Libraries Ethnic minorities in our city

'Strangers in our midst’ 1958

August 1958 was a famously bad month for race relations in Britain. The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre searched the Manchester Evening News and Manchester Evening Chronicle on microfilm at Central Library. Although the search has revealed no rioting in Manchester, race was in the news:

  • occasional references to the colour bar in housing (Manchester Evening Chronicle, 29.8.58)
  • a report on the need for protection for Jamaican female immigrants (Manchester Evening Chronicle, 19.8.58)
  • a report on the efforts of a Nigerian resident to open a "club for coloured (sic) people" (Manchester Evening News, 24.6.58)

In addition there is a series of five reports, printed consecutively in the Manchester Evening Chronicle in June 1958 by Reporter Barry Cockcroft about the growing population of immigrants in the city. The Chronicle runs Cockcroft's investigations under the title 'Strangers in Our Midst'.

'Strangers in our midst' is generally sympathetic in tone. Cockcroft tells us that he spent weeks seeking out and talking to strangers from twenty different countries. He wanted to know: "How (then) are the thousands who adopted the title of Mancunian, either permanently or temporarily, making out? What are their problems? How do they find our people and - let's admit it - our rather peculiar ways and customs. Outwardly, most of them seem content. But are they?". The reports are:

"A dream ends in squalor" (Monday 2 June 1958 p.2) begins the series in Moss Side. Cockcroft says the West Indian and West African group numbers in the region of 10,000. Many of these live in Moss Side and "of all the foreigners in Manchester....this section of coloured (sic) people is the most maligned". Circumstances drove them to found a community in Moss Side:

"Moss Side, now synonymous with vice to most people in this area. And the coloured (sic) people have now been placed by the same people in a triple link up. Moss Side ...vice...blacks. One thing is forgotten. Vice was raising quite a stench in this jaded relic of a once-respectable Victorian suburb long before a calypso ever rang out among the flaking walls....Those who are trying to carve out an honest living bear with patient resignation the slur stamped unmercifully on their kind in general."

Cockroft reports on a conversation with 38 year old Jamaican, Rudolf A Clemetson. "Rudolf has the same job he held in his own country - bus conducting - and after three years over here, still lives in a house occupied by three other families in Lloyd Street. His wife doesn't like this country."

But, says Cockcroft, Rudolf is one of the lucky ones, and the report moves on to the issue of employment: "I was to meet several who had lost their jobs for a variety of official reasons but only one in reality....Of the 9000 unemployed in the Greater Manchester area, over 5000 are registered at the office which embraces Moss Side. Because, you see, the colour of your skin does count when you ask for a job."

Oko Johnson, 26, from Ghana and living in Greenheys Lane, told Cockcroft that he would like to go back home but couldn't raise the £82 fare. Formerly a railway fireman, Oko told Cockcroft: "Before you can speak sometimes, the boss shouts 'No, No' and waves you away."

Other individuals named in the report are:

  • Merchant seaman, Arthur Jobs of Stockton Street, Moss Side
  • Alfred Gaisie, 'leader of the Ghanaians in this city'.

And those present at an evening prayer meeting at the St Gerard Overseas Centre in Denmark Rd, Moss Side:

  • Emanuel Doregos of Cecil Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock
  • Sylvia Kamerling of St.Bees Street, Moss Side
  • Tensel Philmoore of Hamilton Road, Longsight
  • Halima Mohamed of Haydn Avenue, Moss Side.

"Manchester can be so unfriendly" (Tuesday 3 June pp.8-9) begins with the story of the suicide of Ghanaian student, Patrick Halm, in the river Mersey. A son of the head of the biggest shipping line in Ghana, 25 year old Patrick was a student at the Manchester College of Technology. His last message was "The reason I am doing this is because I am shy". Cockcroft uses this to begin his report on the experiences of foreign students in the city and to assess legendary Northern friendliness. He spoke to Bob Gilbert, a 20 year old American; Hamid Ghalib, an electrical engineering student from Iraq; Ahmed Munshi, a 22 year old Indian-born South African; Kam-Cheong Fok from Hong Kong, studying general science at Salford Technical College and Chong-Loh Tsiang. Most of these students gave Cockcroft the impression that they were enjoying life in Manchester even though they said, "It was difficult to get to know them for a long time".

Cockcroft describes the refuge provided for foreign students in the International Club in George Street, founded for the express purpose of promoting friendship between races and describes seeing there "a pretty blonde girl holding hands with a Chinese student - a sight calculated to draw disapproving glances in the street outside".

"The Proud and tragic Poles" (Wednesday 4 June p.7) focuses on Eastern European migrants to the city, the biggest group being those from Poland who, Cockcroft states, "number up to six thousand among the North-West cotton towns. And together with other emigres from Eastern Europe...have won themselves a reputation for being outstandingly good workers."

The report highlights the varying experiences of these immigrants. There are those like Henryk Mickiewicz, a 46 year old ex-paratrooper who came to England in 1940. An unmarried construction worker, he was then living in Old Trafford but had spent time travelling wherever he could find work. His view of life in Britain was a sad one:

"How do you expect a Pole to make friends? We can't escape from the English distrust of foreigners. To many I am just a 'bloody Pole'. It was different just after the war...much easier to make friends."

45 year old Czech émigré Francis Rosenberg, of Elizabeth Street, Cheetham, was another who had "failed to find a wife" but was still hoping!

A different kind of story was told by 31 year old Mrs Loura Pruski, who was living in Barratt Street, Old Trafford. She had been removed from her home town of Lodz to do forced labour in Germany at the age of 14. Two years later she was moved to Belsen, and was in hospital with double pneumonia, gangrene and dysentery at Liberation. She married a Polish paratrooper after Liberation, but he was killed. Then she married another Pole and settled in Manchester.

Andrzej Brzeczek took part in the Warsaw uprising when he was 15 years old. Prison, two escapes and some years later he came to England. "Now he lives with his wife and child and his bitter memories in Upper Chorlton Road, Stretford."

Finally, Cockcroft describes visiting the Polish Ex-Servicemen's Club in Shrewsbury Street, Old Trafford. He meets Jan Kurowsik, the 37 year old steward of the club, who lived with his wife Stephanie and their two children and "find life in Manchester agreeable".

"A trap for teenagers" (Thursday 6 June p.6) is the fourth report in the series and focuses on the domestic drudgery imposed on young women from the Continent who come to this country "so that they may arm themselves with fluent English". Cockcroft describes most of them as well-educated daughters of middle-class families. Taken on by high-income English families, they are soon 'crippled' by their duties and desperately seeking work in Manchester hospitals!

"They fight jealousy over jobs" (Friday 6 June p.10). is the concluding report in the series. He begins by noting a conversation with Abdul Motim, the 30 year old Muslim proprietor of the Oriental Restaurant. Motim told Cockcroft that there were around 500 Muslims and 600 Hindus in Manchester and explained how inter-group relations were managed: "We have different societies and meeting places of course, but if we hold a social affair the Hindus will come and join us - but only if we invite them officially. If we do not, they will stay away. The same situation operates if the situation is reversed."

Abdul Motim seems to be a key source of information for Cockcroft's report. He told Cockcroft that there were eight restaurants under Pakistani proprietorship, and another one run by a Hindu. This was the Koh-i-Noor in Oxford Street.

Abu Sufrian was a waiter in the Oriental. He had been in Manchester for 8 months, having also stayed in Birmingham and Sheffield. He had been a tailor back home in Pakistan but, we are told, preferred "serving up the red-hot curries to sewing. Employment is secure here and he is content".

Cockcroft also met Madame Ah-Sing Manyou. Having arrived 20 years earlier from Hong Kong, Madame Manyou was the owner of the Lotus Chinese restaurant in Oxford Street. She also owned another restaurant and lived in Timperley in Cheshire.

Cockcroft was served in the Lotus by another migrant from Hong Kong, known only as K.Jim. He was 31 years old and a father of three. He had been saving for eight months for the £300 needed to bring his wife and family to the UK.

After this, Cockcroft's report turns to employment. He meets a mechanical engineering student from Shanghai, called Shih Chia Mo. This is Cockcroft's report of the conversation:

"He is having trouble with his practical studies because of the long-standing and quite justified bitterness felt by Lancashire cotton men about cheaply produced Asian cloth. When he turns up at a cotton mill and asks to be shown the works they don't exactly make Shih, who lives in Wilmslow Road, Withington, feel very welcome.

Later Cockcroft finds:

"Another Indian who finds skilled workers very jealous of their trade secrets here is A.K.Chatterjee, a 27-year old electrical engineer, who lives in Ambleside Road, Flixton. This suspicion was almost exclusively found on the shop floor, however. Higher up the scale in the managerial level he had no difficulty. Nevertheless, Mr.Chatterjee has decided to try settling here. It takes more than a bit of niggling hostility to deter him."

The same icy reaction has been met by textile student Nakur Gabrewala, from Pakistan, another fierce competitor to our cotton trade. "But you can't really blame them", he said."

Later Cockcroft finds:

"Another Indian who finds skilled workers very jealous of their trade secrets here is A.K.Chatterjee, a 27-year old electrical engineer, who lives in Ambleside Road, Flixton. This suspicion was almost exclusively found on the shop floor, however. Higher up the scale in the managerial level he had no difficulty. Nevertheless, Mr.Chatterjee has decided to try settling here. It takes more than a bit of niggling hostility to deter him."

The above is based on an article by Jackie Ould of the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre . See 'Strangers in our midst': reporting on immigrant experiences by Jackie Ould (Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Archive, 2003).

Was this page helpful?

Was this page helpful?

Fields marked * cannot be left blank

Feedback submitted to us on this form is monitored but you won’t receive a reply. In an emergency, visit our emergency contact details page. Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.