Bridget Jones (née Bridget McMahon)
As her uncle John Kane (known to the rest of the world as Jock and a significant leader first of Armthorpe miners and then of the Yorkshire NUM in the 1950s and 1960s), has related in his own oral recollections, later edited and printed as `We Were Rebels’ and reproduced elsewhere on this site (see also separate entry for Jock Kane in biographical section), the Kane family came from Scotland to the East Midlands of England in 1928.
Bridget’s mother was Jock’s sister and both of them were siblings to Mick Kane (see separate entry), the heroic Communist who lead a major struggle against company unionism at Harworth pit in north Nottinghamshire. Although Mick later worked at Williamsthorpe in Derbyshire, the consequential undermining of the Spencerite breakaway led to a degree of unity that enabled Nottinghamshire mining to ultimately unite for much of the post-war period, and even see a significant minority presence for Communists within the coalfield.
In her own mid-1980s recollections, recorded in an interview with Gwyneth Francis, accompanied by Fred Westacott, Bridget is modest about her own contribution to the British Communist Party and to working class struggle. This is perhaps understandable, given the enormously significant role that her two uncles, Mick and Jock, played in the Party’s work amongst miners. But Bridget’s recollections, albeit often sketchy, nonetheless provide a sense of the enormous chutzpah of the Kane family; their cheerfulness and joy in rebellion and dedication to the interests of ordinary people shine through her recollections of five decades before.
For this was surely a remarkable family and, clearly, Bridget was enormously and rightly proud of this, for she spoke at length about her father, uncles and brothers. Patrick, an uncle, Joe, her brother, and Uncle Sanny (Alexander Edgar) all also played a part in the struggle. Her grandfather (another Mick!) was Irish and had been a migrant to, first, Perth. Like many women, Bridget held all the secrets of all her relatives in her head. Whilst, the Irish connection was especially important to the Kanes, like so many Scottish-Irish families they blended insurrectionist Irish republicanism with industrial syndicalism to form a particular strand of Communism that may be unique to the British Isles. Mainstream, yet utterly revolutionary at one and the same time.
Most in the generation before Bridget had been born in Ireland, such as her Aunt Annie. Bridget relates tales of one `Uncle Tam’, like all of the Kane men from that generation a Gaelic speaker, who was fond of going to Edinburgh to get soldiers drunk, so as to encourage them to sell their guns and/or ammunition to him. These supplies found their way to Ireland during the War of Independence.
The Uncle Mick of Harworth fame, Bridget hinted, had possibly been in Ireland during the `Troubles’, doing what even sixty, nearly seventy years later, she would not or could not say. One small anecdote related by her was that he had known well a certain meeting place in Ireland. In the 1950s, she was with him there and he unwisely allowed it to be known that he recalled the place they were at (a pub, perhaps?) as a meeting place for the `boys during the Troubles’. They very nearly found themselves in difficulties until it was made clear that Mick had not known of the meeting place because he was a spy but because he was a participant.
Not to be left out, Bridget’s mother, Mary MacMahon (née Kane), was a Labour Councillor for 25 years. When she had first stood for election, during the Second World War, her opponent was a Mr Turner, the local headmaster; yet so strong was the backing for `Mrs Kane’ that the head withdrew from the contest! Bridget’s mother had been one of the marchers on a Hunger March to Derby, which went through Staveley, when local people gave a warm and edible welcome to the protesters. (Probably one of Philip Hicken’s NUWM events? One, just such an event, in this period is described in Graham Stevenson’s `Defence or Defiance?’ see elsewhere on the site.)
Nonetheless, Bridget herself was an unsung heroine of the Party, endlessly loyal all her days. She endured all the trials and tribulations of her entire family for its unbending militancy, including evictions and prejudice during the difficult years following the General Strike and through the Depression. This included an eight week separation from her parents and elder brothers in a workhouse, when she was only ten years old in 1933.
Bridget had her own Daily Worker round when she was 15 years old, when the family was in one of its many temporary resting places, before another `flit’ or eviction, or both, in the Derbyshire village of Poolsbrook. She joined the Staveley Labour League of Youth since there was no local YCL where they were then living.
When Bridget was about 16 and in the YCL, the family had settled near Mansfield, probably in Shirebrook, a Derbyshire pit village but very near the Nottinghamshire border. At that time, she took part in a play with a political theme, having joined the Left Book Club Theatre Guild. Led by Connie and Bill Butler, this was based in Chesterfield and toured pit villages. The high point of the Left Book Club Theatre Guild in Chesterfield was a mass declamation (a type of choral speaking popular in German workers' theatre) of a piece by Jack Lyndsay – “On Guard for Spain” which filled the largest hall in the town.
produced, probably, by the Sheffield Unity Theatre group. Two teachers from Eckington Grammar School were the main artistic directors of the Guild but George and Avis Brown (George , an optician’s son – was the secretary of the Mansfield Party branch from the late 1920s), along with Connie Butler (“a vivacious good looking lady”) had played a significant role in getting the show on the road. Party groups in Mansfield, Clay Cross, Chesterfield and Sheffield were involved in the event.
Bridget was unable to recall the name of the play she was in some hal;f a century and more before in her recorded interview but was able to recount its theme; it was set amongst a group of piece workers in a sweat shop of a garment factory, who
these were challenged by a wage cut. In fact, the play was probably “Waiting for Lefty” by the American, Clifford Odetts, which was frequently played around that time. This was also the play that a YCL comrade of Bridget’s definitely participated in with her.
Although Odetts’ play uses the device of a group of New York taxi drivers arguing about whether to strike to hand its premise upon, it is possible that the textile theme had been introduced to enable a better connection with both audience and actors, especially if teenage girls were involved. The one-act nature of “Waiting for Lefty” also lends itself to amateur dramatics.
Bridget recalled one of the memorable lines she had to deliver – “not bloody likely!”, clearly a term a 16-year old girl was not then used to using, at least not in front of hundreds of people! The original script of the play is certainly littered with frequent use of the word “hell” (then perhaps as equally powerful a swear word as “bloody”). But, notoriously, `bloody’ is a foreign word in the world of American swearing, needing explanation to the citizens of that country. Again, this is likely to be an acclimatisation change made by the local producers, `hell’ not sounding strong enough perhaps? Whatever it was, their play came second in some sort of competition, judged by a panel of experts, a Communist Party event that culminated in a combined picnic and festival near Lake Langworth, seemingly itself proximate to a mining village. (This would appear to be Langdale Lake, in Langworth, Lincolnshire.)
Sources: 1985-6 interviews with Bridget Jones by Gwyneth Francis – details extracted from original tapes by GS, with recent additions and corrections from Chris Tierney, whose grandfather was Bridget’s cousin, their mothers being Kane sisters. Also information from Joe Clark;