Benny Rothman collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Personal papers and family photographs of Benny Rothman.

Papers and correspondence relating to Benny's employment and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Broadheath Shop Stewards and Altrincham and Sale Trades Council

Papers relating to Benny Rothman's political campaigning and work, support and donations for various groups. Also Benny's support for the Miners Strike, 1984-1985.

Papers relating to Benny Rothman and the Kinder Scout mass trespass including court proceedings, committee minutes, talks and books, anniversary committee minutes papers and publicity during the anniversary.

Papers relating to the Ramblers' Association, access to land and the countryside, the Countryside Commission, environmental issues, water privatisation and other societies and groups. Also environmental and rambling issues in Greater Manchetser, the Peaks and the Pennines and Rivington Pike.

Correspondence between Benny Rothman and key rambling figures and reviews of books.

Administrative / Biographical History

Benny Rothman was born on 1st June 1911 in Cheetham, Manchester. He won a scholarship to Manchester Central High School for boys but left just as he was about to take his matriculation exam, a job in the motor trade at Tom Garner's was found for him. He had no option, the family was poor, his father had died when he was 12 and he had to help support his widowed mother and family.

For his first two years at Tom Garner's Benny was an errand boy. Later he started a YMCA course in geography and economics. In 1929 he was invited by a colleague, Bill Dunn, to a local Young Communist League (YCL) meeting. Bill also took Benny to the Sunday night forums at the Clarion Club in Market Street, Manchester to listen to the speakers there. In late 1929 he was arrested for chalking on the Piccadilly pavement "Look out for the Daily Worker - out January 1st 1930". Despite the protest of Frank Bright, then organiser of the Manchester Communist Party, Benny was taken to court and fined. His position at Garners was prejudiced when the Press reported the case and even more so when Benny started selling 50-60 copies of the paper daily. This dwindled after a short while but he still sold a few in the garage. His employers were not pleased and when Garners merged with Rootes, rationalisation followed and Benny was made redundant.

During this time Benny acquired a bike. He began to discover the countryside and very quickly developed a lifelong passion for the outdoors. Armed with a 6d Woolworth's map he spent his 16th birthday climbing alone to the summit of Snowdon. He became a keen rambler and cyclist. On joining the Clarion Cycling Club he immediately became the minutes secretary.

In 1931 Benny helped to establish a group of the British Workers Sports Federation and soon became its secretary for the North. He organised rambles and camping and cycling weekends in the Peak District After the Easter 1932 camp at Rowarth the idea of the Mass Trespass took hold and was realised a month later. Blacklisted after serving his sentence in Leicester jail Benny went at the Young Communist League's suggestion to North East Lancashire to try and build a branch there. He returned to Manchester after six months, still unemployed. Then he worked for a year (1933/4) at a local garage but left to get a job at AVRO's aircraft factory in Newton Heath where he thought he could do far more industrial and political work.

Immediately he joined the Amalgamated Engineering Union's Manchester 2nd branch and became its minutes secretary. He was soon elected to be its delegate on the Manchester and Salford Trades Council. His political activity soon exposed his communist beliefs and before long he was unemployed again.

The political atmosphere in Cheetham with its large Jewish population was strongly anti-fascist and charged with the drive for peace. At this time Benny was active in the Youth Front against war and fascism, which later merged with Cheetham YCL. He involved himself ever more in the YCL and became secretary of the Cheetham branch. He helped to build up the Challenge Club which while political also had social activities such as rambles, cycle runs, gymnastics, Sunday night dances etc. At a British Union of Fascists (BUF) meeting opposite Crumpsall Library, Benny was again arrested and bound over for 12 months to 'keep the peace'. In 1933 he intervened when Evelyn Taylor (later Jack Jones' wife) was physically attacked by BUF stewards as she was heckling Oswald Mosley in the King's Hall at Belle Vue. He threw out some anti-Mosley leaflets but then was thrown bodily over the balcony but luckily his fall was broken by a blackshirt below.

Not long before he left AVRO's Benny married Lily Crabtree, who came from a communist family in Rochdale. They lived briefly in Failsworth then settled in Timperley in 1936 so that Benny could be nearer his new job as a fitter at Metro-Vicks in Trafford Park. Soon he began selling the 'Daily Worker' in the factory, though not openly. He collected contributions regularly in support of Aid to Spain. At a big meeting in the Free Trade Hall he volunteered to be an ambulance driver but was not accepted, largely because he was an inexperienced driver.

Metro-Vicks was a conglomeration of factories, then employing some 22,000 workers, the biggest industrial complex in Europe. Just prior to World War II breaking out Benny, after two years as shop steward in his department, became the delegate to the Works Committee for the 800 to 900 workers in the West Works switchgear and about another thousand on radar work in West Works 5. In 1942 he helped set up the Timperley branch of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) and served 11 years as one of its officials. He became later the senior AEU Works Committee delegate.

A dispute arose in November 1951 when a welder was told to do a fitter's job. Benny called a meeting - with management permission. The men struck for an hour and the proposal was dropped. The management seized on Benny's taking part in the hour's stoppage as an excuse to sack him. Nearly 3,000 men struck immediately to protest at this blatant victimisation. The AEU Manchester District Committee supported the men. They remained out for eight days. The Strike Committee printed leaflets and a small paper called Unity in defence of the right to strike and lobbied the AEU EC to recognise the strike. This was refused, although they allowed dispute benefits. The Strike Committee then became the Re-instatement Committee and in March 1952 the 75 AEU Metrovick shop stewards confirmed their view that Benny had been victimised. The management conceded that an application for re-employment by Benny could be considered 'after a reasonable time'. Reasonable was never defined. Benny started work at Staveley Machine Tools of Broadheath. He had won his point at Metro-Vicks but wouldn't go back.

He then spent time as chairman both of the shop stewards' committee and convenor at the Kearns-Richards factory (of Staveley Tools) and the Broadheath shop stewards' forum. He was also, at different times, secretary and president of Altrincham Trades Council, on its executive and later on that of Trafford Trades Council, and a delegate to the Lancashire and Cheshire Federation of Trades Councils.

He was involved in many campaigns for wage and cost of living awards, against redundancies and closures, against the Industrial Relations, Criminal Justice and Public Order bills, and later on pensioners' issues. He organised strong groups in Trafford in support of the Grunwick strikers and later of the miners. Letters from Benny were frequently in the Altrincham Guardian'and other local papers and he wrote a weekly column for the Timperley Independent. He edited the monthly newsletter of Altrincham CP and was the Communist candidate in municipal elections for Dunham Ward. Benny advised the CPGB Congress, where he was a delegate, on its resolution on 'Access to the Countryside'. He advised also on the CP's Pensioner Advisory Committee.

After the collapse of the CPGB he was involved in the Communist Campaign Group's work which led to the establishment of the CPB. In 1982 Benny formed the Kinder Scout Advisory Committee and in 1989 the Rivington Pledge Committee and was secretary of both. He led the campaign against the privatisation of water authority land, and took part in Public Enquiries on Ashton Moss, Kingswater Park and Davenport Green. He supported the efforts of Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Worldwide Fund for Nature etc. to protect the environment and also fought against the motorway spoliation of the countryside as at Twyford Down. Ever vigilant on rights of way he also encouraged urban access in his 'Aspects of Altrincham' articles. Prominent in the fight against the military use of Holcombe Moor and other areas of open land and in the CND national action at Coulport on Loch Long, he was also active in Altrincham CND and TU CND, and became a delegate to the CND annual conference. He gave slide shows to peace groups to show the true picture of the Soviet view of disarmament. He was a member of the National Insurance Tribunal, the Family Practitioner Committee of Trafford Health Authority and the Pensioners' Liaison Forum.

Yet however busy he was he still made time to tend his allotment and supply tomatoes and other produce to the annual Daily Worker/Morning Star bazaars.. In 1990 the AEU gave Benny its highest award, the Special Award of Merit. In 1996 the Ramblers' Association executive made him an honorary life member.

Benny Rothman died at 1.30pm on 23rd January 2002, aged 90, after a massive stroke.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation.

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Other Finding Aids

The full catalogue is available online on the Working Class Movement Library's Web Site - www.wcml.org.uk

[N.B. to access descriptions of individual files and items, click on the magnifying glass by 'context contains' at the bottom of the catalogue page.]

Archivist's Note

These records were organised and listed by Bernard Barry. Amended and catalogued by Kate Hart, 2009, as part of the 'The past meets the present', HLF project. Description compiled by Kate Hart, Jan 2010.