William Hone's furiously angry The Political House that Jack Built - enlivened by George Cruikshank's caricatures - appeared at the close of 1819, about four months after the Peterloo massacre. You can see a copy of it here. The pamphlet sold tens of thousands of copies, and spawned many copycat titles.
This is one of those 'in the style of' tracts - a rare pamphlet looking at agricultural distress. The woodcuts are nothing like of Cruikshank's standard, but they are wonderfully hand-coloured which gives the pamphlet (this copy was once part of the Renier collection - I bought it in the past week from a specialist dealer) its charm.
See what you think:
"Hope it's as exciting as it sounds!"
That was my neighbour's comment this morning when I said I was heading off to Bloomsbury to attend my very first ephemera fair.
He had his golf clubs on his shoulder, and was heading for Wanstead Flats to play a round or two in the rain. And I hope that was as exciting as it sounds, too!
So, what happens at an ephemera fair? Well, there were thirty or forty stalls selling postcards, pamphlets, prints, posters, itsy bits of paper, maps, books, all sorts of stuff - very well organised and convivial, and well attended too. It was mainly men of a certain age - but I can hardly complain about that.
And I suppose you want to know what I came away with? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. I got a few books, all ridiculously cheap - so the 1885 Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, with all 800 pages of minuted evidence, for £3! (OK, so it was disbound, and I guess a couple of pages of the index are missing - but still a bargain).
The pamphlet above was published by the National Council of Labour, apparently in 1935, both denouncing and mocking Oswald Mosley and his blackshirted British Union of Fascists. Mosley had visited Mussolini a few years earlier - and that's the subject of the biting Will Dyson cartoon on the cover.
But my favourite is this wonderful poster - slightly larger than foolscap - published by the CP in January 1943, when communist concern to support the war effort and so save Soviet Russia extended to speeding up production and making capitalism work more efficiently, whatever the drain it put on the workforce. This was the CP's 'Home Front' - and there's a freshness about the drawing and colouring which I find very beguiling. Richard Gold (from whom I bought this) tells me the artist was Elizabeth Shaw - there's an obituary of her here and a nice piece with photo from the Irish Times. According to her Wiki entry, she worked as a mechanic through much of the war ... so she practised what she preached.
So, that's what you come across at an ephemera fair!
A really wonderful and exciting acquisition, a bound volume of 'The Working Man' for 1862-63, one of the most notable and radical political papers in the fairly bleak period between the decline of Chartism and the upsurge in radicalism prompted by the Reform League in the mid-1860s and then the example of the Paris Commune.
'The Working Man' was socialist and internationalist, and bears the imprint of the followers of Bronterre O'Brien - about whom we have written before (he died in 1864 and is buried in Abney Park in Stoke Newington).
And this particular book is very special - it was the personal copy of George E. Harris, the secretary of the group of working class radicals who published the monthly paper. His signature is on the front end paper (you can see that below, the ink is faint but it reads 'Geo E. Harris / 1862') - and he has annotated some of the pages.
Harris was a bookseller with premises off Edgware Road, and a key figure in London ultra-radicalism: a socialist, O'Brienite, internationalist, individualist and one of a group of O'Brien-influenced radicals who later worked alongside Karl Marx in the International Working Men's Association (the First International), both delighting Marx by their class-based militancy and infuriating him by what he regarded as their 'crotchets' and eccentricities.
Alongside Harris in the committee which published 'The Working Man' were Ambrose Caston Cuddon, an important if somewhat obscure libertarian leftist, and Charles Murray, a key lieutenant of O'Brien whose political career stretched from Chartism to the Social Democratic Federation of the 1880s.
'The Working Man' made a particular fuss about the visit to London of the revolutionary and anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, 'Brother Bakunin', who was to be Marx's great rival in the First International.
At a few places, Harris has added his initials in the margins, indicating that at an anonymous letter or article was his handiwork - here's an example, a letter in response to criticism of Bakunin.
The volume includes eleven monthly issues for 1862, January to November (alas, missing a few pages, apparently a collation error) - and added in is a poorly printed issue for May 1863. This seems to be the complete run of this series of 'The Working Man'. The title reappeared, much in the same spirit, in 1866-7. A gem!
One of the most famous mastheads of the alternative press ... This issue, which I've just picked up for a fiver on Charing Cross Road, dates from October 1967. The paper launched a year earlier with a concert at the Roundhouse featuring Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, and by the time of its - or should that be it's -first birthday - it was already suffering serious grief from the police - as detailed in the excellent Wikipedia entry.
And the alluring, 'retro' woman on the masthead? Well, there's a story attached. Wikipedia's version is this: The paper's logo was a black-and-white image of Theda Bara, vampish star of silent films. The founders' intention had been to use an image of actress Clara Bow, 1920s It girl, but a picture of Theda Bara was used by accident and, once deployed, not changed.
In this issue, the centre spread is 'The Acid Report: chemical, sociological & legal aspects of LSD'. This asserts: The widespread use of LSD represents a new social force in England. In the past, drug users have always been members of the lowest classes; the poorly educated and the slum dwellers, but LSD users are "the cream of today's youth"; college and high school students, as well as advertising men, housewives and ministers. Just a little overstated perhaps, but a sign of those times.
John Peel was among the columnists ... there's a full-page ad for Jefferson Airplane's 'Surrealistic Pillow' (yes, I've still got a copy of that) ... and an ad for a concert headlined by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
I was only eleven when this issue came out. But I keenly remember a school announcement not much later proudly listing the achievements of the sixth form school leavers. One, it said, was going to work for The International Times, which they clearly considered to be a title of great repute ... even then, I knew it was it, and its reputation wasn't quite as the school imagined.
Wonderfully, the entire archive of it is available online,
Another wonderful find - in the same place that I chanced upon Claude Cockburn's Reporter in Spain.
This cheap pamphlet was published in Dublin in 1916, in the period between the Easter Rising and the start of Sir Roger Casement's trial for high treason. Casement, a British civil servant, was alleged to have sought German support for an Irish rebellion. He was convicted, and hanged at Pentonville prison on 3rd August 1916.
This is a scarce title - notable for the cover portrait by G. Atkinson, and for Redmond-Howard's measured account of Casement (the pamphlet's sub-title is 'a character sketch without prejudice').
This copy is very fragile, the covers are loose and frayed - but it is a wonderful echo of a hugely important and contested moment in British history.
OK, I know you're dying to hear about my very successful day in Cambridge's second-hand book stores ... or more particularly in the antiquarian treasure trove at G. David, the city's premier spot for old books. So, first up - wonderful articles of an early trade society, the United Societies of Skinners, published as a broadsheet in Nottingham in 1816. The whole thing is a little bit bigger than A3 size. It's so exceptionally rare - a fantastic insight into how the artisan crafts regulated themselves.
Then ... a bound volume of William Cobbett's Weekly Political Register for the first quarter of 1821 - great political journalism from the period of ultra-radicalism during and just after the Regency. And - blow me down - bound into the back of the volume, three spellbinding political pamphlets from the era. Two of them are by Cobbett, and the third by an even more noted and intemperate radical.
William Hone's Political Catechism, from 1817, was one of his most celebrated titles - he published several Catechisms, Litanies and Creeds, both mocking the political and clerical establishment, and by their form also lampooning religious practise. In one of the most renowned political trials of the times, Hone was prosecuted - and acquitted - for offending public morals.
Of the Cobbett pamphlets, one also dates from 1817 - when he fled Britain for the United States fearing prosecution for seditious writings. He returned two years later. The other reflects his longstanding interest in the countryside and its cultivators, later reflected in one of his best-known titles, Rural Rides.
And there's more - a copy of the Rowlatt report of 1918 into revolutionary activity in India, which led the following year to the passing of the infamous Rowlatt Act, the extension of wartime emergency measures to curb political expression. The report also contains fold-out maps locating acts of political violence in Bengal, and in its principal city, Calcutta:
And at the more pedestrian - and moderately priced - end of the expedition, but no less delightful ...I got an 1889 election address for G.F. Chambers, seeking to represent Eastbourne on the East Sussex County Council.
The greater part of the pamphlet is given over to an abstract of the previous year's Local Government Act. 'The Local Government Act is, by the common consent of all parties in the State', Chambers asserted in his address, 'a great legislative experiment. The success or failure of the experiment will entirely depend on whether the Electors make choice of men of administrative experience, good business habits, and personal independence.'
These would have been the first contests for County Councils, one of the innovations under the Act. My guess is that Mr Chambers won the Eastbourne seat - does anyone out there know?
A great lunchtime stroll the length of Upper Street today - always lively, always fashionable, the epitome of a stylish north London high street. And a wonderful jumble of architectural styles. I was surprised that the Lancashire lass Gracie Fields - she's the one that sang 'Sally, of our alley' - lived on Upper Street at some stage. The building is now the 'Cuba Libre' bar - what a fantastic juxtaposition.
A little further up towards Highbury Corner there's what was once an office of the London Salvage Corps - its No 5 London district office.
The London Salvage Corps was set up by fire insurance companies in the 1860s, to try to reduce loss and damage caused by fire.
Remarkably, it was only finally disbanded in the 1980s.
The street has plenty of curiosities and idiosyncracies - try the two below ... a post office (just opposite St Mary's church) complete with Acropolis-style caratyds, and a very curious statue, in Eric Morecambe-style pose, which appears incongruously on the roof of Black's, the outdoor clothing store.
Highbury Corner is of course not so much a corner as a roundabout - but it was once a corner, until a flying bomb struck in 1944.
I had never noticed before, but on the south side of Highbury Corner there's a plaque 'In memory of the 26 people who lost their lives, the 150 injured, and the many bereaved when a ... V1 Flying Bomb destroyed Highbury Corner at 12.46pm, 27th June, 1944.' There's an excellent website, with maps and photos, which gives more detail of the tragedy.
The gardens just in from of the plaque, rather grandly called Highbury Corner Gardens, must be about the smallest in London.
And the gardens in the middle of the roundabout - Highbury Island - must be just about the least accessible. They are well kept, but there's no crossing - and the gates are padlocked. There's supposed to be work planned to 'peninsularize' - is that really a word? I found it here - the island, though if it's turned into a peninsula then surely it won't be an island any more?
Camden Passage on a Sunday isn't what it used to be. And a decade or more after it closed, I still miss Finbar Macdonnell's print shop, where you could pick up a morsel of Regency insurrection for less than the price of a main course of baby squid in balsamic vinegar. A web search reveals that Finbar's business still thrives online.
I did manage to pick up one little gem - a souvenir of the Independent Labour Party's 1925 annual conference, held in Gloucester - with, curiously, long articles about Gloucester and its industrial history. And there's the words of a song: 'A Song o' the South-West'.
The pamphlet also briefly tells the story of the ILP's battle to fly the red flag from its Westminster headquarters (beneath the photo of the HQ building on Great George Street below).The cover of the pamphlet is distinctly scruffy - and the seller was trying it on asking for a tenner. 'The price of socialism', he joshed. Well, it's not the sort of thing you come across every day - and it is an unusually evocative memento from around the time of the first Labour government. So I coughed up - and I'm glad I did.
I have just bought, for the modest outlay of £5, a copy of the 'Indian Front News Bulletin' for March 1934. It is, as far as I can tell, the newsletter of Indian Communist students in London.
It's duplicated, in much the fashion of the student literature I helped to produce about forty years later. But what really caught my attention is that it contains an article on Kashmir - not an issue which captured a great deal of progressive attention at this time.
Indeed, on the back is a cartoon (not very good, but still), which addresses the aggressive nature of British imperialism across the sub-continent, including in Kashmir.
A large part of the concern about Kashmir - this was 1934 after all - was the implications of British policy there for the Soviet Union to the north. There is also a suggestion that the British had inflamed communal tensions in Kashmir (by pressing the Maharajah to redress Muslim grievances) for their own strategic purposes.
The article argues - and this is certainly unchallengeable: 'The truth is that the people of Kashmir are exceedingly poor and that they have been cruelly exploited'. It's a well written and well argued piece - as you can see for yourself:
While Nancy Mitford coined the terms 'U' and 'non-U', her younger sister Jessica - writing as Decca Treuhaft in this 1956 pamphlet - devised the parody 'L' and 'non-L'. Jessica and her husband, Robert Treuhaft, knew plenty about left-wing lingo. They were in the mid-1950s members of the CPUSA.
The Wikipedia entry on Jessica Mitford records: 'In 1956, Mitford published (stenciled) a pamphlet, "Lifeitselfmanship or How to Become a Precisely-Because Man". In response to Noblesse Oblige, the book her sister Nancy co-wrote and edited on the class distinctions in British English, popularizing the phrases "U and non-U English" (upper class and non-upper class), Jessica described L and non-L (Left and non-Left) English, mocking the clichés used by her comrades in the all-out class struggle.'
How rib tickllng was this send up of what might now be described as political correctness?
Not bad at all - as the pages copied, right, attest. An early example of the left learning to chuckle at itself.
My other recent pamphlet purchase is just as bizarre, but otherwise totally different. G.K Chesterton - best known today for such novels as The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man who was Thursday - was a hugely productive journalist and essayist. His political views were unorthodox, somewhat reactionary, and he was also keenly, if again in unorthodox manner, religious.
This 1916 pamphlet republished an article from Nash's Magazine. It is an arch piece of reactionary populism - objecting to 'the extension of divorce among the democracy':
'A democrat in any sense must regard that extension as the last and vilest of the insults offered by the modern rich to the modern poor. The rich do largely believe in divorce; the poor do mainly believe in fidelity. But the modern rich are powerful and the modern poor are powerless. Therefore for years and decades past the rich have been preaching their own virtues. Now that they have begun to preach their vices too, I think it is time to kick.'
Though as so often, Chesterton kicked as part of the losing team - he had a remarkable eye for a lost cause.
The most famous front cover from the alternative press of the 1960s and 1970s. Just days after the May 'evenements' in Paris in 1968, a new London-based radical paper Black Dwarf - taking its name from a rebellious Regency-era periodical - coined the slogan of that intoxicating summer: "We Shall Fight, We Will Win, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin". Tariq Ali, Fred Halliday, Sheila Rowbotham and Adrian Mitchell were all amongs the founders and contributors. Quite some time back, I managed to pick up a copy of this issue for £5 at the much-missed Compendium on Camden High Street. I was pleased about that.
All this has come to mind from seeing this 'Black Dwarf' front page in today's Guardian. It's part of the obituary of Robin Fior, a graphic designer who did the design work for 'Black Dwarf', 'Peace News' and other radical titles before heading to Portugal in 1972. It shows how simple ideas, and a very considered use of words, can have such a huge impact. The design of this cover is, in graphic terms, unexceptional. But it captured the moment. And it's lasted in the collective memory.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!