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

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William Murphy in Manchester, August 1868

The Anti-Catholic lectures given by William Murphy in the late 1860s often stirred up communal tensions and even rioting in the Midlands and the north of England. When he came to Manchester he was detained and prevented from speaking by the authorities.

In the last week of August 1868 William Murphy’s supporters placarded Manchester announcing that he would be giving a week of lectures in the Assembly Rooms, Cooke Street, Hulme, starting on Monday 31st August The chosen rooms could hold an audience of 500 and were near – possible deliberately so – to a Catholic chapel and two Catholic schools. Alarmed local magistrates hurriedly met and decided that the lectures should not be allowed to go ahead for fear of disorder. The following afternoon, as Murphy arrived at Victoria Station from Bolton, he was met by the Chief Constable Captain Palin and taken in a cab to the detective office, where it transpired that he carried a loaded revolver and a knuckle-duster. He was bailed to appear in court the next day.

Meanwhile, unaware that Murphy had been stopped, a large crowd gathered in Cooke Street and also in Rutland Street outside St Wilfrid’s. According to the Manchester Guardian ,“it was plain from the composition of the crowd that all the elements of disorder were present.” Eventually the police cleared Cooke Street and everything was quiet by 10pm.

In court William Murphy was charged with attempting to create a breach of the peace. He defended himself, asserting that “in free England I have as much right to speak as Mr Ernest Jones, or any other man”. A number of witnesses gave evidence of the potential for disorder if the lectures went ahead, including Captain Palin, William Kelly, a mantle manufacturer who lived near the Assembly Rooms, and William Waller, the headteacher of a Church of England school. One of Murphy’s fellow lecturers, a Mr Flannagan, gave evidence that he himself had addressed a crowd of 2,000 on Sunday afternoon in Chorlton Road, and an even larger crowd in the evening, without any trouble. At the end of the hearing the magistrates ordered that Murphy should enter sureties of several hundred pounds to keep the peace for three months and that he be kept in Belle Vue Gaol until the money was paid into the court. Thus Murphy was sent to the very jail where the Fenians Deasy and Kelly had briefly been imprisoned the previous autumn.

No doubt the town authorities congratulated themselves on having dealt so easily with Murphy but he was not finished yet. From his prison cell he announced that he intended to offer himself to the electors of Manchester in the forthcoming general election campaign and his supporters placarded his election address around the town. Murphy promised that if elected he would “devote the whole of his energies to the support and extension of our national religion” and declared that “my life has been endangered, and my liberty is now taken from me, because I will not yield to the brute force gathered together by the devices of Maynooth priests trained with English money to sow sedition broadcast in the land”

Further placards announced that a meeting of “Protestants and Orangemen” would take place on Saturday 5th September at Chorlton Road. By four o’clock over four thousand people had gathered to listen to the speeches. Several fights broke out in front of the platform and then a column of several dozen Irishmen pushed to the front of the crowd and flung a shower of stones at the chair (a Mr Latham) and the speakers. After being taken by surprise Murphy’s supporters rallied and drove the Irishmen up the road. The police arrived and made thirty arrests. Murphy himself arrived by cab at 5.30pm and made speech in which he said that his motto was “William, Prince of Orange”. The first bill he would introduce would be that the working classes must have more wages and after that his next bill would be that nunneries must be inspected. At the end of his speech Murphy was born away on the shoulders of his supporters.

There was more trouble the following afternoon when a group of Irishmen gathered in Stevenson Square and then proceeded by separate routes to the Chorlton Road pitch where they set about the Murphyites with cudgels. Once again the police were summoned and made further arrests. Thereafter nothing more was heard of Murphy’s election ambitions. The events of the week prove, however, that Murphy was more than just an itinerant trouble-maker, that he appealed to a section of the Protestant working-class in Manchester who were sufficiently well organised for his supporters to be able to placard the town overnight and quickly raise sizeable sums for his sureties.

Murphy returned to Manchester on 15th February 1869 for a meeting of Orangemen at the Free Trade Hall. The advertised speakers included Mr Johnston, MP for Belfast, and a number of other leading Orangemen but they did not appear. Murphy made an appearance on the platform wearing an Orange sash. The meeting was chaired by Booth Mason from Ashton-under-Lyne, Deputy Grandmaster of the Orange Association in England. Ashton has been the scene of a serious riot between Protestant/Orange and Catholic communities in May 1868.

In the course of his speech William Murphy attacked Gladstone for wishing to disestablish the Church of Ireland and break up the British Empire. At the end of the meeting an Orange air was played and old women waved umbrellas and handkerchiefs decorated with pictures of King Billy.

The following month in Tynemouth several hundred Irish attacked the hall where Murphy was due to speak, firing shots into the building before being beaten back by the police.

Murphy’s nemesis came in the spring of 1871 when he began a series of lectures in the Cumbria town of Whitehaven. On Sunday 20th April several hundred Irish miners from the nearby town of Cleator Moor arrived by train, entered the hall, found Murphy on his own and viciously beat him until the police arrived and rescued him. Some of his attackers were sent to jail for 12 months while Murphy eventually succumbed to his injuries in March 1872. There was disorder – including bricks being thrown – even at his funeral in Birmingham.

Article by Michael Herbert

Stockport riot, June 1852

There was a short-lived but violent anti-Irish riot in Stockport in June 1852. The causes appear to have been local resentment at Irish migration into the town, coupled with public concern at the growth and public displays of Catholicism. Protestants organized into Associations spurred on by a number of Protestant priests and politicians. The outburst was not repeated.

The revival of Catholicism and the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in Britain by the Pope in September 1850 caused some Protestants to fear that the old enemy was plotting to reclaim their country for Rome. These fears were stoked higher by a badly worded pastoral letter issued by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman in which he told his fellow Englishman that “Your beloved country has received a place among the fair churches, which, normally constituted, form the splendid aggregate of Catholic communion; Catholic England has been restored to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament, from which its light had long vanished”.

There was a popular belief that the Pope was still making a claim to some authority in Britain (Queen Victoria is alleged to have asked “Am I Queen of England or am I not?”), which led to a wave of anti-Catholic meetings and protests against “Papal aggression”, including one in Manchester in the Free Trade Hall on 21st November 1850. Local anti-Catholic cleric Reverend Hugh Stowell delivered a lecture on papal aggression at the Free Trade Hall on 16th January 1851. Stowell was the first priest at the new church of Christ Church, Acton Square, Salford, opened in 1831. From the beginning he preached a fervent brand of fundamentalist Protestantism, denouncing Dissenters, Tractarians and “Popery” from the pulpit and from public platforms (there was little distinction). In 1839 he also founded the Salford Operative Protestant Association, which distributed pamphlets by the thousand for many years.

Anti-Catholicism reached deep into the roots of English society in this period. For many it defined who they were as Englishmen and women and explained and revealed English history as a journey from superstition and darkness into liberty and light. The popular writer Charles Kingsley, for instance, attacked Catholicism in many of his novels and writings. In an article published in 1848 entitled “Why Should We Fear the Romish Priests?” he wrote:

The real history of England, from Ethelbert to the Reformation, is the history of a struggle, issuing in the complete victory of the laity, the anti-national and hierarchic spirit being gradually absorbed by the national lay spirit, which asserts the rights of the citizen, the husband, the individual conscience. This battle has to be fought in every Christian country, the married layman and the celibate priest may make truce for a time, but they are foes in grain.

Jumping onto the populist bandwagon the government passed the Ecclesiastical Titles Act in 1851, which banned Catholic bishops from holding the same titles as Anglican bishops (which is why there is a Catholic Bishop of Salford and an Anglican Bishop of Manchester.) No prosecutions were ever brought and the Act was repealed in 1871 when common sense on these issues returned. Suspicions about Catholic intentions were also kept simmering by a number of high profile conversions to “Rome”, including those Anglicans associated with the Tractarian or Oxford movement. On 15th June 1852 (three weeks before the general election) in an obvious play to simmering anti-Catholicism amongst the public, Lord Derby’s Tory government issued a proclamation which forbade Catholics to walk in procession through the streets with the symbols of their religion.

However, the nineteenth annual procession by Stockport’s Roman Catholics went ahead on Sunday 27th June 1852, headed by local priests Reverend Randolph Frith of St Philip and St James, Edgeley and Reverend Robert Foster of St Michael’s, who were followed by local schoolchildren and Irish labourers walking six abreast. No banners or Catholic emblems were carried and even the priests wore ordinary dress, not canonical vestments. There was no trouble on the procession itself, apart from a small number of Protestants who hissed and groaned, and no trouble in the Irish public houses in the evening.

The following afternoon, however, an effigy of a priest was paraded by members of the local Protestant Association and later on Monday evening fighting between Irish and English began in the Bishop Blaize public house on Hillgate. The Irish ran into John Street and Edward Street – which were largely Irish streets – and gathered reinforcements, whilst the English did likewise. There was a short street brawl which had died down by the time the police constables, led by Mr Sadler, arrived and there were no further disturbances for the rest of the evening.

Large crowds gathered the following evening in Hillgate, armed with sticks and stones, and renewed the fighting. The Irish retreated to their home territory of Rock Row pursued by the English, who broke the windows of the houses in the street with volleys of stones, kicked in the doors and dragged the furniture into the street where they smashed it to pieces. Michael Moran, who had previously been knocked down and severely wounded in the head by the mob in Lord Street, was taking shelter on a bed in an upper room when the mob rushed in, smashed the furniture and wrecked the room. Other houses received similar treatment and the inhabitants – men, women and children- only narrowly escaped serious injury. Moran left the house, supposedly under police protection, but as he came out a man hit him on the head with a large piece of wood saying “Come, let us look at his head and see if he is an Irishman”. Moran died within a short time of his injuries. He was a single man and labourer, aged 23, who had been staying with his sister and brother-in law, James Hannigan.

The Irish replied with an attack on the house of Alderman Graham, a well-known Protestant, which was situated on Lord Street, very near Rock Row. They then turned their attention to the Protestant church of St. Peter’s and its schools. One eyewitness, a Mr Cheetham, later described the scene in the Illustrated London News:

All this time there was a continued screaming and yelling screaming, and about seven o’clock the blood of the Irish being tolerably warmed, they had armed themselves with the weapons they could lay hold upon readiest – pokers, soldering irons, sticks, pieces of chair, sickles, scythes, and other barbarous instruments, and were ready for conflict with any power that might present themselves. The scythes and sickles seem to corroborate the account given by some of the men subsequently apprehended, that they had only just come England, that being so, they were over here for the harvest, and these were their implements of labour.

The English then marched in force armed with pick-axes, hatchets, crow-bars and hammers to the Catholic church of St. Philip and James in Chapel Street, Edgeley, which had been opened in 1803. They smashed the windows of the priest’s house and then broke into the church, breaking the altar rails and smashing the altar and tabernacle. Women were described as being as “as eager and active in the work of destruction as males”. All church furniture, fittings, candlesticks, pictures, even the organ was destroyed. The priest and his friends, who had been hiding from the fury of the mob in the bell-turret, were forced to flee across the roof to a nearby house as attempts were made to fire the church. The rioters wreaked similar destruction upon St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church Chapel in Park Street (which had only opened the year previously), leaving little more than four bare walls standing.

Police finally arrested some rioters in the chapel and in total arrested 113 people, of whom 111 were Irish. The Manchester Guardian described the scene in the courthouse when the prisoners appeared on Wednesday morning:

Within a rail separating the lower end of the court from that where justice is administered were penned together some sixty or seventy youths and men, nearly all Irish, most of whom had bandages and plasters on their heads, faces, hands, and arms and legs…..others were moaning and bleeding and the whole formed a scene not unlike that of a hospital after a battle.

A number of other Englishmen were arrested and eventually ten English and ten Irish were sent for trial at Chester, where all the Irish – but only three of the English – were found guilty and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment with hard labour.

Local politics and the influence of the media appear to have played a significant part in stoking up anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish feeling in Stockport. A Protestant Association had been formed in December 1850, part of a national organisation set up in 1835 to campaign for the repeal of Catholic Emancipation and against Catholicism, which placed anti-Catholic placards around the town. Local Tory politicians such as Alderman Claye were members of the Association as were a number of Anglican clergymen, including most prominently the Reverend Meridyth of St. Peter’s church. Meridyth was an Irish Protestant who spoke at anti-Catholic meetings ( sometimes in the company of Stowell) which probably explains why his church was singled out by the Irish during the riot.

The simmering pot of anti-Catholicism and anti-Irishness was stirred by the Stockport Advertiser, which was strongly pro-Tory and published five anti-Catholic editorials in the summer, often linking the names of the Liberal candidates to support for “papal aggression”. There were explicit attacks on the Irish. “What is it that so often disturbs the peace of our borough, increases our rates and saps the very foundation of all our charitable institutions, but popery embodied in Irish mobs, paupers and fever patients?”.

The issue of the riot was raised in the House of Commons:

Mr Chisholm Anstey seeing the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department in his place, he wished to put a question to him with reference to the unfortunate affray which had taken place at Stockport. He begged to ask, in the first place, whether the right hon. Gentleman had any further information as to the causes that led to the riot than was mentioned in the morning papers; secondly, whether it was true that a religious procession of Roman Catholics was the original cause of the riot; and, thirdly, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty’s Government from this time forth to take effectual measures to prevent religious processions of that kind taking place in this country, where their recurrence was eminently calculated to excite breaches of the public peace?

Mr Walpole: Sir, with reference to the three questions put to me by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I have to state, in the first place, that I have received no further information than that which the daily organs of communication have put the House in possession of with reference to the unfortunate disturbances which have taken place in Stockport. In answer to the second question put by the hon. and learned Gentleman, perhaps I had better read to the House a passage from a letter which I have received from the Mayor of Stockport with reference to the origin of the disturbances: — As far as is at present ascertained, the disturbance appears to have arisen out of a quarrel between the English and Irish, in which, I fear religious animosity has been brought into play; but the whole matter was so sudden and unexpected, and the attention of myself and brother magistrates has been so entirely required by the necessary measures for preserving the public peace, that the facts have not yet been accurately ascertained. In that state of things the House, I think, will agree with me in the propriety of forbearing from the expression of an opinion one way or the other with reference to the origin of these disturbances. As to the third question put by the hon. and learned Gentleman, whether it is the intention of the Government to prevent all religious processions which lead to these unhappy disturbances, I can only state that, both in England and in Ireland the Government have taken every possible precaution to discourage processions of such a character, or which can in any way lead to disturbances arising out of religious differences existing between different members of the community. We have done so in Ireland with reference to the processions which usually take place at this time of the year, by communications between the Lord Lieutenant and the magistrates, expressive of the desire of the Government to repress and check to the utmost extent processions which may lead to these disturbances. We have done so, also, in England; and all I can assure the House is this—that the present Government are anxious, above all things, that any of those ostentatious parades which may lead to religious disputes shall be discouraged and discountenanced by the Government, and I hope the country will support us in doing so.

Article by Michael Herbert

Free Trade Hall Meeting 13 October 1905: the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women

The Women’s Social and Political Union was formed by women members of the Independent Labour Party on 10 October 1903 to campaign for women’s suffrage. Two years later the organisation hit the headlines when two of its leading members, Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, were arrested after disrupting a meeting in the Free Trade Hall. It was the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women.

The Pankhurst name was already known in Manchester before the militant campaign for Votes for Women, started in October 1905, made Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst household names.

Richard Pankhurst (1834-1898) was a barrister in Manchester and active member of the Liberal Party, who worked tirelessly in support of many progressive causes such as parliamentary reform, republicanism, Home Rule for Ireland, secular education and women’s suffrage. In 1879 he married Emmeline Goulden, twenty years his junior, and they had five children. In 1883 he stood unsuccessfully for parliament in a by-election in Manchester. Recalling her father, his daughter Sylvia wrote

“Without, he breasted the storm and stress of political turmoil: at home he poured forth for us a wealth of enthusiastic affection, in the precious hours torn for us from the fabric of his vast activity, revealing to us in a fascinating and never-ending variety of the brilliant facets of his thought and knowledge. His struggle was the background of our lives, and his influence, enduring long after his death was their strongest determining factor.”

Living for a time in London in Russell Square, their house was a meeting point for radicals of all persuasions: Socialist, Fabians, Freethinkers, Anarchists, Communards. There were endless meetings and musical evenings. In 1889 the Pankhursts, along with other prominent campaigners, formed the Women’s Franchise League which campaigned not just on suffrage but on the rights of women in areas such as custody of children and divorce. The secretary was Ursula Bright.

Returning to Manchester, where they lived in Victoria Park, the family often attended the meetings of the Ancoats Brotherhood organised by Charles Rowley on music, art and science. Dr Pankhurst himself gave a series of lectures on citizenship. Disillusioned with the Liberal party both Richard and Emmeline joined the Independent Labour Party, formed in 1893. Its leading figures, such as Carolyn Martyn, Enid Stacey, Pete Curran, Tom Mann, Bruce Glasier, Katherine St John Conway and Keir Hardie, were frequent visitors to the Victoria Park house when lecturing in Manchester.

In December 1894 Emmeline took her first step onto the political stage when she was elected to the Chorlton Board of Guardians for the Openshaw district. During that winter there was high unemployment in Manchester. A Relief Committee was established with Dr Pankhurst as Secretary and another local socialist, Dr Martin, as Treasurer, whilst Emmeline went every day to collect food from the markets for the daily distribution of food from the offices on Deansgate. They were soon feeding 2,000 people each day.

In 1895 Richard stood for the ILP in the Gorton constituency in the general election but he was unsuccessful, despite working very hard on the campaign. The following year both Richard and Emmeline took part in a battle for the rights of Socialists to speak in the open air on Sundays at Boggart Hole Clough. From 1892 the North Manchester Fabian Society, and on its formation the ILP, had been holding outdoor meetings without hindrance as the Clough was private property. Things changed, however, after Manchester City Council purchased the estate. In May and June 1896 the Council issued summonses against ILP speakers such as Leonard Hall, John Harker and Fred Brocklehurst, who were fined and imprisoned when they refused to pay. This attracted a good deal of public interest and on 14 June 10,000 people attended the outdoor meeting. On 20th June Emmeline spoke to a crowd of 20,000, whilst her daughters Sylvia and Christabel collected donations. Mrs Pankhurst was also summonsed but her case was repeatedly adjourned and never came to court. On 29 June a protest was held on New Cross against the Council’s actions. and on 3 July Keir Hardie spoke at a meeting in Stevenson Square, attended by over a thousand people.

Keir Hardie was also summonsed and when he appeared before the bench on 14 July he announced that he intended to call 421 witnesses. The case was adjourned by the magistrates after the twentieth had appeared! In August the Council passed a new by-law prohibiting meetings in parks but the Home Secretary, no doubt mindful of the controversy created so far, refused to sanction it. Eventually a new by-law was passed, drafted by the Home Secretary, which promised not to refuse any reasonable request for the use of parks. Outstanding summonses were dropped. The ILP had been victorious.

Dr Pankhurst died suddenly on 5 July 1898 from gastric ulcers. He left no will and many debts. Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald acted as fundraisers to raise money to build a hall in his memory which eventually opened in November 1900 as the Pankhurst Memorial Hall on St James Road, Hightown, Salford. Keir Hardie gave the first memorial lecture there on 25 November 1900.

Devastated by their loss, the grieving family sold many of their goods and moved from Victoria Park to 62 Nelson Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock. With family finances in a parlous state, Emmeline took a job as a Registrar of Births & Deaths, acting as such from 8 November 1898 to 25 February 1907. Her daughter Christabel acted as her deputy from 4 November 1903 to 5 September 1906. The registrations took place at the family home, the public attending at advertised hours.

The family kept up their political activity, opposing the Boer War and thereby attracting much public hostility and some violence. In November 1900 Mrs Pankhurst was elected as a Socialist candidate on the Manchester School Board.

But by 1903 Emmeline and Christabell had become increasingly disillusioned by the lack of interest shown by the ILP whose leaders were, with the exception of Keir Hardie, either lukewarm on the issue of votes for women or in the case of Philip Snowden actively hostile. Thus on 10th October 1903 Emmeline called a meeting of like-minded ILP women at her house and they formed a new organisation – the Women’s Social & Political Union.

Initially the WSPU’s efforts were directed solely toward getting motions passed at ILP branches urging the leadership to take action. Keir Hardie gave his support, while Emmeline toured the branches and was elected onto the ILP Executive at its conference at Easter 1904. At the Easter conference in Manchester in 1905 the Pankhursts held a reception for delegates in their home.

After much lobbying they managed to get a Private Members Bill before the Commons, sponsored by the Liberal MP John Bamford Slack. On 12 May 1905 women packed the lobby of the Commons in support of the bill but it was talked out, being at the bottom of the order paper.

In the summer of 1905 Annie Kenney (1879-1953) a mill worker living in Lees, Oldham, who was a member of the local ILP and its choir, heard Emmeline and Christabel speak on women’s suffrage and immediately offered her services. She was soon fully involved as a public speaker. At her urging the Pankhursts set up stalls at wakes fairs in Stalybridge, Mossley and other Lancashire towns. Another recruit to the cause was Theresa Billington, a Socialist who had been brought up Catholic but become an agnostic. She was a teacher in Manchester who was a founder of the Manchester Teachers Equal Pay League. She became a paid organiser for the WSPU in June 1905.

With a general election in the offing (which many expected the Liberals to win), on 13 October 1905 Sir Edward Grey, a leading member of the Liberal Party (he was to become Foreign Secretary) came to speak in Manchester at the Free Trade Hall. The WSPU wrote to him, asking him to receive a deputation, but he did not reply. Christabel and Annie Kenny joined the audience, intending to heckle and with luck be arrested and imprisoned. This is Sylvia’s account from her book, The Suffragette Movement.

“Sir Edward Grey was making his appeal for the return of a Liberal government when a little white “Votes for Women” banner shot up. “Labour Representation” was the cry of the hour. Christabel thrust Annie Kenney forward, as one of the organized textile workers, and a member of a trade union committee, to ask. “Will the Liberal Government give women the vote?” Other questions were answered; that question was ignored. When it was persisted in, Annie Kenney was dragged down by the men sitting near her, and one of the stewards put a hat over her face. Christabel repeated the question. The hall was filled with conflicting cries; “Be quiet” “Let the lady speak” In the midst of the hubbub the Chief Constable of Manchester, William Peacock, came to the women and told them that if they would put the question in writing, he would take it himself to Sir Edward grey; but it went the round of chairman and speakers, and non of the vouchsafed a reply. When Sir Edward Grey rose to acknowledge a vote of thanks, Annie stood on a chair to ask again, whilst Christabel strove to prevent her removal; but Liberal stewards and policemen in plain clothes soon dragged them both from the hall. Determined to secure imprisonment, Christabel fought against ejection. When detectives thrust her into an ante-room she cried to her captors: ”I shall assault you!”; she retorted, when they pinioned her; “I shall spit at you!”. Her threat was not carried out in a very realistic manner, but she made as though to accomplish it, and she also managed to get a blow at the inspector as she and Annie Kenney were flung out of the building. Yet still she was not arrested. Outside in South Street she declared that they must hold a meeting , and when they attempted to address the crowd now flocking out of the hall, her desire was attained; they were now arrested and taken to the town hall.”

The women appeared in court the following day. Annie Kenney, speaking in her own defence, said that a large crowd had assembled, and, she admitted, blocked the street; but so long as they were to receive such treatment she, as representing thousands of factory women who had no votes, would be compelled to make the same kind of protest. They were fined but refused to pay and hence Christabel was sentenced to seven days imprisonment and Annie to three days. They were placed in the Third Division, wearing prison dress and eating prison food. According to Sylvia, Winston Churchill (then a prospective Liberal candidate for a Manchester seat) went to Strangeways prison to pay the fines but the governor refused to accept the money. Keir Hardie telegraphed his support. “The thing is a dastardly outrage, but do not worry, it will do immense good to the cause. Can I do anything?”

On their release a great crowd greeted them and Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper presented them with flowers. On 20th October both women addressed a crowded meeting in the very hall from which they had been ejected a week earlier. Keir Hardie also spoke. It was the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women which over the next nine years would involve thousands of women and shake British society to the core.

Article by Michael Herbert

Lydia Becker (1827-1890): the fight for votes for women

Lydia Becker was Secretary of the Manchester National Society for Womens’ Suffrage from 1867 until her death in 1890. She played a key role in the campaign for suffrage, encouraging women to openly campaign and speak publicly. She laid the basis for the early twentieth century suffrage campaign.

Lydia’s grandfather, Ernest Becker, had come to Manchester from Germany in the late 1790s and made his money from manufacturing acid which was used in the cotton industry. The family lived in Foxdenton Hall, Middleton for about 80 years. The hall survives and there is plaque there now in Lydia’s memory.

Lydia’s chief interest until her appointment had been science, particularly the study of plants, and she had written a book, Botany for Novices, and even corresponded with Charles Darwin. She was also interested in astronomy and wrote Stargazing for Novices, but this not accepted for publication. She was self-taught, as scientific societies in Manchester in this period refused admittance to women, excluding them from the discussion and debate on papers that there were the mainstay of these societies. Frustrated, Lydia founded the Manchester Ladies’ Literary Society, though this was short lived.

In October 1866 she attended the meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science which in that year was held in Manchester. This was a progressive organization which not only admitted women as members but also allowed them to read papers and attend dinners. Lydia heard Barbara Bodichon, one of the founders of Girton College, read a paper on Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women. A new Reform Bill was in the offing and four months earlier John Stuart Mill, recently elected to parliament, had presented a petition to the Commons. He had asked the women organising the petition to obtain at least 100 signatures. They had gathered 1499, including Florence Nightingale, Harriet Martineau, Josephine Butler and Mary Somerville. It was a sign of a groundswell of opinion amongst women in favour of political rights.

The paper was revelation to Lydia, who immediately offered her services to the London committee, and having obtained petition forms, went about gathering signatures in Manchester. She joined a recently formed Manchester Committee, whose members included Louis Borchardt, Jacob Bright, Max Kyllman, Samuel Steinhall, Elizabeth Wolstenholme and Elizabeth Gloyne. She also put pen to paper and in March 1867 an article by Lydia on Female Suffrage was published in the Contemporary Review, which read:

“It surely will not be denied that woman have , and ought to have opinions of their own on subjects of public interest, and on the events which arise as the world wends on its way. But if it be granted that women may, without offence, hold political opinions, on what ground can the right be with held of giving the same expression or effect to their opinions as that enjoyed by their male neighbours.”

Two further petitions were presented to parliament in May 1867 and on 29 May John Stuart Mill made a long speech in favour of an amendment to the Suffrage Bill which would extend the suffrage to women on the same terms as men. The Bill gave the vote to all male adult householders living in a borough constituency and to male lodgers paying £10 for unfurnished rooms. This extended the vote to about another 1,500,000 men. The amendment was treated with levity and defeated by 123 votes.

Lydia realised that the cause was not going to be won easily . In June therefore she drew up a draft constitution for a Society whose aims would “to obtain for women the right of voting for Members of Parliament on the same conditions as it is, or may be granted to men.” In August the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage was formally established.

The campaign gained wide publicity over the Lily Maxwell case. Lily’s name had mistakenly appeared on the register of voters in Manchester. She was supporter of the Liberal party, ran her own shop and needed little persuasion when Lydia visited her to talk about suffrage. The two women went to the polling station, accompanied by male supporters, on 26th November 1867, when the election official allowed her to vote. It was resolved to campaign to persuade other women to petition to add their names to the electoral roll.

To launch the campaign on this issue Lydia organized a public meeting in the assembly rooms of the Free Trade Hall on 14 April 1868, a meeting later celebrated by campaigners as marking the beginning of the suffrage campaign. Very unusually for that time women were on the platform and spoke. The meeting was chaired by the Mayor of Salford, HD Pochin, and three resolutions were proposed by women and seconded by men. The first motion was moved by Lydia:

“…that the exclusion of women from the exercise of the franchise in the election of Members of Parliament being unjust in principle and inexpedient in practice, this meeting is of the opinion that the right of voting should be granted to them on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men.”

The other motions were moved by Agnes Pochin and Anne Robertson. Agnes Pochin said that women found themselves “in a state of chronic effervescence, soured by injustice, fretted by the possession of energies which they are required to repress.” It was generally acknowledged in the press that the meeting had been a success and the women had spoken well.

Lydia worked tirelessly in the autumn on the electoral petitions, travelling to meet women and attend hearings across Lancashire. On 30 October 1868 the Manchester Society held its first annual meeting in the Town Hall, chaired by Phillipinne Kyllman, It was packed and even attracted a reporter from The Times.

The report in The Times said:

“…if one supposes it was ever the intention of legislature to give women a vote, and if they do get it, it will be by a sort of accident, in itself objectionable, though in its practical consequences, perhaps harmless enough. On the other hand, if they are refused it, the nation will , no doubt, be formally and in the light of day committing itself, through its judicial tribunal, to the dangerous doctrine that representation need not go along with taxation.”

In November the claims of 5,346 women householders came before the High Court in the case of Chorlton v Lings. The women were represented by Sir John Coleridge and Richard Pankhurst. They argued that women had an ancient constitutional right to vote and cited documents in support of this. This was dismissed out of hand by the judges.

Undaunted, the Society immediately wrote to all 800 parliamentary candidates asking then to support a suffrage bill. When the results of the general election were announced in early December, John Stuart Mill, their firmest supporter in the House of Commons, had been defeated, an undeniable setback for the movement.

In the spring of 1869 Lydia undertook a series of lectures in the north of England. She gained more confidence in public speaking and in dealing with male hecklers, who were invariably present. Never physically strong, she was often exhausted by these trips. Her closest friends were Jacob and Ursula Bright and Richard Pankhurst.

Despite the dogged rejection by the House of Commons of women’s right to vote for MPs, in 1869 women were granted the right to vote in municipal elections with surprisingly little controversy after an amendment was moved by Jacob Bright at Committee stage. The Society sent circulars to women voters explaining their right to vote and how to vote, as at this time it was still done in public and could be daunting.

The following year women also gained the right to vote for, and to stand for election to, the new School Boards, established by W E Forster to run elementary education. Lydia stood successfully for the Manchester School Board as an independent member, receiving 15,000 votes, and she remained a member until her death. Like her suffrage work, her education work gave her a high public profile as she gave speeches and attended the opening of new Board Schools. Laying the foundation stone of a new school in Burgess Street, Harpurhey she said “it was a great mistake to suppose that domestic duties were limited to girls and women, every boy in Manchester should be taught to darn his own socks and cook his own chops.” She regularly visited schools in Manchester to see the progress being made.

In 1870 she and other women founded the monthly Women’s Suffrage Journal which chronicled the progress and frustrations of the national campaign for women’s suffrage with reports on meetings and events organised by local societies and parliamentary debates as well other subjects of interest to progressive women. It also covered events abroad. In her first editorial Lydia wrote that the object was “to extend to every isolated well-wisher the firm grasp of an outstretched hand.” The journal cost 1d.

Lydia travelled the country speaking at public meetings. Despite great hopes, by the end of the 1870s the campaign had not succeeded in getting a Bill passed and the likelihood faded. A National Demonstration of Women was held in the Free Trade Hall in March 1880 during the general election campaign, with the hall was packed with women.

In the summer of 1880 the Society, to its surprise, achieved a notable and unexpected success after Lydia and other women went over to the Isle of Man and campaigned in support of amendment which would grant women the right to vote for the House of Keys. The amendment was carried and when women voted for the first time in March 1881 every woman who did so received a letter of congratulation from Lydia. Surely the House of Commons would follow suit now that a Liberal government had been elected?

In 1881 Lydia moved to London to work for the National Society. Great hopes were placed in a Bill that came before the Commons in 1884 but it was overwhelmingly defeated after Gladstone made public his opposition. Most of the women were campaigners were supporters of the Liberal party and felt bitterly betrayed. But the campaign continued.

Lydia died suddenly in Switzerland in July 1890 having gone for a rest as her health had worsened. The women’s suffrage journal ceased publication on her death with the following notice:

“To all Readers. For twenty years and four months this Journal has received the impress of one hand and one mind, so that its long row of volumes forms one continuous work, and now when that careful hand is laid low and the energies of that far-seeing mind are carried beyond our mortal ken, it would seem the most fitting course to close these pages where Miss Becker left them., so that the journal shall be wholly hers…”

In 1903 Helen Blackburn donated a collection of books on women’s questions to Girton College, Cambridge in memory of Lydia Becker and Caroline Ashurst Biggs. The Memorial Library consists of books, pamphlets, periodicals and newspaper cuttings which relate to the world-wide position of women during the last century. It contains works in Dutch, French, German and Italian, in addition to works in English. The collection was arranged by Blackburn in a mahogany bookcase of her own design and each book contains a bookplate to the memory of Becker and Biggs designed by Edith Mendham and printed by the Women’s Printing Society. A condition of the bequest was that the books should always be kept together and this has been honoured. Manchester Central Library also holds an extensive collection on Lydia and the suffrage campaign, including correspondence and press cuttings.

Article by Michael Herbert

Ellen Wilkinson – trade unionist, feminist, socialist

Ellen Wilkinson was born in Manchester in 1891 and was an active trade unionist, feminist and Socialist. She was a councillor in Manchester and later MP for Middlesbrough and then Jarrow. She was Minister for Education in the 1945 Labour government but died suddenly in February 1947.

Ellen Wilkinson was born on 18 October 1891 at 41 Coral Street, Ardwick. Her father Richard was as a textile worker and later an insurance agent, while her mother, also named Ellen, was a dress-maker. Her father was a lay Methodist preacher but Ellen did not grow up to share her parents’ religious beliefs.

As a child she was often ill with asthma and never grew above five foot tall. After an elementary education she won a scholarship in 1902 to attend Ardwick Higher Grade school (later renamed Ellen Wilkinson Highschool in her memory). In 1906 she won a bursary to study at Manchester Day Training college for half a week, teaching at Oswald Road school for the rest of the week.

In her autobiography Myself When Young, published in 1936, she recalled:

“The boys were filling in time, bored stiff under they reached 14 years and could leave. I was an undersized girl. They all towered above me. My only hope was to interest them sufficiently to keep them reasonably quiet. One day the Headmaster came in and demanded to know why the boys were not sitting upright with their arms folded. “They are sitting that way because I am interesting them,” I replied. To which the Headmaster responded by caning almost everyone. We had a grand row, and I was sent home to be reprimanded by an Inspector. But my temper had not calmed. The surging hate of all the silly punishment I had endured in my school days prevented any awe of the Inspector. I whirled all this out at the unfortunate man, who listened quietly and advised: “Don’t do any more teaching when you have finished your two years here. Take my advice. Go and be a missionary in China.”

Ellen did not take the advice, instead in 1910 she gained a scholarship to read history at the University of Manchester, a considerable achievement for a working class young woman.

She was already involved in the Socialist movement, having joined the Independent Labour Party at the age of 16 after hearing a speech by Katherine Glasier, one of the leading women socialists of the day:

“It was a memorable meeting. I got a seat in the front row of the gallery. It seemed noisy to me, whose sole experience of meetings was of religious services. Rows of men filled the platform. But my eyes were riveted on a small slim woman, her hair simply coiled into her neck, Katherine Glasier. She was speaking on ‘Socialism as a Religion’. To stand on a platform of the Free Trade Hall, to be able to sway a great crowd, to be able to make people work to make life better, to remove slums and under-feeding and misery just because one came and spoke to them about it – that seemed the highest destiny any women could ever hope for.”

At college Wilkinson was Secretary of the Fabian Society, meeting Clifford Allen and GDH Cole, and later of the Socialist Federation, and was also active in the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage. On leaving university she got a job as the Manchester organiser for the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies, whose offices were on John Dalton Street. She spoke at many out-door meetings as well as running recruitment drives and raising funds.

Like many ILP members Ellen Wilkinson opposed the First World War and supported the No Conscription Fellowship, which opposed compulsory conscription and supported pacifists and conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the armed forces. She also joined the Women’s International League for Peacer & Freedom, which called for a negotiated end to the war.

In 1915 she was employed by the National Union of Distributive & Allied Workers to organise the Co-operative Employees, the first woman organiser to work for the union.

By now Wilkinson was an Executive menber of the National Guilds League , established by GDH Cole in 1915, to promote Guild Socialism. In August 1920 she was sent as a delegate by the Manchester branch to attend the unity convention in London which, at the urging of Lenin, brought together a number of existing socialist organisations to form the Communist Party of Great Britain. Ellen joined the party later that year, and in 1921 she attended the founding conference of the Red International of Labour Unions in Moscow.

In November 1923 Ellen Wilkinson was elected as a Councillor for the Gorton ward, standing for the Gorton Trades and Labour Council. and on 7 November she spoke at CPGB rally to mark the sixth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Also speaking on the platform was Shapurji Saklatvala, Communist MP for Battersea.

Ellen left the Communist Party in 1924 when the Labour Party proscribed dual membership. That same year she was elected as a Labour MP for Middlesbrough East, one of the very few women in parliament. In her first speech in the Commons on 3 March 1925 she criticised the arrangements for workers employed at the British Empire exhibition.

On 29 June 1926, whilst speaking during a debate on the Coal Mines Bill, she produced a rope used by miners in Somerset, who had to haul the coal tubs themselves as the roads were too narrow for horses or ponies.

“I am sorry to intrude into the polite environs of this House a thing of this kind. This is what is worn by the men. This is the rope that goes round the man’s waist; this is the chain that passes between his legs, and this is the crook that is hitched on to the tub. This was worn, not 60 years ago, as stated by certain coal-owners, but on 30th April of this year by a miner.”

In July of that same year she also attacked the Tory government’s Emergency Powers Act for imprisoning innocent people.

“One can get into the habit of giving the Government powers like this without realising what they are actually like, when they are put into operation not by the Home Secretary, or the Under-Secretary, but by the local police, and, still worse, by the magistrates, who have shown themselves in many districts completely prejudiced and acting with political bias, and the bias dictated by their own pecuniary interest. I have, through the Class War Prisoners’ Aid Association, come in contact with a number of these cases, and it has astonished me the number of magistrates who are themselves coal-owners, or large employers of labour, who have not hesitated to take their places on the Bench and to deliver judgement in cases when their own property was concerned, and certainly where their own interests were concerned.”

After the defeat of the General Strike she went to the United States to raise money for miners’ families who remained on strike until the autumn and had been left high and dry after the strike was called off by the TUC. In 1927 she wrote a book about the General Strike with Frank Horrabin. In 1929 she wrote a novel called Clash, largely autobiographical.

During the second Labour administration 1929-1931 Wilkinson worked for Susan Lawrence MP, who was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health. But she lost her seat in the catastrophic defeat of Labour in the 1931 general election following the formation of a National government. During her time out of the Commons she worked for a trade union and wrote another novel, The Division Bell Mystery. She also campaigned against the rise of fascism, co-authoring a book with Edward Conze entitled Why Fascism?

Ellen returned to the Commons in 1935 as MP for Jarrow, a town suffering massive unemployment because of the slump. In 1936 she took part in the Jarrow Crusade in which several hundred male marchers walked from Jarrow to London to highlight the plight of the unemployed. On reaching London the Prime Minister refused to receive their delegation.

Speaking in the House on 12 November 1936 about the march she said

“As I marched down that road with those men, all of whom I knew well, whom I had worked with in my own constituency, as I marched with them hour after hour, just talking—I come from the working class myself, and my father was unemployed, but I have never known what it was to miss a meal that I wanted—it was just as we walked and talked so intimately that I began to understand something of what it meant, day after day after day, to get up and not know what you were going to do, and never have a copper in your pocket for anything. I mean that it was a revelation to me, and no amount of investigation, and going down for a week, and no amount of talking with these men in the ordinary political sense would have taught me so much.”

In 1939 she wrote a book for the Left Book Club entitled Jarrow, the Town That Was Murdered.

During the war Ellen was acted as parliamentary secretary for Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary. She was in charge of air raid shelters, often visiting sites personally and urging women to get involved in civil defence.

When the Labour party won the 1945 general election with a huge majority the new Prime Minster Clement Atlee made her Minister of Education with the task of implementing the 1944 Education Act. In 1946 she was successful in getting the School Milk Act through the Commons which provided a free third of a pint of milk every day to every child in the country.

Ellen Wilkinson died suddenly on 6th February 1947 during one of the worst winters of the century. The official cause was pneumonia, although there were rumours that she had taken an overdose. She was buried in Penn, Buckinghamshire. There is a plaque marking the site of her birth place (now demolished) in Baslam Close, Beswick.

Article by Michael Herbert.

Fascism and anti-fascism in 1930s Manchester

The following article on Fascist leader Oswald Mosley’s humiliation by anti-fascists at Belle Vue is reproduced by kind permission of Manchester University’s Centre for Jewish Studies, and is by Michael Wolf of the anti-fascist periodical Searchlight. The introduction to the article is based on an article by Yaakov Wise, also on the CJS website.

One of Manchester’s most unpleasant claims to fame is its connections to Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists and supporter of Hitler and Mussolini. Mosley Street in Manchester city centre is named after his family – although not after Oswald Mosley himself. Early meetings of BUF were held in Hyndman Hall on Liverpool Street in Salford and rallies held at Queen’s Park in Harpurhey.

In 1933 a BUF meeting at the Free Trade Hall descended into rioting between fascists and anti-fascist communists and was broken up by police. The BUF also had its northern headquarters – inaugurated in a ceremony performed by Mosley flanked by two columns of blackshirts – at 17 Northumberland Street, Higher Broughton, Salford, in a house called Thornleigh.

Despite strong opposition from Manchester’s left-wing and Jewish communities, the BUF grew in 1933 and 1934, opening eighteen branches in Manchester and surrounding areas, including in Stretford, Altrincham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Hulme, Rusholme, Withington, Blackley, Oldham, Bolton, Bury and Rochdale. At one time the BUF even considered moving its HQ to Greater Manchester, after the Daily Mail and Lord Rothermere withdrew their support for the organisation in 1934. Jock Houston, one of Mosley’s violent and racist officers in London, was slated for a move to Manchester but was instead sent to Wales after objections from Greater Manchester Police.

Their presence was recalled by a Jewish member of the Young Communist League, Maurice Levine, who later fought in Spain and wrote in his autobiography “From Cheetham to Cordova: A Manchester man of the Thirties:”

“A favourite café of theirs was Walter’s on Great Ducie Street near Victoria Station, and they would walk through Strangeways along Bury New Road to Northumberland Street to provoke the Jewish population – they would often be scuffles with the inhabitants of Strangeways, who were very sensitive to the menace of fascism in their midst.”

The Jewish Chronicle of 27th October 1939 reported the activities of fascists around Manchester, including chalking slogans such as ‘Christians awake! Don’t be slaughtered for Jewish finance’ in Fallowfield. A BUF member was also fined 20 shillings by city magistrates for chalking fascist slogans on a wall at Boggart Hole Clough in Blackley. “A representative of the Manchester Parks Department said that chalking had caused them a great deal of trouble, as they had to be ‘ever-lastingly cleaning walls,” the paper recorded.

The BUF also prepared for the general election of 1940 – never held due to WW2 – by preparing a man called Dick Bellamy as a parliamentary candidate for Blackley. The BUF had also been declared illegal in 1937, but one of the staff from Mosley’s Higher Broughton office still stood as a candidate in the Middleton & Prestwich by-election (breaking the convention that in wartime a deceased’s party successor stands unopposed) in 1940, winning 418 votes against the Conservatives’ 32,036. MI5 files on Mosley record him being tracked in Manchester, including during a secret meeting in 1940 in a curtained-off booth in a restaurant called the Victoria Grill. But the day after the by-election Mosley and other BUF leaders were arrested in London and the party collapsed.

‘Bye Bye Blackshirt: Oswald Mosley defeated at Belle Vue
By Michael Wolf

After the notorious brutality of the fascist meeting earlier in 1934 Mosley thought he would have a repeat performance in Manchester. To combat this threat an anti-fascist co-ordinating committee was created to counter the fascist thugs. A dynamic campaign of leafleting, fly-posting and public meetings were organised to mobilise the opposition. Deputations were organised representing the broadest possible democratic coalition to demand the banning of the fascist meeting. In the face of all the protests the meeting was allowed, and to add insult to injury the Chief Constable banned all marches, a decision clearly taken to make anti-fascist mobilisation more difficult.

However, the anti-fascists were determined that there would be no repeat of fascist violence and intimidation. Saturday 29th September the opposition mobilised. Three marches from Openshaw, Miles Platting, and Cheetham marched to meet the hundreds already waiting to meet them at Ardwick Green to form a united demonstration of over 3,000 who would march along Hyde road to join the protest meeting outside Belle Vue. The contingent from Cheetham comprised in the main young working class Jewish activists from the Challenge Club, the Youth Front Against War & Fascism and the Young Communist League formed the backbone of the group that was to rout the fascists later in the day. When the marchers arrived at Belle Vue they were greeted by the hundreds already assembled for the protest meeting. The marchers however had not come to listen to speeches. They had come to stop Mosley.

At the agreed time they left the meeting, crossed the road and in orderly fashion queued up to pay their entrance fee for Belle Vue. Once inside the amusement park scouting parties tried to find the fascists. They had no success, as these examples of the “master race” were hiding in the halls hired for them.

Mosley was to speak from The Gallery which was protected by the lake, his supporters were to assemble on the open air dance floor which was in front of the lake. Even so the fascist leader did not feel safe and in addition to the gang of thugs he called his bodyguard, there were wooden barriers and the police. In case this was not enough searchlights were available to be directed against the anti-fascists and fire engines with water cannon at the ready. The scene was set.

500 blackshirts marched from a hall under The Gallery and formed up military style. Mosley, aping Mussolini stepped forward to the microphone to speak. He was greeted by a wall of sound that completely drowned his speech. “Down with fascism”, “Down with the blackshirt thugs!”, “The rats the rats clear out the rats!”, “One two three four five we want Mosley, dead or alive!”. Anti fascist songs, the Red Flag, and the Internationale. The sound never stopped for over an hour. In spite of the powerful amplifiers turned up to maximum Mosley could not be heard.

To quote The Manchester Guardian, “Sitting in the midst of Sir Oswald’s personal bodyguard within three yards of where he was speaking one barely able to catch two consecutive sentences.”

Mosley tried all the theatrical tricks he knew to try and make an impression but without any effective sound he appeared like a demented marionette. Defeat stared him in the face and he knew it, as did his audience which slunk away as soon as the police bodyguard was removed. The humiliation of the fascists was complete. The only sound they could now here was the singing of ‘bye bye blackshirt’ to the tune ‘bye ’bye blackbird’, a popular song of the time.

With the fascists defeated and demoralised, the protesters raised their banners and posters high and proudly rejoined the meeting outside Belle Vue.

Mosley’s humiliation was complete, what was supposed to have been his most important meeting since Olympia was in fact the first of a series of defeats he was to suffer in Manchester.