Papers relating to the case of Beresford Edwards -v- Society of Graphical and Allied Trades

Scope and Content

In 1967 Beresford Edwards challenged the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) union decision to dismiss him and won the case. While working at a printing firm in 1967, Edwards was a temporary member of SOGAT. The Union had a system whereby the employers deduct the employee's Union contribution from his pay, but despite his written instruction, this was not done in Edwards' case and he fell into arrears with his subscriptions for six weeks. According to the rule of the union, any temporary member in arrears automatically lost his/her membership. Consequently he lost his union card and since it was a 'closed shop' he automatically lost his job. Edwards decided to take the Union to court and claim for damages and won. The case went to the High Court in London, where Lord Denning denounced SOGAT, ordering £7,971 compensation to be paid to Edwards. Lord Denning in concluding his ruling said: "No trade union can give itself by its rule an unfettered discretion to expel a man or withdraw his membership; A man's right to work is now fully recognized by the law". Lord Denning (Alfred Denning, 1899 – 1999) was "Master of the Rolls, who headed the civil side of the Court of Appeal for 20 years was the most influential post in administering English law. Edward's case marked the first major blow to Trade Union closed shop operations in the England, some twenty two years after the United States ended this practice in 1947. All forms of closed shop practices in the UK ended in the UK with the introduction of the Employment Act 1990. This archive is a collection of the legal papers, correspondence, newspaper clippings and related documents relating to the case.

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Administrative / Biographical History

Beresford Edwards, who has died in his native Guyana aged 72, was a man of huge and always optimistic importance to Britain's African-Caribbean community, especially in Manchester, which became his home. Known variously as Baba Berry, Chief Nana Bonsu (the honorary title conferred on him by African Mancunians) or Courthouse Edwards, because of his inveterate backing for young black men caught up in harassment or street violence, he was an inspirational role model in hard times. He won national attention within a decade of moving to Britain in 1961, when he found work as a printer in Manchester and became a shop steward for the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades. In an episode tainted with racism, he was expelled from the union in 1969 for alleged non-payment of dues, consequently losing his job in a closed shop. The case went to the high court in London, where Lord Denning denounced SOGAT, ordered £7,971 compensation and concluded his judgment with the dictum: "A man's right to work is now fully recognised by the law." Edwards changed course after the case and became a youth worker, a career where the self-confidence instilled by his legal battle added to his existing skills in friendly dealings with the young. He had a cupboard-full of medals from his own teenage days, when he represented Guyana in the discus and shot-put in inter-Caribbean competitions. He was born in Guyana and educated in Georgetown, where he was a chorister at St George's cathedral. Like many of their compatriots, he and his wife Elouise wanted to see more of the world, and they settled in Manchester's Moss Side where a thriving African-Caribbean community had developed by the early 1960s. Berry became chairman of the Guyanese Association and then warden of the West Indian Community Centre in Longsight, the focus of countless campaigns and cultural events. Keen to learn all his life, he took a Manchester Polytechnic certificate in youth and community work and strongly encouraged others to study. His intellectual mentors were Bernard Coard, Ron Phillips and Marcus Garvey, whom he had met as a child in Guyana and who inspired his belief in the importance of African-Caribbean cultural identity. Berry's community work had a permanently campaigning element; he was secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, which played an important part in achieving the 1976 Race Relations Act, and also founded the Manchester branch of the Pan-African Congress Movement. The practical side of these initiatives particularly appealed to him, and he set up a bookshop specialising in African-Caribbean history and culture. He also organised the country's first Saturday schools, designed to give black children pride in their background. Culture Week, the forerunner to the current Black History Month, owed much to him and he also worked with local colleges to set up courses in motor vehicle engineering and TV and radio repairs. These initiatives earned him respect, and not just from the African-Caribbean young. When he turned up day after day in his role as Courthouse Edwards, the magistrates and employment tribunals knew that they were dealing with a practical, down-to-earth man rather than a blusterer or demagogue. Berry enjoyed lecturing on the lessons he had learned from his work in Manchester. He spoke to enthusiastic audiences in Egypt, Israel, Burkina Faso, Ghana and throughout the Americas. His one unrealised dream was to create a full-blown community school for African Caribbeans in Manchester as a prototype for similar initiatives across the country. Edwards set another example to the young by working hand-in-hand with Elouise, who was awarded the MBE and an honorary MA from Manchester University for her work in the city's African-Caribbean community. He leaves her and their four sons, 13 grandchildren and a great grandchild. · Beresford Edwards, youth and community worker, born June 25 1930; died March 15 2003


The collection is organised into the following series:

  • 1. Court documents dated 1968
  • 2. Court documents dated 1969
  • 3. Court documents dated 1970
  • 4. Court documents bundle
  • 5. Submitted court forms and legal aid certificates
  • 6. Draft Affidavits
  • 7. Solicitor's correspondence
  • 8. B.G.Lithographic Co.,LTD. correspondence
  • 9. Boxmakers (Manchester) Limited correspondence
  • 10. Trade Union Congress correspondence
  • 11. Bowater-Stevenson Containers Limited correspondence
  • 12. Department of Employment and Productivity correspondence and photocopies of newspaper clippings
  • 13. Correspondence from the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper Workers and S.O.G.A.T
  • 14. Original documents, photographs and letters
  • 15. Scrapbook

Access Information

24 hours notice is required to view this collection. Material will then be accessible through Manchester Central Library Search Room, Manchester Central Library, St Peters Square, Manchester, M2 5PD. To access this collection please: Contact the archive

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Related Material

Nana Bonsu Oral History Project

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