This terracotta statue of Charles Bradlaugh, one of the most renowned of Victorian radicals, stands in the middle of a roundabout in the constituency he represented in Parliament: Northampton.
Bradlaugh was a proselytising atheist, a Republican, an advocate of birth control, a campaigner for social justice, political reform and a free press and an advocate of Irish and Indian nationalism. And he was at the centre of one of the all-time-great Parliamentary dramas - when he was repeatedly returned by the electors of Northampton and repeatedly denied permission to take his seat in the House of Commons.
Bradlaugh aroused strong emotions - to his followers he was the bravest of the brave, a courageous opponent of privilege (you can get a flavour of how he was viewed by the inscriptions, from a song 'Bradlaugh for Northampton', around the base of the statue); to his detractors he was a Godless, self-promoting knave. He was certainly impetuous - but he also succeeded in challenging some of the most profound injustices of his era.
I was in Northampton for a walk organised by the Bradlaugh Society to mark the 150th anniversary of his first Parliamentary candidacy in the town. And where better to gather to celebrate the life of an unbeliever and contemptuous critic of clerical privilege than the steps of the town's main church, the commanding All Saints.
The other building shown - with the boarded-up white arches (and yes that is a kilted piper playing) - was the hotel overlooking the market square which Bradlaugh repeatedly made his campaign headquarters.
We had the chance of visiting Northampton's awe-inspiring Guildhall and also the town's library where, in the Carnegie Room, there is a portrait of Bradlaugh in the closing months of his life -
Bradlaugh contested the seat of Northampton an astonishing eight times. He was not local to the area but was invited to contest by local radicals. It was in many ways a promising seat. Although Northamptonshire was a county of large landed estates, the town had a strong non-conformist tradition and the workers in its principal industry, the boot and shoe trade (which still survives in attenuated form) were decidedly radical.
On the first three occasions that Bradlaugh stood - the general elections of 1868 and 1874 and a by-election later in 1874 - he lost. That third defeat was regarded by his supporters as unjust and irregular, and there was rioting in Northampton's market square. But in 1880 - now endorsed by the local Liberal establishment - he was elected to represent this two-member constituency.
There then unfolded a turbulent and unseemly drama. Bradlaugh as an atheist asked to affirm to take his seat. This was refused. He then said he would take the oath. This too was refused on the grounds that he had made clear that the oath had no meaning to him. He was on one occasion forcibly removed from the chamber and indeed detained overnight in the Houses of Parliament.
Three times, he was either expelled as an MP or chose to resign in protest about not being allowed to take his seat. On all three occasions he won the ensuing by-election ... though on one occasion his majority was cut to the bone. It became a cause celebre. He was finally allowed to take the oath in 1886, and two years later legislation allowing members to affirm was passed. The prolonged stand-off took a toll on Bradlaugh - he died in 1891 at the age of 57. I told his story many years ago in a radio documentary for the BBC World Service.
Today's walk ended, suitably enough, in the part of town which was Bradlaugh's political stronghold: the boot-and-shoe quarter. A disused shoe factory there (I chanced across a man who once worked there - he said it was where Church's made women's shoes) has been turned into a pub and named TCB, 'The Charles Bradlaugh'. And there we toasted his memory and achievements.
The weather was kind for the walk - warm thanks to Northampton's Bradlaugh Society for organising it, and a call-out for their campaign to save the Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore. Bradlaugh became known as the 'Member for India' because of his willingness to raise India's grievances in Parliament and his links with the Indian National Congress. Lahore's Bradlaugh Hall - built from 1900 - was named in tribute to him. It was where many landmark nationalist meetings and protest gatherings were held and is part of Lahore's political as well as architectural heritage - but the hall is now in a state of acute disrepair ... as you can see -
Today, of all days, is one to remember those who fought in two world wars. My grandfather, Joseph Whitehead, was a despatch rider in the First World War - taking messages by motorbike from one part of the front-line to another and between the front-line and command posts some way behind. This photo from 1914 shows a group of 'DRs', as they were known, in training - my grandfather is standing on the extreme right.
I now have the print - and a photograph of my grandfather, in his corporal's uniform, at his wedding to Ethel Brooksbank on 17th April 1917.
Joseph and Ethel had three sons - all played a part in the Second World War: one in the air force, another in the navy and the third in the medical corps.
My father's twin brother, Bernard - he's on the right below, my father is on the left - enlisted in the Royal Navy and became a Midshipman and later a Sub-Lieutenant. He was a submarine detection officer and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for the sinking of two submarines in the Bristol Channel. He served in the Channel at D-Day and also in the Arctic convoys.
My father's older brother, Donald, was a Quaker and a conscientious objector. He joined the Royal Artillery Medical Corps and served in North Africa and Italy.
All four Whiteheads, I am thankful to say, survived the wars in which they served. But it's important to remember and reflect upon all those who didn't return home - all the civilians who lost their lives - and all the suffering that war unleashed.
This is the sort of political ephemera that I love - a programme for the Daily Worker's annual dinner, cabaret and dance at a posh Bloomsbury hotel. This is from the spring of 1943, a few months after the wartime ban on the British Communists' daily paper was lifted.
On the back of the programme is a space for autographs, and whoever's had this card was busy that evening - getting , by my count, twenty-three monikers. But who were they? Well I'm going to try to find out, and will update this post as more information comes to light -
1: Grader - and then by the same hand in Burmese 'Great Dah': in other words 'Grader' rendered into Burmese script. 'Dah' means knife in Burmese, though that doesn't solve the mystery of who Grader was - it's not a Burmese name.
2 R. Bishop: Reg Bishop was a prominent communist who had spent time in the Soviet bloc
3 Barbara Niven: was an artist who worked for many years for the Daily Worker, become the head of its 'Fighting Fund'
4 M. Myat Tun (and in Burmese 'Maung Myat Tun'): he had been in touch with George Orwell in 1942. This appears to have been a name adopted by U Myint Thein (1900-1994) who studied at Cambridge and was called to the Bar in 1925. He was appointed Burma's first ambassador to China in 1948 and was Burma's Chief Justice from 1957 to 1962.
5 ?? T. Srenier
6 Willie Hall
7 Harry Davis: this may be the Bethnal Green boxer of this name
8 D.F, Springhall: Dave Springhall was editor of the Daily Worker in 1938-9 and then the party's national organsier. Later in 1943, he was sentenced to seven years in jail for espionage - for gathering classified information about defence equipment - and was expelled from the CP. As well as his signature, he wrote: 'with keen affection'.
9 ? Rona Ofrenbrau
10 Arthur Danahar: was a well-known boxer
11 ? Henri Vyarik
12 Cayton: was the nom de plume of Alf Rubin and came from Cayton Street, where the Daily Worker was based in the mid-1930s. He was the paper's racing tipster for many decades.
13 Harry Ross
14 G.W. Sinfield: George Sinfield was active in the 1930s in the workers' sports movement and the National Union of Boxers. He became the Daily Worker's sports writer and later its industrial correspondent.
15 R. Palme Dutt: Rajani Palme Dutt was one of the leading figures in the Communist Party, and was general secretary over 1939-41 when Harry Pollitt stood down because of his reservations over the 'imperialist war' line.
16 J.B.S Haldane: a very prominent scientist and populariser of science, and an Eton-educated Marxist
17 D.N. Pritt: a barrister and 'fellow traveller', he was elected as a Labour MP in 1935 but was expelled from the Labour Party in 1940 for defending the Soviet invasion of Finland
18 Frank Pitcairn: was the nom de plume of Claud Cockburn a journalist who wrote regularly for the Daily Worker, most famously from Spain during the civil war
19 ?? Slattery
20 Bland: perhaps a cartoonist
21 Ben Francis: worked for thirty years on the editorial staff of the Daily Worker
22 Jack Owen: was a member of the editorial board of the Daily Worker
23 Bill Duty, who also seems to refer to himself as Sweet William
Of all the things you expect cherubs to do in monumental sculptures - look adoring, spout streams of water, gaze wistfully into the distance, that sort of stuff - playing with a toy car is not among them. But here, in London's East End, is a cute, naked, cherubic little figure doing just that.
The cherub is one of four sitting at the feet of angels representing Liberty and Justice - the others have a model boat, a book and a piece of fabric in their hands - at this splendid monument hidden behind market stalls on Whitechapel Road. It's a drinking fountain, complete with granite column - what respectable drinking fountain would be without a granite column, after all? - and on top of it another distinctly elegant bronze angel, who seems to be gently admonishing the cherub: enough of your toy car ....
This was all the work of the sculptor W.S. Frith - and there's more about the fountain and its design here.
The fountain was built as a tribute to the recently departed King Edward VII (he reigned from 1901 to 1910) - and the money was raised by the local Jewish community. Whitechapel Road was the centre of the Jewish East End - a community which has now almost entirely dispersed, their place taken by new generations of migrants, particularly from South Asia.
The inscription reads: In grateful and loyal memory of Edward VII Rex et Imperator [King and Emperor}: erected from subscriptions raised by Jewish inhabitants of East London 1911
And the toy car and other cherub playthings? Well, they apparently represent some of the late king's enthusiasms ... not mini-motors but the real thing
Well, you certainly can't miss it. A long derelict corner shop on Highgate Road - in that strange no man's land between Dartmouth Park and Gospel Oak - has gone canary. Hmmm! But look, this isn't a rant against poor taste ... it's a celebration that this you-would-have-thought-sought-after location is bouncing back to life.
I came across the picture below online (on Pinterest - I couldn't work out who to acknowledge, sorry!) taken fully a decade ago. The Chinese takeaway which occupied the spot was clearly even then an ex-takeaway ... and it's not been put to any other use in the interim.
Fish & Fowl, the slightly wacky fishmongers-cum-poulterers, didn't long survive this 2008 photo - and that site remains sadly forlorn.
The success of the Southampton Arms just a couple of doors away - reborn as a bare floorboards real ale (and cider) pub - has shown that this corner of Highgate Road is not blighted. There's a bus stop, passing traffic, a busy main road, plenty of people living nearby ... so, what's the problem?
So, what would you sell in a shop painted canary yellow? Paint? Canaries?? Well, I asked the guy who was working on the place ... his mate is setting up in a few weeks as an organic grocer's. It could just work!
And as ever when these old commercial places are done up, you get the odd surprise. An old shop sign has resurfaced just above the door. It's not at all easy to decipher ...
The guy doing the renovations says someone has put this image through some software and come up with the name: SHIRTLIFF. Well, spot on! In the 1885-6 Hampstead and Highgate Directory, what was then 145 Highgate Road was the property of F. Shirtliff, chemist and dentist.
Nice to see you again, Mr Shirtliff!
Dartmouth Park Pottery has been a fixture for as long as I've known Dartmouth Park Hill - and then a bit. It's been here for more than a third of a century. When it opened, Britain had just won the Falklands war - we were embroiled in a bitter coal miners' strike - and Margaret Thatcher was in No. 10. But in a couple of weeks, the pottery will be gone for good.
"You don't know what you've got till it's gone" - Joni Mitchell once sang. Too true!
What a pity that just as this once barren part of the hill is getting a makeover - with Crick's Corner coffee bar doing the best bacon baps in town and a pub once as dingy as can be bouncing back into style as The House - the pottery is closing up.
This is both shop and workshop, complete with wheel and kiln - shared now by three potters: Charina, Tina and Gregory. The close-down is not a tale of a rapacious landlord, simply that the owner - herself a potter - has decided it's time to sell.
There's a chance that the pottery will relocate rather than simply shut - but it won't be anywhere near Dartmouth Park Hill.
The building is on a corner and so is flooded by natural light - and there's some stained glass too, designed by one of the potters (I was told) and made at a long-gone local workshop in Archway.
The items on display range from mugs and small bowls to huge and intricate works, such as Gregory's calabashes (the name comes from an African gourd which, when dried, was often used to store and carry water) which display craft at its best - and you can spend anything from a tenner to a few hundred pounds.
Whether you are going to make a first-and-last visit to Dartmouth Park Pottery, or call in one final time, don't dilly-dally - it closes at the end of October.
It's at 122 Dartmouth Park Hill, on the junction with Bredgar Road - if you want to call ahead to check that the shop will be open, it's 020 7263 3398.
The contributors are a roll-call of the most distinguished British academics on India and on international relations and the most renowned of India's coming generation of professors and public intellectuals. The style of the articles is bookish and the volumes didn't generate a huge amount of interest - but this was a new, more assertive style of Indian nationalism assembling its intellectual armoury.
This set (there was supposed to be a fourth volume on constitutional issues, but it never appeared) were part of the publishers' archive. A pity that has been dispersed - but a joy to have these volumes, and in excellent condition.
And the editors? They were both in their early twenties when these volumes appeared and Freda Bedi - whose biography I have written (out very soon!) - had not set foot on Indian soil, though she was to do so in the autumn of 1934 and it was her home for the remainder of her life.
Once settled in Lahore, the Bedis embarked on another venture much in the style of India Analysed, a heavyweight nationalist quarterly, Contemporary India. What a precocious couple they were!
I came across this copy in - of all places - Treadwell's, the Bloomsbury bookshop that specialises in magic and mysticism but for some curious reason has the occasional radical title too. I was attracted above all by the inscription ...
'R.R.K. from B.M.T. and D.B.T. with love and wonder. 25.xii.40' - and then in pencil by a different hand, 'given to my by Barbara & Duncan first edition and much treasured all my life', and also in pencil, at the top of the page 'S'.
Who was RRK? Why did he or she treasure this book all their life? Could this be Richard Kisch, an early volunteer to serve in Spain - or Rafa Kenton or Rose Kerrigan, whose communist husbands either fought or worked in Spain during the civil war?
And who were Barbara and Duncan who gave the book as a Christmas present with the very personal inscription and its reference to 'wonder'? I'd love to know. In the meantime, I will endeavour to look after the book in the spirit of its original owner.
A Communist who made his mark in London's Conservative-voting suburbs ... George J. Jones, universally known as 'Jonah' Jones, made electoral history in the 1945 general election. He was the only Communist candidate in England to get more than 10,000 votes in that election, which proved to be the high water mark of the CP's electoral fortunes.
Did Jones win and take his seat as Hornsey's Communist MP? No, he came third - even though he got almost double the tally of Phil Piratin, the victorious CP candidate in Mile End and Stepney. (Of other Communist candidates, Willie Gallacher won, indeed was re-elected, in West Fife; the party leader Harry Pollitt was a close second in Rhondda East).
10,000+ votes for a Communist in Tory Hornsey was quite an achievement - yet Jones's name is little known among even the most socialist-minded of the area's current residents, and he doesn't feature at all in the British Communist Hall (alright, Ante-room) of Fame. So let's try to make amends -
The Borough of Hornsey (I'm not absolutely sure whether the Parliamentary constituency covered the same area) was established in 1903, bringing together the leafy suburbs of Muswell Hill and the eastern part of Highgate, the more proletarian areas of Harringay, Hornsey Vale and Stroud Green and, in between (both socially and geographically), Crouch End and Hornsey. The CP established a presence across the borough - bookish and intellectual in the north and west of the borough, more industrial (and militant) as you come down from the commanding heights.
In 1945, even though the CP was much bigger and more influential than it had been at any previous general election, Communists only contested 21 seats - and just five of those were in London. It decided well ahead of time that Hornsey would be a target seat - even though Hornsey Borough had no CP councillors (Jones, apparently, once came within 200 votes of winning in South Harringay).
In George Jones, the CP believed it had a candidate who could do well. The Jones for Hornsey pamphlet, put out a few months before the 1945 election and written by a fellow Hornsey CP'er, is both a potted biography, and an attempt to assemble a local left alliance to support his candidacy.
Jones was a teacher in a school in Hoxton; he lived with his wife and young daughter on Weston Park, close to the centre of Crouch End. He had been a member of the ILP in Wood Green until that branch defected en masse to the CP. Jonah was clearly a good looking guy, and gained a local standing for his oratory at a protest meeting at Crouch End clocktower as Mosley addressed his followers inside nearby Hornsey Town Hall.
The local CP published a newsletter, Hornsey Forward - there's a single copy in the British Library - and this too was used to promote 'Jonah' Jones and his candidacy.
The local party had its own premises, at 4a Broadway Parade just a few yards from the clocktower, above what is now a newsagents. Michael Prior's parents were members of the Hornsey CP and he recalls this fairly spacious flat-cum-office. Access was from a service road at the rear up outside steps. On the first-floor there were three or four small rooms, used as offices and for small meetings; above was a flat used by a party full-timer and his family.
Jones himself emphasised the need for unity against the Conservatives. He declared: 'Here in Hornsey we need a platform of the whole of the Left - Labour, Liberal, Co-operative, Commonwealth, Trades Council and Trade Unions - to ensure the defeat of Tory domination.' It was Popular Front-style politics ... but it didn't quite come off.
According to the communists, the local Labour party was minded to support Jones, but was over-ruled by party HQ. The Labour candidate, Bill Fiske - later a leader of the Greater London Council - beat Jones to second place, but the sitting Tory MP, Captain Gammans, won very comfortably, taking more than half the total vote.
Jones's tally of 10,058 was by far the biggest ever poll by a Communist candidate in England in a seat also contested by Labour. The only Communist to do better was Shapurji Saklatvala, who contested North Battersea in five consecutive general elections from 1922 to 1931. On two occasions, 1922 and 1924, he won - and in the latter contest he polled more than 15,000 votes. But when in 1929 and 1931 he faced Labour opposition, his vote crumbled.
'Jonah' Jones contested Hornsey as a Communist on three further occasions - in 1950, 1951 and 1959 - but never came close to repeating his 1945 performance. In these later candidacies, he took about 2% of the vote. Hornsey (recast as Hornsey and Wood Green from 1983) remained a Conservative seat until as late as 1992. Labour's hold since then has been insecure - the constituency was captured by the Lib Dems in 2005 and 2010. It's currently one of the safest Labour seats in the country - Catherine West has a majority of more than 30,000.
As for Jones, I believe he may have died not long after his last candidacy - if anyone knows more about his life and political activity, do drop me a line.
Just off Stoke Newington Road in North London, there's a wonderfully evocative entrance arch to a block of social housing: Coronation Avenue. It's on Victorian Road, though the coronation it marked is that of Queen Victoria's son and successor, Edward VII.
Coronation Avenue and the adjoining Imperial Avenue were built by the 4% Industrial Dwellings Company and opened in 1903. It has almost 300 flats, most one-bed and bedsit, and is still run by the Industrial Dwellings Society.
This was the site of one of the most profound civilian tragedies to beset London during the Second World War - a loss of life on a scale akin to that of the terrible Bethnal Green tube disaster of 1943.
On 13th October 1940, during the German aerial Blitz of London, a high explosive bomb landed on Coronation Avenue. The writer Alexander Baron alluded to the event in his locally set novel With Hope, Farewell: 'The parish church had been burned down and several neighbouring streets demolished. A mile away, along the Stoke Newington Road, a parachute-mine had caused an entire block of flats to collapse into the communal shelter underneath, killing hundreds of people.'
That was why the number of casualties was so exceptionally high. The bomb managed to penetrate into a shelter beneath the building where many of the residents had sought refuge during the night-time air raid.
The BBC has posted the testimony of a youngster who survived the bomb explosion:
"Coronation Avenue buildings consists of a terrace of about 15 shops with five storeys of flats above. The shelter was beneath three of the shops. The back exit was in the yard between Coronation Avenue and another block of buildings, called Imperial Avenue. We went over the road to the shelter whenever there was a raid, and when the 'all clear' sounded in the morning, we would go back over the road, half asleep and very cold, and try to go back to sleep in a very cold bed.
"The shelter consisted of three rooms. The front entrance was in the first room, the rear entrance was in the third room, which had bunk beds along one wall. The rooms were jam packed with people, sitting on narrow slatted benches. I would sit on a bench and fall asleep, and wake every now and then, and would find myself snuggled up to my mother and sister. My father had the use of one of the bunk beds, because the men were given priority, as they had to go to work
"On 13 October 1940, the shelter received a direct hit. We had settled down as usual, when there was a dull thud, a sound of falling masonry, and total darkness.
"Somebody lit a torch - the entrance to the next room was completely full of rubble, as if it had been stacked by hand. Very little rubble had come into our room. Suddenly I felt my feet getting very cold, and I realised that water was covering my shoes. We were at the end of the room farthest from the exit. I noticed my father trying to wake the man in the bunk above him, but without success - a reinforcing steel beam in the ceiling had fallen down and was lying on him.
"The water was rising, and I started to make my way to the far end, where the emergency exit was situated. Everybody seemed very calm - with no shouting or screaming. By the time I got to the far end, the water was almost up to my waist, and there was a small crowd clambering up a steel ladder in a very orderly manner. Being a little more athletic than some of them, and very scared, I clambered up the back of the ladder to the top, swung over, and came out into the open."
In Abney Park cemetery nearby, the Borough of Stoke Newington - the area was then a borough in its own right, becoming part of the London Borough of Hackney in 1965 - built a memorial to those who died at Corporation Avenue and in other wartime enemy bombing raids. It lists - by my count - 88 people who died that night in Coronation Avenue:
It's a mute testament to the impact of war on civilians and communities. Altogether 17,500 Londoners were killed in Second World War bombing raids. I'd like to say that this memorial is well maintained - but at least some people visit, reflect and remember.
Lest we forget!
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