Dr Peter Lindfield, The British Muslim Heritage Centre, ‘ancient’-style furniture and a royal bed!

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.

Main Façade of The British Muslim Heritage Centre, Whalley Range, Manchester. © Peter N. Lindfield

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.

Great work Peter!

Freethinkers, Chartists and Radicals; political continuity over three generations of nineteenth-century Norvicians

By Dominic Barron-Carter, PhD Student and Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

Introduction

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

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.


Hornigolds’ name as it appeared in Carlile’s Republican, Image courtesy of Proquest.

Robert Hornigold

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.


Robert’s vote as recorded in the 1847 poll, he is listed at the very bottom of the third column. Image courtesy of Ancestry.

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.


“Meeting of the Norwich Compounders” as reported in the Lynn Advertiser of 21/09/1867. Image courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Conclusion

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.

Dr Jason Roche, The Crusade of King Conrad III of Germany: Warfare and Diplomacy in Byzantium, Anatolia and Outremer, 1146-1148

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.

You can purchase Jason’s work here.

Dr Michael Nevell, Digging up Manchester: Industrial Archaeology & Heritage in the Shock City – 2 June 2021

We are looking forward to welcoming Dr Michael Nevell on 2 June for a public lecture.

Dr Nevell will be discussing buildings, bricks, cobbles, pots and glass bottles recovered from more than fifty digs in Manchester.

Manchester is a city with an unparalleled industrial heritage. Its technological and transport innovations, and its wealth, was based on textile manufacture. From the 18th century to the early 20th century it was the centre of world production earning it the nickname ‘cottonopolis’. The darker side of this story was the harsh working and living conditions of the newly industrialised inhabitants. The urban regeneration of the city centre since 2000 has provided opportunities for more than fifty archaeological digs, changing our understanding of the city’s origins and development. This talk will look at the industrial buildings, bricks, cobbles, pots, and glass bottles recovered from these digs. These have helped to bring to life the physical nature of working and living in the world’s first industrial city during this period of rapid change. And this exploration has also involved community archaeology volunteers exploring their own past, helping to ground the archaeological understanding of the city in the 21st century.

Dr Michael Nevell, FSA, MCIfA, is the Industrial Heritage Support Officer for England, based at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, and an Honorary Research Fellow in Industrial Archaeology at the University of Salford. He has more than 30 years of experience as a field archaeologist, and taught undergraduates and post-graduates as a senior lecturer for 18 years, being founding Head of Archaeology at the Centre for Applied Archaeology at the University of Salford (2009-2020). His research areas include industrial buildings, vernacular architecture (especially timber buildings), buildings archaeology, community archaeology, industrial, and contemporary archaeology. He has run a variety of community archaeology projects including the Tameside Archaeologic Survey, Dig Manchester, and Dig Greater Manchester. He is the author of many books and academic papers including Industrial Archaeology: A Handbook (Council for British Archaeology 2012); Archaeology for All: Community Archaeology in the early 21st Century (University of Salford 2015), The Birth of an Industrial City: Glasgow and the Archaeology of the M74 (Society of Antiquaries Scotland 2016). ‘The Dig Greater Manchester Community Project, 2011 to 2017: Archaeology for All?’, Memoirs of the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Association Volume 156 (2019), 77-89; Manchester at Work (Amberley Publishing, 2018); Heritage Under Pressure: Threats and Solutions (Oxbow books 2019); and The Archaeology of Manchester in 20 Digs (Amberley Publishing, 2020). He is a past Chair of the Association for Industrial Archaeology (2017-20) and is a past editor (2009-17) of the international journal ‘Industrial Archaeology Review’.

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Dr Craig Horner Book Release – The Emergence of Bicycling and Automobility in Britain

Congratulations to Dr Craig Horner whose new book, The Emergence of Bicycling and Automobility in Britain, was published recently. As well as publishing, Craig has compiled a 2000 strong list of 19th Century motorists on his project page! Check it out here. Impressive feat! Have a read about the book and some reviews below.

In the late 19th century, bicyling and motoring offered new ways for a hardy minority to travel. Escaping from the ‘tyranny’ of the train timetables, these entrepreneurs were able to promote private mobility when the road, technology and infrastructure were unequal to the task. With a moribund network out of town, poor roadside accommodation and few services, how could road traction persist and ultimately thrive?

Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, including magazines, newspapers and advice books on stable management, this book explores the emergence and development of bicycling and automobility in Britain, with a focus on the racing driver-cum-entrepreneur SF Edge (1868-1940) and his network. Craig Horner considers the motivations, prejudices and cultures of those who promoted and consumed road traction, providing new insights into social class, leisure, sport and tourism in Britain. In addition, he places early British bicycling and automobility in an international context, providing fruitful comparisons with the movements in France, Germany and the United States.

“Craig Horner’s treatise on the early days of cycling and motoring in Britain takes a scholarly yet entertaining look at the changing attitudes to the new mobility and its gradual diffusion down through the clearly defined social strata of pre-Great War England. Key figures in this scenario highlighted in the text were Selwyn Francis Edge and his secretary Dorothy Levitt, who did much to popularise motoring among a wider audience. The ample list of references consulted invites further reading.” –  David Burgess-Wise, Society of Automotive Historians in Britain, UK.

“Craig Horner’s absorbing analysis brings home just how much of the cultural landscape of modern British automobility was established as early as 1910. Out were the niche enthusiasts’ toys driven by the 1890s posh, in were the slightly boring branded cars affordable by the consumer of ‘moderate means’ – the advance guard of mass motoring. Only by understanding the enormity of this century-old cultural achievement can we dream of inspiring tomorrow’s motorist to spend less time behind the wheel” –  

Colin Divall, Professor Emeritus, University of York, UK.

Purchase Craig’s work here.

For the motoring enthusiasts read all about Craig’s project on the project page. Hear Craig talk about the topic in episode 1 of the MCPHH podcast. More recently we spoke to Richard Roberts. Richard runs a fantastic advertising archive in Stockport, which specialises in automobiles and land transport.

Corinne Fowler, Colonial Countryside, Heritage Research and the Culture War – 5 May 2021

We are looking forward to introducing Professor Corinne Fowler for an MCPHH Public Lecture on 5 May 2021, 5.30pm.

Colonial Countryside is a child-led history and writing project guided by a team of historians. The project worked with 100 primary pupils and commissioned 10 writers to produce new stories and poems about 10 National Trust houses’ connections with the East India Company and transatlantic slavery.

Between 2019-2020, Professor Fowler was also seconded to the National Trust to identify houses’ links to empire and to assist with incorporating this information into the historical accounts of relevant properties. The subsequent release of a National Trust report, in September 2020, on its houses’ colonial links, co-authored by Fowler, attracted government attention and led to Parliamentary speeches, two Parliamentary debates, and public expressions of disapproval by government ministers and the then head of the Charity Commission.

In February 2021, 56 Common Sense Group Conservative MPs approached Professor Fowler’s project funders to argue that the project was ‘political’ and therefore should not be given public money now or in the future. In 2021, the Daily Mail and other papers misreported that Professor Fowler’s book, Green Unpleasant Land, said that ‘gardening was racist’, giving her no right of reply and attracting related abuse and threats.

Given the political pressures that she – and other academics in the field – are now experiencing, Professor Fowler considers the implications for academic freedom. What is at stake for us as academics and as universities? Why is this happening and how can we best respond to government and public hostility?

Professor Corinne Fowler directs an Arts Council/Heritage Lottery project called Colonial Countryside: National Trust Houses Reinterpreted. In 2020, she co-edited the National Trust’s report on its country houses’ connections to British colonial history. Corinne is author of Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections (Peepal Tree Press, 2020).

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The People’s River: adapting community projects and uncovering hidden histories during lockdown

By Charlie Booth, Community Engagement Manager. Manchester Histories

The People’s River project is a community-led project that explores the hidden histories of people who live and work alongside the River Irk in Manchester today, and their relationship to it throughout history. The project is inspired by the life and works of Friedrich Engels and marked the two hundredth anniversary of his birth in 2020.

The journey to the project began in 2019 when Manchester Histories were approached by Manchester City Council and Wupperverband, a water management organisation in Wuppertal, Germany, also the birthplace of Friedrich, to partner on a new photography project that would connect the two cities together.

We decided to focus on the River Irk – as it was a traditionally overlooked industrial river but one that provided vivid depictions of life in Engels seminal text The Condition of the Working Class in England.

In The Condition of the Working Class, Engels walks to the River Irk to record a view “characteristic for the whole district”. He wrote:  

“At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse which it deposits on the lower right bank. In dry weather, an extended series of the most revolting brackish green pools of slime remain standing on this bank, out of whose depth bubbles of miasmatic gases constantly rise and give forth a stench that is unbearable even on the bridge forty of fifty feet above the level of the water.”

However, like many projects planned for 2020 we had to adapt to a new way of working remotely due to social distancing and repeated national lockdowns. Accepting that there were some elements of the programme that would need to change permanently and some which would need to be delayed until the situation changed.

The People’s River Toolkit Front Cover

The first challenge of the project was how to connect with communities who were isolated with little or no access to the internet. As a solution to this we produced a printed Engels’ toolkit, that was distributed to community partners across North Manchester. People could also request a hard copy to have posted to them or to download the toolkit digitally via the Manchester Histories website. The activity sheets covered Engel’s early life, his relationship to the River Irk and the seminal text The Condition of the Working Class in England.

In late summer 2020 it looked optimistic that we could deliver some small but in person workshops, so we commissioned artist Liz Wewiora, a socially engaged photographer to work with community groups in Angel Meadow, Collyhurst and Harpurhey. Liz was the perfect fit for the role as she had experience of working collaboratively with groups in North Manchester and had recently completed a project called Ferry Folk which looked at the Mersey ferry crossing in Liverpool.

The aim of the workshops was to co-produce content for a series of public exhibitions that would share what the River looked like today, compared with the past and what hidden histories could be revealed by the people who lived alongside it. Liz began research by going on a walking tour with historian Jonathan Schofield exploring notable historic moments near the River in the Irk Valley and learning about the global significance of this little explored natural landmark in Greater Manchester.

Image taken by Liz Wewiora during a research trip with Jonathan Schofield, Manchester Histories and Manchester City Council to the River Irk in 2020

Liz then began working with our lead community partners in North Manchester through a series of 19 outdoor socially distanced photo walks and online Zoom workshops. For those people who were isolating and with little access to the internet, Liz made creative packs that could be posted out with accompanying phone calls.

The workshops were promoted through the Friends of Angel Meadow Facebook group, Northwards Housing, HMG Paints Ltd and the Many Hands craft collective made up of residents from across Collyhurst, Ancoats and Miles platting.

Images taken by Immy Llewyln and Liz Wewiora of photo walks and workshops with members of the walking group from No. 93 Wellbeing Centre

The No. 93 Wellbeing Centre (formerly Harpurhey Wellbeing Centre), part of Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust, was a community partner for the People’s River project.

The community centre has been in the heart of Harpurhey for many years and is an important place for the whole community.

Liz began working with the centre by joining their weekly walking club where a group of local residents met to walk around Queens Park, which is close to the River Irk.

Cyanotype Print by Louie

After spending time with the group and chatting about their interest, Liz introduced them to using disposable cameras to capture their own images. This was done by self-guided photography challenges that focused on the nature they encountered during their walks.  The group then decided together that they would like to turn these photographs in to cyanotypes reflecting the tones of the River Irk itself.

Photographs by Margaret of her husband receiving a community award

Through the No. 93 Wellbeing Centre, Liz was also able to connect with local Harpurhey resident Margaret who shared with Liz her collection of family photographs, and an archive of newspaper clippings that told the stories about activism in the area. Liz was also able to interview Margaret and learn lots about her and her husband’s history and how things have changed in the area over time.

Photograph taken by a series of photographs by Ged from Many Hands

As this framework of workshops was working well Liz repeated the approach with a group that she has worked with on numerous projects before, the Many Hands Craft Collective group. Firstly, introducing the subject of Engels through a Zoom call and then leading a photo walk along the River Irk whilst chatting informally about the history of the area. This was followed by a zoom workshop where the group were able to edit and sequence the photographs that they would want to feature in their final exhibitions.


Part of the series ‘The Glorious Reds of Angel Meadows’ by Liz Long (Local resident and Member of Friends of Angel Meadow)

In November, we entered a second national lockdown and although activities with No. 93 Wellbeing Centre could continue as they are a support group, other workshops had to move online. The three workshops planned with Friends of Angel Meadow were all delivered on Zoom including an evening photography class teaching some tips for getting the best from your camera phone and how to create a compelling photo story. The group were then encouraged to visit the river independently and capture the Irk before sharing their photos with the group online. A few members even walked the entire length of the Irk from its source to where it disappears underground at Victoria station.

Accompanying these photography sessions with Friends of Angel Meadow Manchester Histories invited, Jonathan Schofield, to deliver two online talks which were versions of walking tours he would normally deliver in person. The first was an introductory history of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx and the second talk focused on the past and present of the Irk Valley. These were very popular talks and on dark November evenings we had over 80 people tuning in from home to hear about the history of the area.

John Newton, aged 18 from the HMG Paints Ltd archive
John Newton and the Newtons 2007 (cropped) from the HMG Paints Ltd archive

Our fourth community partner for The People’s River was employees past and present from HMG Paints Ltd, who have had a factory on the banks of the River Irk for over 90 years. Plans to deliver workshops were tricky with social distancing restrictions but Liz was still able to visit the factory a few times and interview a couple of staff including the Managing Director, John Falder. Liz was also able to look through the archive at the factory and unearth some brilliant photographs of employees over the years, uncovering stories of exceptional hard work and a sense of community with multiple generations in the same family working for the manufacturers.

We are in the process of looking through and reflecting on all the stories shared with us and the photographs of the River Irk that have been captured. We are planning on revealing all the content gathered through a series of public exhibitions in Spring/Summer 2021.

To find out more or for updates please subscribe to the Manchester Histories newsletter here or visit www.manchesterhistories.co.uk

Follow us on Twitter @mcrhistfest and to keep up to date with developments in The People’s River project search for #thepeoplesriver

People’s River has been funded by Manchester City Council through their Neighbourhood Investment Fund and Economic Regeneration Fund.

Mongol and Seljuk Conversion to Islam and the Steppe Ideology – 11 February 2021

On 11 February 2021, 5 pm, the Northern Network for the Study of the Crusades will be hosting a seminar on “Mongol and Seljuk Conversion to Islam and the Steppe Ideology”. The panel will consist of:

“What can the Mongols’ interfaith court debates tell us about why Islam and Buddhism succeeded where William of Rubruck and Christianity failed?” (Jonathan Brack, Ben Gurion University of the Negev)

“What can we learn from the Mongol conversion to Islam in the Thirteenth Century about the conversion of the Seljuk Turks to Islam in the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries?” (Nicholas Morton, Nottingham Trent University)

“Nomadic Universalism: An Argument for the Continuity of the Imperial Steppe Ideology” (Luke Quinn, Manchester Metropolitan University)

Timothy May (University of North Georgia) will act as respondent at the seminar.

You can sign up here.

The seminar will take place on Microsoft Teams and joining instructions will be sent to participants by email.

Please contact Jason T. Roche at J.T.Roche@mmu.ac.uk for further information.

Richard Lysons, Were You There? Popular Music at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall – 1951-1996: Book Review

By Dave Russell

On several occasions while trawling through Free Trade Hall programmes, I have found myself wishing that someone might one day invest the time and effort required to produce a proper record of the remarkable number, quality and variety of musicians that had graced the venue. Little did I know that Richard Lysons was already well underway with the task and the results of his labours are gathered in this closely researched and thoroughly enjoyable book. At its core is a chronological listing of performers, mainly from the field of popular music but with sufficient attention shown to classical concerts and the political meetings, charity events, school speech days and other such civic occasions, to give a full flavour of how well this ‘very grand village hall’ hall served its community. It is not a book to read sequentially but one to dip into and browse, a process made easy by its excellent index. Lysons’s documentation demonstrates the breadth and complexity of ‘popular music’ as experienced by its fans, with the hall catering for every conceivable sub-culture. In 1954, Billie Holliday’s appearance (which she abandoned after microphone failures) was followed a month later by the annual Gaelic League concert; Bob Dylan’s first visit to the hall in 1965 was preceded by a concert by Tony Bennett and succeeded by one from Shirley Bassey. Short but informative mini-biographies are given for most performers and these provide the reader with some of the book’s greatest pleasures. This particular reader revelled in the nostalgia generated (albeit of acts seen in locations much further south) but also learnt a lot and wondered why he had never encountered Anna Russell, ‘singer, pianist and comedian’, who treated her 1958 audience to a ‘humorous synopsis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle’. The book is well illustrated with plentiful reproductions of programmes and posters and striking performance photographs of visiting American blues artists taken in the early 1960s by Brian Smith. Overall, this is a most useful contribution to Manchester’s musical history.


Richard Lysons, Were You There? Popular Music at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall – 1951-1996. Manchester: Empire Publishing, 2020. Hardback, pp. v-xiv, 1-272, £20

You can purchase Richard’s book here.