The Suffragette Attack on Manchester Art Gallery, April 1913

On 3rd April 1913 three suffragettes – Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester – attacked a number of pictures in the Manchester Art Gallery as part of the militant campaign for votes for women which by this period had escalated to the use of violent tactics, including mass window-smashing, attacks on politicians, damage to property and arson.

The Manchester Guardian reported the event as follows:

“Just before nine ‘clock last night, when the Manchester Art Gallery was about to close and few people were about, an attendant in a room leading to the big room of the permanent collection heard crackings of glass follow each other rapidly. He immediately rushed into to the big room followed by another attendant, who was nearby. They found three women making a rush around the room, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable paintings in the collection. They had already completed their work on the right side of the room going in, where pictures by such great artists as Watts, Leighton, Burne- Jones and Rossetti were hung , and were going around the top of the room. The outrage was quickly and neatly carried through, and when the attendants came running in the women were within reach of two more large pictures – one by Millais, the other by Watts. The attendants at one rushed to arrest them but as there were three to two of the women escaped from the room. The attendants, however, called to the door-keeper and immediately the big doors were closed and the retreat cut off.
The women were quietly kept within closed door while the Town Hall were informed. The Chief Constable and a superintendent at once went across and took the women to the Town Hall. There they questioned them and, after charging them, allowed them out on bail until this morning, when they will appear before the stipendiary magistrate.”

The pictures damaged were
— The Last Watch of Hero – Leighton
— Captive Andromache – Leighton
— The Prayer – Watts
— Paola and Francesca – Watts
— The Hon J L Motley – Watts
— Astarte Syriaca- Rossetti
— The Flood – Millais
— Sybilla Delphica – Burne-Jones
— The Flood- Millais
— Birnam Woods – Millais
— The Last of the Garrison – Briton-Miliere
— The Golden Apples of Spring – Strudwick
— The Syrinx – Arthur Hacker
— The Shadow of the Cross – Holman Hunt

The women appeared at the magistrates’ court charged under the Malicious Damage Act and were bailed to appear for trial later that month. Lillian Forrester made a statement stating that “we broke the glass of some pictures as a protest but we did not intend to damage the pictures”. They had supporters in the gallery who unfurled a “Votes for Women” banner.

The attack was part of a wave of protests across the country against the sentence passed on Mrs Pankhurst on 3rd April at the Old Bailey. She was sentenced to three years in prison for “inciting persons unknown” to burn down building. As well as the attack on the paintings some eleven post boxes in Manchester were attacked with black liquid which damaged 250 letters.

Other “outrages”, as the press called them, included:
– The blowing up of a carriage on an empty train at Adswood, Stockport
– An explosion at the railway station at Oxted, Surrey
– The destruction by fire of an unoccupied house in Hertfordshire.

The women’s trial took place on 22nd April at the Manchester Assizes. The accused were stated to be members of the WSPU and were charged with “unlawfully and maliciously damaging” thirteen pictures in the gallery. Annie Briggs was 48 and a housekeeper, Lillian Forrester was 33 and married (her occupation was not given) and Evelyn Manesta was 25 and a governess.

Evidence was given by the police and the art gallery staff. It was stated that the cost of repairing the glass was £85 and repairing two of the canvasses was £25.

The three women did not deny the charges and did not therefore enter the witness box but chose to make speeches to the jury.

Annie Briggs said that she was not guilty of the charges brought against her. “I gave my comrades my fullest support but in no way aided them. Our women take their course on their own deliberate responsibility. This is not a personal but a world question.” She added that women had to protest against things which were intolerable to them. If she were sentenced she would feel she was sentenced because she was a member of the WSPU.

Lillian Forrester made a long speech, beginning by saying she did not stand there as a malicious person but as patriot. She thought motive was taken into account in the actions of all lawbreakers. She was political offender and the fact of being a political offender had led to the imprisonment only in the First Division in such cases of the late Mr W T Stead and Mr Jameson, who was responsible for a raid that caused the loss of life. Motive in those cases had been taken into account. She would make a stirring appeal to the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. If it was desired to inflict punishment they had already been punished by appearing before the courts three times and going through the present ordeal. Such a decision would redound to the credit of Manchester where the present movement had begun. She praised Mrs Pankhurst and said that after the sentence on her she had thought that Manchester should make some protest and she had considered whether she and other should speak in Albert Square. She added that her husband approved of what she did . She had a degree in history and her knowledge of history had spurred to this fight for women’s freedom.

Evelyn Manesta referred to women in the streets and said that the laws applying to men and women were unequal, particularly the divorce laws. She said that she was a political offender.
In his summing up the judge said that the jury should be impartial and not decide because they agreed or disagreed with their views. They had to administer the law and the jury had to say that they were satisfied on the evidence that the prosecution had proved the guilt of these ladies.

After a brief retirement the jury acquitted Annie and convicted Lillian and Evelyn. Lillian was sentenced to three months imprisonment and Evelyn to one month. The judge stated that if the law would allow he would send them round the world in sailing ship as the best thing for them.

Manchester suffragettes wrote to the Chief Constable, Mr Peacock, asking for permission to hold a demonstration in Stevenson Square on Sunday 4th May followed by a procession to Strangeways in protest at the raid on WSPU head-quarters in London and also at the sentences on Lillian and Evelyn. The Manchester Guardian reported that the WSPU had received a letter from the prison governor stating that as the two women were refusing to do any prison work, they would not be allowed to receive any letters or visitors and would not be receive any remission of sentence.

Mrs Pankhurst was released on special licence after 10 days and taken to a nursing home because she had refused to eat. She was not forcibly fed as had happened to many other suffragette prisoners. The government was perhaps fearful of the consequences.

Many years later there was a postscript to the Manchester story. In 2003 Home Office files revealed that in September 1913 the Home Office had ordered that photographs of all the suffragette prisoners be secretly taken without their knowledge. This was done because many of the women had refused to have their pictures taken. The files include a disturbing picture of Evelyn Manesta taken in prison. She has the arm of a prison warder around her to hold her still. The picture was used in a wanted poster of Manesta circulated by Scotland Yard but on publication the image had been doctored to hide the arm.

Article by Michael Herbert

Hannah Mitchell, Socialist and Suffragette

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was Katherine St John Conway, a:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Michael Herbert

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

Fascism and anti-fascism in 1930s Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruth & Eddie Frow and the Working Class Movement Library

The Working Class Movement Library is a national collection of the history of labour movement in Britain, founded in the mid-1950s by Ruth and Edmund Frow, whose personal and political partnership lasted for over 40 years and led to the creation of this unique and wonderful archive.

Eddie Frow was born in Lincolnshire in 1906, the son of tenant farmer. After leaving school he became a toolmaker in the engineering industry. In 1924 Eddie joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and in subsequent years lost many jobs because of his political and trade union activity. During the Depression he was active in the unemployed workers movement in Salford and served four months in Strangeways prison after being badly beaten up by police after leading a march to Salford Town Hall in October 1931, an event that Walter Greenwood included in his novel Love On The Dole and which also featured in the film version. He found work again on his release, became a leading member of the engineering union and was eventually elected as the full-time Secretary for the Manchester District, a position he held for just under ten years, retiring in 1971.

Ruth Frow was born in 1922 and served in the RAF during the war, going into teaching afterwards. She joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1945, whilst canvassing amongst Kent miners during the general election. In the 1950s and 1960s she was active in the peace movement, as well as the National Union of Teachers. Ruth finished her teaching career in 1980 as deputy head of a large comprehensive school in Manchester.

Ruth and Eddie first met at a Communist Party school in 1953 and soon merged their lives – and their respective book collections. They began collecting material on the history of the trade union, radical and labour movement, travelling the country in their holidays

In 1976 they recounted their experiences in article for History Workshop journal:

Our first journeys were in a 1937 Morris van. We carried a small tent into which we crawled wherever we found a grass verge or field conveniently near a town where a bookseller traded. We formed then the pattern which we have followed in the main for over twenty years. In the morning when we are fresh and full of energy we comb the shelves of the unsuspecting bookseller. In the afternoon we laze in the summer sun reading and gloating over our morning purchases. In the evening we walk and possibly move on to the next wide open bookshop. When our money is gone or the van is full, we return to Manchester.
Later developments included a larger tent and a superior car, a Skoda which made down into beds, a larger van and our present combination of a caravan and car. The large tent was fine, although not so easy to site, but in the course of time it became torn and less water-proof. Advancing years warned that the dampness associated with tents was an invitation to rheumatism, so we bought the Skoda. This dealt with the damp situation, but there was never enough room for books. There was the additional difficulty that we could not cook in the car and since it nearly always rains when one needs to cook, our mealtimes became too erratic to be consistent with health. The Morris 1000 van was in many ways ideal. Certainly it had the same problems with cooking, but we became adjusted to cold food and the storage situation was solved by placing our purchases underneath the foam beds on which we slept. As the holiday proceeded and we were fortunate in our book buying forays, we slept ever nearer and nearer the roof of the van. Eventually we were only just able to crawl in the space between the beds and the roof, and books do tend to be unstable in a pile.

The result of these journeys was that their house in Old Trafford became a treasure trove, with bookshelves in every room as well as banners, emblems, prints and much else all meticulously catalogued by Ruth and Eddie – although they could often locate a volume with bothering to look it up so well acquainted were they . They also began writing books, pamphlets, and articles and were in great demand as lecturers, as well as being active in the Society for the Study of Labour History. News of their library spread and many researchers made their way to Old Trafford, their studies fuelled by regular cups of coffee and Ruth’s home-made buns.

By 1987 the house was full to overflowing. Fortunately at this point Salford City Council offered to provide a new home for the library, together with full-time library staff, and later that year the entire collection moved to Jubilee House, (a former nurses’ home opened in 1901) which is situated on Salford Crescent opposite Salford University. In the seventeen years since the collection has continued to grow and rarely a week goes by without some new material being donated. Often a donor will arrive unannounced with a bag full of wonderful archive material that may have been in a family for several generations.

Eddie died in May 1997, just short of his 91st birthday, His obituary appeared in the Morning Star, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent and even (this would have amused him) the Daily Telegraph. Hundreds attended his funeral.

Veteran communist to her fingertips, Ruth carried on their work, visiting the library, neatly dressed and carrying her small case with everything she needed to do for the day. Visitors to the library were often amazed (and on occasions awed) to be personally taken on a tour by Ruth, who would then make tea and happily chat about history.

Ruth died suddenly in January 2008, just hours after attending a library committee. There was no funeral as Ruth had donated her body to science but hundreds attended a commemoration with songs and poetry in her hour in Peel Hall.

The library left by Ruth and Eddie is now recognized as one of the most important labour and working class history collections in the country. It begins in the 1770s and goes up to the present day. It is open to all and welcomes visitors and researchers.

Article by Michael Herbert

The Working Class Movement Library is at Jubilee House, 51 Crescent
Salford, M5 4WX
www.wcml.org.uk
email: enquiries [at] wcml.org.uk
Tel: 0161 736 3601

Paddy O’Donoghue

Paddy O’Donoghue was head of the Irish Republican Army in Manchester 1919-1921, co-ordinating jail escapes and attacks on buildings. He was jailed in 1921 but freed after the treaty was signed between Britain and the Republican government in 1922.

The leader of the IRA in Manchester between 1919 and 1921, Paddy O’Donoghue, was a native of Barraduff, Killarney who ran a grocers shop on Lloyd Street, Greenheys. Before the War of Independence he was best known as the organiser of the annual Irish concert at the Free Trade Hall but he was also intimately involved in the Republican movement in Manchester. O’Donoghue was a close friend of Michael Collins, who had been his best man when Paddy married Violet Gore. Collins apparently brought him into his intelligence and arms-smuggling network in England as early as 1917.

In February 1919 O’Donoghue played a key role in the escape of Eamon De Valera from Lincoln Jail. De Valera was very anxious to get out of jail and go to the United States to present the Irish case for self-determination. A devout Catholic, he served at Mass with the prison chaplain and managed to get an impression in the wax of a candle of the master key . The design was copied onto a Christmas card by Sean Milroy and sent to Sean McGarry’s wife in Ireland but she failed realise the significance of the design. The three prisoners then wrote to Paddy O’Donoghue in Irish and he contacted Collins immediately. A key was then cut to the design and smuggled into the jail in a cake but it did not fit the lock. A further card with the key design was sent to O’Donoghue with the words “ Eocair na Saoirse” (The Key To Freedom”). O’Donoghue had another key cut in Manchester and sent it in but once again it failed to work. Collins now came to England to personally take charge of the operation.

A further key was made inside the jail and on 3rd February, by prior arrangement, three prisoners made their way to the front door of the jail where Michael Collins and his close friend Harry Boland were waiting along with Frank Kelly. Disaster seemed to have struck when Collins’ key broke as he put it in the lock. Fortunately De Valera was able to push the broken key out with his own copy and open the door. The three prisoners made their way to where O’Donoghue was waiting with transport.

Collins and Boland went to London and then back to Dublin. The others journeyed back to Manchester by way of Sheffield. Milroy and McGarry were hidden by leading Manchester IRA commander Liam MacMahon in his own house, while De Valera stayed with a local priest, Father Charles O’Mahony. The police were looking for De Valera, of course, and MacMahon was warned by Thomas Walsh, a sympathetic detective in the Manchester force, that they were getting close. On 18th February, dressed as a priest and escorted by two young Irish women, De Valera travelled back to Dublin. At the beginning of June he went to the United States.

O’Donoghue was involved in another extraordinary episode when he arranged for two young boys to be kidnapped from Barry in South Wales. They were the children of Josephine Marchmont , who worked in the Cork military barracks as a secretary to a senior British officer. She had impeccable security credentials, being the daughter of a Head Constable in the RIC, while her husband had been killed in the war. Her children, however, were in the custody of her mother-in-law in Wales.

Michael Collins learned of this and offered Josephine a deal in which he would arrange for the children to be brought back to Ireland if she would pass information to the IRA. She agreed and with the assistance of Paddy O’Donoghue the two boys were seized and brought to Manchester, where they stayed in his house and were then taken to Cork to be reunited with their mother. Josephine kept her side of the bargain and her information was invaluable to the IRA. Her deception was apparently never uncovered by the British authorities.

In April 1919 a number of IRA prisoners were transferred to Strangeways from Belfast after disturbances there over the issue of political status. Their leader was Austin Stack, Sinn Fein MP for West Kerry, who had commanded the Kerry brigade during the Easter Rising and had been sentenced to death, though this had been commuted to life imprisonment. Also in the prison in Manchester was Piaras Beaslai, Sinn Fein MP for East Kerry.

In August Fionan Lynch, Sinn Fein MP for Kerry South, was released from Strangeways and made contact with Paddy O’Donoghue and Liam MacMahon, who set in motion an escape plan. Violet O’Donoghue arranged for messages and maps to be sent into the prison baked in cakes or buried in butter and jam. Collins followed the development of the plans closely and wrote to Beaslai several times using a code. Rory O’Connor was sent over to examine the plans, followed soon after by Collins himself who actually visited Stack in Strangeways, using a false name and unrecognized.

The escape took place on Saturday 25th October. A dummy pistol already been smuggled into the prison in butter while the prisoners had got hold of handcuffs from a sympathetic Irish policeman in Manchester. They overcame the prison warder on duty, gagging him and placing him in a cell, and then rushed into the prison yard where a rope with a weight was thrown over and, after some mishaps, came within their grasp. The prisoners hauled on the rope, bringing over a rope-ladder, and each in turn climbed up it and over the wall.

Outside the prison some twenty men from Manchester, including Paddy O’Donoghue, held up the street and preventing anyone from passing the prison. Beaslai was taken by a young men named George Lodge in a taxi and then by tram to his house in a Manchester suburb while others made their escape on bicycles. After a week Collins visited Stack and Beaslai and three days later Liam MacMahon and George Lodge escorted them to Liverpool from where they were smuggled home in a steamer to be met by Joe O’Reilly, Collins’ right hand man, at the quayside. The other escapees were Paddy McCarthy (later killed in action), Sean Doran, DP Walsh, and Con Connolly.

According to the report of the escape in the Manchester Guardian the IRA men left behind a letter exonerating the warder from any blame. Sean Doran was later recaptured in Ireland and brought back to Manchester where he was sentenced on 18th July 1921 to two months imprisonment for escaping, to run concurrent with the unexpired sentence of 12 months. Piaras Beaslai played a small but important part in Irish history when on 14th January 1922 he moved the motion to approve the Treaty at a meeting of members of the Southern Irish Parliament, convened by Arthur Griffith as chair of the Irish delegation to London.

The most spectacular series of IRA operations in Manchester took place on 2nd April 1921 when between 6am and 7am a number of Volunteers tried to set fire to offices, hotels and cafes in the city centre. Later that same evening a large number of armed police raided the Irish Club on Erskine Street, Hulme and shot dead Sean Morgan, a member of the IRA. The police arrested a large number of men at the Irish Club and also picked up others over the weekend, including Paddy O’Donoghue (a memorial to Sean Morgan was unveiled in Moston cemetery on the ninth anniversary of his death in 1930.)

The arrested men appeared in court on 4th April with the Chief Constable of Manchester present, accompanied by many officers. The prosecution produced dozens of revolvers and cans of petrol as evidence, claiming that the Irish Club was an arsenal or base of operations from which outrages in Manchester had been planned and carried out.

The twenty-one accused appeared in court again on 26th April before the stipendiary magistrate Edgar Brierley. There was tight security with every entrance to the court guarded by police and even the press having to show cards before they were admitted. A number of men, including Paddy O’Donoghue, were charged with the attempted murder of police officers and there were numerous other charges, including one of “making war against the King”. The police prosecutor claimed that one of the defendants, Daniel McNicholl, had admitted that there were 60 men in the IRA in Manchester, formed into three companies, one based at Albion Street and two at Erskine Street. In a confession to the Chief Constable, McNicholl had also alleged that O’Donoghue held high rank in the IRA and had shot a police officer.

The trial of those charged with treason-felony began on 7th July at the Manchester Assizes before Justice Rigby Swift with the prosecution led by the Attorney General himself, Sir Gordon Hewart. Nineteen men were now charged with treason felony, as well as with arson and shooting with intent to murder. The Attorney General alleged that Paddy O’Donoghue had hired a garage at 67 Upper Chorlton Road, Whalley Range on 13th November of the year before, which had been used to store explosives and firearms. On 25th May the police had arrested a number of men when they came to the garage to retrieve materials, presumably believing that the coast would be clear as some weeks had passed since the arrests of their colleagues. He also alleged that O’Donoghue had shot Constable Boucher at Bridgewater House in the chest and arm.

There was a dramatic incident in court on Monday 11th July. Over the weekend the Irish Republican government and the British government had finally concluded a truce in the armed conflict, which would come into force at noon. At that precise moment one of the defendants Charles Harding gave an order in Gaelic and the rest of the prisoners sprang to their feet and stood to attention for a moment, resuming their seats after another instruction from Harding. That same day, amidst scorching weather, Eamonn De Valera arrived in London to begin talks with the British Government and hundreds of Irish people greeted him at Euston railway station.

On 13th July O’Donoghue made a statement from the dock in which he pleaded guilty to the charge with respect to the garage admitting that the arms had been paid for by him as an officer in the IRA. “It is my firm belief that had the IRA been better equipped negotiations for the settlement now in progress would have long since been held”. He denied however having anything to do with shooting policemen. “I have always fully realised that I was committing an offence against the constitution of this country in smuggling arms to Ireland but at the same time I felt I was morally bound to help my country to regain its freedom”. Sean Wickham also made a speech from the dock, adding that he was an officer in the IRA. Addressing the court he contended that the signing of the truce was virtually a recognition of the claim of the accused to be treated as prisoners of war and he also rejected the Treason Felony Act.

The Manchester trial was raised in the House of Commons by Captain Redmond, Irish Nationalist MP for Waterford, who asked Lloyd George whether the Crown would discontinue the charges of conspiracy against certain Irishmen now being held at Manchester Assizes. In his reply Lloyd George claimed that they had pleaded guilty (which was a lie) and were entitled to a verdict.

Captain Redmond persisted, asking a logical question. “How can the government reconcile their actions in taking proceedings against certain Irishmen in England for conspiring with whom the government themselves are at present entering upon open negotiations during a period of truce?” Lloyd George dodged the question, merely repeating his previous answer.

Only two men – Nicholas Keogh and Daniel Mullen – were acquitted by the jury. The rest were found guilty and sentenced to varying lengths of prison.

The Treaty was finally signed in the early hours of 6th December 1921 but fell well short of the independent Republic the Irish had already proclaimed, conceding only Dominion status to twenty six counties of Ireland within the British Empire under the title of the Irish Free State and confirming the partition of Ireland for six out of nine counties of Ulster under the political and military domination of the Unionist Party.

After a lengthy and sometimes bitter debate Dail Eireann approved the Treaty on 7th January 1922 with 64 votes in favour and 57 against. Sinn Fein had already effectively split into two camps with De Valera opposing the Treaty and Collins and Griffith supporting it.

Republican prisoners in jails in Ireland had been let out as soon as the Treaty was signed, as had those imprisoned in Britain for offences committed in Ireland. Those convicted of offences committed in Britain still remained in jail, however, and on 11th February the Irish Self Determination League organised a demonstration in Trafalgar Square to press for their release. Five columns of Irish people carrying tricolours marched in from different parts of London. and were addressed by Art O’Brien and Alderman John Scurr. There was an unexpected third speaker – Shaun Wickham from Manchester – released that morning from Wandsworth Prison. Still dressed in his prison clothes of a cheap grey coat and striped trousers, he shivered in the February cold. The Manchester Guardian wondered why his friends had not bought him a warm coat.

Wickham had been freed because the previous day the British and Irish governments had simultaneously issued statements of amnesty. Collins’ statement granted amnesty to the British aimed forces and civil service “in respect of all acts committed in the course of the recent hostilities”, while the British statement (issued by the Colonial Office and not the Home Office) granted the immediate release of prisoners now in custody “for offences committed prior to the treaty in Great Britain from Irish political motives”.

Back in Manchester prisoners were also released from Strangeways and the authorities told the Evening Chronicle that all the Irishmen imprisoned there for political offences had now been released. So unexpected was their release that there was no welcoming crowd. The following day, however, thousands marched to London Road station to greet ex-prisoners, although they actually arrived at different stations. Several men eventually did make their way to the station and were given a tumultuous welcome and, Irish band playing, escorted to Central Station. Some sixty other prisoners were released and most went to London.

Paddy O’Donoghue left England for Ireland and in his later years managed a greyhound stadium.

Article by Michael Herbert. Michael is author of The Wearing of the Green: A Political History of the Irish in Manchester (2000), copies of which can be bought by contacting Michael directly at mossley [at] phonecoop.coop.