Protest Music and Political Life – part 2

Last week I blogged about women’s experiences of becoming politically active in the 1930s. Staying with the Manchester Studies collection of oral history interviews, I have created more extracts from the Women’s Political interviews.

A selection of the Manchester Studies oral history reels in Tameside

I think these clips show how the interviewees had become more confident women and more involved and active in the struggle against the injustices they saw around them.


At this time, throughout the 1930s, open air meetings and speeches were common:

Mrs. Finlay recounts how some women were shy about speaking in public (MSOH/759(2)_1 download)

Mrs. Booth talks about the meetings she attended in Stevenson Square and Platt Fields (MSOH/756(1)_3 download)

She also recalls her membership of the Communist Party and chalking slogans (MSOH/756(2)_7 download)


B Housing Hyde Road Slum Clearance Protest, 1958 (m08448)

The photograph above is from 1958, but the image reminded me of Mrs. Booth talking about when she would chalk slogans on the streets.


Some of the women went on marches and demonstrations:

Mr. & Mrs. Bobker sing one of the songs from the demonstrations (MSOH/763(1)_3 download)

Mrs. Sheldon shares her experience of being on a demonstration with another interviewee (MSOH/762(1)_2 download)

Mrs. Ainley talks about the Hunger march she went on, how women took a different route (MSOH/760(1)_1 download)

She also recalls more details of the march to London:

anecdote about staying in a workhouse and how the women were treated (MSOH/760(1)_2 download)

sleeping and travelling on the long march to London (MSOH/760(1)_3 download)


Lancashire Hunger Marchers (m07987)

Newspaper cutting from Sunday Express 20 February 1956, showing a photograph from 1930 of one of the hunger marches that Mrs. Ainley took part in.


For me I see a thread running through these interviews. Women are describing their political awakening and trade union involvement as a response to society in the 1930s as they experienced it, through poor working conditions, poverty, and the rise of fascism. They are being interviewed in the late 1970s and make comparisons with the times they are now living in, with the rise of the far right, women’s rights, and the discourse around immigration. Now, over 40 years later, in 2020, I am listening to these interviews and can hear parallels with the inequalities and issues of today. I think the original interviewees would certainly understand the reasons why people have taken to the streets now, from the climate change demos to the Black Lives Matter movement.


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.

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