Politicians, Law & Social Reformers of Greater Manchester
(1820-1895) Born in Barmen in Germany in 1820, the son of a textile manufacturer, Friedrich Engels, the German Communist leader, was to become famous for his friendship and collaboration with Karl Marx in the writing of “Das Capital” – the first communist publication. Engels was sent to Manchester by his father in 1842 as agent for a new Manchester partnership, Ermen and Engels, of Pendleton in Salford. The company also had office premises in 5 Newmarket Buildings, Market Street in Manchester, which later moved to offices at Southgate Street, off Deansgate, behind present day Kendals Department Store. Engels had met Marx on his journey to England, and struck up a close and lasting friendship, sacrificing much of his own political career in order to support Marx in London. While in Manchester, Engels became associated with the Chartist Movement, and contributed many articles in support of the movement to local newspapers and publications. He was also interested in the social reforms of Robert Owen. Engels lived in several places around Manchester including 51 Richmond Grove in Chorlton on Medlock and the former Commercial Hotel at 63/65 Cecil Street in Moss Side. At one time, fear for his life on account of his revolutionary beliefs forced him to go into hiding at 252 Hyde Road with his partner Mary Burry under the assumed names of Frederick and Mary Boardman. It was during his residence in Manchester that he met Mary, a young Irish working-class woman – he was to live with her until her death, after which he continued living with Mary’s sister Lizzie. It was these two young sisters who introduced Engels to the working conditions of the poor in Manchester. He visited the slum areas of “Gibraltar” (near the River Irk on Red Bank, Collyhurst) and “Little Ireland” (south-west of Oxford Road), and was appalled by the filth and degradation of living conditions in these areas. His experiences and observations prompted him to write “The Conditions of the Working Class in England” in 1844, written in German, and only translated into English some 40 years later. Little Ireland has long since been swept away, but a Red Plaque still marks where it once was. Engels left Manchester in 1844, and made a brief return visit accompanied by Marx in 1845, and in 18848 he collaborated with Marx in the writing “The Communist Manifesto” . During his time in Manchester, Engels wrote for many local newspapers, such as the “Manchester Guardian” and the ” Volunteer Journal for Lancashire and Cheshire” . In 1869, he sold his interest in the Manchester firm which he had held since his father’s death in 1860. Being comfortably off, and so believing in Marx’s work, he made him an allowance of �350 a year from his own pocket. In 1870 he and Lizzie Burns left Manchester, finally, to live in London and work in promoting the Communist cause with Marx. After Marx died in 1883, Engels devoted the remaining 12 years of his life editing, completing and translating Marx’s work, choosing to ignore his own considerable writing talents in the light of what he considered to be a more important cause. Engels died in London.
Richard Cobden & John Bright
– Richard Cobden – & – John Bright –
(1804-1865) and (1811-1889) Due to fierce competition from cheap imported foreign corn in the early 19th century, wealthy and influential gentlemen farmers had lobbied the ruling parliamentary party, the Tories, to prohibit their import by the imposition of Corn Laws in 1815. With this monopoly in place, British corn rose to prohibitive prices, making it impossible for the poor to buy bread. The Corn Laws were seen by ordinary people as a symbol of the dominant ruling aristocracy’s feudal power over them, and of their unashamed self interest, at the cost of poor people’s food. Protests by Lancashire millworkers at the imposition of such severe measures soon grew. In September 1838, mill owners and local politicians joined protesters in the formation of an Anti-Corn Law League, at the York Hotel in King Street, Manchester, with George Wilson as its chairman. Support grew so fast that a temporary wooden hall was built in St Peters Street to hold protest meetings – it became known as the Free Trade Hall (now the Edwardian Hotel). Later a stone building replaced this original wooden one. Two major figures emerged as leaders of the Anti-Corn Law movement, Richard Cobden, a Bolton calico manufacturer, and John Bright, a Rochdale mill -owner and a Quaker. Cobden and Bright, both persuasive orators with powerful local backing, (including Archibald Prentice, radical editor of the Manchester Times newspaper), succeeded in getting elected to parliament, (Cobden – MP for Stockport in 1841) where they constantly lobbied and harassed the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel (born in Bury). Peel, under severe pressure from the League and its growing band of ever more powerful supporters, repealed the Corn Laws in 1846, thereby splitting the Tory party, and effectively ending his own political career in the process. Manchester would, henceforth be associated with the principle of Free Trade. The former Free Trade Hall, the third and now a fine permanent stone building, was built later as a monument to honour the Manchester movement. The Free Trade hall is now the Manchester Radisson Edwardian Hotel.
(1858-1928) Emmeline Pankhurst was born the daughter of Robert Goulden, a well-to-do Manchester calico printer. She married Robert Marsden Pankhurst in 1879. Robert was a barrister and champion of women’s rights, and the couple soon campaigned together for Women’s Suffrage. Together they had promoted the Married Women’s Property Act, and in 1889 Mrs Pankhurst worked as a member of the Women’s Suffrage League. When Robert died in 1898, Emmeline was forced to work at the Registrar of Births and Deaths in Rusholme to support her 4 children; she worked here until 1907, after which her work for social reform took up all her time. She and Annie Kenney founded the Women’s Social & Political Union (the WSPU) at her home in Nelson Street (now the Pankhurst Centre). Their London campaign raised nation-wide awareness. Later, the movement became more militant, smashing paintings in Manchester Art Gallery, numerous arrests for protests and the infamous burning down of the Rusholme Exhibition Hall. Imprisoned frequently, but her technique of going on instant hunger strike meant that she was quickly released and only rarely detained for long. After over 30 years campaigning, the outbreak of the First World War and 1918 Representation of the People Act which followed, finally gave he vote to women over the age of 30. She also worked avidly, though less publically on reforming the conditions in workhouses. Before she died in 1928, she saw the final accomplishment when women were granted the vote on an equal basis with men.
(1880-1958) Christabel was, from an early age, a co-worker with her mother. She trained to be a lawyer, and earned the distinction of being the first ever woman to be awarded a Bachelor of Laws degree from the Victoria University of Manchester, though prejudice meant that she had difficulty finding employment, and she was refused admission to Lincoln’s Inn. It was she who had persuaded her mother to found the WSPU, and she had thrown herself fully into the Women’s Suffrage work, largely due to her inability to find employment as a lawyer. She was arrested after the ejection of her mother and other protesters had volubly demonstrated at a meeting in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, and after she had refused to pay the fine, thereby setting a trend which many other protesters were to follow. A plaque in the former Free Trade Hall, (now the Radisson Edwardian Hotel), commemorates this event, which marked the beginning of the militant stage in Women’s Suffrage campaigning. Christabel was a powerful and charismatic speaker, and campaigned throughout America, as well as the British Isles. After the Second Reform Act which conceded all that they had been fighting for, Christabel left England to live in British Columbia in Canada, where she eventually became an evangelist in the Second Advent Church. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1936.
(1874-1952) Born in Motol in Russian Poland in 1874, Chaim Weizmann was a famous Zionist leader and celebrated biochemist, whose family came to live in Manchester in 1904. He was raised as a traditional Jewish boy and became an enthusiastic supporter of the Zionist movement for a free Jewish homeland in Palestine. In Manchester he entered the University of Manchester to read Biochemistry from 1904 to 1917. He soon established an international reputation as a leading biochemist, with many practical discoveries in organic chemistry. During the First World War he was appointed as Director of the Admiralty Laboratories. He worked on the development of acetone, a vital element in the production of smokeless gunpowder. In the Second World War he developed a process for making synthetic rubber. In the meantime he had made many powerful and influential friends in Manchester, including C P Scott, editor of the “Manchester Guardian” , who supported him in the Zionist cause, and he was made the British representative for the movement. He also managed to gain the support of leading British politicians, including Lloyd George and A J Balfour, who was largely responsible for influencing the British government’s stand in favour of the establishment of a Jewish homeland, as stated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. When the state of Israel was founded in 1948, Weizmann, who had for many years been President of the World Zionist Organisation, was made the nation’s first President. Living in Israel, he kept close contact with his Manchester friends and with the University, as well as supporting the new University of Jerusalem. His lifelong friendship with the Sieff-Marks family (of Marks & Spencer) was to lead to his joint foundation of the Sieff Institute, later renamed the Weizmann Institute in his honour. He died in Israel in 1952, where he is buried.