In Britain, we’ve all heard of Manchester, with its vibrant modern-day outlook and its ‘Cottonopolis’ heritage. We may even have heard about the first passenger railway, the Peterloo massacre or the Sex Pistols’ performance at the Free Trade Hall.
But what do we know about Salford? Probably UK residents may be aware of MediaCity and the BBC’s recent move there. Possibly the nearby Salford Quays with the renowned Lowry cultural centre and Imperial War Museum North. I doubt that many people know that Salford is a city in its own right, even more so that it was once an industrial powerhouse in the North West of England. Salford, in its heyday, was home to a great number of industries that brought wealth to the city and surrounding areas. And today almost all of it is gone, the buildings demolished and the firms long since disappeared or moved on. And yet there are many people, often still living in or close to Salford, who have a wealth of memories of those lost workplaces, stories to tell of daily work, friends and colleagues, and much more.
And this is where the Working Class Movement Library enters the story. Eddie and Ruth Frow, ardent book collectors and lifelong Communist Party members, built up an astonishing collection of books, pamphlets, newspapers and more – all related to unions, the Communist Party and the working class movement – in their Old Trafford home. Eventually, the collection outgrew their home (the story goes that the Frows knew they were running out of room when they had to pull their bed into the middle of the bedroom to fit in extra bookcases behind it). In 1987, Salford Council welcomed the library into its new home, a former nurses’ residence – a lovely, quirky building which suitably reflects the eclectic (and still growing) collection.
While the Working Class Movement Library has a small collection of oral history recordings, it had never previously undertaken a project to interview people before. The industrial past of Salford, including working conditions and union activities seemed a good place to start. With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the library has recruited a team of volunteers who have been trained to conduct oral history interviews with people who worked at three Salford workplaces. The three workplaces were chosen as a microcosm of the diverse range of industry once based in Salford.
Agecroft Colliery was a major part of the community in Pendlebury and, in its last incarnation, was open from 1960-1991. As Tony puts out in this extract, mining was very attractive to some young people.
During that period was the bitter Miners Strike of 1984/85, when the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher took on the unions. Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, did not hold a ballot on a national strike, which many in the mining community, especially at Agecroft disagreed with. This led to only a third of the workers at the pit being involved in the strike and caused deep divisions in the community and even within families, which last to this day. Here, Paul talks about the strike and its effects on people:
Ward & Goldstone’s engineering factory was a family firm, founded in 1882 by Meyer Hart Goldstone and James Ward. It produced all manner of cables, plugs and car parts (to name just a few examples of its output), many of which it supplied to Woolworth’s. It was once Salford’s largest industrial employer. In its later years, the company was run with a patrician hand by the Goldstone family, particularly Sampson Goldstone or ‘Mr Sam’ as he was known by many employees (although opinion varies on how he dealt with unions and strikes, as Glynn and John mention in this extract below. Ward & Goldstone’s lasted until 1986.
Richard Haworth’s mill, known affectionately as ‘Dickie’ Haworth’s, existed for around a century from the 1870s on Ordsall Lane, near what is now Salford Quays. At its peak it created a staggering 30 million yards of cloth each year and was held up as a shining example of good working practices in the industry. Interestingly, from those interviewed, there seems to have been very little interest in union activity at Haworth’s (according to Muriel, Norman and Peter in the extract below). Like the other two workplaces, there is no longer any physical sign of the busy place it once was, although the company does still exist elsewhere in the North West.
We now have twenty-two interviews with people who worked at these three sites. The memories and stories the library’s volunteers have recorded have been varied, ranging from tales of everyday experiences in the workplaces, to practical jokes, to death and danger in the workplace. The volunteer team has worked hard not only conducting the interviews, but summarising and transcribing them, along with choosing significant extracts and learning how to do simple audio editing to ‘copy and paste’ these extracts. The impact on people involved has been significant, with volunteer interviewees gaining a real connection with people they have interviewed and with the memories in other interviews they have worked with. Many of them spoke of a much more real understanding of lives of people in the local area, especially the industrialised nature of the city in areas where almost everyone in the surrounding streets worked for the same firm. Of particular impact on people was a sense that working conditions in some of the workplaces more closely resembled those at the turn of the previous century than today. Younger volunteers were notably affected by the difference between the job market then and now upon hearing of interviewees easily walking into new jobs in direct comparison to their own experiences of job-hunting. Volunteers recognised that they were, in some respects offering ‘payback’ – they were able to ask interviewees questions that said interviewees’ children and grandchildren may one day wished they’d asked, reflecting their regret at not exploring their own family history in greater depth when relatives were still alive.
Emotions that being involved in the process that have been invoked have been a sense of self reflection on life choices (upon hearing this interviewee, Dave, talk about his feelings about his own life choices below:
There was a visceral appreciation of just how dangerous life in a coal mine could be (after hearing these two extracts from Tony below about accidents at Agecroft). Additionally, a key part of the Invisible Histories project is a desire to bring these memories to a wider audience, keeping this vitally important part of local history alive. Since May, the Working Class Movement Library has been working in association with teachers and Year 9 students at Buile Hill Visual Arts College to produce a podcast, linking people’s actual words with music and song. In this, we have been inspired by the innovative 1950s Radio Ballads, produced by Ewan MacColl (Salford-born communist, labour activist and folk singer), Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker.
Just as these pioneers worked at the cutting edge (sometimes literally, given this was the era of tape-editing with scissors and knives) of producing a very special blend of extracts from oral history interviews, coupled with music reflecting their words, so we have encouraged the students to innovate. They have researched the workplaces and the interviews, worked with stop-frame animation and filming and worked with a musician to create music to complement interviewees’ words. The project will continue working with the students after the summer break as they contribute to an exhibition and work with the musician and creative practitioner to produce our own Radio Ballad, based on the memories and stories we have collected and available to all via the web (and hopefully broadcast).
We hope to make sure memories of Salford’s amazing industrial past do not just fade away. While our new Radio Ballad is not yet complete, we are very excited to be able to share these demos of sections of it – the first featuring different tales from Agecroft, the second, a frightening experience at Ward & Goldstone for Glynn.