Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Ellen Strange Commemoration Walk 2018

The annual Ellen Strange memorial event that Unite in the NW has promoted with domestic violence campaigners is not your usual trade union occasion. 

It involves a fair old Sunday morning hike up to a pile of stones on a remote moor outside Ramsbottom, Lancashire. The weather has not always been kind. A monsoon in November 2015 was in stark contrast to this July, when, with parts of Lancashire moorland afire, it was blazing hot for the 4-5 mile trek. 

The desire of walkers though to highlight the ongoing need to organise against a crime that effects all parts of society failed to dampen people’s enthusiasm to assemble at what is recognised as the oldest domestic violence commemoration site in the world.

Ellen Strange was murdered by her husband, John Broadley, on Holcombe Moor on 26 January 1761. When Ellen’s strangled and badly disfigured body was discovered her husband was arrested and indicted for her murder. At his trial a number of witnesses were called but as it was not the practice to write down such evidence we don’t know what they said. What we can be sure of is that their evidence was insufficient to convict Broadley. Forensic evidence had not yet been identified and the charged man pleaded not guilty. Almost certainly there were no eye witnesses to the attack.

Afterwards Ellen’s family and/or local people raised a pile of stones in her memory. This was called “Ellen Strange” on the first Ordnance Survey map in 1844-47. However, over time the true story became clouded in mystery until, in 1989, local author John Simpson published the results of his exhaustive research into events on the desolate moor over 200 years earlier.

The Unite Education Rebel Road project catalogues trade union and labour movement heroes who are publicly commemorated in the form of a plaque. When Bolton Trades Union Council were informed about the Ellen Strange story they obtained the backing of the Unite NW regional committee. £2000 was raised to republish Simpson’s book.

In 2015 an annual event was started at the cairn. This year saw speeches by  Unite’s Martin McMulkin and Carole Marsden of the Endeavour Project in Bolton, which supports women and children experiencing domestic violence. (DV) 

Each walker, which included DV survivors, laid a stone and read out the case studies of two people killed because of domestic violence. It was a tearful occasion listening to McMulkin read out names of all the DV murder victims, all killed by men, up to June 9 this year. Sixty female and one male is a shocking statistic. 38% of all violent crime is DV related. A wreath was laid. 

This was followed by a blessing by Mike Burton, reader at Emanuel Church, Holcombe, where free and much needed refreshments were available on the walk’s return. Everyone felt it had been a worthwhile morning. 

“All credit to everyone on this blistering day and especially the DV survivors who have told me they’ve drawn added strength from this occasion. We must celebrate their fortitude whilst also remembering those who have lost their lives. It is also great that a local film maker has recorded events today,” said McMulkin, who also praised those local Unite branches who have independently organised walks to the cairn in the last year. 

Francesca Platt is a Unite member at the Bolton based Videobox, a community interest company that specialises in Film making and Digital Arts. “I will edit down the footage from today for a short video so people can see what happens. I hope it will encourage people to spread the message and increase the attendance next year.”  Trade union branches considering using film to highlight their work and activities can contact Videobox if they are interested. The costs are competitive.

The video, which is excellent, can be viewed at:-

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