I first came across William Axon, or WEAA as the family called him, when I was researching Andrea Crestadoro, third Chief Librarian of Manchester. WEAA, his assistant and friend, wrote the Oxford DNB entry and the Manchester Guardian obituary for Crestadoro. Without this unique information, I could not have started my research.
Later on, I was intrigued to find that WEAA was the author of one of my favourite poems, The Ancoats Skylark, as well as being the historian of the huge Annals of Manchester. I decided to find out more.
From the 1860s onwards, WEAA kept letters from his correspondents, and this archive of over seven thousand letters, now belongs to the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, Special Collections. There are additional letters and entries relating to WEAA in their Guardian Archives. WEAA was a Manchester Guardian journalist for around thirty years, retiring in 1905.
There is more WEAA material at the Manchester Central Library, donated variously by WEAA, his son Ernest, his grandson Geoffrey and his devoted friend Mr Green. All four were, at different times, librarians there.
With all this to look at, it was inevitable that my retirement project would be a biography of WEAA. Next, I had the excitement of tracing family descendants. They transformed the project with invaluable photographs, documents, letters, and stories.
My other mission was an attempt to identify everything he published. WEAA was an obsessive writer; his friends joked that no one would ever be able to list all his works. So far, I have tracked down well over a thousand published books, pamphlets, articles, obituaries, poems, translations, stories and dialect pieces. The range of subjects is breath-taking, and he had a real talent in compressing and clarifying complex topics.
This was crucial to him as his guiding principle was that knowledge was only of value when it was communicated and used for the public good. As librarian, journalist, author and lecturer, he delighted in sharing his stupendous learning with others. He became a star of Notes and Queries, the Victorian bibliophile’s internet. Used to scrimping himself, he produced short and affordable works for those who had little time or money.
WEAA came from a difficult background. An illegitimate baby, he was rescued from neglect by the Axon family, growing up with them in Hulme. Self-educated, frail in body, he earned his living through assorted careers as librarian, commercial secretary, journalist, editor and author. After retirement, he and his second wife supplemented their income by running a vegetarian guest house at Southport. Throughout, he worked ceaselessly as an unpaid social reformer, and still made time for his beloved antiquarian pursuits and his poetry. His friends were astonished at his non-stop activity and feared for his health.
He belonged to an incredible number of societies, not only ones local to Manchester and region but national ones like the Royal Society of Literature, and the Library Association. A passionate humanist, he was a significant figure in the Vegetarian Society, temperance, and equality movements. He was so highly regarded by the African American activists that he received an honorary degree from their Wilberforce University.
Axon was a Manchester Man, proud of the city’s history and modernity. As an internationalist, he valued its diversity. Encountering Arabian, Chinese, and European collections as a young library assistant he responded by learning all the languages he could, eventually around twenty, and entered new worlds of scholarship and cultural understanding.
In writing WEAA’s biography, I have tried to reflect him not only as the well-known figure of his day, but also as a gentle and affectionate family man, and as an ever-cheerful believer in the worth of humanity. It seems incredible that one man encompassed so much.
 The Samuel Laycock quote was found in the Axon Papers, Letter 3211, UML Special Collections
We had a great conversation with Lucy Evans about the Victorian antiquarian and polymath, William Edward Armytage Axon. Axon was a man who often pops up in Victorian Manchester. It seems the seven degrees of separation rule was two degrees for Axon, as people have come across him in so many ways!
“William Axon saw himself as a Manchester man, as a man of letters, as somebody placed in the world to do good“.
In recent years, I’ve begun to research the history of recreated streets in UK museums, heritage sites and some other, more surprising, places. My work has included a mapping and scoping exercise and several visits, producing drawings and photographs. Largely conducted over the internet, especially during lockdown, but with some input from colleagues in the Social History Curator’s Group, my research has now produced a list of around 130 ‘streets’ of all shapes and sizes. These range from well-loved museum displays, like those at York Castle Museum and Salford Museum and Art Gallery to more quirky examples like streets in care homes, designed to help dementia suffers to adapt to their surroundings and even a Harry Potter fan’s own home-version of ‘Diagon Alley’.
More than 20 years ago, I created an exhibition for the People’s History Museum in Manchester called ‘Every Street, an Artist’s View’. This was something of a hybrid. Part art-installation and part social history display; tracing the intertwined lives of a group of past residents of one particular Ancoats street – Every Street – through 50 years of post-war life.
It could be said that this was the start of my interest in putting streets into museums as other, street-inspired exhibitions, including ‘1962: New Work by Bill longshaw’ (2002) and ‘Myth of the North’ (2007), both created for The Lowry in Salford, followed. For ‘1962’ we turned the whole of the Lowry’s promenade gallery into an early 1960s street, presented in black, white and grey, like the set of a kitchen-sink drama film. While ‘Myth of the North’ had a terraced street, complete with a co-op shop, a 1950s sitting room and a works canteen. All presented as tongue-in cheek, heritage-type back-drops for paintings by Lowry and work by other artists and photographers whose imagery has come to epitomise the mythical, English North.
My work as an artist and curator, on projects like ‘Every Street’ and ‘Myth of the North’, became the basis of a PhD, thesis entitled: ‘People, Myth and Museums, constructing the people’s past and white working-class Salford, 1945-2007’, which you can find here: https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?did=1&uin=uk.bl.ethos.479182
My research examined the way a mythical North was constructed in popular culture in post-war Britain and considered why popular myth-making and the evolution of a ‘people’s past’ in the heritage sector has served some groups better than others and actually alienated many of the working-class communities at the myth’s core, in places like Salford. As these things sometimes do, my thesis languished on the shelf for many years, as I concentrated on my career in museums. However, I always intended to revisit it and on blowing off the dust, was heartened to find that the sections on street museums and how they evolved still fired my imagination.
My interest in streets, probably goes back even further than Every Street. To visiting Lark Hill Place, the recreated Victorian street at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, as a small child in the 1970s. I have vivid memories of the dark, cavernous space; the corner shop, selling sugar mice and the strange, slightly eerie feeling that the space gives you. A sense I still get today. Lark Hill Place was created by Salford Museum and Art Gallery’s visionary curator, Ted (Albert) Frape in the 1950s. Like several other post-war curators, Frape, who also championed L.S. Lowry and persuaded the city to collect his work, was influenced by Kirkgate. The ‘bygone street’ constructed in the York Castle Museum by Dr John Kirk, to display a lifetime of folk collecting.
Kirk’s street, opened to the public in 1938 and has since become something of a landmark in the development of ‘living history’ in museums. In the post-war world, Frape and C. Maynard-Mitchell at the Abbey House Museum in Leeds were among a group of curators who set out to create exhibits which conveyed a new more inclusive vision of the ‘people’s past’ to a post-Beveridge nation, determined not to go back to the squalor and poverty of the hungry thirties. Other streets, as well as several ingenious representations of coal mines followed and by the 1970s, entire recreated ‘towns’ were emerging in open-air sites, like Beamish, Ironbridge and the Black Country Museum in Dudley, as heritage became an integral element in regenerating post-industrial areas.
I am currently considering where my research should go next. My survey begins with a look at the origins of recreated streets in the great exhibition boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Several ‘olde worlde’ towns, including ‘Olde London’, ‘Olde Edinburgh’, ‘Olde Liverpool’ and ‘Olde Manchester and Salford’ appeared as cornerstone attractions within larger exhibition complexes and even Kirkgate itself started life as part of a larger temporary exhibition.
In addition, there were scores of recreated ‘villages’ in exhibitions across Britain, before and just after the First World War. Many of these were designed to provide a flavour of the far-flung reaches of British Empire, populated by specially imported groups of ‘natives’, making the early history of street museums a problematic affair. Mixed up with the creation of what are now often termed ‘human zoos’ and the worst excesses of a brand of Imperialism that commodified people as readily as its history.
There are many contrasting themes that can be investigated through the history of recreated street, as well as opportunities for exhibitions and art works, which given my past, I am keen to explore. I would, therefore, be grateful for any ideas, help or advice on moving my project, which is still wholly un-supported and un-funded, forward. If you are interested in my past work, you can see some of it on my website. https://billlongshaw.wordpress.com/ or to contact me for a copy of my street museum list, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thomas Ferriar and British volunteers for Latin American Independence
Professor Nick Mansfield
St Ann’s Church in central Manchester contains a memorial to the Ferriar family. This includes Thomas Ferriar (1785-1821), who was mortally wounded while commanding the British Legion at the crucial battle of Carabobo, under the eyes of Simon Bolivar – ‘the Great Liberator’. This victory secured independence from Spain for Venezuela. Ferriar’s statue figures prominently in the Campo Carabobo national monument. Why did a Mancunian play such a prominent part in the South American liberation movement? These talks will explore Ferriar’s background, life and times on the two hundredth anniversary of his death.
We had a fantastic discussion with an MCPHH favourite, Dr Ali Ronan! Ali touched on many topics on the women of Manchester, including a mural project, Phyllis Skinner and Maud Hayes, and the 1916 milk boycott at Burnage Garden Village. It was a pleasure having you on Ali!
by Matt Crabtree, FutureLearn and Emily Webb, Manchester Metropolitan University
The last year or so has taught us many lessons. Amidst a global crisis on a scale few of us have seen before, we have learned about what is important to us, what we miss, and how precious life is. We have also learned to adapt, utilise technology, and take new approaches to aspects of our lives we may have taken for granted. Education has been one such area, and FutureLearn has been helping to make knowledge, including public history, accessible to all.
Here, we take a look at what FutureLearn is, how it is helping people access education and its role in promoting knowledge in areas such as public history.
What is FutureLearn?
FutureLearn is a digital education platform founded in 2012. Jointly owned by The Open University and Seek, the company has partnered with hundreds of education partners around the world, including world-class universities, institutions, experts, and educators.
Since its first course launched in 2013, FutureLearn has become a truly global platform, helping over 15 million learners reach their educational goals.
FutureLearn has a range of course available across a variety of subjects, including History.
Promoting access to education
One of the central values of FutureLearn is that everyone should have access to knowledge. Education can have such a profound impact on individuals and the wider world, and everyone must have a chance to learn.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the importance of knowledge, both individually and collectively, to overcome difficult situations and continue to make progress. Educators have had to adjust to teaching online while students have been forced out of the classroom. During these times, digital platforms have become essential to the way education takes place.
E-learning has fast become the top educational technology trend of the moment, and companies like FutureLearn are helping students and educators alike. Many of the short courses they offer are free to access and cover a broad range of topics. It’s even possible to earn a degree through FutureLearn, allowing users to learn flexibly online.
This learning style and teaching will inevitably play a role in the future of education, and companies like FutureLearn can help promote access to learning for all.
FutureLearn’s History courses will often take a unique approach to education
History beyond the classroom
One area where e-learning platforms such as FutureLearn can have a particularly transformative impact is on public history. With over 60 history courses on offer, FutureLearn offers insights into a broad range of topics in this field.
Online learning gives a new perspective to the study and presentation of the past. Learners gain access to a global network of resources, academics, and institutions. Educators can convey information in new and engaging ways. For everyone involved, it provides more flexibility. Although it cannot replace certain methods of teaching history, it can certainly supplement them.
MOOCs at Manchester Metropolitan University
Man Met released their first MOOC with FutureLearn in May 2018. We have since released eight courses, including, Poetry, Education, Health, Sport and Environment, reaching 50k learners worldwide, from those who want to develop professionally to some who want to develop a new hobby.
We are now adding History to our portfolio with two new courses being released in September 2021:
Sustainable Cultural Heritage: Applied International Practice
This course is aimed at learners seeking an introduction to the key practical, economic, political and ethical issues in cultural heritage management on the global stage. It will be of interest to those starting a career in heritage management, and those who want to develop a more decentralised international perspective in their heritage practice. The course will also be valuable to those wishing to learn more about the issues facing heritage professionals globally.
Digital Politics: Being Political in a Digital Age
This course is aimed at learners seeking an introduction to the key ideas and concepts in the field of digital politics. It will be of interest to those working in the NGO sector, public services, local and national government, or international charities or business, or considering starting such a career. The course will be valuable to those working, or considering work in social media communication. Finally, the course will also be of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about the rapidly growing field of digital politics, political communication and global digital economies.
This exhibition was curated, in partnership with the Manchester Central Library, by Dr Catherine Danks in 2017. The exhibition marked the 55th anniversary of the Manchester – Leningrad/St Petersburg city partnership. Whilst you wait for the museums to open, enjoy this virtual experience!
We enjoyed learning about the architectural history of the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Whalley Range. This is an impressive building, set in some beautiful grounds just south of Manchester. A real hidden gem. Read Peter’s article on the building here.
Peter is also arranging public lectures and workshops for later this year exploring the remaking of ‘ancient’-style furniture at Chetham’s Library following the publication of his jointly-authored essay with Jonathan Foyle, ‘A Forger’s Folly? The Productions of George Shaw (1810–76) for Chetham’s Library, Mancehster’ in The British Art Journal (2020–21).
We were also delighted to hear that Peter has secured a contract as editor of a volume on the Henry VII and Elizabeth of York marriage bed with Oxbow Books (Oxford). Bringing together analysis of the bed from a range of historical and scientific disciplines, the book will offer the most detailed published analysis of the bed—the most significant piece of domestic royal furniture to survive the Civil War. The multi-disciplinary volume will show how a range of approaches can be used to interpret a peerless piece of late-medieval furniture for which precious few comparative examples exist.
By Dominic Barron-Carter, PhD Student and Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University
My research examines how space and place affected political and protest groups throughout Great Britain between 1815 and 1867. In doing so, it demonstrates how these sites and those who lived or frequented them, came to be associated with the matter and memory of political radicalism. Such an explanation allows my research to show why, despite successive failures and dissolutions, reform groups continued to coalesce and emanate outwards from these neighborhoods throughout the period. In the following blogpost, I offer a short intergenerational case study to demonstrate how participation in spaces and places of radical social and political reform can produce continuities in thought and activity across multiple generations and individual movements.
Richard Hornigold was a weaver and later rope maker by trade and a native of Norwich. Hewas born in either 1794 or 1795 and baptised in the parish of St Augustine, which lies to the north of Norwich’s city centre in an area known as “over the water”. According to C. B. Jewson (1975), the area was a hotbed of Dissenter and Jacobin activity throughout the duration of the French Wars (1792-1815). As a result, it seems likely that from an early age, if indirectly, Hornigold was aware of issues like national spending, franchise reform and others that dominated the politics of early nineteenth-century Britain.
Growing up surrounded by the focal point of local reformatory politics clearly made a strong impression upon young Richard as in 1818, aged 23/24, he participated in his first General Election and helped return William Smith, the radical unitarian and his Whig ally as Norwich’s MP. His early entry into Norwich’s political milieu was probably helped by the local franchise arrangements, which allowed tradesman to be enfranchised after a period of apprenticeship rather than based on the property they owned. Richard never seems to have wasted the right his labour had earned him, indeed further inspection of the electoral records indicate that voting Whig/liberal/radical became a tradition of his and one that he kept up at every local parliamentary election until his death in 1866.
Having survived the post-war slump and started a family, the intensification of political unrest both nationally and locally seems to have pushed Richard toward the wider campaign for reform that characterised post-Napoleonic Britain. In 1823, he subscribed a shilling and appended his name to a list destined for Richard Carlile, the radical London printer then imprisoned for seditious libel. Not only did Richard append his name but also described himself as a “materialist”, which at the time was tantamount to an affirmation of atheism. Such an open declaration, in a widely circulated journal, of a belief that could have serious legal repercussion goes quite some way to demonstrating Richard’s conviction toward political and religious principles. This conviction and the strength to declare it openly is something which the open support for the similarly radical, anti-Christian French Revolution that emanated from the streets of “over the water” had probably prepared him for.
Of Richard’s eight children his eldest son, Robert (b.1817) forms the second link in the reforming daisy chain. Robert was also born and spent his youth in St Augustine. When compared to the prior two decades, 1820-1838, excepting the 1830-32 reform agitation, constituted a considerable fall in the area’s level of radical activity. With the publishing of the People’s Charter in 1838 the area’s political radicalism seems to have been revived and by 1841 the area hosted the local Chartist chapel as well as a local socialist AACAN chapter. The combination of his father’s own experience and promotion of radical politics, an increasingly overt level of radical political protest and the erection of specifically Chartist sites like the Chartist chapel probably ensured that he participated in the Charter agitation of the 1840s.
Across the United Kingdom, 1847 was something of a calm before the storm that 1848 was to be. For the Norvician Chartists, however, it also demonstrated the possibilities that Norwich’s less restricted franchised could allow for. John Humffreys Parry, a Barrister and friend of many middle class allies of the Chartist contested Norwich’s two seats against the Whig Peto and a sitting MP, the Marquis of Douro, son of the Duke of Wellington. What should have been a formality quickly turned into a struggle as working men like Robert voted for Parry in droves. The difference between Douro, who was elected, and Parry who was not, was around 160 votes. Parry’s success was helped by many of his closest supporters “plumping” for him which refers to, when voting in a multi-member constituency, only using one of the two votes each elector was allotted. Robert was one such plumper. Perhaps even more so than Richard’s declaration of atheism, Robert’s “plumping” was a public act as before the secret ballot voting required one run a gauntlet of allied and hostile supporters to reach the hustings whereupon Robert would have had to verbalise his vote in front of the recording officers. This would have left him open to retaliatory attacks by Douro or Peto’s supporters, especially given that the polling station, and Robert’s home, were no longer in the safe haven of “over the water”.
Robert did not leave the political legacy of his father and childhood surroundings at the parish boundaries however. Having married in 1843 parenthood loomed over the young couple, allowing Robert (with his wife’s approval) to demonstrate his commitment to the cause of radical social political reform. Their second and third sons, Richard and Robert, were both given distinctive, telling, middle names. Richard’s full name was Richard Cobden Hornigold, probably in honour of Richard Cobden whose campaign to repeal the tariffs placed on foreign wheat (corn laws) succeeded in Richard’s birth year. Robert Jr. meanwhile carried the name Owen, no doubt in honour of Robert Owen, an education reformer and socialist whose “Association of All Classes of All Nations” first arrived in Norwich via “over the water” ten years earlier. Like Richard before him, Robert wholeheartedly committed to the political principles that his parental and environmental upbringing had given him, even after he had himself moved beyond these surroundings. This again demonstrates that areas like Norwich’s “over the water” produced continuities in political thought and protest activity across multiple generations of individuals and organisations.
Richard Cobden Hornigold
Of Robert’s two sons, Richard Cobden followed his ancestors’ footsteps and played an active role in Norwich’s radical politics. Influenced as he was by his elders’ politics, men like Richard Cobden came to embody the link between older forms of radical politics and the Gladstonian Liberalism that grew from the 1867 Reform Act.
In 1867, aged 21 he, along with many of Norwich’s veteran radicals, most of whom would have known his forefathers, campaigned against the ratepayer clauses of the 1867 Act, which disenfranchised individuals who did not pay their rates (taxes) directly. He played an active part in the meeting alongside being on the committee, which suggests that the issue was dear to him, possibly because he was one such disenfranchised elector. This interpretation is supported by Norwich’s electoral records, which show he failed to vote in 1868 election despite his name appearing on the 1867 electoral register.
A further two years past before Richard Cobden was able to exercise the franchise, which he and his forefathers had campaigned for over the last half century. In true family tradition, he voted for the Liberal Jacob Henry Tillet and did so again in 1871 when Tillet’s election was voided on corruption allegations and a by-election ensued.
In summary, the political activity of the Hornigold family from the late 1810s to the 1870s demonstrates, quite succinctly, how important sites of radical political activity had long-lasting effects on those who participated in them and their decedents. Such continuities can be shown to have existed, as in the case of the Hornigolds, in areas that have historically received little attention by studies of protest and labour history. Richard’s radical political principles, influenced by the radical heart of Norwich, were transmitted to his son Robert. Thirty years later, Robert growing up in a similar milieu displayed the same kinds of convictions as his father did even when no longer physically in Norwich’s radical heart. Even then, separated temporally and geographically from Norwich’s premiere radical spaces and places, the influence of them can be detected in the political activity of Robert’s son Richard.
We were happy to hear that Dr Jason Roche recently published The Crusade of King Conrad III of Germany: Warfare and Diplomacy in Byzantium, Anatolia and Outremer, 1146-1148. Challenging previous historiography, Jason provides an account of King Conrad III’s crusade to Syria and Palestine. Read more below.
This book represents the first work of history dedicated to the crusade of King Conrad III of Germany (1146–48), emperor-elect of the Western Roman Empire and the most powerful man yet to assume the Cross. Even so, many of the people following the king on the Second Crusade were dead before they reached Constantinople and their ranks were devastated in Anatolia. Yet he went on to join with his fellow kings, Louis VII of France and Baldwin III of Jerusalem, in an attempt to capture the city of Damascus, the most powerful Muslim stronghold in southern Syria. Their unsuccessful attack lasted just five days. The recriminations for the many privations and problems the Germans suffered and encountered in Byzantium, Anatolia and Outremer were long and loud and have echoed down the ages: German indiscipline and poor leadership, Byzantine deceit and duplicity, and the self-serving interests of a Latin Jerusalemite nobility were and still are blamed for the various failings of the expedition. Scrutinising the original source evidence to an unparalleled degree and employing a range of innovative, multi-disciplinary approaches, this work challenges the traditional and more recent historiography at every turn leading to a significantly clearer and appreciably different understanding of the expedition’s complex and much maligned history.
Jason T. Roche is a Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the history of the crusades and the Latin East and the topography of medieval Anatolia.