St George's Church


Robert Reschid Stanley


A Victorian ‘Hidden’ Muslim - in a Christian Community

Robert Stanley was a respectable, northern working-class Victorian man from Stalybridge, but he converted to Islam at the age of 69. And his family managed to keep his Muslim identity a secret - for nearly a century.

Robert lived in the cradle of Britain’s Industrial Revolution and was part of Ashton's Christian Israelite sect founded by ‘Prophet’ John Wroe.  Self-educated, this Stalybridge grocer and tea-trader made it his mission to help northern working men bribed by rich factory owners during elections. He rose to become one of Britain’s first working-class magistrates and the mayor of Stalybridge, witnessing first-hand some of the most violent riots, radicalism and progressive reforms of the Victorian era. 

Robert was committed to justice for all, even when his public challenges to an unfair British foreign policy against Ottoman Turks caused troubles for him.  In 1898, he sold his Ashton pub and took the astonishing decision to convert to Islam, moving to Manchester and becoming close friend of famous convert - Abdullah Quilliam - Sheikh of Islam of the British Isles, who had set up the country’s first mosque, in Liverpool. Robert was appointed Vice-Chairman of the mosque.

After his death in Stalybridge in 1911, his conversion was ‘hidden’ for nearly a century. But by a strange twist of fate, Robert’s own great x 3 grandson from Manchester, had converted to Islam too – nine years before Robert’s life and decisions were discovered. 

Always ‘His Own Man’, Robert ‘Reschid’ Stanley’s life and times are brought into the light for the first time – thanks to the painstaking family history research of his own descendants and through the words of his great x 3 granddaughter, Christina Longden. 

The books

‘His Own Man’ is the historical biography of Robert Stanley.  The ‘sister’ book, ‘Imagining Robert’, is creative fiction using plays, scripts and monologues.  The second book will be of particular interest to those who enjoy an entertaining read but will be useful too, for schools, theatre and community groups. The first performances of the story will take place at the Rochdale Literature Festival.


Contact for more info or if you wish Christina to speak at a local group.


"Rooted in the past, deeply personal and shaping our present, these books are a necessary and timely read in the debate about identity and belonging." 

"Essential reading for anyone interested in challenging preconceived ideas of Muslim and working-class community life. Chris Longden must be congratulated … Robert Reschid Stanley would be deeply proud of this work.  Compelling socio-political portraits of one of the leading Victorian Muslims, based upon extensive archival research, these books provide a much-needed contribution towards a growing field of research on early Muslim convert communities during Victorian Britain."
DR SHAMIM MIAH, Senior Lecturer, University of Huddersfield.

"History matters.  It matters because we are who we are and what we are. Not only because of our own personal history - but also because of our familial, local, regional, national and international histories.
History matters because it teaches us that life is not about 'me' and 'I'. It is about 'we' and 'us'.
History matters because it belongs to everyone and not to one person.
History matters because it brings to the fore continuity and links the past, the present and the future in a vital chain.
History matters because it brings together the local and the global and through so doing, it calls out to us of the need to understand, respect and embrace those who may appear to be different to us: for through knowing our histories, we recognise the commonality of the peoples of the world.
History matters because is not only about the past, it is about making the present and shaping the future in a more inclusive, caring and appreciative way.
Christina Longden’s books on Robert Stanley matter, because they embrace all those vital concepts of history. Important and pioneering work, these books highlight the need not for tolerance of each other’s beliefs but of acceptance: an acceptance that can only arise through the understanding the importance of our shared histories.
Herein lies the power of Christina Longden’s research, writing and passion: the celebration of that which we have in common – our humanity."

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