Star date: 29th September 2018


'Anything that the Council or state evangelically use as propaganda, I question; there was dark magic in there somewhere...'

The Manchester Bee is now everywhere, even on the arms of Salford people. But does everyone know what it represents?

Here, Zoe Naylor writes a personal opinion essay on The People's History of the Manchester Worker Bee which might well surprise a few people...

Full details here...

Manchester Bee'Trail Manchester Bee'Trail Manchester Bee'Trail
Manchester Bee'Trail Manchester Bee'Trail Manchester Bee'Trail
Manchester Bee'Trail
click image to enlarge

'I wince every time I see the bee...'

The iconography of bee has dominated every corner of Manchester since the attack in summer 2017. It was a way of showing solidarity and pride as a dignified collective response to those hurt and traumatized by the violence. We were Manchester and proud.

It was spread so rapidly by both the Council, and the people...Rubbish bins, plant pots, and library doors were adorned with it. People had tattoos; t-shirts and mugs were made. There was a collective connection and everyone branded themselves, their businesses and the streets with the image of the worker bee representing the people in Manchester, the hive.

For ages it disconcerted me, there was a depth bound up in the image that wasn't fully revealed. I didn't know what it was; a binding magic, occulted information and hidden darkness. It was suddenly everywhere, particularly on police uniforms...

Anything that the Council or state evangelically use as propaganda I question; there was dark magic in there somewhere. After numerous times tensing my shoulders and frowning at every echo of this bee, I heard someone mention it's the hive; Manchester represents the hive of the worker bees, the heart of the Industrial Revolution, the factory system...and my heart wrenched.

I got it and knew the reason was in the history. As someone said to me recently 'If it's hysterical, it's historical'. I know now why I wince every time I see the bee. It represents the moment over one hundred years ago that Manchester went from cottage industry to cotton industry, from homes to mills, from handmade skills to mass production. 

So, for the eighth time that day, and same as every day, I felt sickened again by both the structures and iconography of capitalism.  Historically, seven bees were weaved into the crest of the city of arms awarded to Manchester in 1842 as it was recognised as a city; the bees representing the workers and industry.

The Industrial Revolution was not known as the 'industrial revolution' at the time, it was termed unendearingly by everyone as the 'Factory System'. It is in this moment, class, as we now experience it, came to exist. Between 1750 and 1850 there was a final redistribution of land to the gentry, stolen from the people with parliamentary land enclosures.

A third of the population of England were forced to move from the country into city slums, as factories were built for the new cotton industry. People were left with no choice, with the commons being enclosed and taken by the upper classes, but to head into the cities to buy back their food. Of course the arguments to back up both these huge changes in society that serve the elite were in the name of 'civilisation'.

The gentry argued that the land was wasted on the poor, was inefficiently used and "full of shrub and half starved beasts". The stealing of this land was the final shift to industrial agriculture, the monopoly of land, and the destruction of soil via monoculture. Meanwhile in the slums of Manchester the streets were full of offal, mud and faeces.

The Industrial Revolution created the working class and nobody there chose to be a worker bee. The industrial revolution put us at the absolute mercy of our oppressors, as what were land rights, suddenly became workers' rights.

When people lived on the land, fed themselves via the commons and traded with individual skills this was known as cottage industry. The mills replaced this with hundreds or thousands of people working in one mill. The first mill in Manchester was built by Richard Arkwright in 1780, others followed around Ancoats.

Women made up the majority of the workforce, working as weavers, and child labour was characteristic of the time. The working class lived in walking distance of town – Hulme, Ancoats...Salford, and the middle classes moved out to the country, able to afford to use the railways for commuting. Children and young women worked 16 hour days with often only bread and porridge to eat, waking at 5am and walking miles to work and back again. Working in this manner, large families would live in one bedroom houses, still unable to afford to feed themselves, clothe themselves, nor heat their squalid homes.

People unsurprisingly were pretty pissed off about all of this and being forced into the cities. Before the building of mills, Manchester was a market town. In response to the shit conditions people were subjected to for their survival and the further pressure put on jobs by the growth of machinery, came the rising of the Luddites around 1811-1813, with an organised outbreak of factory destruction and machine smashing across Lancashire and Nottingham.

As people became poorer with rising food prices and the creation of the labouring class, people made their feelings known. They demanded back their rights. On March 12th 1812 a crowd of five hundred attempted to set fire to a power loom factory in Stockport. There were disturbances across town with thousands of people involved.  Factory workers were demanding a minimum wage* and mill owners who opposed it were targeted. On the 25th May, 27 men from Stockport were tried by the Chester special commission. Two men were hung for robbing houses; there was no further resistance in Stockport.

People were still mad and simply not having it. They began to take back what was theirs. On the 8th April that year, three days of food riots began to claim back the market town that was once Manchester. It was estimated that around 12,000 people restlessly gathered, and riots began at the potato market in Shudehill.

All the meat put out for sale was seized and taken by the crowd. Large stocks of potatoes were taken and what wasn't taken home was used to pelt the market dealers. The remaining foodstuffs were sold cheaply by the market dealers, because of the demands of the women.

Although people had not managed to achieve minimum wage or to burn down the factories, their collective restlessness and rage played a part in lowering food prices and redressing the economic system that was increasingly outpricing them. It wasn't over. A few days later, on the 20th April, back at the potato market, a woman was stopping potato carts and telling the crowd to take the produce. She unscrewed the side so the potatoes tipped out and she fitted as many as she could in her skirts before running away, as many others followed suit.

It happened again with the butter seller, where one woman demanded a much lower price, the butter seller, who was intimidated by the surrounding crowd, accepted, and found hundreds chasing him until all his butter was taken at a much lower rate.

There were riots like this across the whole of the North West, with many people being arrested and imprisoned. Food riots happened in shops and markets across the board and people took as much as they could carry in whatever they could find. I think of a friend who is writing a book about why looting is always political.

Meanwhile on the outskirts of town, in Middleton, the Luddites were taking violent action. Daniel Burton and Sons' mill, which had just installed power looms, was set on fire by two women known as Clem and Nan, apparently daughters of an old weaver. In Westhoughton, a mill was attacked by a crowd of people who were throwing stones and bricks breaking the windows. Two young women actively broke the windows with implements before the mill was set on fire. Two girls known as Lydia (15 years old) and Molyneux (19 years old) were arrested and charged with maliciously and unlawfully setting fire to the mill but were acquitted.

Hannah Smith was tried at Lancaster on the 29th May 1812, accused of stealing potatoes in Manchester. She was 54 years old, married with eight children. She was found guilty and hung in public on the 13th June at Lancaster Castle together with seven men.

During this time the ruling classes were deeply afraid of revolution. The law of habeas corpus, which states that no one can be imprisoned without proof of crime, was suspended. Any public organising/gathering or unions were halted using The Combination Acts of 1799. Organizing was pushed underground and unlawful imprisonment suddenly became lawful. 12,000 troops were sent to suppress the Luddites, and by 1813 they were defeated via infiltration and public executions, with many in prison and burnt out.

People were increasingly aware of their conditions, watching the corpulent and rich gentry live luxurious lives on the backs of their labour. The people were restless for justice. In 1819 the Peterloo Massacre happened, when 100,000 people gathered on St Peter's Field in Manchester for a series of speeches and discussions on parliamentary reform.

The people, pissed off, and conscious of their oppression were ready to reform a societal structure to serve all, not just the ruling class. They were conscious the majority of decisions made in Parliament had no MP's representing the workers of the industrial north, with only MPs from upper class areas. They were gathering to discuss reform that represented themselves. The cavalry charged them and many people died and were injured. The organised speeches never went ahead. It did lead to the repealing of The Combination Act in 1824.

People mobilised through word of mouth until the radical printing press that began in the 1700s. Large public meetings were held in public spaces the minute mill shifts finished. Information was shared via the distribution of pamphlets and literature and open letters. The working class men and women, along with middle class women, generally could not read. The Government tried to tax the radical press so each pamphlet was sold at cost price for tuppence. Each pamphlet was sent to every radical organisation for distribution. People would gather, and a person who could read would read it out loud to everyone. Throughout history the people who ran printing presses and distributed literature have been persecuted, harassed and imprisoned.

Solidarity to Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowdon, Lauri Love and everyone else imprisoned or on trial for the same essential revolutionary job of information sharing. RIP Aaron Swartz.

So when I see the image of the worker bee representing the people of Manchester and the hive, I consider the Industrial Revolution, I think of the men and women that resisted it. The people who smashed the mills and burned down the factories; the people who looted their food to keep the prices down.

People gathered on the streets, in the squares, held public meetings, distributed literature and went to prison for workers' rights and for reform that represented the people, and for change since the very first cotton mill was built. People dissented in the making of the English working class. I think of those people who said 'No'. I think of the people on current anti-fracking campaigns that can't even access the land and yet know that it belongs to them and that harm is coming to it.

...I think about actual bees, and the Industrial Revolution's continuous destructive impact on the environment. I think of how the bees are now an endangered species. I think of how, when bees swarmed Manchester city centre, the Council called 'pest' control yet continue to adorn the centre with their symbol and develop housing on our remaining land.

I wonder if we should be really using their image as a badge of honour for the time we were forced from the land to the cities and had to slog for our food. I wonder what the bees would think of that. I wonder how we would live with bees and all those "half starved beasts" and "commons full of shrubs" now if we had managed to stay. I think of the fat greedy gentry of Manchester City Council branding our city with bees and taking home massive pay checks for gentrifying the city and out-pricing the working class people of Manchester; those who did all the fucking legwork.

With love and respect to everyone affected by the attack and honouring the tragedy of the violence that happened in 2017, the depth behind the image feels like some fucked up form of symbolic propaganda if we use an image without acknowledging the real history, attaching its story correctly or without permission.

I guess I am asking when the bee image is shared by the people, that people define the narrative and we remember the history of the people. When we use it as a show of solidarity, we do so in both to the history of the people of Manchester, and the bees.

* Maximum wages were set when the statute of labours was passed in 1351. After the bubonic plague there was a shortage of labourers, and workers were able to set their own price. They passed this act to suppress the labour force and keep wages low. The Minimum Wage act was passed in 1998.

Radical women notes by Michael Herbert.
Radical Women course at Working Class Movement Library.
www.threeacresandacow.co.uk  – Performer's kit and show.

Words by Zoe Naylor

Katy Preen wrote
at 21:45:05 on 02 October 2018
I like the article and the retelling of a history that some will not have learned yet, but I reject the idea that the recent revival of the bee symbol obscures its meaning. It is true that many will have passed through the city either not noticing the bees, or seeing them and not knowing why they are there, but there are a great many of us who do know its history, good and bad, and respect it. The recent prominence of the symbol attached a new meaning to it that can quite easily sit with all the other meanings it has - all of this from 1718 to 2018 is a part of Manchester's history. I've seen & heard comments claiming that bee murals and tattoos are inauthentic and tacky, but no-one can tell me where these self-appointed gatekeepers get their authority from. Presumably they can also read the minds of everyone that has taken an interest in the worker bee, and therefore can speak conclusively for all of us. I am writing as someone who had their bee tattoo done six years ago; I have always had a lot of questions about it, and I'm happy to talk about my connection to the city and about the city's history. Recently I've had a few comments about people jumping on bandwagons and getting tattoos for the "wrong" reasons. Well, I don't think it's particularly great that we're judging people based on our own prejudices, and I'm not going to define the "correct" way of commemorating personal or historical events. The reuse of the bee symbol has got people talking, and this article is a useful resource for people wishing to know more. We can all learn and share this city's rich and complicated history, including the bad bits that people like to gloss over. Symbols are powerful, but if we claim unique ownership of them we end up dividing people, which is the last thing this city needs. We can use the bee not as a means of marking our territory, but of welcoming people to Manchester. I chose my bee tattoo because this is the city where I built my life, and I have chosen to write my brief history as an addition to what Manchester has already created before me. This city's history is still being written; it did not end in the 19th Century.
Manc and Proud wrote
at 09:44:02 on 01 October 2018
Absolutely disgusted by this article. As previously, (correctly) stated in others comments, many symbols throughout history have changed to promote the complete opposite of their original meanings. For example, a pink triangle sewn onto clothing by the Nazis during WW2 to ostracize people for being homosexual, now promotes the LGBT movement and gay pride. The Manchester bee has been around for a lot longer than most realise, and yes it did have a completely different meaning originally. However, the article and some comments regarding footballism and socialism are for me, completely missing the point. It was adopted as a way of bringing together the people of Manchester, to show that we are a collective (a hive), and will not bow down to terrorism. This in itself can only be a positive. It evolved again though, to become a symbol for hope and comfort to the families who lost relatives that night. If just one family saw the effect this campaign has had on the people of Manchester, took some comfort from that and it helped even in a tiny way that is what matters. History is amazing, and it should be remembered and taught so it isn't forgotten. However, there is a time and a place. Instead of berating the council, or making this political lets remember that this is the 21st Century and we are tilting at our own present day windmills. 22nd May 2017 will always be in my mind, and the people that lost their lives that night will forever be in my heart. The bee is a positive that has emerged from a negative - long live the bee
Gareth L wrote
at 08:06:05 on 01 October 2018
Two comments, 1) many people moved voluntarily to urban areas because life in the countryside was so hard and unpredictable. 2) the silly comment that most of the workforce was women! Where were the men? In the pub? No working equally horrible jobs in the mines etc.
Arnold Rimmer wrote
at 10:12:01 on 30 September 2018
Symbols get reused over time to mean different things. The swastika was and still is a Hindu symbol for peace and a symbol for good luck until the 1930s. I don't think that's what it is associated with now though. The bee stands for the community coming together and had nothing to do with the past except it's a well known Manchester symbol that's been on every dustbin for years. What other symbol could have been used?
Em3 wrote
at 17:52:20 on 29 September 2018
Really smart + interesting critical history - thanks. I also wonder what will happen to all the plastic they’re made from - assume it will swim around in the sea forever and ever x
Bob the regular wrote
at 17:52:12 on 29 September 2018
A superb piece by Zoe. I hope our learned friends Rossi and Ray have read it. It just shows how the ones in authority use bits of bullshit like the bees to keep us all in line. Another one is footballism. Another load of bullshit.Remember the novochok thing with Russia? Mrs may said the Russians had done it, but she didn't call for our team not to go to the Russian world cup. If she had done ,it would have upset the football industry that most of the population believe in as a new religion.Years ago, we could not send cricket or rugby teams to south africa because black people were not given the vote,not because they were being killed with chemical weapons which is far worse. But when its football, well that's the new opium of the masses.
pete wrote
at 17:52:02 on 29 September 2018
Of course we have been had. Like Zoe says, all the working class people in the countryside were driven into the towns to work like slaves.The rise in the need for factory workers happened as they needed less to work on farms. When corn and hay was cut with a sythe you needed many men to do it and they lived in cottages, which I presume were knocked down when not needed anymore. Sadly though, our rulers will not let our working class return to the countryside where they could grow their own food. In the eyes of our "environmentalists" and greens etc this would spoil the countryside which needs to be preserved. The torys do not want poor people in shires,or Worsley, and Labour do not want them in shires, or Worsley, Labour would rather have them homeless, to help keep socialism going. They have all got it wrong. Labour have failed the working class. What happened to them in Scotland should happen here, but it won't, you are not allowed English nationalists because that is racist. What a load of tripe.
Alice wrote
at 17:51:48 on 29 September 2018
I appreciate Zoe's reminder if our dreadful social history, during the Victorian industrialisation of this area. History is so important in reminding us of what happened and how we fought to improve our lives. Manchester and the regions are rich with examples of working class struggles and demands for justice. However, let's not blame the bee. This remarkable creature is responsible for pollinating our crops, our fruit trees and our flowers. In doing so it ensures the survival of society. I am an honey eater. I love it every day in my porridge and feel good knowing my health benefits. My son and partner are bee keepers and I help with the harvesting of the honey. When I do this I don't think about my social history, although I value this. I enjoyed seeing children collecting the bee models around Manchester and know they learnt the value of bees as a result. I hope they learn the history of their country too but let's not confuse the two by cynically decrying this artistic project.
Polyp wrote
at 17:51:33 on 29 September 2018
Interesting. But people ARE allowed to co-opt the meaning of a negative symbol, and turn it into something positive (ie a unified collective 'hive' resistence to attacks on civilians) without being castigated for somehow inadvertantly endorsing the old meaning. I've seen nothing but really positive public reactions to a great piece of popular street art. (One I, btw, don't like, but sod me.) Language and symbols are fluid and evolve. Plus the hive / bee was a positive symbol used by the co-operative movement which emerged from the Manchester region... as was, briefly, a rainbow flag.
Just a thought wrote
at 17:50:39 on 29 September 2018
Whilst I agree with the solidarity thing, one humbly suggests the correspondent checks out the civic coat of arms for the city. I think they’ll find the bee present there. And as I recall from a previous correspondent the royal charter was invoked on the city well before its neighbour
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