Our Founders - Ruth and Eddie Frow
The Working Class Movement Library started life in the 1950s as the personal collection of Edmund and Ruth Frow. It became a Charitable Trust in 1971 and moved to its present home in 1987.
Edmund and Ruth Frow were proud that their love of books had created a unique and valuable resource for people wanting to know more about working people's lives and political beliefs.
Eddie was born on 6 June 1906, the son of a tenant farmer of 18 acres, in the village of Harrington in Lincolnshire. He left school aged 14 and after a year at trade school commenced his working life, as an apprentice in the drawing office of an engineering firm. Later he became a toolmaker.
In 1924, aged 17 he joined the Communist Party, remaining a member until the day he died.
He was 20 when he joined the General Strike in 1926. The engineers union had not been called out. It was a move of personal solidarity for which he lost his job. Eddie reckoned that over the following 20 years he lost 20 out of 21 jobs because of his union activity. Always a shop steward or convener, he served for 20 years on the National Committee of the AEU, standing down in 1961 when he was elected as the full time Secretary for the Manchester District.
He was 23 when the stock market crash of 1929 destroyed the economy, and 27 before he worked again.
During those years he was an active member of the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, and chairman of the Salford branch. The scar on his nose was given to him by the police, in a temporary cell in Salford Town Hall. Eddie was one of the leaders of a march to the Town Hall. The police wouldn't let a deputation through to meet the council. They broke up the march and arrested the leaders. Eddie got a beating. They also gave him five months in prison. The scar stayed for life.
Walter Greenwood, a council worker at the time, wrote the novel Love On The Dole (1933) in which the "Battle of Bexley Square" is a climactic event. The character based on Eddie is described in the novel as "a finely featured young man...heaping invective upon all with whom he disassociated himself on the social scale".
Eddie was 47 when he met Ruth and began a relationship which lasted for over 40 years and produced among other virtues the WCML.
Eddie died on 15 May 1997, less than a month short of his 91st birthday. Of live and enquiring mind until the day of his demise, his lifelong commitment to the causes of human emancipation has a fine memorial in the continued development of the library he and Ruth founded.
Ruth left school in 1939 and spent the next four and a half years in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She joined the Communist Party in 1945 in Sandwich, Kent, where she and her husband Denis Haines had been canvassing for the Labour Party in the 1945 election. Local miners advised them to join the CP in preference to the Labour Party. Ruth subsequently served in many positions of responsibility within the Party.
When Ruth returned to London after the war she became involved in the peace movement, serving as a member of the National Council of the British Peace Committee. She was Secretary of Manchester Peace Committee when Manchester C.N.D. was formed, and was elected as their first Vice-Chairman.
After the war Ruth took an Emergency Training Scheme to become a teacher and became involved in union activity as a member of the National Union of Teachers. She represented Manchester Teachers' Association on Manchester and Salford Trades Council. She was President of Altrincham N.U.T. at the time when they went on strike for a day in the early 70s. She took early retirement in 1980. At the time she was the Deputy Head of one of Manchester's largest comprehensives.
Eddie and Ruth first met in 1953 at a Communist Party day school on labour history. They both shared a love of labour movement books and documents and realised how much they had in common. A couple of years later they started living together, and were married in 1961.
By the late 1960s they had built up an enviable collection of works in their home at 111 King's Road, Stretford. Room after room was filling up with books and their home became known as the Working Class Movement Library. Donations of personal collections were added to the library by labour activists far and wide.
Over their last 30 years together Eddie and Ruth wrote countless articles and essays on aspects of the labour movement, making great use of the Library as a source. As well as these are the numerous books and pamphlets on the history of the Chartist movement, the Spanish Civil War, the growth of Trade Unionism, the Co-operative movement, peace organisations and other political organisations from the Labour Party and the CPGB through to the ILP, SPGB, etc....and in particular their relationship with Manchester and Salford. When asked how they managed to write joint book reviews they replied that Eddie did the reading and Ruth the writing!
By the 1980s their house was at bursting point and so the City of Salford Council agreed to house the magnificent library in an Victorian building called Jubilee House on Salford Crescent. The collection has been there ever since.
When Eddie died Ruth carried on undaunted working for the library. Visitors were always greeted with a really warm, personal welcome; all felt the friendly hospitable environment she created.
A month before her sudden death on 11 January 2008 she welcomed the news that the library had won a £313,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant. She commented "This project will ensure the collections are accessible for generations to come". Her vision was to ensure the library's future. With the collective she was instrumental in developing and the support of the labour movement it will surely be realised.
The collection of Edmund and Ruth's private papers has now been sorted and catalogued, and is available to the public. This project comes as a continuation of the Library's major cataloguing programme in an effort to make its resources more visible and accessible to researchers and the wider public alike.
The work was conducted between December 2010 and May 2011 by Kevin Morgan, Professor of Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Manchester and a Trustee of the Working Class Movement Library and Constantin Davidescu, who received his doctorate in Politics from the same University. The project has benefitted from the generous support of the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust and the friendly and collegial help of the librarians, members of staff and volunteers at the WCML.
The project contributes directly to the Library's objectives of advancing education and knowledge of the working class movement and the history of socialism, both through the facilitation of access to the papers of two outstanding working class activists and the publicising of the history and continuing activities of the Library they co-founded.
The resources of the collection will be used in the writing of individual entries dedicated to Eddie and Ruth Frow to be included in the Dictionary of Labour Biography.