This week on the Secret Library we hear from John Boocock on the history of radical publishing in Leeds and the West Riding, from the 19th-century to the Leeds Other Paper in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. This will be the subject of John’s upcoming talk at the Central Library (February 19) – further details and booking information are available on Ticketsource.
For the remainder of February you can also view a small exhibition in the Central Library displaying examples of similar radical publishers and printers to those mentioned below.
In the 19th century there were famed radical printers and publishers in West Yorkshire. Many of these were based in Leeds during the early part of the century producing unstamped newspapers and appearing in court for their troubles. James and Alice Mann, Joshua Hobson are names which readily spring to mind. All three were imprisoned for their printing and publishing activities. These and others could all be found playing their part in the radical politics of the county.
James Mann died in Leeds’ cholera epidemic of 1832 leaving Alice to continue his bookselling business. James Mann was prosecuted and found guilty of sedition in 1820. A supporter of Female Political Unions, James led the supporters of Henry Hunt in Leeds.
After an early apprenticeship as cabinet maker and working as a hand loom weaver, Joshua Hobson’s media career started in Huddersfield where he was the printer and publisher of the Voice of the West Riding, which described itself as:
“…a Weekly Penny Paper, to be called the ‘Voice of the West Riding’, advocating the rights of man against the ‘exclusives’, and the Rights of Labour against the ‘Competatives’ and the ‘Political Economists’, and especially to vindicate the Working Classes from the calumnies and misrepresentations of our parasitical scribes who figure in the Provincial Newspapers.” [i]
His work can be compared in many ways to that of Leeds Alternative Publications which operated in Leeds until 1994. From his Union Free Press in Huddersfield’s Swan Yard he printed hand bills, broadsides and posters for the likes of the Huddersfield Short Time Committee and The Huddersfield Political Union.[ii] Hobson forged his political career in many different campaigns, including the political unions, short time and factory reform movements, Owenite socialism and free thinking, trade unionism and defence of a free press.[iii]
Hobson’s Union Free Press was in Swan Yard, the centre of political and radical activity in Huddersfield in the 1830s:
“Situated across Kirkgate from the Swan Inn and the adjoining Pack Horse Inn, the yard was enclosed by workshops and used for carts and the other items of everyday working life. The Pack Horse was the venue for the headquarters of the Political Union, dubbed ‘Union Hall’.” [iv]
Hobson soon moved to Leeds and collaborated with Feargus O’Connor in publishing the Northern Star. In Leeds he published and edited the Northern Star alongside other printing and publishing activities in what we now know as Lower Briggate. Although at times Hobson was able to avoid prosecution for failing to pay newspaper stamp duty, he was imprisoned on several occasions. In 1836 he was in court for this crime at the same time as his contemporary Alice Mann. Both were sentenced to six months imprisonment at York Castle.[v]
“Unstamped vendors imprisoned at York included Joshua Hobson (one of Huddersfield’s most notable sons), who served two gaol sentences there in 1835 and 1836 for selling unstamped papers from his office in Briggate, Leeds. Another Briggate newsvendor, recently widowed Alice Mann, refused a prosecution offer to drop all but one of the five charges against her if she promised to stop selling unstamped papers. Alice argued that her news agency was the only means she had to maintain her family. The offer was made no less than four times during her trial, and on refusing a fourth time she was fined £100 and, unable to pay this, immediately committed to York Castle for six months.” [vi]
Alice Mann’s publishing business did flourish though with a broad range of official contracts, including those for the Leeds Watch Committee, Improvement Commission, and the Town Council. Alongside a number of practical manuals these reliable income streams enabled her to develop the publishing side of her business.[vii] (This was also the intention behind Leeds Alternative Publications’ printing activity which would provide the co-operative with income as well as a service to its community).
In the late 20th Century there was no better example of this radical West Riding tradition of printing and publishing than Leeds Other Paper (LOP) and what would become its parent worker’s co-operative: Leeds Alternative Publications (LAP). Like the Voice of the West Riding, the very first edition of LOP carried a statement of intent:
“Leeds Other Paper exists to provide an alternative newspaper in Leeds, i.e. a newspaper not controlled by big business and other vested interests. It is our intention to support all groups involved in active struggle in industry and elsewhere for greater control of their own lives.” [viii]
I feel great similarities between the intent of the Voice and LOP.
The first edition of LOP was published in January 1974 and it continued to appear for the next 17 years. Although its prime purpose was to publish an alternative to the established Leeds media and give a voice to ordinary people and grass roots campaigns the newspaper’s print shop also provided a major service in printing for such diverse groups as the Labour Party’s Leeds Weekly Citizen, The Kashmir Times, hand bills for established organisations such as Leeds Jazz, typesetting annual reports for groups like Leeds Federated Housing Association, trade union newsletters, menus for the Corner Café, Woodcraft Folk Leaflets and text for LP sleeves for the likes of The Three Johns. The list was endless.
Like the Voice, Leeds Other Paper was housed in an iconic location. In the 1980s its home was in part of the Coliseum in Cookridge Street, scene of many famous meetings and events such as The Great Leeds Peace Convention of June 1917, the meeting place where the Communist Party of Great Britain became a reality and many other great radical events.
Often living on a financial knife edge, Leeds Other Paper was essential reading for many people in the city at a time when social media and the internet hadn’t even been thought of. The news coverage was often showing a side of life in the city which the Yorkshire Post and the Yorkshire Evening Post had no intention of covering (and often no ability to do so). One half of the newspaper became the What’s On Guide, listing events, music, drama, television, small ads, and reviews. A trawl through its display adverts gives a very detailed view of what was happening in the city, especially events (again) not covered by the mainstream press.
Like the radical figures of the 19th century, Leeds Other Paper was also subject to the attention of the law. An out-of-court settlement with Manny Cussins in 1983 resulted in an appeal to raise £1500. A threatening letter of the Sue Grabbit and Runne variety from a local journalist was brushed off with a “go on then: sue”. He didn’t! Intrepid LOP reporters also felt the wrath of the law: when covering the Stop the City events in 1984, an LOP reporter was arrested for taking photographs. The court felt it had to give her an Absolute Discharge (a sly way of saying the case should not have been brought but avoiding criticising the police). Not exactly six months in York Castle, but…
Many volunteers have passed through the doors of LOP and LAP some going on to illustrious careers, not necessarily in the media. One of the earliest people to be involved in LOP was John Quayle who wrote The Slow Burning Fuse, a celebrated history of anarchism. One of my contemporaries from the 1980s, Gordon Wilson has recently completed Space for Wonder a guide to trekking the mountain frontier of the Pyrenees. Numerous individuals who helped produce the What’s On Guide also went on to work in mainstream journalism: James Brown to edit the infamous Loaded and Ann Scanlon, who as well as writing The Pogues: The Lost Decade, was Deputy Editor of music paper Sounds. There are many others!
A recent trawl through just one year of LOP (1984) evidenced the wide spread of news and information carried by the paper. This was the year of the Miners’ Strike and LOP’s coverage gives a very different picture of the conflict to that of the main stream media. The reviews and previews in the What’s On Guide give a flavour of a vibrant arts and cultural scene in the city (and some very enjoyable sports writing!).
Often what was written raised hackles and not just amongst the usual suspects in the city. The letters page regularly displayed this. The majority of people involved in producing the newspaper had little or no mainstream political affiliation. This may be why some saw the paper as a threat rather than the very voice it promised to give to ordinary people in issue 1. The generous unstinting, freely given, support the paper received from its contributors and most of all its readers suggested otherwise.
On the 19th of February I hope to give a flavour of the links between the 18th century and 1984 as well as describing how we actually produced LOP and other material at a time when the bridge between hot lead and new technology was crossed.
A full collection of the Leeds Other Paper is available to browse in either bound paper copies or on microfilm at the Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library. Contact us for more details.
[i] Voice of the West Riding, Issue 1, 8th June 1833.
[ii] In 1831 John Hobhouse, the Radical M.P. for Westminster, decided to introduce a bill restricting child labour. Hobhouse proposed that: (a) no child should work in a factory before the age of 9; (b) no one between the ages of 9 and 18 should work for more than twelve hours; (c) no one aged between the ages of 9 and 18 should work for more than 66 hours a week; (d) no one under 18 should be allowed to do night work.
After details of Hobhouse’s Bill was published, workers spontaneously started forming what became known as Short Time Committees in an effort to help promote its passage through Parliament.
John Simkin, ‘Short Time Committees’, 1997 https://spartacus-educational.com/IRshort.htm
[iv] Navickas, op.cit.
[v] Leeds Intelligencer, 25th June 1836, Page 3 col. 3.
[vi] Malcolm Chase, 2009, York Castle and its political prisoners: the Luddites in a broader context, page 11, https://www.huddersfieldhistory.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/Political-prisoners-in-York-Castle-Malcolm-Chase.pdf
[vii] Malcolm Chase ODNB https://doi.org/10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.369115 (access to the ODNB is free for Leeds Library members – use your card number to login or contact us)
[viii] Leeds Other Paper, Issue 1, January 1974.