During the spring lockdown, Vivien Dicks had a bit of time to do some online family history. She was searching for a newspaper photograph she remembered her late mother having had many years before.
It was a captioned image of her mother, Marjorie Rothwell, and Cyril Lord, the owner of the mill where her mother worked. Only it wasn’t. The family story went that the photo was a fake – Marjorie had never actually met Cyril.
Vivien couldn’t find any references to the faked photo online but she was surprised to find references to a 78rpm gramophone record which featured both her mother and Cyril Lord. Vivien followed a trail leading her to the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team at Manchester Central Library.
Digitisation Manager Siân Williams has made this short film dramatising Vivien’s journey from googling her mother’s name to listening to her voice.
The record had been deposited with the North West Sound Archive in 2013 and was already digitised. It was therefore a simple job for us (once we got back into the building) to let Vivien hear her mother’s voice for the first time since she died in 2003. Marjorie Rothwell is the second of four voices you hear on the record. Cyril Lord speaks last.
The record is a curious item, and its xenophobic language make it a difficult listen. It was circulated in 1957, at a time when Lancashire’s mills were struggling against international competition and facing a very uncertain future. Cyril Lord seems to have produced it as a lobbying tool to play to MPs in Westminster to try to get them to shift to a more protectionist textiles policy.
Vivien thinks that her mother is reading a script written by someone else, but that she must have believed in the words she spoke. Vivien explains that it was a very worrying time for mill employees, and that her mother’s politics were in fact very liberal, including organising fellow residents in her Bournemouth old folks home to demonstrate against Margaret Thatcher at Tory party conferences!
As an archivist you get family history enquiries like this every day. Dealing with them can become repetitive, and it’s easy to switch off after a while. But listening to Vivien talk about what it was like for her and her family to hear her mother’s voice again after all this time really made my day, and reminded me why I love my job.
Unfortunately we haven’t been able to find the faked photo in the Manchester Evening News or the Oldham Chronicle – yet. But Vivien’s family history journey continues. Do you recognise any of the other voices on the record? If so we’d love to hear from you!