Ethel and the Archives

A Week in Lancashire Part One

PhD researcher and Radicals collaborator Jenny Harper had a very busy week on her first study visit to Lancashire.  It started with a delve into some precious public collections.

As part of a packed week of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth-related activities, I ventured deep into the library archives of Manchester and Bolton. In carrying out my six-year PhD project on Ethel, I’m always seeking to dig deeper, to find out where new connections can be made, and to thus bring Ethel into sharper focus.

My first stop was the Ethel Carnie Holdsworth box and holdings at the famous Working Class Movement Library The have a fascinating collection including hand-written notes by the Frows tracing Ethel’s life story and literary output. I read with great interest the lively communication between the Frows and H. Gustav Klaus as they drafted a contribution to his important 1987 book, The Rise of Socialist Fiction 1880-1914. Their chapter on Ethel marked the start of a period of recovery, as she began to become recognised as an important and previously neglected figure within the genre. The records are convivial, including a note from Gustav Klaus wishing the Frows an enjoyable summer holiday in their caravan. As the Frows pointed out in a 1987 Observer article, Ethel had at that point become almost entirely forgotten. Not a single obituary marked her death in Manchester in 1962.[1] And yet in 1920 the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph reported that sales of Helen of Four Gates had hit 25,000.[2] Ethel had become almost entirely erased from history within a period of less than 50 years.

What is perhaps most interesting about the Carnie Holdsworth holdings at the WCML is the way they so effectively trace the variation in her literary output. Her status as a working class writer bounds the nature of her literary production. Within an edition of The Woman Worker in December 1909 her strident voice addresses social injustice head-on as she expresses little surprise that women were having to sell themselves for bread to escape starvation.[3] In an earlier October 1909 editorial, she reflects on the disparity between her wages at the cotton mill and as a paid author. In two hours, she could write, ‘an impossible tale in a mediocre journal which could earn her three guineas,’ she notes.[4] June 1927’s The Wheatsheaf features perhaps the sort of story that she was referring to as Mr Ratchetty Considers a Vital Question in a light popular romance piece. She contributed regularly to The Wheatsheaf during this period, earning her own bread in the way she could best.[5]

Onto the John Rylands Library, and their C.F. Sixsmith Walt Whitman Collection, which holds many archival materials on the Eagle Street College, an important group of British ethical socialists. As the Frows noted in documents at the WCML, Ethel was familiar with a wide range of authors, including Edward Carpenter, a key member of the Eagle Street collective. A strand of my research traces how the British ethical socialists influenced Ethel’s own literary output and the opportunity to handle items from this important collection was a real privilege. A letter to Whitman from Robert Ingersoll was of particular interest: Ingersoll was a renowned American free thinker and agnostic, who gave a famed eulogy at Whitman’s funeral in 1892, and whom Whitman described as the embodiment of Leaves of Grass.[6] Ingersoll is named within a pivotal passage in Ethel’s Barbara Dennison, and this intriguingly evidences a direct American influence on her writing.[7] The question of how she came across Ingersollian philosophy remains enticingly to be discovered, but it does strengthen the theory that the Whitmanite worldview coloured her own.

A final archival visit to the Bolton History Centre next, and an opportunity to investigate their excellent Bolton Whitman Fellowship collection, after an informative chat over lunch with Whitman expert Paul Salveson and Julie Lamara (Collections Access Officer). This wide-ranging collection includes a stirring letter from 1894 to the Bolton group from Katharine Bruce Glasier, who once referred to Leaves of Grass as her ‘bible.’ ‘From comrade to comrades,’ she writes, ‘Look up, cry aloud! Your long travail is over: a new life is born in the land of the sun; a life of fruition, of lore and of colour- full, free and sufficing- for all or for none.’[8] Such anthemic words resonate with Ethel’s own. In April 1909’s The Woman Worker, Ethel joined the cry, calling out for the rights of the working classes to have some ‘colour’ in their lives.[9]

Without doubt the archives in Lancashire are holding on to many more Ethel Carnie Holdsworth secrets, and I very much look forward to sharing further insights as her story unfolds.

I am always eager to collaborate on anything Ethel Carnie Holdsworth-related and can be contacted at

Jenny Harper’s PhD research is supported by the South West & Wales consortium of universities, through their Doctoral Training Programme.  It is a collaboration between Reading University, Exeter University and Mid Pennine Arts through the Pendle Radicals project.

[1] Working Class Movement Library, Typescripts of article/lecture(s?) by Ruth and Eddie including list of references, notes and correspondence connected to above item, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[2] Working Class Movement Library, Photocopies reviews from Blackburn newspapers, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[3] Working Class Movement Library, Typescripts of article/lecture(s?) by Ruth and Eddie including list of references, notes and correspondence connected to above item, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[4] Working Class Movement Library, Typescripts of article/lecture(s?) by Ruth and Eddie including list of references, notes and correspondence connected to above item, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[5] Working Class Movement Library, Photocopies of articles and stories from The Wheatsheaf 1910-1936, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[6] University of Manchester Special Collections, C.F. Sixsmith Walt Whitman Collection, 25th March 1880, GB 133 Eng 1170/1/1/5

[7] Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, Barbara Dennison (Stanley Paul, 1928), p. 271.

[8] Bolton Whitman Fellowship Archive, Bolton Whitman Fellowship Papers, 23rd February 1894, ZWN, 45.

[9] Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, ‘How Colour is Introduced’, The Woman Worker, 7th April 1909, p. 323.

A Triumphant Research Trip!

Radicals volunteer Irene Vince tells us about a recent trip to the Peace Museum, Bradford…

Recently I took a trip to the Peace Museum in Bradford with Faye and Nick from MPA as well as Steph Heaps and Jackie Jones from Super Slow Way.  We were going to look at their banner collection for suitable contributions for our upcoming banner exhibition which will feature as part of the British Textiles Biennial in October this year.  The museum is on Piece Hall Yard in a fine old Victorian building near the Town Hall. We were enthusiastically greeted by the curator Charlotte Hall.  After a quick tour of the museum, somewhere I fully intend to revisit as I barely had chance to take much in, she took us into the office and let us browse their digital catalogue of banners.


They have a really interesting and comprehensive collection of banners: elaborate community produced patchwork ones; sumptuous satin appliqued pictorial affairs; a beautiful intricate batik one; an enormous stark graphic one and very simple text based only ones. They ranged from something the Quilters’ and Embroiderers’ Guilds would be proud of, to those that had been boldly scrawled on a piece of fabric in the passion of the moment.  All equally powerful in their own way.

While we were looking through the catalogue Charlotte had brought out a selection to show us in the flesh and we spent the next forty minutes unfurling and admiring them. I was reminded of a visit to a carpet shop in a Moroccan souk when one magical piece after another was rolled out before us, and like in the souk we wanted them all!  The museum has very generously offered to loan any in their collection for the exhibition.  I think it’s a suitably rich seam to mine.





Thalia Campbell was well represented among their collection. A prolific banner maker especially in the 80s when our society was undergoing radical change from the more egalitarian post war period. I do hope she agrees to us using some of her banners and indeed attends the exhibition.


I was tickled pink to see a corner of the museum was devoted to the anti-Trump demo I went on with other “Feminist Zealots” (a phrase coined by the local MP with distinctive Trumpian overtones) in Saltaire a couple of years ago. I use the phrase tickled pink as they had in their display a couple of examples of the home made pink pussy hats that many of the demonstrators were sporting, a distinctive and subtle example of protest apparel. They also reference Trump’s colourful language and an article I much lusted after but which no-one was prepared to part with.


We came away from our visit enthused and inspired and full of admiration at the skill and energy that goes into banner production.

Continue reading more about the project here!

Would you like to be a Radical researcher yourself? Contact Faye for more information…

Radicals attend The Battle of Heptonstall

Nick Burton, a member of the volunteer research team, tells us about a Radical experience for the volunteers in Heptonstall…

On Saturday 2nd March, a group of Pendle Radicals volunteers ventured out on a stormy night over the border to Pennine Yorkshire. It was as if the weather was stage managed, since the evening was to be spent watching a play where there was an actual storm brewing. This was a political and human storm in the shape of the English Civil War. Huddled in an atmospherically lit, draughty hilltop church we were treated to a dramatic retelling of The Battle of Heptonstall, an event that tore the West Riding village asunder in the autumn of 1643.

Battle-Heptonstall poster

The Battle of Heptonstall is a community play written by Michael Crowley. It took six months to produce and involved local people at every stage and in every way, even forming their own theatre company with the name ‘The Brutish Multitude’. This name was apt, not just for the turbulent age of the 17th century but for the uncertain political times we are experiencing today. How very intriguing that the funding for the production came from Art50, a Sky Arts project that, in the wake of Article 50 being invoked, asked 50 artists to respond to the question of ‘who we British are as a people and a nation’.

The story unfolded over two acts and showed how a Civil War skirmish between Royalist forces from Halifax and Roundhead forces from Rochdale played out on a hillside above the small isolated weaving and farming community of Heptonstall. The story was based on real accounts, with the battle and the events leading up to it placed in the domestic situation facing the fictional Cockcroft family. John Cockcroft is a struggling weaver forced to billet a parliamentary sergeant in his own house and struggling to stop his own teenage son joining the fight. The son is largely doing this to impress his young sweetheart, herself caught up in the machinations of a Royalist spy.

The play worked as a domestic drama set against the backdrop of war. As much as John Cockcroft wanted to ignore the pending battle he could not. Here was a hardworking honest man whose chief loyalty was to his family rather than King or Parliament. There is an obvious connection with Pendle Radicals here. Many of our heroes faced the day to day struggle of working class existence but were caught up in causes linked to greater national and international struggles.


As well as being well acted and researched, it was both the music and the setting that were the key to evoking the atmosphere of the mid-17th century period in this Pennine community. A rich seam of traditional folk and pastoral tunes ran throughout the play including music by Thomas Tallis and a Christopher Marlowe poem. Songs were sung by the cast, who presumably were not professional singers, which gave an authentic feel as the same ballads would have been sung by the weavers, farmhands, soldiers and common folk of the 1640’s.

The venue for the play was St. Thomas the Apostle Church, the parish church which for centuries in its old and new forms, has been at the heart of the village community. The audience sat in the pews with the play being performed in front of the altar. Dimly lit and with a high vaulted roof, the church echoed to the beat of the war drums and spies and generals emerged from the dark shadows of stone columns.


Intriguingly the scattered graves spread wide around the church include the American poet, Sylvia Plath, and Heptonstall’s very own Pennine Radical, ‘King’ David Hartley. He was the ringleader of the ‘Cragg Vale Coiners’, who in the 18th century ran a counterfeit coin racket in the valley around Hebden Bridge to supplement meagre weaving and farming incomes. Hartley was arrested and hung at York, his grave now to be found in the old graveyard of Heptonstall parish church.



The production of The Battle of Heptonstall was also an effective piece of community theatre due to its modern-day relevance. As part of the Art50 Brexit related initiative, it held up a mirror and reflected our own divided society. Villagers like John Cockcroft were reluctantly forced to choose a side – King or Parliament. The rhetoric and battle cries of both opposing sides were cleverly voiced in the play from the side-lines. The characters of Sir Francis Mackworth and Colonel Bradshaw were both represented in the play highlighting the opposing ideologies of Cavalier and Roundhead. In a nice twist, both the military commanders were played by women.

The production certainly set the bar high. Pendle Radicals volunteers can be enthused and spurred on by this. Like the Yorkshire side of the Pennines, we also have the true stories, the historical accounts, the ballads and songs, as well as the evocative and atmospheric settings that can be used to bring our radicals to dramatic life. It shows also that in any drama production the music and location can play a major role. Perhaps the village hall or community centre is not always the most effective place to tell a story.

Pendle Radicals - vols gathering - 31.7.18 - 2.JPG

Read more about the project on the Art50 website.

A Radical Update

November 2018

Here’s just some of what has been happening as part of Pendle Radicals recently.  As Faye Wetherall reports, the project volunteers have been very busy over the last couple of months…

Dissent Book Launch

IMG_0728On Saturday 10 November we hosted a launch event, in collaboration with Clarion House, at Clitheroe Library for the new publication Dissent, by Clitheroe based historian Roger Smalley.  Dissent explores the long history of the Clitheroe constituency, which in the past included areas now covered by Burnley, Pendle, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley, represented in Parliament since 1558 and therefore mentions a number of the change makers and radical thinkers that Pendle Radicals is investigating. Selina Cooper for example, a hero of the suffrage movement in spite of having to work in the mills from an early age.  The extraordinary Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, mill worker turned prolific writer and activist, whom the Radicals’ volunteer research group have chosen to focus on for their first enquiry.  All 50 places were booked in advance, and attendees enjoyed readings from the book plus presentations offering context for individuals and organisations featured, including one from University of Lancashire Lecturer in Public History, Dr Jack Southern.  The East Lancashire Clarion Choir entertained with songs of dissent from across the ages, and the author took questions from the audience.  Lots of copies of the limited edition publication were sold with all profits going to support Clarion House.


Radical Research Trips

Over the last few months the volunteer team has been growing, lots of research has been conducted and discussion sparked at our regular Radicals’ Tea Parties. Recently we have embarked on several Radicals’ Research Trips, including one to the People’s History Museum in Manchester, where we enjoyed a guided tour of one of their current exhibitions Represent – Voices a 100 Years On It is a truly remarkable exhibition which reflects on those who campaigned for better representation; most famously the suffragists and the militant suffragettes through a fascinating collection of artefacts.  We were also introduced to their extensive archives, and are looking forward to going back to explore them and their banner collection further.


A group of volunteers also headed to Salford University to attend an enlightening conference organised by the Working Class Movement Library that looked at the fight for suffrage called More Than Just the Pankhursts – the wider suffrage movement.

The team have recently attended a seminar at Huddersfield University, by Dr Nicola Wilson on the remarkable mill worker turned bestselling author, and Radicals’ volunteers favourite, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth!

We’ve received some wonderful feedback about these trips from our volunteers:

‘’Thanks for today’s session at People’s History Museum: utterly brilliant.’’

‘’Privilege to hear Helen Antrobus speak so enthusiastically & vividly at the ‘Represent! Voices 100 Years On’ exhibition. Vital to learn about the lives of Ellen Wilkinson & Selina Martin. Many thanks to her, People’s History Museum and Mid Pennine Arts.’’

‘Let us go then, and make banners as required, and let them all be beautiful.

We are extremely excited to be a part of Super Slow Way’s British Textiles Biennial next October, where we will come together with a host of artists, designers, makers and community members to explore the politics of cloth. This month we invited banner conservation expert Jenny Van Enckevort from the People’s History Museum to talk all things banners to our volunteer team.  Over lemon sponge and coffee we learnt more about the history of banners and banner making, giving us lots of food for thought in terms of what we plan to put forward for the Biennial.  We are busy exploring avenues and I am currently engrossed in a great resource – Banner Bright by John Gorman.

From Suffrage to Citizenship

image1On Saturday 24 November we were invited by the Women’s Local Government Society to be part of a celebration event in Leeds to celebrate the Suffrage Pioneers. A project which aims to celebrate and raise awareness of 100 incredible, but very often forgotten suffrage pioneers, from across the UK.  Earlier this year we nominated one of our Pendle Radicals – Selina Cooper.  We were delighted that Cooper was selected to be a Suffrage Pioneer, but why wouldn’t she be?  Despite working in the mills from the age of twelve she was a powerful force, campaigning for women’s rights both in the political and employment arenas, as well as being a passionate advocate for peace.  We were very excited to share her story at the event and learn more about the other pioneers.

Get Involved!

We have had some great feedback about the project so far which aims to develop further over the next four years, driven by a core team of volunteers who are quickly becoming remarkable ambassadors for the Pendle Radicals.

‘’This project has given me a passion. All of my life I have had a driving force and for a few years since retiring I haven’t had one. I felt rudderless. Now I have got it back. Thank you.’’

Are you interested in becoming part of the Radicals Research team?  Or would you like to know more about the project?  Contact me (Faye) for more details.

Represent! Voices 100 years on

On Wednesday 17th October we visited the Peoples History Museum with a number of our Pendle Radicals volunteers, for our second Radicals Research Trip, where we had a guided tour of one of their current exhibitions ‘Represent’ as well as an introduction to their archives session.

The guided tour of ‘Represent’ led by Helen Antrobus was particularly impressive, the exhibition marks 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act (1918) and celebrates and pays tribute to those who campaigned for better representation, in particular the suffragists and militant suffragettes.

However, the exhibition was different in the way in which it challenged how far we had really come in the last 100 years and made people question whether equality and better representation has been achieved. It therefore brought these issues up to date and reflected on how we are still campaigning similarly today through the use of banners. This was achieved through the inclusion of crowdsourced items, including placards from the 2017 Women’s Marches and a jumpsuit from the Sisters Uncut 2018 BAFTA protest, which helped tell the very personal stories of today’s movements and campaigns. It also highlighted how individuals and communities such as LGBT and Safet4Sisters are still fighting to make their voices heard today.


At the centre of the exhibition was the Manchester suffragette banner, which on our visit we found out had been discovered at a charity shop! The banner was created over 100 years ago at the height of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) campaign led by Emmeline Pankhurst. The hour tour flew by, there were so many amazing things to read and see and Helen’s enthusiasm and knowledge was brilliant, we will definitely be back soon to digest more of the information.


We also had a great introduction to their archives. It was brilliant to learn how we could make use of their collections for our own research and the resources that they had were vast and it was amazing to see this first hand. I look forward to making use of this in the near future.


We have had some great feedback from our volunteers:

”Thanks for today’s sessions at PHM: utterly brilliant!”

”Privilege to hear @HelenAntrobus speak so enthusiastically & vividly at the ‘Represent! Voices 100 Years On’ exhibition. Vital to learn about the lives of Ellen Wilkinson & Selina Martin. Many thanks to her, @PHMMcr & @teamMPA

And so we are looking forward to our next Radicals outing to The University of Salford for the conference ‘More than just the Pankhurst’s.’

Interested? Come and join our volunteer team… Whether you have an interest in local history, the story of a particular individual, or a special local place, become part of this exciting project. As a member of our research team we will help you develop skills; invite you on visits to investigate source material; and most importantly there will be lots of tea and cake at our sharing session! Contact Nick Hunt to join…









A night at the theatre…

Queens of the Coal Age

Our first Radicals Research Trip was to the Royal Exchange Theatre to see Queens of the Coal Age, and what a great evening it was! The production was centred around the story of  four fearless women who stood up for change, they were BRAVE, DETERMIND and in so many ways showed POWER and FORTITUDE.

Does this remind you of anyone? Of course, one of our Radicals Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.

Ethel Writing

The purpose of the play was to very much celebrate the fighting spirit of these women and to not allow their protest to be forgotten. It carried on their determination and bravery and allows for people to remember their passion.

This is similar to the aim of our Pendle Radicals project, to not let people such as Ethel Carnie be forgotten and therefore pay tribute to her life and career.

This therefore was a great opportunity to gather more research and an insight into what one of the main outcomes of the Pendle Radicals Project may be….