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Working people have always struggled to get their voices heard. The Working Class Movement Library records over 200 years of organising and campaigning by ordinary men and women. The collection provides a rich insight into working people’s daily lives as well as their thoughts, hopes, fears and the roles they played in the significant events of their time.

The Library started life in the 1950s as the personal collection of Edmund and Ruth Frow. As they discovered the extent of material associated with working class history, in Ruth’s words ‘although we always maintained that we were a library and not a museum, we found ourselves collecting museum artefacts’. And people responded to the Frow’s generosity in welcoming people into their home to use the books, pamphlets and archive material there. Thus donations of ceramics, banners, sculpture and paintings, alongside books, were never turned down, to the point where the Frow’s house reached bursting point. In 1987 Salford Council offered to house the magnificent library in a Victorian building called Jubilee House on Salford Crescent. The collection has been there ever since, and is free for everyone to use.

This unusual starting point means that the oil paintings in the Library do not form a cohesive collection, and instead range from local views to pastoral scenes to portraits of labour activists; often the provenance of the items, perhaps even the name of the artist, is unclear.

The collection includes items by three artists, George Poole, Ted Finley and Syd Booth, none of whom was art school-educated. They were all self-educated working men. All were politically active, and painted subjects that reflected their backgrounds and political concerns.

George Poole trained as a coal miner and was born in Rhondda Fach. His painting Nightshift Going Home featured in a 1955 exhibition, held in Treorchy, of paintings and drawings of Rhondda miners. The catalogue features a foreword by songwriter and singer Ewan MacColl, who said of him: ‘Poole is no painter of the fugitive movement, of the arrested mood; each of his works is the aggregate of many, often unrelated experiences’.  

Ted Finley (1907–1979) attended Salford Socialist Sunday School, and was a founding member of Salford Art Club in 1948, according to information supplied by his family. He was a Salford Council worker, acting c.1959–1968 as resident caretaker at Ordsall Hall, a historic house in Salford which dates back over 750 years.

Ted was the brother of trade union activist Larry Finley, a fictionalised version of whom appears as Larry Meath in Walter Greenwood’s book Love on the Dole.

Tedcould not usually afford canvas, unless someone kindly provided it, so most of his work is on board. He went round Salford at a time when the talk of demolition and rebuilding was in the air, and recorded the heart of Salford as it was then.

Syd Booth (1910–1987) was a railwayman, trade unionist, Communist, and as a committed anti-fascist became an International Brigade volunteer and was wounded in action during the Spanish Civil War. Syd’s paintings all deal with the International Brigade and Spanish Civil War 1936–1938. He produced drawings, sketches and paintings for a variety of causes, and forty of his sketches were published in 1982 in Manchester’s Memorial to members of the International Brigade.

Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager

Text source: PCF / Wigan Arts and Heritage Service

This description was originally written for a catalogue.

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