What a galaxy of left-wing talent! And all on the same page. Though not for much longer.
These signatures date, it seems, from 1926 or perhaps the following year. Within a few years, these fellow signatories - all determinedly on the political left at the time - were at each other's throats. As the Communists turned to ultra-left sectarianism, prominent CP-er Harry Pollitt would have had nothing to do with Labour's George Lansbury.
By the mid-1930s, Oswald Mosley had given up on Labour, tried and failed to galvanise the left with his New Party, and donned the black shirt as leader of the British Union of Fascists.
But here at least, the signatures suggests that all these disparate figures are allied in a cause.
But what's the story behind this curious collection of autographs?
Well, they are in a copy of a hugely successful title, The Week-End Book, which described itself as a 'social anthology'.
It proved to be something of a publishing sensation. A mix of poems, brain teasers, songs, excerpts, bon mots, even medical remedies ... Determinedly middle-brow, the title had sold 100,000 copies within its first seven years and remained in print for decades.
The book was first published in June 1924. This copy was part of the sixteenth impression which appeared in October 1926.
Francis Meynell (1891-1975) was a socialist poet and publisher who in 1922 was a founder of the Nonesuch Press. He was one of the editors of The Week-End Book - so this was his book. In 1913, Meynell had been brought in by George Lansbury to be business manager of the left-leaning Daily Herald. In 1921, he was the editor of a weekly, the Communist, which involved him in large debts after he lost a libel action.
Arthur J. Cook (1883-1931) was a left-wing miners' leader and a key figure in the May 1926 General Strike. He was general secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain from 1924 until his death. Cook was a member of the ILP and regarded as close to the Communist Party. In the the latter part of the 1920s, he was seen as an ally of Mosley and others on the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) is rightly notorious as a racist and the leader of British Fascism. He was elected to Parliament in 1918 as a Conservative but later joined the Labour Party. In December 1926, he won a Parliamentary by-election in Smethwick. In 1929, he was appointed to a post in the Labour government and the memorandum he drew up advocating high tariffs and public works was seen as a key left-wing initiative. But Labour's leadership weren't interested and Mosley resigned, going on to establish the New Party before advocating fascism.
George Lansbury (1859-1940) was a socialist and pacifist and one of the very few MPs to resign from Parliament (in 1912) in support of demands for women's suffrage. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1922 and ten years later was elected leader of the Labour Party, at a time when disgraced Labourite Ramsay MacDonald was heading a 'national' coalition government. Lansbury was leader of the Labour Party for three years - relinquishing the post without having led the party in a general election campaign.
Harry Pollitt (1890-1960) is the commanding figure in the history of the British Communist Party. In 1925, he was one of twelve communists convicted and jailed on charges of seditious libel and incitement to mutiny. Pollitt became party leader in 1929, a post he retained - apart from a short break in the early part of the Second World War because of his reservations about the Nazi-Soviet pact - until 1956. He is the subject of the noted political ditty 'Harry was a Bolshie'.
Marjorie Pollitt (1902-1991) was born Marjorie Brewer and was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. She was a teacher. She married Harry Pollitt in 1925. This photograph was taken during the Pollitts' honeymoon the following year.
William Arthur Lansbury (1885-1957) was the son of George Lansbury - as a teenager he was arrested while supporting the campaign for women's suffrage. The illustration is from the register of those detained for suffragette-linked action. I haven't been able to find out much more about him.
So how come they all came to sign this book? Was it a memento of a meeting or event - did they for instance all come together during Mosley's by-election campaign at the close of 1926? Or was this a raffle prize? Or did Francis Meynell 'collect' autographs here of his more illustrious comrades?
If I find out more, I'll post the update here.
The Shepherds Bush Empire dates from another era - but then so does the band that played there last night.
Yes, Jethro Tull! And yes, still 'Living in the Past' ... brave of Ian Anderson to have his former self on the big screen behind the band:
It was of course an old codgers event - one of the few concerts where the queue for the men's loo was longer (a lot!) than for the ladies'.
Ian Anderson is the only survivor from the heyday of Jethro Tull. But then he really was Jethro Tull. At 74, he can still skip around impishly and play a flute on one leg.
But the voice doesn't have the old strength or character. And please, Ian, time to give up on the phallic flute flaunting.
This was the first time I'd seen Jethro Tull in almost half-a-century. Let me more precise: it was 49 years, six months and seven days since I last saw the band.
On 18th March 1972, I was in the audience when Jethro Tull - supported by Tir Na Nog - played at Leeds University. I was 15 and it was part of their 'Thick as a Brick' tour (the title song featured in last night's set). I remember that the band took to the stage accompanied by all the roadies, all wandering around wearing matching full length coats with the collars up - the band then disrobed and the roadies retreated, and off we went.
This was what Jethro Tull looked like back in the day:
But then the audience looked a little different too!
And Jethro Tull last night closed with a rendition of their classic, 'Locomotive Breath'. Here's a bit of it:
A striking image of two linchpins of the British New Left just before the New Left was born. This photo is from early 1956, and shows Raphael (then Ralph) Samuel with the pipe and Peter Sedgwick standing over him. This joint profile carries the title: 'Red Idols'.
The article appeared in February 1956 in Isis, which I should explains was an Oxford students' weekly magazine and not an advocate of global jihad. The author was himself something of a Red Idol, Gabriel Pearson was secretary of the Oxford students' Communist group - the CP in Oxford at this time was highly stratified with separate groups for students, dons and the 'town'.
Raphael Samuel (1934-1996) had at this time just turned 21; Peter Sedgwick (1934-1983), was a little older - within weeks of his 22nd birthday. They were both keen Communists and emerging as important intellectual voices on the left.
And this 'Ralph' thing? Well, there are several versions as to how Raphael adopted this different moniker. One is that when Raphael enlisted in the North London Young Communist League, he wanted to go by a name which was familiar to young working-class comrades. Certainly, Ralph fits nicely with the pipe!
There were two founding sites of the British New Left. One was among Yorkshire-based historians in the CP, Edward Thompson and John Saville, who established a dissident journal within the party, the Reasoner, in the summer of 1956. This was just after the revelations about Khrushchev's 'secret' speech denouncing Stalin's cult of personality.
The third and final issue of the Reasoner appeared in November 1956 in the wake of the invasions of both Suez (by the UK, France and Israel) and Hungary (by the Soviet Union). Thompson and Saville were part of an avalanche of intellectuals out of the CP and in the summer of 1957, they established the influential New Reasoner.
Parallel to this, four Oxford students came together in the spring of 1957 to establish Universities and Left Review, another advocate of socialist humanism and more lively and engaging than the New Reasoner. Two of these four - Raphael Samuel and Gabriel Pearson - had just come out of the CP; the other two were on the left but never attracted to the CP, and both had come to Oxford from overseas, Stuart Hall from Jamaica and Chuck Taylor from Canada.
The New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review combined at the start of 1960 to become New Left Review, initially edited by Stuart Hall - and taken over a couple of years later, amid what some still describe as a coup, by Perry Anderson.
Raphael Samuel went on to establish the History Workshop movement. Peter Sedgwick joined the International Socialists, and became an expert in the life and writings of the Russian revolutionary and polymath, Victor Serge.
Leafing though issues of Isis in 1956, you can trace the shadow of the implosion of the Oxford students' Communist group - above all in this letter from Gabriel Pearson (who sadly died earlier this year).
Gary Pearson (yes, he too adopted a more demotic first name) was a regular contributor of verse to Isis. In December 1956, Pearson himself was the subject of one of the magazine's profiles with the title: 'Poet Idol':
And if you've made it this far, here's a bonus - an interview I did on Zoom with Chuck Taylor, the last surviving founding editor of Universities and Left Review, posted on YouTube with his blessing.
This wonderful little brooch, a little bigger than a 10p coin, dates from the First World War. It's a sweetheart brooch of the Machine Gun Corps, which was set up in October 1915 to ensure the more effective use of machine guns on the Western front and was disbanded in 1922. The corps' level of casualties was so high it was nicknamed the suicide club.
The badges aren't particularly rare or valuable - this one has the corps badge mounted on mother of pearl and is slightly chipped. It cost me a very reasonable £8.
Historian Penny Streeter has written about these brooches, which reached the peak of their popularity during the First World War. She says: 'These little brooches are miniature replicas of the badges of military regiments, naval units, the Royal Flying Corps and the RAF, generally known as sweetheart brooches because they were often given as romantic keepsakes by members of the armed forces to their wives and girlfriends before they left for the front.'
I found this brooch last week at an antiques stall in Cromford near Derby, and the location is as important to me as its charm and historical resonance. I have written a biography of a Derby woman, Freda Bedi, who made her life in India, where she was an active nationalist and leftist and later a Tibetan Buddhist nun. Her father, Frank Houlston, was in the Machine Gun Corps and died in northern France in April 1918. In this photograph, he is wearing the corps emblem on his cap.
There is not the slightest evidence that the brooch I bought was given by Frank Houlston to his wife - but nor is that out of the question.
It's not unusual in the Derbyshire Peak District to find villages with two Methodist chapels. It is unusual for these chapels to be just about opposite each other.
Methodism, a breakway from the established church, was itself prone to fissure. Wesleyan Methodism was always the majority strand, but from 1810 Primitive Methodism emerged as a more 'back to basics' style of Methodism. It was a lot of adherents, particularly in poorer congregations and in area such as the lead mining district of Derbyshire. The split within British Methodism was made good in 1932 when Wesleyans and Primitives came back together.
Here in Birchover, two imposing chapels - the Wesleyan Methodists being slightly older and (only) slightly grander - are on opposite sides of Main Street. What a tale must lie behind that rivalry. Neither is in use for worship today - though some of the Methodist chapels in nearby villages have managed to keep going.
There was a third place of worship in Victorian Birchover - though tucked away out of view. A small Church of England church, alongside a vicarage which is quite immense. You have to scour around to find them (in the track that leads from the Druids' Inn). And this church is still going - with a couple of Sunday services each month.
Why is it always the establishment that wins out?
This tower on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire's Peak District is altogether magnificent.
But what is it? A folly? A rather grand winding shaft for a long disused lead mine?? The tower of a church which has since disappeared (there's one of those in Hornsey, more details on request)???
Well, it's altogether better than that. This tower was built in 1832 to celebrate the Great Reform Act, the first step - more of a big leap - towards making Britain a representative Parliamentary democracy.
It's known formally as Earl Grey Tower - he was prime minister of the Whig/Liberal government which passed the act (and yes the same guy gave his name to Earl Grey tea) - and was built by one of his supporters. But this Grade II listed gritstone tower is generally known by the much more resonant name of the Reform Tower.
I've seen Reform banners, and indeed have a Reform plate ... but a Reform Tower, that really is grand!!
If you are on the look-out for the tower - and in spite of its height, it is easy to miss - it's close to the Nine Ladies stone circle.
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