STALYBRIDGE’S place in history – and the role of the man who made sure of it – has been documented in two new books.
Christina Longden has always been fascinated by her great, great, great-grandfather Robert Stanley and why he became the country’s ‘first ever Islamic Mayor’.
Now she has documented everything he did and achieved – and there was so much she has written two tomes.
His Own Man is a historical documentary of the man who became known as Robert ‘Reschid’ Stanley after converting at the age of 69, after he had already been Mayor of Stalybridge.
Imagining Robert is written like a play as she put in more about the context of what he was going through and standing up to when he converted in 1898 – the idea being it can be performed by schools or groups.
And Christina, who grew up in Dukinfield and whose father Brian still lives there after growing up in Stalybridge, revealed she was blown away by what months of research uncovered as his legacy still lives on the streets of the town today.
“It had never been discussed nor written in any books,” she said about her family story. “My dad did a lot of the research and when part of it was uncovered, people said it was amazing and they would love to read the story.
“I did it for my dad really. From his research, he wrote a pamphlet about Robert that had plenty of information on it and I’d never seen dad write anything before.
“He just did the facts, I wanted a lot more emotion. There are many things, like why was he buried in a Christian grave in Stalybridge and what context was everything in?
“It took me in the region of two years to write it. I did research for 18 months – I pretty much lived at my parents’ house and Tameside’s Archives – then wrote it.
“I even went to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester because of the significance of Robert’s life and actions.
Christina’s research, which was helped by Gay Oliver, of the Family History Society of Cheshire, added plenty of sensational information on to what was already an intriguing story.
Robert Stanley was a grocer whose property stood on what is now Melbourne Street but whose premises was ransacked in the Bread Riots of 1860.
The Conservative councillor, who was born in 1828, ended up being Mayor of Stalybridge between 1874 and 1876 and was responsible for building Stalybridge’s Market Hall and even the Yeoman Hey reservoir in Greenfield.
He made the decision to convert to Islam at the age of 69 and helped set up Britain’s first mosque.
He left to live in Manchester in 1880 and died in 1911 aged 83, 94 years before Manchester’s first Muslim mayor Mohammed Afzal Khan was sworn in.
And Christina found getting as much as she can on and from Robert was a task and a half.
“It was like finding a needle in a haystack,” she added.
“My dad did all the birth, death and marriage searches but I had to go to the archives and scour the microfiches, the things on the reels of tape, to find any word from Robert.
“I have a degree in history but when I was doing this, it turned pout I knew nothing!
“I’m really trying to get people in the area to learn about the figures that had such a great effect on it and still are.
“He built the Market Hall and was one of the first trustees of Stamford Park.
“He also spoke to a huge meeting about whether slavery should be abolished which was attended by about 200 people. This was before US President Abraham Lincoln wrote to the people of the UK thanking them.
“There was also a big interview in an internationally-known magazine with him in 1907, listing all what he had done. It’s an amazing story.
“It wasn’t like he was a kid when he converted to Islam either. He was 69 years old.
“The reason why he was not more widely known is he simply did not have any money.
Robert Stanley’s life, or rather his final resting place, is a slight bone of contention with the family. A man of such importance who achieved so much is buried under a car park!
He was interred at a site close to St Paul’s Church on what is now Huddersfield Road, which was later turned into a car park.
But Christina, who now lives in West Yorkshire and whose husband Ian is one of the men behind Darkwood’s Coffee roastery, believes more should be known.
She said: “The reason why he is not known in history perhaps is because of the World Wars that occurred around that time – and when the Ottoman Empire allied with the Germans, maybe being a Muslim at the time was not a popular thing.
“But doing these books has made me immensely proud of what he did and achieved. For me, that should not be forgotten.”
Christina, whose brother is himself Muslim, formally launched the books on Saturday, September 21.
• His Own Man and Imagining Robert are available from Amazon (£9.99): www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Christina-Longden/s?rh=n%3A266239%2Cp_27%3AChristina+Longden