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.
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:
Daphne's badges, cards, + a single which never made the charts: Harold Wilson, 'Let's Go With Labour'
The badges and political ephemera accumulated over a lifetime often bear testimony to decades of political striving, campaigning and service. They are the physical manifestations of a vision - of a commitment to social justice and a more equal society.
I am very grateful to a friend, Ruth Hogarth, for giving me these badges and membership cards of her mother's. Daphne Ritchings will be 95 in a couple of weeks time and is now in a home - I asked Ruth to tell me a bit about her mother:
'Both Daphne and my father, Alfred Hogarth, were in politics before they met. My father was active in the anti-fascist politics of the 30s East End under a pseudonym (Peter Hughes) so as not to jeopardise his mother’s business in Bethnal Green.'
'My mother became a socialist I think when she joined the WAAF in 1942. She joined the Labour Party at around that time and has remained a lifelong member - so nearly 80 years. They met when she - a GI bride with a young son and he a married father of two - went to work for him as his secretary after the war.'
'Between them they had seven children (four together) and we all lived in post-war poverty in a two-bed rented flat in London before moving to a new breeze block house in Bucks in the 1950s. It was at that point they both became trade unionists and Labour Party activists - he worked at Battersea Power station and she was a secretary. They both held seats on the local district council at various points during the 50s and 60s. Because of the war, my mother never got an education and, because of children, worked from home until she was 35, doing secretarial work, typing, sewing, childminding, lollipop lady etc. At 35, she became a legal secretary and carried on working in secretarial/PA roles until she retired at nearly 70.
'Later in life she turned from formal politics to protest - CND, Anti-Apartheid, Greenham Common.'
Quite the choice piece among these items is a 45 rpm disc - a 'single' in the parlance of the times - issued by the Labour Party ahead of the 1964 election (which Harold Wilson went on to win becoming only the third Labour prime minister).
This seems to have been the handiwork of Bessie Braddock - and the record has been signed by her, how wonderful! She was a pugnacious figure - the mainstay of the party on Merseyside. She started out in the ILP, was a foundation member of the Communist Party, moved over to Labour and became part of the 'great moving right show'.
Bessie was a formidable personality and campaigner and was once described as the most well-known woman in the country after the Queen:
And if you want to get a sense of the Merseysound Bessie Braddock style - and of Harold Wilson's introduction to it (wisely the A-side) - then give these a spin:
This is a wonderful piece of political memorabilia - ephemera feels too insubstantial a term - from the London radicalism of 160 years ago. It's a membership card of the Land and Labour League, an organisation which is not well known and only survived a few years, but was of real importance in the development of a determinedly radical tradition within the movements for political reform and social justice.
Many thanks to Richard Gold for recognising its importance and steering it in the direction of one of small band of political anoraks who collect this sort of thing (viz the author).
The Land and Labour League consisted largely of supporters of the Chartist radical Bronterre O'Brien (died 1864), who is sometimes regarded as a proto-socialist. They had mustered in force in some of the central London branches of the Reform League.
O'Brien's followers - many of them self-educated artisans - were strong advocates of currency reform, land nationalisation, rights for women and - though it's not on the League's list of founding principles - republicanism. The paper associated with the LLL was called the Republican. It was published for two years from 1870, and so through the period of the Paris Commune, which many LLL members supported. The O'Brienites were also instinctively opposed to class collaboration and to working with Liberals.
The story of the Land and Labour League has been told by the historian Royden Harrison in Before the Socialists. As well as establishing the League, many O'Brienites were also active in the International Working Men's Association (the First International) where they worked with Karl Marx and other emigre socialists living in London.
Marx had a mixed opinion of his O'Brienite allies, writing of the followers of 'the sect of the late Bronterre O'Brien, [who] are full of follies and crotchets such as currency quackery, false emancipation of women, and the like. In spite of these follies, they constitute an often necessary counterweight to trades unionists on the Council [of the IWMA]. They are more revolutionary, firmer on the land question, less nationalistic and not susceptible to bourgeois bribery. Otherwise they would have been kicked out long ago.' Given how irascible Marx often was, this is almost an endorsement!
Later the O'Brienites devoted much of their energies to an ultimately unsuccessful venture to establish a cooperative colony in Kansas - the sort of 'crotchet' of which Marx would have disapproved. They also established the Manhood Suffrage League. And a few of O'Brien's followers were still around in the 1880s to enlist in the ranks of the Social Democratic Federation.
The early 1870s were a high water mark in what was sometimes called social republicanism - the movement demanding the abolition of the monarchy not as an end in itself but as a step towards a truly representative system of governance which would work towards achieving social justice.
A century-and-a-half later, we haven't progressed very far down that path!
Harry Pollitt epitomised British Communism. He was a boilermaker from Lancashire, a working class audo-didact, who led the Communist Party of Great Britain through its glory years - from 1929 to May 1956, the year that saw the double blows to its credibility of Khruschev's 'secret speech' denouncing Stalin's cult of personality and a few months later the Soviet-led invasion of Hungary.
There was a break in Pollitt's leadership, which speaks well of the man and his politics. In October 1939 he stood down as general secretary because of his unease at the Communist 'about-turn' following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which obliged Communists to oppose the Second World War as an imperialist war. He returned to the post in June 1941 when Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union led to a reversal of the Communist line on the war.
I've just come across - indeed been given (many thanks to the excellent Black Gull Books in East Finchley - if you are worried about their business model, don't be alarmed, I'd bought quite a bit of other stuff) - a copy of the order of service for Pollitt's funeral ceremony at Golders Green in July 1960. Paul Robeson gave a rendition of 'Joe Hill' and 'England Arise; and those attending were asked to join in the singing of 'The Red Flag' and 'The Internationale'. There's a small plaque to Pollitt's memory in what's colloquially known as the Communist corner at Golders Green crematorium.
There's some mute footage of Pollitt's funeral cortege on YouTube - and you can spot Robeson and also some of Pollitt's fellow leaders of the British CP, including John Gollan. George Matthews and Rajani Palme Dutt.
Harry has to take much of the blame for the British party's abject subservience to Moscow, and the failure to denounce Stalin's purges even when one of his own friends, Rose Cohen, fell victim. But he was popular within the British party - avuncular, unpompous, and a good orator (a recording of a wartime address is available here).
He also prompted the song 'The Ballad of Harry Pollitt' - better known to many as 'Harry was a Bolshie' - which, this blog teasingly suggests, has a tenuous connection to the Grateful Dead.
Of all the tributes, the one that does least service to Harry Pollitt's memory is this stamp issued by the Soviet Union after his death.
What a fantastic piece of political ephemera! It dates from the early 1640s, when tension was rising between King Charles 1 and Parliament. (Spoiler alert: it didn't end well for the king).
This broadside dates from 3 January 1642 (yes, I know it says 1641 but at this time England used 'Lady Day' dating when the date moved forward from one year to the next on Lady Day, that's 25th March). Although it cites a resolution of the House of Commons and was published over the name of Henry Elsynge, the clerk to the House, it's not an offiicial Parliamentary publication but the work of a small publisher/bookseller in the Old Bailey district of London.
The content of the broadside is remarkable - a bold assertion that MPs have the right to resist arrest unless that detention is authorised by Parliament itself.
'And this House doth further declare, That if any person whatsoever shall offer to arrest or detain the Person of any Member of this House, without first acquainting this House therewith, and receiving further Order from this House: That it is lawful for such Member, or any Person, to assist him, and to stand upon his, and their guard of defence, and to make resistance, according to the Protestation taken to defend the Priviledges of Parliament.'
At this time, Parliament was concerned about the King's determination to raise funds for the developing war in Scotland and his reluctance to call Parliament. The king reckoned that some outspoken Puritan MPs were in league with his enemies in Scotland and were intent on a prosecution of the Queen.
The day after the broadside, the king - accompanied by about eighty armed soldiers - violated Parliamentary privilege and entered the chamber of the House of Commons. He was seeking the arrest of five MPs he regarded as particularly troublesome, including John Pym and John Hampden. They had all been tipped off by the French ambassador and had hopped on a barge and travelled downriver to the City. As word of the king's action spread, some Londoners came onto the streets bearing arms to resist the king and his troops if, as rumoured, he headed to the City in pursuit of his Parliamentary quarry.
When Charles asked Speaker Lenthall about the whereabouts of the five members, the Speaker replied in one of the bravest - and most renowned - remarks ever uttered in Parliament : "May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here; and I humbly beg your majesty's pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what your majesty is pleased to demand of me."
The king failed to arrest any of the five MPs - and they returned in triumph to Westminster the following day. Within a week or so, the king withdrew from London to Hampton Court and later to Oxford. He had lost his capital. Charles only returned to London seven years later, having lost the war with the army of Parliament, for his trial and execution.
So this broadside is from the moment that the row between monarch and Parliament started veering towards civil war.
It must be almost a decade since I popped into a bookshop in Cromer, on the north Norfolk coast, and came out with an assortment of goodies. The stuff that makes the rest of my household despair, but I really love ... like an assortment of old copies of Socialist Standard and pamphlets from the left libertarian group Solidarity.
I've been meaning to go back - and in the past week I managed it.
And the good news is that Andy and Susan Slovak's shop, Much Binding (as in 'in the Marsh'), is not only still going but still awash with pamphlets, ephemera and all the sort of stuff that makes a second-hand bookshop special.
So what did I come away with? Well, a couple of 1930s copies of the Daily Worker, and of the New Clarion of similar vintage complete with details of the Clarion cycling clubs which were once such an important aspect of socialist culture (the National Clarion Cycling Club is still going, by the way).
And there was this choice piece of political ephemera - the Blastfurnacemen's ball (it sounds a bit like 'I'm Sorry I Don't Have a Clue', doesn't it!), at the Beehive Hall in - as far as I can make out - Workington in Cumbria.
And here's an election canvassing card from ninety years ago - William Preston, by the way, was a Tory and in 1929 he lost Walsall to Labour.
And then there are the pieces of ephemera which offer just a glimpse of a personal story - like this 1946 recruitment leaflet for the police force in Palestine. It seems to have been an option for those required to do National Service -
And on the back, there's this handwritten note -
'I applied in march 1947. But dad would not sign the papers.' Given what was happening in mandated Palestine in the run up to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, I think Dad made a wise decision!
If this sort of thing appeals as much to you as to me, make haste to Much Binding.
To start the year, let's stop the war. This is a wonderful Walter Crane designed image from a handbill issued by the Stop the War Committee - the Boer War, of course - set up in 1899 by the campaigning journalist, W.T. Stead. The angel of peace is shown beseeching British soldier and armed Boer farmer to put down their weapons.
The campaign brought together prominent religious figures (John Clifford was a prominent Baptist and a pioneer of passive resistance) and popular novelists (Silas Hocking was a Liberal and Methodist who wrote dozens of novels, among which Her Benny was a bestseller). It was largely free of conventional political personalities - and indeed the language of the leaflet is much more religious and humanitarian than political.
'The Boers are the Dutch of South Africa', it asserts, 'white men, and Protestant Christians like ourselves' - a sentiment which immediately implies that the Committee does not seek to represent women, non-Protestants or people of colour. Even 120 years ago, that immediately excluded perhaps two-thirds of the British population.
The Stop the War Committee distributed millions of handbills, on trains and elsewhere - though of course vanishingly few have survived. It was regarded as pro-Boer, which was a damning epithet amid the khaki patriotism engendered by the war campaign.
'We do not want another Ireland in S. Africa', the leaflet asserts. Hallelujah!
This is a classy piece of political ephemera - a note issued in 1833 as part of the industrialist and socialist Robert Owen's attempt to use labour as the basis for a means of exchange. As you can see, the note is to the value of ten hours.
This is what TUC History Online says about the endeavour:
Labour notes issued by the National Equitable Labour Exchange, founded in 1832 by Robert Owen (1771-1858).
The Exchange originally located in Grays Inn Road, London but from 1833 housed in Charlotte Street, operated as a depot where workers could exchange products they had made by means of labour notes representing hours of work. The Exchange was initially successful and branches opened in South London and Birmingham, but disputes over the value of products and the time taken to make them led to the failure of the experiment and all the branches closed in 1834.
Women workers at the Grays Inn Exchange mainly needlewomen and shoemakers, were initially paid at a lower rate than men and many refused to sell their goods there unless they were offered equal terms.
There's more about the Labour Exchange and its notes here.
Owen's plan for equitable exchange failed - Josiah Warren tried something similar in the US, with similar results. But as you can see. the notes were well designed and there was a lot of thought given to the scheme.
And Robert Owen of course is still remembered for his textile mill at New Lanark, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and for his pioneering role on the co-operative movement.
Annie Besant, variously radical, freethinker, trade unionist, Theosophist, Indian nationalist ... and suffragist. In 1893, Annie Besant - already interested in Theosophy - visited India for the first time. It became her home. There's still a gilded life-size statue of her on the sea front in Chennai. But this was not the end of her interest in British politics.
In March 1912, at the age of 64, she addressed a meeting of Mrs Pankhurst's pro-suffrage Women's Social and Political Union at the Albert Hall in London. This leaflet - just acquired - contains a summary of her remarks.
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