Looking for Mrs Skinner and finding Mrs Hayes: A lockdown detective story

By Dr Ali Ronan

These are extracts from letters written from composer, socialist and suffragist Hope Squire, 12 Parsonage Road, Withington, Manchester to her husband the RNCM pianist Frank Merrick, imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs during WW1, as a Conscientious Objector.

‘June 14th, 1918: ‘Supper party: Elsie Hill came to tea and Phillis with little Jack and a Mrs. Hayes (a peculiar little woman with a 15-year-old daughter- the mother looks about 16!) and McMurdo. We had rissoles of lentils and barley.’

August 14th, 1918: ‘[Phillis’s] friend Mrs. Hayes has married Mr. Rodway, recently discharged from prison on ill health.

Letter from Frank Merrick to Hope Squire:

27th August 1918: I am glad Rodway is out, I think his was the first CO face I saw when Childe Merrick to the Dark Tower came. Felicitations to him and Mrs. Hayes.

(DM2103 Bristol University Archive)

For the last few years, I have been researching the life of a Manchester woman, a socialist and pacifist, Phillis Annie Skinner (1874-1950) who was arrested in June 1917 for handing out anti-war leaflets (see below: Social Pamphlets R188260 John Rylands Library) near the Prees Heath training camp in Cheshire where her conscientious objector husband Allen Skinner had been court martialed in the autumn 1916.

Anti-war leaflet, Social Pamphlets R188260, John Rylands Library

Phillis Skinner was arrested with her friend Mrs. Hayes and both were sentenced to three and one month respectively in Strangeways prison in Manchester. I also knew a little bit about Mrs. Hayes from an announcement in the Manchester Conscientious Objectors Journal, which was co-edited by Phillis Annie Skinner and trade unionist Emily Cox, celebrating Mrs. Hayes’ marriage to conscientious objector Edwin Rodway in July 1918:

Not often do we hear of our COs walking from the prison to the altar. But such a thing happened on Tuesday July 22. [1918] Mr Edwin Rodway who was discharged from Winchester prison on June 28 celebrated his release in a most tangible manner by taking’ unto himself a wife’. The happy bride, Mrs Hayes, being herself a staunch CO, also has done a term in the ‘mansion of the Blest’ just twelve months ago.

And I had gathered a little more information about Mrs. Hayes from the two references cited above, in the Squire/Merrick collection of letters.

However, recently I have discovered even more, and here is the story of my detection.

I knew nothing else about Mrs. Hayes until I began to read through some newspaper cuttings about the arrest of the two women in 1917, in what became known as ‘The Peace Crusade Case.’ The Women’s Peace Crusade was a series of over 120 women-led spontaneous demonstrations against the war. It ran through the country like wildfire during 1917-1918, mobilised by socialist and suffrage women. Manchester had at least two Crusades and Manchester women were regular speakers on Crusade platforms across the country. This photo is of a Crusade badge, owned by Emma Binns of Bradford.

Women’s Peace Crusade badge

The Peace Crusade case and the imprisonment of Phillis and Maud was brought up in the House of Commons by sympathetic Quaker MP George Trevelyan in July 1918. But then, one of the newspaper cuttings about the arrest mentioned that one of the women was a Mrs. Maud Hayes and from that one clue, I was able to start building up a picture. Searching through the census I discovered that in 1911, Maud Hayes (b.1886) was living as a lodger with the Worthern family in Chorlton cum Medlock. She put ‘married’ on the form: but there was no daughter listed and so I wondered if Hope Squire had made a mistake. And where was Mr. Hayes?

I then worked alongside the Genealogy team at Manchester Archives and we discovered that a John Percy Hayes (b.1873) a bookkeeper from Hulme, had married a Maud Edwards in Chorlton in 1906. I looked up Maud Edwards on the 1901 census, discovering that she was the daughter of Edward Edwards a warehouseman and his wife Emily, a midwife. They lived in Chorlton cum Hardy. I sent away for the 1906 marriage certificate and found that 20-year-old Maud Edwards living at 14, Vine Street Hulme had married her neighbour 33-year-old JP Hayes who lived at 12 Vine Street in January 1906. The witnesses were her stepfather Frank Thornton Moore and her mother Emily Moore. But there was still no mention of a daughter. John Percy Hayes had left Manchester before 1911, and worked for some time in Africa, returning home in May 1917 on the SS Tarquam. He died on June 19th, 1917, in the Manchester Royal Infirmary leaving £256 8s 5d to his widow Maud Hayes. But there was still no mention of a daughter.

In early July 1917, just after JP Hayes’ death, Maud and Phillis were at Prees Heath camp and then both women were imprisoned in Strangeways until the autumn. Allen Skinner was still in prison as was Maud’s sweetheart Edwin Rodway. Both men were released early because of ill health. Last month, I sent away for Edwin Rodway and Maud Hayes’ 1918 marriage certificate. You can do that now if you have got the right details from the archive and can spare £10.  I don’t know why I hadn’t sent for it before. When the certificate arrived, in a plain brown envelope, I had almost forgotten about it, so when I saw what it was, I let out an instinctive squeak of delight. The ceremony, at Chorlton Registry Office, was witnessed by none other than my favourite activist, the elusive Phillis Annie Skinner. By this time, Allen Skinner was in a sanatorium in Manchester with severe arthritis in his legs. He always walked with a limp after that.

On a whim, I decided to visit the 1939 register on the archive site and saw that Edwin and Maud, living in suburban Manchester, had a son in 1919, whom they called Allan, perhaps after Phillis’ CO husband Allen Skinner. I had time on my hands- well, who doesn’t in these lockdown days? – so, I looked up Allan Rodway on another site to see if he married and yes, in 1946, Allan Rodway married Kathleen Harrop in Oldham. Idly, I ran Rodway/Harrop through the system, to see if they had had children, I was guessing at birth dates in the late 40s or early 50s. And there was Christine (b. 1947) and her sister born in 1949. Here is a picture of Maud with Allan and Kathleen with their daughters in the 1950s.

Maud, Allan, Kathleen and daughters

I then ran Christine’s name through the system and saw that she had married in 1974, and with those two names to play with, I saw that they had three children.  One daughter, born in 1983, had an unusual name, so I took a chance and googled her. I saw that she had worked for a company in Oxford, so I emailed them and got a reply from a work colleague saying he would forward my email and he copied in her mother. Her mother was Christine Gamble nee Rodway. I emailed Christine and indeed she confirmed that Edwin (known as Ted) and Maud were her grandparents. I squeaked again with delight.

Her father Allan had died in 2008, having been imprisoned briefly as a CO in WW2, leaving a large bequest to CND.  His story is also an amazing one, starting out as an insurance clerk in Manchester, he taught himself while working in a CO forestry project during the war, won an exhibition to Cambridge and then taught English at Nottingham University. His obituary was in the Guardian.

Chris and I met recently, drinking tea outside her home, while mindful of social distance. She showed me pictures of Maud with Allen, in the early 1920s.  She had no idea that Maud had been in prison in 1917 although she knew that Maud had been cautioned in WW2 for handing out anti-war Peace Pledge leaflets.

And then she asked me if I knew that Maud had had a daughter before she was married. Of course, I had suspected that Maud had had a baby but now I knew that Hope Squire had been right: baby Ethel was born in 1903, and she lived until she was 101,dying in 2004! Christine knew her as Aunt Jane, and she had lived with her mother after Ted’s death in 1945 and after Janes’ failed marriage.

The baby had been named Ethel Hayes Edwards on her birth certificate, which suggested strongly that she was the daughter of John Percy Hayes. In 1902 after the death of Edward Edwards, Maud’s father, Emily had remarried an auctioneer’s clerk, Frank Moore. Her father’s death and her mother’s swift remarriage in 1902 coincided with Maud’s pregnancy and Ethel’s birth in 1903. A complicated year for the 16-year-old Maud.

Perhaps JP Hayes was a sympathetic neighbour? Perhaps it was a fleeting affair? But what really happened is, of course, a matter of conjecture. We can only imagine why it took three years for Maud and JP Hayes to marry in 1906. Here is a photo of Jane, taken in the 1930s. She is in the centre of the photo, with Ted and Maud, Honor (b1927) and Gerry (b1928).

Jane (centre), Ted, Maud, Honor and Gerry

However, in 1911, aged seven and at school, little Ethel was living with her grandmother Emily, in Denmark Road, Moss Side while Maud was boarding at the Worthens in Hulme. The reasons for Maud to be living apart from them in 1911 are still unclear and I don’t know how Maud met Ted Rodway. Perhaps they were ramblers, certainly their surviving son Gerry (b1928) remembers them walking for miles when he was a child.

The address on the marriage certificate for Maud and Ted in 1918 was 168 Denmark Rd in Moss Side which was next door to the address given for her mother in the 1911 census: 170 Denmark Rd. However, Allan was born in Hayfield Derbyshire and Ted’s brother John was recorded as living in Hayfield on his military papers. John died at the Somme in July 1916 aged 29. The Rodways seem to have lived in Hayfield until the mid-1920s, when they moved back to Manchester to ensure that their children got a good education. This is a picture of Maud with her son Allan in the early 20s.

Maud and Allan

Chris gave me a copy of the letter that Ted wrote to the Military Tribunal in 1917: Ted declared himself a freethinker and an absolutist, meaning he would do no work that supported the war in any way. He was sent to Wormwood Scrubs and then to Winchester prison. When he was released in 1918, Hope Squires wrote to Frank Merrick that, ‘his firm have received him with open arms and gave him a cheque for £10 to go and have a holiday.’ (August 1918 DM2103/F5/1/2) This was a rare example of support for conscientious objectors whose usual experience was one of rejection and dismissal from work.

Maud and Ted had three children. This is a photo of Ted and his daughter Honor (b1927) in their garden at Heswall Avenue in Manchester.

Ted and daughter, Honor in their garden

Gerry (b 1928) is still alive and living in New Zealand but cannot remember any further political activity by his parents during the 30s or during WW2. He recalled that the Skinners were mentioned and that his parents continued to be ramblers. Both Ted and Maud were socialists and may have met through a local branch of the Independent Labour Party. Chris recalled that Granny Maud was a staunch anti- monarchist and was the only person not to stand up for the National Anthem at one of her prize givings at school in the 1960s. Determined as ever, free thinker, agnostic and anti-monarchist, Maud Hayes/Rodway is a forgotten radical, but piecing her story together and looking at Phillis’ story, I wonder if there were more radical women than the accepted ‘narrative’ of WW1, suggests.

There is a similarly dense backstory to Phillis and Allen Skinner and their son Jack, who was another CO in WW2. However, the Skinners were politically active for the rest of their lives and were under surveillance by M15 through the 30s,40s, and the 1950s. This – hopefully – will be my next blog post.

One thought on “Looking for Mrs Skinner and finding Mrs Hayes: A lockdown detective story

  1. Pingback: Episode 5 – Dr Ali Ronan discusses her work on the women of Manchester | MANCHESTER CENTRE FOR PUBLIC HISTORY & HERITAGE

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