Back in 1963, E.P. Thompson wrote the most influential post-war book of British history, The Making of the English Working Class. I came across it a decade or more later, and dipped into it repeatedly rather than read it throughout (it's a bit of a doorstopper). It made its mark on me, prompting me to do a postgraduate degree at the Centre for the Study of Social History at Warwick, where Edward Thompson had been the presiding genius.
By the time I got there, he had left academia behind. I came across him only occasionally - attending a seminar he gave when he, as I recall, unilaterally changed the subject to the haunting death of his older brother, Frank, in Bulgaria towards the end of the Second World War; I chaired a meeting at which he spoke, calling for the release of the East German dissident Rudolf Bahro; and much later, in 1991, I interviewed Edward and his wife Dorothy about their years in the Communist Party, and the audio is posted elsewhere on this site.
I knew that in the early 1950s in particular, E.P. Thompson was an active member of the CP in Halifax, and teaching in the Extramural Studies department at the University of Leeds - and that both these aspects of his life fed into the writing of The Making. What I had not appreciated, and this I have to confess is a very personal obsession, is that Edward Thompson had more than a passing acquaintance with my home town of Morley.
David Goodway's contribution to a new book entitled E.P. Thompson and English Radicalism (edited by Roger Fieldhouse and Richard Taylor and published by Manchester University Press) spells out how Thompson's role as an adult educator informed the making of The Making. Morley was one of fourteen venues where Thompson held classes. He found the large oval table in the Library's reading room ideal for his purpose. And in 1963-4, after the publication of his seminal work, he commented of Morley: 'Within living memory ... it seems, miners have worked lying down in eighteen-inch seams, children have been in the mills at the age of nine, urine has been collected from pub urinals for scouring, while the brother of one of the students still uses teazles to raise the 'nap'. It is difficult to believe that the industrial revolution has yet occurred in Morley, and next year's syllabus (in the later 19th century) will seem like a tour through the space age'.
My own association with Morley Library is restricted to attending stamp club sessions there, rather unwillingly, as a child. My father was on Morley council at the time Thompson was writing his book. My father was an independent, which usually meant Tory but in his case Liberal. He never came across E.P. Thompson, but much to my surprise talked of attending Workers' Educational Association classes - one on history held at Morley Grammar School, and another during the war which he attended with his mother (a JP and National Liberal) at the unlikely venue of the Gildersome Conservative Club.
All this is incidental, but out of a web of such tenuous links, affinities and association are built. And I am more than a little chuffed to discover that E.P. Thompson taught in Morley.
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