Twentieth Century History:The Challenge for future Chorley Historians
by John Harrison

I bought the leaflet below from a second hand bookshop in Chorley a few years ago. When re-reading it recently I was reminded that I have no clear understanding of where it sits in the town’s historical context. The leaflet, entitled Rules of the Chorley and District Textile Trades Federation, was published in 1926, the year of the General Strike, the most important industrial dispute that this country has ever experienced. Coming as it did, so soon after the Russian Revolution, there was a real fear of violent insurrection in Great Britain. Whether these rules were published before or after the strike I am unable to judge. A Key section outlines the conduct of disputes; the total abolition of the “slate and board system” is demanded and the “closed shop” is to be enforced.

When I looked to see what has been written about the General Strike in Chorley, I found little beyond a chapter on “Industrial Unrest and the Decline of Cotton” in George Birtill’s 1976 booklet “The Changing Years: Chorley and District between two wars (1919-1939). It is a very useful chapter to read, but Birtill’s coverage of the General Strike is not extensive. In many respects our town’s written history stops at 1918 and the end of the First World War. The difficulty, of course, is that twentieth sources are far more diverse, and this makes research in many ways more difficult than that of the Victorian period or the First World War.

The challenge is therefore to have the history of twentieth century Chorley written for future generations to learn about it and see how developments in Chorley stood in relation to the national context. How is it to be done? Possibly the same way that I was told to eat an elephant “A bite at a time”! Who is it to be done by? Ourselves as historians? Certainly! But should we not also engage schools and young people in putting together the history of their town in the twentieth century?