Tuesday, 12 July 2016

William Barefoot and a day in the archives of the Peoples’ History Museum in Manchester

William Brefoot, date unknown
Now I have to confess that for me William Barefoot was just a name on a plaque in the Pleasaunce, and if pushed I could also point to William Barefoot Drive and a small park in Plumstead.

All of which is  particularly embarrassing given that we were both members of the Woolwich Labour Party and Mr Barefoot had along connection to Eltham as a councillor and to the history of Woolwich.

And it was while I was in the archives of the Peoples’ History Museum that I decided to take a break from researching the Great War and instead begin to learn more about this remarkable man.*

I knew that he had been born in 1872 that his father was a sadler and that the family had lived on Frances Street not far from the Dockyard and I vaguely also knew that he had been a councillor for Eltham for 33 years and was the Mayor of Woolwich not once but three times, all of which is an impressive record of municipal service.

But there was much more.

A Hall, Will Crooks 7 W Barefoot, 1910
“Will Barefoot fought West Woolwich several times without success, but it was as Agent for the Borough Party that he lived and died. 

From the days of his apprenticeship in the Royal Arsenal he was identified with the Trade Union, Socialist, Co-operative and Municipal life of the Borough.  

Woolwich Labour Representation Committee was one of the first to enlist ‘individual members’ and made national history in 1902 when Will Crooks was first returned to Westminster.  

Success followed in every direction and came primarily as a result of Will Barefoot‘s genius for organization.  
He was supported in all efforts by his wife and it was a poignant circumstance that Mrs Barefoot died within a few weeks of her husband’s passing.”**

He worked alongside Will Crooks the first Labour MP for Woolwich and would have been an active participant in many of the great events of the early 20th century from the election of Mr Crooks to the General Strike of 1926.

And during the Great War he was active on the London Food Vigilance Committee.

Food Vigilance Committees had sprung up across the country as a means of drawing attention to the sharp rise in the cost of living and set forth a clear set of policies, demanding greater control by both the Government and local authorities of food and fuel along with the participation of the Labour movement.

Inside the archives, 
So for me Mr Barefoot has come out of the shadows, and I rather think I will be spending more time in the Archives & Study Centre calling up material on his life and contribution.

“The Labour History Archive & Study Centre (LHASC) is the main specialist repository for research into the political wing of the labour movement.  

It holds the archives of working class organisations from the Chartists to New Labour, including the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain.  

From Salford, 2013
The collections provide an insight into the social, political and economic life of the last two centuries.

As well as the archives of political parties and leftwing pressure groups, LHASC collects the personal papers of radical politicians, writers and activists.  

The archives complement the objects, photographs and banners found in the museum collections and researchers may well find material of interest in both.*

William Barefoot Memorial, 2013
All of which may seem a long way from Woolwich, but I think not.

Sitting there yesterday reading the same material he would have handled I was reminded that we shared quite a lot.

Pictures; photographs of William Barefoot, Will Crooks and A Hall along with the interior of the study centre and view of the Museum from Salford, courtesy of Archives & Study Centre, at the People’s History Museum, Manchester, http://www.phm.org.uk/ and  William Barefoot Memorial in Well Hall Pleasunce, from the collection of Chrisse Rose, 2013

* Archives & Study Centre, at the People’s History Museum, Manchester, http://www.phm.org.uk/

** Report of the Annual Conference held the Central Hall Westminster May 25 to 28th, 1942

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