Confidentials' recommendation this week for a trip out and about across Greater Manchester

Last week  we looked at the sites in Manchester and Salford associated with co-author of The Communist Manifesto, Friedrich Engels. This week it is the region's premier socialist resource, the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) in Salford. We'll do a stately home or some such next week - for balance. 

WCML occupies a delightful late-Victorian building opposite Salford Art Gallery and Salford University on The Crescent. The architect was Henry Lord, who designed many of the official and semi-official buildings round here, controversially so, as he had been a council member and was deemed to have an advantage in gaining commissions over other architects.

​It's an easy-going place to while away a brain-stretching couple of hours study in the reading room or just browsing

The original use of the building was to house nurses from Salford Royal, a short walk away, at the eastern end of the Crescent and was completed in 1901. The style was intended to reflect that of the Technical Institute, now part of the University of Salford on the other side of the Crescent, also by Henry Lord.

The building became WCML in 1987 to house the extensive collections of two remarkable bibliophiles Eddie Frow and Ruth Haines. They had already spent their spare time and money travelling round Britain, gathering new items for the collection, so much so, that by the 1960s, the collection was being consulted by historians and academics. The new building was necessary as their house in Old Trafford was so full of material it had books spilling out of the chimneys –  figuratively speaking.

Mg23 Working Class Movement Library
The 1901-built Working Class Movement Library Image: Confidentials

The library tells the story of the fight for a fairer world. It is about ideas, questions and demands. The collection covers everything from working life to political life, to union life, to sporting life and there are lots of free events. 

It is a delight on the inside. There are books and all manner of material to get lost within and elegant rooms in which to ruminate or debate. In all, there are three floors comprising library, gallery and museum, beautifully maintained and alive with artwork and colour.

Working Class Movement Library In Salford
The Working Class Movement Library in Salford Image: Working Class Movement Library

It's an easy-going place to while away a brain-stretching couple of hours study in the reading room or just browsing the poetry, novels, prints, playscripts and songbooks.

There are collections relating to Thomas Paine (author of The Rights of Man) and the radical movements of the 1790s, including source material for Chartism, the Independent Labour Party, the Manchester-born Clarion Movement, the General Strike, the 1980s Miners’ Strike and much more.

Notable items include a diary from Ralph Cantor, a man from Cheetham Hill, Manchester, who died in 1937 fighting as an International Brigade volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. 

There is a badge in the shape of a portcullis bearing the Suffragette colours of purple, green and white. These were given to women when they came out of prison having served a sentence from actions they'd taken in support of the Votes for Women campaign. Manchester was the birthplace of the Suffragette movement so, as expected, there is a fine range of sympathic material.   

Working Class Movement Library In Salford Reading Room
The reading room in Salford's Working Class Movement Library Image: Working Class Movement Library

A valuable item is the first edition of Samuel Bamford’s Passages in the Life of a Radical. Bamford (1788-1872) came from Middleton, five miles north of Manchester, campaigned for social justice and was present at the Peterloo Massacre. He was arrested on trumped up charges of treason following the bloody crushing of the 1819 gathering at St Peter’s Fields and spent a year in jail. He was a political writer but also a poet. Cunningly, the first issue of Passages in the Life of a Radical stopped in the middle of a sentence so you had to buy the next volume just to find out how the sentence ended. This is an idea all writers might borrow from as it could encourage…

The Working Class Movement Library Jubilee House, 51 The Crescent, Salford M5 4WX

Try a self-guided virtual tour of the Working Class Movement Library.

Take a look here for the sometimes entertaining and always instructive Object of the Month.

The library is open from Tuesday to Friday 10am - 4pm and is open to everyone. There are regular tours of the library on Friday afternoons at 2pm. Tours last around 45 minutes and include all levels of the building. Tours of the library are available for groups on request.

This piece is based on the section in Jonathan Schofield's "Manchester: The complete guide to the city." This 336-page book is lavishly illustrated and the most comprehensive guide to the city and the region ever produced.

Read next: The best things to eat in Manchester - December 2022

Read again: Cheshire Smokehouse plans improvements and new accessible café space

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