Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘Manchester’

An exciting Manchester link to our Holloway suffragette badge

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 4, 2014

Suffragette BadgeWe have on display in our hall a suffragette badge. The badge is styled as a portcullis with the prison motto of the arrowhead mounted on the face in the suffrage campaign colours of purple, green and white. On either side of the badge are free-hanging chains representing the gate ropes. The badge was presented to imprisoned suffragettes on their release from Holloway.¬† Richard Pankhurst credits his mother Sylvia with designing the so-called ‘Holloway Badge’.








Until now the story of whose badge it was was lost.¬† We’ve just discovered however that this particular badge has a fascinating local link. It was presented to Lillian Forrester in 1913, when she was released after she had been imprisoned for damaging artworks in Manchester Art Gallery.

The Manchester Guardian of 4 April 1913 reported the event as follows:

‚ÄúJust before nine ‚Äėclock 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 the big room followed by another attendant, who was nearby. They found three women [Annie Briggs, Lillian Forrester and Evelyn Manesta] 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 ‚Äď one by Millais, the other by Watts. The attendants at once rushed to arrest them but as there were three to two of them 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 doors 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.‚ÄĚ

The three women arrested in the Art Gallery

The three women arrested in the Art Gallery – l to r Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta, Lillian Forrester

The women had left in the gallery a small hammer, around which was tied a ribbon declaring “Votes for Women” and “Stop Forcible Feeding”.¬† Lillian Forrester made a statement stating that ‚Äúwe broke the glass of some pictures as a protest but we did not intend to damage the pictures‚ÄĚ.¬† When the case came to court she was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. The judge stated: ‚ÄúIf the law would allow I would send you round the world in a sailing ship as the best thing for you.”

The Art Gallery story is told in detail by Michael Herbert at


Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager

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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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News of some lovely recent donations – there’s always something new to exclaim about at the Library!

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 9, 2013

Some fantastic donations of books and booklets to the Library in the past week.

* From Elisabeth Morris, daughter of the late Alderman Wright Robinson, items from amongst his papers relating to public health in Manchester.¬† One is ‘The human side of slum clearance’, written in 1935 by three social workers relating to rehousing in Hulme.¬† Although it is a formal ‘independent enquiry’ it is written in a style that’s a far cry from the official-ese in which such documents are often presented today:

‘The children like it. They are naughtier, we were told, they run wild, and they climb trees. The only thing that seems surprising is that in the short space of a few months they can recover from the constrictions of the crowded streets and learn to climb trees’.

‘One old lady said that she had not expected to live amongst green trees until she was taken in the Southern Cemetery and that she would not go back if she was offered the Town Hall clock’.

* And from Roger Smalley, who attended the Ethel Carnie Holdsworth workshop here on Saturday, a fantastic bag full of books by Ethel which are new to us – including a first edition of Miss Nobody, widely believed to be one of the first novels published by a British woman of working class background, and the centenary of the publication of which was the starting point for the event.¬† Also the catalogue of the Great Harwood Co-operative Society Library – lovely enough as it is, but this was actually Ethel’s copy.


See for Elinor Taylor’s write-up of the celebration.

And thanks to Elisabeth and Roger for their generous gifts.

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Additions to @archiveshub, by our man on the Benny Rothman express…

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 30, 2013

The Archives Hub provides a gateway to many of the UK’s richest historical archives. The team is based at Mimas, in The University of Manchester.¬† It has nearly 200 contributors from all across the UK, including higher education, research centres and specialist repositories.

The Library had already posted descriptions of 23 of our collections of rich and varied material to this invaluable research web site, including our holdings about the Spanish Civil War and International Brigades, various unions including the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers, and the Greater Manchester and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  Now descriptions of the Benny Rothman collection, the Lancashire Women against Pit Closures and Manchester and Salford Film Society archives and our Unity Theatre material have also been added, alongside five other collections, to flag up to researchers more about what we can offer. You can find them at

Ken Whittaker, volunteer (who, splendid to relate, travelled to the Library, on the day he wrote this piece, on a train called ‘The Benny Rothman’!)

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From the Manchester Martyrs to the Birmingham Six – one book, two reviews!

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 31, 2012

Two reviews by Library volunteers of The Manchester Martyrs by Joseph O’Neill  (Mercier Press, 2012,  ISBN 978-1-85635-951-1)


Kevin McPhillips:

The Manchester Martyrs by Joseph O‚ÄôNeill not only relates a milestone development in Irish nationalism, it also deals with a controversial event in Manchester’s history in the 19th century, one which is still alive in the minds of many Mancunians, ranging from those having concern about the judgements handed down to the Fenians to those who regard the killing of Sergeant Brett, in September 1867, as unjustifiable homicide. The arguments have flowed, ebbed, and flowed again from the 19th century to the 21st century and seem set to continue. The book deals with the origins and growth of Fenianism, the events surrounding the attack on the police Black Maria, and subsequent developments.

Many have heard of the Revolutionary Irish group, inspired by James Stephens a survivor from the Young Ireland uprising of 1848, that developed in the 1860s, but few appreciate the extent of its activities. They invaded Canada, plotted to assassinate Queen Victoria and attempted a rising in Ireland.  Nowadays it would be defined as international terrorism.  Yet the undertaking that has stood out above all the other exploits was an attempt to free prisoners on trial in Manchester in 1867.

In early September,1867, two leading Fenians were captured by police in Manchester. Soon others were taken into custody and also detained as suspects who had been involved in events in Ireland. It was while the prisoners were being taken from the courtroom to the prison at Belle Vue that the rescue was attempted. It did not go as planned. Shorts were fired and, disastrously, Sergeant Brett inside the van was mortally wounded.

A murder trial followed and initially all five accused were found guilty and condemned to death. Subsequently two sentences were rescinded but Allan, Larkin, and O’Brien were hanged on Saturday November 23rd 1867, in Manchester.

Intermingled are glances at the social history of the time. Most of this, naturally, concentrates on the condition of the Irish in Manchester where the population had been swollen in recent years by immigrants fleeing from the devastating effects of the potato blight that arrived in Europe in the mid-1840s and which took a particular toll in Ireland. Living conditions for working people in the 1860s were deplorable and at the bottom of the pile were the Irish.  Yet execrable as those circumstances were they did at least provide people with shelter and a means of subsistence.

These conditions were not particular to the Irish or to Manchester. In every country experiencing great influxes of immigrants there has been the same pattern of development; ghettoization, relative poverty, scapegoating, etc., and eventually assimilation with the host nation.

There is occasional leaning towards literary licence here, especially towards the end of the book. However the content does invite that sort of treatment even though it is gruesome enough on its own. Elsewhere proof reading could have been better but publishers are not as fussy about this as they used to be.

O’Neill says in his introduction that he did not set out to write an academic tome.

What he has done is help to fill the great gulf that exists between academic writings and those self-styled history books, badly researched, badly written, full of bias, which are interesting only as curios. Persistence of this grey area is borne out by the continuing popularity of TV programmes hosted by highly qualified historians. Viewers are not deterred by their professional styles but when it comes to their written works the average reader can be overwhelmed by footnotes, etc.  For the majority of those who are avid readers of history these are not prerequisites and so have been avoided here. This is a work based on extensive research about an event that has particular interest not only for readers in the Manchester area, but also for a much wider audience. For anyone interested in Fenianism, and Mancunian history, this is a stimulating tome and a good read.

Bernadette Hyland:

The Manchester Martyrs are part of the history of the Irish Community in Manchester and, in his introduction, the author Joseph O‚ÄôNeill explains why they are significant to him. ‚ÄúThroughout the 1950s when I was growing up in Manchester, the minute‚Äôs silence at the spot where the martyrs dies was part of our annual commemoration‚Ķit did more than forge a bond between the Irish community and the men who, there in our adopted city, died for Irish freedom.‚ÄĚ

O‚ÄôNeill has chosen to tell the story of the Martyrs as ‚Äúa history book written for the general reader‚ÄĚ. Unfortunately, this means that it is difficult to find out what sources he has used to write ‚Äú a narrative which captures the drama inherent in the events.‚ÄĚ In the prologue he writes a melodramatic account of the execution of the Martyrs and, without knowing where he got ¬†the information from, it is ¬†hard to reconcile the drama with the real events.

The Martyrs were three members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (also known as the Fenians), who were wrongfully executed for the death of a policeman during¬† the successful rescue attempt of two of their comrades in Manchester in September ¬†1867. The Fenians were ¬†part of an Irish tradition of rebellion against the occupation of the British in Ireland since the 12th century. James Stephens¬† played a¬† major¬† role in the creation of the Fenian movement. ¬†As O‚ÄôNeill says: ‚ÄúUnlike any previous Irish nationalist organisation, the one Stephens sought to create would combine the power of the Irish diaspora‚Ķwith that of the most virulent elements at home (Ireland)‚ÄĚ.¬† Most of the support for the Fenians came from America, building on the bitterness felt by the Irish who had been forced to leave Ireland after the famine in 1846,and the movement was full of ¬†men who had gained military experience in the American Civil War.

The story of the¬† Martyrs is the story of the Irish experience in Britain. And, although there are differences in the way in which the three men were unjustly tried and hanged ¬†for a crime they did not commit, there are also ¬†parallels with contemporary events, and in particular the case of the Birmingham Six. As the escaped Fenians were feted in America, ¬†O‚ÄôNeill explains that the response of the Chief Constable of Manchester was: ‚ÄúThe Fenian leaders had escaped but those who had rescued them would not. It was to these men that the police now turned their attention.‚Ä̬† And the same thing happened with the Birmingham Six. The police and the government knew they were not guilty of bombing pubs in Birmingham, but framed them anyway. Someone had to be seen to be paying.

There are many aspects of this book I find objectionable. In particular it’s the way in which the author’s own politics pervade  the whole narrative that is most unacceptable.  He has chosen to locate  the Martyrs within  a separate part of the history of the Irish in Manchester;  a pure, Catholic, Irish tradition. He fails to highlight the progressive nature of the Fenians; they were very much part of a progressive political tradition mirroring that of Thomas Paine. In their manifesto (which O’Neil puts in the index)  it is clear that they were  for universal suffrage, a free mind and,  most importantly,  the separation of church and state. They were part of the progressive tradition within the Irish community of republicans and socialists.

Like ONeill‚Äôs father, my father also took part in the Manchester Martyrs commemoration, but unlike him,¬† he saw this ¬†as part of a republican socialist tradition, ¬†and one which he passed onto his children.¬† O‚ÄôNeill ¬†is scathing in his attack on 2nd¬† and 3rd generation Irish: ‚ÄúTheir children, with that chameleon plasticity that marks the Irish wherever they settle, assimilated the next generation even more.‚ÄĚ He fails to mention the numerous Irish such as myself who have been involved in Irish politics in Britain,¬† in groups¬† such as the Irish in Britain Representation Group, the Labour Committee on Ireland, Troops Out etc. ¬†For someone who was a history teacher – presumably in the Roman Catholic¬† sector – one must ask the question: why he wasn‚Äôt active in promoting Irish studies?

Whilst O’Neill  is  happy to expand on the reasons why the Irish supported the Fenians in the 1860s,  he cannot  extend  the same analysis to  the Irish of his own generation. He does not want to talk about the way in which the British government used legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act  to stop a debate in the Irish community in Britain about human rights abuses in Northern Ireland. He does not  want to talk about the widespread and unacceptable anti-Irish racism faced by children such as me growing up in 1970s Britain.

O‚ÄôNeill¬† says that the story of the Manchester Martyrs ¬†‚Äúspeaks of the transformative power of suffering.‚Ä̬† He doesn‚Äôt explain what this means. I would argue that ¬†the history of the Irish community in Manchester (like many other communities) does show that our community has suffered, but that our life has improved through people getting together and challenging inequality and injustice. I suspect¬† O‚ÄôNeill¬† is calling for some kind of Catholic revival with the poor Martyrs¬† as ‚Äúsaints‚ÄĚ.¬† If they were in a grave, ¬†I am sure that they would be turning in it,¬† when ¬†faced with such a usurpation of their lives and politics.

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Book Review – ‘Malcolm X, visits abroad April 1964-February 1965’

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 1, 2011

In¬†Malcolm X, Visits Abroad Marika Sherwood uncovers the story of the iconic black leader‚Äôs visit to Manchester¬†in December 1964, a ¬†Manchester very different from today. Whilst black people had been living in the city since the mid-19 Century, ¬†¬†mass migration in years after ¬†the Second World War¬† meant that black people were now working on the railways and buses and ¬†in mills and factories. They faced a hostile city in which a colour bar was openly practised in ¬†many lodging houses, pubs and dancehalls ¬†as there was no legislation forbidding it.¬† ¬†Marika writes, ‘According to those I interviewed, the city was very segregated with the West Indians and Africans living in Moss Side and Pakistanis in another district called Chorlton-on-Medlock’.

In the early 1960s Malcolm was viewed ¬†at home and abroad as a dangerous man. His ¬†political journey ¬†had started after he had become involved¬† with petty crime and drugs and been ¬†jailed.¬† Like many political activists going to prison provided him with the time and space to educate himself. On leaving prison he left behind his family name (the name of slave owners) and took ‚ÄúX‚ÄĚ to denote his rebirth and entry into the black Muslim separatist movement of the Nation of Islam.

The NOI struck a chord¬† with some black people in the 1950s in the USAwith its espousal of separation of the races and a fundamentalist approach to Islam and it began to attract considerable numbers of converts.¬† By 1957 Malcolm was the National Representative of the founder, Elijah Muhammad, and a key figure in what had become a¬† nationwide mass movement.¬†¬†¬† As Malcolm developed his political thinking, however, ¬†he¬† began to reject that of the NOI. ¬†Marika notes that¬† ‘his disappointment at his inability to persuade the NOI to engage in political action is well documented.¬† We also know that his discovery of Muhammed‚Äôs hidden mistresses and illegitimate children disturbed him deeply’.¬† Malcolm‚Äôs comment on the death of President Kennedy in 1963 that it was a ‚Äúa case of chickens coming home to roost‚Ä̬† led to his final break with the NOI.

Malcolm was invited to speak in Manchesterby the Federation of Students‚Äô Islamic Societies, which was made up of undergraduates ¬†who were from Iraq, Malaya and Mauritius. ¬†The invitation had asked¬† Malcolm to ‚Äúexplain his stand on the question of racism in the US and also to clear the misconception the media had of the man.‚ÄĚ ¬†His ¬†visit to Manchester was not without problems. The President of the Students’ Union was not keen on the meeting, perhaps wary of public controversy,¬† and permission was only given two days before.¬† Publicised merely by the words ‚ÄúMalcolm X speaks‚ÄĚ, so many people wanted to attend ¬†the meeting that the door of the Union had to be closed one hour before the start ¬†as the hall was already packed. That day the university came to a standstill.

Malcolm X was one of the most influential black leaders of his generation and this is confirmed by some of the people who attended this meeting and are quoted in the book.¬†¬† ‘His talk was a historical survey of slavery and the Black situation. ..He was a most charismatic speaker, slow, clear and powerful.’¬†¬† Malcolm‚Äôs analysis of the situation had led him to form the Organization of Afro-American Unity and to now believe that black people in the USA would not get civil rights and freedom from the Government. Their struggle was about achieving human rights¬† and must be taken to the¬†United Nations.

Incredibly  no one filmed or even recorded the meeting so Marika has painstakingly  used interviews, newspaper and individuals’ memories to recreate the event.  She has produced in this book an important chapter in the life of one of the most influential  Black leaders of modern times. Malcolm’s travels and his political development continued until 21 February 1965when he was assassinated at a public meeting  in circumstances which are still deeply controversial.  But, as Marika points out in the book, many of the issues he grappled with including the effects of globalisation and his growing interest in socialism to counter racialism and inequality are as pertinent today as they were in the 1960s.

 Malcolm X,  Visits Abroad April 1964-February 1965 byMarika Sherwood (SavannahPress). ISBN 978-09519720-0-7. Available price £5.00 incl p&p from

By Bernadette Hyland

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Gagarin in Manchester

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 12, 2011

50th anniversary today of the first human in space – and a great story about nearly-lost film of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s visit to Manchester¬† on a trade union-sponsored tour in July 1961 at

The Library has lent a Soviet flag from its collection to Gagarin50, an exhibition of photography, fine art, mixed media and Soviet artefacts at the Waterside Arts Centre, Sale celebrating the anniversary and Gagarin’s visit to Manchester and Trafford.

The exhibition runs from 9 April to 4 June.¬† Astronomer Gurbir Singh will give a talk about Gagarin’s Manchester visit on Saturday 28 May at 1.30pm.

Details of the exhibition and its related activites can be found here.

For the Library’s own Web page on Gagarin in Manchester head here.

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Manchester in 1844

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 9, 2010

The town realises in a measure the Utopia of Bentham. Everything is measured in its results by the standard of utility; and if the BEAUTIFUL, the GREAT, and the NOBLE, ever take root in Manchester, they will be developed in accordance with this standard.

From Manchester in 1844: its present condition and future prospects by Leon Faucher


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