Updated: Monday, 13th July 2020 @ 9:36pm

Retrace radicalism in Manchester as Red Flag Walks follow the steps of Marx and Engels

Retrace radicalism in Manchester as Red Flag Walks follow the steps of Marx and Engels

By Charlie Bennett

The secrets behind Manchester’s civil disobedience can be explored this month as a historian hosts a series of ‘Red Flag Walks’, starting today.

For Michael Herbert, Manchester has a particularly rich history of radicalism extending as far back as the English Civil War, and so the notorious acts of rebellion during the era of industrialization were building upon all ready existing radical ideas.

Referring to the Civil War, Mr. Herbert says: “Interestingly, in that period, Manchester took the side of Parliament, as opposed to Lancashire who took the side of the King. So it’s always been a bit different.”

He also describes the Peterloo Massacre as the culmination of 50 years of radical activity, so it is a lot more complex than people think.

The first walking tour looks at sites associated with Dr Marx and Dr Engels’ time in Manchester, starting with Oxford Road station to Chetham’s Library, where the two sat and did research together.

He says that some of the most surprising facts to be mentioned on the tour involve Frederick Engels’ double life. As the son of a Wupper Valley industrialist, Engels was known in public as a successful German businessman. When he returned to Manchester two years after the failure of the 1848 revolutions, he worked in the family firm Ermen & Engels and (ironically) used the money he earned to support Marx while he was writing and researching.

He said: “Roy Whitfield, who is sadly no longer with us, spent years – in a way I could never have done - building up an archive to track down Engels’ secret life, and he often used false names sometimes. He was living with Mary and her sister Lizzy, who ran boarding houses.”

Mary Burns was Engels’ lover, whom he had met while attending a John Watts lecture at the Hall of Science, a now demolished building run by people inspired by Robert Owen’s Co-Operative movement. No photographs or burial place have ever been found for this mysterious Manchester factory girl, but she supposedly guided Engels to some of the worst districts of the region.  

After Tuesday’s walk, there will be a two-part walk called ‘The Irish in Manchester’ for Ma 11-12, which includes Little Ireland, the arrest of William O’Brien, and Irish Republican activity 1919-1921.

Michael Herbert also volunteers for Salford’s Working Class Movement Library, which is struggling to raise £80,000 a year to stay open as a charitable trust after recent funding cuts.

Walks last approximately 90 minutes. Fees £6/£5.

Further information: [email protected]


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