Ellen Cicely Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson was the eldest of 9 children whose Irish parents were described as hard drinkers.  Richard assumed responsibility for the welfare of his siblings and it is suggested that his early experiences led him to become a strict teetotaller and a Methodist.  Richard became a cotton operative and married Ellen Wood who was also a Methodist.  The couple lived at 41 Coral Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock an area described as "a grimy district...each house, two up two down, had a little back yard and a privy."  The Wilkinsons, it was said, "managed nicely, appreciated what hunger was, but never went without a meal."

Richard and Ellen had four children.  Anne born in 1881, Richard born in 1883, Ellen Cicely in 1891 and Harold in 1899.  The photograph below is displayed here with the generous permission of Peter Harden and it shows baby Ellen with her mother on the left and her grandparents.

Young Ellen started school at the age of six.  She described it as "a filthy elementary school with the five classes in one room".  It isn't known which school it was but the two schools in the vicnity were St Paul's and St Luke's Elementary schools.

The photograph below, also shown with the permission of Peter Harden, shows the young Ellen with her mother and her brothers Richard and Harold.  Clearly evident is the firery red hair that became her trade-mark. She inherited it from her maternal grandmother who had red hair long enough that she could sit on it.  Ellen had ambitions to grow hers long too but eventually tired of it and had it cut short.  Soon after starting school Ellen became ill and, by her own account, would have died had it not been for, "a devoted and intelligent mother".  She didn't return to school until she was 8 and was taught at home.  There is a suggestion that this illness was a causal factor in Ellen's diminuative stature.  She was a large baby but only grew to be 4 foot 10 inches as an adult.

In 1902 Ellen entered the Ardwick Higher Grade School which later became Ardwick Central School and then Ardwick Technical School.  She can be see third from the left on the back row in this photograph of the Girls' Form taken sometime between 1902 and 1906.  The long red hair is still in evidence.

In 1906 Ellen won a £25 pupil teaching bursary which enabled her to attend the Manchester Day Training College on Princess Street in central Manchester.  She attended College for half of the week and in the other half taught at Oswald Road Elementary School.

In 1910 Ellen became a student at Manchester University where she developed her interest in socialism and politics.  In 1912 she joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies later becoming a district organizer. She also ran the local branch of the Fabian Society.

At the age of 24 she was the women's organiser of the Co-operative Employees, eventually gaining pre-eminence within NUDAW - a shopworkers' union. After being active in the women's sufferage movement she was elected as Labour member of Middlesbrough East in 1924. Identified with the far left, in fact Wilkinson was involved with various forms of labour movement activism. She was a tough character and resilient to jibes as both an orator and hardened union negotiator. She lost her seat in 1931. In 1935 she was elected MP for Jarrow, a seat she held until her death in 1947. In 1936 she was one of the leaders of the Jarrow March.  She is seen in the image below (far right) during a visit to Manchester in 1946

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