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The Working Class Movement Library Revealed - With Tea

Jonathan Schofield adores an oasis of thought, political debate and badges

Written by . Published on January 21st 2014.

The Working Class Movement Library Revealed - With Tea

IT’s a gem, it’s a joy.

There are books to get lost inside and elegant rooms in which to ruminate or debate.

If you’re fascinated by politics (and why would you not be?) then the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) should be on your hit list. 

Ok, the location is a bit troublesome in terms of ease of access, but then the walk from the city centre has merit in its own right and there are loads of good boozers to drop into en route.

The reward at the end of that stroll is a place that defines what a sweet visitor attraction and seat of study should be. 

WCML occupies a delightful late-Victorian building opposite Salford Art Gallery and Salford University on The Crescent. There are books to get lost inside and elegant rooms in which to ruminate or debate.

The building

The building

Maxine Peake, actress and brainbox, is never out of the place, so you might be in good company. The former nurse’s home has a charming and passionate Library Manager too, Lynette Cawthra. Call her Matron. Maybe. 

To add to all this the welcome just got warmer at WCML. There’s a newly refurbished Front Room for people to visit on Wednesday-Friday, 1pm-5pm. The kettle will be on and there may even be biscuits. 

The Front RoomThe Front RoomAs Lynette says: “There's no shushing here, only friendly people, comfy chairs and the offer of a cup of tea while you settle down with a good book. The Working Class Movement Library exists to tell the story of people's fight for a fairer world. This is not dreary politics but a place of ideas, of questions and of demands. The collection covers everything from working life to political life, to union life, to sporting life. It's full of stuff to inspire you to investigate, and to spur you on to participate. There are lots of free events.” 

And despite the name it’s not just for lefties too - although of course there’s a left bias - but as I’ve found you don’t have to be a diehard socialist to find it beguiling. Labour folk can nod their heads in agreement while Conservative bods might want to shake a finger - Lib-dems can nod and shake. UKIP supporters can blame the gays.

But what people of every political shade can do is wander the three floors of this lovely library, gallery and museum, and lose themselves in thought, in visions of how the world might be better ordered – or not. That works for me. Forget yoga or the gym. 

Spanish Civil War plate


Spanish Civil War plate

As a bit of background the WCML came out of the work of two remarkable people, Eddie Frow and Ruth Haines, who met at a Communist Party Summer School in 1953.

As the history goes, ‘Three years later they set up home together and the merger of their book collections was the beginning of the Working Class Movement Library. They spent their spare time and money travelling round Britain, gathering new items for the collection. By 1960, the collection was being consulted by historians and academics.’ 

Presently WCML is funded by trade union and individual subscription with Salford Council providing a lease of the building and an annual financial grant. 

Notable features of the huge collection includes a first edition of Sam Bamford’s Passages in the Life of a Radical, issued as a part-work. The first issue stopped in the middle of a sentence so you had to buy the next one just to find out how the sentence ended. Bamford was an eye-witness to the Peterloo Massacre. 

There are chairs from the Clarion Café on Market Street, a socialist meeting point, which was kitted out by celebrated designer Walter Crane. It’s a shame we lost that café, it would now have tourists queuing down the street. 

 The Clarion Cafe


The Clarion Cafe


The list goes on. There’s a diary from Ralph Cantor, a man from Cheetham Hill, who died in 1937 fighting as an International Brigade volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, a banner from the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Council from the early 1900s, which was found in the sewing box of someone’s auntie and was on the verge of being thrown out. You can also see a badge in the shape of a portcullis with the Suffragette colours of purple, green and white on. These were given to women when they came out of prison having served a sentence for undertaking illegal activities in support of women’s suffrage. 

Then there are the books.

The beautiful books.


On the walk back, there's The Crescent, The New Oxford, The King's Arms....

Also bliss.

The Working Class Movement Library, 51 The Crescent, Salford M5 4WX . 0161 736 3601  www.wcml.org.uk  @wcmlibrary 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

 Art, cartoons and more


Art, cartoons and more

Women's Trades And Labour Council PostcardWomen's Trades And Labour Council Postcard 

Lots of memorabiliaLots of memorabilia

Banners and stairwells

Banners and stairwells

Read boys, read girls

Read boys, read girls

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Lynette Cawthra shared this on Facebook on January 21st 2014.
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