Openshaw Charlie


Charlie Openshaw

Openshaw was a close friend of the young Harry Pollitt. An engineering worker and literature secretary for the Openshaw Socialist Society, which was established in 1906, Openshaw was a founding member of the Communist Party.

Harry Pollitt referred to Charlie Openshaw in "Serving my time" as overseeing the "finest literature stall to be found anywhere in the country at the time".

Charlie was ten years older than Harry. “He was a lad in knickerbockers when I first knew him", the older man once said. “And he wasn't all that much older before he started public speaking.”

Openshaw states "We were in the Clarion Cycling Club together. Off we'd go on our bikes into the country. We'd put up fly posters up round about, choose a spot, and hold a meeting. We didn’t always get many listening, but by God, we enjoyed it.

Harry recalls his summer Clarion speaking tours of 1912 and 1913. A group would meet at the Openshaw Socialist hall – the `secret’ greeting being "Boots", the expected answer, “Spurs” – they then went into the villages of Cheshire. A suitable spot would be found to dismount and, led by Harry Fisher or Jim Crossley, the socialists would sing:

"In Youth as I lay dreaming. I saw a country fair,
Where plenty shed its blessings round and all had equal share.
Where poverty's sad features were never, never seen
And idlers in brotherhood would meet with scant esteem"

The unaccustomed sound of singing brought people to stand around and Harry would then make a ten minute speech. They would wind up by singing "EnglandArise", returning in the evening they would then repeat the performance in another village.

A favourite destination for the Clarion Cyclists was Handforth Clarion club House opened in September 1903. ManchesterClarion Cycling Club had been established on Wednesday 16th January 1895. Its Secretaries being Mr R Dawson, 697 Rochdale Road, Manchester, and Mr C Ellinger, 53 Palmerston Street, Moss Side, Manchester. 

Harry Pollitt states" I have heard a lot of scoffing at fellowship"…"but in this club it was reality which made hard, poverty stricken lives much brighter". Harry Pollitt even attended the Clarion's famous Easter meet in Yorkduring March 1913, where there were one thousand Clarion cyclists. On the Sunday, Harry spoke to a huge audience from a Clarion van.

The Openshaw Socialist Society meeting place, at the socialist hall, was in Margaret street, off the Ashton Old Road, opposite the Alhambra. It was constructed by voluntary labour; with the site starting up in March 1907 and being officially opened on July 20th by John Hodge MP, a Smelters’ Union leader.

At the opening, three inscribed stones were laid at ground level, that of the Openshaw Socialist Society, greeted with the singing of "England Arise!", that of the Clarion Cyclists, accompanied by the "Red Flag", and that of the “Clarion vocal union”, or Choir, to the "Comrades’ song of hope".

The Openshaw Socialist hall was rectangular, the long side facing on Margaret Street, the elevation pleasant and dignified, presenting a series of arched windows, and a handsome doorway on the right topped by a stone inscribed "Socialist Hall 1907"

The visitors entered a vestibule, from which rooms opening on each side ranged in a double stair, led to the big hall on the floor above. It could seat 400 and had an excellent parquet floor for dancing. Between the two entrances was a low platform above a gallery ran the whole width of the building. On the opposite wall was a large painting by Walter Crane; with scrolls bearing the words "when Adam delved and Eve Span Who was then the Gentleman?". The  tall windows and high angled roof gave an exhilarating impression of light, space and elegance, whilst the ample basement contained more rooms.

Charlie Openshaw along with the young Harry Pollitt polished the parquet floor of the Hall every Sunday morning 

Michael Walker

Sources: Daily Worker 11 July 1960; Harry Pollitt – Kevin Morgan; Harry Pollitt – John Mahon.

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