The Miners' Next Step
Well, this is a gem and a half! The Miners' Next Step, published by a group of left-wing miners in South Wales, is probably the most important expression of the revolutionary syndicalist movement which was of real influence in the years just before the First World War.
One of the principal authors was Noah Ablett, born in the Rhondda, who attended the trade union-linked Ruskin College at Oxford. He was also a founder memebr of the Plebs League.
Ablett was working at Mardy colliery in 1911 when he helped to found the Unofficial Reform Committee, which espoused a more aggressive form of trade unionism, advocating a minimum wage and eventual miners' control of the collieries.
The back of the pamphlet promotes left-wing literature, including the journal of the Plebs League.
(In case you were wondering where I got this pamphlet, it was on sale at a stall run by the Marx Memorial Library at a gathering about radical bookshops. This was a duplicate copy in the library's holdings.)
Baron's 'Chapters of Accidents'
It's a pleasure and a joy to report that the memoirs of the novelist Alexander Baron, Chapters of Accidents, have been published for the first time.
Baron (born Alec Bernstein and known within the family as Joe) was a wonderful chronicler of the 'poor bloody infantry' experience of the Second World War, notably in his debut novel From the City, From the Plough. And The Lowlife is rightly regarded as one of the classic accounts of post-war London, and is one of my favourite pieces of literature.
This memoir covers Baron's childhood and family connection to the East End. There's also a wonderful and detailed account of his recruitment into the Communist Party, his entryist activity in the Labour Party's youth wing, and then his part in the CP's preparations for operating underground in the event that they were banned during the Second World War (while the Daily Worker was banned for a while, the party avoided proscription).
There's also a powerful account of Baron's wartime service in France and Italy, and the memoir ends in 1948 with the publication of his first novel and his decision to devote himself to writing.
The book is handsomely produced and includes many photographs. It's published by Valentine Mitchell and sells for £16.95. A bargain!
"I'm a Professional Agitator"
Here's a wonderful cache of political badges that I have been sent by Mike Sharples - thanks Mike!
These are mainly from the late 1970s and include some of the most iconic badges of that time, including the Anti Nazi League red arrow, the 'Fight Racism' black fist and the anti-nuclear power Smiley Sun. And then there's this one ...
Good to be reminded that lefties really did have a sense of humour!
Mike Sharples tells me: 'I was involved in various political and community arts campaigns in Scotland during the 1970s, including a stint as Press Officer of the Scottish League of Young Liberals (Peter Hain was my counterpart in England at the time), as a community drama worker in Edinburgh, as a coordinator of the SCRAM campaign against the Torness nuclear power station in Edinburgh, and as an editor of various community magazines.
'I collected the badges as souvenirs then put them up in the attic along with other memorabilia such as alternative magazines and posters from the 1970s. We have recently moved house, so it’s high time for a clear out.'
Pure Gold at the Barbican
Artistic depictions of the workplace are none too common. Stone friezes showing people at work are vanishingly rare.
This one at Aldersgate Street in the Barbican is a gem - a depiction of gold refining and smelting. You can feel the heat and smell the sweat!
If you are looking for the frieze, it's across the road from the entrance to the Barbican tube station. It's worth seeking out.
The plaque accompanying the frieze is not easily legible, so I've typed out what it says:
'This frieze was removed from numbers 53 and 54 Barbican when it was demolished in 1962 and re-erected by the Corporation of London in 1975. Numbers 53 and 54 Barbican were the premises of W. Bryer & Sons gold refiners and assayers whose trade is depicted in the frieze. The building was one of the few which survived when the area was largely destroyed by incendiary bombs in December 1940.'
The frieze depicts, from left to right, the weighing of the gold ore, the smelting and then casting of the gold, and then the sale of the finished product. All the work of the business stage-by-stage. And the workplace cat is featured too!
This gold refinery business was established in 1815 - though it only became known as W. Bryer and Sons in the 1870s. The firm relocated to Hatton Garden and is still listed in online directories.
And fittingly there is a Bryer Court, named after the business, in the Barbican Estate, built from the mid-1960s and one of Central London's biggest, and most controversial, post-war development projects.
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