Saturday, June 15, 2013

Following in young Fred's Footsteps

SOME of the country's most popular museums are endangered by spending cuts. Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) , Bradford's National Media Museum and the National Railway Museum in York could close, according to the Science Museum Group (SMG), which also runs the Science Museum in London. It has announced that a further 10% cut in government funding would leave it with "little choice" but to close one of the museums.

Council leaders in 11 local authorities have written to Chancellor George Osborne  The council leaders said they were "equally concerned" about potential cuts at the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield, whose funding is contracted through SMG.

Councils  said visitors to the National Media Museum contributed about £24m a year to the local economy, and the National Railway Museum brought in £40-50m. Visitors to the Museum of Science and Industry provided about £28m to the local economy.

Friends in the North West say they make a point of taking their children to the MOSI for both pleasure and instruction. The museum's hands on gadgets and displays make it an especial favourite with kids. 

That the threatened museums are in the North, where so much of  science and industry was developed, but which has also born so much of the brunt of industrial decline and austerity, has not gone unnoticed. Even the Archbishop of York has said something about it.
Archbishop condemns threat to museums.

As though to rub insult into injury, news of the theat to these valued assets comes with reports that Prime Minister David Cameron favours the building of a £15 million museum dedicated to Margaret Thatcher, whose disdain for industry and the North, and hatred for the workers has been more than reciprocated. At least two popular petitions for the museums are circulating, one of them explicitly saying that money should not be going to the Thatcher museum.
 Petition to save the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

Against public money for Thatcher museum

I must confess I have not yet visited the three museums, though I hope to remedy the omission. The MOSI was built long after I left Manchester. It stands on what was once the site of the world's first
railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road, opened on September 15, 1830, for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Sadly, this line also saw the scene of the world's first recorded fatal railway accident, when Liverpool MP William Huskisson,  who had travelled for the opening ceremony was knocked down by Stephenson's Rocket at Parkside.

This must have been a great disappointment to the crowd of mill workers and colliers who had come out not only to see the trains but to throw bricks and whatever else was to hand at the carriage carrying the main guest, the Prime Minister, Duke of Wellington. The Iron Duke wisely decided to stay in his carriage and return to Liverpool without setting foot in Manchester. I don't suppose this is the kind of history that Mr.Gove wants taught in the national curriculum. Who knows, it might even give us ideas.

I did go down to Castlefield area with a schoolmate one Saturday in search of an earlier bit of history, the remains of part of the Roman wall of  Mancunium. We found it under the railway arches at the back of a builders' yard near Knott Mill. Knott Mill station, now Deansgate, opened on July 30, 1849, as part of the Manchester to Altringham line. That began from Oxford Road station, which I knew before it was modernised. On another of my urban strolls, after I had become "political", I came to look at the hollow south of the station. There where the River Medlock now runs underground was once the neighbourhood dubbed "Little Ireland", and described in Friedrich Engel's The Condition of the Working Class in England , first published in 1844. 

"....the most horrible spot...lies on the Manchester side, immediately south-west of Oxford Road, and is known as Little Ireland. In a rather deep hole, in a curve of the Medlock and surrounded on all four sides by tall factories and high embankments, covered with buildings, stand two groups of about two hundred cottages, built chiefly back to back, in which live about four thousand human beings, most of them Irish. The cottages are old, dirty, and of the smallest sort, the streets uneven, fallen into ruts and in part without drains or pavement; masses of refuse, offal and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys..."
Chorlton on Medlock and "Little Ireland"

I remember when Salford council decided to name a block of flats after Engels, the local Tories made a fuss, though it was pointed out to them that Fred was a respected local businessman, and we might add that he joined the militia and even rode to hounds.

Anyway I see the ten story block in Eccles has been refurbished, and Engels seems now to be established in local histories.

Young Fred Engels had been sent to Manchester to look after his father's mill and probably to keep him out of trouble. Here he discovered the English -and Irish -working class. Engels and his friend Marx did not have to invent the class struggle, that was already happening. They just had to realise its historical significance. Two years before The Condition of the Working Class in England appeared and six years before the Communist Manifesto, a general strike which began among the Staffordshire colliers had spread across the North West, and Manchester was naturally an important centre.

 August 11, 1842 At 6.30am a crowd of over 10,000, many of whom, it was noted, were women, assembled in Granby Row Fields. The main speaker was Christopher Doyle who urged the strikers not to return to work until their demands had been met. As he was speaking the Mayor Mr Neil and a number of magistrates rode up to the cart and told them that the meeting was illegal and must disperse. The Riot Act was then read and one hundred soldiers appeared, fully armed and with two six pound artillery pieces. The crowd fled but there was no violence or casualties. Companies of soldiers were then stationed in Hunt Street, on Oxford Road near Little Ireland, and also opposite Esdaile’s Buildings.

A meeting took place at the Carpenter Hall attended by mechanics, engineers, millwrights, moulders and smiths which passed resolutions in favour of the People’s Charter which they declared “contains the elements of justice and prosperity and we pledge ourselves never to relinquish our demands until that document becomes a legislative enactment”. They also pledged not to return to work “until the decision of the trades of Manchester be ascertained.”

During the morning thousands of workers marched from Ashton and Stalybridge to Rochdale and brought out most of the mills and factories. A mass meeting passed a resolution declaring that they would not resume work until they had obtained a fair price for a fair day’s labour. They then marched to Heywood and turned out the mills and factories there.


Friday 12 August
There was a meeting of various trades and mill hands at the Fustian Cutters room, 70 Tib Street at 10am which passed two resolutions, one declaring that the strike was for the Charter and the other declaring that the operatives offer themselves as “conservators of the public peace”.
The mechanics met at Carpenters’ Hall at 2pm where they heard reports from delegates from Lancashire and Yorkshire on the situation in their trades and their attitude to the strike. The conference concluded by passing a resolution which stated “that the only remedy for the present alarming distress and widespread destitution is the immediate and unmutilated adoption and carrying into law of the document known as the People’s Charter, that this meeting recommends the people of all trades and callings forthwith cease work until the above document becomes the law of the land.”

Saturday 13 August
The weekly Manchester Guardian, published on Saturday, carried an editorial which practically frothed at the mouth:
“…we have seen the resolutions passed at the meeting of delegates at the Sherwood Inn and the Carpenters’ Hall yesterday. To us, who well knew the real objects of the agitators, these resolutions convey no information. But to parties who have hitherto, either wilfully or ignorantly, shut their eyes to the truth, we recommend a perusal of the resolutions; and especially the second, recommending that the present forced cessation of work shall be continued until what is called “the charter” becomes the law of the land. Disguise it as we may the present movement is rising against the government and the law. Call it by what name we please, IT IS REALLY AN INSURRECTION.” (The Manchester Guardian 13 August 1842) 

To come back up to date, a film on the Condition of the Working Class is due to get what I think is its first London screening on Thursday evening at Congress House, courtesy of the Southern and Eastern Regions of the TUC (SERTUC). I think there will be refreshments, though I cannot confirm the rumour that Sir Brendan Barber will be standing the drinks.

Here's the info:


A new documentary feature film by Michael Wayne & Deirdre O'Neill
Runtime: 82 mins

Everything changes and yet everything stays the same. 1844: Friedrich Engels writes his book 'The Condition of the Working Class in England', a classic denunciation of the appalling living conditions for working people living at the heart of the industrial revolution in Manchester, England.  In 2012: a group of working class people from Manchester and Salford have the job of devising a theatrical show from scratch based on their own experiences and Engels' book. They have 8 weeks before their first performance. The Condition of the Working Class follows the process from the first rehearsal to first night and situates their struggle to get the show on stage in the context of the daily struggles of working people facing economic crisis and austerity politics.


Thursday 20 June, 7- 9.30pm

   TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS
(nearest tube Tottenham Court Road)

FREE ADMISSION    Booking essential

BOOKINGS:    or 020 7467 1220

According to Film International, "This is not a film. It is rehearsal for revolution".

 Sounds like the Guardian back in 1842!

Also of interest:
  Digging out Engels club

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