There are, I know, people who struggle to know how to pronounce the West Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd.
The poet Ted Hughes was born there, and when Hollywood made the biopic of Hughes’ life with Sylvia Plath the actor playing the poet at one stage mentioned that he came from (deep breath) mith- om – m – royd. Cue the sound of tittering at every cinema showing in West Yorkshire.
It’s migh- zhum –royd, with the emphasis on the first and third syllables.
Why am I telling you this? Because I will be giving a talk at the Mytholmroyd Community Centre this Friday on Joseph Greenwood and the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Co-operative Society, in my opinion one of the most important co-operatives in Britain during the later years of the nineteenth century. The talk is hosted by the Mytholmroyd Historical Society. I am sure they would not turn away visitors.
There’s a cold easterly wind blowing over my part of northern England today and Spring, let alone Summer, seems a long way away. But here’s some very early news of an event I’m organising on the UN’s International Day of Co-operatives, Saturday July 7th.
The small mill town of Hebden Bridge, between Leeds and Manchester in the south Pennines, has a strong co-operative history, part of which I recounted in my book All Our Own Work which tells the story of the highly successful worker-run co-operative textile mill in the town which ran from 1870 to 1918. I have persuaded myself to run a Co-operative Heritage Walk in the town on July 7th, starting at 11am at the Tourist Information Centre.
The walk will last about two hours, and I think we’ll have to end it firmly in the twenty-first century, in the town’s co-operatively run pub, the Fox and Goose. More info nearer the time.
Having written All Our Own Work last year, the book on early productive cooperatives where the cooperative pioneer Joseph Greenwood was the central figure, I’ve been delighted to get an email through which tells me that his grave in Hebden Bridge’s Sandy Gate cemetery has been restored.
The gravestone had toppled over on to its front, leaving the grave unidentified. That’s now been remedied. My photo shows members of CROWS (Countryside Rights of Way Service), itself a cooperative, hard at work.
Joseph Greenwood is buried a very short distance from another important early co-operator, Jesse C. Gray. Gray, originally employed at the Hebden Bridge fustian cooperative, went on to become the Co-operative Union’s General Secretary at a key time in the movement’s development. His grave is marked by a marble monument funded by the movement.
Greenwood’s and Gray’s graves are included on an e-trail of radical and cooperative Hebden Bridge, available for downloading as a mobile phone app from http://www.pennineheritage.org.uk/Pennine-Trails. The trail is also available in booklet form from the local Tourist Information Centre.
It is more than twenty years since I was commissioned by the GMB union to visit the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) in Salford for a feature for their members’ magazine. I was blown away by the wonderful collection of books, newspapers and ephemera from all strands of radical political activity assembled there, the life’s work of two remarkable people from a past generation of activists Ruth and Eddie Frow. Their collection is now held under the auspices of a charitable trust and is housed just across the road from Salford Crescent station.
I strongly recommend a visit if you haven’t been to the WCML before. The WCML tells me that it will be marking this year’s Heritage Open Days initiative with ‘behind-the-scenes’ tours on Thursday 10 and Friday 11 September.
But you’d also be welcome on 30 September when, as part of the WCML’s regular series of free Wednesday ‘Invisible Histories’ talks, I’ll be there talking about early productive cooperatives in Britain and elaborating on some of the themes I explore in my new book All Our Own Work. The talk starts at 2pm (details here).
I’ve been working this morning on the presentation I’ll be giving in a couple of weeks at the Society for Co-operative Studies’ annual conference, being held in Leicester on September 5th and 6th.
I’ve titled my presentation Britain’s early productive cooperatives, why they were forgotten, and why they’re relevant today, although it’s fair to say that my focus will be mainly on one particular cooperative, the fustian mill in Hebden Bridge which was in its day considered one of the exemplars of manufacturing cooperation and which is the subject of my recently published book All Our Own Work.
I’ll be suggesting that the experiences of bottom-up worker self-management in those nineteenth century pioneering businesses could be worth re-examining. (And, you know what, that this could be surprisingly relevant for those of us currently completing our Labour Party leadership ballot papers…)
I’ll be in Rochdale this Saturday, at the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum in Toad Lane. The museum (in the Pioneers’ original grocery shop, of course) has recently had a complete make-over with much more space now available for temporary exhibitions.
And that’s why I’ll be there. The museum staff have organised an exhibition The Workers Who Ran Their Own Mill to link in with the publication of my book All Our Own Work, about the manufacturing cooperative in Hebden Bridge which during the later part of the nineteenth century was very much an exemplar of successful ‘productive cooperation’ (it was, in modern parlance, a workers’ cooperative).
The exhibition is being launched on Saturday afternoon, at 1pm-3pm, and all are welcome. You’ll find all the details here. (The museum is asking for an rsvp to email@example.com to enable them to organise catering.)
And in the meantime I must get down to thinking about the short presentation I’ll be making as part of the event.
(Photo below: the mill the workers ran, as it is today)
My book All Our Own Work, which tells the story of one of the pioneering nineteenth century ‘productive cooperatives’ (workers’ cooperatives), is published later this month, and will be launched on Friday June 26th at the Co-operative Congress evening reception at Birmingham Town Hall. I hope to see many old friends there.
The Hebden Bridge launch takes place the following weekend, on Sunday July 5th at 1pm in the Hebden Bridge Trades Club. All welcome.
An exhibition to tie in with the book’s publication is being put on at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum (Toad Lane, Rochdale), and I’ll be there for the launch event on Saturday July 18th at 1pm.
So plenty of dates for your diary! More information on my website here.