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Last updated:06 May 2015

Ancoats Brotherhood

The Ancoats Brotherhood was founded by Charles Rowley in 1878, with the aim of bringing art and literature to the working classes. Its first activities were concerts from military and other bands in Phillips Park, Queens Park and on St Michael's Flags (now part of Angel Meadow). Later on there were also art exhibitions.

Illustration for the Ancoats Brotherhood by Walter Crane

Illustration by Walter Crane

Then, from 1884, the Brotherhood's main activities were Sunday afternoon lectures. Charles Rowley attracted many leading intellectuals and artists of the day to come to Ancoats to give lectures.

Among them were William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, Peter Kropotkin - and George Bernard Shaw, who said that Rowley was "the only man who could induce any sane man to go to Manchester".

1885 saw the first University Extension lecture series (a series of six lectures on a single theme) and in 1888 the Brotherhood added reading groups, garden parties, summer rambles, and holidays to its activities.

The Ancoats Brotherhood didn't just organise lectures and concerts. In addition to rambles, concerts and excursions, there were cycle rides and dances - all of which were advertised in a programme of events that also contained other illustrations and literature of interest to the members of the Brotherhood. The library holds a collection of these programmes.

The activities were paid for by subscription of least one shilling per year, but more well off members were encouraged to give more. Any surplus made during the year was given to the Ancoats Hospital on Old Mill Street, which is now part of the redevelopment scheme in the Ancoats area.

So what exactly could a member of the Ancoats Brotherhood get involved in? Well, according to the programme for the 1896/97 winter season there were a series of 19 Sunday afternoon lectures; Reading parties on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings; an Ambulance Class for men; 6 Victoria University Extension Lectures; the Toynbee debating society (Saturdays and Thursdays); 5 "At homes" (or dances) and a book stall selling "essential literature". Whilst the Spring and Summer 1897 programme boasted 11 rambles and 28 cycling club runs with a whitweek cycling tour in France. There was also an Easter excursion to Paris.

And of course - the Ancoats Brotherhood was open to women as well as men.

Charles Rowley

Charles Rowley was born in 1839. He was a son of a picture frame maker. By the time that Charles

Illustration by Walter Crane for the Ancoats Brotherhood

Illustration by Walter Crane

joined his father's business as an apprentice the firm had a shop in Barton Square, workshops in Luna Street and a timber yard in Chapman Street.

By the 1891 census he was listed as a dealer in works of art and picture frames.

Rowley was influenced by John Ruskin's socialism and by his own interest in art. He was also concerned by the plight of the poor, leading him to become a liberal councillor for Manchester City Council in 1875 and to set up the Ancoats Brotherhood in 1878.


Resources about the Ancoats Brotherhood and Charles Rowley in the library collection

Programmes (1897-1923, not complete)

Various events leaflets (1892-1919)

Ancoats Brotherhood, Sixty-five years of Ancoats (no date) - Shelfmark: AG Ancoats Brotherhood Box 1

Alexander Hadden, A short note on the work of the Ancoats Recreation Committee, 1878-1898 (1898) - Shelfmark: AG Ancoats Brotherhood Box 1

Charles Rowley, Brotherhood with nature: a treasury (1904) - Shelfmark: D28

Charles Rowley, Fifty years of Ancoats, loss and gain (no date) - Shelfmark: AG Ancoats Brotherhood Box 1

Charles Rowley, A brotherhood treasury of English lyrics (1903) - Shelfmark: AG Ancoats Brotherhood Box 1

Charles Rowley, A treasury for the young of all ages (1903) - Shelfmark: AG Ancoats Brotherhood Box 1

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