Annie Besant, variously radical, freethinker, trade unionist, Theosophist, Indian nationalist ... and suffragist. In 1893, Annie Besant - already interested in Theosophy - visited India for the first time. It became her home. There's still a gilded life-size statue of her on the sea front in Chennai. But this was not the end of her interest in British politics.
In March 1912, at the age of 64, she addressed a meeting of Mrs Pankhurst's pro-suffrage Women's Social and Political Union at the Albert Hall in London. This leaflet - just acquired - contains a summary of her remarks.
What a wonderful piece of political ephemera! Tom Mann was a hero of the British Communist movement - an activist who was a living link from the socialist revival of the 1880s, the 'new unionism' movement which sought to organised the semi-skilled and unskilled and the renowned 1889 Dock Strike through into the Popular Front period fifty years later. He was also a good, brave and decent man, who was loved as well as respected.
I've just been reading the (as yet unpublished) memoirs of the novelist Alexander Baron, who was an influential communist in the late 1930s. He says:
By this time, like my grandfather Levinson, I had shaken hands with Mr. Tom Mann, the old trade union pioneer. [John] Gollan had introduced me to him and told him something about me. True to his Victorian origins - he had taught in a chapel Sunday School when he was young - the old man clasped my hand and told me, in the words of the Christian hymn, to fight the good fight with all my might. ... Mann was small and bent when I met him, but he looked hale, with a leathery, unblemished skin, sprouting moustache and clear, merry eyes. When he cracked a joke he skipped in a little three-step dance to celebrate it. I revered him for the great deeds of his younger days and he still seems to me to have been one of the few early socialists who remained pure souls to the end. He had belonged to the Communist Party since its foundation, seeing it as the home for a revolutionary trade unionist. I believe that he lived insulated by his own goodness from knowledge of the dark side of communism and that to the end of his life in 1941 he cherished the same innocent dreams and illusions that my friends and I had when we were sixteen.
The menu shows how conventional was this 80th birthday testimonial dinner for a comrade: at a Bloomsbury hotel, with roast lamb and roast potatoes, toasts (I wonder if there was alcohol?) and classical-style singers (all male). It is the hallmark of revolutionary conformity.
The menu is signed by Mann, and it's a nice thing to have.
What a brilliant piece of political ephemera - from 150 years ago, and relating to my own back yard. Many thanks to the wonderfully named Bloomsbury booksellers, Jarndyce - yes, it's an allusion to Dickens's Bleak House - for providing me both with this prize item (at a price to match, naturally) and the high quality image above.
This is a programme for a Reform League procession to the Agricultural Hall in Islington's Upper Street, just a couple of miles from where I live. They were a nationwide, and very effective, campaign organisation which demanded an extension of the franchise and the introduction of the secret ballot. The Second Reform Act of 1867 didn't deliver the manhood suffrage they sought but it more than doubled the number of those eligible to vote (a property restriction remained, but male borough householders and lodgers who paid £10 or more in rent a year now qualified to vote). The Ballot Act followed in 1872. It was another half century, 1918 to be precise, before any women got the vote in Parliamentary elections
The Reform League was largely middle class-led, but artisan radicals and the craft trade societies also rallied to its standard. In central London (and Holborn most notably) several of the League's branches were notoriously left-wing, extending to sympathy for Republicanism and for the Irish nationalist 'Fenian' movement. Some of London's radical working men's clubs, such as the Patriotic on Clerkenwell Green - it's now the Marx Memorial Library - were born out of Reform League branches.
The legend 'God Save the Queen!', in capitals at the bottom of the programme, was clearly intended to emphasise the League's loyalty to the Crown, whatever some of its more wayward members might have spouted from their Sunday morning speaking platforms.
You can see from this programme how important the trade societies were to the Reform League - and also the care the League took in ensuring that its processions were well arranged and effectively marshalled. They even had mounted marshals (in other words, on horseback) - among their number was my old friend Samuel Brighty. Many years (sorry, decades) ago I started a doctoral thesis about popular politics in Clerkenwell in just this period (the chapter on the Reform League was finished, which is more than can be said for the wider thesis - details on request). Brighty was one of several local radical notables (in his case a member of the Clerkenwell Vestry) who engaged my attention. He famously gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes of 1884-5, but that's another story ...
I did wonder whether the 'Mr Coffey' who is also listed as a marshal might be William Cuffay, the noted black Chartist activist, Not so - Cuffay, whose father was from St Kitt's, was deported to Tasmania and elected to stay there at the end of his sentence. He died there in 1870.
I just love political ephemera - and this is really choice. It dates from 1818. And there's quite a story behind it.
Francis Burdett - Westminster School, Oxford and a Baronet to boot - was perhaps an unlikely reformer, but in the early 1800s he became an outspoken and radical advocate of political reform and a wider, much wider, franchise. In the unreformed Parliament of those times, who could vote varied from constituency to constituency. There was no standard qualification for the franchise. In one 'rotten' borough, the electorate was just six. But in Westminster, it was much more extensive. More than 10,000 constituents had the right to vote - a long way from manhood suffrage, never mind the issue of disenfrachised women, but much better than most seats. It was also a two member constituency, so those who were eligible had two votes to cast.
In 1807, Sir Francis Burdett stood for election - somewhat reluctantly - in the Westminster constituency. He topped the poll - very comfortable so. It was a triumph for political radicalism. The story in outline is told here. He stood again in 1818. Polling was in those days a protracted, and public (no secret ballot), process. This slip reflects the final result - Burdett was elected again, but as you will see he didn't do quite as well as a decade earlier, and failed to top the poll. Nevertheless in the excited political times after the Napoleonic Wars, his re-election was a reaffirmation of popular support for political reform.
In some ways, Burdett was a precursor of the Chartist movement which sprang up in the late 1830s. But by then, the Great Reform Act of 1832 had at least begun the process of Parliamentary and political reform.
So this slightly tatty piece of paper is a memento of one of the high water marks of English radicalism. I bought it from a specialist dealer. Thanks Richard!
British Museum website (Creative Commons): Above the design: 'Westminster Election June 18th 1818'. Across the design extends a section of the hustings at Covent Garden with a central upright on which is a placard: '1st Day / State of Poll / Romilly—189 / Maxwell—176 / Burdett—87 / Kinnaird 25 / Hunt 14 / Cartwright 10'. At the base of the design is a fringe of upturned proletarian heads, their words ascending in labels
Sir Francis Burdett is a curious figure in the annals of British radicalism. He was much feted in the first two decades of the century - but by the 1840s, he was representing a seat in Wiltshire and was regarded as a Tory. Hey ho!
Burdett has an interesting life. As a young man, he had a long affair with Lady Oxford (who in turn was one of Byron's lover) and he happened to be in Paris during the early stages of the French Revolution. He married into the Coutts banking family. His daughter Angela Burdett-Coutts (she had to change her surname to include 'Coutts' as a condition for inheriting her grandfather's fortune) became a noted philanthropist. Burdett also brought up two sons of his friend. Roger O'Connor, an Irish nationalist. One of these became the renowned Chartist leader, Feargus O'Connor; the other, Francisco Burdett O'Connor, fought alongside Bolivar in South America.
So that's quite a swathe of nineteenth century history reflected in just one family.
Here's a wonderful piece of political ephemera which I chanced upon in Janette Ray's secondhand bookshop in York yesterday. It's a spoof mourning card marking a moment of political vengeance - the defeat in the Lancashire constituency of Westhoughton of the sitting Conservative MP, Edward Stanley, in the 1906 'Liberal landslide' general election.
Stanley had been the Postmaster General in the outgoing Conservative government and had notoriously castigated postal workers wanting a pay rise as parasites and bloodsuckers. Not surprisingly, that insult rankled.
The seat was won by the Labour candidate, W.T. Wilson, who ascribed his victory to Stanley's contemptuous attitude towards trades unions and working people. As the result was announced, a crowd sang:
Good-bye Stanley dear, good-bye
Good-bye Stanley dear, don't cry
You're a bloodsucker so true
And we've had enough of you
Good-bye Stanley dear, good-bye
'Bloodsucker' Stanley hadn't 'departed this political life' however. In 1908 he inherited the title of Earl of Derby and in later years served twice as Secretary of State for War and was also Britain's ambassador to France.
"Hope it's as exciting as it sounds!"
That was my neighbour's comment this morning when I said I was heading off to Bloomsbury to attend my very first ephemera fair.
He had his golf clubs on his shoulder, and was heading for Wanstead Flats to play a round or two in the rain. And I hope that was as exciting as it sounds, too!
So, what happens at an ephemera fair? Well, there were thirty or forty stalls selling postcards, pamphlets, prints, posters, itsy bits of paper, maps, books, all sorts of stuff - very well organised and convivial, and well attended too. It was mainly men of a certain age - but I can hardly complain about that.
And I suppose you want to know what I came away with? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. I got a few books, all ridiculously cheap - so the 1885 Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, with all 800 pages of minuted evidence, for £3! (OK, so it was disbound, and I guess a couple of pages of the index are missing - but still a bargain).
The pamphlet above was published by the National Council of Labour, apparently in 1935, both denouncing and mocking Oswald Mosley and his blackshirted British Union of Fascists. Mosley had visited Mussolini a few years earlier - and that's the subject of the biting Will Dyson cartoon on the cover.
But my favourite is this wonderful poster - slightly larger than foolscap - published by the CP in January 1943, when communist concern to support the war effort and so save Soviet Russia extended to speeding up production and making capitalism work more efficiently, whatever the drain it put on the workforce. This was the CP's 'Home Front' - and there's a freshness about the drawing and colouring which I find very beguiling. Richard Gold (from whom I bought this) tells me the artist was Elizabeth Shaw - there's an obituary of her here and a nice piece with photo from the Irish Times. According to her Wiki entry, she worked as a mechanic through much of the war ... so she practised what she preached.
So, that's what you come across at an ephemera fair!
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