Boggart Hole Clough and the Suffragists

How many Blackley residents now know of the role once played by this well-loved park in the history of womens’ suffrage?

On Sunday, 5 July 1896, some 40,000 people gathered at an open-air meeting in the park to hear an address by James Kier Hardie, one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party, along with Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst, and others. The party had been formed following disillusionment with the Liberals, who had repeatedly failed to deliver on many social improvement policies, including extending the right to vote to ordinary workers – and women.

A number of ILP meetings had been held in the Clough when it was a private estate but, after purchase by Manchester Corporation in 1895, the Parks Committee decided to suppress them. In May and June 1896, a number of arrests were made and some speakers were fined, but chose to serve a month’s imprisonment rather than pay. The dispute now centred around free speech in public spaces.

During the 5 July meeting, Keir Hardie, the Pankhursts and others were arrested for supposedly “causing an annoyance”. Magistrates heard the testimony of local residents, none of whom seemed remotely annoyed, and Richard Pankhurst pointed out that there was no such offence as “causing annoyance” anyway.Short article in the Manchester Courier, 9 July 1896

Meanwhile, further meetings were held and at one of these a defiant Ben Tillett addressed 30,000 maintaining that, as the park had been purchased with public money, the public had every right to hold meetings there if they wished. It was the same in many other towns and cities. Eventually, the Parks Committee, urged by the Home Secretary, decided that such meetings were lawful and most of the charges were dropped.

One bright Sunday afternoon ten years later on 15 July 1906, another meeting in favour of Votes for Women was addressed by Keir Hardie and Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Adela. The site was described as “north of the main road through the park, where three hills form a natural amphitheatre”.

No estimate of the number attending was given, but the speakers were hemmed in on all sides when 100 or so organised protestors surged down the hill at them. They were almost crushed. Their escape was hampered by the sheer number of ordinary listeners, who were mostly sympathetic, but packed closely together. Several of the speakers suffered blows and torn clothing but managed to slip away in the ensuing confusion.Location of the former drinking fountain and refreshment rooms in Boggart Hole Clough, possibly the site referred to for the 1906 meeting

Keir Hardie, who had recently courted bad publicity criticising the government’s brutality towards the Zulus, and Adela were particularly targeted. The most easily recognised, they were chased up one of the other hills and round an adjacent field by the mob, causing great damage to the trees and shrubs. Adela was shielded by three or four local men and almost made it out of the Clough, but was pursued again after a shout of “Here she is!” brought the mob nearer.

By sheer luck, Keir Hardie and Adela found themselves together again, both exhausted. By slipping away down the wooded valley side, they managed to climb over iron railings leading to Charlestown Road. The mob attempted to follow, but the fugitives by now had a good start and slipped away into a nearby cottage.

Suffragists had become used to jeers and heckling over many years, but the wanton violence displayed at Boggart Hole Clough and other places, simply hardened attitudes on both sides. It was hardly surprising that some protestors, labelled Suffragettes, became increasingly militant.

What is Moston Brook?

The boring answer: it’s a fast-flowing stream, running from the confluence of the Bower and Holebottom Brooks, in Chadderton and Hollinwood, down through Failsworth and Moston. Then, close to Newton Heath, it is swelled by the Dean Brook and flows on south-westward, along the Harpurhey border, to join the River Irk at Collyhurst. There, now you know.

But, to a ten-year-old growing up in New Moston in the early 1960s, the brook and its surroundings was a land of adventure. A place to meet friends and exercise the imagination, in deserts of sand near the old brickworks, jungles of knotweed, alien landscapes of the ‘white hills’ and rugged, cratered flatlands and hillocks beside the stream.

Moston Brook and the White Hills, east of Belgrave Road, in November 1970

We would make dens among the rowan and hawthorn (ouch), search for newts and frog-spawn, explode the Himalayan balsam seed-pods, or build dams of clay, stones and broken bricks, to be washed away by the next rain.

Heavy rain saw the brook in furious spate, swelling to river-size, flattening grass either side and sometimes sweeping fallen tree-trunks and other debris downstream. And the steep valley sides, with grassy flats below, were perfect for sledging, in winter snow.

Nearby was the Rochdale Canal, then disused but remarkably weed-free and still capable of floating the odd home-made raft, or supplying tiddlers caught with a net or (for the more dextrous) a bent pin strung from a piece of bamboo. Close to Wrigley Head canal bridge, sports fans could watch the occasional inter-works match on Ferranti’s football field, or peep over the fence on the opposite side of the path, where the same firm had bowling greens and a tennis court, between the canal and the railway.

Wrigley Head canal bridge, facing north, from the path between the canal and the brook, September 1982

Ever in the background, off-setting the meanderings of the brook, the railway ran atop its almost straight embankment between Failsworth and Hollinwood, crossing the canal near the bowling club.

Steam engines had given way to diesel, for the local passenger services from Manchester to Oldham, Royton and Rochdale, but there were still frequent goods trains to interrupt play from time to time. Often of thirty or forty wagons, these carried coal to Ferranti’s and mills in Chadderton and Shaw, as well as Higginshaw Gas Works. There was also steel stock to engineering works in Hollinwood and Werneth, and a seemingly endless procession of parcels trains to and from Oldham’s Clegg Street depot.

Then on summer Saturdays, of course, came the lengthy holiday excursion trains and Wakes specials, each invariably headed by an express steamer.

The railway was a reminder that industry, with its attendant waste and pollution, was never far away. The brook would occasionally display one of a rainbow of colours, from dye-works upstream in Hollinwood.Moston Brook with Belgrave Road in the background, May 1974. The valley here was known as ‘Morris Clough’ up to the nineteenth century.

Wrigley Head and Ivy mills were in use as a plumbers’ merchant and mail-order warehouse. The Springfield Laundry belched steam near the canal lock and the remains of Hardman Fold brickworks stuck through the grass on the west side of Hale Lane, its huge and deep clay-pits still lurking behind, partly filled with muddy water (a potential trap for the unwary).

Close to these, the pig farm vitiated the summer air with its unmistakeable perfume. The district had long been a curious mixture of the rural, industrial and suburban, all cheek-by-jowl. Despite patches of tipping and strange sticky substances leaching down the hillsides (some themselves formed from industrial waste), the brook valley and adjoining area was still a haven for wildlife, dog-walkers, anglers – and, of course, children.

No computers, no smartphones, but how could anyone be bored, with all that on offer?


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