‘A Genteel Residence’: Merchants’ Homes in Early-Nineteenth Century Manchester

By Thomas McGrath, PhD Candidate and Associate Lecturer in History at MMU

The study of the home and the domestic sphere can tell us so much about the lives of those who have come before us. In the same way you open up a doll’s house to explore inside; we can metaphorically open up houses in the past to what was going on within that domestic space, and what it can tell us about the people who lived there. My thesis examines the homes and domestic material culture of merchants and manufacturers in Manchester and Liverpool in the period c.1780-1880. This blog post will touch upon some of the wider themes of my research regarding the changing location of elite residences by examining the homes of Sir Thomas Potter, a merchant and Manchester’s first mayor.

A Potted History of Sir Thomas Potter

Thomas Potter was born at Tadcaster, near York in 1774. He was the son of John Potter and Anne Hartley and the family lived on an extensive farm named Wingate Hill (also referred to as Wengate Hill). Potter followed his father’s footsteps and he eventually took sole control of the farm. However, around 1803 he decided to join his two brothers, William and Richard, in Manchester. The brothers entered into the mercantile world with a capital of £14,000 given to them by their father and this early investment secured their future successes.

Thomas Potter, c.1838 (m74022: Manchester Local Image Collection)

Potter became involved with several other merchants and manufacturers through his Unitarian connections with the Cross Street Chapel. He formed the ‘Little Circle’ with men such as John Edward Taylor, Archibald Prentice, Absalom Watkin and Joseph Brotherton, where they shared ideas and thoughts based on philosophical teachings. The group supported Taylor in his foundation of the Manchester Guardian in the wake of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and the subsequent legislation which restricted the press.

Potter was a keen supporter of the 1832 Reform Act which granted Manchester its first Member of Parliament. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 enabled Manchester to form its own corporation which Potter was a part of. In 1838 he was elected as the first Mayor of Manchester, eventually serving two terms and he was knighted in 1840. He died in 1845 and was buried in Ardwick Cemetery. The cemetery itself was converted into a recreational ground after its closure in the late 1950s and Potter’s remains lie with around 80,000 other underneath a football pitch.

Potter’s Homes in Manchester and Salford

The various different locations where Potter lived in Manchester and Salford are reflective of wider residential patterns of Manchester’s wealthier classes in the early-nineteenth century and they mirror his changing status and concerns in life. In 1810 when his first wife, Elizabeth (nee Palmer) died; the Potters were living on Oldham Street. Today this street lies in the heart of the Northern Quarter and it was formerly one of the main retail streets in the city but in the early 1800s it was lined with townhouses and it led to relatively undeveloped district of Ancoats. This was a central location and it was close to his warehouse on Cannon Street (now under the Arndale) and the Manchester Exchange as well as the amenities of the urban town.

A decade later Potter had left the centre of Manchester and moved a few miles west of the town to Salford. There he lived on Adelphi Street on the banks of the River Irwell. In the early-1820s this part of Salford was considered attractive countryside and Potter’s house was surrounded by open fields. By the 1820s many of Manchester’s wealthier residents were replicating this move from urban to suburban/rural. Salford and its districts were not the only popular locations for the elite, other places to the south of the town such as Ardwick and Chorlton Row (later Chorlton-upon-Medlock) were popular, as was Broughton and Cheetham to the north of Manchester.

Pigot’s map of Manchester and Salford, 1821. Potter resided on Adelphi Street at this time and the development of the land around it can be seen through the new streets on this map.

By this time Potter had remarried to Esther Bayley and they had four children together, as well as two daughters from Potter’s first marriage. Like many of his contemporaries, Potter moved his young family out of Manchester to avoid the pollution caused by heavy industry and the rapidly increasing population. However, as James Pigot’s 1821 Map of Manchester and Salford shows, the land around Potter’s home in Adelphi Street was already being laid out with a network of streets, which highlights the rapid development of Salford. St. Philips Church would later be built in this spot between 1822-1824. The maps are part of the wonderful collection of digitised material made available by the John Rylands Library and the University of Manchester Special Collections.

Buile Hill

Potter’s final home was at the Buile Hill Estate in Seedley and Pendleton, Salford. In 1825 Potter commissioned the architect Sir Charles Barry to design a country house to stand at the centre of this estate. By this time Barry had already constructed a number of important public buildings in Manchester such as St. Matthew’s Church and the Royal Manchester Institution (later Manchester City Art Gallery). Later in his career Barry’s other local buildings included the Manchester Atheneum and the Unitarian Chapel on Upper Brook Street. Some of his more famous works are; the Houses of Parliament, Cliveden and Highclere Castle. By choosing Barry as the architect of his home, Potter was making a clear and definitive statement about his wealth, status and taste. Buile Hill was completed in 1827 and it is thought to be Barry’s only example of a Greek, neo-classical house.

Buile Hill as seen in Twycross’s ‘The Mansions of England and Wales’ (1847)

The house was depicted in Edward Twycross’s The Mansions of England and Wales: The County of Lancaster, Vol. III (1847). The book gave descriptions and presented lithographs of several, large country houses and villas across the areas covered by the hundreds of West Derby and Salford. Twycross’s volumes also covered the rest of Lancashire, Cheshire and Cornwall. It was thought he intended to cover other counties in England and Wales but this never came to fruition and he died young. As such only 52 copies of the five-volume series were ever published, making surviving copies of the books extremely rare; especially as the books have often been broken up and the lithographs sold separately. The John Rylands Library hold a copy of Twycross’s publications. The image of Buile Hill from the publication shows the house without the large porte cochère (covered porchway) which was likely added during extensions made in the 1860s.

Buile Hill continued to be occupied by the Potter family until 1877 when it was sold to John Marsland Bennett, a merchant and another former-mayor of Manchester. The Bennett family sold the house and grounds to the Salford Corporation in 1902. The house was used as a natural history museum and the grounds landscaped as a public park. In 1975 the house was turned into the Lancashire Mining Museum and the cellars were converted into replica of underground mines. It closed in 2000 and unfortunately, Buile Hill house has sat empty since.

Buile Hill today (Thomas McGrath, 2020)

Sources:

Professor Catherine Fletcher, The Beauty and the Terror: An Alternative History of the Italian Renaissance – Sunday Times history books of 2020

We were delighted to learn that Professor Catherine Fletcher’s new book, The Beauty and the Terror: An Alternative History of the Italian Renaissance has been included as a Sunday Times history book of the year.

Congratulations Catherine!

The Italian Renaissance is often remembered in glowing terms. It has been depicted as the period that brought Europe from the Middle Ages into modernity. However, as Catherine’s book explores, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Leonardo Da Vinci was famous for his art, yet he also designed weapons. Who knew that Mona Lisa was married to a slave trader? Florence is famous for Michelangelo’s David sculpture, not the massacre which forced the republic’s surrender. Where are the women writers, Jewish merchants, the mercenaries, engineers, prostitutes, farmers and citizens in the histories of the Renaissance?

The great Renaissance figures did not appear out of a fifteenth century “rebirth”, rather a tumultuous sixteenth century defined by war, famine and disease.

As Jessie Childs, author of God’s Traitors, describes, Catherine’s work is “a wonderfully dark, gritty, hard-edged tour behind the scenes of the Italian Renaissance. Catherine Fletcher is an expert and eloquent guide through the fire, blood and steel that inspired some of the greatest art in the world”.

You can purchase Catherine’s book here and see the full roundup of the Sunday Times best history books of 2020 here.

Professor Catherine Fletcher is a historian of Renaissance and early modern Europe. Her previous books include The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de’ Medici and The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story. Catherine is Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University and broadcasts regularly for the BBC.

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.

Liverpudlian Muslims in Victorian Britain: A Forgotten Past

By Haseeb Khan, Graduate Research Assistant for the MCPHH and PhD candidate in History at MMU

the Indian Mussulmans are deeply irritated to learn of the proposed mockery of the prophet on the stage of a country which has pledged itself to respect their religious feelings

Letter in The Times protesting the performance of “Mahomet

The above quote is remarkably relevant today, yet it is not a recent one. It is in fact a response to the 1890 play “Mahomet”, which was due to be performed in the Lyceum Theatre, London. A letter in The Times, signed by the vice president of the Liverpool Muslim Institute (LMI) with the hall mark of the Victorian convert Abdullah Quilliam, urged that the play be cancelled. By the summer of 1890 news of the play had reached India. It was met with protests matched in size by those protesting Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses around a century later. The Satanic Verses have been depicted as a turning point for the development of a British Muslim identity, and the symbolism of such a similar event occurring one hundred years earlier is important.

Not to be confused with the Quilliam foundation, who have arguably co-opted the Quilliam name to further their own political ends, Abdullah Quilliam is starkly understudied. He is a vital figure in the history of Muslims in Britain. This history did not start with migration from the collapsing British empire in the 1950s. Whether as slaves, prisoners, travellers, diplomats, traders, students or lascars (sailors), Muslims have existed in Britain for several centuries. Towards the end of the nineteenth century settled Muslim communities began to emerge in port towns such as Cardiff, Liverpool and South Shields. The Muslim community in Liverpool was diverse. Alongside lascars, visiting students, and dignitaries from the Muslim world were a group of Victorian converts, led by the lawyer and philanthropist Abdullah William Quilliam. These early British Muslims founded the LMI in 1891. They established a fully-fledged community and had a mosque, school, library, lecture hall, provided accommodation and Islamic marriage and funeral services. The LMI left behind a plentiful array of sources including their own regular newspapers, The Crescent and Islamic World, and many of Quilliam’s own writings. These sources formed the basis of Ron Geaves’ work which recounted the story of Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslims. The availability of such valuable source material makes it more surprising that only a handful of historians have tackled this seemingly forgotten history.

Abdullah Quilliam. Copyright, Pictures from History

My research seeks to question the accepted historiographical timeline of British Muslim identity. That being, it was not until the 1990s and events such as the Rushdie Affair and the War on Terror that a British Muslim identity emerged. Rather before this, Muslims in Britain identified themselves and were identified by state and society in terms of their “race” or country of origin. The use of “race” in the previous sentence appears to assume that religion cannot be racialised. Can “race” not subsume religious identities? There have been studies of this topic in relation to Catholic and Jewish communities in Britain but less so for Muslims. Accordingly, I will engage with theories of race and religion and apply them to Muslim groups.

The Abdullah Quilliam Society in Liverpool have restored the LMI’s mosque on Brougham Street. With help from the British Library they have also digitised many of the available sources on Quilliam and the Victorian Liverpudlian Muslim community. I hope to utilise this material in the pursuit of uncovering some of the lost history of Muslims in Britain.

Brougham Terrace, home of the LMI’s mosque. Source Historic England Archive.

You can learn more about the Abdullah Quilliam Society’s work here.

‘Half-victims’? Jewish ‘Mischlinge’ in the Third Reich, 1933-1945 – Dr Jean Marc Dreyfus, 3 December 2020

Mischling: the contrasted destiny of ‘half-jews’ in the Third Reich, between persecution and survival

We are delighted to be hosting Jean-Marc Dreyfus on 3 December for the Sam Johnson Memorial Lecture.

‘Mischling’ : the contrasted destiny of ‘half-Jews’ in the Third Reich, between persecution and survival Nazi policy obsessively classified people. With the Nuremburg racial laws of September 1935, the status of ‘half-blood’ Jews, whether of ‘first’ or ‘second degree’, was inscribed in the German civil code. At least 700 000 Germans fell into those categories and were submitted to severe legal restrictions. At the end of the war, many were interned in labour camps. We now know that they survived; the final decision on their fate remained pending. This presentation will describe the state of the research on the topic of ‘half-Jews’ in Germany and also the difficult memory of their persecution. Jean-Marc Dreyfus is Reader in Holocaust Studies at the University of Manchester. His last book (in French), describes the life story of Vollrath von Maltzan, a ‘Mischling’ who became the first West-German ambassador to Paris after WWII.

Jean-Marc Dreyfus is Reader in Holocaust Studies at the University of Manchester. His last book (in French), describes the life story of Vollrath von Maltzan, a ‘Mischling’ who became the first West-German ambassador to Paris after WWII.

You can sign up here

Manchester Histories Digifest 2020: Disabled People’s Rights and Histories – An Update

Manchester Histories Digifest Team

Asked about the impact of the first ever disability rights legislation in the world that he introduced, Alf Morris (MP for Manchester Wythenshawe and later Lord Morris of Manchester) famously remarked “it may not add years to your life but it will add life to your years”. We too had life added to our years on Friday the 4th and Saturday 5th September as we celebrated 50 years of the landmark legislation “The Chronically Sick and Disabled Person’s Act 1970”, affectionately known as ‘Alf’s Act’. 

Following an initial approach by the Morris family to The University of Manchester’s Disabled Staff Network, Manchester Histories, Manchester Metropolitan University, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, North West TUC, and others worked together to produce a two-day digital festival that was broadcast live from Manchester Central Library. Attracting an audience of over 3000 people.

The Bee Vocal Choir

The themes were ‘celebrate, learn, challenge’ and through a call out to individuals and groups in Greater Manchester and beyond, newly commissioned work by young disabled musicians, James Holt, Lucy Bales, Ollie Hyland, Bee Vocal Choir, and three short films made by Brazen Productions about the life and work of Alf Morris, a wonderful montage of disabled people’s lives, histories, contributions, political struggles, and joyous creativity was live across the globe.

Compered by comedian Jackie Hagan, audiences were led into thought provoking, moving, entertaining and fascinating contributions exploring the positive legacy of Alf’s Act as well as the contemporary challenges of today. Debates about the right to life in the wake of doctors encouraging disabled people to consider “Do Not Resuscitate” orders at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, mingled with art, music and histories. Projects exploring disabled people’s ‘lifeworlds’ were scattered across the programme including one by young deaf sign language users in South Africa using the medium of photography, lockdown blogs from disabled people’s perspectives and historical dramas including the stories of incarceration experienced by people with learning difficulties and much much more. DigiFest 2020 was accompanied by in depth filmed pieces and a gallery which are still accessible now.

Jackie Hagan

Led by disabled people, front and centre, and with high levels of access for the audience in this online medium, DigiFest 2020 would have been unthinkable 50 years ago.  The world in which Alf’s Act was born was one where disabled people were literally not seen, not educated alongside others, rarely regarded as having the potential to live independent lives and not supported to do so. People’s preferences for language and communication were at best overlooked and at worst denied and disabled people’s contributions to society and the benefits they brought were not recognised.  True, today is different and the Equality Act 2010 brings important protections and also promotions of disabled people’s rights. But there is still much to be concerned about as the festival’s live debate with Victoria Macdonald (Channel 4 News’ health and social care editor) demonstrated.  Seemingly common-sense relaxations in some Local Authority duties of assessment and care under the Coronavirus Emergency Act have placed many disabled people at a disadvantage. 

The appropriation of ‘vulnerable’ as a stigmatizing term to describe people at greatest susceptibility to COVID-19 (including many disabled people) has been a step backwards.  Yet as many contributors to the festival alluded to – restrictions in movement and socialization, barriers to working as usual and isolation are hardly new experiences for many disabled people.  In that sense the resilience, honest emotional reflection, and practical ability just to get on with it, possessed by many disabled people, has found a new value and recognition in the eyes of others.

The online DigiFest, free and open to all, raised the profile of the ongoing struggles for disabled people’s rights bringing new perspectives to many watching. It celebrated the diversity of disabled people’s contributions to making society better for everyone. It highlighted what is to be learned from the past 50 years of disabled people’s histories and rights and showcased the future in the rich mix of rights still to be won, creative avenues still to be explored, and the inclusive and accessible communities still to be fully realised.

A follow-up event is now being organised by the DigiFest steering groups on Thursday 3rd December 2020 to celebrate International Day of People with Disability. Keep an eye out on Manchester Histories website for more details.

To watch the broadcasts, see behind the scenes photos and to explore all the digital content produced for DigiFest2020 please click here.

Manchester Histories DigiFest 2020 Team.

Gill Morris, Hamied Haroon, Kirsty Hutchinson, Alys Young, Jessica Bolan, Ros Oates, Karen Shannon and Janine Hague.

Thanks to our funders and all people who contributed to make DigiFest 2020 possible.

As Seen on Screen: Period dramas, ‘accuracy’ & the historical adviser – Dr Hannah Grieg Public Lecture, 11 November 2020, 5.30pm

We are delighted to announce that Dr Hannah Grieg will be delivering her postponed lecture “As Seen on Screen: Period dramas, ‘accuracy’ & the historical adviser” as part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s History Research Centre Seminar Series.

Dr Hannah Greig is a senior lecturer in history at the University of York where she teaches eighteenth-century history and public history. Alongside her academic work she is an established consultant to film, TV and theatre productions with over a decade of experience of working closely with period dramas. 

Her credits include feature films “The Duchess” (2008) and “The Favourite” (2018); BBC dramas including “Poldark” (series 1-5), “Death Comes to Pemberley”, “Jamaica Inn”, and “Gunpowder”; ITV’s recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, “Sanditon”; and the forthcoming “Bridgerton” series for Netflix. 

In this talk Dr Greig will reflect on her practice-based work as a consultant, the place of film and television as a form of public history, and the issues involved in attempting to create a historically ‘accurate’ drama.

You can sign up to the lecture here .

This lecture is part of the History Research Seminar Series at Manchester Metropolitan University and is organised by the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage.