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The Working Class Movement Library

Annie Jopling on a ‘hidden’ national collection, a stride or two outside the city centre

Published on February 11th 2011.

The Working Class Movement Library

The Working Class Movement Library (WCML)- wow, that’s a hefty title for an operation run on a shoe-string. But as the heavyweight nature of the name implies, this is an institution which punches above its weight.

A reader recently described it as ‘probably the friendliest library in the world’, and it’s certainly notable as one of few libraries we know of that’ll offer you a brew while you’re reading.

This library/archive/museum is one of Salford’s hidden jewels - a collection of national importance - make that international importance. If you’ve headed out of town on the A6 you’ll have passed it, a splendid red brick pile of a Victorian building, opposite Salford University and right by Salford Crescent station. Too many people do just that – pass it.

They’d like it more of you to ring the doorbell and come in.

But why would you?

Well if you’re interested in our region’s radical history, in stories of ordinary people striving to make the world a better place, from Peterloo to the present, it’s all there.

Books, obviously, thousands of them. But the joy of the place lies in the mountains of quirky stuff which complement those books.

The Library was begun by a couple, Eddie and Ruth Frow, who described their obsessive collecting as ‘a disease’. So there are early 19th century cartoons, leaflets about campaigns from 1840s strikes to the Kinder Scout mass trespass to right now, a scrapbook of photos and cuttings from the Bolton Clarion Cycling Club…

There’s lots about the volunteers who went out from Manchester in the 1930s to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War – letters home, and the diary of Ralph Cantor from Cheetham Hill who died in Spain aged 21.

Recent donations include visual responses to the library collection created by artists down the road at Islington Mill. There are also handpainted union banners from the early 1900s, and a bedsheet painted in support of the Viraj Mendes anti-deportation campaign in the 1980s. And a board game, Class Struggle, in which the players who are Workers can only win if they team up against the player who’s the Capitalist.

A reader recently described it as ‘probably the friendliest library in the world’, and it’s certainly notable as one of few libraries we know of that’ll offer you a brew while you’re reading. (The brew’s free, but needless to say contributions to keep the library running are always welcome).

It’s a small operation so it’s helpful if you can make an appointment – but even if you just turn up you can browse the displays on the ground floor and get a taste of the place.

Events are part and parcel of WCML.

On Saturday 12 February there’s an afternoon marking Lesbian and Gay History Month with singer/songwriter Claire Mooney, live drawing by political cartoonist Fanny Cattran, and readings from Oscar Wilde by Jonathan Keeble from the Royal Exchange. The reading room will be transformed into a Victorian parlour. The Librarian tells us that someone has donated an aspidistra for the day.

In March there’s an exhibition by the Manchester and Salford Film Society to mark their 80th anniversary, and on 30 April peace campaigner Bruce Kent is giving a lecture. There’s a small exhibition currently running about Robert Tressell, painter/decorator and author of the seminal novel about working class life and struggles The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

And the flavour of the place is summed up brilliantly by the fact that the Library’s band of doughty volunteers have just marked the centenary of Tressell’s death in an entirely practical tribute - by spending a day decorating the Library annexe.

www.wcml.org.uk – reading room opening hours Tuesdays to Fridays 10am to 5pm; drop-in visitors welcome Wednesdays to Fridays 1pm to 5pm.

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