The 1842 Strike, Part II

This article continues the history of the 1842 Strike begun on this page.

Thursday 11 August

At 6.30am a crowd of over 10,000, many of whom, it was noted, were women, assembled in Granby Row Fields. The main speaker was Christopher Doyle who urged the strikers not to return to work until their demands had been met. As he was speaking the Mayor Mr Neil and a number of magistrates rode up to the cart and told them that the meeting was illegal and must disperse. The Riot Act was then read and one hundred soldiers appeared, fully armed and with two six pound artillery pieces. The crowd fled but there was no violence or casualties. Companies of soldiers were then stationed in Hunt Street, on Oxford Road near Little Ireland, and also opposite Esdaile’s Buildings.

A meeting took place at the Carpenter Hall attended by mechanics, engineers, millwrights, moulders and smiths which passed resolutions in favour of the People’s Charter which they declared “contains the elements of justice and prosperity and we pledge ourselves never to relinquish our demands until that document becomes a legislative enactment”. They also pledged not to return to work “until the decision of the trades of Manchester be ascertained.”

During the morning thousands of workers marched from Ashton and Stalybridge to Rochdale and brought out most of the mills and factories. A mass meeting passed a resolution declaring that they would not resume work until they had obtained a fair price for a fair day’s labour. They then marched to Heywood and turned out the mills and factories there.

At about 1pm Sergeant Dale was sent with a few policemen and a number of Chelsea Pensioners, who had been sworn in as Special Constables as reinforcement to police stationed near Charles Street, Oxford Road. As they passed through the crowd some stones were thrown and the pensioners fell back and then ran off. (The pensioners were disbanded on 23 August).

Friday 12 August

There was a meeting of various trades and mill hands at the Fustian Cutters room, 70 Tib Street at 10am which passed two resolutions, one declaring that the strike was for the Charter and the other declaring that the operatives offer themselves as “conservators of the public peace”.

The mechanics met at Carpenters’ Hall at 2pm where they heard reports from delegates from Lancashire and Yorkshire on the situation in their trades and their attitude to the strike. The conference concluded by passing a resolution which stated “that the only remedy for the present alarming distress and widespread destitution is the immediate and unmutilated adoption and carrying into law of the document known as the People’s Charter, that this meeting recommends the people of all trades and callings forthwith cease work until the above document becomes the law of the land.”

Saturday 13 August

The weekly Manchester Guardian, published on Saturday, carried an editorial which practically frothed at the mouth:

“…we have seen the resolutions passed at the meeting of delegates at the Sherwood Inn and the Carpenters’ Hall yesterday. To us, who well knew the real objects of the agitators, these resolutions convey no information. But to parties who have hitherto, either wilfully or ignorantly, shut their eyes to the truth, we recommend a perusal of the resolutions; and especially the second, recommending that the present forced cessation of work shall be continued until what is called “the charter” becomes the law of the land. Disguise it as we may the present movement is rising against the government and the law. Call it by what name we please, IT IS REALLY AN INSURRECTION.” (The Manchester Guardian 13 August 1842)

The Queen issued a proclamation referring to “great multitudes of lawless and disorderly persons have lately assembled themselves together in a riotous and tumultuous manner, and have , with force and violence, entered into certain mines, mills, manufactories, and have, by threats and intimidation, prevented or good subjects therein employed from following their usual occupations and earning their livelihood” and offering £50 reward for all offenders brought to justice.

Monday 15 August

At 10am the most important trades meeting of this period known as the Great Delegate Conference opened at the Sherwood Inn, Tib Street. Alexander Hutchinson who represented the Manchester wiredrawers and card makers, was elected chairman. There was intense public excitement with a large crowd gathered outside who were advised to go home for fear of an attack by the military.

The conference was attended by 143 delegates. Due to the number it was agreed to adjourn and move to the Carpenters Hall, the conference re-opening at 1pm. The credentials of delegates were examined which took some time after which reports from them were heard. A draft of an address was put to the meeting and agreed and a committee of three delegates appointed to redraft it.

The meeting was adjourned until the following morning.

Tuesday 16 August

Alexander Hutchinson opened the second day of the trades conference by stating that he had seen “a great change in the opinion of working men of Manchester… They were as earnest as ever and appeared to see more than ever the necessity of a great struggle for their political rights…they would not be men if they did not adopt every measure they could to ensure a triumph and gain political rights.”

The Northern Star reported that the gallery was “occupied by parties from the country who took great interest in the important business for which the meeting had been convened.”

Hutchinson read the address which had been agreed to and already published and expressed his hope that they would conduct the proceedings with calm and caution since the eyes of all England were upon the day’s proceedings.

“To the trades of Manchester and the Surrounding districts
Fellow citizens…we hasten to lay before you the result of our sittings. We find, by reference to the reports of the delegates assembled from various parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire …that no sufficient guarantee is afforded to the producers of wealth, but from the adoption and establishment of the people’s political rights, as a safeguard for their lives, liberties and interests of the nation generally…we, your representatives, call most emphatically upon the people to discontinue the production of the creation of wealth, until the result of our deliberations is made known to the people whom we represent… For ourselves, we have no other property than our labour; but in the midst of you we live and have our being; our parents, our wives and children are the hostages we present to you as our securities that we will do nothing ourselves, nor recommend anything to others inconsistent with their safety, nor recommend anything to others inconsistent with their safety, or your interest.”
Alexander Hutchinson, chairman; Charles Stuart, Secretary.

The assembled delegates continued to present reports which explained the attitude of those they represented to the strike and the Charter. Most were in favour of both. The Royston Powerloom delegate said he represented not just the weavers, but the whole village where meeting of 3,000 had voted for the Charter. The Ashton delegate said he represented 25,000 whom he believed were unanimous for the Charter. The delegate from Mossley said he represented a dozen factories.

There was long debate on whether to make the Charter the object of the strike. As this drew to a close the delegates became aware that magistrates, police and soldiers had surrounded the building. Richard Beswick, the Chief Superintendent of the Manchester Police, entered the hall and said that there had been alarm in the neighbourhood over the large crowds surrounding the hall and proclamations had been issued prohibiting all large assemblies. Alexander Hutchinson insisted that the meeting was legal, that the gallery was open to the public and that the press had been allowed to attend. Over some further argument two magistrates entered and declared that the meeting was illegal and must disperse within ten minutes. After they left the meeting resumed and a resolution in favour of the Charter was passed by over 120 votes, moved by Joseph Manory a bricklayer of Manchester, and seconded by A F Taylor, a power loom weaver. It was agreed to meet the following day at the Sherwood Inn, Tib Street at 10am

That same date the National Charter Association met in Manchester, the date having been chosen some months before to coincide with the anniversary of Peterloo. They issued two addresses in support of the strike which included the following.

“We have solemnly sworn and one and all declared, that the golden opportunity now within our grasp shall not pass away fruitless, that the chance of centuries afforded to us by a wise and all-seeing god, shall not be lost; but that we now do universally resolve never to resume labour until labour’s grievances are destroyed and protection secured for ourselves, our suffering wives and helpless children by the enactment of the People’s Charter.”

The government at first taken aback by the strike but now set in motion plans to crush it. On 23 August Lieutenant- General Sir Thomas Arbuthnot arrived in Manchester, having been sent by the Home Secretary Sir James Graham to take charge of the Midlands and the North.

Strike leaders and delegates to the trades conference were arrested, as were local Chartists. The strike gradually ran out of steam as strikers returned to work. The Manchester weavers held out to the last and did not return to work until the end of September.

At least 1500 strikers were arrested and were brought before magistrates’ courts. Many were imprisoned. On 29 August the Salford Intermediate Session opened at the New Bailey with 31 magistrates on the bench. Before them were 199 prisoners committed on charges of felony and another 159 on charges of misdemeanour. The chairman of the bench J F Foster stated that “…the tumult and disturbances, such as were recently witnessed in this neighbourhood, should be put down with the strong hand of the law, and the parties convicted of taking part in them severely punished.”

In March 1843 59 leading Chartists, including Feargus O’Connor, were tried in Lancaster, charged on nine accounts of inciting strikes, riots and disorder. Most were convicted but curiously they were never sent to prison, the sentences being suspended because of what was claimed was “a technicality”. It seems likely that the government, having defeated the strike and jailed many local leaders, was content to let matters lie.

Article by Michael Herbert

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Anarchists on Ardwick Green, 1893

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caminada’s chronology goes as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chorus.

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

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

Chorus.

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

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

Chorus.

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

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

Chorus.

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

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

Chorus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Sarah Irving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Sarah Irving

Okasional Cafes

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, anarchists and environmental activists in Manchester organised a series of squatted cafe-social centres around the city, under the name Okasional Cafe. This article is based on interviews with two people – both of whom wished to remain anonymous – who were involved in organising several of the cafes and running events in them.

The first Okasional Cafe, in 1998, was supposed to be in a former kebab takeaway on Peter Street, near the junction with Deansgate, on the site now occupied by Bar 38.

“There was a big row of Victorian shop buildings and a takeaway called, I think, the Topkapi Palace, which had already closed down in preparation for being demolished as part of the redevelopment plans for the huge warehouses behind and Great Northern Square,” recalls one of the people involved in looking at this initial site. “Four of us went in to recce it, which involved a small person having to go through a hole in the brickwork where there had been a heating vent, and letting the others in. It was perfect – the big industrial-scale catering cookers were still there, which would have been great for events. But it stank from the barrels of kebab fat too…”

In the event, the organising group decided that this site wasn’t suitable because the demolition date for the buildings was imminent and, although the organisers were anticipating having to fight eviction orders, they didn’t want this to be the focus of their activity, or for scared developers to take aggressive action to evict them. The second choice of venue was the former Temperance Movement building on Oxford Road in South Manchester, immediately opposite the Manchester University Students’ Union, now Kro Bar.

At this point, the Riotous Assembly open radical activist meetings had not yet started, so the recce teams for both sites had been recruited at the Earth First! meetings which at that time still took place in the Friends Meeting House in Manchester city centre.

“I remember meeting the people who were going to turn it into the pub,” says one participant. “The head of what is now the Kro empire, I remember him saying, well the weekend you moved in we were planning on moving in as well, but we thought well, we can take a bit more time. His brother, who was on the dole, was helping him with the building work, and they had a month’s less rent to pay so they weren’t bothered.”

As one interviewee recalls, the cafes were meant to be “a point where social and political activity could go on reasonably freely and workshops and film showings could happen, but also secondly that it was supposed to be an access point for new people who might not come to a meeting but would be comfortable coming and having a cup of tea and a piece of cake and picking up some leaflets and then might come back again for something else a few days later and actually speak to somebody about getting involved.”

Another interviewee emphasised that “about people having an access point for ‘our’ ways of working – ie anarchist – and forms of actual direct action. I remember it definitely as being for both those purposes, and also that there were actions actually happening at the same time, so people could go to the cafe, hear about an action, go to a meeting about it and get comfortable with the idea and then actually go along on an action and get involved, as well as providing a space for people who were already involved to meet together and have that contact. It’s also in my head as a post-Manchester Airport protest camp thing – lots of people had moved to Manchester, had been active and the EF! Meetings were too big and unwieldy and some people had the idea that everything in the meetings had to be agreed by everyone and others thought they were a forum, a place to go to where you could say, we’re doing this anyone want to get involved?”

“For me,” he continued, “the reason Okasional Cafe came round was that it was a physical point of contact, because people had had the experience of living on protest camps at the Airport together, and that was really important, and there was nowhere for people to meet and spend time together. I was completely sold on the model of squatting a place, holding it for a month, saying ‘we’re going to be here for a month’, not trying to do it for longer or make it a permanent place, not trying to say we’ll keep it for longer but put that burst of energy into it for that month and then do other things the rest of the time, rather than having a permanent centre…”

The first Okasional Cafes were not simply spaces where people could come and talk, but had well-organised schedules of events, including political meetings, exhibitions, film showings and fundraising parties. A distinctive logo was designed, probably by a resident of the ‘Redbricks’ estate in Hulme, and in the weeks preceding the squatting of a new cafe several waves of publicity would take place, starting with the logo being fly-posted around town, followed by posters bearing the words ‘it’s coming’ and then after the building have been occupied posters and bookmark-format leaflets with the address and workshop timetable would be distributed in cafes, pubs, bookstores and ‘alternative’ shops like those in Afflecks Palace.

“I’m not sure I can imagine such organised publicity happening now,” commented one participant. “people rely too much on the internet, they think that when they’ve put something on Facebook they’ve publicised, whereas actually they’ve just told a load of people they’re already in touch with, and they think they can advertise something the day before, instead of having to put in some work to really get word out.”

Okasional Cafes around Manchester

After the success of the initial Okasional Cafe on Oxford Road, a number of other squat cafes took place across South and Central Manchester over the next four years. Sites for these included an old canal keeper’s cottage on Dale Street in the Northern Quarter, a second one at Kro, one on Birch Grove in Rusholme and two at the Hacienda, one of which was a fundraiser for the massive J18 anti-capitalist protests which took place in London in June 1999.

There was also an abortive attempt to hold an Okasional Cafe in St Peter’s House, opposite the Peace Gardens and Central Library. “It was in November one year,” says a participant, “and people hadn’t really thought about the issues around that but it was just before the 11th and the police really cracked down on it because they thought it was an anti-war protest in time for the Armistice Day commemorations, which it wasn’t. So they just smashed their way in through the plate glass windows, using the fact that there was a back staircase which was shared with another building as a legal pretext for evicting the squat.

The Charles Street Okasional Cafe

Another site used was a former auction house on Charles Street, just off Oxford Road next to the BBC. One memorable event held there was a showing of the film Injustice, about the struggles for justice by families of people – mainly black men like Shiji Lapite and Roger Sylvester, but also including Harry Stanley and women like Joy Gardner and Sarah Thomas – who had died in police custody.

The Police Federation had tried to take legal action to prevent the film, which called for the prosecution of several serving police officers, from being screened. Venues were harassed and threatened with having their licenses revoked, and cinemas were told by police lawyers that they might face expensive libel suits. So when the Cornerhouse Cinema on Oxford Road was intimidated into cancelling a showing, people involved with the Charles St cafe, just round the corner, stepped in to offer an alternative.

“But we managed to prime one of the directors, Tariq Mehmood, who lives in Rusholme, so that when they reached the end of their talk and had to tell the audience that they couldn’t show the film there, they announced that the people who had just stood up could lead them to a venue where they could see it.”

The Cornerhouse cinema, according to one of the people involved in the Okasional Cafe screening, event loaned chairs to allow enough audience members to go to the alternative screening, and some of the box office staff had made significant efforts to deliver the coded message to people buying tickets for the event that although the event had been formally cancelled, something else might be afoot…

The Charles Street Okasional Cafe was also the scene for exhibitions giving ongoing information about the mass protests – and police brutality – which took place at the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001. But, despite some of the good events which went on at Charles St, it was also an example of some of the things that could go wrong with such an enterprise.

“My take on what happened.” says one participant, who had been involved in many of the other cafes, “was that a lot of people were involved who nowadays would be curating slightly alternative art galleries or working for the World Development Movement or the Big Issue, but then, because it was the exciting ‘in’ thing they were there. But for the first part of the Charles St cafe, the people putting most time in were people who had less long-term experience or hadn’t made the same connections so the way it was organised was messier and events weren’t publicised. There were also problems because the site was near an all-night Spar and a big homeless hostel, and some people turned up from a protest came and stayed and behaved like arseholes, so there were social problems being dealt with by people with very little experience.”

The solution was to close the squat down for a week, regroup the organising committee and remodel the space. The main room was painted white to give it a completely different feel from the previous dark space, and the cafe was re-opened for several more weeks before it was finally evicted. “The eviction was,” says one of the people involved, “one of those classic developer things where they come to court and say they want to use the building for such-and-such and work will start straight away and the judge says ok, kick them out, and now eight years later it’s still empty, and there is still as Okasional Cafe sign over the door…”

Decentralised organising

As one interviewee who was involved in organising several of the Okasional cafes recalls, the networks and personal connections which had grown up during the protest camps at Manchester Airport were still in place during this era. “Although people were campaigning on different issues it tended to feel more like they were part of the same thing than it seems to now,” he says. “Animal rights people or whoever might be doing their thing, but a lot of the allocating work and responsibilities happened because various different people with different skills were involved. In terms of anarchist forms of organising there were weekly meetings at the cafe which set up the events for the week after and sometimes there were more regular meetings if there were other issues that came up.”

The tension between weekly and more regular meetings was, he says, “interesting, in that the people with most time and the people who were living there to hold the squat sometimes acquired more power than others. So some people were arguing that it’s more democratic to have weekly meetings because more people can actually come to them.”

Tactically, different methods were used to actually initiate the occupation of the squatted buildings. For the Hacienda events, many of the first groups of people to enter the building were asked to meet at a fairly public site in Hulme and then led away in small groups, under cover of darkness and sometimes through the gardens of squat sympathisers on a nearby estate. As a result, the police failed to notice that the crowd they were monitoring was actually slowly dispersing.

At most of the other Okasional Cafes, a small group would crack the squat in advance in order to take legal control, and then other members of the organising group would collect a larger selection of people who’d gathered at a publicly advertised meeting point and bring them to help with preparing the venue – cleaning, decorating and if necessary connecting water and electricity. “It was a balance of recognising that you have to keep some things secret for them to work, while making the process as open and participatory as possible,” commented one person who was involved in a number of the cafes. “And because we had the networks from the Airport protests and other direct action and free party scenes we knew who to get in touch with if we needed the water and gas and electrics to be turned back on. A lot of that was the result of lessons from 1990s direct action and Reclaim the Street.”

Decision-making processes about how the cafes would be run were also decentralised, bringing in a range of experiences, ages and backgrounds. “I remember in the first OK Cafe there was a No Smoking room,” recalls one participant. “When that was first brought up some people were like, Noooo! But for me that was an example of the difference between two simplified versions of anarchism – the more individualistic, which I think is called Sternerite, and the more collectivist or community-based – ‘I can do what I like’ vs ‘I can do what I like but understand its impacts on other people.’ So there were lots of debates, and in the end there were No Smoking times and room in Okasional Cafes.”

Over the course of the various cafes, many lessons were also learned about the kind of events, activities and messages participants wanted to use the sites for. “The first one was around the time of an election, and it was also near a church,” recalled one person. “Someone put a big cross up outside with a politician hanging from it and labelled it ‘use your cross wisely, crucify a politician.’ And there were things like free stalls and also what became People’s Kitchen, ie experimenting with cheap meals and food by donation. That was quite hard, because especially being in a student area you felt you were putting in lots of effort to feed lazy students who’d got enough money anyway. So it shifted, became really nice set meals with candlelight or poetry performances but also with a suggested donation. Soft drinks would be free or donations but alcohol was a set price because there was a sense that if people wanted to spend money on alcohol it should be a fundraiser. There were also party night which were fundraisers too, and usually they were donations on the door and some people would just ask casually and people would put a few coppers in, but some more savvy ones would say ‘three quid, three quid’ as people came in and a well-run night at the Kro site could easily raise a thousand pounds. People lost that ability with some of the later cafes, especially the Kickstart ones that were done by a different group of people later on, people involved in residential squatting in Whalley Range, because they just weren’t as organised and people would nick the money and they didn’t really have a sense of how to replicate some of the really creative stuff we were doing at OK Cafes.”

To evict or not to evict?

In almost all cases the OK Cafe squats were time-limited, held for just a month and then handed back to their owners. They were also largely in commercial or public buildings rather than residential ones. One exception was the sixth squat, on Birch Grove in Rusholme in 2000, which – with the approval of the house’s owner – became a residential squat for at least six months after the Okasional Cafe there closed down.

Even though it had become a residential squat, the Birch Grove site did remain a hub for some direct action activity, serving as the meeting point for groups of Manchester activists who went to the Close Campsfield noise demonstration and actions against the asylum seeker detention centre in Oxfordshire.

In some other cases the landlords of squatted properties were less co-operative, although the reputation of the protesters occupying the buildings sometimes meant that evictions weren’t carried out. “With the first Okasional Cafe,” a participant remembers, “people remembered us from the Airport, where people felt they had to power to say to a landlord, ‘yes you can take us to court and get an order and evict us, but we’re going to resist, you’ll need bailiffs. Ask the Under-Sheriff of Lancashire, Andy Wilson, he’ll tell you that we’re going to be really expensive.’ It’s in your interest and our interest to negotiate – give us a month. And landlords would go, OK. At the Kro Bar site, Andy Wilson came along and people pretended to have been in tunnels and had dirt on their faces and head torches and he just backed off and from then on we had the reputation with other landlords that – take them to court, but negotiate with them.”

The one exception to this rule was the Hacienda squat. The police had succeeded in having the superclub closed down and, as one participant thinks, saw its re-opening as a challenge. They evicted it quickly and at times brutally, and were therefore furious when it was then re-squatted a second time – giving rise to graffiti in one of the rooms reading The People 1: Police 0 which was them amended to The People 2: Police 0. A number of people arrested in the first eviction successfully sued Greater Manchester Police for wrongful arrest. “The second time,” recalls one interviewee, “only once we we had negotiated our way outside did we see that there were lines of riot cops with battering rams all lined up by the walls, where we couldn’t see them from the inside. There was also a moment where, while they were using quite a lot of violence to clear the area, we saw one riot cop who was well known for being very big and violent whack someone across the back with the truncheon, and the person he’d hit getting out his badge and saying ‘I’m undercover!’ And that was great to watch…”

Article by Sarah Irving