I first heard of Cyril Smith when I lived in Rochdale sometime between 1969 and 1972. I was living in a bedsit on Milnrow Rd and listening to Leonard Cohen and Hawkwind and working at a tannery in Castlefield. I’d left the job at Minting Machines for another one but it hadn’t worked out so after spending a short while unemployed I got this one as a fill in. I walked everyday from the bedsit, along Kingsway and the full length of Queensway all through the winter.
My manager, John Grant, told me this story about Smith. He explained that when he was demobbed from the army at the end of WW2 he joined the Communist Party but as the Cold War bit and his wife stopped speaking to him he resigned and joined the Labour Party. He was a member of the Royton and Hayfield branch and Smith was the treasurer. Money went missing and everyone, including Smith, claimed to not understand how the shortfall had happened. Then JG explained that he had worked it out and that Smith had stolen the money and the proof would lie in a certain document. At the branch meeting there was uproar with Smith in total denial. The safe was opened and there was no document so JG was in disgrace and was obliged to resign from the LP.
He then joined the Liberal Party and became a local councillor which he was when I worked for him. This is where the story gets really interesting. At a councillors annual Xmas Beano at the town hall the man who was sitting next to Smith at the debacle staggered up to Grant (drunk) and said something like this, ‘Hi John, remember when you tried to expose Cyril at that meeting well, we beat you to that document by 20 minutes and I had it in my breast pocket, ha ha’.
The thought is that it was part of Smith’s start-up money for his spring manufacturing company and this guy was one of the other directors and who had stayed in the LP and gone on to bigger things according to JG.
I have no idea how much was involved. I was in Rochdale at the by-election when Smith was elected MP and several times I heard the refrain, ‘Are we voting for our Cyril then? They say he likes little boys, hahaha’. Words fail me.
Ironically Smith at some stage also left the LP and unsuccessfully tried to start an independent group before joining the Liberals so he and John Grant were back in the same party again.
John Grant, the Liberal Councillor, was responsible for getting me reading the Morning Star and joining the Communist Party but that’s a whole new story.
The Tannery was an interesting place and the pickled hides which came in from Bulgaria and Iran were highly prized because there were no holes in them as the sheep in those countries were not hemmed in behind barbed wire. I’d been unable to get a fitting job so I was working there sorting skins into different piles depending on their thickness. Very boring.
Down in the cellar were loads of skins and old machinery no longer required and among them piles of grey suede leather that would normally be used to make industrial work gloves. I started stealing these skins by wrapping them round my waist at home time and covering them with my overcoat. I bought a paper pattern and spent a couple of weeks making myself a pair of trousers and a sort of waistcoat type of top. Before I managed to buy a thimble I punctured the tip of my forefinger badly many times with the blunt end of the needle I was using but was determined to carry on. When it was finished, I wore it for a walk into Rochdale Centre and back. It was thick with fog and I never passed another person and I never wore it again.
Shortly afterwards I got a job back in engineering at a foundry in Oldham and went to live in another bedsit there.