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Celebrity Drawings by John Moss

Politicians, Law & Social Reformers of Manchester

Ellen (Nellie) Wilkinson

Ellen Wilkinson, Manchester MP and politician

Ellen Wilkinson was born in Manchester on 8th October 1891, the daughter of a textile worker of a strict Methodist background. She attended the local Ardwick School where she won many scholarships as well as a teaching bursary in 1906 to attend the Manchester Day Training College while doing part-time teaching at Oswald Road Elementary School. Her highly developed social conscience led her to join the Independent Labour Party. In 1910 she became a history student at Manchester University , where she was active in the University Socialist Federation. In 1912 she joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and quickly rose to become a district organiser. As a dedicated pacifist, she gave wholehearted support to the Non-Conscription Fellowship during the First World War. By 1915 she had been employed by the National Union of Distributive & Allied Workers (AUCE). Wilkinson, its first female organiser, and was elected to the Manchester City Council in 1923. In 1924 she was elected as Member of Parliament for the Middlesbrough East constituency. Her sometimes extreme left wing politics and her flame red hair combined to earn her the nickname of "Red Ellen" . During the General Strike of 1926 she co-wrote "The Workers History of the Great Strike" . In 1929 she was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, though she lost her seat in the following General Election in 1931. Ellen Wilkinson followed by writing two books on politics, "Peeps at Politicians" in 1931 and "The Terror in Germany" in 1933, as well as a novel entitled "The Division Bell Mystery" in 1932. She also contributed regular articles to Time and Tide, a left wing feminist publication.
In 1935 she was re-elected as MP for Jarrow, a north eastern town with one of the worst unemployment records in Britain at that time - almost 80% of the population was unemployed. This resulted in her helping to organised a march of 200 unemployed workers from Jarrow to London to present a petition to parliament calling for action. In 1939 she recorded her account of the Jarrow Crusade was recorded in "The Town That Was Murdered" . In 1936 she joined the team writing the left wing Tribune . That year she also fought passionately to overturn the Conservative Government's policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War. In December of that year she actually went to Spain to give support to the International Brigades fighting against General Franco. She also organised appeals to raise money for the families of casualties of that war.
She was active in broader issues at home and was instrumental in 1938 in the passing of the High Purchase Act. In Winston Churchill's wartime cabinet of 1940 (alongside Lord Woolton, her one-time teacher at Ardwick), she was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Pensions, and later, Prime Minister Clement Attlee appointed her as Minister of Education, the first woman in British history to hold the post. In 1946, she pushed through the School Milk Act that gave free milk to all British schoolchildren. Altruistic and idealistic to the end, Wilkinson was an outgoing romantic who was an inspirational orator and defender of the underprivileged. However, she eventually became deeply depressed by her failure to bring in all the reforms she believed necessary, took her own life by an overdose of barbiturates and died on 6th February 1947. The Ellen Wilkinson School on Hyde Road is named after her.

Hannah Mitchell

Hnnah Mitchell, reformer and Womens' Rights Activist

Hannah Mitchell was born in 1871, the daughter of John Webster, a Derbyshire farmer. She had virtually no formal schooling due to heavy domestic duties and work on her father's farm. Though this was not uncommon in rural communities at that time, the fact that all of her three brothers had schooling, made Hannah aware of the inherent unfairness, and that she was being discriminated against because of her gender. This came to a head when, at just fourteen years of age, Hannah rowed bitterly with her mother over her unfair workload, for which she was badly beaten, forcing her to run away from home. She took work with a dressmaking firm in Bolton, earning eight shillings a week. Even so, she saved enough to join the local library and to teach herself to read and write.
In Bolton she met Gibbon Mitchell, a strong local socialist, and began attending meetings with him at the Bolton branch of the Independent Labour Party. She increasingly became active in the local trade union movement, subscribing to The Clarion journal, published by Robert Blatchford. Hannah married Mitchell in 1895. Ever egalitarian, and with a strong sense of fairness, she insisted that they should share domestic duties - Mitchell agreed but found it impossible to live up to her high expectations. Disillusioned by her husband, and thereby with men in general, she determined to make it her business to promote the rights of women, no matter how unpopular or untimely her views might be.
In 1904 she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Her husband actually supported her involvement and acted as a bodyguard at public meetings. By 1905 she had become a full-time worker for the WSPU. Despite this, she objected to dominance of the Pankhursts in the movement and their lack of consultation on important decisions.
In 1907 she was persuaded her to join Women's Freedom League, and she became a pacifist, refusing to become involved the WSPU army recruiting campaign in 1914. She joined the Independent Labour Party and opposed the War - she also was associated with the No-Conscription Fellowship and the Women's Peace Council. Hannah Mitchell was elected to the Manchester City Council in 1924 and remained a major political figure in Manchester until her retirement. Her autobiography, The Hard Way Up , was published after her death in 1956.

Joe Gormley

Baron Gormley of Ashton-in-Makerfield

Lord Joe Gormley of Ashton-in-Makerfield

The former National Union of Mineworkers president, Joe Gormley, was born in Ashton-in-Makerfield in 1921. He is best remembered for his leadership of miners in the 1977 national strike, and the controversial so-called "winter of discontent" which led more than any other factor to the collapse of the Labour Government. In 1983 he was made Baron Gormley of Ashton-in-Makerfield. Joe Gormley started work in a pit at the age of 14 and spent the whole of his working life in the mining industry. For much of that time he lived in Shevington, Wigan and was a lifelong fan of Wigan Rugby League Football Club. He was made a life peer as Baron Gormley of Ashton-in-Makerfield in Greater Manchester in the 1982 Birthday Honours. He died in 1993. Several years after his death it was revealed that he had worked undercover for Special Branch.

Harry Pollitt

Harry Pollitt, leader of ther British Communist Party

Harry Pollitt was born on 22nd November 1890 and spent all of his formative years in Droylsden. At the age of 12 he began work at the local Benson's Mill as a weaver, and within three years had moved on to work at the Great Central Railway locomotive works in Gorton. While here he continued his education at evening classes and in 1906 he became a member of the Openshaw Independent Labour Party; he moved to the British Socialist Party in 1911 and by 1912 had become local branch secretary. In 1915 he left Droylsden for Southampton which was followed a succession of engineering jobs ending in London in 1918.
In London he enrolled as a member of the Boilermakers' Society and the Workers' Socialist Federation. By 1919 the Boilermakers had elected him secretary. He was active in the "Hands Off Russia" movement and helped organise strikes in British shipyards. In 1920 Pollitt was a cofounder of the British Communist Party and was to become its leader from 1929 to 1956.
Pollitt was a dynamic orator and outspoken public speaker - he was arrested and served a prison sentence for seditious libel in 1925 and was actually deported from Belfast in 1933. He stood unsuccessfully for election to parliament on a number of occasions.
After the Second World war he made a series of overseas visits to foreign Communist Party leaders including Germany, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Czechoslovakia and China. He also published several books and tracts, including "Reform v Revolution" in 1908, "How to Win a War" in 1939 and his autobiography, "Serving My Time" in 1940. >

Alf Morris

Lord Alf Morris of Wythenshawe

Lord Alf Morris of Wythenshawe

(Born 1928)
Manchester born Alf Morris, one of eight children, (the uncle of former Labour Education Secretary Estelle Morris - see below), was Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe from 1964, He was elevated to the peerage in 1997 and took the title of Lord Morris of Wythenshawe when he moved to the House of Lords.
Brought up in what he described as "a Manchester slum" in the 1930s, he was evacuated at the outbreak of war at the age of eleven. He began work at the age of 14 as a clerk in the local Wilson's Brewery. Even at his tender age, he was entitled to 24 bottles of Wembley Ale every week as part of his remuneration - which his mother is said distributed amongst the neighbours! He first stood, unsuccessfully, as a candidate for parliament in Liverpool in 1951 while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford - the youngest standing candidate in the country. In 1955 he stood again, this time as Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe, but it was to be 1964 before he would be successful in his bid. He held the Wythenshawe constituency seat until his retirement in 1997. Almost immediately after election he was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Fred Peart, Agriculture Minister in Harold Wilson's new Labour government.
In 1970 he was instrumental in the creation of the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act and in 1974 the Prime Minister invited him to become the very first Minister for the Disabled. Alf Morris is also Patron of the Co-op Foundation, and introduced the Motability scheme whereby severely disabled people could get a free motor vehicle. It is said that Alf first became passionate about working to improve the lot of disabled people as a result of watching his father, a one-time local signwriter, suffer a long drawn out decline and eventual death after being severely gassed in the Great War - Alf was just seven years old at the time. Loss of the war pension and a pauper's funeral in Manchester left a lasting impression on the young lad.
In 1991 he introduced a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which set out in more detail how anti-discrimination for disabled people should work. Lord Morris's legislation became the model for similar legislation around the world. He is President of the Haemophilia Society, Vice-president of Northern Civic Society and Chairman to the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People (CORAD).
In 1994 he became a founder member of the inter-parliamentary Gulf War Group, and in 2004 he began to organise a public enquiry into the so-called 'Gulf War Syndrome', (which successive governments had failed to do). The debilitating symptoms are said to affect over 6,000 British veterans of the 1991 campaign, (as well as around 100,00 Americans) with illnesses varying from motor neurone disease to cancer.

Estelle Morris MP

Estelle Morris

(b. 1953)
Estelle Morris, niece of Lord Alf Morris (see above) was brought up in a council estate in Manchester and went to the Rack House Primary School in Wythenshawe and Whalley Range High School. On finishing school she moved to Coventry, where she attended the local College of Education before completing her Bachelor of Education degree at Warwick University. On graduation she began teaching PE and humanities at a comprehensive school in Coventry where she worked for 18 years. Interested in politics since an early age, she went on to become leader of the Labour group on Warwick District Council before becoming MP for the Birmingham Yardley constituency in 1992 and was appointed an opposition whip in 1994. She also acted as opposition spokesperson for education and employment.
In the new Labour government of 1997 she became and worked closely with David Blunkett until 1998 when she was appointed Minister of State for Education by Tony Blair. She is probably best known for introducing performance-related pay despite fierce opposition, and was responsible for much of the 'contracting out' of education services to private companies.
In late summer 2002, after a much-publicised fiasco in the publication of A-Level Examination grades, many delays, remarking and suggestions of unfair marking practices, she took much of the blame, most believe honourably, and In October 2002 she resigned from her ministerial post to remain as a backbench Member of Parliament.

Joseph Rayner Stephens

Joseph Rayner Stephens radical politician and factory reformer

Joseph Stephens was born in Edinburgh in 1805, the son of a Methodist minister and one of six children. In 1819 his father was posted to Manchester and the family moved to live here, Joseph attending the celebrated Manchester Grammar School. By 1823 he was teaching at a school in Cottingham in Yorkshire and by 1825 had taken steps to train as a Methodist minister like his father before him. He was posted to Stockholm from 1826-1829 and returned to England to be a minister in Newcastle-upon-Tyne before being posted in 1832 to Ashton-under-Lyne. Stephens was to become known as an outspoken radical, a fervent supporter of factory reform and an instrumental figure in the fight for a so-called People's Charter. His chequered career included an 18 month long spell in the New Bailey Gaol in Manchester for 'seditious behaviour' after being arrested for addressing a Chartist Meeting in Hyde in 1838.
In Ashton, Stephens was deeply moved by the plight of the working poor and the inhumane conditions in which most lived and worked - he spent much of his life in pursuit of means to improve the living and working conditions of ordinary people, and as such was regarded by many as their champion. The inequalities of the 1834 Poor Law reform Act were his main bone of contention. Educated, intelligent, fearless, committed and incisive, he was to become a powerful dissenting voice against conditions of his day, particularly against the 1834 Act and in favour of the introduction of a Ten Hours Bill, to restrict working hours, particularly for children who often worked up to 14 hours a day. His speeches often encouraged violent reform which brought him into opposition from local powers and magistrates. He was also imprisoned at Knutsford, in Cheshire, and at Chester.
After a brief spell living in London, he returned to live in Stalybridge, where, in 1848 he launched the Ashton Chronicle and District Advertiser , a doggedly pro-Chartist publication. Later, it was renamed The Champion , and continued in publication until 1850. Having suffered from gout and bronchitis for much of his later life, he died in 1879 and is buried in St John's Cemetery in Dukinfield.

Robert Duckenfield

Robert Duckenfield, Parliamemntarian Soldier, Puritan and Civil War Commander

A significant figure in the Parliamentarian cause in the English Civil War and prominent Puritan Leader in Northwest England, Robert Duckenfield was born in 1619 in Tameside from one of the oldest and most powerful landed families of the area. Oliver Cromwell appointed Duckenfield Governor of Chester Castle from 1648-1653. A strong supporter of the Congregationalists, he helped establish what may have been the first Congregationalist Church in England at his own home at Dukinfield Hall.
When the Civil Wars broke out Duckenfield was just 23 years old, and soon joined William Brereton's camp at Nantwich, from which he fought at the ill-fated Battle of Middlewich in 1643, after which he was promoted as Brereton's colonel. In 1644 he took part in the relief of the siege of Nantwich, fought with Prince Rupert in the defence of Stockport and in the siege of Beeston Castle. The highlight of Duckenfield's career came in 1653 when he was called to serve in Cromwell's first parliament (known as the Barebones Parliament), but, by 1655 had become so disillusioned that he retired from politics and returned to Cheshire to play a minor role in local peacekeeping actions.
After the Restoration, Duckenfield played no further role in politics, either nationally or locally, and was indeed, viewed suspiciously by Charles II government as a dangerous and potentially subversive influence, and was implicated in the so-called Cheshire Conspiracy of 1665. This was a plot to overthrow the King and establish a Republic. In the event, after a year in incarceration, Duckenfield was cleared of all charges. Even so, he was barred from returning to Cheshire and was sent to live in the Isle of Wight. In 1668, he was granted a full pardon and returned home. His first wife having died, Duckenfield remarried to Judith Bothomley, who bore him six children. He died in September 1689 and is buried in Denton.


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Copyright © John Moss, Papillon Graphics AD 2013 Manchester, United Kingdom - all rights reserved.
This page last updated 6 Jan 12.