The Manchester Mechanics Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Michael Herbert

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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

Hannah Mitchell, Socialist and Suffragette

Hannah Mitchell was a self-educated Socialist and suffragette, originally from Derbyshire. In her later years she served on Manchester City Council. Her autobiography, The Hard Way Up, is now seen as a classic account of life by a working class woman.

Hannah Mitchell was born Hannah Webster in 1871, one of six children raised on a remote farm in Alport Dale, Derbyshire. She had just two weeks of formal schooling in her whole life. Her father taught to her to read and she became passionately fond of books, even doing her brothers’ chores in return for being allowed to read the books they brought home from school. Her love of books lasted a lifetime. Hannah was often brutally treated by her mother and finally left home aged just 14, unable to bear it any longer. Many years later she recalled this event in her autobiography The Hard Way Up:

“I tramped over the hill, hardly conscious of the distance, blinded by tears and full of grief at leaving my father and uncle, and the two younger children who were both vey fond of me. I knew now that I must rely on myself. I knew also that I was ill-equipped for the battle of life, uneducated, untrained, what should I find myself capable of doing among more fortunate youth? These were bitter reflections and did not tend to soften my feelings towards my mother, although I felt a faint sense of relief in the knowledge that I was free from her scolding tongue and violent temper. But somewhere on the moorland road I left my childhood behind.”

Hannah was taken in by her brother Will and his wife, finding employment as a maid in a schoolmaster’s house and later as a dressmaker’s assistant, first locally and then in Bolton, where she made evening frocks. All the time she worked hard to improve her handwriting and her reading, making full use of the local library.

Along with her co-workers she attended a public address by the novelist Menie Muriel Dowie as part of a campaign for shorter working hours for shopworkers. It was common then for the women to work six days a week.

Hannah also began reading The Clarion, the Socialist newspaper launched by Robert Blatchford in Manchester in December 1891, and attending Socialist meetings in Bolton where one night she heard a woman speaker.

She was Katherine St John Conway, a:

“slight girlish figure in a black frock with a Medici collar, and her hair swept back from her forehead; she looked as if she belonged to some religious order. Though not much older in years than myself, this girl was already a highly educated, well-trained personality. Perhaps at first I paid more attention to the speaker than her speech, but heard enough to send me away with an inspiration which later sent me out to the street corners with the same message.”

Hannah’s Socialist convictions remained with her the rest of her life. She began courting a fellow Socialist, Gibbon Mitchell, attending meetings of the Labour Church with him, and they married two years later. She wrote:

“Married life as lived by my brothers, sisters and friends, held no great attraction for me, but I wanted a home of my own. Perhaps If I had really understood my own nature, as I came to do later, I should not have married, for I soon realised that married life as men understand it, calls for a degree of self-abnegation which was impossible for me. Probably I should have hesitated, even then, but for the newer ideas which were being propunded by the Socialists. Men and women were talking of marriage as a comradeship, rather than a state where the women was subservent to, and dependent on, the man.”

The couple had just one child at Hannah’s insistence, after a difficult birth. “I soon came to realise that although birth control may not be a perfect solution to social problems, it is the first and the simplest way at present for women to obtain some measure of freedom” she later wrote.

Hannah and her husband spent three years living in a village near Burton-on-Trent where they were active in the Independent Labour Party, attending meetings and putting up speakers, and also in the Clarion movement, helping out the Clarion newspaper’s delivery van when it toured their area.

In 1900 the couple moved to Ashton-under-Lyne where Hannah and Gibbon were active in the ILP and in the Labour Church where Hannah became the lecture Secretary, organising the weekly lectures and putting up the speakers:

“…the Labour Church attracted a type of Socialist who was not satisfied with the stark materialism of the Marxist school, desiring wamth and colour in human lives; not just bread, but bread and roses, too….We had enough imagination to visualize the greater possibility for beauty and culture in a more justly ordered state.”

Hannnah herself gave her first public speech when the Clarion Van came to Bolton and then began to speak at outdoor public meetings and at the Labour Church. To her surprise she was soon in demand as a speaker.

In May 1904 she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian to the board in Ashton-under-Lyne. At the same time she became increasingly involved in the campaign for votes for women that had been started by fellow ILP members Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in October 1903. Hannah visited their home in Nelson Street and spoke at many meetings around Lancashire. In October 1905 she was amongst the crowd that greeted Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney on their release from Strangeways prison after their arrest during a meeting in the Free Trade Hall. Hannah now committed herself body and soul to the cause of women’s suffrage:

“It seems to me now, looking back, that all my previous life had been a preparation for this geat experience. While indirectly it caused me much sorrow, it brought me many contacts which have immeasurably enriched my life. Through the suffrage movement I have come to know many notable women who honoured me by their friendship and encouragment. Chief amongst these was that fine and gracious woman, Charlotte Despard, who, I am proud to remember, to the end of her long life, always called me her dear friend…”

During the campaign for the 1906 General Election she interrupted a January 9th meeting addressed by Winston Churchill in St John’s School, Deansgate (Churchill was then a Liberal). She wrote of the incident:

“I rose and and displayed my little banner, calling out; “Will the Liberal government give the vote to women?” At once the meeting broke into uproar, shouting “throw her out!” along with less decent suggestions. My banner was snatched from me, and clutching hands tried to pull me over the seat, but I was young then, and strong, and pushing my assailants away. I mounted the seat, held up my second banner, and repeated the question. The chairman seemed unable to do anything, except to make wild gestures of rage… so Mr Churchill himself took a hand. Appealing for order he said “Let the lady come to the platform and tell us what what she wants”. My immediate attackers gave way at once, but I was subjected to so much rough handling on the way, that I must have looked a sorry sight when I reached the platform. The chairman, who seemed entirely to have lost his self-control, seized me roughly by the arm and lierally shook me, until Mr Churchill interposed, saying he would deal with me myself. With his usual forcefulness he induced the meeting to give order and invited to state my case. In spite of my agitation I did so, saying briefly that we wanted the promise of a government measure granting the vote to women, “as it is” or “may be” granted to men.”

A recording of Hannah Mitchell an account of her interruption of Churchill’s meeting can be listened to on the Working Class Movement Library website, here.

Hannah Mitchell and Alice Milne also interrupted a meeting addressed by Lloyd George at Hale. They were kept in the hall until the meeting was over and had to walk seven miles home as the last train had gone.

In the summer of 1906 Hannah was arrested and sent to prison after interrupting a Liberal Party rally at Belle Vue at which John Burns and Winston Churchill were the speakers. However she was released early, much to her annoyance, after her husband paid her fine. The agitation continued and the outdoor meetings became rougher and more dangererous as men tried to attack the women speakers.

In the autumn of 1906 Hannah paid her first visit to London, speaking in a number of parks and taking part in a raid on the lobby of the House of Commons. She went up to Huddersfield to campaign during a by-election and thereafter went on to Oldham, around the North East and elsewhere. During the campaign to elect the independent Socialist Victor Grayson as an MP for Colne Valley, Hannah collapsed with exhaustion and suffered a nervous breakdown. It took her a long time to recover. She was deeply hurt by the fact that the Pankhursts did not show any interest in her illness, not even a letter of sympathy. By contrast Mrs Despard came to visit her, saw Hannah’s doctor and sent money to help with extra food.

There was a split in the WSPU in the autumn of 1907 after Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst abolished its democratic structures. A group of about seventy women, including Teresa Billington-Greig, Charlotte Despard and Elizabeth How-Martyn, left the WSPU and established the Women’s Freedom League. Hannah joined as soon as she was well enough and worked for a short time for the WFL in Scotland in Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s constituency.

The Mitchells now moved from Ashton to Manchester and joined the local ILP branch. Hannah was soon in demand again as a speaker. In 1914 she attended the Coming of Age conference in Bradford, marking 25 years of the ILP’s existence. Within months Europe was engulfed in a savage war with lasted four years and killed millions.

Despite the popular pro-war jingoism Hannah remained true to her Socialist beliefs and opposed the conflict. She became active in the No Conscription Fellowship and Women’s International League. Her son decided that he could not fight, applied to the Conscientious Objectors Tribunal, and to Hannah’s great relief, was granted exemption.

In 1924 Hannah was elected for Labour to Manchester City Council and remained a member until 1935. She was an active member and particularly enjoyed being on the Libraries Committee because of her love of reading. She was also on the Baths Committee which established public wash houses in working class areas “…a real public service greatly appreciated by women.” After leaving the Council she became a magistrate. She had been working on her autobiography for many years but it was not accepted for publication during her lifetime. After Hannah’s death it was found amongst her papers and finally published in 1968 under the title The Hard Way Up by Faber & Faber, with an introduction by her grandson Geoffrey Mitchell, who had edited the manuscript. It is now considered a classic account of a working class woman’s personal and political emancipation.

Article by Michael Herbert

Derek Antrobus and the Vegetarian Movement in Salford

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

What sparked your interest in the vegetarian movement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were reactions to vegetarianism in Salford?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Arwa Aburawa