The tribulations and triumphs of Lydia Becker: a life of resilience and renewal

Posted on: November 28th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Discover more about the incredible life of the ‘unofficial’ leader of the British women’s suffrage movement in the later 19th Century.

In the 1868 general election women achieved a victory: a legal loophole allowed up to a thousand women across the country to cast their vote. This surprising event occurred due to the feisty and single-minded dedication of Lydia Becker.

It gave rise to the belief amongst campaigners that women would soon be enfranchised. But in fact, it would be another half-century before that goal was achieved. Lydia’s life became a series of triumphs and setbacks. For over twenty years she was the moving force behind ceaseless campaigning and publicity.

Brought up near Manchester in a middle-class family as the eldest of fifteen children, she broke away from convention, remaining single and entering the sphere of men by engaging in politics. Although it was considered almost immoral for a woman to speak in public, Lydia addressed innumerable audiences. Not only on women’s votes, but also on girls’ education, the position of wives, the abuse of women, and their rights at work. She kept countless supporters all over Britain and beyond informed of the many campaigns for women’s rights through her publication: the Women’s Suffrage Journal.

In every area there were setbacks. But relentless battling did begin to move society and politics towards a new perception of women by undermining the accepted orthodoxy of ‘separate spheres’.

Steamrollering her way to Parliament as chief lobbyist for women, Becker influenced MPs in a way that no woman had done before. In the 1870s giving women the vote was compared in the Commons to ‘persuading dogs to dance’; it would be ridiculous and unnatural. By the time of Lydia’s death in 1890 there was a wide acceptance that the enfranchisement of women would happen sooner or later.

But she did not live to see the achievement of her goals. The torch was picked up by others who built on the foundations she had laid. These included Lydia’s younger colleague on the London committee, Millicent Fawcett, and a woman she had inspired as a teenager: the iconic Emmeline Pankhurst.

Exploring the past through objects: religious faith during the industrial revolution

Posted on: November 7th, 2022 by mlpEditor

What can books, embroideries and ceramics tell us about religious faith during the industrial revolution?

Professor Hannah Barker’s talk will explore the religious faith of ordinary people in northern English towns, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Many descriptive accounts of domestic devotion survive in diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and commonplace books. A variety of non-textual sources in the collections of museums and galleries also shed light on religious practice and belief.

Domestic objects such as needlework samplers, annotated books, printed pictures, and a variety of ceramics including figures, teapots, and plaques, are rich sources for the study of domestic piety. Their existence supports the contention that religious belief continued to be widespread and influential during this period which is often associated with the decline of faith.

Even if you are not interested in religion, most people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were. To tell their stories and understand the world in which they lived, we also need to explore their faith.

Avro Heritage Museum

Posted on: August 22nd, 2022 by mlpEditor

We are lucky to get the chance to have a fascinating glimpse of the history of some iconic aeroplanes at the Avro Heritage Museum, Woodford.

Avro (founder A. V. Roe) created many of the ground-breaking and iconic aeroplanes of the 20th Century, which were built on the site. Several of the cockpits have been restored, and the museum houses many fascinating exhibits detailing the history of the planes and the venue.

A guided tour has been arranged of the exhibition hall, followed by 2 x 15-minute cockpit tours of the Vulcan and the Lancaster.

Good to know:

  • Tea/coffee will be available afterwards.
  • Parking is available at the venue.
  • The tour is due to start at 2 pm so it is recommended that you arrive between 1.30 – 1.50 pm to ensure you find suitable parking.
  • Please advise if you have mobility requirements, hearing, mobility or vision impairment. There is no wheelchair access to the cockpits but there are interactive screens available for both jets.
  • The cost of the ticket covers the guided tour.


One of our members Richard Lees has kindly offered to host a social before and/or after the AVRO Heritage Museum at one of his pubs nearby. Suitably named ‘The Aviator’, it is just a 15-minute walk from the museum and boasts many award-winning ales, craft beers and great food!

We have the option of having a meal there around 12.30 pm and/or having some drinks there after the tour.

If you’re interested, please RSVP by emailing

Interview with Michael Wood

Posted on: August 15th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Q: Where did your interest in Shakespeare begin? Was there a particular line, play, or sonnet that hooked you?

A: At Manchester Grammar School – the school dramatic society was very active and we did the Tempest in my first year, aged 11. I played assorted goddesses, dogs and demons!  I was completely hooked.  Around the same time we saw the Olivier films – especially Hamlet with Jean Simmons.

The ghost scene with William Walton’s music was just mind-blowing. To someone brought up in Wythenshawe, it was the gripping stories and the other-worldly power of the language. I’ll always be grateful to our wonderful and inspiring teachers Bert Parnaby and Brian Phythian, who directed us in plays, took us on trips to Stratford to see Shakespeare, and generally were the spirit guides to our younger selves.

“To someone brought up in Wythenshawe, it was the gripping stories and the other-worldly power of the language. I’ll always be grateful to our wonderful and inspiring teachers…”

Q: What do you believe was the single biggest influence on a young Shakespeare? How does it manifest itself in his work? 

A: That’s a long story and there’s no one answer. That’s what I’ll be talking about in my lecture!

First: Family: As with anyone family is really important – his mother and father, his father’s rise to become mayor of Stratford only to be ruined financially;

Second: Religion – he’s born at a crucial point in the Protestant Reformation. In the twenty years, or so, before he was born there had been four official changes of religion: His parents obviously were born and brought up Catholic. He was born on the cusp of the new world and had a foot in both. The way forward wasn’t really resolved till the 1590s, so his generation are part of the change; the target generation.

The third is politics, national and local. Warwickshire was a battleground for the struggle between the old Catholic community of the shire and the new Elizabethan powers that be; especially Elizabeth’s favourite, the Protestant enforcer Robert Dudley. This struggle touched William’s family.

Fourth is school, through which he discovered poetry. He had probably decided he wanted to be a poet before he left Stratford at some point in the 1580s.

Q: How has our understanding of Shakespeare changed over the past few decades?  Have older models of literary analysis — New Criticism, Textual, maybe even Biographical — been eclipsed? How do you personally prefer to contextualize his work? 

A: Older models have not been superseded. I think they’ve all given something to the mix which these days is very rich indeed. Some terrific biographies have come out over the last twenty years.

And the documentary discoveries continue. I’ll be mentioning twenty new documents concerning his father’s various crises. They are not published in full yet but a summary came out in a new book this year. In terms of personal preference, I’m a historian so my approach is historical.  He’s made by his times and cannot be understood except through history – and that of course includes the twenty years or so before he was born. He’s a late Elizabethan.

“He’s made by his times and cannot be understood except through history – and that of course includes the twenty years or so before he was born.”

Q: As the English literary canon is constantly morphing, what case would you put forward that Shakespeare should continue to be taught throughout educational institutions? 

A: A big question!

It is after all an extraordinary thing that where, say, the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible have been modernised, his plays remain as 16th-century texts in the forefront of public culture.  Things are gradually being cut back now, even in university English courses (e.g. Old and Middle English, Langland and Chaucer, etc.) but he’s so important to our literary culture that I think he will stay at the centre of it for some time yet. His ‘difficulty’ (language, ideas etc.) after all is part of what makes him fascinating to study.

And in today’s world of Me Too, BLM, LGBT, his texts are still capable of endless reinvention, although they are 16th-17th texts. I saw a production of Measure for Measure at the Donmar the week Brett Kavanaugh was being vetted for the Supreme Court and the scene with Angelo and Isabella said it all in the space of a few minutes.

Q: Are you currently working on any new projects? What have you got planned for 2022? 

A: I’ve been working in China since 2013 where we have made a dozen films. My last Shakespeare contributions were more recent: a chapter on his mother for Shakespeare’s Circle (Cambridge 2015) and an introduction to Finding Shakespeare’s New Place (2016).

Our last film was on the Chinese poet most compared with Shakespeare – Du Fu (China’s Greatest Poet, BBC 2020 with Sir Ian McKellen doing the readings). And I am currently writing a little travelogue with lovely photos and maps, following Du Fu’s life journey – especially the last fifteen years when he was constantly on the move with his family as a refugee in time of war.

The journey describes a great arc from the Yellow River Plain up to Xi’an and Qinzhou, over the mountains south to Chengdu. Then all the way down the Yangze through the Gorges to Changsha and Pingjiang where he died. A labour of love I guess you could call it. Needless to say, distant as he is in time and place, there will be comparisons with Shakespeare!

Everything for me comes back to Shakespeare!

Thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer our questions.

MCR History Talks: Alcohol and Drinking Cultures

Posted on: July 27th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

Jessica White and Adam Waddingham from the University of Manchester talk about the history of alcohol and drinking cultures in the north west.

They examine why the north has such a reputation for drinking, why gender and alcohol are so entwined, and if our attitudes to drinking have changed over the past two hundred years. Jessica and Adam are joined by Dr Gemma Outen from Edge Hill University, and Dr Craig Stafford from the University of Liverpool.

This podcast was produced by Jessica White & Adam Waddingham for The Manchester Lit and Phil in August 2020.

Legacy of Empire

Posted on: February 17th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

How much of what we consider to be modern Britain is actually rooted in our imperial past?

Award-winning author Sathnam Sanghera talks to historian Dr Michael Taylor.  In this highly anticipated event, Sathnam and Michael seek to unravel the extent to which Empire has shaped our history, perception and understanding of the world.

Their conversation touches on Sanghera’s experiences of growing up in Wolverhampton as the son of Punjabi Indians. It explores the role of Commonwealth immigrants in shaping modern Britain. And considers the legacies of some of the most traumatic incidents in imperial history.

Their exchange seeks to address some of the most pressing questions facing Britain today. What should we do with the statues of slaveholders such as Edward Colston and imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes? Is it ‘woke’ to regard British imperial history with scepticism? How should we teach imperial history in schools and universities? And who is going to win the ongoing ‘culture wars’ about history and memory?

Slavery and Manchester in the fight for Abolition

Posted on: January 25th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

What role did Manchester and Mancunians play in the fight over slavery and emancipation?

Manchester, with its strong Dissenting tradition, was a hotbed of abolitionist enthusiasm which produced some of the largest anti-slavery petitions of the day. But that fact alone does not tell the full, complex story.

When Parliament outlawed the British slave trade in 1807, it did nothing to set free more than 700,000 enslaved people in the British West Indies. In fact, it was not until 1823 that the Anti-Slavery Society, which pursued the abolition of slavery itself, was even founded.

A decade-long battle was fought between British abolitionists and the powerful slaveholding lobby known as the ‘West India Interest’. This fight took place on battlefields as diverse as the Houses of Parliament and the pages of the London and regional press. In churches and chapels, and even in the Caribbean colonies themselves.

Dr Michael Taylor’s talk examines Manchester’s part in this complex story. He describes the role of prominent north-westerners, such as George Hibbert and Robert Peel, in defending slavery from 1823 until the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.