Once upon two-thirds of a lifetime ago, I spent rather a lot of time in Colindale. This anonymous corner of North London was, until 2013, the home of the British Library's Newspaper Library. It held more than 53,000 titles and had some 50 kilometers of shelf space
I went back to Colindale this week - for my car's annual service - and had the chance to wander round the area. It's changed - though not a lot. There are now, to judge from the shops, significant Romanian and Chinese populations. The café I used to go to for my lunchtime sausage sandwich is still there. The old Newspaper Library isn't - but its function is reflected in the street names of the development which has arisen on that same location.
The old building was not architecturally blessed, as you can see -
and the new development is not an obvious improvement -
But how nice to see the old purpose of this site perpetuated in the nomenclature of the new lay-out. It might have been nice to see some of the more outlandish of newspaper titles to be on display - Ally Sloper's Half Holiday, perhaps. But then again, I don't suppose many people want to live at 2 Beano Court, Motorcycle News Avenue.
Shrew was the paper of the Women's Liberation Workshop in London and started towards the end of the 1960s - before such titles as Red Rag and Spare Rib. In line with the non-hierarchical spirit of the women's movement, local women's liberation groups took it in turns to produce an issue. And each issue was produced collectively rather than having individual bylines.
This is the issue produced in March 1971 by the Tufnell Park WLW - which, with Peckham, was one of the first to be established (and which also happens to be where I currently live). Sixteen local WLW groups across London are listed.
This cartoon gives a flavour of the increasing suspicion with which many in the women's movement regarded male-dominated far left and campaign groups. Jenny Fortune was responsible for many of the cartoons and graphics in early feminist publications - she can't remember whether this is one of hers but thinks it might be:
This issue of Shrew came out exactly a year after the first women's liberation conference at Oxford and a few weeks after the protest which disrupted the Miss World finals (as chronicled, with a little cinematic licence, in the film 'Misbehaving'). A brief item reports on the progress of the trial of the women charged as a result of that protest.
The contents of the issue read well half-a-century (exactly!) later:
The rear cover was publicity for the first women's liberation demonstration through central London and also promoted the four key demands of the women's liberation movement at this date.
This pocket size song book was designed to be taken on the march - it seems to be linked to the Topic Records LP ( remember them!) 'Songs Against the Bomb', released in 1960.
The cover design - by Kit Cooper - is a clever riff on the CND peace symbol in the form of a note on a musical stave. It was published by John Foreman, who styled himself 'the Broadsheet King'. The pamphlet features all sorts of songs, including the work of Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl and Sydney Carter.
'The H Bomb's Thunder' became the unofficial Aldermaston anthem - written by John Brunner, who went on to achieve fame as a writer of science fiction. Don't know it? Here it is -
Some of the songs were stirring, tunes to stride to - others were more reflective, such as Sydney Carter's 'The Crow on the Cradle' ...
... which happily is still being sung, not least by the magical Lady Maisery -
This slender pamphlet finds space for other songs of protest and of salvation - and the inclusion of so many songs written for the post-war peace movement gives this selection a very different feel from the socialist songbooks of the time. And these songs were sung!
I have a confession to make. I have been snooping round graveyards again. This time at Abney Park in Stoke Newington - where I came face-to-face with this magnificent sleeping lion.
It certainly stands out from the routine headstones, crosses, angels and broken columns. A touch of the exotic in N16!
Frank Bostock started training lions as a teenager and reputedly survived maulings by a lion and a tiger - and indeed had a finger bitten off by an ape. The fullest account of his life is here.
Frank was born into a dynasty of menagerie owners and he had a head for business as well as a way with animals. In the 1890s, he rebased to the United States and spent a decade there, where his travelling menageries were hugely successful.
Bostock died while still in his mid-forties - from the flu, it seems, though other accounts speak of nervous exhaustion and the impact of successive maulings, His funeral was a lavish affair with thirty or more carriages making their way to Abney Park cemetery.
And more than a century after his death, Frank Bostock's grave still captures attention. A showman to the last!
This wonderful ha'penny token from 1794 celebrates the acquittal on charges of high treason of John Horne Tooke. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, Tooke was a radical and was prosecuted for treason at a time when the perceived excesses of French Republicans prompted action against those seen as their sympathisers in Britain.
Tooke was arrested on 16th May 1794 and - with huge symbolism - detained at the Tower of London. But once the case came to trial, a hearing lasting six days, the jury took just eight minutes to clear him.
The token also celebrates the achievements of Thomas Erskine and Vicary Gibbs, the lawyers who secured Tooke's acquittal and also helped to clear others charged with treason at about this time, including Thomas Hardy and John Thelwall. After this series of courtroom setbacks, Pitt the Younger's government stepped back from its policy of repression of political radicals
This token - which is about the size of a two-pence piece - was produced as an expression of political support for Tooke and his ilk, as you can see from the inscription. Privately minted ha'penny tokens were common at this time because of an acute shortage of low denomination coins - though I rather doubt that these particular tokens were used to make routne purchases.
Tooke, by the way, later became the MP for the most notorious of the unreformed 'rotten boroughs', Old Sarum - while Esrkine briefly held the post of Lord Chancellor and Gibbs (nicknamed 'Vinegar' Gibbs for his caustic humour) became an MP and Solicitor General.
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!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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