Paul Salveson’s life has been entwined with that of Lancashire for many years. He did his undergraduate degree at the University of Lancaster and his PhD, on aspects of Lancashire dialect, is from the University of Salford. He is currently a visiting professor in transport and logistics at the University of Bolton and also at the University of Huddersfield.
He has published a number of books, not only on his professional specialism, rail transport, but on northern society more generally, as in his Socialism with a Northern Accent and With Walt Whitman in Bolton: Spirituality, Sex and Socialism in a Northern Mill Town. His latest book is not so much a ‘new’ history but an alternative one, and his writing is conversational in tone and often wryly humorous, much like his entertaining lectures.
Variety of subjects covered
The book covers a wide range of topics, from travel, food and drink, to music, art and literature. There is a brief and welcome survey of the modern Co-operative movement, (founded in 1844 by the Rochdale Pioneers, to provide an affordable alternative to poor-quality and adulterated food, using any surplus to benefit the community). Salveson also covers the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which was established in 1893 in Bradford, after local and national dissatisfaction with the Liberals’ apparent reluctance to endorse working-class candidates. The ILP was affiliated to the Labour Party from 1906. Always to the left of the mainstream Labour Party, the ILP finally disaffiliated in 1932.
The author also shows the influence of immigration. His final chapters celebrate the fact that immigrants, Irish, Chinese, South Asians, Caribbeans and Africans, have added much to what he entitles “A Lancashire Sensibility”.
Salveson’s (and my) Lancashire is that of the pre-1976 era (when UK county boundaries changed); a Lancashire with the Irish Sea to the West and the Pennines to the East, the South Lakes and Furness in the North and the Mersey in the South.
The old county has passed, never to return. Liverpool has been successfully detached, becoming the centre of Merseyside; as has the City of Manchester, now the hub of Greater Manchester. I share his sense that Greater Manchester hasn’t been a success, and the old textile and industrial centres of Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale and Wigan, haven’t been assimilated. They remain ‘Lancastrians’, and Salveson’s idea that they could rejoin the rest of the county as ‘Lancastria’, is perhaps sadly too sensible for any future, but necessary, reorganisation of regional government in the North West.
Until the end of the 18th Century, Lancashire was one of the poorest and most backward of counties. Salveson concentrates on the Lancashire of the Industrial Revolution, which began towards the end of that century: It was a period of dynamic industrial take off, when the new technology of the age catapulted Lancashire into being one of the UK regions which were leaders in technical and commercial innovations. Manchester’s dynamic industrialisation was even seen as a tourist attraction. However, the economic advance brought social misery. In his groundbreaking social critique, The Condition of the Working Class in England Friedrich Engels tells of pointing out to a ‘business man’ the dirt and squalor, only to receive the riposte that there is plenty of money to be made.
Salveson ends with the beginnings of the Lancashire decline after the First World War. His history is descriptive rather than analytical: for example he mentions Lancashire’s “significant working class Tory vote”, when the reader could do with a fuller analysis of this political anomaly.
Where Salveson is strong, and offers an alternative history, is in his pen pictures of long-forgotten activists in the progressive cause. His Lancastrians, therefore, is an excellent compendium in which he traces the lives of progressive writers and activists such as Samuel Bamford, Katherine Bruce Glasier, Allen Clarke, among many others.
His own meticulous research provides a rich vein for future local amateur and professional historians. Such research has rediscovered East Lancashire’s own novelist and poet, Ethel Carnie, (whom Salveson mentions) whose books have recently been republished. I hope Salveson’s pen pictures will encourage other revivals.
The author also offers an engaging guide to the towns of Lancashire, and in his early chapters describes a tour of the old county, with some most helpful information of how to visit via public transport.
Mills, Mines and Minarets
There is more than a tinge of nostalgia for a lost age in Salveson’s picture of Lancastrians, but he attempts to end on a positive note, by advocating a new regional configuration to bring out the best of Lancastrians’ endurance, creativity and spirit of independence. The book is densely packed with information, more a book to dip into, almost a reference book, rather than a page-turner; but all the more reason to keep on your shelf or get your local library to stock a copy.