Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Archive for October, 2009

Salford and ‘District Six’

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 28, 2009

Today Lawrence Cassidy gave a talk on his PhD thesis. He has been working on his research for the last 3 years and recently led a seminar in Aberdeen on his research topic. As some may know Lawrence is an artist and his research was based around people’s perceptions of regeneration in East Salford. Linked to his academic research he has put on exhibitions at the Lowry, Salford Lads’ Club and Salford Museum and Art Gallery. He has explored the often un-mentioned history of ordinary working class people, juxtaposing images of ordinary people with industrial settings to re-awaken a sense of the people who made the recent past a reality.

Lawrence showed us images he has collected of Central Salford along with Salford Street signs. He also shared his experiences of visiting the District Six Museum in Cape Town, an area that was literally ‘redeveloped’ out of existence under apartheid laws.

Lawrence showed us images from museums in Berlin and Jerusalem pressing home what a huge phenomenon there is of juxtaposing images of ordinary people with more conventional histories.


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Lancashire mines

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 27, 2009

Report from the group building an exhibition about Salford:

This week’s talk was by local historian Glen Atkinson who specialises in the history of Lancashire’s mines. Last week we studied ‘Which Side Are You On?’ by Ken Loach, which documented the 1984/85 miners’ strike. Some astounding facts made Glen’s history just as relevant such as the fact that the last boy to die in the pits was an apprentice electrician at Golbourne pit aged 19 – in 1979.

Glen recounted a hailstorm of details and statistics about various pit accidents such as that which happened at Clifton Hall Colliery in 1876 where the cages smashed mid-shaft and 330 men and boys were trapped for five days until they were raised two at a time in a bucket.

Glen recounted the sheer heroism of rescue crews who fought underground fires. During the early history of the pits unskilled labour was drafted in to deal with fires. Serious fires brought help from other collieries (even though they might be bitter commercial rivals).

He emphasised how bad things had to be before mine owners would stop working in a colliery. Often private ‘mill’ fire brigades were dispatched down pits in brass helmets. This was long before the days of breathing apparatus.

Often the solution to a pit fire was to brick it up and let it burn itself out. If there was a fire in one section of a pit the rest of the pit would remain working.

These types of ‘accidents’ were fairly common. There were however genuine ‘disasters’ on a wholly different scale. The Salford coalfield was generally considered to be safe (although there were four incidents claiming 80 lives in that coalfield in one year). Boys who had idled their time exploring old workings instead of working were ironically able to lead men to safety.

At Pretoria Pit in December 1910 370 men and boys were killed instantaneously in an explosion four days before Christmas. Glen encouraged those who were interested to go to the annual memorial church service where the bell is rung 370 times. The centenary of the tragedy is going to be commemorated next year with various events.

The explosion happened at 9.30. Roadways collapsed. The shaft was blocked by timber and debris. Cages collapsed. Rescue teams came from Agecroft, which was connected to Pretoria by underground passages. (Many pits were interconnected by underground tunnels and the underground canal, which also drained the pits).

One positive side of the disaster was the speed with which insurers (in particular the Prudential) were willing to pay out to grieving families. One result of the Pretoria disaster was that naked lights (candles) were eventually phased out of pits.

Glen and Paul also touched on ghost stories surrounding the pits; and there was a debate about whether militancy had actually achieved anything.


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Nice mention of the Library in today’s Guardian

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 21, 2009

Guardian Society p2 today features the Library’s Outcasts display banner. This tells the story of the Manchester United players of 1909 who refused to give up their union membership. The banner has been produced in conjunction with local community football club FC United of Manchester. It is available for loan to local groups – ring us on 0161 736 3601 to find out more.

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Which Side are You On?

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 16, 2009

Report on the group building an exhibition about Salford:

This week was a real treat as we put down our usual books and artefacts, sat back and studied the Ken Loach documentary ‘Which Side Are You On?’ which was blocked from transmission for 20 years due to its perceived bias towards the miners’ cause. The film moved many in the group emotionally and a lot of people were left with tears in their eyes.

Before we saw the film we heard from ex-miner Paul who worked at Agecroft Pit and was part of the 1984/85 strike. Paul pointed out the historical importance of coal to Salford as an industrial centre and the role ‘clean’ coal could have in the future. He compared the police at the time to a ‘paramilitary’ force: ‘The fighting was unbelievable’.  He touched on the forthcoming postal workers’ strike and said that he thought the aim of Thatcher and her heirs (he included Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in this) was and still is (some may argue) to crush union militancy.

Paul’s experience had taught him that you have to fight (figuratively if not physically) and that it’s too easy to get academic about things like the miners’ strike. The issues that the miners fought for are alive today in our low paid, un-unionised,  service sector economy. You have to go through the experience to make sense of it.

The films was composed of snippets of miners, miners’ wives, children and supporters reading poetry, singing songs and making speeches intercut with scenes of violent repression on the picket lines.  It goes without saying that this film supported the miner’s point of view and painted Margaret Thatcher’s crushing of the NUM as a pure piece of class warfare (whether you agree with that analysis or not).  The police were painted as a politicised, right wing force not disimilar to police forces in places like Latin America. At one point the miners were sparring with police on a picket in Yorkshire. At this point in the strike they were optimistic and told the police they would ‘topple’ Maggie’s government. ‘If you topple her we (the police) will be the next government’ said the police officer. It seems to me sadly true that in the history of working class struggles progress and the creation of libertarian structures are often crushed by violent repression, from Franco’s Spain to Pinochet’s Chile.

I personally was very touched by the film. I have my leanings and this film confirmed to me some of my convictions about the importance of trade unions. The role of women in the struggle was also highlighted. During the months without pay the women formed an unofficial form of welfare system which shows that working people can organise without the interference of politicians, bureacrats or bosses.

In the debate after the film there was much concern about how far police were actually prepared to go. The consensus was that the argument ‘we are just following orders’ is no defence. Alice emphasised how the strike ‘politicised’ a whole generation of women and led them to get involved with other causes such as Greenham Common.


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Salford exhibition Week 8 – now with a tentative title, ‘Working lives’

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 9, 2009

We met this week for Lawrence Cassidy’s local history group at the Working Class Movement Library at the same time as the Conservative party were meeting for their annual conference at the Manchester Central convention centre. How many lobbyists, researchers and Conservative activists made a pilgrimage to the WCML this week I wonder? [The Library Manager responds: the answer is – two!].  It was a week when the Conservatives tried to appeal to working class voters by trying to position themselves as champions of the poor, perhaps challenging traditional notions in British politics.

Here at the WCML we were treated to an array of new photographs, books, and images. There were also a whole host of new faces sharing their Salford stories of working lives, old industries, memories, forgotten neighbourhoods, and characters from the past. Lawrence was as usual on hand to listen to people’s experiences and develop ideas and concepts for the forthcoming exhibition at the WCML.

For me the sessions have become a weekly odyssey through the history of one of Lancashire’s most interesting cities. From the enigmatic figure of Friedrich Engels to the mysterious Mary Burns.

Local historian Alice treated us to a talk on her recent book about Kersal Moor. The area in the north of Salford is interesting from both a historical and environmental point of view. In 1838 one of the largest ever Chartist meetings was held there. Lately it has become a site of special scientific interest as well as being a welcome site for recreation in the heart of the second city.

As usual the group seems to attract a regular stream of students and academics.  This week I met Bob a sociology PhD student from Salford University.  He was researching (if I remember correctly) access to transport amongst inner city residents.  He told me he did a bit of sociology, human geography and economics.

He had taken a break from teaching to catch up with the sessions.

In my last blog entry I touched on the ‘controversial’ issue of socialism and there were a few crossed wires at today’s meeting when one participant was enthusing about the benefits of union membership.  Some it seemed were happier sticking to the nostalgia and historical aspects of the group rather than debating more contentious political issues.


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Salford exhibition week 7

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 1, 2009

Notes from yesterday’s meeting of the group interested in helping put together the library’s exhibition about Salford:

Alice agreed to do a presentation next week (Wed 7th Oct, 1.30pm), on her recent book tracing the history of Kersal Moor, Salford, exploring chartist history, until now.  We are currently discussing how this could fit into the final show, or be displayed alongside it, with added material gathered from the library.

Paul, who is researching the miners’ strike and aims to make a commemorative exhibition about Agecroft Pit, Salford, has agreed to do a presentation on Wed 14th Oct, 1.30pm, with an open discussion at the end and a summary of Paul’s experiences during the strike (amazing story, first hand live account).  Brian has found more material on the pit disaster at Clifton Hall Colliery and his relation who rescued people, this will also feature in the final exhibition.

I am discussing with each participant the form of display and content for their particular theme of research.

Roy has unearthed material on his relation who was arrested during the Battle of Bexley Square, but he is researching a book on Salford streets and prefers me to make the collage on this subject. So, some are directly involved in the display, others are researching its content and want me to display it after they have researched it.

John the poet arrived with Gail and I gave them the visual info, catalogues etc that I found that relates to the docks for thier forthcoming Green Bananas drama project.

Lawrence Cassidy

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