Online History course: Radical Manchester in the C19th



Sarah Parker Remond

I will be teaching 10 week course this autumn, starting on the evening of Tuesday 28th September, conducted via Zoom.

 This course  will be an introduction to the  radical political ideas and movements in Manchester in the C19th.   Manchester and the surrounding  district  was at the centre of the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution which  gave birth to a number  of  important radical  working class social and political  movements.

The course  will include the following:

1. The Radicals of the 1790s.  Inspired by the  radical political ideas outlined by  Thomas Paine in  his hugely popular book  The Rights of  Man  groups of radicals  emerged in 1792 calling for  reform of the Constitution, including universal suffrage. They came under sustained  legal attack  by the government.

2. The Luddites. In 1812 groups of workers in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire attacked the machinery they saw as taking away  their work. There were also outbreaks of food rioting. The government  responded by sending thousands of troops  into the North. In the trials that  followed many were imprisoned, while some Luddites and rioters  were  hanged.

3. Peterloo. On 16th August 1819 armed cavalry and soldiers attacked a peaceful  meeting in Manchester held to call for the reform of Parliament, resulting in at least 18 deaths  and hundreds of  injuries.

4. Richard Carlile and the Manchester Republicans of the 1820s. Inspired by  ideas in Carlile’s publication The Republican (which he  edited from prison), groups met in Manchester to support Carlile,  discuss radical   politics and hold dinners to celebrate Thomas Paine’s birthday.

5. Owenite Socialism. From the late 1820s groups of working women and  men set up Co-operative Societies.  inspired by the ideas of Robert Owen. They began to call themselves “Socialists.”

6. The Anti-Poor Law Agitation/ Factory Reform/1832 Reform Act. In the 1830s there were campaigns  against the punitive Poor Law amendment of 1834 which set up Workhouses; for a limit on the excessive  working hours in factories;  and for the reform of Parliament.

7. Chartism. Chartism was a mass movement,  at its height between 1838 and 1848,  which called for the implementation of the People’s Charter whose proposals included universal suffrage, secret ballots and payment of MPs.  The movement  organised three mass petitions to Parliament which were rejected. Instead the government responded  with mass arrests and prison for many of the leaders.

8.  Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in Manchester.  Frederick Engels worked in the family firm  – Ermen and Engels – in Manchester for 20 years, sending money to support Karl Marx and his family in London whilst Marx worked on Capital.  Marx visited Engels in Manchester  on a number of occasions.

9. Black radicals in Manchester. We will look at the visits  of black Americans  camapigning against slavery such as as Henry Brown,  Frederick Douglas,  Charles Lennox Remond  and Sarah Parker Remond.

10. The Irish in Manchester. There was substantial migration from Ireland which led to the establishment of  an Irish community in the New Cross and St Michael’s area.  The Irish took part in  trade unionism  and Chartism,   as well as organising movements  for the independence of Ireland such as Fenianism.

The course consist of a weekly lecture by myself  followed by a discussion amongst  course members. I  will be providing handouts and suggestions  for further reading  and  a guide to  online resources.

The cost of the course will be £60 payable  in advance. It will take place  in the evening starting in the autumn.  To book a place or for more information, please email me :

About me

I have been researching and writing about  radical history of Manchester for many years and have an MA in History of Manchester. My published work includes:

Never Counted Out! the Story of Len Johnson, Manchester’s Black Boxing Hero and Communist (1992)

”The Wearing of the Green, ” a political history of the Irish in Manchester (2000)

Up Then Brave Women : Manchester’s Radical  Women 1819-1918 (2012)

For the sake of the women who are to come after”:  Manchester’s Radical Women 1915 to 1945 (2019)

In 2020 I took part in this BBC Sport item on Len Johnson (filmed in my back garden !)

Michael Herbert


The English Civil War of 1968: my review of “The Day The Queen Flew to Scotland for the Grouse Shooting”by Arthur Wise (1968)

The Clash“When Johnny comes
Marching home again
He’s coming by bus or underground
A woman’s eye will shed a tear
To see his face so beaten in fear
An’ it was just around the corner in the English civil war
It was still at the stage of clubs and fists
When that well-known face got beaten to bits
Your face was blue in the light of the screen
As we watched the speech of an animal scream
The new party army was marching right over our heads
There you are, ha ha, I told you so
Says everybody that we know
But who hid a radio under the stairs
An’ who got caught out on their unawares?
When that new party army came marching…”
“The English Civil War”, The Clash (1979)
For  a traumatic event which  led  to  tens of thousands of deaths   and  the destruction of much  of the North of England, and whose aftermath – political, social,  constitutional –  continues to be felt right up to the present day,  the English Civil War of 1968 has left virtually no trace  in popular memory. The song by the punk rock band The Clash quoted above is one of the few references that can be found – and that  was written  over  forty years ago. (A live  performance can be seen here)
 It is as though  the people of both  parts  of the divided country –  the victorious South  and  the defeated North – took a   decision to forget, a collective amnesia aided and abetted  by the curious lack  of histories of the conflict. The leaders  of the North are either dead or  have disappeared,   while the politicians and generals  of the South  have barely referred to the Civil War, if at all,  in their memoirs.  No official history was ever issued as it was not considered an official  war in the sense of the First or Second World  World Wars.
Arthur Wise The Day the QueenIn this context Arthur Wise’s  The Day The Queen Flew to Scotland for the Grouse Shooting (the meaning of the title will become apparent later), is unique, written as it was just months after the end of the war (indeed, at  the time of  its publication  in Ireland,  Wise was in Cell 4,  Debtors’ Prison,  York).
The book  was banned for a  number of years  in England under the Sedition Act, one of a series of very  repressive measures passed by the Southern government  in 1969 known as “The Ten Acts” .  Never reprinted, it remains  very hard to get hold of (second hand copies reputedly change hands at high prices)   but it is well worth seeking out for its  unique account, including a number of  episodes for which this is the only source.
Although the author called it “a document,” he  adopted  the form of a novel, explaining in  his introduction  :
This document is an attempt to piece together the disastrous events of the past year, from existing reports and from personal interviews. Where it has seemed to me the most effective way of giving the reader a clear undertanding of the situation, I have simply set down the bald facts. In other places, where I have had supporting evidence  from interviews, I have attempted to reconstruct actual conversations and  events in such a way as to convey the total feeling of them…
In one or two places I have to suppress some of the facts, simply to make my own position,  and that of my friends  in the North, still tenable during the present  period of occupation. This suppression in no way affects the general accuracy of the report.
Leeds Town Hall 1960sWise sets the scene at the outset, trying to convey to the reader the  perceptible change in atmosphere  at the beginning of 1968 that a native returning to a Northern town in Lancashire or Yorkshire  after a period of absence might have sensed:
It was there in the faces of people in the bus queue. If he could put it  into words, what would he say?  He might tell  you there was certain assurance about the place. Arrogance, he might call it. Here is a town, he might tell you, that seems at last to have grasped an indentity, that has come to terms with what it is, that sees itself as a unique identity with life different from that of any other  place on earth. A town  rising up out of the filth and rubble and exploitation of the nineteenth century and opening its eyes for the first time. Self-conscious and aware. Critical and dissatisfied. Bitter, perhaps. Certainly determined to find a place for itself in the sunlight, and in the eyes of God…for there was revolution in the air.
The revolution began, as they often do, with a relatively  trivial event,  the turning down by the Westminster government  in May 1968 of an application  to rebuild  theatres in York  and Manchester,  while at the same  time greenlighting  a similar  application from High Wycombe.
The issue was  taken by up the Northern Development  Council, a  committee set up by  the Westmintser government to advise on planning, a typical 1960s toothless body with no powers.  But it began to acquire power, as Wise outlines:
It had been brought into being as a means of containing the unrest in the North. Instead, it became a rallying point for the area, canalising feelings and aspirations  that had previously been mere subterraneans rumblings. As it grew in power and authority, it clamoured for autonomy and power…It could,  conceivably, have been declared an illegal organisation, but no government  dare have taken such a step  as long as it was so effectively identified with the Northern spirit.
The five members of the Central Committee were Sir Felix Brunton, the driving force behind  the Steller Orchestra in Leeds; Colonel Douglas Fitzwallace, a retired army colonel;  Albert Rubinstein, chair of Granada television in Manchester; Sidney Olsen, a pop impresario;  and Sir Brian Wordsworth, a landowner with extensive interests in textiles.


Chelsea v Millwall - League Division Two - Stamford Bridge

Later that month the Cup Final at Wembley between Newcastle United and Chelsea  erupted into mass violence  between opposing supporters from North and South,   resulting in  dozens of deaths and injuries
The Cabinet met on 13th May to discuss what had happened and  decided to send  a civil servant , Robert Paine,  to speak to the NDC’s Central Council. 
He met them   in Darlington on 19th May. At the meeting the NDC decided to support the theatre project from its own  funds,  but  then Wordsworth  told Paine;   “For two hundred years we have been a depressed race. We still live in conditions that are a scandal in any  country claiming to be civilised- conditions in which no southerner would keep their dog. We’ve produced the wealth of this country and it’s been stolen from us. But we’re going no further with you. This is where slavery ends.”
The NDC presented an ultimatum to Paine that is worth quoting in full:
1. That the six Northern counties of Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire, shall be designated in future as “the North”.
2. That the City of York, as the ancient  capital of the North, shall be given the status of the second city of England.
3. That  the Northern Development  Council be redesignated The Council of the North.
4. That the Central Committee of the Northern Development  Council..shall become the executive body of the Council of the North.
5. That the Council of the North shall have the authority to design and implement  its own consitution, without reference to Westminster.

6. That, under the final authority of Westmintser on matters of foreign policy, The Council of the North shall have power to govern in the North.
The NDC made it clear that if  these  demands were not accepted, they would break off all contact  with London.
The demands were, of course,  completely  unacceptable to the Westminster  government  (whose  Prime Minister was a pipe-smoking  Northerner as it happens, not that it made any difference). But rather than negotiate some degree of increased autonomy for the North he  took the fatal  step of ordered the NDC to be arrested and taken to the Tower of London. But nothing happened, the order was ignored by the police in the North, a sign of how rapidly the situation was developing.
Student march

Northern students marching


On 26th May the Council of the North issued a Declaration of  Separatneess,  repeatedly broadcast on the  Northern independent  television networks and the Pirate Radio ship Radio 38,  while a song commissioned by Olsen from   the pop group The Harlequins, “Free to Live, ” became the Northern independence anthem.  (This  song remains bannned by the way and the fate of the group is unknown).  Young people took to the streets of the North  in same way that  their counterparts were doing in Northern Ireland, France, Germany, Mexico, the USA etc…

In Manchester, Leeds, Bradford and Hull, university students, students from the Colleges of Education, the Schools of Arts, the Colleges of Technology, and in some  cases the schools marched through the towns with banners shouting their support and breaking into the chorus of the new song “Free To Live”.  In the University of York, with its large numbers of students  from the South, there was some limited violence. A counter-march by Southern students down Tower Street and Clifford Street, was broken  up in Nessgate by students from the  Technical College and from  St John’s College of Education.
The Southern government (as we must now call it for a time)  responded by declaring a State of Emegency on 27th May  and  the following  morning dispatched   an armed  detachment of Household Cavalry (all Southerners, of course) northwards to arrest the Council of the North and convey them  to the Tower. It seems  London  believed  that  the secessionist movement could be snuffed out with one bold move. How ill-informed they were!

Continue reading

Online history course : Radical Women: 1914-1980







I will be teaching 10 week  online course on Radical  Women: 1914-1980 using Zoom, starting on 8th February 2021. It take place on Monday evenings at 7pm. The fee will be  £60 payable in advance.

For more information and/or  to book  a place  on the course please email me (Michael Herbert):

The course will include the following:

The First World War

We will look at how the war affected women in terms of work and home and also at the activities of women appalled by the carnage of the  war who wanted to make sure  that it never happened again. They held a Congress in 1915 in Holland which established  the  Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.



We look the post war-war world: work and unemployment; the activities of women’s  organisations  now that women  had the vote eg NUSEC, Six Point Group, Open door Council. We also  at the Women Delegation to Ireland   and  the role of women during and after  General Strike in  may 1926.



Britain  was plunged into an economic slump after 1929, creating mass unemployment. We look at the role of women in the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement; womenwho fought  Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts; and the experiences of women who went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War.


The Second World War

We examine  at the profound impact of the war on women’s   lives  in terms of home and work and how they discussed the war and the future in the Women’s Parliaments.   We also  look at the work of  Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson during the war.


Post war 1945-1951

We look at the career of Ellen Wilkinson as Minster of Education in the Labour government; the housing crisis which led to a squatting movement; and the Royal Commission on Equal Pay.



We look at the role of women  in the developing consumer society; Equal pay;  Mary Stott and the Guardian’s women’s  page; Peggy Duff  and the Camapign for Nuclear Disarmament ;  and the career of  writer Shelagh Delaney.


The Pill, mini-skirts, the Permissive Society;  but just  how much did things really change for women in the 1960s?


Women’s  Liberation Movement

We look at the emergence of  the Women’s Liberation Movement,   firstly in the USA,  and then in Britain,   including the Ruskin Conference in 1970s and the first WLM march in March 1971.


A bit about me…

I have been researching  writing and teaching the history of radical  women for many years ; my pulished work includes Up Then Brave Women”; Manchester’s Radical Women 1819-1918 (2012)  and “For the sake of the women who are to come after: Manchester’s Radical Women 1914-1945 (2019)

This is a short item I filmed some years  for the BBC televison programme The Culture Show

More information on my work  here;

Some comments  from previous course members

I attended this course on 19th Radical women and found it both informative and enjoyable. An excellent course for anyone wanting more information on womens/social history at this time. Jane

Michael’s online course on the history of working class women in the 20th century was one of my early lockdown highlights. The sessions themselves were fun and fascinating with plenty of time for discussion and responses. In between sessions Michael sent out lots of supplementary resources so that we could read, watch and listen in advance, and follow up on the women and events which most interested us. I loved learning about women I’d vaguely heard of and others who were completely new to me – it’s largely a forgotten history which I’m so pleased I now know a bit about. Shereen

I found the course very interesting and enjoyable. It sheds light on the role played by radical women in the 19th century, with particular focus on the North of England, and the challenges they faced. The sessions provided a wealth of information and back-up documents which served as pointers for further research, and identified wider patterns. There was also time for discussion.




Women Republicans in Manchester in the 1820s

In the 1820s there was an active group of Republican women,, followers of Richard Carlile who together with his wife and sister spent five years in prison  for his political writings  and challenge to the political and clerical establishment.

Carlile was born in Devon, the son of a shoemaker who died in 1794, leaving Richard’s mother struggling to support her three children on the income from running a small shop. At the age of six he was sent  for free education to the local Church of England school: at the age of twelve he left school for a seven-year apprenticeship to a tinsmith in Plymouth. In 1813 he  got married to Jane, and shortly afterwards the couple moved to Holborn Hill in London where he found work as a tinsmith. Jane Carlile gave birth to five children, three of whom survived, probably an average for this period.

Carlile became interested in radical  politics  during the economic slump  that followed the end of the Napoleonic war and heard Henry Hunt speak.  He himself was put on short-time working. He says “I shared the general distress of 1816 and it was this that opened my eyes.” In 1817 he went into partnership with William  Sherwin, setting  up a printing business  and opening  a shop in Fleet Street where he sold the works of Thomas Paine, split  into pamphlets so that the working people could afford them. He also sold the Black Dwarf when many feared to do so because of the government crackdown on radical ideas and prosecution of booksellers. Carlile  then began publishing his own radical paper, Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register.

Carlile was present  at the Peterloo Massacre  in Manchester on 16th August  1819 and  wrote  the first published account  of the murderous attack on the peaceful crowd.

In the wake of Peterloo the government  cracked down radical  publishers,  shutting down Sherwin’s  Political Register and seizing the newspapers and pamphlets.

Undaunted, Carlile immediately started publishing a new journal, The Republican,  which survived until 1826. He says “The Habeas Corpus Act being suspended … all was terror and alarm, but I take credit to myself in defeating the effect of these two Acts upon the Press… Of imprisonment I made sure, but I felt inclined to court it than to shrink from it”.

The government  prosecuted  Carlile for blasphemy and for  selling seditious writings such as  the writings of Thomas Paine.  He was jailed for three years in October 1819, being sent to Dorchester gaol, but because he failed to pay a fine of £1500 Carlile actually served 6 years in total. He was not finally released until November 1825. In March 1820 a letter from “a few friends” in Leeds arrived with a subscription of 8 shillings. In July he received £20 from a group of journeyman flaxspinners in Leeds

When Jane  visited her husband  in prison in December   1819  she could scarcely speak for exhaustion,  yet within a matter weeks she re-opened  the shop and starting publishing the newspaper again,  although under constant monitoring by the authorities  Jane was t was charged with  publishing  a libel in The Republican on 16 June 1820  and  tried on 19 January 1821.   In court the Solicitor General said he regretted that a female should be the object of  prosecution “but should not complain, after continuing to give to the world the mischevious work in question, after the warnings which  she had received from previous prosecutions.”

Jane  was found guilty and on 3rd  February she appeared in court for sentencing. She said

I have acted entirely from a sense of conjugal duty without consulting my own interest, or my own ideas, of right and wrong…I must be content to share his suffering, as I  have shared his prosperity. For  better or worse is the motto of the altar and I am happy in giving my husband this instance of my regard and affection. I have already suffered that can befall of wife and mother and I have to entreat your Lordships will not further agonize my mind by separating me from both husband and children,

She was sentenced to two years in Dorchester Gaol, joining Richard in a cell.

Carlile’s sister Mary now  took over the publishing business until she too was jailed in July 1821  on charges of blasphemy for having published an Appendix to the Theological Works of Thomas Paine and also on charges of seditious libel for selling an essay by Carlile on the British constitution which  he compared unfavourably with that of Spain..

Carlile, his wife and sister shared a prison cell. Carlile gave some details of their life in prison in the course a very long letter written to Henry Hunt on 20th  February 1822.  (Hunt also in prison in Ilchester,  by the way.)

Here we are self, wife, and sister locked up in one room in which we have no alternative but to attend to every call of nature in the presence  of each other, or by drawing a curtain across our little water-closet, and at dusk in the evening my sister is removed to a distant part of the Prison, where she is locked up in a small cell with an iron-bedstead to lie on, that is a fixture, and there is no room for another, and there she remains  until  nine o’clock the next morning, not being allowed to walk in the female felons’ yard for fear of corrupting them; such is the alleged precaution, and during this absence of  hers from my apartment, the water-closet is closed up and unlocked when she returns.

Republican Women’s   Support for Jane and Mary-Ann

Groups of women Republicans rallied to the cause of the  imprisoned women.

The Female Reformers of Ashton  wrote to Jane Carlile in September  1821,  the letter being signed by Elizabeth Higson from the Flash Hall area of the town. She had hosted in her home a celebration of Hunt’s birthday in November 1820, Paine’s in January 1821 and Hunt’s again in November 1821. In her letter she expressed sympathy for Jane as “the first female  victim of superstition and despotism” andnoted how the women “were forced to put our infant children  to the drudgery and unhealthy employment  of the cotton manufactory” in order to make ends meet, and even then they were left with “little more than necessaries”. She enclosed a £1 contributed by a number of fellow Republican

On 20th  April 1822 the Female Republicans of Manchester wrote to Jane and Mary-Ann Carlile:

We the undersigned Females, possessing liberal principles and hearts of humanity towards our fellow females in the cause of liberty, now suffering confinement  in Dorchester Gaol for  advocating truth and reason, beg you to accept both our condolence and congratulations: to Mrs Carlile for doing what every honest and virtuous considers to be he duty, namely, to obey the voice of her husband, according with what every married women  promises  in her  marriage ceremony, we offer our thanks for her good example… 

It is the wish of the undersigned females, by subscribing their mites together,  as far as their situation in a land of oppression and taxation will permit, first to shew a token of humanity and respect towards you; and in the second place, to convince our enemies that we approve of your conduct, and glory in your spirit, we are not ashamed to come forward and prove to the people of England that there are yet women  possessed of common sense  of reason. We abhor with detestation and    protest  that is injustice to persecute, imprison and rob under pretence of fine,  any person for publishing his or her principles on any subject. We believe that free discussion on all subjects, both political and religious, is the right of every creature living; and every effort to destroy free discussion is oppressive and tyrannical.

The small trifle of £2 2s enclosed, we wish you to accept it as token of our regard to you for your past conduct; and also with our sincere wishes that Mrs Carlile may be brought through her approaching natural pain and sorrow with safety; and that you may rise triumphant  over all your enemies, is the sincere wish of your Friends, signed on behalf of subscribers, Mary Ann Walker 9 Back-Piccadily Manchester

PS The Female  Committee of Manchester received from the Friends of Bolton the following articles to forward to Mrs Carlile.The Republican,

The items included frocks and silk.  Mary Walker was the leading light in this Manchester group and worked as a boot-closer along with her husband, William.

Jane and Mary-Ann Carlile replied to the women on 4th  May:

Noble-minded women

Your comforting address, with the very pleasing presents that accompanied it, have been duly and thankfully received, and have added much to the satisfaction we previously felt in knowing that though imprisoned, we had done nothing to disgrace ourselves as females.

Mrs Carlile felt an expressible delight   at the provision which you, in conjunction with her friends, the Republican Weavers of Bolton, have made for her yet unborn infant and pledges herself that each article of dress shall always have the preference to any she has provided herself, and shall be first worn…

Would you believe that if either  of us walk out  alone, during the hour we are allowed to walk, a man is appointed to watch us and dog us until we are locked up again. We are not only denied the satisfaction of sympathising with or relieving any  poor female in this place, but we are forbidden to speak or give a compassionate look to any of them, and to effect this object we are always, when unlocked, under the watching of a sentinel.

The two women said that  they wished  the prison chaplain would attempt  to convert them:

…as a matter of amusement for everything is a dull, and often painful sameness here. We find nothing to relieve that powerful curiousity which is not unjustly attributed to our sex….Were we to say we like imprisonment we should not speak the truth ; and being incessantly locked up with Mr Carlile, whose affairs and duties often   require a sort of silence that is not most agreable to us, makes us feel it more than we otherewise would.  

Elizabeth Gaunt from Manchester  wrote to Jane on 29th  April 1822. (Elizabeth had been  arrested at  Peterloo and imprisoned for a time.)  In her letter Elizabeth explained that she was :

one of those who witnessed the blood-stained field of Peterloo and suffered eleven days incarceration in one of the Boroughmongers’  Bastiles because I was exposed to the sabres of a ferocious Yeomanry Cavalry, whilst I was performing what then conceived and now conceive to have been my duty; and even after this, I anticipate the day that will free you from the trammels of our tyrants….

I beg your acceptance of this small present enclosed, being the work of my own hands, which I flatter myself will be more acceptable to you than if they were diamonds from a tyrant.

Jane replied to Elizabeth  on 4th  May:

My warmest thanks accept for the very handsome little Pair of Shoes you have been so kind to send me, of your own manufacture, and be assured that they shall be the first on the feet of my daily-expected infant, whose birth shall be announced to tye Female Republicans of Manchester as early as possible, if everything passes off as well as i hope. 

My spirits and constitutional  strength are good, or  I should  have everything to dread  in such a place  as this where humanity  is marketable commodity, and where, what is worse, I am  one of those excluded from the market place at any price.

My very close confinement has greatly augmented the sufferings of pregnancy, by my humane and very Reverend keepers have nothing but inveterate prejudices for my accommodation. Up this moment we are locked in one room and such seems likely to be the case at the momnet of my  labour.

For the small presents of Cotton and Needles, which  accompanied the Shoes, my thanks are offered wherever they came from.

The pleasure which  is derived from such acts of kindness and affection from Females to whom I can only be known by name, is a complete balance  to the mind from the pain of imprisonment… I was neither a politician  nor theologian before my imprisonment, but a sentence for two years has roused feelings in me that I might never have otherwise possessed.  I have been made to feel the neccessity of reforming the abuses of government; as ia am sure  , that under a Representative  System of Government no Woman would have been sent to Prison for Two Years, for publishing an assertion that tyrants ought to be treated as dangerous and destructive beasts of prey. I have been made to think it, as well as to publish it.

Jane gave birth on 4th  June 1822 to a daughter,  whom she named Hypatia after the  Greek philosopher murdered by Christians  in Alexandria in 415AD.  Carlile later wrote “The season was particularly hot and with the addition of a nurse, and a constant  fire, though we had two rooms by this time, made our situation very painful. We had no current of air and the rooms faced the sun.

Jane was released in February 1823 and went to her father’s cottage near Southampton to collect her children.

On 17th  February 1823  the Female Republicans in Manchester wrote  again to Jane on her release:

Much esteemed sister

WE the undersigned Female Republicans of Manchester; in behalf of the whole, congratulate you on the expiration of the vindictive sentrenc eof imprisonment; and your liberation from the Christian  Bastile of Dorchester after  the lapse of 3 years imprisonment to your imprisonment to your brave husband, 2 years to yourself  and 1 year to your sister; and after the blessings of Christianity which have since been bestowed on Rhodes, Boyle, Holmes, Tunbridge, and lastly our brave Mrs Wright, who has made such noble stand against the friends of kingcraft, priestcraft, superstition and delusion. After the comforts which  you have received from the supporters of the humble Jesus; the members of those little  Holy Alliances the Bridge Street Gang and the virtuous Vice Society, with the Bishop of Clogher at its head; after they had entered your house, seized upon everything that was calculated to male life comfortable, and left you and your new-born infant to languish and perish, for what they cared; after your frequent  arrests,    long imprisonment, and the inevitable dispersion of your infant family, to support what is blasphemously called the will of God; where is the person of common sense who will say, that Christianity  is  calculated to make people honest and happy ? …

The Female Republicans of Manchester have viewed, with an irrepressible delight and joyful sensation, the bold and heroic part which you have performed in encountering the band of Christian man-tigers and they hope as soon as you have settled your domestic affairs  and can make it convenient, that you will bestow upon them the greatest honour you have in their power, viz. to visit  Manchester where you will be welcome to the best that their humble situation in life will admit, luxuries are withheld from us for the consumption and gratification of our Tyrants, but if you will oblige us we hope to partake of something better than luxuries, a mental enjoyment, such as is preferred by  every honest  and considerate mind, and at all times agreeable to the virtuous female.

Mary Barlow, Rachel Thomson, Mary Walker, Ellen Bottomley, Martha Naseby, Mary Ann Telford, Nancy Wheeler, Ann Bottomley, Jane Gratrex, Abigail Longbottom, Mary Marshall, Ann Betty, Mary Williams, Mary Ann Rhodes

Jane replied from London on 24th  February

I have read your address with pleasure and with grateful feelings, and respond to all its sentiments with approbation. I have returned to London from my family prison and am not ashamed to look any one of my persecutors in the face; conscious that  the cause of my imprisonment was disreputable to none but those who enforced it.

I thank you for the invitation you have given me to visit Manchester, being fond of travelling, I should cheerfully accept it, did not my little family form an obstacle to my wishes. However, should I find it possible, in the course of the approaching spring or summer, to make arrangements for that purpose, I will not fail to apprise you of my capability and intention. I should feel it a pleasure to put my infant, Hypatia, into the hands of those who were so kind as to anticipate her birth by so many useful presents, and to return them thanks in person.  At no period of my life did I ever fell so much delight as in unfolding the parcel which contained them, and I feel satisfied, that it could only be again equalled by the welcome I should find in stepping into each of your houses.

I think but little of luxuries, and much less of formalities and ceremonies; if I can come into the North of England, I shall not come as a stranger, but with the familiarity of a friend, a neighbour and an every day acquaintance.

A few months after  her release, Jane Carlile set off for the north, accompanied by her four children, Richard, aged 12, Alfred, aged 11, Thomas Paine, aged 2, and baby Hypatia, aged 11 months.. She arrived in Manchester on 1th b9 May. A week later she went on to Leeds, then to Huddersfield and Liverpool.  She had to return to Manchester after two of her children caught measles and ended up spending  a month there.

She also went to Bolton  where  on 2nd  September she was given 4 guineas by local Republicans   “to assist in the herculean undertaking of cleaning the more than augean stables of Priestcraft and Statecraft”  as wrote John Cameron to Carlile,  adding:

I cannot conclude without  expressing satisfaction at the pleasure we enjoyed from the company and conversation of Mrs. Carlile. We are extremely sorry that she could not stop longer with us, for in fact, Sir, she gained the affection and esteem of all parties who had the opportunity of being in her company – and to be plain with you, Sir, I think you have never done Mrs. Carlile that justice which she is intitled to, by her merit, for, from  what we have seen, instead of a passive, she must have been a very active agent.

Jane finished her northern tour in Salford in early September where she met with the Salford Reading Group who  gave her a sovereign  raised from subscriptions which were listed in a letter published in The Republican on 30th  September.  Joseph Lawton wrote  that they had given her the money as “ a small tribute of esteem for your having been as Mr Carlile observed a greater sufferer in your mind than himself for the cause of liberty and free discussion and who still bears with great fortitude the heart rending idea of being so far separated from your husband...”




“An Appeal against Female Suffrage,” June 1889





“An Appeal Against Female Suffrage”  was published in the Nineteenth Century magazine in June 1889. It was apparently  organised by the best-selling novelist Mary Augusta  Ward and   signed primarily by women from the upper classes, a good few with titles. Some 2000 women eventually  signed.

The suffragists responded with their  own appeal in favour  of suffrage in Fortnightly Review which also attracted  2000 supporters.

The Women’s Penny Paper   commented tartly  that the  anti-suffrage appeal was based on the premise that  “man is a superior being” and signed mostly  the “wives of  men eminent for intellectual attainments and high character..if only their bit of the world were a sample of the whole, instread of being an exception to the whole,  their views might possibly be sound…”

Mary Augusta Ward

The editor of the Nineteenth Century supported the  anti-suffrage appeal:

“In furtherance of the Appeal –  which has hithero  only been seen privately by a few persons – the accompanying propsed protest is laid before the readers of the Nineteenth  Century, with the request that the ladies among them as agree with it will be kind enough to sign the opposite page,  and return it, when detached,  to the Editor of this magazine.”

“The difficulty of obtaining a public expression, even of disapproval, about such a question from those who entirely object to mixing themselves  up in the coarsening struggles of party political life, may easily become a public danger. Their silence will be misinterpreted into indifference or consent to designs they most dislike, and may thus help to bring them about.”

“It is submitted that for once, and in order to save the quiet of  Home life  from   total disappearance, they should do violence to thier natural reticence, and signify publicly and unmistakably their condemnation of the scheme now threatened.”

“The deliberate opinion of the women  readers of the Nineteenth Century may certainly be taken as fair sample of the judgement of the educated women of the country,  and would probably receive the sympathy and support of the overwhelming majority of their fellow countrywomen. “



An Appeal against Female Suffrage

We, the undersigned, wish to appeal to the common sense and educated thought of the men and women of England against the proposed extension of the Parliamentary suffrage to women.

1.    While desiring the fullest possible development of the powers, energies, and education of women, we believe that their work for the State, and their responsibilities towards it, must always differ essentially from those of men, and that therefore their share in the working of the State machinery should be different from that assigned to men. Certain large departments of the national life are of necessity worked exclusively by men.  To men belong the struggle of debate and legislation in Parliament; the hard and exhausting labour implied in the administration of the national resources and powers; the conduct of England’s relations towards the external world; the working of the army and navy; all the heavy, laborious, fundamental in industries  of the state, such as those  of mines, metals, railways;  the lead and supervision of English commerce, the management of our vast English finance, the service of that merchant fleet on which our food supply depends.  In all these spheres women’s direct participation is made impossible either by the disabilities of sex, or by strong formations of custom and habit resting ultimately on physical difference, against which it is useless to contend. They are affected, indeed, in some degree, by all these national activities; therefore they ought in some degree to have an influence on them all. This influence they already have, and will have more and more as the education of women advances. But their direct interest in these matters can never equal men, whose whole energy of mind and body is daily and hourly risked by them. Therefore it is not just to give women direct power of deciding questions of Parliamentary policy, of war, of foreign or colonial powers, of commerce and finance equal to that possessed by men. We hold that they already possess an influence on political matters fully proportioned to the possible share of women in the political activities of England.

At the same time we are heartily in sympathy with all the recent efforts which have been made to give women a more important part in those affairs of the community where their interests and those of women are equally concerned; where it is possible for them not only to decide but to help in carrying out; and where, therefore, judgment is weighted by a true responsibility, and where, therefore, judgment is weighted by a true responsibility, and can be guided by experience and the practical information which comes from it. As voters for or members of School Boards, Boards of Guardian, and other important public bodies, women have now opportunities for public usefulness which must promote the growth of character, and at the same time strengthen among them the social sense and habit. All these changes of recent years, together with the great improvement in women’s education which have accompanied them, we cordially welcome. But we believe that the emancipating process has now reached the limits fixed by the physical constitution of women, and by the fundamental difference which must always exist between their main occupations and those of men. The care of the sick and insane; the treatment of the poor; the education of children; in all these matters, and others besides, they have made good their claim to larger and more extended powers. We rejoice in it. But when it comes to questions of foreign or colonial policy, or of grave constitutional change, then we maintain that the necessary and normal experience of women – speaking generally and in the mass – does not and can never provide them with such materials for sound judgement as are open to men.

To sum up; we would give them their full share in the State of social effort and social mechanism; we look for their increasing activity in that higher State which rests on thought, conscience  and moral influence; but we protest against their admission to direct power in that State which does rest on force- the State in its administrative, military, and financial aspects – where the physical capacity, the accumulated experience and inherited training of men ought to prevail without the harassing interference of those who, though they may be partners with men  in debate, can in these matters never be partners with them  in action.

2.    If we turn from the right of women to the suffrage – a right which on the grounds just given we deny – to the effect which the possession of the suffrage may be expected to have on their character and position and on family life, we find ourselves no less in doubt. It is urged that the influence of women in politics would tell upon the side of morality. We believe that  it does so tell  already, and will do with greater force as women by improved education fit themselves to exert it more widely and efficiently. But it may be asked, On what does this moral influence depend ? We believe that it depends largely on qualities which the natural position and functions of women as they are at present tend to develop, and which might be seriously impaired by their admission to the turmoil of active political life. These qualities are, above all, sympathy and disinteredness. Any disposition of things which threatens to lessen the national reserve of such forces as these we hold to be a misfortune. It is notoriously difficult to maintain them in the presence of party necessities and in the heat of party struggle. Were women admitted to this struggle, their natural eagerness and quickness of temper make them hotter partisans than men. As their political relations stand at present, they tend to check in them the disposition to partisanship, and to strengthen in them the qualities of  sympathy and disinteredness. We believe that their admission to the suffrage  would precisely reverse this condition of things,  and that the whole nation would suffer in consequence. For whatever may be the duty and privilege of the parliamentary vote for men, we hold that citizenship is not dependent on or identical with the possession of suffrage. Citizenship lies in the participation of each individual in effort for the good of the community. And we believe that  women will be more valuable citizens, will contribute more precious elements to the national life without the vote than with it. The quickness to feel, the willingness to lay aside prudential considerations in a right cause, which are amongst the peculiar excellencies of women, are in their  right place when they are used to influence the more highly trained and developed judgement of men. But if this quickness of feeling could be immediately and directly translated into public action, in matters of vast and complicated political import, the risks of politics would be enormously, and what is now a national blessing might easily become a national calamity. On the one hand, then, we believe that to admit women into the ordinary  machinery of political life would inflame the partisanship and increase the evils, already so conspicuous, of that life, would tend to blunt the special moral qualities of women, and so to lessen the national reserves of moral force; and, on the other hand, we dread the political and practical effects which, in our belief, would  follow on such transformation as is proposed,  of an influence which is now beneficent largely because it is indirect  and gradual.

3.    Proposals for the extension of the suffrage to women are beset with grave practical difficulties. If votes be given to unmarried women on the same terms as men, large numbers of women leading immoral lives will be enfranchised on the one hand, while married women, who, as a rule, have passed through more of the practical experiences of life than the unmarried, will be excluded. To remedy part of this difficulty it is proposed by a large section of those who advocate the extension of the suffrage to women, to admit married women with the requisite property qualifications. This proposal – an obviously just one if the suffrage is to be extended to women at all – introduces changes in family life, and in the English conception of the household, of enormous importance, which have never been adequately considered. We are practically invited to embark upon them  because a few women of property possessing already all the influence which belongs to property, and a full share of that public protection  and safety which is the fruit of taxation, feel themselves aggrieved by the denial of the parliamentary vote. The grievance put forward seems to us wholly disproportionate to the claim based upon it.

4.    A survey of the manner in which this proposal has won its way into practical politics leads us to think that it is by no means ripe for legislative solution. A social change of momentous gravity has been proposed;  the mass of those immediately concerned in it are notoriously indifferent; there has been no serious and general demand for it; as is always the case if a grievance is real and reform necessary; the amount  of information collected  is quite inadequate to the importance of the issue; and the public has gone through no sufficient discipline of discussion. Meanwhile pledges to support female suffrage have been hastily given in the hopes of strengthening existing political parties by the female vote. No doubt there are many conscientious supporters of female suffrage amongst members of Parliament; but it is hard to deny that the present prominence of the question is due to party considerations of a temporary nature. It is, we submit, altogether unworthy of the intrinsic gravity of the question that it should be determined by reference to the passing needs of party organisation. Meanwhile we remember that great electoral changes have been carried out during recent years. Masses of new electors have been added to the constituency. These new elements have still to be assimilated; these new electors still have to be trained to take their part in the national work; and while such changes are still fresh, and their issues uncertain, we protest against any further alteration in our main political machinery, especially when it is an alteration which involves a new principle of extraordinary range and significance, closely connected with the complicated problems of sex and family life.

5.    It is often urged that certain injustices of the law towards women would be easily and quickly remedied were the political power of the vote conceded to them; and that there are matters, especially among working women, which are now neglected, but which the suffrage would enable them to press on public attention. We reply that during the past half century all the principal injustices of the law towards women  have been amended by means  of the existing constitutional machinery;  and with regard to those that remain, we see no sign of any unwillingness on the part of Parliament to deal with them. On the contrary, we remark a growing sensitiveness to the claims of women, and the rise of a new spirit of  justice and sympathy among men, answering to those advances made by women in education, and the best kind of social influence, which we have already noticed and welcomed. With regard to the business  or trade interests of women – here, again, we think it safer and wiser to trust to organisation and self-help on their own part, and to the growth of a better public opinion among the men workers, than to the exercise of a political right  which may easily bring women into direct and hasty conflict with men.

In conclusion: nothing can be further from our minds than to seek to depreciate the position or the importance of women. It is because we are keenly alive to the enormous value of their special contribution to the community, that we oppose what seems to us likely to endanger that contribution. We are convinced that the pursuit of a mere outward equality with men is for women not only vain but demoralising. It leads to a total misconception of woman’s true dignity and special mission. It tends to personal struggle  and rivalry, where only the effort of both the great divisions of the human family should be to contribute the characteristic labour and the best gifts of each to the common stock.

Dowager Lady Stanley of Alderley. Dover Street

Lady Frederick Cavendish, Carlton House Terrace

Lady Wimborne, Arlington Street

Lady Randolph Churchill, Connaught Place

Lady Fanny  Marjoribanks, Piccadilly

The Duchess of St Albans, Bestwood, Arnold, Notts

Lady Alwyne Compton, The Palace, Ely

Lady Louisa Egerton,  Piccadilly

Mrs Goschen, Portland Place

Viscountess Halifax, Hickleton, Doncaster

Lady Revelstoke, Charles Street,  Berkeley Square

Hon. Mrs. Meynell Ingram, Temple Newsam

Mrs. Knox- Little, The College,  Worcester

And many others





Autumn 2020: Online course on Radical Women: from Mary Wollstonecraft to Votes for Women

Mary Wollstonecraft

This 10  week online  course will be an introduction to the history of radical women in Britain.  I usually teach this course at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford but until the public health situation improves it will be held online,  using Google Meet/

I will be teaching the course on Monday evenings from 5th October at 7pm. I will speak about the topic for about 50  minutes, followed by  a discussion  amongst course members on the issues. No previous knowledge is neccessary for this  course.

The fee is £60 which is  payable in advance.

It will include:

Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical  politics of the 1790s, Mary’s  book Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), written against the backdrop of the French Revolution,  is a key text in the story of radical women.

Women’s  particpation in popular disturbances  in 1812 . Against a background of economic depression, the north of England saw an outbreak of organised attacks on mills and food rioting.

Female Reform Societies  and the Peterloo massacre of 1819. In  the summer of 1819  women formed themselves into Female Reform Socities calling for the reform  of Parliament  and issued addresses to the public.  Women were present on the field of Peterloo in Manchester on 16th August 1819 and were among the dead and injured

Women  Republicans in the 1820s.  Women  were active in the Republican movement  which was inspired by the political writings of Richard Carlile who was jailed for five years along with his wife and sister.

Women and  Owenite Socialism.  Women  were active as particpants  and lecturers in the socialist movement of the 1830s whose key theorist was Robert Owen.  A number of women such as Eliza Martin were also active in the  cause of atheisem.

Women and the Chartist movement, 1838-1848.  Chartism was a mass movement which called for the wholesale reform of the political  system  in favour of working people.  Women  were active in  dozens of Female Chartist   Societies.

Women  and trade unionism.  In this section we look at the activities of the Women’s  Trade Union League and the  Manchester Women’s  Trades Union Council.

Votes for Women,  1866-1928. In the final  part of the course we will look at the long campaign for Votes for Women  which began  with a petiton to parliament in 1866 and lasted for sixty years. It will include both consitutional suffragists in the National Society for Women’s  Suffrage  and militant  suffragettes in the Women’s  Social and Political Union.

Some comments  from previous course members

I attended this course on 19th Radical women and found it both informative and enjoyable. An excellent course for anyone wanting more information on womens/social history at this time. Jane

Michael’s online course on the history of working class women in the 20th century was one of my early lockdown highlights. The sessions themselves were fun and fascinating with plenty of time for discussion and responses. In between sessions Michael sent out lots of supplementary resources so that we could read, watch and listen in advance, and follow up on the women and events which most interested us. I loved learning about women I’d vaguely heard of and others who were completely new to me – it’s largely a forgotten history which I’m so pleased I now know a bit about. Shereen

I found the course very interesting and enjoyable. It sheds light on the role played by radical women in the 19th century, with particular focus on the North of England, and the challenges they faced. The sessions provided a wealth of information and back-up documents which served as pointers for further research, and identified wider patterns. There was also time for discussion. Myriam


About me

I have been researching and writing about  the history of radical   women for many years. My  published work includes:   Up Then Brave Women : Manchester’s Radical  Women 1819-1918 (2012) and “For the sake of the women who are to come after”:  Manchester’s Radical Women 1915 to 1945 (2019).  You can find more information on these books  here

This is a short item I filmed some years  for the BBC televison programme The Culture Show

For more information and/or  to book  a place  on the course please email me :

“Rise up women”…Some suggestions on documentaries and drama by or about women to watch during Lockdown

These are some suggestions on things  to watch whilst at home…


The Ascent of Woman

A four part documentary series presented by Amanda Foreman which covers role of women in society from 10,000 Bc to present day

A heartbreaking song  written by Frank Higgins and based on real testimony  given to a Parliamentary Commission   in 1842 by   Patience, a young woman, who worked down  a coal mine.


Shoulder to Shoulder,  BBC 1974 drama  series about the WSPU fight  for Votes for Women. Most episodes are  not available on the net anymore,  but this is a snippet about Annie Kenney  from episode 2.  Annie is played by Georgia  Brown who, along with Midge Mackenzie and Verity Lambert,  created the series. It has  never been issued by the BBC as a DVD.
Fascinating collection of television  and radio clips about the suffragette movement.
A   documentary made by Jill Craigie about  the rebuilding  of Plymouth  after WW2. Jill was a documentary filmaker and sceen writer.
A documentary made  by Jill Craigie in support of equal pay for women and narrated by the actress  Wendy Hiller.

A Girl Comes To London. (1956)

Robert Reid reports on the growing trend of young girls who leave their industrial cities or rural villages behind in search of a better life in London.


The Liver Birds live on Beat Club,  25/9/65

Largely forgotten all women beat group (from Liverpool,  of course).

Written by Nell Dunn and directed by Ken Loach. this was a controversial and mould-breaking TV drama, watched by an audience of nearly 10 million on first transmission. A record 400 viewers complained to the BBC, mostly about the programme’s bad language and depiction of sexual promiscuity – and its results.
Actresses Sarah Miles and Eleanor Bron are among a wide range of women offering views on marriage, relationships and the family.
Directed by Mary Ridge  one of a number of women directors working in British television in the 1960s, the play features Hannah Gordon  as Sally, whose disappointment about married life following her marriage to Chris is told very much from her point of view, with several still image sequences at key points illustrating her growing sense of disillusionment.While the structure makes the play seem rather fragmented, especially early on, the feminist theme – how independent women are forced to give up their freedom after marriage – comes across clearly, not only in Sally’s fantasies of subservience but in her long, rousing speech at the end of the play, in which she refutes the suggestion that young people have it easy today. “It’s not so easy when you’ve been conditioned to act out a role”, she argues in a monologue which occupies the final four minutes, recorded in two long takes
This programme is from a series looking at the lives of the inhabitants of Gibson Square in Islington, north London. Some of the families it follows have working mothers and it explores how they cope with combining their housewifely duties with the demands of employment. We meet an actress, an office cleaner and a mother who chooses to stay at home to look after the children and hear from the narrator about how it is beginning to ‘look like a woman’s world’.

Man Alive: Consenting Adults: The Women  (1967)

A documentary in which lesbians openly discuss their sexuality and lives, something very rare at this time.


Man ALive:  Marriage Under  Stress, 1: Children Male A Difference (1967)

A documentary in which young couples talk openly about the difference children have made to their marriages


Man Alive: Marriage Under  Stress: 2:  Breaking Point (1967)

Desmond Wilcox interviews couples whose marriages have gone wrong for various reasons.
Desmond Wilcox interviews various men and women who are coping with divorce in 1960s Britain.

One Pair of Eyes: Who Are The Cockneys Now? (1968)

Actress Georgia Brown returns to where she grew up in the  Jewish East End  which was changing as new migrants from  East  Pakistan were settling into the same area.


One Pair of Eyes: Margaret Drabble (1968)

Margaret Drabble narrates this documentary about her own life. The cameras follow her as she revisits the places where she grew up and was educated and ponders the events that have led to her present situation. The conflicts and the choices that women, in particular, must make between the freedom to create and the practical need to care for a family are at the centre of this self-portrait of the life of a young author.


Second Wave Feminism: BBC archive.

A  collection of clips on the emergence of  the Women’s Liberation movemnet  in late 60s/early 70s.


Miss World : Beauty Queens and Bedlam. (2020)

A  documentary about the feminist protest at Miss World in  November 1970.


Witness: November  1970

A vivid  account by Sally Alexander of her role in the Miss World protest. She  is now a Professor of History.


A Woman’s Place  (1971)

A documentary made by Sue Crockford  on the first Women’s Liberation conference in 1970 and  the first Women’s Liberation march on 8th March 1971.


Women’s Liberation, 1971

A television piece on  the progress of Women’s  Liberation with a number of interviews, including May Hobbs who led a campaign to unionise  cleaners with the support of a number of Women’s Liberation groups.


Take Three Girls (1969-1971)

A drama series about three single girls sharing a London flat between the end of the ‘swinging’ sixties and the start of the ‘glam’ seventies. Initially  they  were cello-player Victoria Edgecombe (Liza Goddard), failed actress Kate (Susan Jameson) and Cockney art student Avril (Angela Down).

Each week the story concentrated on the ups and downs of one girl in particular. These are the four episodes available on Youtube at present.

Series 1, episode 1 “Stop Acting” about Kate , written by Hugo Charteris

series 1, episode 2 ” Devon Violets”, about Avril, written by Julia Jones.

series 1 episode 10 “Keep Hoping” about Kate , written by Hugo Charteris

series 2, episode 2 “The Private Sector ” about Lulie, written by Carey Harrison.


Take Three Women (1982)

A four-episode sequel, Take Three Women, broadcast  in 1982, shows the original three characters later in their lives. Victoria is a widow with a young daughter, and Avril an art gallery owner, while Kate is sharing her life with her son and his teacher.

Kate (Susan Jameson) written by Huy Meredith

Avril (Angela Down) , written by Julia Jones

Victoria (Liza Goddard) written by Charlotte Bingham and terence Brady,

Victoria, Kate and Avril, written Lee Langley


Man Alive: Women in Prison (1972)

The first documentary about women  in prison. It was produced by Jenny Barraclough  and won a BAFTA Award for best documentary.


Play for Today:  Leeds United (1974)

A drama written by Colin Welland which is  based very closely on the events  in Leeds  in 1970 when thousands of low paid women  textile workers went on strike to to the dismay of the bosses…and  their union….


Justice  (1971 to 1974)

A drama series in which Margaret Lockwood plays a barrister, then still quite rare.   Dated in places and in some attitudes,   but many strong story lines. and a fantastic performance by Margaret.


Play  for Today: A Sudden Wrench by Paula Milne (1982)

Paula Milne’s first single drama came after ten years writing for popular series such as Crossroads (ITV, 1964-88), Angels (BBC, 1975-83), Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-) and Juliet Bravo (BBC, 1980-85). ‘A Sudden Wrench’ has a double meaning, referring to the effort bored housewife Christine makes to get herself out of the domestic rut in which she finds herself, and also to the new career – plumbing – on which she embarks, at the age of 43, in an attempt to reinvigorate her life. Paula went on to write many other plays and tv series.


A forgotten women’s solidarity campaign: The Women’s Committee for the Relief of the Miners’ Wives and Children, May 1926 to January 1927

In  May 1926  a million  miners were locked out by the coal-owners for refusing to accept  cuts in pay and a longer working week. The Trades union Congress called a General Strike in their support but, after 10 days, they called  it off with no agreement with the governmnet or coal-owners. The TUC had surrendered.

Miners and their families were now abandoned and facing months on strike with few, if any, resources. Starvation  stared them in the face. On 19th May   the miners’ leader A J Cook asked Marion Phillips, the Labour Party’s  chief women’s officer,  if it was possible to get a committee of Labour party women together to  run a Flag Day for the wives and children of the locked-out miners.

Marion Phillips

Marion and her comrades  took action  immediately, holding their first  meeting  the following  day at which  they  set  up the Women’s  Committee for the Relief of Miners’ Wives and Children which took over the whole work of collecting funds for relief.

The Chair was Ellen Wilkinson (Labour MP for Middlesbrough), the joint secretaries  were Marion and Lilian Dawson,  while Josephine Slesser was the treasurer. They were given free premises by the Parliamentary Labour Party at 11 Tufton Street, London where volunteers helped with clerical work.  Supporters donated typewriters and  even cars. They followed the model of Mary Macarthur during the Bermondsey strikes of 1911 and agreed to raise money for distribution in the form of food and other necessities.

They set up sub-committees: general house-to-house and other collections; Flag days (later the Mother and Babies Committee;  and  Entertainments;

All the principles which guided us throughout were settled at these first to meetings, and nearly every important question that  had to be decided later was an emergency matter that could not have brooked delay. ..New departments grew up as time  went on, new workers were absorbed.  Some who had started  found themselves called by home ties to other tasks, but throughout the period a wonderful comradeship reigned at Tufton Street amongst the sixty or seventy women and the dozen or so of men who gave us their services.     

The Committee  sent out an appeal on 20th May:

Ellen Wilkinson

May we appeal to your readers  for the miners’ wives and children who are now in desperate straits. Long periods of short time and low wages have exhausted their resources and the lock-out finds them facing actual starvation Some of the mining valleys owing to the bad trade of the last few years, are now practically famine areas.

 Collection sheets were printed  and were circulated to every labour Party, Women’s Section, and Women’s Co-operative Guilds as well as trade unions, churches  and other organisations. Within 24 hours money started to come in. The appeal was taken to the USA by Evelyn Preston who was returning there and it was also circulated by the International Women’s Co-operative Committee.

A Welsh miners’ choir was brought to London in the first week  and held concerts to raise funds, the first of many during the seven months. Lansbury’s Weekly organised a meeting on 30th May in the Albert hall to raise money. The first flag day took place on 10th June.

Ellen Wilkinson  made tours of Somerset and Nottiinghamshire and from the news that came in from Women’s  sections the women  realised the immediate needs of mothers and babies.

As the beginning of June we developed our scheme for helping pregnant and nursing mothers, began an urgent appeal for clothes and boots and set  on foot a special enquiry as to school feeding and OP Poor Relief. From then on we became both a collecting and distribution centre and our work developed to meet both needs. We had to maintain a constant pressure on public opinion and seek out new sources of contributions; to assist the Labour organizations and keep a flow of new methods of collecting to enable them to combat the efforts of  coal-owners, the Government and the Tory press, who kept repeating that the needs were not urgent; to organise distribution for mother’s, babies, and the sick women and children; to deal with supplies of clothes and boots; to step in with emergency relief where the Poor Law withdrew its help; and to maintain our own supply of capable workers without drawing unduly upon the nest workers of the local area. 

They raised  £6,500 raised within 5 days, but  said that they needed “hundreds times as much and next week we are all out to get it. And above all, we rely on the Labour women to help us to get it.”

The Daily Herald  regularly featured the appeal,  as well as trade union and Co-operative journals and some national press such as the Manchester Guardian. Some of the regional press – even pro-Tory ones –  carried letters and press releases. Sybil Thorndike sent out an appeal as did a number of bishops including the Bishop of Manchester.

Marion Phillips estimated that a million leaflets were distributed. Miniature miners’ lamps were made and sold at 240 Lamp Days.  9000 Boots collecting cards were issued with a picture of  the actual boots of a miner’s child.  Many Women’s  sections went door to door, collecting funds, food and other essentials.

By the end of May they were raising over £2000 a day. Donations fell after the lock-out ended so they  mounted a special Christmas appeal. The fund closed on 8th  January 1927 by which time  the committee had raised £313,874  and spent  just £10,260 in administration.  The amount raised was the equivalent of over £19 million today.

Mrs Malone described the activity of the Entertainments Committee;

 Starting with the object of stimulating and assisting the efforts of local Relief Committees to raise funds by means of every kind of entertainment  – Concerts, Whist drives, Bazaars or anything that went best in their area – we were soon engaged on a scheme to enlist the help of the general public, outside our own Movement, through the medium of the Music Halls Movement and Cinemas throughout the country. A slide to be thrown on a screen was prepared, appealing in a few very simple, non-controversial words, for help  for the women and children in the coalfields.  Local Labour Parties were circularized, urging them to approach Music Hall and Cinema proprietors  in their area to show the slide and if possible make an appeal  from the stage.

 Over 50 Miners’ choirs gave concerts and  glee parties outside railway stations and factory. A number of miners’ wives from different parts of the country came to speak in London, two of whom worked  with the choirs making an appeal to the public.  Marion Phillips says that the women:

 undoubtedly  made profound impression when they spoke of the lives of people in the coalfields from personal experiences, and appreciably increased the collections wherever they went. A magnificent  Women’s Meeting, when Margaret Bondfield took the chair and Sybil Thorndike was one of the speakers, was held inat Kingsway Hall in June at which five miners’ wives  addressed the audience. This had been organised by the Women’s Section of the National Union of General Workers. Miners’ wives also led the procession of the London Labour women at Hyde Park in July.

  A particular focus of the Committee was supporting mothers and babies. Marion Phillips estimated that 1200 babies a week were being born in the coalfields. The lead on offering support was taken by the Labour Party’s Women’s Advisory Council who in June began administering  the Mothers and Babies scheme. The instructions were as follows:

“All money to be distributed in kind and, as far as possible in food. Blankets, however, may sometimes be as essential as food.”

“Each women section affiliated to you, which is in a colliery are, to form a small Committee of women, bringing in the Women’s Co-operative Guild and any  religious organization they like, and Midwives, etc., they   find suitable, This committee, we hope, would find out about any pregnant women of the mining area who are in need, and see that they get any extra food that is required. When the baby is born we ask this Committee to get definite and certain information as to the birth of the child, and then to look after the mother for the next two weeks, making sure that she has food and warmth.”

It was also proposed to make a special grant to invalids and sick women and children, and local bodies were asked to forward information about these. At first there were only two people, afterwards increased to four, dealing with the applications under the Mothers’ and Babies’ scheme:”

…they sat surrounded by ever–increasing mountains of parcel of clothes from the morning until ten or eleven at night, and more forms were showered upon them by every post….The Committee is very proud to recall that their original circular went out on Saturday, June 12th ; they received the first reply by return  and the first  cheque was  posted on June 15th. Messages and telegrams arrived  from anxious  committees  who expected their grants almost before their forms had arrived in the office, but after a time things settled down  and as general rule cheques were dispatched on the same day  that applications  were received.

 These are extracts from some of the letters they received:

“One woman came here to seek a nightdress and  chemise to be laid up in. She had been in labour all night and had walked up to my house before 8 o’clock in the morning  for the things . It took us all our time  to get her home again. She had absolutely nothing for herself and child.”

“…I am pregnant. The children have no boots or clothes, and to make things worse we have not  a bite of food  in the house adn the children are crying for bread…If you visit us you will find things worse than what this letter says we are, but I have no more writing paper to say more – Please believe me.”

 One miner wrote: “Your representative called yesterday and was an angel sent to help us…I thought my wife  would make herself ill with worry , but since the lady came she is a different woman. My wife had plenty of sympathy, but this  is the only help she has had.”

The  WAC  secretaries were the lynchpin of the support as Marion recorded;

They threw themselves into the struggle…and in many cases the husbands of the secretaries and even the children, took a good  share of the work upon their shoulders. Many of them  found their houses turned into clothes stores and could never suit down to a meal without being called several times to the door, but they bore it all with wonderful patience. ..many of the Secretaries worked twelve hours a day for weeks on end  and wore their strength out.

By the  end of January the Committee had distributed  over £120,000 for expectant and nursing mothers, sick women and children.

Another major initiative  was to provide boots for children. After appeal for funds and the support of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives they purchased over 34,000 pairs. They also set up a boot repairing scheme in September through local committees which  repaired  some 40,000 pairs.

During the London Dock strike of 1912 a scheme of child adoption had been very successful carried out. As the Miners’ Lock-out went on it was decided to introduce a similar scheme for miner’s  children, focusing on the Kent and Somerset mining areas which were small isolated mining communities in rural areas whose Education and Poor Law authorities were  vindictive. They then moved on to other areas. In all over 2,000 children were  found temporary homes.

It was a complex task as they had to find host families and then arrange for the children to be brought by train with escorts   and  escorted back.  Some children had never been on train before, some children arrived in rags or with no spare clothes. Twelve children from Somerset went to a camp  at Storrington during the summer,  another five went to Burston Strike School.   Many went to the seaside or countryside or even abroad with their host families, with  several dozen being invited stay in Norway in December and January where they all learnt to ski and some had learned Norwegian.

Marion Phillips wrote:

The hostesses came from every class of society, from  those who owned motor cars to working people living in small flats, but the children seemed to fit in very readily with all. Often when they came “aunts” were very troubled about their food. They had becomes so accustomed to having little, and probably in addition arrived so tired with the journey, that at first they would  eat nothing but bread and jam, to the bitter disappointment of the hostess who had been  looking forward seeing them enjoy their  first solid meal in weeks. One child who had not only suffered a long period of poverty,  but whose home had just been burned down, was in such a neurotic condition  that we arranged for her to be treated at the Tavistock Clinic  for Nervous Diseases and she made a very fine recovery.  

Most children were away for two months at the very least, and many did not return until the Lock-Out was over.  Those of school age attended schools while they were away. Around 400  stayed on to spend Christmas with their host families. When the children  went back home, their mothers often did not recognise them. A small number never returned home.

Marion says that well as improving the children’s health: It has also given people all over the country  a far  greater knowledge  of the conditions of the mining areas. It has created new bonds between the people within and without the coalfields, and established a friendly relation we know will  result in many avisit between the families in the future. 

The Committee   co-ordinated series of marches and procession by woman in many parts of the country in June and July.

29 May  WAC West Riding  held a joint rally at Hardcastle Crags. Hundreds of women came in charabancs  from all over the district.  As it was showery the meeting had to be held indoors and the room was absolutely packed.  £5 collected for Relief committee.

14 June  Over  2,000 women took part in demonstration at Alexandra  Palace,  Wood Green  with women from across Middlesex and Hertfordshire. They came by train, tram and charabanc, bringing their lunch with them. The speakers were Arthur Henderson, MP, and Miss Minnie Pallister. After the speeches there was tea and  performances  by London Socialist Choir and in the Bijou Theatre by Golders Green ILP Players,

15 June large march of women in Wollaton Hall,   Nottinghamshire with  contingents of women who came  from all over Nottingham and some from Derbyshire. The chief speaker was Dr   Marion Phillips who spoke  on the work of the Relief Committee.  At the close she was presented with a Davy Lamp  whose inscription read “with best wishes from the womenfolk of the Derbyshire and Notts miners.”

15 June   Sheerness  A procession with numerous banners, “very fresh and new,”  started from the station and proceeded through the town to the Hippodrome. At least 2000 took part. Many could get into the Hippodrome.  Speakers included Miss Monica Whateley  and Mrs Green of Abertillery, a miner’s wife.

16 June 300 women  marched in Compton,  Surrey.  In the morning the women were shown around the Watts picture and pottery collection. In the afternoon a meeting was held on the Common were the speakers were Mrs Bell and Lady Cynthia Moseley. The veteran pioneer Edward Carpenter was present and the women sang  “England Arise”.

17 June Over 1000 women  marched in Peterfield Hampshire.  Women  came from all over Hampshire, Southampton, Portsmouth and Bournemouth and even from the Isle of Wight.  They marched with banners flying. Minnie Pallister was the main speakers.

Mary Quaile and Councillor Mary Welsh  from Manchester spoke at a demonstration in Blackburn organised by Blackburn and District WAC.

With the General Strike defeated, the popular press  covered the balls, presentations at court and other  meaningless rituals  of  “The Season”. Labour Woman commented acidly:

The women of the governing classes of to-day have enjoyed the brilliancy of the season.  Let them go. After all, they are of the past, lingering on the scene too long. The women of the future, the women who will help to make our country great, not with “seasons”  but with all-the-year-round happiness, are to be found in other places.  Above all amongst the women in the coalfields.  Labour Woman, 1 August 1926

The North Western District  WAC  reported that  “the Advisory Councils and the Sections have been engaged  in the relief  work in connection  with the coal lock-out. In the districts, other than coalfields, the Sections  have been raising  money, holding pound days, etc  to help the distress , particularly to help Bolton, where the Guardians have behaved so inhumanly. Sections have also arranged adoptions of children for the duration, and have made clothes and collected boots, clogs etc.”  Labour Woman  1 September  1926

Ellen Wilkinson  went to the United States to raise money for the miner’s families, speaking to trade  unions and addressing strikers in Passaic. In August a delegation was invited to tour the Soviet union which included sic  miners’ wives: Mrs Cook, Mrs Johnson (Nortumberland), Mrs Errington (Durham), Mrs Chester (Yorkshire) , Mrs Eddishaw (Nottingham), and Mrs Green (Wales). They spent six weeks touring the country and addressed many meetings.

Finally, as the leaves fell,   the mining communities, many of them starving,  were forced back to work on the mine-owners terms. Labour Woman summed up the struggle, finding hope even in bitter  defeat.

Helping our Fellow Members

For nearly five months the whole strength of the Labour women  of Great Britain has been thrown into the struggle against the coalowners and the Government. Outside the coalfields every effort possible has been made to collect money and clothes and food for the mining areas. Within the coalfields the women have slaved day or night to carry out the work of relief as well as gather whatever assistance they could for the national and local funds.  It has been a truly heroic effort, and it has shown no weakening in spite of every force that can be brought to bear by hardship and injustice to break down their spirit. In this epic of Labour and Capital, this most terrible  example of class war, Labour women have proved themselves the most magnificent fighters. They have not fought by words, but by deedsLabour Woman,  1 October 1926

Marion Phillips  wrote a book about the solidarity campaign Women and the Miners’ Lockout, The story of the Women’s Committee for the Relief of the Miners’ Wives and Children, published in 1927.The foreword  was by  A J Cook who wrote:

I feel at a loss to find words to express my thanks  for this wonderful effort. The collection of money, clothes and boots, and their distribution to the worst areas, and their distribution to the worst areas, the arranging for choirs, bands, concerts, sales, meetings, etc., was a colossal task.

 The Miners’ Lamp has become an historic problem. A new army of trained women workers was born out of the crisis. Their work in our communal kitchens will ever be remembered. When it is known that the sum of over £310,000 was collected, in addition to clothes, under conditions when so many  workers were unemployed or working short time  and all on low wages, the results are almost miraculous.

 It is the women who made the great sacrifice. Therefore, we shall never forget how, led by Dr Marion Phillips,  the Labour women all over the country with energy and  devotion set themselves the task of feeding the miners wives and children. 






“Free our sisters, free ourselves…” The first Women’s Liberation march, 8th March 1971

In my previous posts I have written about  the first Women’s Liberation Conference in February 1970 and the  imaginative protest at the Miss World contest in November 1970.

Another key milestone was  the first Women’s Liberation march which took place on 8th March 1971 in London (in freezing wreather, it should be noted). Organised by the Women’s National Co-ordinating Committee  and Ad Hoc Committee for the London March 6th Demonstration it was the first march on purely women’s  issues since 1926, assembling at Speakers’ Corner and processing to Trafalgar Square.

The idea was to bring women  together in support of the four demands of the Women’s Liberation movement:

  • Free abortion and contraception on demand
  • Equal educational and job opportunites
  • Free 24-hour nurseries
  • Equal pay

The event  was planned with much  imagination  with banners stating “Women  Unite” and “Women’s Liberation”, a  twelve foot Old Woman’s Shoe,  a caged woman (Mis-Stress)   as well as co-ordinated singing, dancing and music and performances in the Trafalgar Square.

Surviving footage captures its fun aspect  and the sometimes bewildered reactions of passers-by.  Around 3,000 attended.

first Women’s Liberation Movement march –  footage from UCL students archive 


Women’s Liberation March, London, UK Archive Footage

Jill Tweedie  went on the march and wrote an account for The Guardian

And when we arrived at Trafalgar Square the demo arranged itself into a symbol so apt as to seem planned. One girl at the mike, four girl photographers, and a solid phalanx of great, grey, brawny men blocking the view of the women. Get out, shrieked the women, get away, get back, and the men, genuinely startled, got back.

Communicators themselves, they communicated the women’s case – men, men, men, grouped at the foot of a soaring phallus with Nelson, a man, at the top. “Look at you all,” said a girl to a male photographer. “If that doesn’t tell you something about equal job opportunities, I don’t know what will.” The photographer looked as superior as a man can in a howling blizzard. “I’d like to see you going into a shower room full of naked men after a Cup Final,” he said. “I’d like to see you going into a changing room full of naked models,” she said. ” Try and stop me.” he said. “Try and stop me,” she said.

In the crowd a tiny “Gay is Good” placard vied gamely with a huge Women’s Lib banner. “Here, it’s our demonstration,” said Women’s Lib testily. “It’s against oppression, isn’t ?” snapped Gay Lib. “I was chucked out of my job last week because I’m gay. We’re more oppressed than what you are, any day.” Women’s Lib raised her eyebrows in ladylike fashion and turned back to the platform.

A middle-aged woman in fur has been lured from a bus stop to join the march. “I’m a graphic designer and what do I read in a trade magazine last week? Some man complaining about how difficult it is to get a job at 45. Huh. I’ve had difficulties getting jobs all my life – the moment they hear your voice on the telephone they don’t want to know.”

Another woman, skin flushed with Panstik, had a hand-scrawled notice pinned to the front of her tweed coat. “I’ve come all the way from Sheffield, I can’t afford the fare but I must do something for the single woman. We don’t get paid nearly as much as men but still we’ve got to find rooms, pay the electricity, feed ourselves. It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.” Behind the pebble lenses, her huge eyes watered. Then the speeches were over, vast congratulatory relief filled the square. The demonstration had happened (miracle) and it had happened well (greater miracle). Girls stood in groups, stamping and chatting:

“There was only one thing. The weather. The trade unions had such a marvellous day and we had to go and get this.”
“Well, love, what did you expect? God is a man.”

An article in the Women’s Liberation workshop newsletter  Shrew  (Vol3, no3)  reflected on what had been achieved – and not achieved

Male passer-by:  What do you want – Stuffing?

Woman in uniform:  “we’re not allowed to think…”

Woman in fur coat: “abortion makes me turn cold. It’s like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. “

Middle-aged woman shop assistant: “I think I’m in favour.”

These remarks of bystanders at the demonsaration on Saturday, and the attitude of amused tolerance  in the press coverage of the march, must guide us in assessing exactly what we have achieved. The demonstration raisse certain questions  about our aims and strategy as a movement.  That over 3,000 women assembled in Hyde Park prepared to march despite falling snow and freezing temperatures w  sreason enough for spirits to be high. Not only the numbers present, but that these represented nation-wide support for our cause must be an encouragement. While we need to stand united in the face of press criticism of the demonstration and of the movement as a whole, it is important that our first experience of a national demonstration should provoke self-criticism within the movement.

What were we “demonstrating”: was this a demonstration of  of women’s solidarity  or was it an outing?  Was it a march, or a wander through the West End? In terms of appearances a useful  comparisons  is the New York Women’s Liberation demonsration of September 1970. Several thousand women, arms linked and chanting slogans, surged down Park Avenue, sweeping aisde police attempting to restruct the marchers to two traffic lanes. Police had barricaded sidewalks to keep public and demonstrators apart, and crowds gathered to watch the spectacle – expecting a circus. But, infected by  the determination of the marchers, middle-aged women  left their husbands and girls ducked under the barricades to join the march when challenged to do so. The uncommitted were made to feel that something important concerning them was at stake.

Given the British spirit of moderation in all things, in contrast with the polarisation on equivalent issues in American society, and that the British woman clings more conventionally to the passivity of her traditional  role – did we, in marching, really provoke or inspire women “on the side”  to commit themselves. Many, questioned on their attitude to the march, came out in favour of at least two or three of the four demands in point but had not been made to feel to demonstrate solidarity on the issues. Much more is at stake in the Women’s Liberation movement than equal pay, equal educational opportunities, state nurseries, free abortion and contraception:  the underlying   factor  is the liberation of woman  for independent  self-determination  as a human being.  To quote a hand-out  distributed on the march, “Social reforms do not necessarily mean a change in attitudes”. Female emancipation cannot be achieved simply be legisltaion as female  suffrage has shown.

If all we were  doing on March 6th was demanding social welfare  changes with which many can agree without any fundamental  changes in their  conception of and attitude to “woman”, what was the real confrontation of this demonstration?  

We must avoid putting ourselves in a position in which  we can be fobbed off with superficial concessions and be left with nothing more to say.

All women  must be confronted with the fact that the liberation of women   requires a fundamental revison of the definitions of all human roles in society.  This raises the question  of the role of male support  of the movement: one one hand, their presence  on Saturday  gives weight to the liberated men and women  through the call to women to do something about their own position. On the other hand, the presence of husbands and boyfriends in the midst of “women united”  made us more vulnerable to jokey press comments and public amusement – and possible identification by the public as yet another group of “student revolutionaries”, rather than  as an unprecedented  assembly of women, demonstrating in the cause of all women. 

If we failed to communicate the seriousness of the aims of Women’s Liberation perhaps we should ask ourselves whether our future efforts to communicate should now  involve a choice. One alternative is uncompromising militancy  which  most of neccessity provoke commitment or hostility to the movement, but which brings to light fundamental and radical  issues implied by women’s liberation.  Or do we try  to appeal to the mass of women in this country at the moment  who think they are in favour  – thus achieving a real following but running the risk of making  the four demands as end in themselves.

The moderate method  could be regarded as first step towards greather things ,  or as the removal of specific grievances, but at the possible cost of true liberation.

After the march the Socialist Woman group held a meeting in the evening  in a pub about  the German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg


Emmie Lawther’s account of the 1936 NUWM women’s march

Emmie Lawther in 1936

In 1930, 1932, 1934 and 1936 the Unemployed Workers’ Movement organised  national marches to London by the unemployed which  included contingents of women.

This is an account written by Emmie  Lawther, Deputy Leader of the march in 1936, which I  have just come across when doing some research at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

Emmie started her working life in the Potteries at the age of 13. She became an active trade unionist  and  was a branch secretary by the time she was 18. She also joined the Social  Democratic Federation.

In 1920 she went to Ruskin College for two years and then spent a year in Vienna teaching English. In 1923 she got married to Steve Lawther, whom she had met at Ruskin,  and went to live in Chopwell in the North East where he was a miner. She  quickly became active in the Labour Party’s  Women’s Advisory Council.

Her husband was imprisoned for 3 months during the General Strike.  Emmie was very active in the  miner’s relief fund distributing thousands of pounds to women for their families She also campaigned for a birth control  clinic, despite the disapproval of male Labour politicians.

In 1928 she visited the Soviet Union on a delegation, going to Leningrad, Moscow and the Donbass coalfield and spoke at many  meetings about what she had seen in terms of child welfare, which exceeded what was available in Britain.

In 1929 she attended the first International Anti-Fascist Congress in Berlin.  After the Naxis came  to power she  took in a child refugee  from Germany who later served in the British army.

In the early 1930s she was very active in the NUWM speaking at many meetings. This is her account of the 1936 march.

Thirty-two  women assembled in Coventry on the evening of Tuesday, 27th October, 1936, to take part in the National Unemployed Workers’ movement.

 They came from the distressed areas of Scotland, Cumberland, Tyneside, Wearside, Merseyside and the Midlands. These women knew they were on a serious mission and, though most of them had never left their homes and families before, they came because they felt it was their duty to make this protest to the Government and to bring the poverty and malnutrition rampant in the distressed areas to the notice of the people in towns, villages and hamlets on the route to London.

 Not knowing what they had to face but prepared to meet any hardship such a trek may entail, the women began their march on Wednesday , 28th October, determined to persevere and reach their objective.

 We set off  from Lockhurst and arrived at Coventry about 10.30am.

After a meeting at the Labour Exchange, we set off for Rugby, a distance of 15 miles. In an hour or so the town gave way to countryside and we pass through many pretty scenes and eventually have our mid-day meal by the roadside, sandwiches provided by the Labour and Co-operative women of Coventry. During the break we decide to have a ten minutes rest each hour as the majority of us were already feeling the effects of being “broke in” to this new life. At one of these breaks,  a farmer came and gave us  a sack of apples, large jug of milk and a half-crown to our collection.

 We were to meet with many such kindly incidents on our journey. Long before we reached Rugby we were too tired to appreciate the glamour of the countryside, but in spite of this, we marched into this town as the workers were leaving the factories just after 5pm with banners flying and singing our marching songs and the people responded in no uncertain manner. Here,a good meal  was provided by the co-operative  and served in their hall where we were to sleep. We were all very tired, many had blisters on their feet, others ached in every limb but everybody endeavoured  to make light of their weariness. After a sing-song and much good humoured chaff, we settled down to our second night on bare boards.

 Next morning after breakfast and carrying our mid-day meal we start for Daventry in a heavy drizzle, everybody accepting the wretched weather with good philosophy. After our mid-day meal, we send our advance guard  ahead, on her bike, to make arrangements  for our stay in Daventry. She ultimately returns and informs me  that we are to stay in the Workhouse and the Master is making soup for our arrival. Oh! How we could smell that soup during the last weary miles to Daventry.

Arriving at the Workhouse, everyone slips off her pack and makes a bee-line for the mess room.  We sit down expectant, the soup is served,  and eagerness gives way to dismay. Never have I seen such a concoction  – a thick, lumpy, mess with  bits of fat here and there. We try to eat the disgusting mess but our indefatigable leader, Maud Brown, is the only one that sticks it. She certainly set us an example, but we preferred to make a meal of the farmer’s apples.

 We tramped though town and village, Coventry, Rugby, Daventry, Northampton, Ampthill, St Albans, Finchley and Islington to London. Many times seeking a night’s shelter in Workhouses, oft we were weary and footsore but we never faltered. We carried our message of poverty and distress from the special  areas, caused by the callous indifference of the Government, to the needs of decent people, wherever we went. The people were amazed at the stories of hardship, poverty  and malnutrition our women had to tell. And we aroused the sympathy of all sections of the community. Many people helped to make our  journey to London as light as possible.

In Coventry, Newport Pagnal, Finchley and Islington, the church loaned us their halls to sleep in and we were thankful for their kindness. We shall not forget “mine host” of the “Sow and Pigs” midway between Ampthill and Dunstable, who provided a room with a roaring fire for 32 women  soaked to the skin. We arrrived wet and dismal and left warm and dry with the kindliest feelings for the cheery host who had done so much for us.

 We marched to London to arouse the public consciousness  to the Government’s attitude on unemploymnet. We arrived there on Saturday , 7th November, and carried out eight strenuous  days of campaigning in the Metropolis.

 We addressed Co-operative Guilds, Trade  Union Branches, Public meetings, lobbied  the House of Commons and carried out all kinds of activities. Those  who saw shall never forget the Armistice Celebrations of 1936. Following the official ceremony, 2,000 marchers, who were already lined up in the Horse Guards Parade, marched into Whitehall and paraded past the Cenotaph. They were preceded by five men and five women marchers, each Group bearing a wreath from the men and women marchers that  was placed at the foot of the Cenotaph. The eerie stillness of the morning was broken by a cheer as those two wreaths were placed in position and the huge procession that had marched from every part of the isles now marched past the Cenotaph and  re-forming ranks. It was a most impressive sight.

 Our march was essentially a protest against the National Government. When the first contingents had taken the road five weeks previously, the Cabinet issued a statement, deprecating the march and informing us that they would not meet the marchers. After our arrival in London, Mr Baldwin repeated this declaration in the House of Commons but we broke through this conspiracy and forced the Minister of Labour to meet a deputation from the Marchers  before we had  concluded a week’s campaign in London. Not only did we break through  the ban of the National Government but we broke through all the bans of officialdom in our movement and   we achieved a measure of unity undreamed of at Edinburgh a few months. I  myself spoke on the same platform at Sir Stafford Cripps, G R Strauss, MP,  Wal Hannington and Arthur Horner.

The demonstration in Hyde Park  on Sunday, 8th November, was one of the greatest ever seen on that historic ground; it brought on to the same platform  Clem Attlee, Leader of the Parliamentary party, Wal Hamnnington, Leader of the Unemployed, and a host of Members of Parliament and Trade Union Leaders and left wing leaders who would not have associated on the same platform a short time ago. We can claim the march achieved a measure of unity never before accomplished and that basis that we laid will bear fruit in the future.

Emmie remained active for next thirty years. She died in 1965. This account of the march and her life is taken from a pamphlet  Emmie Lawther: a tribute.