Friday, 10 March 2017

Arguing for peace in 1937 with Alice McIlwrick in Platt Fields

I shouldn’t have been surprised that Alice McIlwrick was involved in the Manchester and Salford Peace Week of 1937.

She was “socialist by conviction and anti establishment by nature”* who had stood nine years earlier as the first Labour candidate in a municipal election in Chorlton having contested Didsbury the year before.

And according to the Manchester Guardian was a “strong candidate” confident enough to have invited one of her opponents to her public meeting to debate the issues of the election.

It was just that I had not been able to follow her political career after 1928.  But something of her later life has now been provided by Tony McIlwrick her grandson along with a photograph, and it was that photograph that set me on to the Peace Week.

Standing beside the Lord Mayor and Mayoress of Manchester is Alice as they arrived at the “Manchester Peace Week Meeting in Platt Fields.”

Now Tony was puzzled  “as to why my grandmother was wearing what appears to be academic dress” but I rather think it may well have been connected with the events of the day because the meeting had been preceded by The “Peace Procession from All Saints to Platt Fields"** in which “nearly a thousand women from scores of different organisations in Manchester & Salford took part.

They began to assemble early in the afternoon and soon filled the pavement on two sides of All Saints Church” moving off “shepherded by an imposing array of policeman, a string of cars bearing placards; then the Lord Mayor’s Unemployed Band; then about a hundred women carrying flags, posters, banners and slogans of every description.

Next came the decorated wagon of the combined Women’s Co-operative Guilds followed by delegations dressed in costumes symbolising many different nationalities.

The main body of representatives from various organisations brought up the rear; with more embroidered banners, painted slogans, slashes and pennants.  A group of university women were conspicuous in academic caps and gowns.”

I have yet to come across a photograph of the peace procession but the Yorkshire Film Archive has preserved a similar march through Sheffield from 1936.

Now anyone wanting a more detailed description of the Peace Week can read an account at which also puts the event into the context of peace activities in the city during the inter war years.

Suffice to say it was an ambitious week of meetings, marches and exhibitions.

Along with the Platt Fields rally there were six other meetings across the twin cities on the same day and another dozen during the week.

Four peace exhibitions were opened in the city, along with an “a peace shop near the corner of Deansgate and Blackfriars Street, displaying posters and literature with a section arranged particularly to appeal to children."

Many of the exhibitions organised by religious groups and trade unions took as their theme “the arts of peace” while two of the three films being shown during the week promoted the work of the League of Nations.

Here in south Manchester there were open air meetings in Rippingham Road Recreation Ground, Cringle Fields in Burnage, and Fog Lane Park as well as an exhibition in Withington and another in Levenshulme.

So Alice was not spoilt for choice, but I guess the highlight of the week must have been the peace procession and the Platt Fields rally, which takes me back to the photograph of her with the Lord Mayor who spoke of his own commitment to peace remarking that “what he had been saying against war for the last eight months [as Lord Mayor] he had been saying for the last thirty years.  There was no greater cause in the world than the cause of universal peace.”  And he concluded by regretting that the Council had voted not to adopt “an annual peace day in the City’s schools.”****

All of which must have resonated with Alice who had maintained a life time interest in schools and education having held a lecturing post at St Mary’s College for four years before her marriage in 1919 and been regarded as  “a pioneer in Activity Methods in Infants and Junior Schools.”*****

I would love to know what Alice thought of the rally and in the fullness of time I reckon I will.  After all until today I didn’t know about the Peace Week and for that I have Alice and Tony to thank, so as someone else once said “something will turn up”.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Alice at Platt Fields courtesy of Tony McIlwrick, and headlines from the Manchester Guardian.

*Obituary Notice from Bangor University, 1964
**Manchester Guardian July 8th 1937
***Manchester Guardian, July 6th 1937
**** Manchester Guardian July 8th 1937
*****Obituary Notice from Bangor University, 1964

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