Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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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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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The ephemeral can get to the heart of the matter – why we like donations of political leaflets and campaign flyers

Posted by wcmlibrary on May 14, 2013

We’re always interested in receiving material from radical political campaigns people are involved in.  We don’t have much capacity here to be pro-active in going out and getting it, so it’s great when people think of us.  Leaflets, flyers and correspondence may seem ephemeral, but they can tell future researchers such a lot about how it really felt to be part of an activist campaign, or about the political feel of the time.  That sort of thing is what our readers always get excited about when they find it here!

Programme of 2013 Chesterfield May Day galaLast week, for instance, volunteer Stuart brought us in the programme of the Chesterfield May Day gala he’d been to over the Bank Holiday – and a nice badge to go with it.  We’ve got a great collection of May Day programmes from 1920 onwards, and this is a welcome addition.  Cheers Stuart.

We’ve also been sifting through the papers and books of activist and WCML reader Keith Hodgson, which were kindly sent across to us from Liverpool by his partner Janice after the sadness of his death in February.

Keith packed a lot into his 50 years – he was part of the Liverpool Anarchist Groups of the 1980s and early 1990s, was a founder member of Liverpool Anti-Fascists, and was  involved in the Troops Out Movement and the Phoenix Support Group for Irish Republican prisoners amongst many other campaigns.

A couple of random snippets to show the flavour of the papers from Keith which we’re adding to our collection:

* an interesting exchange between Merseyside anarchists in a squatted building and a representative from the Labour council on the question of getting building insurance to legitimise their presence;

* an anarchist critique of the Provisional IRA, discussing historical associations with Franco and the Nazis;

* a range of Troops Out movement material,  including delegation papers and benefit concerts, correspondence and attempts to reach across the sectarian divide.

Thanks for thinking of us, Janice.

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Making words work – an attendee’s perspective on Saturday’s EP Thompson event

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 17, 2013

The day held at the People’s History Museum on 13 April to celebrate 50 years of The Making of the English Working Class took place in the context of the death of Mrs Thatcher earlier in the week. Many speakers felt that they could not ignore such an event and, indeed, added some anecdotal material. The real triumph of the day was not the disparagement or veneration of any individual (even E.P. Thompson himself) but the extent to which the importance of the word emerged.

Whilst this might initially not be obvious in the efforts of Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake to read aloud that which was not written to be read aloud, what actually happened was that actors with the skill and commitment to read scholarly prose illuminated exactly what that prose was about. The Making is about words, about hearing the words of those with high ideals who thought that their words would change society but were met with the response of starvation, imprisonment and, for some, the scaffold. By the end of the day the ‘poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand loom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artisan and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott’ were successfully rescued ‘from the enormous condescension of history’.

The programme itself, put together with a wonderful sense of balance, celebrated the word in all manifestations. It was a testament to the power of the word that few people left early. When a less interesting contribution came along (and there were some) there existed the reassurance that what came next would be different.  The readings did not simply occupy the space between the personal stories and the academic readings they formed the glue: they gave the day cohesion.  They also reminded the audience that E.P. Thompson wrote with a profound respect for the intellect and the words of working people.  It is that respect which makes the book readable.

The People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library clearly put substantial effort into the organisation of this day.  It even finished on time, which is an achievement in itself. But, more importantly, the programme was a reflection of the purpose of both establishments.  The galleries and the archives record the stories and struggles of working class people and the centrality of the book, the speech and the pamphlet is shown in their collections of images, voices and, above all, words.  E.P. Thompson rightly celebrated the self-taught and showed in The Making the extent to which those seen as ‘ignorant’ were capable of sustained and sophisticated argument.  If they could not read, then newspapers and pamphlets could be read aloud and argued about.  The celebration of words that took place to celebrate The Making is a reminder that there are still many stories to be uncovered and many campaigns to be run.  The legacy of this day, and of The Making of the English Working Class itself, is to get out there and make those words work.

DW Hargreaves, WCML volunteer and attendee at the conference

[WCML would like to thank Craig Horner from the People’s History Museum for the huge amount of energy he put in to make this event such a success]

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‘Spirit of 45’ – interview with Ken Loach after he films at the Working Class Movement Library

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 18, 2012

In the General Election campaign of 1945, Nye Bevan laid out his views on why the Labour Party (and by inference, the working classes) should win the election.  “We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, now we are the builders. We enter this campaign at this general election, not merely to get rid of the Tory majority. We want the complete political extinction of the Tory Party.”  The Labour Party won the election with a landslide,  and Bevan went on to create the National Health Service.

Ken Loach, filmmaker, is in the process of making a film about this era. “It’s about the spirit of 1945, the election and war victories, and what people thought they were building when they took over the public utilities, including the mines,railways and established the NHS.”  His film will not be just a soliloquy on the past, and how bad things are today. “It’s to celebrate the possibilities that people had in the 40s and to remember them.”

Ken Loach at WCML

Ken Loach at WCML

In the film he interviews two of the nurses who met Bevan when he inaugurated the NHS at Trafford General Hospital in the northwest on 5 July 1948.  Ironically this hospital has recently been taken over by another local trust, the Central Manchester Foundation Trust, but its Accident and Emergency Service and Intensive Care Unit are now under threat. A campaign has been set up by local people to defend their local hospital services.

Campaign co-ordinator of Save Trafford General Jo Harding says: “We are concerned that local, thriving services such as our A&E and Intensive care units may be downgraded. Local people are telling the Trust that we want to keep our A&E services and we want reassurances that they will stay as local services.”

Ken Loach feels that the key principles of 1945 have been betrayed by successive politicians. “It began in the late 70s with Thatcher at the forefront of attacks on nationalised industries but carried on under New Labour. It is not politically correct to remember the times when we owned things collectively. Now people are taught to be competitive and not to work together as a team.”

He sees the election of George Galloway from the Respect Party last week  as an indicator of the public mood. “It shows the massive disrespect there is for the main political parties. The NHS did not happen without a party to promote it.”  He feels that if we are to reclaim the NHS, and other forms of common ownership, a new mass movement is needed. “We need people to come together, to stop the sectarian splits, stop the charismatic leaders and get together in a mass, democratic organisation.”

The remit of his 90 minute feature documentary is wide-ranging and he chose to do his research, and some of his filming, at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. The WCML was started by two Communists, Ruth and Eddie Frow, in the 1950s, when they joined together their love of each other and their book collection.

Over the years the Library has grown into a massive collection. The WCML Web site says “The Working Class Movement Library records over 200 years of organising and campaigning by ordinary men and women. Our collection provides a rich insight into working people’s daily lives as well as their thoughts, hopes, fears and the roles they played in the significant events of their time.”

In 1987 it moved to Salford  and has been funded by Salford City Council, as well as individual friends, trade unions and groups in the labour movement.  It is run by Trustees, who employ 3 members of staff, and there are also many volunteers who provide an essential service in maintaining the collection and organising activities ranging from talks to theatre performances and exhibitions.

Michael Herbert, Trustee, says “The Working Class Movement Library  embodies the spirit of 1945. We are about common ownership, collectivity and people working together to keep the Library as a free and accessible resource for all people.”

At the moment they are also under threat as their funding from Salford Council is cut. “We are asking people to join us as friends, to get their trade union or community group to donate to the library so that we can continue to maintain a resource for our community to learn about our history and to encourage them to continue that history.”  Ken Loach agrees: “Our history is very important. It’s where our strength comes from and is not reflected in the mass media.  This  library  is a very important institution.”

Spirit of 45 is co-financed by the BFI Film Fund with Film4 and Channel 4; the film will be a collaboration between Fly Film Company and Sixteen Films, It will have a cinema release at the end of the year and will then be shown on Channel 4.

Working Class Movement Library – see

Save Trafford General  – see


Bernadette Hyland, Library volunteer

This is a longer version of a post originally on Bernadette’s Lipstick Socialist blog,

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Thoughts from a new volunteer

Posted by wcmlibrary on August 25, 2011

I have volunteered here at the Working Class Movement Library for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and last week. During my time here I have come across some interesting things and have learnt a lot.

Kay BeauchampWhile alphabetising some donated newspapers I came across an article about the birth of FC United of Manchester in an issue of Class War from 2006. It was pure luck that I spotted it as I just saw the club’s badge on the back of the newspaper as I turned it over. If any of the other volunteers had been doing that job they would not have spotted it; and they would not have thought it had any significance even if they had found it.

On my first day of volunteering here it was the anniversary of Peterloo so I learnt all about that over the course of the day, and was shown a lot of material that the Library has about Peterloo.

While typing up extracts from the tour guide I learnt more about the artefacts that line the walls of the library. I learnt the origin of some of the pieces and the stories behind them.

Today I was alphabetising cards sent to Kay Beauchamp for her birthday in 1933 when she was in Holloway Prison and I wanted to know more of the story. I found that she’d been sent to prison for refusing to pay a fine imposed on the Daily Worker for attacking the arrest of Sid Elias of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. After sorting through all the postcards I went down to the archives and found the copy of the Daily Worker from 1933, a few days before Kay Beauchamp’s birthday, with a picture inside asking people to send her cards.

I have really enjoyed my time here at the Working Class Movement Library and am very glad that I was able to do my work experience here. The people here are very friendly and any work that has to be done is always very interesting.

Bethany Keys

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Book review – ‘Radical gardening’

Posted by wcmlibrary on August 10, 2011

George McKay has kindly sent us a copy of his new book, ‘Radical gardening’, for review and for our collection.  If the review below, by library volunteer David Hargreaves, whets your appetite, pop in and read it!


George McKay is Professor of Cultural Studies at Salford University and has produced a work which challenges the complacent perception of the garden as a private space filled with decking, non native species and the latest preoccupations of television gardening programmes. The presentation of the land, history and the politics of the garden is done in a lively fashion with some interesting and thought provoking characters and movements. The chapters on the Organic movement and Peace in the Garden are the strongest but the former would have benefitted from much more emphasis on the links between Organicism and Italian fascism rather than a preoccupation with Germany. The links between the notion of the ‘home soil’, dictatorship, the perceived failure of democracy and the ‘natural’ leadership role of the aristocracy which characterised the interwar years is fertile ground which McKay could have explored more. Suffice it to say, however, the chapter does remind one that it is necessary to place ‘radical’ organisations like the Soil Association in historical perspective in order to ensure that what might now be seen as ‘progressive’ can be better understood.

The examination of the ‘polemic landscape’ of the garden in terms of the war memorial & the peace garden is one which is genuinely illuminating. The ‘masculine domination’ of the military garden and the expression of power and control which emerges from the control of landscape are important starting points for understanding the political meanings of the garden space. The influence of order in garden design is contrasted with the destruction of war, the imposition of military disorder upon a landscape which is well illustrated by the look at the symbolism of the poppy.  As McKay says ‘even flowers talk of war and peace’ and this is well illustrated by consideration of the peace garden as ‘public social space of the park reframed within a discourse established by the contemporary peace movement’. Whilst it is noted that most of these are small in scale and ambition, the role of the Peace Gardens in the regeneration of the centre of Sheffield is well presented.

The presentation of the garden as a ‘liberatory zone by disenfranchised or marginal groups in society’ starts off in a promising fashion but the presence of the Diggers and the story of St George’s Hill in the midst of accounts of the hippies of San Francisco and the growth of the Pop Festival rather diminishes the importance of a significant series of events in English history. That might well reflect my (mis)understandings of cultural historians but the work sometimes seems to give the reader no sense of the relative weight of each component part. Some readers might be comfortable with such an approach, it does have the advantage of making links and exploring contrasts which a more mainstream work on gardening would have rejected. This is perhaps best illustrated by the re-appearance of the Diggers in the chapter on guerrilla gardening. But the work is content to explore the presentation of that link without an accompanying critical analysis. The presence of many diverse cultural references sometimes add value to the work but one gets the sense  of walking round a rather over- planted garden where the significant and/or beautiful plants have to compete for attention with the flashy but inconsequential. (But, as any cultural studies writer would point out, exactly by whom and why can such judgements be made?)

I should mention the very imaginative use of photographs to accompany the text and the comprehensive endnotes which allow the reader to pick up some of the many threads of the issues presented here.

This is worth reading and especially with a view to thinking about gardens more openly and following up some of those important threads.


George McKay. Radical gardening: politics, idealism & rebellion in the garden. London: Frances Lincoln, 2011.


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Fascinating parallels with our current situation

Posted by wcmlibrary on January 21, 2011

Material being catalogued here at the Library from the Sheffield branch of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement shows direct parallels with our current situation with regard to protests against government cuts to services.  A typed letter and delegation form advises ‘fellow workers, all working class organisations,  unemployed workers’ and, most progressively for its time or indeed for any time, ‘working women in their homes’, of a Mass Conference Against Economy Cuts (to unemployment benefits; social services; and wages, and against the National Government), to be held at the A.E.U. Institute, Stanley Street, Sheffield on the 3rd October 1931. The letter, headed ‘The Fight Against Economy Cuts’ states that “The working class of Britain stands before the gravest menace which it has ever been called upon to face. To overcome the crisis of British capitalism, the workers are to be driven to starvation and misery…every worker is anxiously looking forward to a great mass mobilisation of workers to challenge the vicious drive of the financial dictatorship against Unemployment benefits, against Social Services and against Wages…”.

Hazel, WCML volunteer

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Musings of a book cleaner

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 24, 2010

From library volunteer Marjorie, who has the perk of reading books as she dusts them for us:

‘Nothing EVER changes!’

Today I came across a book called ‘Mann’s Black Book’ of 1842.

Two subjects – firstly ‘British Aristocracy or an Exposure of the more monstrous abuses in the state and the church – with Blacklists of Pensioners, Royal, Aristocratic, Legal, Civil, Diplomatic, Heredity. Military and Clerical’.

This had a quotation from the Bible – Exodus no less:  ‘and the locusts went up over the land of Egypt and rested in all the coasts – very grievous they were’.

And secondly – ‘How the Money Goes or the Costs and Mischiefs of Misgovernment in Great Britain, Ireland, India and the Colonies’.

I am certain this person (there is no name, sadly) would be right at home – and in agreement with – some of today’s political ‘bloggers’ – so yes, nothing EVER changes!

Yours, a devoted fan of the WCML


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