A potentially significant event took place in the auspicious surroundings of the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms at Sowerby Bridge Station one Friday earlier this month when a dozen or so experienced politicos from across the north met over pints of the Jubilee’s finest ales (and cups of tea) to set up ‘The Hannah Mitchell Foundation’.
The aim, according to the foundation’s driving force, Paul Salveson, is to create a northern-based ‘think tank’ which will build an evidence-based lobby for directly-elected regional government for the north.
“After a fair bit of debate we agreed a strap-line of ‘an ethical socialist approach to regional government for the north’,” reports Salveson in his Weekly Salvo blog.
“It boils down to celebrating the north’s distinctive socialist heritage, expressed through Chartism, co-operation, the women’s suffrage movement and the decidedly ‘northern’ culture of the Independent Labour Party (formed in Bradford in 1893).
“But it’s not a history society – it’s about making some of that relevant to the present day.”
Hannah Mitchell is not a hugely well-known name from Labour history, says Salveson, but “she encapsulates a lot of the things the Foundation is hoping to be about”.
Born in 1871 on a farm in North Derbyshire, she lived for a while in Glossop before moving to Bolton in the 1890s where she became involved in the socialist movement and an avid reader of Robert Blatchford’s Clarion newspaper. She married a fellow socialist and moved to Ashton-under-Lyne where she became active in the ILP and Labour Church, and was elected to the Board of Guardians, responsible for poor relief.
When the women’s suffrage movement took off in the early 1900s she became a well-known activist in the northern industrial towns, campaigning in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the north-east. She supported the pro-women’s rights Victor Grayson in his epoch-making 1907 election campaign in Colne Valley. She opposed the First World War, regarding war as ‘the worst possible way of settling disputes’.
She was elected onto Manchester City Council and was an outstanding champion of working people’s interests, both in her own ward and across the city, with particular interest in libraries and public baths. She was a talented writer, penning a regular column in the ILP’s Labour’s Northern Voice, often contributing dialect sketches about working class life as ‘Daisy Nook’.
“When we debated a suitable name for the foundation Hannah seemed a good choice,” says Salveson. “She was ‘northern’ to her core, politically and culturally, a working class socialist and feminist with a down-to-earth approach to getting things done.
“The fact she is not well known isn’t a problem; a more famous figure always carries ‘baggage’ and the idea isn’t to slavishly copy all her political interests but use her as an inspiration for our work.”
Hannah Mitchell’s autobiography, The Hard Way Up, is long out of print but if you’re lucky you can find it in second-hand bookshops.
More about the Northern Socialist Network and Hannah Mitchell Foundation can be found on Salveson’s website at www.paulsalveson.org.uk/northern-socialist-network/