Oldham Historical Research Group

'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.'
from 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen

1914 - 1918


In 1917, a war-weary Oldham must have wanted peace more than anything ... but what price would the townsfolk be prepared to pay?

It was announced in the Labour Leader that the local I.L.P.'s Annual Rally, to be held in Strawberry Gardens, Glodwick, on September 18th, 1917, would be dedicated to 'Peace' and the guest speaker would be Mrs. K.B. Glasier.

In the same edition of the Labour Leader, it was announced that, under the auspices of the I.L.P., The W.I.L. & the N.-C.F., there would be a week's 'Peace Mission' in Oldham from the 6th August to the 11th August. The programme would be:

Monday the 6th, at 7:30, at the Market Place,
the speaker, J.W. Moor;
Tuesday, at 7:30 at the Park Gates,1
the speaker, R.C. Wallhead;
Wednesday, at 7:30 at Barry Street,
the speaker, J.W. Moor;
Thursday, at 7:30 at the Park Gates,
the speaker, Councillor Margaret Ashton;
Friday at 7:30, at the Market Place,
the speaker, R.C. Wallhead;
Saturday the 11th at 7:30, at the Park Gates,
the speaker, Mrs. Watts.

Notice in the Labour Leader

None of it went to plan; the Peace Mission was over almost before it began or anyone could even speak. We can read reports of what happened at Monday's meeting, and the subsequent letters, in the two local Oldham newspapers - the Oldham Chronicle and the Oldham Standard. Interestingly, virtually the same happenings are reported but the tone and choice of vocabulary varies considerably, revealing a clear bias on the part of one reporter, at least.

The heading in the Standard, on the following day proclaimed,

Complete Rout in Oldham
Meeting Abandoned

Although it was Saturday, 11th August, before the Chronicle printed a report of the events of Monday evening, it had received, and printed, a number of Letters commenting on the incident. Saturday's report was headlined,


In the Chronicle report we can read that on the Monday evening a large crowd assembled at the appointed time and place, which was assumed to mean,
'... the vacant piece of land at the back of the Red Lion Hotel, the usual standard ground for the open air orator.'

Conspicuous amongst the crowd was a large group of soldiers, from a New Zealand Field Artillery Battery, who were quartered at Chadderton Camp. Also in the crowd was a number of policemen, some of whom were in uniform and others in plain clothes. At this stage there was no sign of the speakers or organisers, just one lady,
'...who was mistakenly suspected by some of the crowd to be Miss Margaret Ashton ... after the trouble had broken out and as a result of some outspoken remarks by her in the street several of the soldiers made a ring, and as she cried out for peace and free speech passed her, not roughly, from hand to hand round the ring until, when she had no breath left for propaganda purposes, they let her go.'

Just as the crowd were giving up hope of speakers arriving, word came that they were on Henshaw Street, at a side entrance to Tommyfield. No more than a small number of the gathering could get into Henshaw Street and most found themselves,
' ... crammed and pushed into the narrow High Street. '
Whilst on the Henshaw Street corner,
'... Mr. Moore, of Rochdale, the speaker announced, and Mr. Hill 2 and several other members of the I.L.P and pacifists had set up a little portable platform...'

Even as the crowd gathered, the organisers didn't begin the meeting and, eventually, the Chief Constable went,
' ... to see what they were about. He told them rightly, that they could not hold a meeting at that spot, practically on the footpath and with no room for the crowd. But they would neither make up their mind to try the Red Lion Ground nor to clear away quickly.'

The crowd continued to grow; heckling and jeering increased as,
'... one of the peace missionaries tried to say that his three sons were fighting but few heard and it made no impression.'

Eventually, the peace group packed up and moved away but many of the crowd, headed by the New Zealanders, followed after them. As they reached the Town Hall,
'... all at once an attack was made on Mr. Hill. It was said that he made some remark to the front rank of soldiers coming on behind, and this was the spark that set fire to the tinder. Down he went on the setts. Up he was pulled, and battered, struck by anyone who could get near enough. Helpless, he was hauled along, the police trying to rush him into the Town Hall for safety, the soldiers and their helpers trying to hold and thrash him.'
But behind them,
' ... another brutal struggle, more ugly to see, for women were in the thick of it ... Mr. Slater3 had been seized upon, and had he once gone down in the crowd, swaying and struggling there ... it would have gone very hard with him. Women were clutching at his hair and screaming and the men were hitting out at him... Police and soldiers all mixed up together, with a black head bobbing up and down in the midst of them as a token that their prey or their prize was still on his feet, rushed down Mill Street.'
Mr. Slater, and another man, Mr. George Hird, were bundled into the safety of the Police Station, joining Mr. Hill.

At this point it could have appeared that peace and order might return to the streets but some young women were heard to voice their opinion,
'... of the way in which the brutal crowd had dealt with their friends., "like lions and tigers, my love," and how they had the right to free speech ... true in the abstract but foolish under the circumstances.'

One more pacifist was to join those in the Police Station. This was Mr. Arthur Winterbottom, a bank clerk from Chamber Road, and a conscientious objector, who was with the outspoken young ladies. He moved away with them, down Clegg Street and along Union Street but they were followed and, as they reached St. Patrick's Church, several of the New Zealand soldiers made a grab for Winterbottom. He,
'... was frogmarched back again, shouting for mercy. He was badly maltreated. The police came to his rescue and there was a free fight ... in the end, Winterbottom, battered and bloody, and in much the worst condition of the four pacifists, joined his friends in the Town Hall...'

Excitement feeds on itself and, back on Clegg Street, the crowd, led by the New Zealand soldiers, was in no mood to go home quietly; they wanted more action. They,
'... rushed down Clegg Street to the Central Station. There was no resisting their storming rush, and indeed nothing to resist them for as, though they over-ran the station and looked into every room, they found no-one resembling a missionary of peace. Presumably they were on the track of Mr. Moor suspecting that he would make for the Rochdale train ...'

Disappointed, they tried again at nearby Clegg Street Station but without any luck. Still with a thirst for action, they returned to the main streets and found them now thronged with people coming out of, 'the first shows at the places of entertainment,' many of whom were then swept up in the wave of excitement. With no more pacifists on hand to abuse, their next objective became the I.L.P. Rooms at Rhodes Bank.

'The scene in Union Street was remarkable and will live in the memory of those who had no option but to witness it ... At 8:50 the air was rent by the cheering of the crowd. Some 50 or 60 Colonial soldiers, headed by civilians, were seen marching down Union Street accompanied by more than a thousand people who shouted and cheered themselves hoarse. A straight line was made for the Rooms of the Independent Labour Party ... the stairs were rushed but the door at the top of the stairs withstood their assaults for a short time during which period the street below became densely packed ... and there was no mistaking on whose side the sympathies of the crowd were. Wounded English soldiers supported their colonial comrades to the fullest extent of their lung power, women shrieked to throw the cranks down the stairs ... a big rush indicated the door had been forced and then the fun began to be fast and furious.'

The I.L.P Room was ransacked and anything loose, including leaflets, books, flags and even curtains was thrown out of the windows into the crowd below. On returning to the street, the soldiers hoisted one of their number to their shoulder and one was heard to say,
"Now, New Zealanders, altogether", and the weird war cry beginning, "Ka Mate, Ka Mate, Ka ora, Ka ora" was gone through with the wild gesticulations which usually accompany it.'
After which, apparently, everyone cheered, the soldiers marched away and the crowd dispersed.

The above account relates the sequence of events during that evening, with some detail and, in the main, sticks to the facts, allowing very little criticism or personal opinion to creep into it. However, in the same edition of the Chronicle there is an editorial entitled, 'PEACE MISSION STOPPED' which attempts to give an even-handed assessment of the happenings on that evening and begins,
'When everyone is longing for the joy-bells to ring on the proclamation of peace it is strange, unless the circumstances be considered, to hear that a peace mission for Oldham was barred and the few advocates of peace who had intended to begin the mission were mobbed and ill-treated...'

It goes on to write of, 'discreditable street scenes' and ... 'extenuation not defence' of the activities. It purports to defend the rights of free speech but concludes,
'... it should be added that if Mr. Hill and his friends ... had acted with any fair degree of common sense it is likely they would not have been sick and sore next day.'

The writer continues with criticism of the organisation of the week's peace mission and makes the point,
'What sense was there in huddling into a corner of Henshaw Street, where a meeting could not be held, instead of getting a lurry on to the ground at the back of the Red Lion Hotel, and speaking out, after an appeal for a fair hearing? They would have been no worse off at the finish and though the meeting would have been noisy and maybe the row and the heckling continuous, they would have done their best.'

The concluding paragraph refers to letters in the Evening Chronicle which accused the reporter of being 'apologetic' and attempting, 'to let the assailants down lightly'. The editorial denies that the tone of the report was 'apologetic'. It goes on to maintain that, '... Mr. Winterbottom [and] the young women with him were in reality the unconscious instigators' of the violence.
Its final sentence reads, 'We are not sorry that the peace mission was abandoned 'sine die', but we do regret the manner and the cause of that abandonment.'

The Oldham Standard's account of Monday's meeting, which was reported the following day, was completely unapologetic in its approval of what had happened to the pacifists; they got what they deserved.

The reported sequence of events tallies to a great extent with that in the Chronicle. It is the phraseology and choice of derogatory descriptors which set it apart. There's a bullying, nasty-playground 'feel' in some ot the paragraphs.

The heading sets the tone straight away with the use of such terms as, 'Peaceites', 'White Feather Crew', and 'Refuge' (all with attendant connotations of cowardice). The throng was described as 'indignant'.

When the speakers didn't appear to be putting in an appearance, the reporter decided that, '... the crowd came to the conclusion that the agitators had decided that discretion was the better part of valour ...' another suggestion of cowardice.

When they eventually found them on Henshaw Street, we are told that,
'... one wag, with ironical courtesy, ventured to ask, "Please Mr. Peaceman, when are you going to begin?" adding, with delightful naivety, "We're all anxious to hear you start." The peaceites ignored the question ... one man reminding them that there were "lots of boys from New Zealand, present. I am sure you don't want to disappoint them," the speaker went on, "They've come ever so many thousands of miles to fight in this war. I know they would be pleased to hear that they're wrong in doing so." This sally amused the crowd vastly, and when another bystander invited them with a sweep of the arm to, "Look at the peace chaps," adding, " Don't they look a brave lot?" There was a yell of laughter mingled with a chorus of groans.'

The account continues to play on the perceived timidity of the 'peace-at-any-pricers,' and the 'fun' being 'relished by the New Zealanders.' In describing the descent into overt violence at the Town Hall, the pacifists are variously described as 'peacemongers', 'unpopular propagandists' and 'peace-lovers', amongst other things. The New Zealanders and the crowd are described as having, 'a sense of patriotism'; the New Zealanders were 'warriors'; the pacifists had, 'foolishly provoked the crowd who followed them into going further than merely hooting and yelling at them.'

An editorial in the Saturday edition of the 'Standard' was headlined, 'DISAPPOINTED CROWD AT PARK GATE'. In the opening paragraph we read,
'The Peacemongers of Oldham, who so ostentatiously advertised a weeks' mission in the borough, had such a tremendous drubbing on the first night that the remainder of the programme was unceremoniously cancelled. ... So ignominiously ends a most impudent attempt on the part of a handful of cranks to push their pernicious nostrums on a patriotic people.'

During the week when there should have been the series of advertsied Peace Meetings, which had been abandoned, letters on the subject were sent to the 'Chronicle' and a selection, of 20, was printed. Most of them were anonymous, although one purported to come from 'Kaiser Wilhelm'.

Interestingly, more than half the letters, in varying degrees of vehemence, condemned the crowd for their refusal to allow the speakers to state their case and debate the issues in a reasonable manner. One condemned the New Zealanders 'as guests of the town' who had no right to behave in the way that they did. Descriptors used in these letters included, 'disgusted', 'disgraceful', 'intelligence and instincts of beasts', 'wanton attack', 'demoralising', 'foul and brutal', 'shame and disgust', 'cowardly and dastardly attack', 'disgraceful and brutal conduct', and more.

One of the letters outlined what would probably have been the thrust of the speeches at the meetings, if they had been allowed to go ahead. The writer chose to remain anonymous, signing off as an I.L.P.er,
'In view of the present government by a jingo press and the acceptance of the law of the mob, for the safety of my wife and children, I must withold my name.'

Seven of the letters couldn't see what all the fuss was about when ' ...a few peace cranks and conscientious objectors got the ragging they rightly deserved.'

Most of these letters focused on the desire for peace but, 'not one at any price.' One letter expresses the misplaced hope that, 'we all want peace but it must be for good, not so that the enemy can start again when our children are grown to be men.'

Another, ironically, chose to assume he could speak for all Oldhamers,
'Those who arranged the meeting were a self-elected party whose aim is to teach the government what to do and how to do it. Oldham, like all other towns, wanted neither them nor their opinions, but I suppose they were brimming over with sense and knowledge. It was a case of The ThreeTailors of Tooley Street ...' 4
Pot and kettle?

The letter from 'Kaiser Wilhelm', tongue in cheek we hope, applauded the happenings of Monday night,
'Might is right ... in case of necessity citizens may be terrorised with a bit of blood spilling, and if I could have the Anzacs of Oldham with me I would find them work to their desire and probably a few peacable women and children to practise on.'

The end result was that no more peace meetings appear to have been held in Oldham. There would continue to be the individual conscientous objectors, the Quakers, the I.L.P. and other organisations working strenuously for a negotiated peace but there appears to have been very little general support across the borough. Those who chose to publicly support this cause would pay a heavy price. We know from the Minutes of the Manchester Branch of The Women's International League, that the Secretary of the Oldham Branch, lost her job. This was Miss E. Quarmby, who lived at 51 Coppice Street. She was a teacher, at Oldham High School, who lost her position at the school in July 1918 because of her support for the Peace Movement.

1 Alexandra Park, Oldham
2 Wilfred Hill, Sec. of the Oldham Branch of the I.L.P.
3 Mr. Slater, a joiner by trade and a conscientious objector
4 The Three Tailors of Tooley Street, were, according to Prime Minister George Canning, a group of individuals who met up on Tooley Street and drafted a list of complaints which was presented as a petition of grievances to Parliament and claiming to represent , 'We the people of England ...'

W.I.L. Women's International League
I.L.P. Independent Labour Party
N.-C.F. No-Conscription Fellowship

Read all the Newspaper Editorials and Letters in full, HERE
Skeleton Map showing area HERE
Report by Sheila Goodyear.
Research by Dorothy Bintley & Sheila Goodyear as part of the 'Women's Peace Crusade Project'.

Gallery of Contemporary Photos
Alexandra Park Gates
Alexandra Park Gates

Courtesy Oldham Local Studies & Archives

Henshaw Street
Henshaw Street

Courtesy Oldham Local Studies & Archives

Oldham Parish Church
Oldham Parish Church
(looking from High Street down
Yorkshire Street)

Courtesy Oldham Local Studies & Archives

Town Hall
Town Hall
(Looking down Yorkshire Street)

Courtesy John Holmes

Rhodes Bank
Rhodes Bank

Courtesy Oldham Local Studies & Archives

Star Inn
Star Inn
(from Union Street)

Courtesy John Holmes

Mumps from Rhodes Bank
Mumps from Rhodes Bank

Courtesy John Holmes

Failsworth lady cyclist, 1898
Failsworth lady cyclist, 1898
(Elizabeth Jane Rydings)

Courtesy Sheila Goodyear

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