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Helen Castor asks why Friedrich Engels's links with Manchester are more celebrated than those of Richard Cobden, and Tom Holland tracks down the last wolf.

Today, Helen Castor is joined by Professor Anthony Howe and Professor Karen Sayer.

On the 150th anniversary of his death, has the legacy of the proponent of free-trade, Richard Cobden, been outshone by socialist Friedrich Engels? Professor Martin Hewitt sends a postcard from 1840's Manchester to explain the impact of the Anti-Corn Law League.

Tom Holland is in Stirling to meet the conservation writer Jim Crumley and hear about the last wolf, whilst Professor Ronald Hutton explains why the creature has taken on such a mythical status.

Meanwhile, Dr Sam Willis shares his love of pirates and the question 'What if?'.

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Producer: Nick Patrick
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

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28 minutes

Last on

Tue 17 Mar 2015 15:00

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Helen Castor takes the chair as historians and archaeologists come together to discuss issues and share the latest historical research.

In this edition: radical Manchester; the legacy of Richard Cobden; the last wolf and the book that encouraged Dr Sam Willis to study pirates and the sea.

Joining Helen is Professor Karen Sayer from Leeds Trinity University where she works on rural communities, landscape, environment and human/animal relations 

Professor Anthony Howe, an historian of the 19th and 20th centuries at the University of East Anglia in Norwich - in particular free trade and Liberal England. He is currently leading work on the letters of the free trade reformer Richard Cobden.

Radical Manchester

Professor Martin Hewitt, the historian of Manchester who is based at the University of Huddersfield, takes listeners to three locations that show a different side of  1840’s Manchester. Not the factories, railways and canals and the rapidly industrialising city, nor the slum housing made famous by the work of Friedrich Engels; rather, three places that are central to the development of radical, urban liberalism: the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel; the old town hall on King Street and what was once the Free Trade Hall. In one the new urban middle class met and networked. Another represented the struggle to drag civic government out of the middle ages and the latter symbolised one of the the big political ideas that Manchester gave the world - Free Trade.

Find out more about the trail around Manchester

Richard Cobden

Friedrich Engels is perhaps the most famous political thinker linked to Victorian Manchester. However, the free-trade reformer Richard Cobden probably has the greatest legacy.

A successful businessman, radical and Liberal statesman, Cobden was the leading figure in the Anti-Corn Law League. He argues that protectionism benefitted the aristocracy and kept the price of food artificially high for the growing population of urban Britain. He saw Free Trade as a way of supporting the British economy (and its population) and delivering peace - ‘welfare not warfare’ is the phrase that Anthony Howe has coined. Cobden was essentially on the side of consumers and his political work in Manchester promoted the reform of local and parliamentary government.

An Uneasy Law: The Chartists and the Corn Laws 

The Last Wolf

Tom Holland meets up with one of Britain’s leading conservation writers Jim Crumley at Stirling castle to discuss the myth of the last wolf.

The symbol of Stirling is a wolf and this refers to a story where the howl of a wolf alerted local people to a Viking raid is the 9th or 10th century. But, after this there are few stories of wolves doing humans a good turn. Invariably, the wolf is ‘bad’ a danger to livestock and children. So much so that Edward 1st paid a bounty to have the wold eradicated. However, stories about wolves stretch into the nineteenth century and so it is impossible to know precisely when the wolf disappeared from the British landscape. Now, in the 21 century, the wolf is one of the creatures that those leading the so-called ‘re-wilding’ campaigns wish to re-introduce.

Helen Castor also talked to Professor Ronald Hutton from the University of Bristol who is our leading students of myth and folklore to explain how wolves move from ‘good’ to ‘bad’.

Jim Crumley Re-Wilding Europe The Wildlife Trusts

Listen to a debate about re-wilding on BBC World Service

Further reading - The Last Wolf by Jim Crumley  Published by Birlinn

Inheritance Books

Helen Castor talks to Dr Sam Willis about the book that encouraged him to take up history and the book he’d leave behind to encourage others.

Sam selected “A history of the robberies and murders of the most notorious pirates” by captain Charles Johnson and “What If” by Professor Jeremy Black.


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  • Tue 17 Mar 2015 15:00