Peter Love’s entirely apt tribute to Ruth Frow (1922-2008) in the February issue (No. 257) of Recorder drew attention to the extraordinary Working Class Movement Library that she and her late husband Eddie established in Salford near Manchester, UK. Ten years ago, Recorder also published a good short tribute to Eddie in the February 1998 issue, announcing his death and pointing out his outstanding role in the Unemployed Workers’ Movement of the 1930s in England.
I would like to second Peter’s remarks about Ruth by adding a few paragraphs and some photographs from my 30 March 1995 visit to the Working Class Movement Library. I went at the suggestion of Jeff Walsh and Carole Byrne, friends from Manchester with whom I had corresponded on the history of the movements against the Vietnam War and with whom I was staying. As any of our members who have visited the library (it’s a museum too) will know, it is as Peter Love said “one of the most treasured collections of material for labour historians” in the world.
So a guided tour by Ruth and Eddie plus looking at the banners, posters, leaflets and books was for me a wonderful short course in many new and diverse aspects of labour history. The collection’s forte is, as you would expect, English working-class struggles. Within that they have a room on the Vietnam issue but a big surprise for me was to find that they hold Tony Coughlan’s wonderful collection of radical and other books about Irish labour and national history. There is a whole room devoted to Irish matters.
Overall I was struck by the central place the library gives to the memorabilia of Tom Paine and his writings on human rights. Another big lesson from the collection is how much can be done for labour history by two people putting their minds and hands to a focused and crucial task. Like Sam Merrifield as Peter said.
E.P. Thompson wrote eloquently of the way that the spirit of the people who were killed or maimed by soldiers at the 1819 Peterloo Massacre of trade unionists in Manchester lived on in the subsequent working-class movements. Visitors can get in touch with that spirit in a special way via the Frow collection at nearby Salford. Let’s raise a toast to two great working-class activists, Eddie and Ruth Frow.
[Click here to read The Guardian’s obituary of Ruth Frow]
[photographs (c) Val Noone]