The latest batch of interviews from the Manchester Studies oral history collection that I am currently cataloguing relate to the Salford area. As this is a place I know little about I am looking forward to learning more about the history of this area from its residents. One of my first tasks is to read any summaries or transcripts from the interviews to see if there are any potential sensitivities or issues relating to data protection. One phrase that repeatedly cropped up is ‘monkey run’ or ‘monkey walk’.
I wondered if this was related to actual monkeys? I know Salford had a thriving docklands area and I have read a number of stories and anecdotes relating to animals at sea. Were these two factors connected? I also worried that the phrases might be references to race. Ports and docks were places that men from across the globe could secure employment and where new immigrants arrived looking to start new lives. Were these derogatory and racist references to growing communities?
After listening to the interviews my fears were completely unfounded. The term refers to young people dressing up, going out and having fun with friends. After a long week at work who doesn’t want to do that?
Mr. B. recalls going on these walks from a young age. (MSOH/478_1)
Mr. and Mrs. S share their experiences on the ‘monkey parade’. (MSOH/480_6)
It seems that this ritual had its own set of rules; from times to who made the first move.
Mr. M. talks about the times of the ‘monkey walk’. (MSOH/511_1)
Mrs. S. recalls the rules involved. (MSOH/480_7)
I wonder if this parading was just as much about clothes and fashion as it was about going out and being seen and meeting members of the opposite sex.
Mrs. B. talks about her clothes. (MSOH/482_1)
“Would you get dressed up specially?”
“Oh yes, you always saved your clothes for Sunday…”
Mrs. M. recalls making clothes and walking with her friend and cousin.
Keen to see if this was just a Salford ritual I turned to Google and found similar terms, ‘monkey walk’ or ‘monkey parade’, were cropping up in different sources. Andrew Davies’ book, ‘Leisure, Gender and Poverty’, notes that ‘monkey parade’ is more commonly used in the 1920s and the areas in Salford included Regent Road, Eccles New Road, Cross Lane, Ellor Street, The Crescent, Low Broughton Road and Littleton Road.
Mr. O. and others talk about courting in the Eccles New Road area. (MSOH/517_1)
Mrs. B. talks about going dancing in the Empress Ballroom with one of her friends and how she started courting when she was 17. The interviewer asks her how boys and girls would meet each other.
Mrs. B. explains all… (MSOH/482_1)
“On street corners… there used to be a lot of groups here there or on the monkey run, what they call the monkey run, walking up Cross Lane… along Broad Street and down Stock Lane and Eccles New Road home”
“When would that happen, after tea?”
“That would mostly be on Sunday nights, when there was nothing to do…”
I was surprised to learn that these walks were not just local to Salford, but to other British cities. Chad Bryant and others record “In 1905 Charles Russell wrote of girls in selected Manchester streets plucking flowers from selected boy’s buttonholes on Sunday evenings. In London ‘nattily attired youths exchanged winks or smirks as they sized one another up’…” Their book also points out that such walking out rituals have taken place across America and Australia since the 1800s. Additionally, Andrew Davies also points out that “Promenades were well established in nineteenth century Manchester; along Oxford Road, Market Street and Stretford Road during 1860s…” I had no idea that these customs were so long established.
Interviewees also talk about the poverty they experienced and witnessed in the early part of their lives. These ‘monkey walks’ were a free activity for working class youth, who may have had little or no disposable income for their leisure time. Many recall visiting markets of a Saturday evening with their parents, as they grew older they wanted their own activities. Cinemas and dance halls were on the increase, but the walks retained their popularity as they were also a less formal way of meeting others.
Mrs. S. shares how dates were arranged. (MSOH/480_8)
Mr. M. on how boys would show girls they were interested. (MSOH/511_3)
Even though this all sounds so innocent a number of interviewees also reported a police presence in the area and shared anecdotes about young people being moved on.
Mr. M. recounts how groups of friends could not stop for fear of being moved on by plain clothes detectives! (MSOH/511_2)
I also discovered from the Salford City Reporter that in 1924 Salford Magistrates declared that they were going to stop the parades and over 20 youths were fined between 5s and 10s in the first couple of months. “Police testified to the rowdy behaviour of youths who had taken to ‘walking abreast on the footway singing “Yes, we have no bananas…”, as foot passengers were jostled into the roadway’.”
Mr. O. talks about how people could be accused of loitering and fined. (MSOH/517_2)
Despite such opposition the ‘monkey run’ remained an important social activity for young people right through the interwar period; gradually fading at the outbreak of WWII. The interviewees look back on this time in their lives with great affection; and I have just really enjoyed listening to older people reminiscing and giggling like teenagers again.
Vicki Caren, Cataloguing Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage North West Hub, based in Archives+, Manchester Central Library.
The Manchester Studies oral history collection is held by Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Digital copies of the full-length interviews digitised by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage will be available at Tameside in due course.
You can find out more about the national Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at the British Library’s website. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
‘Animals at Sea’, blog post by Kaori Nagai, University of Kent and Susan Gentles, Archivist, Caird Library and Archive. https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/animals-sea [accessed 10 February 2020] Leisure, Gender and Poverty: Working class culture in Salford and Manchester 1900-1939, Andrew Davies. 1992 A Tale of Two Cities: Global Change, Local Feeling and Everyday Life in the North of England: a study in Manchester and Sheffield, Ian R. Taylor, Karen Evans, Penny Fraser. 1996 https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PE2EAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA81&lpg=PA81&dq=monkey+walk+%22salford%22&source=bl&ots=hc89GYdjd0&sig=ACfU3U0yUBQhQAF-FxEdB-7S65yPavFZyQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiA-qSR5rjnAhXOesAKHfBZBFkQ6AEwF3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=monkey%20walk%20%22salford%22&f=false [accessed 04/02/2020] The British Working Class 1832-1940 by Andrew August. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RV3JAwAAQBAJ&pg=PT167&lpg=PT167&dq=monkey+run+%22salford%22&source=bl&ots=bsNDqgVSci&sig=ACfU3U1GciJlQERaTLQ2bKaCwf1cFf4qAQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjD5LOL6bjnAhWCiFwKHVojCGE4ChDoATACegQICBAB#v=onepage&q=monkey%20run%20%22salford%22&f=false [accessed 04/02/2020] Walking Histories, 1800-1914, 2016 by Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, Paul Readman. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jZcFDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA101&lpg=PA101&dq=monkey+walk+%22salford%22&source=bl&ots=r6xm1Lb5fZ&sig=ACfU3U1y6-bb9Avb6u55crux7d2LCJoAjw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjvv_aA57jnAhUPQ8AKHZYoB3g4FBDoATAEegQICRAB#v=onepage&q=monkey%20walk%20%22salford%22&f=false [accessed 04/02/2020]