Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

From The Abolitionist to The Young Socialist: another A-Z journey through one library’s periodical collection

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 11, 2014

As part of our ongoing effort to make our collections more accessible I have just finished cataloguing our long run periodicals collection and I see that it was just over a year ago that I finished the short run periodicals. So now all our unbound periodicals have been catalogued. I think that merits an extra biscuit with my afternoon tea.

And no, I haven’t just been working on the long run periodicals since then. That’s because there are significantly fewer titles – only 483 to be exact – as opposed to the 3000-odd short run titles.

As you would expect they cover the usual subjects such as socialism, communism, politics and trade unions, but we also have a good collection of other periodicals covering such subjects as literature, poetry and even the arts and crafts movement with a near complete run of the journal of the William Morris Society.

Catonsville Roadrunner - May 1969 (cover)

The Catonsville Roadrunner

City Fun - Vol 2 No 17

City Fun


Manchester also gets a look in with City Fun – a Manchester fanzine from the 1970s and 1980s to which Morrissey contributed an article about Sandie Shaw under the pseudonym Bert Macho – along with Manchester Free Press, a community paper; Manchester Women’s Liberation newsletter and New Manchester Review, another community paper.

And then there are the quirky titles, such as The Catonsville Roadrunner, a revolutionary Christian magazine, with a bit of anarchism thrown in for good measure.


All of which, and more, can be found by searching our online catalogue

Happy searching


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Homage to Sartaguda – moving tales from the Spanish Civil War, told at our most recent volunteers’ lunch

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 10, 2014

The Library’s monthly volunteers’ lunch on 30 January was the occasion for a talk by myself, Stuart Walsh, a long time volunteer at the Library, and Pippa Sherriff, who came up for the day from Church Aston in Shropshire. Both of us are members of National Clarion Cycle Club, and the talk concerned our cycle ride from Bilbao to Barcelona between 17 and 25 October 2013, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the withdrawal of the International Brigades.

Pippa and Stuart at the talk

Pippa & Stuart. On the table is a simplified flag of Lower Navarre, with soil from Parque de la Memoria in centre

The title of the talk was Cycling for the Memories: to honour those who fought against fascism, and to remember those who died. Eight members of the club started the ride, myself, Pippa, Terry Lynch, Charles Jepson, Manuel Moreno, Ruth Coates, Martin Perfect, and Lyn Hurst, and we were joined near Caspe in Aragon by our Catalan member Anna Marti, who lives just north of Barcelona.  Maite de Paul Otoxtorena, who hails from San Sebastian in the Basque country, but now lives in Ammanford near Swansea, was our liaison with all of the people we met in Spain, and she joined us at Calafell in Catalonia. And we shouldn’t forget Margaret Jepson, who was the driver of our support bus.

Chalking names onto the monument

Chalking the names

National Clarion has a long standing involvement with the Spanish Civil War, and three of our members, Ray Cox, Roy Watts, and Tom Oldershaw, died fighting in the International Brigades. One of the purposes of the ride was to honour their memory, and one of the most moving moments of the whole trip was when we leaned three bikes against a memorial plaque at Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda, in Navarre,  and chalked their names onto the monument.  As well as this involvement with the International Brigades, two of our members, Ted Ward and Geoff Jackson, cycled from Glasgow to Barcelona in 1938, raising money for Aid to Spain, and we recreated that ride in 2008, during which we met many of the cyclists and other contacts whose acquaintance we would renew in 2013, not least our friends in Gernika Cycle Club, who as in 2008 joined us for the first four days of our ride.  [For anyone interested in that earlier ride, the blog is at]

Although this was a cycle ride the main purpose of the trip was an educational and publicity one, but something should be said about the actual ride however brief. We had some very hard days in the saddle, not least because we had a timetable where we had to be present for civic receptions, and other meetings with memorial groups and other associations. In nine days we cycled a total of 500 miles, and thanks to Terry, who has a state of the art Garmin computer on his bike, can break that down a little by saying that we spent a total of 36 hours in the saddle, with the longest day being 80 miles, our average speed over the 500 miles was 13mph, and top speed was 46mph on a mountainous descent on the second day. During the ride, as in 2008, we had daily exposure in the print, TV, and radio media, and one of the tasks at the end of the day was reviewing press and other reports from the previous day. I would like to concentrate on two of the events of the trip, the exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, and our reception at the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda.

After the cycling was over on 25 October we were invited to the opening of an exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, in Sant Feliu de Llobregat which is about 15 miles or so east of Barcelona. The organiser of the exhibition, Carles Vellejo, is the son of one of the organisers of the 1936 Olympiad, and Carles particularly wanted Clarion to officially open the exhibition because of our club’s history, in that many of our members went to participate. The event of course never took place because of the launch of the military coup, and some of the Clarion members, including Roy Watts, stayed on to fight against the fascists in the International Brigade. At the exhibition, I presented to Carles a framed letter of support from the Library, signed by Lynette, Jane, Sam, and 16 volunteers, as well as a framed illustration from the library archives of ribbons of the 1937 Workers’ Olympiad in Antwerp, from the Bolton Clarion scrapbook. These were well received by Carles, as his father had participated at Antwerp, and everyone present, but unfortunately, all the pictures from the night, except this one were wiped from our camera!

At Sant Feliu

All of the riders, with Mayor of Sant Feliu, members of Sant Feliu Cycling Club, and members of the Garibaldi Association, with original 1937 flag of Italian Brigaders

The exhibition itself was most interesting, and Carles said that in future venues he would be sure to include the letter and the Bolton Clarion prints from the library. As a poignant postscript to this episode, we learned after we were back home that Carles, a lifelong republican and trade unionist, had been tortured over ten days in a large police station in Barcelona, said police station is now the home of the CCOO socialist trade union, and a visit there, with Carles, was our first civic reception in Barcelona. A fitting coda I feel of the unfinished business still left over from Spain’s years of civil war and the subsequent dictatorship.

Without doubt the visit on Sunday 20 October to the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda was the most moving of the whole trip. Setting out early from Logrono, we reached the town of Lodossa where we were met by cyclists from all over Navarre and the Basque country, and we set out together about 50 strong for a ride of about 5 kilometres to Sartaguda. Carrying various flags and banners, including the one that adorned the table during the talk at the Library (see photo above), we arrived at the park at about noon where we were met by the mayor and members of the Association of the Widows of Sartaguda. It is known as the town of widows because when the fascists took over the town in 1936, they murdered almost 100 of the male inhabitants, which was 8% of the total population. As one of the speakers said at the inauguration of the park in 2008, this was ” Truly a massacre. Those murdered were the elected officials of the town, as well as other civic leaders such as teachers, lawyers, indeed anyone who was suspected of being supporters of the democratically elected Second Republic”.

Handing over the soil

Presenting the Parque soil to the Library

The park itself was opened in May 2008, after years of fundraising, with the support of other associations of historical memory, that had mushroomed since a famous case in 2000 in which a Madrid journalist had discovered and opened the grave of his grandfather and 12 others who were murdered in the wake of the fascist victory. While there I spoke with a lady named Maria del Carmea Moreno Galetxl, who told us her story of the long years of humiliation that her mother, and the other widows, had to endure in the years of the dictatorship, including having to parade around the town with insulting signs tied around their necks, and others who had their hair shaved, like the collaborators in France in 1944. In their case though, no crime was committed, these, and other petty humiliations were inflicted not because of what they had done, but for who they were.

While there we were presented with red bandanas with the Parque’s logo, by relatives of those who were murdered, the flag we brought to adorn the table as we gave the talk, and with soil of the Parque, wrapped in one of the red bandanas, which was given to us by Julio Sesma, President of the Village Association of Widows. This soil has now been formally presented to the Library, and accepted by Maggie Cohen on behalf of the trustees, and will stay in the Library wrapped in its red park bandana as a symbol of friendship between the Library and the Parque. In the inaugural speech for the Parque in 2008, the President of the Association of Widows, Julio Martinez, said, ” from today on we wish our village to be known as the village of memory and hope”.  In this lovely park in Navarre this hope is given solid form, and I urge anyone who visits this part of Spain to visit it and ponder on its message.

Since coming back from the ride we have kept in touch with our friends, and were especially thrilled with notice we received on 14 November that the Parliament at Pamplona had passed a new law for the Reparation of Victims of 1936.  Many of those who we met at Sartaguda were also at the Parliament that day, and afterwards sent us photographs of their celebration of “our great victory” in the Parliament. Thus the struggle for justice in Spain for the Widows of Sartaguda, and the countless others who were murdered and mistreated during the long and bitter years of Franco’s dictatorship goes on.

And work goes on in the Library as well concerning the struggle in Spain. My own project at the moment is cataloguing two folders of Spanish Civil War photographs, one of which is this one.

Aileen Palmer with Thora Silverthorne

Aileen Palmer (right) with Thora Silverthorne

It is a hitherto unknown picture of Australian interpreter Aileen Palmer, and the English nurse Thora Silverthorne, while on the Aragon front. Aileen Palmer had been in Spain at the time of the coup, and in fact had been working as translator for the Workers’ Olympiad when the coup broke out. When I found this out it seemed an apt illustration of the ongoing links that this great Library has with Spain, past and present, and I hope in the future that these links, both with the Parque and the wider progressive elements in Spain, can be strengthened and extended.

I will end this blog contribution as Pippa and I ended our talk: Viva la República!!!!!

Stuart Walsh

PS More information about the event at the Parque de la Memoria is at

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In 1923 Dan Griffiths asked ‘What is Socialism?’ … now we have all the answers

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 6, 2014

The library has just received a very exciting donation of around 100 letters written to Dan Griffiths in 1923 in response to his question What is socialism?.

Dan, a school teacher in Llanelli, was very active in the labour movement and considered standing for parliament for the Labour Party, but stood down in favour of another candidate.  He also wrote a number of books, including What is Socialism?: a symposium – the book that the definitions of socialism were included in.

Dan’s great-niece, Rosemary, has kindly donated the folder of letters, which were received from a wide spectrum of people including politicians, trade unionists and writers, to the library along with a group photograph which includes both Dan and Ramsay MacDonald.

Dan Griffiths (third left) with Ramsay MacDonald and others

Most of the letters are very positive and give full and detailed responses to Dan’s question,  but a letter from May Starr of Plebs states:

“I am writing at Com. Horrabin’s request .. with reference to his definition of socialism he asks me to say that he really does not wish to add anything further to his definition.  In fact he feels that there is nothing to add to that particular statement – it must stand and fall as it is, and being an exceedingly hard pressed and busy chap begs to state that he can’t face the ordeal of starting all over again.  If the space really mus be filled up why not add “Buy the Plebs, 6d monthly” or similar phrases.” 

Other highlights of the collection include letters from Ramsay MacDonald, Ellen Wilkinson, Alfred and Ethel Holdsworth, Leonard Woolf, AJ Cook, GDH Cole and Tom Mann.

Letter from Ellen Wilkinson

Letter from Ellen Wilkinson

We are extremely grateful to Rosemary for giving us these letters which provide a fascinating insight into the politics of the 1920s.

Jane Taylor

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The Cato Street conspirators – a little bit of extra history hidden in the Library

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 3, 2014

The Library has a great collection of material relating to trials of the last 200 years, from suffragettes to the Shrewsbury pickets, from Meerut to Hone.  There are 205 items on our catalogue with the subject term ‘trials’ – have a browse!

Some of our most rare material dates from the early 19th century and concerns radicals accused of crimes from seditious libel to treason.   One such item is a two-volume account of the trial of the Cato Street conspirators.  A group of men involved in radical politics plotted to kill government ministers dining at Lord Harrowby’s house on 23 February 1820. The conspirators assembled in a hayloft in Cato Street, near Grosvenor Square in London.  However, the ministers were not at the house and it was a trap. George Edwards, a member of the group, was in fact an agent provocateur working for the government.

The trials of Arthur Thistlewood, James Ings, John Thomas Brunt, Richard Tidd, William Davidson, and others, for high treason, at the Sessions House in the Old Bailey, … 17-28th April, 1820, with the antecedent proceedings: in two volumes was published shortly after the trial from the verbatim shorthand notes of William Brodie Gurney.   Interesting indeed.  But the Library’s copy of volume 2 has a few even more exciting pages bound in at the back.  They show printed specimen handwriting from the accused men.  According to our founders Ruth and Eddie Frow a few copies of the book were printed with these pages, after the Counsel for the prisoners asked each of them to write something.

William Davidson, one of the accused, was born in the 1780s in Jamaica. He answered the request by writing the following:

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is a folly and a shame upon him.
Thou shalt not oppress a stranger in a strange land.
Thou shalt not pervert the judgement of a stranger.
W Davidson

On 28 April 1820, William Davidson, James Ings, Richard Tidd, Arthur Thistlewood and John Brunt were found guilty of high treason. They were hanged outside Newgate Prison on 1 May 1820.

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From Right to Left: a (training) archivist’s journey

Posted by wcmlibrary on January 20, 2014

During the course of their careers many archivists will have the opportunity to work at different repositories with archive collections that cover a variety of subjects.

However none appear to be so distinctly opposite than the collections I have worked with in the last 12 months.

Whilst studying for my course in Archives and Records Management at Liverpool University I was required to complete a two-week cataloguing placement at an archive repository.  In January I came to work at the Working Class Movement Library tasked with beginning to catalogue the papers of the Communist Party of Britain. As users and supporters of the Library will know the archives collections here include records of trade unions and working class politics, protest and campaigning.  

EVT-MINE-0022Before starting my course I worked as an Archive Assistant at the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge. The Archives Centre is primarily known for holding the papers of Sir Winston Churchill but also collects. In the course of my job I was able to work with and explore many of the collections held at the Centre including the papers of Margaret Thatcher.

So it’s been rather a remarkable change to go from working with the archive of Conservative Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher to exploring the papers of the Communist Party. And my surroundings have changed too from working around portraits of Churchill and Thatcher to busts of Lenin and trade union banners!

Of course as an archivist my job is to help catalogue and preserve the papers under my care whatever their nature, and as a lover of British history I have found it just as fascinating to be around the unique history held at the Library as I did working with the eminent collections at Churchill College.

Philip Cosgrove (with illustration supplied by the Library of a poster in our collection! We’d like to thank Phil for his sterling work giving us a structure for cataloguing the CPB papers which have been sitting awaiting attention for some years… Any other student or volunteer archivists out there, give us a shout…) 

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Benny Rothman and the Police Officer – the story of an iconic photograph

Posted by wcmlibrary on December 4, 2013

An account of the meeting at the 50th anniversary of the trespass in 1982 between Benny Rothman and myself, Peter Jackson, former Police Sergeant in charge of New Mills Police Station where the arrested trespassers were first taken.

Being a keen hill walker and part time National Park Ranger I was always interested in the history of the ‘Peak’ and the fight for access to the moors and had already met Benny at his lectures and on his visits to the area.

Benny Rothman and Peter Jackson

Benny Rothman and Peter Jackson

At the 50th anniversary I was chatting to Benny when someone took the picture in question.  I had mentioned at some time that my father, Harvey Jackson who had lived in Stalybridge as a teenager, had been involved in a violent confrontation with so called ‘keepers’ around the time of the trespass.  My father by now was living in retirement in Scotland but happened to be visiting us in Glossop when the 60th anniversary was due, whilst discussing this he informed me that he was present at that time and his incident was on that day.  He came with me to the 60th and met Benny and the others.  Benny and myself became good friends and exchanged information.  I only saw the photo and myself for the first time at the last celebration at New Mills Town Hall when I met staff from the Salford Working Class Movement Library.

Because of the efforts of the trespassers we are all able to enjoy the freedom of the moorlands.

Peter Jackson, Glossop

The library holds a collection of Benny Rothman’s papers, amongst which is this iconic photograph.  If you would like to look at the papers please let us know.

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12 Months Hard…. or ‘The more things change…’

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 30, 2013

“For months, the people have suffered under a Tory Government. After dangling a host of plausible promises before the electors, they calmly set about running the country in the traditional Tory manner.

“After promising a cut in the cost of living they allowed process to soar. Instead of full employment, unemployment has more than doubled. After a faithful pledge to provide better social services they have ruthlessly cut education expenditure and imposed charges on Labour’s health service.

“This selfish class Government have frozen wages and allowed profits to soar. They have cut food subsidies and given tax reliefs to the rich. They have spent their time handing out sops to their big business friends.”

Sounds familiar?  As is often the case at the library, I came across the pamphlet this extract comes from quite by chance. I couldn’t help but be struck by how this could have been written today.

Pamphlet cover image

In fact, the Reynolds News pamphlet ’12 Months Hard’ was written a year after the Conservatives came to power in 1951. An election, it turns out, which was all the more unfair for the fact that the Conservatives got in with a majority of 16, despite having about a quarter of a million votes fewer than Labour. Another of those examples of why voting reform would surely make democracy a bit more representative.

But returning to ’12 Months Hard’, it really is amazing and rather sad that, sixty years on, the same old Tory policies still have the same effect on the ‘hard working people’ they claim to represent.

Neil Dymond-Green

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An exciting new Russian Revolution acquisition

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 23, 2013

We’re finding some brilliant nuggets amongst papers and pamphlets of labour historian and former Trustee of the Library John Smethurst, which his widow Alice has kindly donated to us.

Here for instance is a page from ‘What happened at Leeds’, a report by the Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates.

What happened at Leeds

The Leeds Convention of June 1917 has been described as perhaps the most remarkable gathering of the period, with contributions from across the breadth of the Labour movement.  There was eager debate, sparked by events in Russia, by 1,150 delegates including Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Sylvia Pankhurst, Bertrand Russell, Dora Montefiore and Philip Snowden.

The first resolution, moved by Ramsay MacDonald, hails the Russian Revolution.   This fourth resolution calls on delegates to ‘work strenuously for a peace made by the peoples of the various countries, and for the complete political and economic emancipation of international labour’.

To find out more, come and read the whole pamphlet here at the Library.  Thanks Alice – and of course the much-missed John – for such an excellent addition to our Library.


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‘Darn that Picasso’ – a Manchester Weekender event to remember

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 18, 2013

On 26 April this year, the anniversary of the aerial bombing of the town of Gernika in 1937 which led Picasso to paint his sombrely magnificent Guernica, we published a blog posting introducing the Re-Making Guernica project, the inspiration of a group of academics, artists and makers at the University of Brighton who invited activists to join them in creating an art of protest against fascism.  The Library played its part in their initial research about the painting coming to England. Now read on…

It was with great excitement that we looked forward to the arrival of Maude Casey, with the banner she and other artist activists have been working on, for our Manchester Weekender event Darn That Picasso last Saturday.

With trepidation too of course. Would anyone come?  Would anyone join the walk Suzanne Hindle was leading up the Crescent, following the yarn trail which’d sneakily appeared overnight thanks to guerilla activity by the King’s Arms knitters? Guerilla knitting outside the Library

We needn’t have worried.  Well before our official opening time of 2pm people were starting to come in, and Suzanne brought an influx of 17 walkers.  Maude gave the group an impassioned talk about the political background to the project, as well as about Picasso’s own starting point for creating the painting, and Dora Maar’s often unacknowledged part in its development.

Sewing the Guernica bannerAnd then people set to sewing!  Some were skilled, some less confident but still eager to play their part in such a lovely collaborative venture.

Sewing the Guernica bannerMuch tea was drunk, many stories were shared – including Adrine Middleton’s tale of how she’d seen the original Guernica when the vast painting travelled, extraordinarily, to Manchester in 1939.

Comments included:

‘A fantastic idea and a truly beautiful object. Thank you’

‘An excellent way of getting people together to remember the horrors of war’

‘Great. Friendly, comradely atmosphere and a cracking project’.

It’s been mooted that we should build on the afternoon to create a banner of our own. Thoughts?

In the meantime many many thanks to Maude for travelling up from Brighton to share the banner and its stories with us.  And to everyone who contributed.

Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager (I’ll try and do a Storify account of the event soon…)

Sewing the Guernica banner

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The Price of Coal – the Senghenydd mining disaster, 14 October 1913

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 14, 2013

October 14th marks the centenary of the worst mining disaster in British history. This involved the death of 440 men and boys at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd – 439 miners and one rescue worker. The death toll was part of the overall number of 1752 miners who died that year.

The background is important to an understanding of the disaster in that it followed a period when the safety of miners had been the subject of Parliamentary debate and legislation. The Coal Mines Act 1911 specified standards in respect of managers, safety qualifications and inspections and the provision of safety lamps and adequate ventilation. In the Parliamentary debates in November 1911 there had been disagreements about some aspects of mine safety but there was a general view, endorsed by the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, that the Act offered the possibility of increased safety standards. The mine owners, the Universal Steam Coal Company, a part of Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Ltd, were required to make improvements by 1 January 1913 but requested a delay until September. By the time of the accident in October the work had not been carried out.

With thanks to Fionn Taylor/Billy Williams,

With thanks to Fionn Taylor/Billy Williams,

The explosion happened at 08.10 at a time when 950 miners were underground and, although local rescue workers were soon on the scene, the recovery was hampered by large fires, thick smoke and roof falls.  439 miners died, including a large number of 14 year olds.  After three weeks, only one third of the victims had been brought to the surface and 11 bodies were never recovered.  The inquest in January 1914 returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’.

An Official Inquiry was held in 1914 and failed to offer a definitive judgement on the causes of the explosion but both the Company and the Colliery Manager were prosecuted under the Coal Mines Act 1911. The manager was charged with 17 offences and the Company four, and guilty verdicts were returned in respect of eight matters for the manager and one for the company.  For the offence most likely to have caused the explosion – the accumulation of coal dust – the manager, Edward Shaw was fined £5. Including the other offences the total was £24. The Company itself was found guilty on only one count – the failure to undertake ventilation work – and fined £10.  On the basis of these fines the local newspaper calculated just how small the value of the life of a miner was.

Senghenydd Colliery had been the site of a previous mining disaster in 1901 when 81 out of 82 miners had died and when there had also been an explosion. The Colliery finally closed in 1928 when the workforce was given one day’s notice of closure.

The disaster showed that whilst legislation had been passed with the intention of improving the safety of miners it was undermined both by companies arguing that improvements were too costly to be introduced right away, and by a critical lack of Inspectors. The struggle for safety in the mines continued to be pursued by the Miners’ Federation but many thousands more miners died and continue to do so in mines around the world.

In Senghenydd, the Aber Valley Heritage Museum has a display on the 1913 disaster. Resources at the Museum include mining related objects, photographic displays, archive films and interactive touch-screens.

Further Information

The WCML has a wealth of material on the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain and a volume of the work of David Owen looking at mining disasters in South Wales.

Two Web sites offer a wealth of material on the disaster and the effect on the local community:  This includes a roll call of all the known names of those who were killed at Senghenydd

The National Museum of Wales site contains material on Senghenydd and a link to the Official Inquiry Report:

David Hargreaves, Library volunteer

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