‘History is about people, history is people’: Uncovering Manchester’s hidden past

Earlier this month the Working Class Movement Library in Salford unveiled an exhibition exploring Greater Manchester’s connection with the Spanish Civil War.

Heavily featured are posters, letters and sketches, put together by project archivist Heather Roberts.

The exhibition uncovers the widely unknown tales of the help in which Manchester provided helping the Spanish fight against the fascist army of General Franco, providing aid and sending Mancunian men to fight.

It gives a real, personal account of the war with the archives used and is now open for visitation: furthermore the archives have been digitised meaning they will permanently be available online.

Roberts discussed the importance of this exhibition in the context of Manchester’s “strong history of international aid” – not only did they send food ships to the Spanish locals but they had previously helped others in the same way.

One example of this was the 1913 Dublin factory lockouts, where they dispatched a whole ship of food to the suffering workers.

Roberts said: “It’s the people on the ground and their radical initiatives that spread like wildfire.

“It shows incredible support and determination, and that’s the radical Manchester people really mean. It’s almost a subliminal culture that gets passed on through generations.”

The project also invited creative responses from local English and Politics students at Salford University, which brought in a fascinating range of poetry, fiction, blog posts and artwork exploring the themes contained within the archive.

The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 when the Spanish army, led by General Franco, rebelled against the Second Republic, attempting to overthrow the democratic Government.

Nationalist forces finally took control in 1939 and Franco seized power, establishing Spain as a dictatorship until his death in 1975, when a socialist government was elected.

The rebels aimed to destroy left-wing organisations and the struggle became representative of the fight against fascism.

Over 2,000 volunteers from the UK went to Spain to support the republic, a huge amount of them from Manchester, and the Working Class Movement Library aims to commemorate and celebrate the achievements of these people.

Roberts said: “I personally want people to take away a respect for their determination in the face of adversity, and an understanding that these were ordinary people who went and did incredible things for people they’d never met.

“History is about people, history is people.”

The WCML is a collection of artefacts in Salford relating to the development of the political and cultural institutions of the working class.

For more information, visit their website:

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