A really nice find today on Richard Gold's stand at the ephemera fair - a pamphlet, probably from 1920, by the remarkable Leonard Motler. He was a deaf mute man who was an active propagandist and publisher in the anarchist tradition.
Soviets for the British was published by the left communist Workers' Socialist Federation - Sylvia Pankhurst's movement, based in the East End of London - in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, when the dotted line between communism and anarchism was particularly indistinct.
According to Ken Weller's Don't be a Soldier! the radical anti-war movement in North London, 1914-1918, Leonard Motler and another deaf mute anarchist, George Scates, published during the First World War a journal entitled Satire. This was suppressed early in 1918, Motler then wrote a weekly column for Pankhurst's Workers' Dreadnought and published a book of poetry. According to Weller, in May 1920, Motler and Scates joined forces again to publish Labour's Voice from their own printshop on Crowndale Road in Camden (the road on which the Working Men's College still stands). Motler apparently died in South Africa in 1967.
Nick Heath has written a brief biographical note about Motler - here's the link - which is well worth reading. There's a bit more about him here.
This pamphlet, all eleven pages of it, sold for three halfpence, and was described the journal Plebs as 'excellently simple propaganda' - which as you can see from Motler's sub-title, was exactly his aim. He asserts: 'The purpose of this pamphlet is to explain Soviets for the British. What the Soviets are, and the advantages of a Soviet system to the British workers. It will be written in the plainest English possible, with plain facts for plain people.'
Temperance in York
A very nice temperance tract which I bought in York - at Janette Ray's always rewarding bookshop in Bootham, specialising in architecture and design but with quite a bit of ephemera. I would guess this dates from the 1870s
Sewn inside the covers of the York Temperance Society is the loan tract - a four page story-cum-homily about the need to swear abstinence from strong drink. This would be loaned to society members to take home, read and inwardly digest: 'we implore you to banish the drink from your homestead, and to help us banish it from the land'.
To the Sludge Incinerator
... with apologies to Virginia Woolf.
It's quite a trek from Charlton to Erith along the Thames Path - about ten miles - but at the end of this riverside ramble, you are greeted by the majestic sight of, yes, a sludge incinerator. This is contemporary London's tribute to Bazalgette and his ambition to flush away London's waste - the Crossness Sewage Treatment Works.
But let's start at the beginning: just down the road from Charlton's stadium, there's a pub with quite the most interesting name I've come across in a while. The AntiGallican - more about it here - is a legacy of anti-French populism from the 1750s.
This building looks as if it's from the 1890s, and must have taken its name from an earlier pub on the site (there was another AntiGallican pub on Tooley Street until not all that long ago). But so nice it's not been renamed the Frog and Garlic.
It's now apparently a rendezvous for away fans heading to the Valley - and since Charlton's prospect of European football is even more distant than Huddersfield Town's, then the wonderful fantasy of visiting French fans gathering en masse in the AntiGallican is unlikely to be realised any time soon.
Hitting the river, there for all to behold is the engineering marvel that demonstrates, ahem, that Ken can do what Canute can't. The Thames Barrier, operational since 1982, (when Ken Livingstone was leader of the Greater London Council - not that this was a GLC endeavour). It's brought into action six or seven times a year to save London from the risk of flooding. And it has a grandness about it. Don't you think?
It's a landmark which goes largely uncelebrated - the information centre seemed to be deserted, the capacious visitors' car park had one car.
The trek took us past quite a few pubs which were derelict, had changed use, or - in one case - served up the worst pint of John Smith's I have brought myself to consume since 'slops' were banned under trading practices legislation.
And all that way, there was not a single riverside inn making the most of the Thames.
But when it comes to making new use of an old pub, I'd never before seen one that had been turned into a vet's surgery ...
We ambled past the Woolwich Free Ferry - that last vestige of municipal socialism plying across the Thames for fourteen hours every day and free for foot passengers and vehicles alike (HGVs included). It carries two-million passengers a year. A little further downriver, Tate and Lyle is king of the midden - its Thames Refinery at Silvertown remains the largest sugar refinery in the EU.
While it's hardly busy, on these reaches the Thames has some semblance of being a working river. There are a few barges and like vessels. And we even gazed upon the Royal Navy's dear old D37 (with names like that surely Boaty McBoatface can only be an improvement) - which an internet search reveals is known to its friends as Duncan ... it's a Clyde-built air defence destroyer, which apparently means not that it destroys air defences but can zap fighter planes and drones.
It is perhaps the ugliest ship I have ever seen - see what I mean?
There was some real architectural elegance along the way - the Woolwich Arsenal from the riverside being the stand-out. An armaments factory for centuries, and one of the biggest, manufacturing ended here in the 1960s, and the Ministry of Defence relinquished the site in 1994. This is of course where the Arsenal football team was born. They moved north of the river to Highbury just before the First World War. At places along the river there are old (like, old) gun emplacements - which leads me to ask, when was the last time a hostile foreign navy sailed up the Thames? And the remnants of some small dry docks are even more elegiac of the area's past.
Then as Erith looms, the walker is assailed with an unsettling aroma reminiscent of Bovril or home brew gone wrong. You know then that the sludge incinerator is not far away. Designed to resemble a wave (hmm), 'locally it is an iconic presence' I read, which is one way of describing it. It looks after fully a quarter of London's sewage sludge - an awful lot of shit. And it uses the heat generated to power the plant . So it's hot shit too.
If you are seeking a more detailed guide to this part of the Thames Path, here it is.
Don't judge a book by its covers? Whyever not! I do it all the time. I bought this gem today, largely because of its splendid Batsford dust jacket, at the Oxfam bookshop in Highgate - the one close to the top of the hill (with prices to match).
Batsford published a whole range of 'discover Britain' style books between the wars - this one is from 1935 - which are now much collected, in large part because of their cover designs. Brian Cook, the artists, was in fact Sir Brian Caldwell Cook Batsford. One of the family! His designs have a striking, and very fresh, use of colour. They are both of their time and refreshingly modern.
Cook also has the rare distinction of standing as a Conservative for Parliament - and losing to a candidate from Common Wealth (a radical left party which won three by-elections during the Second World War and even managed to retain one of these seats in the 1945 election). He later represented Ealing in the Commons for sixteen years and died in 1991.
Paul Cohen-Portheim is every bit as interesting - a German who was in London when war broke out in 1914, and was interned on the Isle of Man. He wrote a book about it. The Spirit of London is in the style of the 'streets more than palaces' writing about the city, and has well over a hundred black-and-white photographs. The title was published posthumously - Cohen-Portheim died in 1932 - and wasrepublished just five years ago in 2011.
But there's nothing like a first edition - with the original dust jacket. And below you can see that Cook's design made good use of the back of the book too..
Young Miners Awake!
These are two lovely Young Communist League workplace-related pamphlets that I picked up at the Radical Book Fair this weekend. The one above dates from a few months before the 1926 General Strike and is about the issue which precipitated that strike - the 'Coal Kings' attempt to cut wages and lengthen working hours. It has an interesting if unsophisticated cover illustration and was one of the first pamphlets issued by the YCL.
The other pamphlet dates from the spring of 1937, buy which time the CP was a more formidable force. It's encouraging support for the Clydeside apprentices' strike - which won its key demands.
Fresh Garbage @ 40
Forty years ago this week, the first issue of 'Fresh Garbage' appeared - and was promptly filed in waste bins across Keble College, Oxford. It was the first of fourteen issues of this left-wing newssheet, which stumbled on until February 1977. Even by the left's standards of exceedingly short-lived titles, Fresh Garbage had an early sell-by date
Fun to put together, 'Fresh Garbage' hardly changed the world. But it was one of those modest, hand-to-mouth enterprises, which are often dismissed as ephemeral - but sometimes caught the mood more than the polished and manicured publications with a clearer message to convey.
It was put together by the college's Left Caucus, a dozen or so students of a vaguely progressive mindset. The early issues were fairly tame. By the autumn of 1976, and the freshers' issue above, we had worked out how to do some very basic graphics on the stencil sheets. Very basic!
I was leafing through Fresh Garbage the other day for the first time in decades. I gave my complete set, along with a rag bag assembly of all the leaflets, pamphlets, papers, badges and general stuff accumulated during a few years of student radicalism, to the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. I went back there to consult a much more conventional archive, the records of the Gollancz publishing company, but also spent half-an-hour or so communing with my past.
I asked an archivist how many people consult the files I deposited. Thirteen over the previous year, she said - which was about twelve more than I'd expected (though I don't now whether any of them took a look at Fresh Garbage).
One page is a particularly evocative reminder of what we got up to as students ... a listing of local pubs, cafes and stores, compiled by the admirably thorough Colin Orr. Some of those pubs I don't recall at all - but I do remember the Carpenters in Jericho, where, I see, you could then buy a round of five pints of Morrell's bitter (the Oxford brewery closed in 1998, the Carpenters shut down quite a while earlier) and still get some change from a pound note.
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