Hulme’s problems was an extensive programme of physical, economic and social regeneration. Manchester City Council secured £7m from central govermment to raze high-rise buildings and replace them with new Housing Association homes. The Hulme City Challenge was also launched in April 1992 with £37.5 million of government money to bring together the various players in Hulme to help regenerate the town. High-rise flats were replaced with better planned homes (both council and privately-owned) and Hulme’s reputation as a socially deprived area declined. Local amenities such as the Zion Arts Centre and the Hulme Community Garden Centre give the area a friendly community atmosphere and illustrate the important role that locals played in turning the city into a unique and desirable area to live in.

Reconstruct an order on the other side of chaos, there is scope for motion, flowing forwards once more…
The sixth and final panel depicts modern day Hulme at the millennium. As Soltau explains, “there have been a lot of questions about the future of Hulme but we didn’t want to end the mural on a negative and pessimistic note as there is a lot to be hopeful for in Hulme.”

Manchester City Council recently announced that Hulme Library was under consideration for closure due to the difficult financial circumstances and will be replaced with either new or alternative provisions. Many have shown concern that if the library closes, the other remaining tenant in the building – the Adult Education Services – will be put under great financial pressure. As Brigitte Soltau explains: “the Adult Education Service have been struggling massively themselves and they’ve been winding down with cuts to staff and courses already so if the library goes, it does make the others future more difficult…
“If both the library and the Adult Education services leave, the issue is what does the council decide to do with the building. If they let it out to another group than all well and good for building and the mural but if they decide not to, than that would be quite worrying because these days it seems that in Hulme one day a building is closed and then the next day its been demolished. That would be extremely worrying for us.” The £20,000 mural is made out of 2 tonnes of clay cannot be removed from the building without damaging it.
Neil MacInnes, Head of Libraries insisted that no final decision has been made on the future of Hulme library and added that the concerns about the mural are being taken into consideration. Comedian Johnny Vegas, who unveiled the mural back in 2002, has backed a public campaign to save the mural from destruction and Soltau and the team behind the mural are attempting to get the public art piece listed by English Heritage. “We built the mural with every intention that it would be there as a lasting tribute to the community and what Hulme is about,” says Soltau. “We want it to always be there as a record of the city’s history.”

Images of the mural by Arwa Aburawa can be seen in this gallery.

The consultation on the libraries in Manchester, including Hulme Library, is running until midnight on Sunday 5th June 2011. To take part log on to www.manchester.gov.uk/libraryconsultation.

Sources:
Ex-Hulme
Alison Ravetz: Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment, 2001, Routledge, London.
Cletus Moobela: From Worst Slum to Best Example of Regeneration: Complexity in the Regeneration of Hulme – Manchester’, 2005, International Journal of Emergence, Coherence and Organisations

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Sustainability and Spirituality: Levenshulme’s Eco-Mosque

In 2003 the Muslim Bohra community of Levenshulme started thinking about replacing their makeshift prayer hall – a former Maternity & Child Welfare Centre in an old Methodist chapel – with a brand new mosque. However, fitted with solar panels, recycled wood, reclaimed stone, under-floor heating and other energy saving measures this wasn’t your average mosque, but an eco-mosque.

Opened in 2008, the new building was the culmination of a lot of hard work, curiosity and a belief that it is possible to create a mosque which positively impacts both the community and the environment. At the time, the mosque’s opening was reported in both the local press and amongst international Muslim and environmental publications. Mustafa Abdulhussein, vice-president of the mosque, told the Manchester Evening News at the time of the mosque’s opening that “We had been using the building as a makeshift mosque for many years, then about five years ago we started thinking about building a new structure. The eco-element arises out of what a mosque is meant to be. It is meant to be friendly in every aspect, which includes being friendly to the environment. We should set an example and having eco-friendly features makes those congregating there aware of the issues. It hasn’t really been any more costly than if we were to do it any other way and there is a much greater gain to be had with a mosque which creates its own energy.”

He also added that “The building is two completely different architectural styles – one side is inspired by modern Mancunian architecture, with glass and zinc, and the Mecca-facing side uses traditional materials like stone.”

In 2010, Abdulhussein told Manchester Radical History’s Arwa Aburawa that initially green concerns were not on the agenda when the mosque was being built. “It started off with us saying that we should have some solar panels as green buildings are encouraged and we had to have some green aspects by law. So I looked into it and got more interested with the green aspects and although I wouldn’t call the mosque completely eco- it’s really a step towards a fully eco mosque.”

Learning To Care For The Environment

The new mosque was fitted with solar panels, under-floor heating which is efficient as most of the congregation sit on the floor, infra-red sensitive taps so water isn’t wasted and energy-efficient lighting. The eco-mosque was also built using sustainable wood, reclaimed stone and an energy-efficient glass façade with allows natural light in. Abdulhussein explained, “the glass retains the heat in the cold and in summer it creates an environment which requires less heating. When I started I was not aware that such glass even existed!”

In fact, it has been a learning curve for all the community, which is discovering the ‘green’ aspects of Islam. “All the issues that are important today such as the issue of global warming and polluting- all these aspects are very much within Islam’s concerns, in fact there are imperative, a requirement for us to think about,” explains Abdulhussein. “A lot of these things don’t get taught about any more although I’ve noticed that in the last twenty years there has been a change and Muslims (like any other ethnic or religious groups) are also learning to think about environmental issues.”

Abdulhussein also noticed that the younger members of the congregation had particularly embraced the green aspects of the mosque as it showed that their faith recognised modern day issues. The concept of ‘Khalifa’ or stewardship is rooted in Islamic thought and states that mankind has a responsibility to protect the whole of humanity and the planet. However, Abdulhussein admits that it it still up to the Muslim community to take environmental awareness seriously. “To be frank Muslims have a lot to worry about, the political agenda is dominating the Muslim world and issues that ought to be at the forefront of our thoughts are pushed to one side. It all depends on how seriously imams take the issue,” he says.

Building Bridges Between Communities

The eco-mosque in Levenshulme, which is known as ‘Al-Markaz Al-Najmi’ mosque, has also been praised for helping to build bridges between different communities. “When a mosque is built in an area the standard reaction is ‘not another mosque’, there are concerns about parking and disruption,” says Abdulhussein. “So when we decided to build the mosque we wanted it to be different because if the community can’t get behind it then what’s the point of building a mosque? If we want to build a house of worship then it has to benefit the entire area- that was our aim from the beginning… For example, we try to make sure that the mosque parking never disturbs the neighbours- we police it ourselves. We make sure that the neighbours have our number in case there is a problem of any kind and what we have found is that in return they look after our mosque. When we have trespassers in the mosque surrounds who are not meant to be there we tend to get residents ringing us up to tell us- they look after us in many ways.”

In 2010, the Bohra community also donated over £50,000 to Levenshulme Inspire, a local community centre also based in a former church, which will include a stylish café, social housing apartments and space for clubs and local groups to meet. Inspire was due to open in October 2010. Abdulhussein explains that this is just part of the Muslim community’s contribution to the locality and its future development. In fact, he adds that all mosques should be integrated with their communities and also positively contribute to their environment. “I really do feel that if there was some organisation in Manchester which could influence the building and design of mosques then they really should encourage them to bring in some of the measures that we did- both in terms of eco-friendliness and community-friendliness,” he emphasises.

Article by Arwa Aburawa

Stephen Kingston and the Salford Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Arwa Aburawa

Bill Watson and Eccles Communist Party

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

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

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

School milk and the last cinema

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

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

Working together to tackle Unemployment

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

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

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

Northern Ireland and meeting Special Branch

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

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

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

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

The beginning of the end

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

Article by Arwa Aburawa