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The famous historian AJP Taylor’s Communist Preston upbringing

Posted on - 24th July, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, History, Nostalgia, Politics, Preston News
AJP Taylor in 1976: Pic BBC
AJP Taylor in 1976: Pic BBC

The renowned historian and TV presenter AJP Taylor was brought up in Preston, by his ardently socialist parents. Paradoxically his father was partner in Bute Mill, once of Essex Street, and was very wealthy. 

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Born in 1906 and dying in 1990, Taylor became a TV personality with several popular history documentaries to his name. The last documentary was¬†How Wars End¬†in 1985, when his Parkinson’s disease was becoming apparent. He joined the Communist party in 1924, although he soon left.

Bute Mill, Preston. The railway line to Longridge is to the left Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Bute Mill, Preston. The railway line to Longridge is to the left Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The Ashton-on-Ribble home of Taylor still exists and is now used as student flats.

Read more: Former home of AJP Taylor has student flat plans tabled

Taylor had a very privileged upbringing and had a blinkered view of town life.

The home of AJP Taylor in Ashton Pic: Google
The home of AJP Taylor in Ashton Pic: Google

Early upbringing

Taylor was disconnected from working class children, and spent most of his time in the Harris library were he indulged his love of books and developed his interest in history. He hated having to partake in ‘a dreary walk through mean streets’ to get to the library. However he loved the theatre and cinema.

Taylor’s parents were more communist than socialist and supported the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the 1926 general strike. Rather odd considering that the family had received ¬£100,000 from his father’s share of the mill business in 1920.

Taylor’s ‘mean streets of Preston’ Pic: Edwardian Postcard

The context of the general strike

The general strike was called in support of the miners who were facing wage cuts and longer hours. By 1920,  productivity in the mines had fallen to 199 tonnes per man, from 247 tons before World War I. This was due to a number of factors, the main one being that the best seams had been exhausted making coal harder to obtain.

Additionally more foreign coal was available, driving down the price. Mine owners wanted to maintain profits and the result was wage cuts and longer hours.

The more radical elements of the Labour Party saw an opportunity to ferment a general strike, while the authorities feared revolution.

The general strike in Preston

A 9 May 1926 strike report as issued by the Preston TUC Pic: TUC
A 9 May 1926 strike report as issued by the Preston TUC Pic: TUC

A general strike was called from 4 May 1926, and lasted for nine days. It was a failure in its aims and was later considered to be a mistake by the Labour Party, who were trying to be a party of Government.

In Preston, support for the strike was strong, with transport especially being mostly shut down. The letter above states that¬†‘volunteer’ drivers ran some buses, much to the disgust of¬†strikers. The volunteer buses lead to some unrest with 12 men being arrested.

Strikers in 1926 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Strikers in 1926 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

On 12 May the strike was called off with the miners still facing a wage cut and without a¬†‘revolution’, as had happened in Russia nine years earlier.

Taylor’s later life

AJP Taylor in 1942 Pic: BBC
AJP Taylor in 1942 Pic: BBC

Taylor was an early TV historian, starting with the BBC’s In The News¬†from 1950 to 1954. Here, his acerbic style, where he ignored the other panellists, got him taken off air. However ITV soon snapped him up for its rival discussion programme¬†Free Speech.

Despite his dislike of the BBC he made several historical documentaries for them from 1963 to 1978.

Finally, in 1980, he made a documentary named Edge of Britain where he looked at the towns of northern Britain, returning to his roots.



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