Peace and Antiwar activities in 1930s Manchester

In the decade before the outbreak of the Second World War there was extensive campaigning by a number of organisations in Manchester on the issues of peace and opposition to war.

The experience of the slaughter of millions during First World War (“the war to end all wars”) had led many to believe that war was not a solution to international conflict, indeed it might lead to the complete collapse of civilisation. The establishment of the League of Nations after the Paris Conference had appeared to offer hope that new system of international accord might prevent future conflicts. Its aims, as stated in its Covenant, included preventing war through collective security and settling international issues through discussion and arbitration. By 1935 it had 58 members, but not the United States, which refused to join despite the best efforts of President Woodrow Wilson.

Despite some successes, the League was revealed as powerless and ineffectual when countries ignored it and embarked on wars of aggression. In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria (then part of China), in 1935 Italy attacked Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia), in 1936 Franco and other generals launched a coup against Spain’s Republican government, aided by Italy and Germany, in 1937 Japan launched a full-scale war against China. In each of these cases the League was unable to act effectively. Coupled with the accession to power of the Nazis in 1933 and their rapid re-armament of Germany, the worsening international situation appeared to portend that another world conflict was inevitable, a prospect many people found almost unbearable when memories of the last war were still so raw.

This public mood was crystallised by what became known as “the King and Country debate” at the Oxford Union on 9 February 1933. A motion stating “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country” was proposed. It was moved by Kenelm Digby, who told the packed chamber that , “It is no mere coincidence that the only country fighting for the cause of peace, Soviet Russia, is the country that has rid itself of the war-mongering clique. The justification urged for the last war was that it was a war to end war. If that were untrue it was a dastardly lie; if it were true, what justification is there for opposition to this motion tonight?” “. The motion was passed by 275 votes to 15.

The debate and the result caused enormous public controversy and contributed to the emergence of a new peace movement. In 1934 the Peace Pledge Union was founded by Canon Dick Shepherd and attracted tens of thousands of members. The PPU joined with the Women’s Co-operative Guild to promote the wearing of the White Poppy on Remembrance Sunday, which the Guild had started selling in 1933.

A survey conducted in 1934 by the Manchester and District Anti-War Council listed the following organisations in Manchester. Some had been started in response to the Great War, others founded more recently.

Manchester & District Anti-War Council:
This had been formed in 1933 and was a coalition of about fifty mainly working-class and left-wing organisations such as Co-operative Guilds, trade union branches, Labour Parties, ILP, Communists and youth organisations. It carried on regular propaganda work, including public meetings, producing leaflets and posters, contacting the press and holding monthly meetings. On occasions it worked with the Women’s International League and the Society of Friends. The officers were listed as Louise Bell of Daisy Bank, Manchester 10 and Cicely M. Marsh of Granville Road, Fallowfield.

Anti-War Group, Manchester University:
This University society was affiliated to the British Students’ Anti-War council. Student members, which were estimated at about one hundred, pledged themselves not to take part in war and to work actively against wars. The Secretary was P. Chantler.

Fellowship of Reconciliation:
This was an international Christian pacifist society founded in 1914. The Manchester branch was willing to collaborate with any organisation whose views did not conflict with those of FOR. The Secretary was Frank Adey, of Lower Broughton Road.

Manchester & Salford Joint Disarmament Council:
This had been formed in 1931 and was established for the purpose of co-ordinating the work of some thirty local organisations in preparation for the Disarmament conference. This conference was organised by the League of Nations and took place in Geneva from 1932 to 1933. It broke down when Hitler, on coming to power, withdrew Germany from the conference and also from the League of Nations. By 1934 this Council seems to have ceased to function.

League of Nations Union:
This had been established as a national organisation in October 1918 by the merger of the League of Free Nations Association and the League of Nations Society, with the aim of working for the support of the League of Nations amongst the people. Membership in Manchester and near-by districts was claimed to be around 25,000, organised into 72 branches. The LNU issued literature and provided speakers for public meetings and schools. The Secretary was C E Clift and the LNU had an office at 53 Barton Arcade.

Manchester Peace Players:
This drama society was formed to produce Peace Plays only and to perform these plays to churches, Co-operative Societies and Peace organisations. The players had about 25 acting members and 40 supporting members. The secretary was Helen Savage of York Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

No More War Movement:
The NWM was the British branch of the War Resisters International, founded in 1921. Members signed a declaration not to support any war, international or civil, and to work for the establishment of all caused of war, and the establishment of a new social and international order, based on co-operation for the common good. Membership was estimated at about 330. The Secretary was W Bingham, of Stretford Road.

Society of Friends:
The Friends Peace Committee actively sought to bring about a better understanding and co-operation between all peoples and collaborate where possible with other bodies in education for world peace. It issued literature and held public meetings and had been prominent in the activities of the Manchester and Salford Joint Disarmament council. The Secretary was Joseph Pennington, of Chestnut Avenue, Walkden.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom:
On April 28, 1915, despite many obstacles, a group of a thousand women met in an International Congress in The Hague, Netherlands to protest against the First world War. The organisers of the Congress were women who had been active in the International Suffrage Alliance, and who saw the connection between their struggle for equal rights and the struggle for peace.
The Congress led to the formation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. The WIL branch in Manchester was active in organising public meetings, providing speakers and protesting against military displays. It had 540 members and the Secretary was Audrey Bullough. They had an office at 1 Princess Street

Peace and anti-war activities

1935

The Manchester Anti-War Council organised an exhibition which took place in the Friends Meeting House between 14-19 January 1935. It was opened by George Sutherland, principal of Dalton Hall, with E C Whitaker in the chair.

The President of the Council was John Jagger, who was a trade unionist, President of the shop workers’ union the NUDAW, and was elected as MP for Manchester Clayton at the general election in November 1935. The exhibition comprised eight sections which looked at the causes, conduct and aftermath of the Great War and how preparations for another war were being made. The exhibition programme included an advert for anti-war literature at Books & Books, 54 Victoria Street.

1937

In July 1937 there was a Manchester & Salford Peace Week organised by an umbrella council, whose Presidents were the Lord Mayors of Manchester and Salford. The Peace Week appears to have been closely connected with the LNU as the Secretary of the council was C E Clift, who was also the Secretary of the LNU. The events included a Peace Exhibition at Central Hall, Oldham Street; a Peace shop on Deansgate (corner of Blackfriars); a Peace Shop and Exhibition on Wellington Street, Gorton; a performance of the anti-war play The Miracle of Verdun by Hans Schlumberg; and Peace Films at the Tatler Theatre, Oxford Road . There were also processions and meetings in many parts of Manchester and Salford, including meetings at the Friends Meeting House where on Monday 5 July Dr Herbert Gray spoke on “What Makes Nations Dangerous” while on 7 July Professor C E M Joad spoke on “The Coming of the World State”. On Wednesday 7 July there was a Women’s Day whose main event was a procession of one hundred women’s organisations from All Saints to Platt Fields where the speakers included Ellen Wilkinson MP.

The week concluded with a mass meeting in the Free Trade Hall , chaired by the Lord Mayor. The speakers were Norman Angell and Phillip Noel Baker MP. Norman Angell was Labour MP for Bradford 1929-1931 and active an international issues, including opposition to fascism. He was the author of many books. Philip Noel Baker (1899-1982) was from a Quaker family and during the First World War led the Friends Ambulance Unit which was staffed by conscientious objectors. He was MP for Derby 1936-1970 and later served in the House of Lords.

During the week there was an office for selling tickets at 53 Barton Arcade.

1938

In January 1938 the Manchester & District Ant-War Council hosted the Cambridge Anti-War Exhibition at the Burlington Café, Oxford Road (11-14 January) and then at the Friends Meeting house (15-19 January). The exhibition was opened by Maurice Dobb, a lecturer on economics at Trinity College Cambridge University. He was a member of the CPGB.

The art and lighting direction was by E G Barlow, who lent six of his own drawings. The design and mounting was by Misha Black who was an architect and designer, joint founder of the Artists’ International Association in 1933, and later professor of industrial design at the Royal College of Art from 1959-1975, and by Barbara Nixon (about whom I have not been able to find more information).

The mystery of Guernica

Guernica is Pablo Picasso’s most famous painting, created in response to the bombing of the Basque town by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces on 26 April 1937. The Spanish Republican government commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exposition at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.
On completion Guernica was taken on tour around the world in an attempt to bring the situation in Spain to public attention. In January 1939 Guernica and the studies were exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in the East End. Intriguingly there is a persistent rumour that in February 1939 Guernica was exhibited in Manchester for two weeks in a vacant car showroom opposite the Cathedral, before it was returned to France and from there to the USA where it stayed for 42 years, only being sent back to Spain after the death of Franco. Enquiries are ongoing to establish the truth of this.

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

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.

The General Strike in Manchester, May 1926

The General Strike was the most significant British labour dispute of the twentieth century. It was a massive solidarity action called by the Trades Union Congress in support of the miners, who were striking against cuts in pay and longer hours. It began on 3 May 1926 and was called off on 12 May by the TUC with no guarantees from the Tory government of fair treatment for the miners and no guarantees against victimisation of returning strikers. The miners’ strike lasted until the end of 1926 and ended in bitter defeat.

Background

The mining companies had been placed under government control during the First World War. The Miners’ Federation of Great Britain pressed for complete nationalisation and called a national strike in February 1919. It was delayed after the Coalition government led by Lloyd George promised a Royal Commission to look at the future of the industry.
In June 1919 the majority of Sankey Commission members recommended that the mines should be nationalised but, having bought a breathing space, the government now reneged on its agreement and handed the mines back to the owners on 31 March 1921. The miners were locked out the following day by the coal owners after refusing to accept worse employment conditions. The railway and transport union promised to take action in their support on 15 April but called it off at the last minute. This betrayal became known “Black Friday”. After three months on strike the miners were forced back on the employers’ terms.

In 1924 A J Cook was elected secretary of the MFGB. A charismatic speaker, he toured the coalfields, addressing large meetings of miners and their families and revitalised the union after the defeat of 1921.

Faced with a declining economic outlook in June 1925 the employers’ organisation – the Mining Association – gave notice of its intention to reduce wages and increase hours on 31 July.

On 10 July the General Council of the TUC met the Executive of the MFGB and offered its support. On 25 July the Council proposed an embargo on the movement of coal should the miners be locked out. Meetings between the government, the miners, the owners and the TUC failed to reach an agreement. On 30 July a Special Conference of Trade Union Executives agreed to support the transport ban and also empowered the General Council to offer financial support.

At 4pm on 31 July the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin announced to the House of Commons that the government would subsidise the miners until 1 May 1926 and also set up another Royal Commission under Lord Samuel to report on the future of the industry. Once again the government was buying time

It is clear that the government expected a strike to take place eventually and used the breathing space to devise and implement ways of maintaining supplies and transport in the event of industrial action, setting up 150 haulage committees to co-ordinate privately owned fleets of lorries and placing local authorities on alert to maintain essential services. In addition to the government’s own extensive preparations other bodies, such as the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, led by Lord Harding and Admiral Jellicoe, enrolled volunteers. They claimed to be “non-political” and acting for “the good of the community”. By May 1926 they had registered 100,000 volunteers.

By contrast the TUC made no plans for a general strike, seemingly believing that a settlement would be reached, only establishing a Ways & Means Committee on 27 April 1926, just days before the strike happened.

The Samuel Commission published its report in March 1926. It recognised that the industry needed to be reorganised, but rejected the suggestion of nationalisation. The report also recommended that the Government subsidy should be withdrawn and miners’ wages should be reduced.

On 30 April the coal owners locked out the miners.

On Saturday 1 May the TUC held a special conference of union executives which pledged support to the miners . That same day May Day marches were held throughout Britain amidst growing excitement and a conviction that a strike was now inevitable.

“Surely the most momentous May-Day in our history…I heard tonight that the Hyde Park demonstration was the largest and best even our oldest folk could remember…..Reports show that everywhere yesterday’s demonstrations were the biggest ever known. The workers seem ready”. Fenner Brockway, “Diary of the General Strike”, Socialist Review, June 1926.

The Strike in Manchester

Saturday 1 May

It rained, of course. Undeterred thousands paraded on the annual May Day march from Ardwick Green to Belle Vue under “dripping banners “ and “rain sodden umbrellas” as the Manchester Guardian reported.

“Men and women in gleaming mackintoshes and wearing the red and yellow favours of the Labour party; delegates from trade unions following in dignity behind their banners; Communists with broad ribbons across their shoulders – a splash of colour in the drab train”….The banners of the trade unions were varied by those of other groups, ranging from a sober ‘Stand by the Miners’ to the appeal of the Communists – ‘Don’t Shoot the Workers’.”

After the procession a meeting chaired by the MP JE Sutton (a former miner and MP for Clayton) took place in the Great Hall at Belle Vue. In the midst of the speeches another MP, Joe Compton, announced that “the trade unions of the country have decided to call a general strike”. After a moments hush the audience broke into cheers.

“The Communists waved their red streamers and hats were thrown into the air. Thereafter every reference from the platform to ‘the coming fight’ and every appeal to ‘stand by the miners’ was received with cheers and applause. The solidarity of the meeting was incontestable”
(Manchester Guardian)

The meeting finished by unanimously agreeing a resolution in support of the miners which ended “He who is not for the miners is against the working class.”

Monday 3 May

As the midnight deadline approached the railway workers, tramwaymen, carters, dockers, power enginemen and foremen, printers, iron and steel workers, vehicle builders and builders all announced their intention to strike work. The Electrical Trades Union, which had its headquarters in Manchester, issued an instruction to its branches to take joint action “along with any other section of men who have ceased work on transport, printing, engineering and steel production”.

Mr Mattinson, general manager of the Manchester trams, announced that strenuous efforts would be made to maintain “ as good a service as possible” and that plans were being made to use taxi-cabs and charabancs on routes from Albert Square.

Councillor Mellor, Secretary of the Manchester & Salford Trades & Labour Council, gave assurances that every effort would be made to co-operate with local authorities in ensuring the safety of food supplies and other essential services. The trade unions set up a central committee to run the strike covering the whole of the North West. The Secretary was JA Webb from the Transport & General Workers Union, whose members would be crucial to the success of the strike.

The police were making their preparations too, of course. According to testimony given to WH Crook, author of The General Strike, published in 1931, preparations for the strike had included the need to keep transport moving from the very first day of the strike. The police had drawn up route maps of the roads that would be used and these had been circulated to police constables in March. Mobile squads of police were to be held ready for instant deployment in threatened areas. It was announced publicly that the Chief Constable Sir Robert Peacock would review the force of special constables set up in Manchester during the war with the purpose of discovering the present strength of this force. Volunteers for this force were also being enrolled at the training school at London Road fire station. Manchester City Council announced that it was setting up a Manchester Area Emergency Committee and enrolling volunteers at public buildings.

The Manchester Evening News told its readers to “Keep Cool and Carry On.”

“The security of the Constitution having been threatened the duty of every right-minded citizen lies plain before him. The Englishmen who never will be slaves to kings or conquerors will never be slaves to a class. The people who have invented the right to rule themselves will not submit to the rule of any minority of workers who may seek to usurp the powers of government. The government must govern.”

Three trains left Manchester for London at midnight from London Road, Central and Victoria railways stations, though with few passengers on board since there was no certainty that they would reach the capital as they had to change drivers en route. Shortly after midnight pickets took up their positions outside the stations. Railway company officials were uncertain what level of service would be provided. All would depend on whether railway workers would be loyal to their union and obey the strike call.

More than 5,000 Manchester tramwaymen held a mass meeting at midnight in the Co-operative Hall, Downing Street at which there was solid vote in favour of striking. The power for the trams was cut off at 2am.

Tuesday 4 May

Not a single tram ran. There were no local trains and only one train to London from London Road at 9.30am via Sheffield and Nottingham and one each way between Central Station and Derby.

With no public transport there was enormous traffic on the road into Manchester city centre from the suburbs, as the middle classes turned to their cars. Taxis charged 6d a ride. The docks were at a standstill, though food and other essentials were being moved.

By the early afternoon it was claimed some 12,000 volunteers had been enrolled at the Free Trade Hall for various services, including one aviator.

Stella Davies, then a member of Gorton Labour party, vividly recalled the first day of the strike in her book North Country Bred, published in 1963.

“The mill chimneys ceased to smoke and the wheels ceased to turn, Over Gorton, Openshaw, Clayton, Newton Heath and Collyhurst the air grew clearer: the hills which ring the east of Manchester could be seen with an unusual sharpness across the intervening river valleys. The pavement and even the roads were crowded with pedestrians and the drivers of private cars offered lifts with surprising generosity.”

A Manchester news-sheet reported that “city girls” were wearing red ribbons at tram and bus stops, indicating that they would like a lift.

At the Socialist Hall on Margaret Street, Openshaw, the District Committee of the Communist Party was meeting in permanent session, whilst speakers addressed the crowds outside. Dick Stoker, a party member with a car, had just arrived back from London with copies of the CP emergency bulletin The Workers Daily when the police arrived and arrested him. He was later sentenced to two months in prison for “having committed an act likely to cause disaffection”. Quick-thinking members of the Young Communist League hid some of the bulletins under a pile of coke and later distributed them locally.

Wednesday 5 May

Public transport was largely at a standstill. A half-hourly service was achieved on the line to Radcliffe, one of the volunteers being a vicar.

Stella Davies visited her local station with other members of the Labour Party Women’s Section, taking tea and sandwiches.

“The pickets were steady men responsible who, as the occasional train drew into the station, regarded with interest and much amusement the efforts of the amateurs to bring the engine to stop at the right place and not over-shoot the platform. ‘Now you know’, they said to one discomforted youth, who had taken the train right through the station, ‘any fool can start a train. When you’ve learned to stop it where you want, you can join the union.’”

The strike reached the nation’s breakfast table after the decision of the TUC to call out the printers and shut down national and local newspapers.

The Manchester Guardian commented

“The decision of the Trades Union Congress to call out the printers and to silence the press seems to us a singularly misguided policy, and we cannot believe that it will be maintained. To put the press out of action gives a most dangerous power to the Government, which by its control of broadcasting will enjoy a complete monopoly in its distribution of news and views. Is this desired by the Trades Union Congress and the miners?”

The work force of the Manchester Guardian actually appealed to the TUC for an exemption from the strike but this was turned down.

The Government now produced its own newspaper the British Gazette, whilst the TUC used the presses of the Daily Herald to produce the British Worker which first appeared on 3 May.

Most newspapers attempted to producer some form of publication. The Manchester Guardian appeared a two sides of typescript on 3 May and on following days as a single printed news-sheet. The Manchester Evening Chronicle managed a daily typewritten sheet and also displayed news in the huge windows of its Withy Grove offices.

The public was also able to get news from the intriguingly named “Mutagraph” which the Manchester Evening Chronicle described as the latest and most fascinating of publicity devices… used at once to give vital news to large Manchester crowds thirsty for first-hand news of the nation’s new ordeal”. Fenner Brockway watched the device in action during his time in Manchester, “In Piccadilly a large crowd – mostly strikers – watched a Daily Dispatch news bulletin thrown up on a huge sky sign. Again a capitalist monopoly of news”.

It was reported that there were many empty seats for a show at the Manchester Hippodrome.

Thursday 6 May

A four page news-sheet entitled the Manchester Emergency Echo was published by EH Lumby at Central Press in Chorlton on Medlock, much of the content being lifted from the anti-strike Daily Mail which was now being published abroad and flown into Britain. The content included the following advice

“Don’t pay attention to wild stories of disorders, rioting, outrages and the like. Evil tongues are deliberately inventing these to scare you. …. Don’t criticise the Government . They are doing their best to deal with a different situation and will do better with your support and help…Don’t go denouncing the strikers in violent terms. Many of them are patriotic Britons led into a desperately foolish course by reckless leaders…Above all, don’t get scared.”

Friday 7 May

Ellen Wilkinson and JJ Horrabin, who were reporting back to the TUC on the position in parts of the country, declared that in Manchester “the position is absolutely solid”. They urged, however, that a strike newspaper be produced in Manchester.

Saturday 8 May

Fenner Brockway arrived in Manchester to edit a Manchester edition of the British Worker.

JA Webb reported in optimistic terms to the TUC. “The response to the TUC has been splendid…The feeling among members of the various sections is splendid and no instance of friction with police authorities has been reported.”

Sunday 9 May

The Lord Mayor of Manchester announced that food supplies were being maintained satisfactorily. A man was arrested by the police for allegedly attempting to interfere with a lorry-load of flour from Sutcliffe’s Mill, Hulme. He was later jailed.

There was a large rally in support of the strike in Platt Fields. Stella Davies described it as a “large orderly crowd and the presence of many women and children with sandwiches and bottles of milk made it seem almost like a picnic….the speakers exhorted the strikes to keep quiet, stay at home and offer no provocation”.

A report on the meeting sent to the TUC estimated that there were at least 20,00 people present. Two brass bands made up of striking tramway workers led the procession into the park. The speakers, who included Mary Quaile and Rhys Davies, addressed the crowd from three platforms. There were also meetings in Gorton and Blackley.

Interestingly the Manchester Guardian reported that the size of the meeting as “several hundred” strikers.

Monday 10 May

The North West Strike Committee informed the TUC that they had received authoritative information that 2000 beds, blankets and pillows had been sent into the Salford Docks in readiness for strike-breaking volunteers.

The Electricians Union threatened to stop electric power if attempts were made to run trams in Manchester.

The first edition of the Manchester edition of the British Worker appeared in a run of 50,000. It was printed by the Co-operative Publishing Company after the Co-operative Printing Society has refused to print it.

The front page declared

“The General Council does not challenge the Constitution. It is not seeking to substitute unconstitutional government. Nor is it desirous of undermining our Parliamentary institutions. The sole aim of the Council is to secure for the miners a decent standard of life. The Council is engaged in an industrial dispute. There is no constitutional crisis.”

The paper reported that there was wonderful solidarity everywhere and that the workers’ response had exceed all expectations.

“They have manifested their determination and unity to the whole world. They have resolved that the attempt of the mineowners to starve three million men, women and children into submission shall not succeed. All essential industries and all the transport services have been brought to standstill. The Trades Union Congress General Council is not making war on the people. It is anxious that ordinary member of the public shall not be penalised for the unpatriotic conduct of the mineowners and the Government.”

Tuesday 11 May

The print-run of the Manchester British Worker rose to 100,000.

Workers at the only flour-mill still working in Manchester now joined the strike. Three men were prosecuted in the Manchester Police Court for allegedly inciting a crowd to set fire to a railway company motor-lorry in Piccadilly, which had been taking foodstuff from London Road station to Victoria. The lorry had been partly destroyed. Peter Tilley, John Marshall and John Marsland were sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour.

The Manchester Guardian in an editorial entitled “Is it an Industrial Strike?” called upon Manchester’s striking tramwaymen to return to work.

This call appears to have been part of a co-ordinated attempt to get the trams running for the Tramways Committee now threatened to sack strikers if they did not return to work by noon the following day. Getting the trams back on the streets would be a psychological blow against the morale and unity of the strike.

The TUC called out all members of the shipbuilding and engineering unions. The police escorted 500 volunteers to Salford Docks to unload foodstuffs.

Wednesday 12 May

Only 29 tramwaymen obeyed the call to return to work. The other 5,000 mustered at their depots at noon and marched into the city centre. The procession from Hyde Road depot was a half-mile long, led by the tramway band and miners carrying lamps.

Even as the procession set off the General Strike was coming to an end. The government had refused to negotiate with the TUC. Instead there had been meetings between the TUC and Sir Herbert Samuel. On the basis of a meaningless memorandum the TUC went to Downing Street and called off the strike, even though the memorandum had been rejected by the miners leaders. It was no less than a complete surrender. They had failed even to ask for guarantees of no victimisation of strikers when they returned to work.

Stella Davies later wrote about how the news was heard in Manchester.

“In the course of the afternoon while I was on my round of the picket stations, the news came through. The end of the strike had been announced as an ‘unconditional surrender’. The pickets could not at first believe it. They would wait until they heard from their headquarters before they left their post and I left them, still picketing, to rush home and sit before the wireless. No comfortable words came from the BBC The official governmental line was that the Samuel Memorandum was not binding upon them, being merely a recommendation, its terms were not, in the event, put into operation.”

Fenner Brockway wrote in his diary of the strike

“Everyone was confident that the Government had climbed down….Then the fuller reports became to come by wire….When they showed that the terms were only an arrangement with Sir Herbert Samuel and that the miners lock-out was to continue one simply could not believe one’s eyes”

Thursday 13 May

The Manchester Guardian accurately summed up the situation.

“The effects on British labour will be profound. The history of 1921 has repeated itself. The support of other unions has been withdrawn, The Government has committed itself to little or nothing. The mineowners are committed to nothing.”

The strike continued in many areas as employer attempted to victimise returning strikers. In Manchester 25,000 railway workers stayed out and marched in protest and the dock workers stayed out in their support

Friday 14 May

It was a “day of humiliation”, according to Fenner Brockway, “The TUC has ordered them back, their own Executives have ordered them back. There is no hope of concerted resistance, so they are going back, disappointed, disillusioned, yet still heeling the exaltation of the remarkable solidarity of these days.”

JA Webb reported to the TUC that many employers were trying to impose worsened terms and conditions on returning workers. “ Many men have been informed that their engagements will only be temporary and that the regularity of employment that they have enjoyed in the past has now been withdrawn”.

John Forshaw, a Communist, was arrested by the police for having copies of “The Great Betrayal”, a leaflet put out by the Communist party attacking the TUC’s decision. He was sentenced to one month imprisonment. He was kept in a cold cell and, though diabetic, refused a doctor. He contracted pneumonia whilst in prison and died a few days after being released.

Aftermath

The miners carried on fighting but were forced back by poverty and starvation by the end of November. Some miners were out of work for many years. The miners’ union did not stage another national strike until 1972, nearly 50 years later.

Sources and Further Reading

The General Strike archive at the Working Class Movement Library includes books, pamphlets, newspapers, the British Worker, strike papers, photographs and other items.

Fenner Brockway, “A Diary of the Great Strike”, Socialist Review, June 1926

Wilfrid Morris Crook, The General Strike (1931)

Stella Davies, North Country Bred (1963)

Edmund and Ruth Frow, Nine Days in May, New Manchester Review,, 12, 23/4/1976

Edmund and Ruth Frow, The Communist Party in Manchester (nd)

R H Haigh et al, The Guardian Book of the General strike (1988)

Merseyside and the General Strike

TUC archive on the General Strike

Article by Michael Herbert

Len Johnson; Manchester boxer and Communist

Len Johnson was born in Manchester in 1902. His father was William Benker Johnson, an African seaman, and his mother was a young woman from Manchester, Margaret Maher. After leaving the merchant navy his father worked for a time on boxing booths and, after a spell in engineering, Len followed his father into the profession. He fought professionally as a middle-weight from 1922 and 1933, and beat some of the best British and foreign fighters of the day, including Roland Todd, Len Harvery, Gipsy Daniels and Leone Jaccovacci. However Len was not allowed to fight for official British titles because the British Board of Boxing Control said that only white boxers could compete for titles. After he left the ring he toured his own boxing up and down the country. During the war Len worked in civil defence in Manchester and after the war worked as a bus driver and then lorry driver. During the war he had joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and become an active member, standing 6 times in the Moss Side ward but attracting only a small vote. He attended the Pan African Congress in Manchester in October 1945 and later set up the New International Society in Moss Side which was both a social club and campaigning organisation. He had retired from active politics by the 1960s and died in Oldham in 1974

Leonard Benker Johnson was born on 22 October 1902 at 12 Barnabas Street, Clayton. His parents were William Benker Johnson and Margaret Maher. Billy (as everyone called him) was from Sierra Leone and came to England as a seaman, never returning to his native land. Marrying Billy was a brave decision for Margaret. Popular racism against black men, their partners and children was overt and sometime violent. Margaret was once attacked in the street and suffered permanent disfigurement.

The Johnsons were a part of small black community that established itself in the early years of the twentieth century in Manchester and Salford as result of the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal, which brought ships from Africa into the heart of the city. Some of the seaman, such Billy stayed put, married local women and raised families.

Len was followed by two brothers Billy and Albert, and by a sister Doris. The family moved to Leeds where Billy senior worked in a boxing booth. There was a long tradition of black boxers in Britain, stretching back to the prize fighting days of the early C19th. Boxing was one profession where a man’s skin colour might for once work in his favour, and not against him.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 the family returned to Manchester and Billy joined the British army. When he was old enough Len went to work at Crossley Engines in the foundry, later joined by his brother Albert. Len got into a fight at work with another young lad and their father took the two brothers to see some boxing matches at the Alhambra on Ashton Old Road. To Len’s great surprise (and it has to be said consternation) his father arranged for him to box in a few bouts in the hall. Totally inexperienced, Len won his two fights but then lost the next two. His boxing career seemed to be over.

A few weeks later, however, he was persuaded by friends to enter a competition at a boxing booth at Gorton fair, run by Bert Hughes. Hughes was impressed and offered Len a job. It lasted six months, during which time Len greatly improved his boxing skills and stamina. Len was to be part of the world of boxing booths for the next twenty years.

Len’s first official fight as a professional boxer was on 31 January 1922 against Eddie Pearson at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. His professional career lasted eleven years, during which he fought some 127 contests, winning 92, losing 29 and drawing 6. He fought in Europe on a number of occasions, spent 6 months in Australia in 1926 where he had 8 fights, and also visited the United States (but did not succeed in being matched). For most of his career he fought as a middle-weight.

Len came to national attention after defeating Roland Todd (a former European and British champion) twice in 1926 in front of packed houses at Belle Vue. In 1927 he defeated Len Harvey, who later to become the British middleweight champion. In January 1928 he defeated Gipsy Daniels, a recent British light-heavyweight champion. In November of that year he defeated Leone Jaccovacci, the European middleweight champion, in a non-title fight before a home crowd at Belle Vue, Manchester. In December 1929 he defeated Michele Bonaglia, the cruiserweight champion of Europe, also in Manchester. Once again the title was not at stake.

Len’s victories had brought him to forefront of British boxing and he should by rights have been entitled to a chance at the British middle-weight championship. The British Boxing Board of Control, which ran the game, refused to allow this on the grounds that Len was black, even though he had been born in Britain. This was matter of Imperial politics, pure and simple. Behind this decision was the fear that the myth of white superiority, the political principle on which the vast British Empire was based, would be undermined if white boxers were seen to lose to black boxers. Despite protest from many quarters and controversy in the boxing and Manchester press, the sporting and political establishment closed ranks against Len.

Disillusioned, Len bought his own boxing booth and toured Britain, occasionally returning to the ring. In May 1932 Len Harvey did agree to face Len in a fight which was billed as being for the British middle-weight championship but was not recognised as such by the BBBC. Len lost to Harvey after a tough fight. His last appearance in the ring was on 12 October 1933, losing to Jim Winters in Edinburgh.

For the rest of the decade Len continued to tour with his booth. He also turned his hand to writing , producing a series of short stories set in the world of boxing which were published in Topical Times. He seems to have given up his booth shortly before the war started. During the war he worked in the Civil Defence Corps and later as a Civil Defence instructor. After the war he worked as bus driver and later as a lorry driver for Jack Silverman in Oldham.

Towards the end of the war he had joined the Communist Party of Great Britain which was then at the height of its prestige after the part played by the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler. Len seems to have to been politicised by his own experiences of prejudice and racism. He also met Paul Robeson on one of his trips to England in the early 1930s and stayed in contact with him. Len was very active in the party until the early 1960s.

In October 1945 Len attended the 5th Pan African Congress, held in Manchester, which was very significant event in determining the course of the post-war anti-colonial struggle. Together with two other party members – Syd Booth and Wilf Charles – Len founded the New International Society, a club in Moss Side which combined social and political activities and ran for several years. In May 1949, for instance, Paul Robeson visited the club and sang to the people in the street and Len spoke at the same platform as Paul later that evening at a big rally at the King’s Hall, Belle Vue ( the site of many of his boxing triumphs in the 1920s)

Len also stood for the council on six occasions in Moss Side between 1947 and 1962, though he never attracted more than a handful of votes. In the mid 1950s he wrote a monthly column for the Daily Worker. Len was also active in the campaign for Paul Robeson, whose passport had been withdrawn by the US government preventing him travelling abroad. On 11 March 1956 there was a public meeting in the Lesser Free Trade Hall at which a special recording from Paul Robeson was played.

In his later years Len suffered much ill-health, perhaps as a result of his many matches, far more than would be allowed nowadays. At some point in the 1950s he spent several months convalescing at a Black Sea resort in the Soviet Union.

His last years were spent in Waterloo Street, Oldham, where he lived with his partner Maria Reid. He was not forgotten though. Members of the Ex-Boxers Association in Manchester held a collection and delivered a TV and groceries . Len died on 28 September 1974 at Oldham General Hospital. The Morning Star ran an obituary written by Jim Arnison.

Len was a major figure in C20th British boxing, though he never held any titles, and he was important activist in the labour movement in Manchester in the 1940s and 1950s. He deserves to be remembered.

Michael Herbert’s biography of Len Johnson, Never Counted Out! was published in 1992 and is available via the author at mossley [at] phonecoop.coop

Article by Michael Herbert

Eva Gore-Booth

Born to an upper-class Irish family, Eva Gore-Booth became a leading campaigner for trade union rights, votes for women and Irish independence in the first three decades of the 20th century.

Eva was born in Lissadell,County Sligo in May 1870 into a prominent Anglo-Irish family, the Gore-Booths. She enjoyed a conventional upper-class upbringing but from an early age was entranced by nature and by the delights of novels and poetry. The poet William Yeats was an occasional visitor to the great house and after the deaths of both Eva and her sister Constance Markiewicz wrote a bitter-sweet poem in their memory, whose opening lines recalled those long-ago visits:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

The turning point in Eva’s life came in 1896 when she was in Bordighera, Italy. Here she met Esther Roper from Manchester, sent there to rest by friends who feared for her health through overwork. Ester told Eva of her work campaigning for trade union organisation amongst women and for women’s right to vote and the two women became friends, for life as it turned out. Eva decided to leave her comfortable home and way of life in Ireland and move to Manchester to help Esther in her work , sharing her house at 83 Heald Place, Rusholme

Trade Unionism

Within months of her move to Manchester Eva was addressing branches of the local Independent Labour Party and Women’s Co-operative Guild on the necessity of women’s suffrage and was soon recognised as an activist in her own right. In June 1900 she was appointed joint organising secretary of the Manchester, Salford and District Women’s Trade Union Council. Eva worked alongside the other worker Sarah Dickenson in their offices at 9 Albert Square. Sarah later remembered Eva thus in a letter to Esther:

“I met her first at your office when she came to Manchester, and my first impression of her was her charming and interesting personality. When I knew her better I found how very genuine she was in all her dealings and discovered all the beautiful traits in her character. The friendly way that she treated all the women trade unionists endeared her to them. If she was approached for advice or help she never failed. She is remembered by thousands of working women in Manchester for her untiring efforts to improve their industrial conditions, for awakening and educating their sense of political freedom, and for social intercourse.”

The Trades Council had been established at a meeting in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in the Town Hall in February 1895 by a group of men and women mainly connected with the Liberal party, with the aim of assisting women workers to organise and lobby for the improvement of working conditions.

Over the next few years both women worked very hard to encourage women to set up and join unions. It was rarely an easy task. A section in the 1903 Trades Council report described the problems:

“For however severely trade grievances may be felt, the first steps in organisation are always difficult. The timidity of inexperience is hard to overcome, and people naturally fear to jeopardise their week’s earnings. Innumerable meetings are held by the Council, sometimes so small that they are not in themselves worth recording and much personal canvassing and persuasion has to be used before a sufficient number of workers can be gathered together and enough enthusiasm aroused to induce an adequate number of more progressive to take up the responsible positions of officers, committee and collectors.”

One of the difficulties they encountered in getting women to go to meetings was solved by starting a Tea Fund in 1902 to buy tea, sugar, milk and cake:

“It was found that the tea was a great convenience, as many of the women live in outlying districts, they are naturally anxious to hurry home to tea when their work is over and it is both inconvenient and expensive for them to come back to meetings in the evening. We are glad to say that the tea had good results in introducing a social element that promoted good fellowship and a friendly spirit among the members, and the attendance has largely increased.”

The most successful women’s union established by Eva and Sarah was the Salford and District Association of Power Loom Weavers, set up in April 1902. As well as trade unionism the women workers were also interested in politics and the suffrage campaign, sending a resolution just weeks after their establishment to a meeting at the Free Trade Hall called to protest against the imposition of a corn tax. The women’s resolution not only protested against the tax and the fact that it would fall most heavily on women “the worst paid workers in the country” but also objected to the fact that their exclusion from the franchise prevented them “from making an effective protest at the Ballot Box”. Nellie Keenan was the first Treasurer of the union and later became Secretary.

Eva was in demand as a speaker, addressing the May Day demonstration in Gorton Park in May 1902 and a meeting in the Secular Hall, Rusholme later that same month on “The Industrial Position of Women”. In 1903 Eva became the WTUC representative on the Education Committee of the City Council and was later appointed onto the Technical Instruction Committee.

Christabel Pankhurst became friends with Eva and Esther in 1901 and was swiftly drawn into their activities, joining Eva’s poetry circle at the University Settlement, going on the Women’s Trade Union Council, speaking at a number of meetings on the suffrage question and accompanying the two women on holiday to Venice. Her sister Sylvia recalled that at this time Christabel adored Eva “and when Eva suffered from neuralgia, as often happened, she would sit with her for hours, massaging her head. To all of us at home, this seemed remarkable indeed, for Christabel had never been willing to act as the nurse to any other human being”. At Esther’s suggestion Christabel began studying law at the University of Manchester, graduating in 1906 with first class honours. According to Sylvia, Mrs Pankhurst was quite jealous of the time that Christabel spent with Esther and Eva.

In 1904 Eva and Sarah resigned from their posts with the Women’s Trades Union Council in protest at its refusal to support the campaign for women’s suffrage. The issue had been raised by Christabel Pankhurst, who called for the Council to adopt women’s suffrage as a fourth aim. This was rejected by a large majority on the Council on the grounds that “its special work, for which alone its subscribers’ money was asked, was the organisation of women’s labour, and that the advocacy of Women’s Suffrage, however desirable in itself, was outside its scope as a body”. By now passionately committed to the suffrage campaign Eva and Sarah felt that they had no other option but to resign their jobs with the Trades Council.

They did not abandon their work on unionising women workers, however, but immediately set up a new organisation – the Manchester & Salford Women Trades & Labour Council – in September 1904 with Eva and Sarah as Joint Secretaries and with offices at 5 John Dalton Street. According to Esther the next ten years “were full to overflowing with organisation, writing, speaking at large gathering in all parts of England, deputations to Cabinet Ministers and to Members of Parliament. To this was added a new activity, when well-meant and ill-meant efforts were made to restrict women’s labour in various fields. On different occasions, women pit-brow workers, barmaids, women acrobats and gymnasts, and women florists were successfully organized in their own defence.”

Many of the trade unions that the two women had helped to set up withdrew from the Council in their support along with their two thousand members, including the power loom weavers, tailoresses, bookbinders and others. They continued their hard work and by 1907 Sarah Dickenson was able to tell a conference of women workers in Manchester that they now had four thousand affiliated members. Nellie Keenan acted as Treasurer of the new body, which no longer had access to the wealthy Liberal sympathisers of before. Instead they received contributions from local labour and socialist organisations including the Manchester branch of the National Union of Clerks, the Women’s Co-operative Guild, the National Clarion Cycling Club and the Nelson Labour Representation Committee (Eva’s brother Josslyn Gore-Booth contributed a much needed sum of five pounds each year).

Their success enabled them to start a quarterly newspaper called The Women’s Labour News which gave a full account of all the industrial and political activities of the women’s trade unions. In her editorial in the first issue Eva wrote thus.

“Many are the difficult questions connected with labour, many are the misunderstandings and confusions, many are the obscure corners of the industrial world, and many are the wrongs done in the darkness. Those who are working for the betterment of political and industrial conditions of women have great need of fellowship, of coherency and fee discussion, and the ventilation of pressing grievances. The aim of this little paper is to light a few street lamps here and there in the darkest ways, to let us at all events see one another’s faces and recognise our comrades, and work together with strong, organised and enlightened effort for the uplighting of those who suffer most under the present political and industrial system.”

An important campaign waged by Eva and Esther was in defence of women’s right to work. Many men (and some women) – including some leading trade unionists and socialists – believed in the notion that men should be paid enough to support a wife and family, and that in an ideal society married women would not have to work. When David Shackleton, , Secretary of the Darwen weavers, publicly supported this view, Eva wrote a pamphlet entitled Women’s Right to Work, which pointed out how he represented 74,000 married women workers in the cotton industry. When there were an attempt to prevent bar-maids from working Eva and Esther used the occasion of a by-election in Manchester in which Winston Churchill was standing to raise the issue. Eva’s sister Constance came over from Ireland and attracted publicity in a characteristic manner, as the Manchester Guardian reported in April 1908:

“A coach of the olden times was driven about Manchester yesterday to advertise the political agitation on behalf of the barmaids. It was drawn by four white horses, and the ‘whip’ was the Countess Markievicz, sister of Eva Gore-Booth. In all parts of the city the coach and its passengers excited general interest, and in the North-West division especially, the cause of the barmaids was made known not only by demonstration, but by speeches and personal interviews and distribution of literature.”

Eva and Esther also campaigned over the working conditions of other women workers, such as florists’ assistants and the pit-brow women, who worked on the surface at the head of mines in Lancashire sorting the coal. They wore a distinctive working garb of wide trousers and headscarves and wielded shovels with great manual dexterity. In 1911, when parliament threatened to ban women from the work, Eva and Esther organised protest meetings in Wigan and Manchester and made sure that the pit-brow women were on the platform.

Literature and Education

Somehow Eva found time in her busy life to write poetry and plays and a number of collections of her work were published during the lifetime. Some of her poems were set to music by her friend Max Mayer, a Manchester composer, while two others – The Triumph of Maeve and Forth They Went – were set to music after her death by the composer Edgar Bainton. Her work was also included in a collection made by her friend AE in 1904 called New Songs, appearing alongside poems Padraic Colum, Alice Milligan and others. Her interest in literature and poetry led Eva to become involved in the University Settlement, based in Ancoats Hall, Every Street, where Esther was already on the Committee. The Settlement had been founded in 1895, inspired by the work of Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, with the aim of bringing culture into the bleak industrial district of Ancoats. Eva passed on her love of literature to local working class women and after her death one of them Louisa Smith lovingly recalled those classes:

“We were a class of about sixteen girls. I think we were all machinists and we were rough…..We called ourselves the Elizabethan Society because we had no scenery: as we said among ourselves, we had no assets, but we enjoyed every minute of the rehearsals. We were very raw material but keen on acting; she showed such patience and love that we would do anything to please her and she got the best out of us. After rehearsals we would give a show of our own, an imitation of what we had seen or imagined. If any of us were feeling seedy or worried about business or home she could always see, and showed such an understanding sympathy that we came away feeling we had a real friend. I remember one of the girls was very delicate and truly not really fit to fight the battles of life, and Miss Gore-Booth cared for her and sent her little delicacies, and took her to her own doctor, and in a hundred and one ways she cared for us We thought she was a being from another world. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say we worshipped her, but she never knew it, she was so utterly selfless….She took us on picnics, and they seemed to be different picnics from any I had ever been to, so jolly and free, no restraint about them. She was also very keen on women’s rights and trade unions. She persuaded me to join…She was always sympathetic with the downtrodden, and worked and lectured might and main, interviewing Members of Parliament, etc., on their behalf till conditions were mended. She was very frail and delicate herself, but full of pluck and determination, and would stand up for people she knew to be unjustly treated, even though the world was against them, and with all so sweet and gentle that one could not help loving her.”

In November 1902 a well-attended meeting of theTailoresses Union was held in the Shamrock Hall, Rochdale Road (lent by the United Irish League) where the entertainment was provided by the Elizabethan Society and a Miss Dora Villey, who played the piano for dancing. Eva also ran a fortnightly Sunday morning reading class for a number of years at 78 Canning Street for the Ancoats Brotherhood, an educational organisation which for many years held lectures, music evenings, art appreciation and literature classes and much else in the New Islington Hall, Ancoats.

The Suffrage Campaign

In Lancashire many women worked in the cotton industry and were members of the weavers unions (though despite the fact the majority of the members were women, the officers of the union were always men). Able to earn their own living in the great weaving sheds of the north, these women provided a solid base of support for campaigns to give them political as well as industrial rights. Esther and other women political campaigners such as Sarah Reddish, Selina Cooper and Sarah Dickenson saw the vital importance of linking the struggles for women’s right to vote with the struggle for better working and social conditions, of convincing working class women that the vote was not an end in itself but a means to an end.

On 1st May 1900 they launched a petition at the May Day meeting in Blackburn, asking women textile workers to sign, and then sent out organisers to contact every group of women workers they could find in every town in Lancashire. Accompanied by fifteen women cotton workers the petition was finally presented to parliament on 19th March 1901 with nearly 30,000 signatures. The following year the women presented another petition from Yorkshire and Cheshire and in the summer of 1903 the suffrage campaigners set up the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and Other Workers’ Representation Committee (LCWTOWRC) with an office at 5 John Dalton Street (where they were joined a year later by the secessionist Women’s Trades and Labour Council). Bertha Mason wrote of their efforts thus:

“It was the appearance on the scene of action of this new and important force (women textile workers) , the organizing of which was carried out by Miss Esther Roper, Miss Gore-Booth, and Miss Reddish, herself at one time a textile worker, which was chiefly responsible for the wonderful revival of interest in the question of the enfranchisement of women which marked the early years of 1900. There can be no doubt that this active and enthusiastic demand on the part of great army of women who earn their bread by ‘the sweat of their brow’, and not merely their own bread but in many cases the bread of relatives dependent on them, made a deep impression on Parliament, and caused many who had hitherto treated the agitation as an ‘impracticable fad’ and ‘the fantastic crochet’ of a few rich and well-to-do women, to inquire seriously into the why and wherefore of the movement.”

The manifesto of the LCWTOWR, published in July 1904, explicitly linked class and suffrage and noted the way that the male labour movement had formed the Labour Representation Committee to secure a political voice, leading to the conclusion that women should do the same.

“Fellow Workers – During the last few years the need of political power for the defence of the workers has been felt by every section of the labour world. Among the men the growing sense of of the importance of this question has resulted in the formation of the Labour Representation Committee with the object of gaining direct Parliamentary Representation for the already enfranchised working men. Meanwhile the position of the disenfranchised working women, who are by their voteless condition shut out from all political influence, is becoming daily more precarious. They cannot hope to hold their own in industrial matters, where their interests may clash with those of their enfranchised fellow-workers or employers.
The one all-absorbing and vital political question for labouring women is to force an entrance into the ranks of responsible citizens, in whose hands lie the solution of the problems which are at present convulsing the industrial world.
In view of the complicated state of modern politics, and the mass of conflicting interests, the conclusion has been forced on those of the textile workers who have been working unceasingly in past years to secure the vote for women, that what is urgently needed is that they should send their own nominee to the House of Commons, pledged to work in season and out of season to secure the enfranchisement of the women workers of the country……What Lancashire and Cheshire women think today England will do to-morrow.”

The women extended the campaign, speaking to local trade union branches, helping to establish local suffrage societies and getting support from the Labour Representation Committees. Almost all their efforts were now directed towards working class women. As Eva wrote in her contribution to a book on suffrage, “Surely the working women of England have paid the price of political emancipation over and over again! It is no mere insignificant statistical fact that that these millions of workers live laborious days of poverty-stricken and upright independence, and produce by their labour so large a proportion of the material wealth of the country. Here is a force that must in the end be reckoned with.”

Another tactic adopted by the women was to make suffrage an issue in parliamentary elections where Labour candidates were standing. In the summer of 1902 David Shackleton stood for parliament in a by-election at Clitheroe. Eva wrote to the Manchester Guardian, pointing out that women weavers were paying into a fund to support their MP (MPs received no payment at this time) and yet had no vote themselves. The women organised a number of successful meetings during the campaign. This tactic was repeated in the campaign to support the Labour candidate Thorley Smith in Wigan in 1906 and many women went to the town to speak. He came second to the Tory candidate. In January 1910 the committee ran a campaign during the general election in Rossendale, but with much less success.

After 1904 Christabel moved away from Eva and Esther, engaging in increasingly bitter attacks on the Labour party for its slowness in supporting the demands of women. Instead she moved towards the Women’s Social Political and Union, a small grouping of ILP women that had been established at a meeting in Mrs Pankhurst house in Nelson Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock (now the Pankhurst Centre) on 10th October 1903. Few took much notice of the WSPU until 13th October 1905 when Christabel and a mill girl named Annie Kenney attended a meeting at the Free Trade Hall to be addressed by Winston Churchill MP and Sir Edward Grey MP, two prominent members of the Liberal Party and future Cabinet members. At the end of the meeting Christabel and Annie jumped up and shouted ‘Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?’ whilst unfurling a banner inscribed “Votes for Women”. After being hustled out Christabel got them both arrested by spitting at a policeman and they spent in a week in Strangeways.

The WSPU seized on the incident, organising a protest meetings in Stevenson Square and rallying support from the ILP and other socialist organisations. A large crowd of friends and supporters greeted the two women on their release, including Esther and Eva who presented Christabel with flowers and also added their names to the list of sponsors for a protest meeting to be held the following evening, ironically, at the Free Trade Hall. Christabel and Annie spoke as did Keir Hardie, who moved a motion condemning the behaviour of the Liberal party at the meeting the previous week. Eva seconded the motion. It was perhaps the last time that Eva agreed with Christabel’s actions. A few weeks later she caught hold of Teresa Billington, a leading member of WSPU, after a meeting and urged her to tell Christabel not to vary her defence from one meeting to another. “….she cannot fit her explanation to her audience. She either deliberately invited imprisonment or she was a victim; she either spat at the policeman or she did not. She can’t tell one tale in Manchester and another in Oldham”.

In May 1906 Eva, alongside Sarah Dickenson, Margaret Ashton, Emmeline Pankhurst and other women prominent in the suffrage movement, was one of delegation which met the new Liberal Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman. In her speech Eva stressed the economic contribution of women on behalf of the fifty working women who had come to London with them from Lancashire:

“The number of women who are engaged at this time in producing the wealth of this country is double the population of Ireland. It is very large number. These women are all labouring under the gross disability and industrial disadvantage of an absolute want of political power. Every day we live this becomes a more grave disadvantage, because industrial questions are becoming political questions which are being fought out in Parliament. The vast number of women workers have their point of view and their interest to be considered; but those interests are not considered and the whole effect of their crushing exclusion is to react on the question of their wages. I am a trade union secretary in Manchester, and know from personal experience what women’s wages are and the sort of money they get for their work. Six or seven shillings a week is not a sufficient sum of money to live on. This not the rate of wages that could be possibly be enforced upon the enfranchised citizens of a free country. We feel, and I think women in other classes, who are working, also feel that our industrial status is being brought down. It results from the fact that we have no political power. That is the lesson which the working women of Lancashire have learned, and that is the thought they want to bring before you and want you to consider.”

To the bitter disappointment of the women Campbell-Bannerman refused to move on the issue and in response the WSPU adopted increasingly militant tactics, beginning with attempts to ‘rush’ Parliament, chaining themselves to railings, smashing windows and eventually even committing arson, burning postboxes and even churches. The ‘suffragettes’ as they had now became known were often brutally treated by the police on demonstrations and when they were imprisoned went on hunger-strike. The prison authorities, backed by the Home Secretary, retaliated by force-feeding them, a shocking and violent physical assault which sometimes damaged the health of women and led to wide-spread criticism of the government by many who were not sympathetic to the tactics of the WSPU.

The northern suffragists felt alienated by the WSPU campaign and continued to work steadily away at their campaign amongst working class women, gathering increased support and eventually winning over the Labour party to their position. In contrast the WSPU severed its links with the Socialist movement, lost all interest in serious organizing amongst working-class women, and indeed Sylvia Pankhurst was disowned by her mother and sister for continuing to work and organise amongst working class women in the East End.

The dismay of the northern suffragists at the tactics of the WSPU were set out by Eva in a letter to Mrs Fawcett, the most prominent constitutional campaigner, in the autumn of 1906:

“There is no class in the community who has such good reasons for objecting and does so strongly object to shrieking and throwing yourself on the floor and struggling and kicking as the average working woman, whose dignity is very real to them. We feel we must tell you this as we are in great difficulties because our members in all parts of the country are so outraged at the idea of taking part in such proceedings that everywhere for the first time they are shrinking from public demonstrations. It is not the fact of demonstration or even the violence offered to them, it is being mixed up with and held accountable as a class for educated and upper class women, who kick, shriek, bite and spit. As far as importance in the eyes of the Government goes where shall we be if the working women do not support us?”

In June 1908 Eva, her sister Constance, Esther and Sarah Reddish went down to London for a large rally organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Eva told the crowd of several thousand in Trafalgar Square that five million women were working in Britain who were not paid properly for the work that they did, many receiving half the male wage. Constance got the crowd cheering by declaring that “they cannot abolish woman, take away her occupation, and let her starve…We are told that the bar is a bad place for women, but the Thames Embankment is far worse”.

After Manchester

In her memoir Esther Roper records that in 1913 “illness, caused by the climate of Lancashire, made it impossible for us to live there any longer, and reluctantly we left our many friends and went south, though we came back constantly for work”. Not just the soot-filled damp air but surely years of long hours, travel and snatched meals must have taken its toll on the health of both women. In London they took up residence in Hampstead at 14 Frognal Gardens. There was to be no peaceful retirement for Eva and Esther for they were soon caught up in the enormity of the First World War and then the bloody events of the Easter Rising and its aftermath

When the war broke out they opposed it as pacifists as did many of their suffragist and socialist friends, some of whom were active in organisations such the No Conscription Fellowship and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Eva wrote a short story called The Tribunal (which was printed as a leaflet) in which she dramatises the experience of conscientious objectors when arguing for their beliefs before hostile magistrates. In 1915 the two women joined the Womens’ Peace crusade and travelled the country speaking in support of a negotiated peace to end the war. These were very brave actions given the climate of jingoism and anti-German hysteria whipped up by the government and the “patriotic” press.

Constance had followed a very different political path to Eva, joining Sinn Fein in 1908 and setting up the Fianna na hEireann in 1909 as an Irish alternative to the pro-Imperialist Boy Scouts recently established by Baden-Powell. She was an expert shot who in turn taught her young men how to shoot and many of them later took part in the Easter Rising. During the 1913 Dublin Lockout Constance ran soup kitchens to help feed thousands of strikers. During the Rising in 1916 Constance was second in command at St Stephen’s Green and was sentenced to death, though it was commuted to life imprisonment. Eva was granted permission to see her and crossed to Dublin with Esther. On the day they landed they saw newspaper placards announcing the execution that morning of James Connolly. They had been warned not to tell Constance but she guessed from their faces. Writing in Socialist Review a few weeks later Eva said that the rebellion has been a blow to all those who had hoped for a lessening of the hostility between England and Ireland:

“But the severity with which the rebellion was crushed was, many of us believe, a far worse blow. England had her opportunity, an opportunity of treating the Irish rising as De Wet’s rising was treated in South Africa. The rising was crushed, her enemies were at her feet. What a glorious opportunity for killing with clemency the old tradition of hatred and the memory pf the atrocities of ’98 that have festered so long in the imaginations of the Irish people. By some malign fate, as ever England showed her hardest side in her dealings with Ireland. Those irresponsible and extraneous shootings and horrors which seem to be inseparable from the advance of a conquering army were not enough. Fourteen deliberate executions of men widely known and admired were carried out under heart-rending circumstances. And thus Ireland’s old tradition of defiance and hatred gets a new lease of life….”

Constance was moved without warning to England but Esther, usually the more down-to-earth one, had a premonition one late afternoon and they set off to meet the Irish Mail, where Eva found Constance being escorted under armed guard to Aylesbury Gaol. They wrote to each other daily and the letters that survived were eventually published. Constance was let out of prison under an amnesty declared by the British government in June 1917 and returned to Ireland where she became even more involved what was now an Irish revolution. She was the first woman elected to British parliament in December 1918, but along with the rest of Sinn Fein did not go to London to take her seat, sitting in the Dail in Dublin instead. Constance was made Minister for Labour in the revolutionary government.

Eva also gave support to Roger Casement who was tried for treason for his part in the Rising, attending court every day and trying in vain, along with others, to prevent his execution which took place on 3rd August 1916. Many of her poems written at this time reflected the sorrow she and others were suffering in the wake of the Rising and the executions and repression that followed and were published in 1918 under the title Broken Glory, dedicated to Roger Casemnet. In “Easter Week” she wrote thus:

Grief for the noble dead
Of one who did not share their strife
And mourned that any blood was shed
Yet felt the broken glory of their state
Their strange heroic questioning of Fate
Ribbon with gold the rags of this our life.

Last Years

By 1920 Eva and Esther’s work during the war and the trauma of the Rising and War of independence had greatly affected their health, with Eva remaining a semi-invalid for the last years of her life. The two women spent much time travelling in Italy. Always inclined to mysticism Eva became very interested in theosophy, though she still followed affairs in Ireland closely. On 1st July 1921 a letter written jointly by Eva and Clare Annesley appeared in the Manchester Guardian, drawing attention to the fact that a man called Patrick Casey had been condemned to death by a military court for possessing arms and 13 rounds of ammunition. They called on the government to intervene. “If there is to be any chance of peace with Ireland all executions must stop”.

On 10th January 1923 the Manchester Evening Chronicle reported that Eva had refused to do jury service, stating that religion meant to her the determination to avoid punishing or hurting anybody, what ever they might have done. Her pacifist views remained undiminished. “It is absolutely impossible for me to take part in any proceedings which would, under any circumstances, involve me in any share, however small, in inflicting punishment on any human being. For many years I myself have held the opinion that it would be wrong for me to appeal to law for any problem to myself or to take part in passing judgement on anybody else. I, therefore, could not conscientiously sit on a jury.”

Eva continued to write and publish poetry and took up the study of Greek in the last year of her life. She died at home on 30 June 1926 at her home in Hampstead. Her sister Constance followed her the following year. A complete collection of Eva’s poems, together with a biographical introduction by Esther, was published in 1929 and that same year in June Esther unveiled a beautiful memorial window to Eva in the Round House, Ancoats, sadly long since demolished and the window lost. Esther herself died in April 1938 and was buried in the same grave as Eva in the nearby St John’s churchyard.

Sources

‘Women and The Suffrage A Reply To Lady Lovat and Mrs. Humphry Ward’, by Eva Gore-Booth, The Nineteenth Century and After, September 1908

‘The Sinn Fein Rebellion’ by Eva Gore-Booth, Socialist Review, August-September 1916

‘Eva Gore-Booth, Poet, Pacifist and Lover of Humanity’ by R M Fox, Millgate Monthly, September 1926

Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper by Gifford Lewis (1988)

One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women’s Suffrage Movement by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris (1978)

‘Miss Eva Gore-Booth’ by J J Mallon, The Woman Worker, 4th September 1908

Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Council, annual reports

Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades and Labour Council, annual reports

‘“If I Could Lose Myself’; Poetic Displacement and Irish-English Literary Politics’, paper on Eva Gore-Booth given by Alyssa J O’Brien at New Modernisms conference, Philadelphia, October 2000.

The Suffragette Movement, An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals by E Sylvia Pankhurst, preface by Dr Richard Pankhhurst (1977 edition)

The Case for Women’s Suffrage edited by Brougham Villiers (1907)

Collected Poems of Eva Gore-Booth, Complete edition and a biographical introduction by Esther Roper (1929)

Article by Michael Herbert