In Haunt

Radical ideas, creative innovation and the mystery of the missing bones of the eighteenth century political theorist Thomas Paine (1737-1809), brought as far as Salford in 1819 – that is the inspiration behind a brand new project from Salford-based outdoor arts experts Walk the Plank and the Working Class Movement Library (WCML): Begin the World Over Again.

Following on from their collaboration on the Bones of Paine project (covered by Haunt Manchester previously here), and sharing further ideas during the Covid-19 lockdown, Begin The World Over Again involves artists as well as members of the WCML Writing Group exploring the Salford library’s fascinating collection from a contemporary angle with a new podcast series.

Below: The Bones of Paine Procession last year, Working Class Movement Library in the background - by Lynette Cawthra

By Chris Payne

According to Walk the Plank, who many readers may also know through their Halloween in the City feature The Strolling Bones:

“As we set about working out what the new normal looks like, we have an opportunity to use the inspiration of the thinkers and activists of the past. WCML's collection will help us try to make the post-pandemic landscape one that is more equitable, more just and more inclusive….and the chance to share the reflection of contemporary artists through podcasts is one which we relish.”

Made possible through Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Fund, the artists involved are Danielle (Lae) Carbon Wilson, Sarah Llewellyn, Danielle Porter, Dan Steele, Alison Surtees and Alan Williams – as well as Social Media Curator, Siân Roberts. As part of the project, they will work in duos with a group of adults who were involved in the earlier Bones of Paine project, to create exciting new podcasts exploring the varied archives of the WCML and how the ideas within still have resonance today.

After all, the WCML holds a number of historic texts and pamphlets that have shaped thinking on topics such as social justice, reform and championing the voices of under-represented communities. The podcasts will highlight significant aspects of the library’s collection, as well as the thoughts driving those ideas at the time, and how there might be parallels with our present and future. At a time when this historic and much-loved library cannot open as usual due to the pandemic, this is an innovative, alternative way to engage, bringing together the historic with the here-and-now.

Image below: The General Strike taken from the Working Class Movement Library collection

Work is now well underway on the six-podcast suite covering topics of contemporary importance; from what the welfare state should look like in the 21st century to challenging institutionalised racism within the context of Black Lives Matter. The WCML is evidently a web of fascinating connections, full of historic artefacts advancing new ideas. The initial release of podcasts is scheduled for mid-November (see details of the first event on the 19 November here) and will be part of the Being Human Festival. 

So why the Thomas Paine connection? 2019 marked 100 years since the bones of this English-born American political theorist were brought to Salford, dug up from their original New York resting place by campaigning journalist William Cobbett, who was determined to give Paine what he considered more respectful burial. After all, Paine’s forward-thinking ideas – including his revolutionary publications Common Sense, Rights of Man and Age of Reason -  were seen as too radical by the American authorities when he was living there towards the end of his life, and he was buried in a state of disdain. Yet William Cobbett, who saw the important emphasis on personal liberty and challenging hierarchies in Paine’s work, only got the bones as far as Salford in November 1819. Why? On reaching the boundary of the city of Manchester, Cobbett and his strange cargo were refused entry, as the horrors of Peterloo had not long since happened, and the authorities were concerned that bringing Paine’s bones into the city could incentivise further uprising against them.  It was this journey that WCML and Walk the Plank came together to commemorate last year, with their Bones of Paine project, which included a procession from Salford to Manchester – complete with a huge themed puppet – and a varied events programme.

What happened to Paine’s bones after they reached Salford and were turned away from Manchester, still remains a mystery. Various rumours abound of their whereabouts, with reports all over the world. Yet although the actual resting place of the bones is still not fully known, the inspiration of Paine and his ideas live on – perhaps all the more pertinent during these uncertain times. Hence, for 2020, WCML and Walk the Plank are continuing on together from the Bones of Paine with Begin The World Over Again, inspired by a quote from the man himself:

 “We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now.’’

Radical thoughts for radical times? Paine’s ideas could still be seen to have resonance today, with his Rights of Man (1791-2) arguing for reform in 1790s Britain and society. It is perhaps little wonder it became one of the most widely read pamphlets of its kind at the time. In his wider writing he also covered subjects including liberty, welfare, free thought and reason, and wrote against institutionalised religion and monarchy. Hence, he was a controversialist of his day and his ideas encouraged people to think beyond the social structures and hierarchies imposed upon them.

Below: Image of Len Johnson who will also feature in the podcasts - taken from the Working Class Movement Library collection

Image of Len Johnson Taken From The Working Class Movement Library Collection

Free thinking and exploring ideas is key to Begin The World Over Again, according to the Project Co-ordinator, Ben Turner:

 “This brave and ambitious new 2020 project involves artists and members of the Library's writing group working together to explore the radical ideas of the Library's collection within a contemporary context.  We want each of our podcast duos to bring the same revolutionary verve to their exploration of their chosen themes to provoke new polemic thoughts.”

Library Manager at the Working Class Movement Library, Lynette Cawthra, added:

‘’The project presents an opportunity for the Working Class Movement Library to digitise some of its unique collection, and to open the collection up to new audiences through the power of podcasting. Through this project’s digital focus, the radical ideas of the past can invigorate audiences worldwide, not just those who can make the journey to the Library in Salford.’’

For more information visit:

https://walktheplank.co.uk/project/begin-world-artists-podcast-programme/

https://www.wcml.org.uk/BeginThe WorldOverAgain  

By Emily Oldfield 

Image credits

Image 1: by Lynette Cawthra. 

Image 2: Image of The General Strike taken from the Working Class Movement Library collection

Image 3: Image of Len Johnson who will also feature in the podcasts - taken from the Working Class Movement Library collection

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