There's a 'Commie corner' at Golders Green crematorium in north London with a cluster of plaques to prominent British Communists of days past. Harry Pollitt is remembered there, the most renowned of leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain - a boilermaker from Manchester before he became a party apparatchik.
Below Pollitt's memorial there's one to the legendary Tom Mann (1856-1941), perhaps the most widely respected of British Communists and a link to the heroic era of British socialism and above all to the 1889 London Dock Strike.
Harry Pollitt was famous for resisting the notorious 'about-turn' change of line at the start of the Second World War, when the Soviet Union - having negotiated a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany - declared the conflict an imperialist war. All CPs were expected to fall into line. Harry argued against, but was outvoted in the British party leadership.
Pollitt stood down as party general secretary but returned to the post twenty months later after the line had changed again - to regarding the conflict as a people's war against fascism. That gap in his leadership of the party is papered over in the details on his memorial tablet.
Harry Pollitt's funeral in 1960 was one of the last big ceremonial moments of British Communism - caught in this newsreel-style footage.
Of course, it's well known that Comrade Pollitt ended up in hell, or at least that's how 'Harry was a Bolshie' tells the story - a ditty enthusiastically sung by generations of Young Communists:
Harry was a Bolshie, one of Stalin's lads
Till he was foully murdered by counter revolutionary cads
Counter revolutionary, counter revolutionary cads
He was foully murdered by counter revolutionary cads
That's all right said Harry, I'm not afraid to die
I'll carry on my Party work in the land beyond the sky
The land beyond the sky, the land beyond the sky
I'll just carry on my Party work in the land beyond the sky
He got up to the Pearly Gates, met Peter on his knees
'May I speak to Comrade God I'm Harold Pollitt please
Harold Pollitt please, Harold Pollitt please,
May I speak to Comrade God I'm Harold Pollitt please'
Said Peter unto Harry: 'Are you humble and contrite?'
'I'm a friend of Lady Docker's', 'Then OK. you'll be alright
Then OK. you'll be alright, then OK. you'll be alright
If you're a friend of Lady Docker's, then OK. you'll be alright'
They dressed him in a nightie, put a harp into his hand
And he played the Internationale in the hallelujah band
In the hallelujah band, in the hallelujah band
He played the Internationale in the hallelujah band
They put him in the choir, the hymns he did not like
So he organized the angels and he fetched them out on strike
Fetched them out on strike, fetched them out on strike
He organized the angels and he fetched them out on strike
One day as God was walking around the heavenly state
Who should he see but Harry chalking slogans on the gate
Slogans on the gate, slogans on the gate
Who should he see but Harry chalking slogans on the gate
They put him up for trial before the Holy Ghost
Charged with disaffection amongst the heavenly host
Amongst the heavenly host, amongst the heavenly host
Charged with disaffection amongst the heavenly host
The verdict it was guilty, said Harry 'That is swell'
And he tucked his nightie 'round his knees and he floated down to hell
Floated down to hell, floated down to hell
He tucked his nightie 'round his knees and he floated down to hell
A few more years have ended, now Harry's doing swell
He's just been made the people's commissar for Soviet Socialist Hell
And now all the little devils have joined the Y.C.L.
Yes all the little devils have joined the Y.C.L.
Now the moral of this story, it isn't hard to tell,
If you want to be a Bolshie, you've got to go to Hell,
Got to go to Hell, Yes, you've got to go to Hell,
If you want to be a Bolshie, you've got to go to Hell!
And his journey started from here in Golders Green!
This is a wonderful socialist handbill - A4 size - dating probably from the late 1890s. I like it above all because of the sense of continuity with the ultra-radicalism of the Regency period eighty years earlier.
One side of the handbill is given over to a long piece of political doggerel, 'The Social House that Jack Built'. it's by 'T.B.', which is likely to be Thomas Bolas. He was an idiosyncratic and obscure figure within the late nineteenth century socialist movement. In 1886, he published a short-lived paper, the Practical Socialist, and seems to have been associated with William Morris's Socialist League.
Thomas Bolas (1848-1932) was a professor at the Charing Cross medical school and has a footnote in photographic history as a pioneer of what became known as the 'detective camera'.
And the political rhyme? Well it is a riff on a nursery rhyme, 'The House that Jack Built', which concludes:
This is the horse and the hound and the horn
That belonged to the farmer sowing his corn
That kept the rooster that crowed in the morn
That woke the judge all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
William Hone adapted the rhyme for the most successful of his Regency-era radical diatribes, The Political House that Jack Built - illustrated marvellously and mischievously by George Cruikshank.
It was fuelled by the rage over the Peterloo massacre at a Reform meeting in Manchester in August 1819.
And that's Wellington on the front of the pamphlet - though Cruikshank's target was most woundingly 'the Dandy of 60', the Prince Regent who in 1820 became George the Fourth.
The huge success of Hone's squib (my copy is the 53rd edition) stimulated a legion of similar adaptations of the old nursery rhyme - of both radical and anti-radical hue:
How wonderful to see Hone's words still being used and adapted towards the close of the century. I wondered at first whether Bolas simply drew from the nursery rhyme - the illustrator Randolph Caldecott's best-selling version was published in 1878. But Bolas's reference to 'the worker, tattered and torn' shows he was well aware of Hone's adaptation.
The other side of the handbill, by the way, is an agglomeration of short quotes pertaining to socialism along with a brief piece (from where I am not sure) by George Bernard Shaw about the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin:
I hope you will excuse the merest hint of self-congratulation here - but it is quite a landmark. My YouTube channel has just reached 100,000 views. That's quite an achievement when almost all the 'videos' are in fact simply audio.
Put it another way, in the last 28 days, the material on the channel has had 6,684 views with a total watch time of 361.2 hours - or about 13 viewing hours a day.
The most popular item is a radio programme I made more than thirty years ago about the British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley. No doubt traffic has been helped by 'Peaky Blinders', and a few of those who press 'play' hold political views about as diametrically opposed to my own as it is possible to be, but the programme itself is authoritative and, I hope, informative:
And then there are the interviews I've conducted that have found a resonance, such as the Indian poet Amrita Pritam reflecting on Partition and her own experience as a refugee:
And yes, there are a few videos too:
Do take a look!
Crouch End lost a little bit of its soul today. Paul Saxton packed up his news stall for the very last time, For forty-two years, he's looked out on the Broadway from his vantage point just by Crouch End's Clock Tower. His father and grandfather kept the stall before him.
Paul is the last in line. I asked him what would happen to his stall. 'It'll just stay here', he said, '... until the council take it away.'
I hope he felt the love. Well-wishers congregated around ... there were presents, cards, a few bottles ... and his loyal customers had clubbed together to get Paul a suitable retirement send-off. On top of that, he had another memorable gift from a well-wisher - a wonderfully crafted model of his news stand.
By the time I arrived, the very splendid cake to celebrate Paul's long years of service to Crouch End had already been partly consumed.
Paul found the occasion a touch overwhelming. And W.H. Smith's made its own special contribution to the occasion - by ending its supply of papers a day early, I'm not kidding. On his last day, he was left high and dry with not a single paper to sell!
But the fondness of the farewell papered over that particular corporate misdemeanour.
Paul and his wife - she's from Yorkshire - are moving to near Doncaster. How will he ever get used to lying in bed past quarter-past-three in the morning!
Wishing you well, Paul!
Since my student days, and indeed I guess from before then, I've felt a special connection with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The name helps of course. It's memorable. It rolls of the tongue like one of his poems. And what he stands for - rebellious, gentle, acerbic, questing. Let's not even start to get into the issue of whether he was a Beat poet - he was with the Beats, though a little older and more staid in manner (which I sort of like).
It's been quite a thrill to visit Ferlinghetti's City Lights bookstore in San Francisco a couple of times. Last time I was in the States, I managed to pick up a signed copy of his Starting from San Francisco.
Ferlinghetti died on Monday, a month short of his 102nd birthday. Farewell!
Daphne's badges, cards, + a single which never made the charts: Harold Wilson, 'Let's Go With Labour'
The badges and political ephemera accumulated over a lifetime often bear testimony to decades of political striving, campaigning and service. They are the physical manifestations of a vision - of a commitment to social justice and a more equal society.
I am very grateful to a friend, Ruth Hogarth, for giving me these badges and membership cards of her mother's. Daphne Ritchings will be 95 in a couple of weeks time and is now in a home - I asked Ruth to tell me a bit about her mother:
'Both Daphne and my father, Alfred Hogarth, were in politics before they met. My father was active in the anti-fascist politics of the 30s East End under a pseudonym (Peter Hughes) so as not to jeopardise his mother’s business in Bethnal Green.'
'My mother became a socialist I think when she joined the WAAF in 1942. She joined the Labour Party at around that time and has remained a lifelong member - so nearly 80 years. They met when she - a GI bride with a young son and he a married father of two - went to work for him as his secretary after the war.'
'Between them they had seven children (four together) and we all lived in post-war poverty in a two-bed rented flat in London before moving to a new breeze block house in Bucks in the 1950s. It was at that point they both became trade unionists and Labour Party activists - he worked at Battersea Power station and she was a secretary. They both held seats on the local district council at various points during the 50s and 60s. Because of the war, my mother never got an education and, because of children, worked from home until she was 35, doing secretarial work, typing, sewing, childminding, lollipop lady etc. At 35, she became a legal secretary and carried on working in secretarial/PA roles until she retired at nearly 70.
'Later in life she turned from formal politics to protest - CND, Anti-Apartheid, Greenham Common.'
Quite the choice piece among these items is a 45 rpm disc - a 'single' in the parlance of the times - issued by the Labour Party ahead of the 1964 election (which Harold Wilson went on to win becoming only the third Labour prime minister).
This seems to have been the handiwork of Bessie Braddock - and the record has been signed by her, how wonderful! She was a pugnacious figure - the mainstay of the party on Merseyside. She started out in the ILP, was a foundation member of the Communist Party, moved over to Labour and became part of the 'great moving right show'.
Bessie was a formidable personality and campaigner and was once described as the most well-known woman in the country after the Queen:
And if you want to get a sense of the Merseysound Bessie Braddock style - and of Harold Wilson's introduction to it (wisely the A-side) - then give these a spin:
Kensal Green cemetery on the Harrow Road dates from the 1830s and is still in use. It was the first of the 'magnificent seven' garden cemeteries encircling the growing city of London - these were large private burial grounds intended to take the pressure off central London graveyards.
I didn't go there looking for the Indian aspect - but it was impossible to avoid.
The greater number of India-linked burials are of British generals administrators and officials of the East India Company - here's a selection:
Both the Anglican and the Dissenters' chapels have a real elegance ...
... though the general impression is of a crowded, higgledy-piggledy Victorian burial ground.
And the other graves and memorials? Well, I missed the Robert Owen memorial and the Reformers' memorial - so that's a good reason to go back.
But take a look at these ... and yes, the caricaturist and temperance advocate George Cruikshank was initially buried here (and then dug up and moved to St Paul's Cathedral) and the final gravestone, no, nothing to indicate whose grave it marks!
This is a wonderful reminder of one of Britain's less well known Official Secrets trials. It's from 1958 - the height of the Cold War. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had just been established, and the first Aldermaston march against nuclear weapons took place in April that year.
This pamphlet - well, more a leaflet - was published (at one remove) by one of the main titles of the emerging New Left, Universities & Left Review. It reprinted an article from the Oxford student magazine Isis of February 1958 which revealed the dubious tactics that Britain's armed forces used against the Soviet bloc and to ensure the effectiveness of their signals intelligence.
The article makes interesting reading -
The leaflet was published by the ULR Club, and the address given appears to be that of Raphael Samuel, one of the founders of Universities & Left Review.
A pencilled note on the leaflet reads: 'Postgraduate students were jailed for this.' And that seems to be true - two students were indeed locked up.
The picture agency Shutterstock has online a photo taken on 21st May 1958 with the caption: 'Paul Richard Thompson (l) And William Miller (r) - Two Oxford Undergraduates Charged Under The Official Secrets Act With Communicating Secret Information Following An Article In The Undergraduate Magazine "Isis".'' Another photo of the pair dates from two months later.
According to an obituary of William Miller - who went on to become a successful editor, publisher and literary agent - the two men were sentenced to three months in jail with the specific proviso that this should be served in a low security open jail. In other words, the judge reckoned that while there had been a breach of the Official Secrets Act, it was a nuisance rather than a threat to national security.
The other defendant, Paul Thompson, appears to be the distinguished sociologist and oral historian of that name. He was certainly a student at Oxford at the time and - more tellingly - had studied Russian in the navy during his National Service.
The Whittington hospital has a new aspect - or an old aspect revealed. The demolition of an undistinguished building on the east side of Dartmouth Park Hill (I think a nurses' home) has revealed once again the full magnificence of the building at the heart of the Whittington estate.
So here in its majesty - well, it's a pity about the fire escape - is the west facing side of the Smallpox and Vaccination hospital. It's the oldest part of what is now the Whittington and was built over 1848-1850.
Grand as this Italianate facade is, this is not the front of the building. That's the south facing side, complete with portico, clock and inscription.
It is so much more stylish than modern hospitals, don't you think?
By the end of the nineteenth century, a new smallpox hospital has been built, and the old smallpox hospital became the administration block for the adjoining Islington workhouse infirmary (which is also part of the Whittington these days).
What is now the Whittington combines three former workhouse infirmaries. On the east side of Highgate Hill there's what the was the Holborn and Finsbury infirmary. And on the left side of Dartmouth Park Hill is the St Pancras infirmary, now a mental health centre, altogether more distinguished and dating from the late 1860s. Some clearing of trees and shrubs in Waterlow Park, plus the weight of the snow on the branches, offers just at the moment a marvellous view of what was the imposing administration block of St Pancras infirmary.
And below is what this western section of the Whittington once looked like - taken from the Camden History Society's excellent Streets of Highgate.
Not one of the oldest churches in and around Hornsey - not one of the biggest - not one of the prettiest ... but there is a charm about Hornsey Moravian Church, don't you think?
The building dates back to 1908, and according to Pevsner it is 'distinguished by an attractive octagonal corner turret with a spire'. And this is certainly the stand-out aspect of the architecture.
The Moravians are one of the oldest Protestant churches, dating back to the fifteenth century, and perhaps best known for their symbol of the Lamb of God.
They are also one of the smaller churches with perhaps a million members worldwide, mainly in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.
There are around 20,000 Moravians in Europe - and a thousand or more are in the UK in about thirty congregations (including the Chelsea church and burial ground which I have blogged about before).
The Hornsey church seems to house the headquarters of the church in Britain. The Hornsey Moravians have a good website, and have posted online a comprehensive history of their church, from which this photograph of its opening in 1908 is taken:
The Moravian Messenger reported the plans for the construction of the church as follows:
'Various sites in North London suburbs were examined by the Committee, and it was decided to recommend a plot of ground on Priory Road, Hornsey, at the foot of Muswell Hill. ... The district is a new one, few of the houses in it being more than ten years old. While to all intents and purposes the site is on the main road, it is separated from it by a public garden which runs along the Priory Road to Hornsey. This ensures a certain amount of privacy, and will also prevent the noise of the electric cars causing annoyance during services. ... Ours will be the first Free Church in the field. Trams to various parts pass the site, and several G.N.R. Stations are within a short distance. The people belong almost entirely to the middle class and the wish, so often expressed, that efforts be made to reach the middle classes, will have a chance of fulfilment.'
I feel an affinity with the Moravians because I am part of the 0.01% of the population - actually, that's probably on the high side - that went to a Moravian primary school ... at Fulneck outside Pudsey in West Yorkshire. A beautiful spot with wonderful eighteenth century architecture. My parents weren't Moravians (indeed they were, if anything, lapsed Baptists) - but they preferred me going to fee-paying Fulneck rather than the village primary.
So although I'm a non-believer, I'm pleased there is a flourishing Moravian church just down the road.
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