Another wonderful find - in the same place that I chanced upon Claude Cockburn's Reporter in Spain
.This cheap pamphlet
was published in Dublin in 1916, in the period between the Easter Rising and the start of Sir Roger Casement's trial for high treason. Casement
, a British civil servant, was alleged to have sought German support for an Irish rebellion. He was convicted, and hanged at Pentonville prison on 3rd August 1916.This is a scarce title - notable for the cover portrait by G. Atkinson, and for Redmond-Howard's measured account of Casement (the pamphlet's sub-title is 'a character sketch without prejudice').This copy is very fragile, the covers are loose and frayed - but it is a wonderful echo of a hugely important and contested moment in British history.
OK, I know you're dying to hear about my very successful day in Cambridge's second-hand book stores ... or more particularly in the antiquarian treasure trove at G. David, the city's premier spot for old books. So, first up - wonderful articles of an early trade society, the United Societies of Skinners, published as a broadsheet in Nottingham in 1816. The whole thing is a little bit bigger than A3 size. It's so exceptionally rare - a fantastic insight into how the artisan crafts regulated themselves.
Then ... a bound volume of William Cobbett's Weekly Political Register for the first quarter of 1821 - great political journalism from the period of ultra-radicalism during and just after the Regency. And - blow me down - bound into the back of the volume, three spellbinding political pamphlets from the era. Two of them are by Cobbett, and the third by an even more noted and intemperate radical.
William Hone's Political Catechism, from 1817, was one of his most celebrated titles - he published several Catechisms, Litanies and Creeds, both mocking the political and clerical establishment, and by their form also lampooning religious practise. In one of the most renowned political trials of the times, Hone was prosecuted - and acquitted - for offending public morals.
Of the Cobbett pamphlets, one also dates from 1817 - when he fled Britain for the United States fearing prosecution for seditious writings. He returned two years later. The other reflects his longstanding interest in the countryside and its cultivators, later reflected in one of his best-known titles, Rural Rides.
And there's more - a copy of the Rowlatt report of 1918 into revolutionary activity in India, which led the following year to the passing of the infamous Rowlatt Act, the extension of wartime emergency measures to curb political expression. The report also contains fold-out maps locating acts of political violence in Bengal, and in its principal city, Calcutta:
And at the more pedestrian - and moderately priced - end of the expedition, but no less delightful ...I got an 1889 election address for G.F. Chambers, seeking to represent Eastbourne on the East Sussex County Council.
The greater part of the pamphlet is given over to an abstract of the previous year's Local Government Act. 'The Local Government Act is, by the common consent of all parties in the State', Chambers asserted in his address, 'a great legislative experiment. The success or failure of the experiment will entirely depend on whether the Electors make choice of men of administrative experience, good business habits, and personal independence.'
These would have been the first contests for County Councils, one of the innovations under the Act. My guess is that Mr Chambers won the Eastbourne seat - does anyone out there know?
A great lunchtime stroll the length of Upper Street today - always lively, always fashionable, the epitome of a stylish north London high street. And a wonderful jumble of architectural styles. I was surprised that the Lancashire lass Gracie Fields - she's the one that sang 'Sally, of our alley' - lived on Upper Street at some stage. The building is now the 'Cuba Libre' bar - what a fantastic juxtaposition.
A little further up towards Highbury Corner there's what was once an office of the London Salvage Corps - its No 5 London district office.
The London Salvage Corps
was set up by fire insurance companies in the 1860s, to try to reduce loss and damage caused by fire.
Remarkably, it was only finally disbanded in the 1980s.
The street has plenty of curiosities and idiosyncracies - try the two below ... a post office (just opposite St Mary's church) complete with Acropolis-style caratyds, and a very curious statue, in Eric Morecambe-style pose, which appears incongruously on the roof of Black's, the outdoor clothing store.
Highbury Corner is of course not so much a corner as a roundabout - but it was once a corner, until a flying bomb struck in 1944.
I had never noticed before, but on the south side of Highbury Corner there's a plaque 'In memory of the 26 people who lost their lives, the 150 injured, and the many bereaved when a ... V1 Flying Bomb destroyed Highbury Corner at 12.46pm, 27th June, 1944.' There's an excellent website
, with maps and photos, which gives more detail of the tragedy.The gardens just in from of the plaque, rather grandly called Highbury Corner Gardens, must be about the smallest in London.
And the gardens in the middle of the roundabout - Highbury Island - must be just about the least accessible. They are well kept, but there's no crossing - and the gates are padlocked. There's supposed to be work planned to 'peninsularize' - is that really a word? I found it here
- the island, though if it's turned into a peninsula then surely it won't be an island any more?
Camden Passage on a Sunday isn't what it used to be. And a decade or more after it closed, I still miss Finbar Macdonnell's print shop, where you could pick up a morsel of Regency insurrection for less than the price of a main course of baby squid in balsamic vinegar. A web search reveals that Finbar's business still thrives online
I did manage to pick up one little gem - a souvenir of the Independent Labour Party's 1925 annual conference, held in Gloucester - with, curiously, long articles about Gloucester and its industrial history. And there's the words of a song: 'A Song o' the South-West'.
The pamphlet also briefly tells the story of the ILP's battle to fly the red flag from its Westminster headquarters (beneath the photo of the HQ building on Great George Street below).The cover of the pamphlet is distinctly scruffy - and the seller was trying it on asking for a tenner. 'The price of socialism', he joshed. Well, it's not the sort of thing you come across every day - and it is an unusually evocative memento from around the time of the first Labour government. So I coughed up - and I'm glad I did.
I have just bought, for the modest outlay of £5, a copy of the 'Indian Front News Bulletin' for March 1934. It is, as far as I can tell, the newsletter of Indian Communist students in London.
It's duplicated, in much the fashion of the student literature I helped to produce about forty years later. But what really caught my attention is that it contains an article on Kashmir - not an issue which captured a great deal of progressive attention at this time.
Indeed, on the back is a cartoon (not very good, but still), which addresses the aggressive nature of British imperialism across the sub-continent, including in Kashmir.
A large part of the concern about Kashmir - this was 1934 after all - was the implications of British policy there for the Soviet Union to the north. There is also a suggestion that the British had inflamed communal tensions in Kashmir (by pressing the Maharajah to redress Muslim grievances) for their own strategic purposes.
The article argues - and this is certainly unchallengeable: 'The truth is that the people of Kashmir are exceedingly poor and that they have been cruelly exploited'. It's a well written and well argued piece - as you can see for yourself:
While Nancy Mitford coined the terms 'U' and 'non-U', her younger sister Jessica - writing as Decca Treuhaft in this 1956 pamphlet - devised the parody 'L' and 'non-L'. Jessica and her husband, Robert Treuhaft, knew plenty about left-wing lingo. They were in the mid-1950s members of the CPUSA.The Wikipedia entry on Jessica Mitford records: '
In 1956, Mitford published (stenciled) a pamphlet, "Lifeitselfmanship or How to Become a Precisely-Because Man". In response to Noblesse Oblige
, the book her sister Nancy
co-wrote and edited on the class distinctions in British English
, popularizing the phrases "U and non-U English
" (upper class and non-upper class), Jessica described L and non-L (Left and non-Left) English, mocking the clichés used by her comrades in the all-out class struggle
How rib tickllng was this send up of what might now be described as political correctness?
Not bad at all - as the pages copied, right, attest. An early example of the left learning to chuckle at itself.
My other recent pamphlet purchase is just as bizarre, but otherwise totally different. G.K Chesterton
- best known today for such novels as The Napoleon of Notting Hill
and The Man who was Thursday
- was a hugely productive journalist and essayist. His political views were unorthodox, somewhat reactionary, and he was also keenly, if again in unorthodox manner, religious.
This 1916 pamphlet republished an article from Nash's Magazine. It is an arch piece of reactionary populism - objecting to 'the extension of divorce among the democracy':
'A democrat in any sense must regard that extension as the last and vilest of the insults offered by the modern rich to the modern poor. The rich do largely believe in divorce; the poor do mainly believe in fidelity. But the modern rich are powerful and the modern poor are powerless. Therefore for years and decades past the rich have been preaching their own virtues. Now that they have begun to preach their vices too, I think it is time to kick.'
Though as so often, Chesterton kicked as part of the losing team - he had a remarkable eye for a lost cause.
The most famous front cover from the alternative press of the 1960s and 1970s. Just days after the May 'evenements' in Paris in 1968, a new London-based radical paper Black Dwarf
- taking its name from a rebellious Regency-era periodical - coined the slogan of that intoxicating summer: "We Shall Fight, We Will Win, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin". Tariq Ali, Fred Halliday, Sheila Rowbotham and Adrian Mitchell were all amongs the founders and contributors. Quite some time back, I managed to pick up a copy of this issue for £5 at the much-missed Compendium on Camden High Street. I was pleased about that.All this has come to mind from seeing this 'Black Dwarf' front page in today's Guardian. It's part of the obituary of Robin Fior, a graphic designer
who did the design work for 'Black Dwarf', 'Peace News' and other radical titles before heading to Portugal in 1972. It shows how simple ideas, and a very considered use of words, can have such a huge impact. The design of this cover is, in graphic terms, unexceptional. But it captured the moment. And it's lasted in the collective memory.
Within a week, I am being 'migrated' from Bush House - my workplace for most of the past thirty years - to the splendid new extension to Broadcasting House at Portland Place. My hinterland switches from Covent Garden to the equally enticing Fitzrovia and Marylebone. But among all the haunts I will miss when I move, one that has given me much innocent pleasure is the vestigial presence of Holywell Street.
My office on the third floor of Bush House, on the north side of the Strand, lies exactly where Holywell Street once stood. I'll explain why that's important. But first - where was Holywell Street?
Take a glance at this enlarged section of Edward Weller's 1868 Map of London.
Holywell Street lies just to the north of the Strand, between the churches of St Mary-le-Strand and St Clement Danes. I
t was an Elizabethan Street demolished about 1900 to make this part of the Strand altogether grander. I reckon my office is somewhere very close - if three floors up - to the H of 'Holywell'.
And what was Holywell Street? A narrow, jumbled thoroughfare which - for much of its nineteenth century incarnation - was utterly disreputable. I owe my knowledge of this 'street of shame' (a precursor to Private Eye's similarly named street just yards away) to two wonderfully researched books - Lynda Nead's Victorian Babylon (Yale UP, 2000), from which I have taken the following painting with the spire of St Mary-le-Stand looming over the street scene, and Iain McCalman's effervescent Radical Underworld (Cambridge UP, 1988)
The place became the haunt, in the early years of the nineteenth century, of radical and ultra-radical pamphleteers and print makers. The radical tradition persisted, but over time some of these enterprises turned to smut and pornography. If you wanted stuff that would shock - politically, erotically - Holywell Street was the place to go. 'For Victorian London,' Lynda Nead writes, 'Holywell Street and obscenity were synonymous'.
'The obscenities of Holywell Street' (Nead says) 'grew out of a radical past. In the first decades of the nineteenth century the street was occupied by radical pressmen: freethinkers, who published tracts on politics, religion and sexuality and who, in the decades following the Revolution in France, were spied on by police informers and prosecuted for sedition, blasphemy and obscenity. This was the home of the literature of radicailsm and of a type of bawdy publishing dedicated to exposing the hypocrisy and immorality of the ruling classes. Holywell Street bore the traces of this political radicalism through the nineteenth century, as its activities shifted from freethinking to pornography.'
It's the radical and freethinking aspect of Holywell Street which engages me. I love political pamphlets
of all hues, the more ephemeral the better. Among my haphazard collection are dispiritingly few from Holywell Street. But there is this very nice pamphlet from about 1872, by the then notorious republican George Odger who lived nearby in St Giles, from a Holywell Street address.Of course, the media work I have been engaged in over the past three decades has little in common with old Holywell Street. But there is a thread of sorts. I am pleased to be in the same space that these rebellious, uncouth pamphleteers once occupied. And in my remaining days
in Bush House, I will pay homage to the spirit of Holywell Street.
The search is most of the fun - and the look and design is as important as the content. At least, that's my rather ramshackle approach to the collecting of political pamphlets.
I like this pamphlet - bought over the weekend from Walden's Books at Chalk Farm - because of its simple but arresting cover. The opening sentence is memorable too: ‘In a few weeks – perhaps in a few days – from the publication of this Manifesto, there will be a General Election, the result of which will depend on the vote of the Working Classes; and yet the Working Classes will have no political party of their own to vote for.’
It's in fairly grotty condition - but alas wasn't at all cheap. Still, I'm glad to have it.