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By Jan Shearsmith on

On This Day – The Bolsheviks Seize Power

What would you do if, while working away from home in a foreign country, you suddenly found yourself cut off from any kind of support?

This was the situation that Mr A G Parker found himself in during the Russian Revolution. As a Director of the Russian Mather & Platt Ltd factory during this period, he witnessed the political turmoil whilst trying to maintain, and safeguard, the interests of his business.

7 November 1917

Amongst the archive collections here at the museum is a fascinating collection of documents which once belonged to Mather & Platt Ltd, Newton Heath, manufacturers of fire prevention equipment for textile mills and other large buildings.

Cover of a Mather and Platt brochure
Cover of a Mather and Platt brochure

Specification document of one of Mather and Platt's automated sprinklers
Specification document of one of Mather and Platt’s automated sprinklers

They are a partial record of those turbulent times and record how an employee attempted to keep the company running, and under British control, by maintaining cordial relations with the new provisional government and later the various departments of the Bolshevik government led by Vladimir Lenin, who took power on the 7 November 1917.

In the introduction to a lengthy report written by Mr Parker on his return to England, he explains “…the fact that during that time I have been looking after the interests of the Firm under conditions more difficult than any employee of the Firm ever had to face before, you will accord me generous treatment in the matter”.

He then enters into the detail of how he conducted business during the period but also what it was like personally for himself, the surviving members of staff and his family during this chaotic period in Russia’s history. During this period he was unwell, having suffered with tuberculosis in 1918, from which he never fully recovered. Ever fearful of being placed under arrest and sent to a concentration camp from 1917 onwards, he also had to deal with the confiscation of one company and the nationalisation of Mather & Platt’s entire Russian business in October 1919.

Extract from one of A G Parker's reports
Extract from A G Parker’s report

At times the report feels like Mr Parker has to justify any losses that were incurred during the time he was in charge in Moscow. On the loss of four typewriters appearing on the list drawn up by the authorities he writes, “During the first two months of 1919 our Store was broken open three times by thieves. The first time clothes were stolen from boxes belonging to Messrs Richter, Muschamp and Troutman. The second time the four typewriters were stolen, the third time nothing was taken”. He goes on to explain that after each break-in he reported it to the police who made a report on the first one, turned up five hours later after the second one, and on the third occasion they told him that “they could neither recover the goods nor arrest the thieves”.

Extract from one of A G Parker's reports
Extract from A G Parker’s report

The 1919 Protocol issued by the Commission for the Nationalisation of the Stores of the Former “Mather & Platt” announced the final takeover by the state of the store, office and drawing office belonging to the company on 18 December 1919. Along with a detailed record of the entire contents of the company’s office and stores, there are other documents that Mr Parker had transferred to the London office of the company as a record of their business transactions during the course of the Revolution.

Copy of the 1919 Protocol issued by the Commission for the Nationalisation of the Stores of the Former “Mather & Platt".
Copy of the 1919 Protocol issued by the Commission for the Nationalisation of the Stores of the Former “Mather & Platt”.

Mr Parker and his family finally crossed the Russian border on the 30 March 1919, glad to have made it out, unlike others who unfortunately were kept as prisoners in concentration camps until 1920. Everything they owned was either sold off to pay for food and fuel or just abandoned. His report to the company board is also an impassioned plea to better compensate him and his family for those losses in Russia and the continued help they required with his medical bills in order to recover his health, and to buy everything the family had left in Russia.

It is remarkable to note that Mather & Platt had to wait until 1986 to receive compensation for Russian Government Bonds it had bought prior to 1917.

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