Red Flag Walks takes in city’s radical history

Article published: Wednesday, April 24th 2013

The battle of Bexley Square, Flat Iron market and Salford’s first birth control clinic are some of the scenes of working class and socialist history explored in the latest Red Flag Walk.

Bexley Square

Bexley Square

Guided by local historian and Working Class Movement Library trustee Michael Herbert, the tour on Sunday 28 April will journey through two centuries of radical Salford.

It includes the site of the city’s first birth control clinic inspired by the feminist scientist Marie Stopes, the life of Salford’s first MP, the anti-slavery radical and pacifist Joseph Brotherton, and the Bexley Square disturbances in October 1931.

The infamous “riot” saw 10,000 unemployed workers demonstrate against cuts, unemployment and the “test schemes, ‘educational’ classes and training centres” imposed by the Tory-led national government.

Upon reaching the square the demonstration was set upon by mounted and plains clothes police, with eye witness Walter Greenwood describing “the spectacle of helmets rolling in the roadway, truncheons descending on heads with resounding thuds, men going down and being dragged off unceremoniously to the cells ….with a rush, as though in obedience to a command a new force of police, truncheons drawn, charged the crowd.”

The walk also recalls the general strike of 1842, which spread from Stalybridge across Lancashire, and brings to life memories of Salford’s Flat Iron market. The popular flea market was described by Manchester Guardian journalist Jack Yeats, brother of the poet W.B. Yeats, as “the hunting-park of the bargain hunters who want, or think they want, or imagine that they may some day want” anything from a rusty cavalry sword to pink ice cream or a policeman’s helmet, all “for a penny”.

Declaring he would do all his shopping at the market if he could, Yeats wrote “And when you stop to buy you plunge immediately into the old primeval realities of commerce. Here you do not stand sourly while a pale-faced short-tempered shopman whirls your purchase into a dexterously twisted screw of pale brown paper and sends your money trundling in a globe along naked wires.”

Yeats added, “No; here before you make a purchase you can slap and thump a thing, and abuse and sneer at it, and the man behind the stall will slap and thump it too, and praise it; and at last you’ll get the price down to near to what he will take and you will give.

“Then perhaps some old split-the-differ of the market rolls up and makes a bargain between you. Oh, you can enjoy buying in the Flat Iron market.”

The walk begins at 10.45am, next Sunday 28 April at the Black Lion Pub on Chapel Street. Tickets are £5/£6 with advance booking strongly advised.

For more information and bookings contact

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