Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘women’

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, ‘Breaking the bonds of capitalism’

Posted by wcmlibrary on January 28, 2015

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth portrait

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth

We’ve just received from the author Roger Smalley a copy of his new book about Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, Breaking the bonds of capitalism: the political vision of a Lancashire mill girl (North West Regional Studies, Lancaster University, 2014).  We’ve written before in the blog about Ethel, the author of one of the first novels published by a British woman of working class background, and about our holdings of her books.

We also hold a decent run of The Woman Worker, the journal for which Ethel wrote after Robert Blatchford offered her a job in 1908.  This is the focus of a chapter in the new book.

In addition, we have in our collection two issues (Nos 8 and 12, Jan and May 1924) of the now very rare journal The Clear Light, published by Ethel and her husband Alfred, which is written about in detail in a further chapter in the book.    The May 1924 issue reported concerns about fascism in Britain and in October that year the Holdsworths turned The Clear Light into the organ of The National Union for Combating Fascism.

Ethel, in Roger Smalley’s words, ‘wrote poetry, novels, short stories and journalism in the cause of socialist unity, women’s rights, conscientious objection and the fight against capitalism and fascism. Much of her work was widely read, yet she died in poverty and obscurity’.  It is good to have this book in stock to bring together in detail Ethel’s many facets and remind the world of this early 20th century working class woman’s place in the tradition of British political dissent.


Come and have a read of the book, of Ethel’s novels, and of the many sources quoted in the book which we hold here in the Library.



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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:

“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 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 – 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.”

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 “we broke the glass of some pictures as a protest but we did not intend to damage the pictures”.  When the case came to court she was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. The judge stated: “If 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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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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Book review – ‘At the coalface: my life as a miner’s wife’

Posted by wcmlibrary on November 23, 2012

At the coalface: my life as a miner’s wife by Catherine Paton Black  ISBN 978 -0-7553-6325-4  Headline publishers.

Many books have been written about the Miners’ Strike 1984-85,  but few have been written by the wives of the miners. Catherine Paton Black’s book is important, not just because of her husband taking part in the strike but because she was one of the few women who were NUM members and became official pickets during the strike. It is also the story of why those mining communities had such a sense of solidarity during the strike: they realised that, without those jobs and their union, their lives would be one of poverty and instability. This is why they put up such a fight for their jobs and communities and why they were such an inspiration to people in Britain and across the world.  It was also the reason why they were dubbed “the enemy within” and why Thatcher was determined to destroy them.

Catherine was born in 1946 in Hamilton, near Glasgow. She came from a poor background.

 My father, George was a drunk gambler, always looking for a quick buck to pour down his throat, and my mum suffered a heart condition all her life and struggled to cope. Luckily my grandparents stepped into the breach and became my heroes.

At an early age she was aware of her future:

 From a young age us girls knew our fates. We’d grow up to be wives and mothers like our mums and maybe get a job in a factory if we had to. That was our lot in lives and we didn’t know any different.

Catherine left school at 15,  got a job in a factory and spoke out when she realised that they were earning very little in comparison to the profits the company was making:

 The strike never happened, but the seed had been planted. Even the lowliest paid worker had a voice if they wanted to use it.  Little did I know that was a principle I’d stick to much later in life.

Tradition in those small communities wasn’t just about what women did and what men did, it was also about who you married. Catherine meets Doug and when he comes to meet her granddad he asks Doug straight away “What colour are you?”,  referring to religion.   Catholics and Protestants did not mix,  so her granddad was relieved when he found out Doug was “blue” ie Protestant.

Through her relationship with Doug she gives the reader an insight into the horrors that his father and brothers experienced as miners:

Working conditions in the pits in the 40s and 50s were primitive. Before the modern machines arrived Doug’s father and brothers were at times quite literally going at parts of it with a pick axe…They were all injured at some point.

If young men didn’t want to go down the coalmines they had few other choices and for Doug that meant going in the Army.  In 1968, when she had their first child,  he left the Army and took the only other alternative, a job in a pit in Nottingham in England,  but as a surface worker. There were other advantages, as Catherine says,  after  living in a tenement in Glasgow they now were given

a smart new Coal Board house, with clean red bricks, it really did feel like a piece of heaven after where we had been living. The village, pronounced “Renoth” by locals, had been built especially for the pit and had some lovely rolling green fields, farmland and lake areas nearby.

Catherine was also now living near her Mum and sister,  who had moved south several years previously. Catherine and Doug had five children. His work on the surface did not pay enough to keep the family so she went  back to work.  Eventually Doug went down the mine to improve his wages while  Catherine joined  him in the colliery canteen (and joined the union).  Unfortunately he had an accident in the pit, injured his back and could not go back underground,  so the Coal Board found him another job at the pit:

 So Doug started a new role on the surface in an office alongside two poor fellas who’d lost their legs in terrible accidents.

During the Miners’ Strike of 84-85 the  Nottinghamshire coalfield  had many miners who did not support the strike and Catherine believes that this was because:

the mines in Notts employed lots of people from all parts of the country so fewer people felt a sense of loyalty to the area.

Controversially pickets from Yorkshire visited their area to try and get them to join the strike. Catherine did not support this:

As much as I supported the strike, I resented this. We didn’t want or need people from another county telling us what to do, but I did just wish more Nottingham communities were joining in.

Like many people from the coalfields she could see the government’s strategy of provoking the miners into striking at a time when they had been stockpiling coal at the powerstations. As she puts it:

It all seemed terribly cynical, like open war had been declared on miners. Yet they were decent, hard- working people who just wanted to protect their jobs and communities.

Many miners’ wives got involved with the strike,  but Catherine was different because she was an NUM member and she could officially join the picket line. Her husband didn’t want her to so  she went one  morning with her daughter:

after shinning down the drainpipe, we walked into the street, where we spotted other people coming down the road.

The other women commented:

We’re off to find a demonstration. We can’t just sit at home cooking and cleaning while all this is kicking off.

Catherine throws herself completely into political activity. She organises the soup kitchen and attends pickets and demos, travels around the country and comes across other people’s ways of life that she never knew existed. But she wasn’t interested in the bigger politics of the strike as she comments:

We had them all up here, including Scargill, but I never took time to listen. I wasn’t interested. …I was too busy to think or consider any further issues or the politics of it all.

For many miners’ wives (and miners) the strike showed them different ways of life and some of them took the opportunity to get an education and jobs and move away from the coal mining communities. Catherine was happy with the life she had,  and after the strike ended  she returned to her husband and family. And her feelings today about the strike?

Echoes of its legacy lives on. We’ll bear both the scars and the memories forever.

In 2012 with growing dissent about energy costs it is even clearer that the demise of the coal mining industry was not just a defeat for the NUM and its members,  but has left this country now hostage to large energy companies with a government that has no sympathy or concern  for poor families.

At the coalface is a reminder that communities and trade unions can work together to campaign for a better society and we need to remember those lessons now.


Bernadette Hyland

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Lucy Miller – a woman of many talents

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 4, 2012

We’ve just added to our stock of working class autobiographies a 60-page typescript by a woman called Lucy Miller, a Communist Party and later Labour Party member who was born in Battersea in 1903.  It covers her domestic and working life, which included a spell as a civil servant just after the second world war.  ‘Whilst working in Downing Street the Government decided that no Communist Party member should be employed in the Civil Service.  I was still an active Party member, so decided that instead of waiting to be sacked I would discharge myself.  I therefore told the supervisor that I was a Party member (much to her amazement) and that I would prefer to find other work’.

Lucy was highly musical, playing the piano and writing pieces for piano and orchestra, and taking an interest in the Workers’ Music Association.  Very sadly Lucy chose to entitle her autobiography ‘A wasted talent’, one reason being her ‘feeling that I should never achieve the music I so much wanted to create’.

Her life ended unhappily, but we are honoured that her friend Jean Garriock has given this account of her life to the Library – a place where ‘invisible histories’ of working women and men can be preserved and celebrated.

Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager

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Well done, Clarion cyclists

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 4, 2011

Cheers to WCML volunteer Stuart and all the other cyclists who have just completed a tour of Britain and Ireland to remember the volunteers from the British Isles who joined the International Brigades to fight Franco’s fascist-backed revolt against the Spanish Republic 75 years ago.  The tour, organised by the National Clarion Cycling Club and supported by the International Brigade Memorial Trust, covered 645 miles, calling at International Brigade memorials along the way to pay homage to the 527 men and women from Britain and Ireland who were killed in Spain.  The cyclists arrived in London in time for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street – see previous blog entry.

And an anecdote we couldn’t resist.  Stuart has brought us in – alongside some very welcome money for WCML badges and books he sold along the route! – a book compiled by Lynda Walker recollecting Madge Davison, policital activist and campaigner.   Having gone to work in a tobacco factoy in her native Belfast after leaving school she became active in the civil rights movement and later returned to study, eventually becoming a barrister.  The book describes Madge being respected in the profession for her ability to combine hard work and a down to earth approach. Her colleagues say that she could be heard in court saying ‘Well the craic is this M’lord’…


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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 – ‘Striking a Light’

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 3, 2011

This is the first we hope in a new series of reviews of books which have come in to the Library.  Let us know if you fancy contributing a review yourself!


Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History, by Louise Raw

Continuum Press ISBN 978-1-4411-1426-6 £17.99

Book coverLouise Raw’s book is not only a fascinating history of the matchwomens’ strike in 1888 but also an exposé of how little real research has been done into what has come to be seen as a turning point in British trade union history. The strike of 1400 women and girls at the Bryant and May factory has been underplayed in terms of their actions and the significance of the strike. As the author says: “I hope this book will go some way towards restoring to these women and their workmates their own voice and agency, serving both as a rewriting of the very beginnings of modern British labour history and as a tribute to the women”.

Louise starts off with the best of credentials for writing this political history for she has worked in the East End with local people and has herself been on strike with them. Her research on the Matchwomen has provided us with a new story about the women that has been ignored by more famous and lauded historians. This book is the first proper history of this group of women workers taking industrial action. She had to write a history without any autobiographies written by the individual women, and with all the participants long dead. Her account is fascinating not least because of Louise’s research methods. She spent several years laboriously tracing the women through local papers and history talks and eventually succeeded in interviewing and speaking to the grandchildren of those whom she believed were the true leaders of the strike.

One of the key myths of the strike is that Annie Besant (a middle class journalist and Fabian) actually led the strike. Louise demonstrates that in reality Besant was fundamentally opposed to the kind of action that the women instigated, in fact she wanted a more middle class compromise ie boycott of the Bryant and May products.

This is an important book on many levels but particularly in giving back to these women and their descendants the true history of their lives. Too often in histories the independent actions and motivations of working class people are ignored or underplayed. This book conveys to us an understanding of who these women were and why they decided to go on strike. Also it puts into context the vibrant political community they came from, which was largely an Irish community, a community that has through the years played a significant role in British trade union history. As Louise says: ”Certainly there is good evidence that the working-class Irish community in the Victorian East End was a politicized one. The London Irish brought with them traditions…passive mass defiance, street violence and armed rebellion.”

In this book Louise shows that the Matchwomen’s strike was an important part of the lead up to the wave of strikes, including the Great Dock Strike of 1889. which led to the birth of the trade union movement in this country and the creation eventually of the Independent Labour Party.  In 2011 as we are going through a major attack on public services in this country it is important that we look back and learn from past experiences. The Matchwomen are part of the fabric of the trade union movement in this country and as such quite rightly deserve their place in our history. I am confident Louise’s excellent and sympathetic book will ensure that this happens.

Bernadette Hyland

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Job seekers from eighty years ago…

Posted by wcmlibrary on May 25, 2011

Report in the Blackburn Times for Saturday May 2nd  1931:

Weavers as Servants

Clitheroe Association’s letter to Miss Bondfield

The executive of the Clitheroe Weavers’Association have written to the Minister of Labour (Miss Bondfield) deploring that “young girls are being compelled to take up work as domestic servants, or otherwise be deprived of their unemployment benefit”.

Miss Bondfield is asked by the executive to ascertain why employment exchanges at Salford,ManchesterandLeedsshould deem it necessary to fill vacancies in their areas from weavers at Clitheroe, when in those areas there is a total of 35,000 signing for employment and anxiously seeking work.

The letter, which is signed by Mr George Brame, secretary, proceeds: “My executive wish me to inform you that within the last few weeks several of our members have been asked if they would accept positions of domestic service at the same addresses in Salford  and Leeds, and because they refused to consent, owing to the distance from their homes, the Court of Referees has subsequently disqualified them from receiving benefit for a period of six weeks.

My executive would like to draw your attention to the fact that on the dates those young girls were asked to go to these cities there were, according to the figures published in the current Ministry of Labour Gazette, the following unemployed women in the cities mentioned: – Salford, 7,857; Manchester, 20262; Leeds, 7,840  signing on at these exchanges. It would appear from these statistics that to send a girl from Clitheroe to fill a vacancy in the places referred to is a travesty of the spirit for which the employment exchanges were established. My association await your observations with deep concern”.

Newspaper cutting found in the Library collection by volunteer Eleanor, May 2011

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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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