I had the chance for a bit of a wander today - and popped in at the Freedom Press bookshop, hidden away (and I really mean hidden away) down an alley at the side of the Whitechapel Gallery. It's the sort of place that's always worth a good rummage. The new stock is largely anarchist or that way inclined - but there's also some second-hand sections which are much more diverse.
For the first time, I think, I went to the guy in charge and said one of his books simply shouldn't be on sale at all. A work of philosophy by Herbert Spencer once owned by, and bearing the signature of, the anarchist Matt Kavanagh, and with copious pencil notes either by him or someone else. This should be part of the Freedom Press archive held at the Bishopsgate Institute - I hope that's where this book will be heading.
I was happy enough with what I did pick up. I got a 1924 edition of Bertrand Russell's Justice in War-Time with the ownership signature of John Hewetson, one of the defendants in the renowned Freedom trial of 1945 which was about, yes, justice in war-time.
The other really nice book was J.M. Guyau's 1891 volume Education and Heredity: a study in sociology - bought above all for this splendid bookplate.
Tom Keell was the mainstay of the Freedom Press for a decade either side of the First World War.
The book also has the ownership signature of the educationalist G.W.S. Howson.
Why Freedom is disposing of its library in this way, I really don't know. It's not even raking in lots of money.
From there to Bishopsgate, where the library often has shelves laden with items for sale - there's usually a few things of interest amid, on this occasion, a remarkable number of titles about Stalin.
This is my favourite of the handful of items I picked up at Bishopsgate today - a pamphlet by the renowned historian E.P. Thompson about the struggle for a free press. It was published in 1952.
This pamphlet looks at the history of the movement for a free press, and concludes: 'Today the Daily Worker has become one of the last channels for the circulation of free opinion, the only paper to stand between the people and the unprincipled campaign of lies and war propaganda of the capitalist press.'
Four years later, E.P. Thompson walked out of the Communist Party - largely because of disagreements over freedom of expression.
And in case you are wondering about the title of this blogpost: We're All Normal And We Want Our Freedom: Tribute To Arthur Lee & Love is a 1994 tribute album for the band Love and its leader Arthur Lee. The album was named after a line in their song "The Red Telephone" from the album Forever Changes. The phrase originated in Marat/Sade, a play written by Peter Weiss.
Back in 1963, E.P. Thompson wrote the most influential post-war book of British history, The Making of the English Working Class. I came across it a decade or more later, and dipped into it repeatedly rather than read it throughout (it's a bit of a doorstopper). It made its mark on me, prompting me to do a postgraduate degree at the Centre for the Study of Social History at Warwick, where Edward Thompson had been the presiding genius.
By the time I got there, he had left academia behind. I came across him only occasionally - attending a seminar he gave when he, as I recall, unilaterally changed the subject to the haunting death of his older brother, Frank, in Bulgaria towards the end of the Second World War; I chaired a meeting at which he spoke, calling for the release of the East German dissident Rudolf Bahro; and much later, in 1991, I interviewed Edward and his wife Dorothy about their years in the Communist Party, and the audio is posted elsewhere on this site.
I knew that in the early 1950s in particular, E.P. Thompson was an active member of the CP in Halifax, and teaching in the Extramural Studies department at the University of Leeds - and that both these aspects of his life fed into the writing of The Making. What I had not appreciated, and this I have to confess is a very personal obsession, is that Edward Thompson had more than a passing acquaintance with my home town of Morley.
David Goodway's contribution to a new book entitled E.P. Thompson and English Radicalism (edited by Roger Fieldhouse and Richard Taylor and published by Manchester University Press) spells out how Thompson's role as an adult educator informed the making of The Making. Morley was one of fourteen venues where Thompson held classes. He found the large oval table in the Library's reading room ideal for his purpose. And in 1963-4, after the publication of his seminal work, he commented of Morley: 'Within living memory ... it seems, miners have worked lying down in eighteen-inch seams, children have been in the mills at the age of nine, urine has been collected from pub urinals for scouring, while the brother of one of the students still uses teazles to raise the 'nap'. It is difficult to believe that the industrial revolution has yet occurred in Morley, and next year's syllabus (in the later 19th century) will seem like a tour through the space age'.
My own association with Morley Library is restricted to attending stamp club sessions there, rather unwillingly, as a child. My father was on Morley council at the time Thompson was writing his book. My father was an independent, which usually meant Tory but in his case Liberal. He never came across E.P. Thompson, but much to my surprise talked of attending Workers' Educational Association classes - one on history held at Morley Grammar School, and another during the war which he attended with his mother (a JP and National Liberal) at the unlikely venue of the Gildersome Conservative Club.
All this is incidental, but out of a web of such tenuous links, affinities and association are built. And I am more than a little chuffed to discover that E.P. Thompson taught in Morley.
Simply the most influential work of history of our times. And this morning I chanced across a 1963 first edition of E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class at the excellent Black Gull bookshop in East Finchley. It was published by Victor Gollancz, and this copy is in excellent condition with the original dust wrapper. It wasn't cheap, but it's made my weekend!
The illustration on the cover is entitled 'Victory of Peterloo' - the massacre on Manchester's St Peter's Fields - from William Hone's Political Tracts of 1819. Thompson's agenda was the working-class radicalism of the period from the French Revolution to the Regency.
And his goal, as he famously declared in the preface, was to 'rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the "obsolete" hand-loom weaver, the "utopian" artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.'
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