Robert Stanley's Political Career

Robert Stanley(1828-1911) was first elected to serve as a councillor for the Dukinfield Ward of Stalybridge in 1863, a Justice of the Peace in 1867 and Councillor for the Stayley Ward in 1869. He was elected to serve as Mayor in 1874 and remained unopposed for a second term in 1875. By all accounts he was a fair and kindly man, intelligent and well-read. He was a true product of the great Victorian Metropolitan Age, when after the exploitation by the mill owners in the first half of the century, having made their fortunes, some decided to give something back to the communities that had made them.

He was chairman of the building committee for the construction of the new Victorian Market Hall, built to replace the cramped insanitary market on the ground floor of the old Town Hall.

He was one of the original Trustees of Stamford Park. This park provided an amenity for the people of Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge and was formed from the grounds of Highfield House. This house was once owned by Abel Harrison (1793-1865) who had made his fortune as the owner of Staley Mills on Huddersfield Road. The Trustees managed the park until it was handed over to the two Town Councils in 1891.

He was called as a witness before a Parliamentary Committee under the Chairmanship of the Marquis of Hartington concerning the Ballot Act of Parliamentary and Municipal Elections where he was cross examined for nearly three hours. The Under Secretary personally thanked him for his evidence which went on to form a discussion in Parliament.

He was elected in 1871 to serve on the inaugural School Board of Stalybridge where he did unfortunately make some rather pragmatic comments regarding the education of girls of working class families, which would not go down very well today.

Later he served on the Joint Waterworks Committee in the construction of the Yeoman Hey Reservoir intended to bring fresh water to the towns of Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge.

The Turkish Question

One item in the 1907 yearbook of Stalybridge intrigued in that it showed that he had a more than usual interest in Foreign Affairs. During the Russo-Turkish War he refused to call a public meeting, which had been requisitioned by 170 influential worthies of Stalybridge, to condemn the Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria, and had sent a letter to the Manchester Guardian stating his reasons. These being that he thought the whole agitiation was as a result of Russian agents. This opposed the national stance taken by Disraeli who had stated that he had had personal assurances from the Czar of Russia to the contrary. At the time there had been much condemnation of Robert Stanley, but the conclusion of the war showed that his views had not been far wide of the mark, due to the cruel manner that Russia had concluded the war and her extortionate demands on the Ottoman Empire.

The answer came in an old yellowing magazine found by a family member in an box of old documents. It was an edition of "The Crescent" dated 3 April 1907. This was the weekly record of Islam in England written by H.E. Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Bey.

On opening the magazine there was a picture of our great, great grandfather staring back at us in Victorian jacket and tie wearing a Turkish Fez and Kurdish trousers. The article was entitled "A distinguished British Musselman" and the caption underneath read "Brother Robert Reschid Stanley Esq. J.P. late Mayor of Stalybridge". The likeness to one of our cousins was astonishing. The article continued over five double-column pages to extol his virtues in rather flowery Islamic terms.

Brother Robert Reschid Stanley

It seems that approximately fifty years before this article had been written Robert Stanley had met the traveller David Urquart, who had at one time been the Secretary to the British Embassy at Constantinople. Urquart had been touring the country agitating against the Government's policy favouring the Russian advance. Robert Stanley threw in his lot with Urquart, promising to help the Turkish cause and to denounce the Russian agents.

He continued for many years to offer practical help to the Caliph of the Faithful H.I.M. Ghazi Hamid Khan, the Sultan of Turkey, particularly in helping to improve agricultural methods.

It is not known when Robert himself became a Muslim. I suspect that it was some time after 1881 when he moved to Manchester. Perhaps the move had been prompted by a desire to join the small emerging Islamic Community there. I find it very hard to believe that his Islamic conversion during his political career in Stalybridge could have escaped local press attention.

I find it rather astonishing that someone who grew up under the influence of John Wroe during his formative years, and who had married in the Chrisitan Israelite Sanctuary, following Mosaic Law would take up the Islamic Faith later in life.

The next amazing co-incidence is that one of Robert Stanley's three times great grandsons, who had previously been a committed Christian, had converted to Islam after studying comparative religions at University and spending some time in Jerusalem espousing the Palestinian cause. This was several years before the above facts were uncovered.


Gay J Oliver © 2001 - all rights reserved