Thursday, February 8, 2018

The TORCH of Anarchy (1891-1896)

       By Christopher Draper

The TORCH was an incendiary nineteenth century anarchist monthly. It wasn’t Britain’s first anarchist journal, it wasn’t even well produced but it was unique. Started by children, throughout its five-year existence it remained effectively owned and published by a teenage girl who later turned to Fascism. The TORCH comprised articles by leading thinkers and activists, was distributed around the world and although acclaimed by cultural commentators is often overlooked by anarchists.

Quiet Beginnings
The journal’s unique origins lead some to dismiss it as a juvenile enterprise initiated by the privileged progeny of artistic liberals. The facts are accurate but the evaluation unwarranted for The TORCH channelled original ideas into a nascent native anarchist movement whilst serving as a haven, both practical and intellectual, for exiled revolutionaries.
Britain’s first anarchist newspaper, the English-language Freiheit, was issued as a defiant political response by seasoned revolutionaries to a savage act of State repression. The TORCH could hardly have emerged in more contrasting circumstances. Handwritten in the comfortable bourgeois domestic setting of the family library (illustrated below) by three adolescent offspring of artist Lucy Madox Brown and writer William Michael Rossetti (WMR 1829-1919), a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, The TORCH began as more of a childish hobby than an incendiary anarchist campaign yet appearances can be deceptive.                         
Analysing the Origins
The Rossetti parents were iconoclasts in a cultural movement that inspired William Morris and Lucy’s father and next door neighbour, Ford Madox Brown, “welcomed the Russian revolutionaries of different shades of opinion” including Kropotkin and “encouraged their (the children’s) youthful socialistic and anarchistic leanings”. William Rossetti had been encouraged in his own youth by his grandfather, Gaetano Polidori (1764-1853), to print his own early writings on a press installed in the garden shed and as an adult edited the Pre-Raphaelite movement’s magazine, The GERM.
Lucy and William shared admirably advanced opinions on child rearing as he recorded in his “Reminiscences”, “She considered that on the whole it would be a pity to chill our youngsters in their generous enthusiasms…I was somewhat less inclined than she to allow the children to go to the end of their tether: still I entered into her general view…The parents, while it is their obvious duty to regulate the children should not, in my opinion wrest them aside, attempting to alter their identities; the attempt  will probably fail and we shall have meagre and stunted hybrid growths instead of natural and naturally developed growths”.
The children’s 1891 determined decision to jointly produce and distribute their own monthly newspaper was therefore encouraged by their parents although the title and contents, The TORCH - a Journal of International Socialism, proved quite a surprise.
William Rossetti was himself a friend of Kropotkin’s and it was his book, “An Appeal to the Young”, that inspired the adolescent Rossetti’s to produce their journal. When Kropotkin turned up at their 3, Edmund Terrace home one day in 1891 to visit their parents the young trio intercepted and requested that he endorse their publication and he duly obliged.

Olivia, born 30 September 1875, the eldest of the three, was prime mover in the project, Helen (depicted above, on the sofa), born 10 November 1879, was youngest whilst Gabriel Arthur (invariably called “Arthur”) was the middle-born, 28 February 1877. When the trio produced their first issue of The TORCH in June 1891, Olivia was 15, Arthur 14 and Helen just 11. Two years later Arthur confided to Max Nettlau that they’d only turned out three handwritten copies of the first edition with the cover depicting winged figures of “Liberty” adorned with the words, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. By employing a “hectograph” duplicating process they managed to extend the “run” but the handwritten appearance of the paper made it difficult to read, limited its appeal and prompted Stepniak (1852-1895) to describe it as a “children’s magazine”.

The trio never intended The TORCH to be a private pastime and maintained a monthly production schedule for a year until Alfred Belcher, the husband of their housekeeper, managed to obtain for them a printing press for a modest (undisclosed) price. A friend of Belcher’s secured a fount of type for nothing whilst, as they detailed in their first printed edition (July 1892, “vol.II no.VII”), a compositor, Mr John Thomas, “devoted his evenings to teaching us composing”. The trio explained, “This month’s Torch appeared in print for the first time which must be our excuse for its shortness and late appearance, for we have comp’d it ourselves and as we are but novices in the noble art of printing we are yet slow but with use we hope to improve”.
Installation of the press required a descent from the domestic library to the basement and the journal now bore the legend, “Printed and Published at the Torch Office by O, A, and H Rossetti”. Olivia, Arthur and Helen at last had a product worthy of their Sunday sales at Hyde Park where they advertised their wares with the energetic waving of red banners. As sales of the newly readable Torch increased they began to attract the attention of an ever widening circle of serious anarchists despite its limited print run (probably considerably below 1,000 per issue of which very few copies appear to have survived). Within two years of starting The TORCH  H B Samuels wrote to Nettlau admitting that the adolescent Rossetti’s were, “growing in influence and power among people we could not reach the in ordinary way” (24 April 1893).

Crisis and Recovery?
Heavily influenced by Kropotkin and fellow Russian exiles, Stepniak and Volkhonsky, as readership increased, The TORCH attracted new authors and new ideas. The involvement of French exiles prompted the promotion of “propaganda of the deed” which cooled Kropotkin’s initial enthusiasm but drew in others as The TORCH celebrated a bizarrely eclectic mix of anarchist ideas.
The summer of 1893 presented an opportunity for expansion with the imminent collapse of Commonweal until crisis struck the Rossetti household. Lucy, the children’s mother had long suffered ill health but suddenly doctors feared for the worst and ordered convalescence in a warmer climate and the parents deemed it advisable for both Olivia and Helen to accompany her to Lake Maggiore. The group departed for Italy in October leaving publication of The TORCH in abeyance and the issue of 15th July 1893 the last, until Lucy was fit enough to return to London.
Sadly Lucy never recovered and in March 1894 William and young Arthur hurried to San Remo to visit her in what appeared likely her final days. On 12 April Lucy passed away in the presence of William and the children. Following the funeral, as soon as Olivia, Helen and Arthur returned to London they lost no time restarting the paper which appeared 15 June 1894 denominated as, “New Series, Issue 1”.

New Site, New Politics?
After Lucy’s death William applied for and was granted immediate pensioned retirement and was in no mood to any longer allow his children to fill his basement with anarchists and other assorted reprobates. Olivia, Helen and Arthur were directed to light their Torch elsewhere and it’s extraordinary that under these circumstances they’d managed to get that June 1894 edition out so promptly. Described on the masthead as, “A Revolutionary Journal of Anarchist Communism”, that issue was, “Printed and Published by F. Macdonald, 1 Arlington Terrace, Arlington Road, Camden Town, NW”. Their saviour and new sponsor was Dr Thomas Fauset Macdonald (1862-1910) who’d previously backed Commonweal but he wasn’t yet in a position to provide The TORCH with a permanent home. From October to December 1894 the paper was nominally printed and published by Macdonald at, 43 Crawford Street, W. Despite these production problems the journal no longer depended on street sales but was by then also available through two fixed outlets, Lapie’s shop at 30 Goodge Street and William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street.
This new series of the paper still carried articles espousing Russian revolutionary causes and French “propaganda of the deed” but also exemplified the arrival of Antonio Agresti (1864-1926) and his Italian comrades who would come to profoundly influence both the paper and its adolescent progenitors. 
WMR approved of Agresti despite recording his own downbeat first impression, “a young man, dark short and slight with an unhealthy complexion and dressed in black like a poor clerk”. Born in Florence in 1864, after publishing “a seditious manifesto”, Antonio had been forced to flee to France where he was later arrested and jailed. Expelled to Brussels in early 1894 he’d moved to London where he lodged with Malatesta, who was already involved with The TORCH. Agresti signed the “News of the Month” in the first issue of the new series and a prominent advert advised comrades, “Anarchist Leaflets! To be had at 2s 6d a thousand. Apply to A. Agresti at 7 Frederick St, Portland Town, N.W.”. The editorial modestly announced, “We aim at a complete, radical, absolute overthrow of the Bourgeois system” but first came the practical search for permanent premises…


Permanent Premises
At the end of 1894 The TORCH found its final resting place in Somers Town, north London. The protracted search had eventually identified “127 Ossulston Street”. Harry Kelly described the premises as, “A small two-storey building situated in a back yard, in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of London…The building had two rooms, one upstairs for the composing room, and one downstairs, the press room”.
The Rossetti girls recorded their first visit to the new office and Nettlau’s introduction to the premises, We stopped in front of a little greengrocers’ shop in a side street”,…“The place I mean is behind here, the woman in the shop (Mrs Upchurch) lets it, we will go in and speak with her”. “She turned out to be as loquacious as she was bulky, a fair specimen of the good-natured Cockney gossip, evidently fond of the convivial glass, not over-choice in her language, the creature of her surroundings, which were not of the sweetest, but withal warm-hearted and sympathetic, with that inner hatred of the police common to all who belong to the coster class, and able to stand up for her rights, if necessary, both with her tongue and her fists. She showed us over a damp ill-lighted basement shop, in a corner of which was a ladder leading to a large, light shop, which seemed well suited to our purpose.”
The TORCH acquired all the old equipment previously owned by the Socialist League and Commonweal including a hand-press that had been employed by Johann Most to print Freiheit before it was passed on to Joseph Lane’s Revolutionary Committee for their leaflet propaganda. In December 1894 these presses were rapidly installed in the downstairs room at Ossulton Street and that month’s edition of the paper informed readers this would become The TORCH’s registered address from New Year.

The TORCH Club
Securing a permanent base and proper, if antiquated, printing presses enabled the paper to flourish as the office became a haven where exiled anarchists dropped in, made contacts and contributed the occasional article. WMR described it less positively, “a sort of club where the hangers on of the extreme Left idled away an immense amount of time whilst their infant host and hostesses were extremely active over their formes” concerning conditions back home. Throughout 1895 a regular monthly production schedule was maintained and pagination increased from a previous average of about a dozen pages up to sixteen and occasionally twenty pages and this pattern continued into 1896. From its launch to its eventual demise the paper’s price remained at one penny which incidentally exactly matched that adopted by Commonweal, The Anarchist, Freedom and Liberty.
Nettlau testified to the popularity of The TORCH in this period, claiming that it sold every issue produced and the print-run was usually between 1,500 and 3,000 although surviving copies show The TORCH was far and away the worst printed of any of the above titles. Whatever the print quality the contents, when readable, were never dull at a time when its contemporary Freedom was described by one comrade, “as a middle-class philosophical organ, not intelligible to the working classes, not up to date in late information and…less revolutionary than “Comic Cuts””

Incendiary Eclecticism
Whilst The TORCH carried stuff found elsewhere in contemporary anarchist journals five distinct elements ultimately characterise the paper;
  • Eclectic
  • Literary and Artistic
  • Praise for “Propaganda by the Deed”
  • Feminist
  • Revolutionary trade unionist
Although Freedom openly debated issues, especially “individualist” versus “”communist” versions of anarchy in its early years by the time of The TORCH it had settled into a tolerant but rather staid pattern which the brash newcomer implicitly challenged. The TORCH was always inconsistent, both from issue to issue and within each issue. Readers could never lazily imbibe a “Party Line” as an article commending peaceful cooperation might be followed by a call to bomb throwing and assassination.
The TORCH challenged readers to reflect and decide issues for themselves and whilst this intellectual eclecticism earned the admiration of literary critics it attracted the ire of political ideologues. The Rossetti’s roots in the literary and artistic world was evident with poetry a regular feature and publication of an original Pissaro print an outstanding example.
Where many English anarchists distanced themselves from “Propaganda by the Deed” enacted in mainland Europe The TORCH wasn’t afraid to offer praise. In March 1895 Fauset Macdonald described Ravachol, Pallas, Vaillant, Henry and Caserio as “priceless heroes “who met their deaths “at the heart of an effete society” and Gori, Alexander Cohen and Bevington all added their own paeans to dynamiters in various editions. BUT The TORCH also published damning indictments of anarchist terrorism from the pen of Thomas Hastie Bell and other pacifist comrades.
The two Rossetti girls ensured the paper challenged the patriarchy from the outset. The TORCH denounced police harassment of prostitutes and defended Minnie Wells and Amy Gregory, who’d been sentenced to death for infanticide, as innocent, impoverished women driven to desperation by an uncaring society. The paper campaigned for Edith Lanchester, a young woman confined to an asylum by her parents when she sought to live unmarried with a socialist. An article by F S Paul claimed, “Every woman has an inalienable right to do with her body whatever she likes; to give herself to whomsoever she likes.”
The TORCH took more account of trade union activity than other anarchist journals and Agresti, James Harragan and Malatesta were particularly concerned with “Strike Tactics”. In April 1895 Agresti ridiculed Northampton strikers parading through the streets in pathetic demonstrations designed to elicit public sympathy and suggested instead they occupy their factories and workshops and turn out stuff for themselves or for sale or they could sabotage the machinery to punish the bosses. Malatesta’s articles developed Syndicalist ideas of trade union activism and the revolutionary potential of the “General Strike”. These pioneering notions of revolutionary unionism were taken out onto the streets by soap-box propagandist Harragan who was as contemptuous as Agresti of the servile attitude of contemporary trade union leaders.

The End is Nigh
By the end of 1896 the Rossettis would be children no more for Helen would be 17, Arthur 19 and Olivia 21 and each for their own reasons was anxious to move on. Early in the year it was already apparent that Olivia and Agresti were more than merely comrades, that Helen’s health was suffering and Arthur was really more interested in engineering machines than society.
Officially The TORCH and its presses were owned by Olivia and whilst she didn’t need the money she was anxious if she departed to facilitate the continuance of the title. Fersenheim Paul offered her £20 and promised to keep the paper going but whilst she considered this option Max Nettlau who was on the lookout for a home for Freedom wrote matching Paul’s offer. She granted Paul first refusal but when he failed to find backers she gave Nettlau the go-ahead. Max’s comrade, and TORCH associate, Bernard Kampffmeyer supported his initiative by chipping in half the purchase money and jointly guaranteeing the rent.
From April 1895 Freedom was (unofficially) printed at Ossulston Street along with The TORCH on the same presses but the gradual withdrawal of Agresti and the Rossetti trio left a hole in the paper that proved hard to fill. Freedom thrived on the new arrangement but no sooner had compositor-editor, Tom Cantwell, got his foot in the door at Ossultson Street than he used it to bar the way to The TORCH group. Even the Rossetti’s weren’t any longer welcome and Pietro Gori and Edoardo Milano, two Italians temporarily lodged upstairs, were ejected by Cantwell at gunpoint. Two of the erstwhile TORCH group, Byrne and Paul managed to get a few issues of the paper printed elsewhere but in January 1897 their initiative ended and, after six years and almost sixty issues, The TORCH was finally extinguished.

Life After Death
The TORCH premises continued to be used to produce Freedom for the next thirty years until the building was demolished under “slum clearance”. The Rossetti children left London to go their separate ways. Olivia followed Antonio Agresti to Italy when he was granted amnesty in 1896. They married in Rome the following year.
In 1896 Helen was dispatched to Davos to convalesce but following a relapse her father accompanied her on a voyage to Australia. During the return sailing her ship was becalmed and menaced by fifty-two huge icebergs which, Helen calmly proceeded to sketch from a comfortable position on deck.
Arthur, unusually for a Rossetti, showed no real interest or aptitude for the arts and according to his father’s Reminiscences, “Studies of chemistry, algebra and other matters of science engaged his chief personal attention; for a spell of light reading he would take up the Differential Calculus. He wanted to be an electrical engineer and was put in that way of pursuing that vocation.” In 1896 he was obtained a student placement in the large engineering works of Jackson & Co., Salford where he became very friendly with the work’s manager, John Slater Lewis. In 1899 he was appointed manager of the “Lancashire Stoker Works” in Bolton which had just emerged from an embittered strike. In September 1901 Arthur married Dora Lewis, the daughter of his manager at Jacksons and more or less, lived happily ever after (d.24.9.1932), having no further involvement in politics and recording none of his experiences at The TORCH.

Helen’s Story
Unlike Arthur, neither of the Rossetti girls went quietly. Both maintained a public role and together they published a fictionalised account of their time at The TORCH. Helen remained closest to their father and most faithfully followed the family’s artistic inclinations, as an artist and author. In the autumn of 1903 whist living in the family’s Edmund Terrace house Helen met and fell madly in love with a young Italian journalist Gastone Angeli. On 1 December, accompanied by her approving father she sailed for Naples where, on the 10th she married Angeli before leaving with him three days later for Cairo where he held an appointment in the Italian Chamber of Commerce. Weakened in health by previous service in the Congo, Gastone died in Egypt on 18 July 1904 leaving Helen heavily pregnant. She then sailed for Rome to stay with Olivia who’d settled there with Agresti. Helen had her baby, Imogene Lucy Cristina Maria, in September and was visited in November by her father William and sister Mary (who’d been too young to have involved herself during The TORCH years).
Helen and Imogene returned to the old family home at Edmund Terrace. Helen maintained herself and her young daughter through a combination of authorship and office work until her father died in 1919 leaving her Shelley’s old sofa in his will (depicted above), he bequeathed a locket containing part of Shelley’s skull to Olivia!
Relieved of responsibility for both father and daughter Helen was appointed Secretary to Signor Attolico of the Italian Ministry of Commerce in both London and New York. She also set-about establishing herself as a full-time author, publishing books on Shelley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and “The Pre-Raphaelite Twilight”. The Times marked her death on 11 September 1969 with an obituary describing both her early conversion to anarchism by Kropotkin and her initiative in jointly igniting The TORCH, as well sketching a brief account of her later literary career.

Olivia’s Life
Of the The TORCH trio there is no doubt that Olivia was the leading light. All three contributed whilst no-one accused Olivia of being bossy or dominating but she was the eldest and remained throughout her life the most overtly political. Although her husband, Antonio Agresti, had been a fiery revolutionary before and during The TORCH years when he returned to Italy with Olivia in 1897 he abandoned anarchism and embraced bourgeois journalism and literature. In 1914 he campaigned for Italy’s intervention in the First World War. After the conflict he collaborated on the conservative newspaper La Tribuna and supported Mussolini’s Fascists.
Olivia’s politics followed a similar trajectory although in 1903 she collaborated with Helen in writing a fictionalised account of their years producing The TORCH which portrayed prominent anarchists disguised only by the thinnest of veils. Jointly authored under the single nom de plume, Isobel Meredith, “A Girl Amongst the Anarchists” is a fascinating read giving insight into both the character of the Rossetti’s and the sociopathic tendencies of several anarchist “heroes”. “Isobel” used the opportunity to slight Cantwell (“Short”), describing him as, “a queer uncouth figure with his long tousled black hair and sallow, unhealthy face…his whole attitude was somewhat deprecatory and cringing”.
The air of disillusionment that suffuses the work disappoints hagiographers and so like The TORCH it’s been similarly undervalued by anarchists. Olivia was certainly no saint, through meeting David Lubin, Olivia became an advocate for world economic cooperation and a leading “League of Nations” interpreter. These influences propelled Olivia from class-struggle anarchism through Corporatism to Fascism. From 1921 to 1943 she edited the newsletter of the Associazione fra le Societa per Azioni, a group closely allied with the Fascists and in 1938 co-authored, “The Organisation of the Arts and Professions in the Fascist Guild State” with the Fascist journalist Mario Missiroli. When “Signora Olivia Agresti” died in Rome on 6 November 1960 her Times obituary recognised her early years of, “advanced socialism and anarchism…and friendship with Prince Krapotkin (sic)” but tactfully overlooked her support for Fascism.
The adult disillusionment of the adolescent revolutionaries encourages critics to view the trio as mere dilettantes whose anarchism ran into the sands of factory life, literature and fascism respectively but no libertarian initiative ever entirely fails. It’s surely better to light a candle than curse the darkness and in a most gloomy Victorian era of international repression Olivia, Helen and Arthur ignited The TORCH of Anarchy.

                                                                                     Christopher Draper (February 2018)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Listings and News Update Spring 2018

Saturday 17th Feb. 11a.m.- 4 p.m. 
Bruce Castle 
Museum N17.
 Includes RaHN stall. 
Discover more about Haringey’s history and community heritage at our annual Haringey Local History Fair at Bruce Castle Museum and Haringey Archive. You can visit the Archive Search Room and talk to Archive Staff, enjoy our all-day talks programme or browse stalls from local organisations showcasing our area's heritage and culture -  a chance to network and get involved. All welcome.
The Old Kitchen will also have a cafĂ© for teas, coffee and cake all day.
For more details of the all-day Talks Programme - see the Bruce Castle Museum pages. Includes:
12.25 p.m. "Places in Tottenham" - Adjoa Wiredu (Photo-journalist of the Marigold Road blog (external link) and local resident), shares her inspiration for her current photographic-journal exhibition at Bruce Castle showing everyday life and views of Tottenham. 
3.35pm – “Hands-on History along the High Road– a round-up of a year working and volunteering in heritage, by the North Tottenham Heritage project (external link).
4.05pm – “A Voice for Women: 1918 and Getting the Vote for (some) Women Deborah Hedgecock (Curator, Bruce Castle Museum) draws on the stories so far uncovered by different researchers in Haringey of women’s suffrage and campaigning for votes for women from around the area.
(Please note: talks are sometimes subject to change.) 
Message from IWCE Network:
Because of the London NHS Demo on Saturday 3rd Feb.
we've had to POSTPONE the joint day school with We Own it  [previously listed].
It will now be on 19th May. More soon. Apologies. Keith Venables for IWCE
Message from "News from Nowhere":
The speaker on Orwell for 10th Feb [meeting previously listed*] is ill. I'm trying to find another speaker on Orwell. If I can't (short notice), we will go ahead anyway and have an Orwell evening run by ourselves. So do bring all the books and anything else by or about Orwell. We always have a good meeting when a speaker has to cancel. You might remember the lovely evening on Tony Benn run by us.
So do consider coming. You can phone me on Saturday on 0208 555 5248 to find if another speaker has been booked. 
But really hope you will come - in the grand autodidact tradition. 
At the Epicentre, West Street, Leytonstone E11 4LJ    
Doors open at 7.30pm Buffet (please bring veggie item if you can)
8.00pm Talk & discussion till 10pm & back to buffet till 10.30pm.
*Saturday 10th February 2018
George Orwell, the Labour Party and the Left   Speaker: Professor John Newsinger
George Orwell was a lifelong socialist. As far as he was concerned, socialism was involved in the achievement of a democratic classless society, a society in which the rich had been altogether dispossessed. His experiences in Spain in the 1930s convinced him that this would require a revolution and he held to this belief through the Second World War, even hoping that the Attlee government might go down a revolutionary road. This talk examines the trajectory of his political thinking and his changing attitudes towards the Labour Party. John Newsinger is Professor of Modern History at Bath Spa University and the author of several books, including the graphic novel, 1917: The Red Year. He is co-editor of the journal George Orwell Studies and has a new book on Orwell, ‘Hope Lies in the Proles’: Orwell and the Left, coming out in March 2018.
Documentary: From Classroom to Class Struggle

First UK screening of 
'From Classroom to Class Struggle' (De la sala de clases a la lucha de clases)
Renato Dennis, Chile, 2016, 99 minutes

The year 2011 saw an unprecedented wave of student protests throughout Chile, with occupations of more than 90% of public educational institutions and numerous private ones too, and with marches in every city of the country. This film is a record of the events and the reasons behind the movement.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the director.

Saturday 24 February, 2pm-5pm
SOAS University of London
Bloomsbury, London WC1H 0XG

Room: DLT Lecture Theatre

Working Class Movement Library
51 The Crescent,
SalfordM5 4WX

Thomas Paine display, and Tolpuddle Martyrs exhibition

The Library has a Thomas Paine collection of national repute.  It was assembled by Adrian and Christopher Brunel over a period of some fifty years, and consists of books, pamphlets, prints, tokens and ephemera. The books are not only by and about Paine but also reflect the contemporary scene of the 1790s in America, France and Britain.  Paine played a significant part in the affairs of each of these countries and influenced events there. The collection reflects the polemics and controversies of the time.
A small selection from that vast collection will be on display in the Library hall until this Saturday, 3 February, having been put together for last weekend's Paine event.  Come and have a browse.
You can also spend time viewing the travelling exhibition we are currently hosting from the Marx Memorial Library,The Tolpuddle Martyrs in print.  As well as detailing the history and impact of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, this also features contemporary newspaper reporting, some of it not seen in public for almost 200 years.
Items from the Library collection are presented alongside the exhibition.
The exhibition is open until 15 February, Wed-Fri 1-5pm, and Saturday 3 February 10am-4pm.

LGBT History Month

Our contribution to LGBT History Month event this year is on Saturday, 17 February at 2pm, when we will be offering the chance to learn more about both historical and current issues.
 The Minorities Research Group was the UK's first lesbian social and political organisation, and Esme Ross Langley began publishing their magazine Arena 3 in 1964.  By the end of 1964 Arena 3 had a circulation of 400, and the magazine ran until 1972.  A talk by writer and researcher Jane Traies, ‘How Arena 3 saved my life’, will explore its impact through the oral testimonies of older lesbians whose lives were changed by this new contact with other women like themselves. 
 In addition, Magadaline Moyo and Betty Nakibuuka from the Manchester Lesbian Immigration Support Group will talk on their current work with women from around the world who are seeking sanctuary in our area.
 Admission free; light refreshments available; all welcome.

Spring series of Invisible Histories talks at the LibraryOur new series of free Invisible Histories talks begins on Wednesday 14 March at 2pm with a talk by Paula Moorhouse comparing and contrasting the lives of Helen Macfarlane, who made the first translations from the original German of the Communist Manifesto and the writings of Hegel, and Helen Crawfurd, suffragist, peace campaigner, communist and organiser in the East End of Glasgow.
Go to for the full list of forthcoming Invisible HIstories talks.

A Sylvia Pankhurst play for International Women's Day

UPDATE: Our hosting of Lynx Theatre's play Sylvia to mark International Women's Day is now fully booked.  Apologies if you have missed out; our annexe can only hold 50 people

NB that until Sunday 29 April Manchester Art Gallery is showing a selection of paintings and pastels by Sylvia Pankhurst, who trained at Manchester School of Art and won the prize for best female student in 1901.  She travelled round England and Scotland in 1907, recording the lives of women she met in the pottery, shoe-making, fishing and spinning industries, among others. 

We mark International Women's Day, and the centenary of (some) women getting the vote, with a play by Lynx Theatre about Sylvia Pankhurst, who has been called “the greatest Englishwoman of the twentieth century”.  She trained as an artist, but when her mother and sister founded the Women’s Social and Political Union she gave up her art to rouse the women of the East End.  Her story is told against a background of 250 slides of her paintings, archive photographs, and locations in England and Europe.
The play, entitled simply Sylvia, will be followed by an audience discussion led by Jacqueline Mulhallen, the author and actress.
This is a ‘pay what you decide’ event, so we will be taking payment on the day.  However you WILL NEED TO BOOK A PLACE IN ADVANCE - please to book.[NOW FULLY BOOKED - SEE ABOVE]
This event is part of Manchester’s radical feminist festival Wonder Women 2018 which is offering a packed programme of exhibitions, tours, debates, performances and one-off screenings throughout March - more at INCLUDING

Celebrating the work of the Manchester and Salford Women's Trade Union Council 1895-1919 

An event at the Library on Saturday 10 March from 2pm to 5pm will celebrate the deposit at the Library of the original handwritten minutes of the Manchester and Salford Women's Trade Union Council (MSWTUC) by the Mary Quaile Club, which came across them during research into the life of Mary Quaile, an organiser for the Council 1911-1919. The minutes reveal the very hard work done by Mary and other organisers to encourage and support women to set up or join trade unions, and the issues that arose, particularly pay and working conditions. They also reveal the sharp divisions that arose on the Council over the issue of Votes for Women, culminating in a split in the autumn of 1904 and the establishment of a rival Women’s Trades Council for  Manchester women a few weeks later.
The speakers will be Maggie Cohen, chair of WCML Trustees, Bernadette Hyland from the Mary Quaile Club, and Lauren McCourt (Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union).  Actor Joan McGee will perform a short extract from a play about Mary Quaile written by Jane McNulty.
This event is free and has been organised jointly by the Mary Quaile Club and the Library.  
Advance booking is advised – please email 

The Acting Class - documentary screening

On Wednesday 7 March at 6.30pm we will be screening a showing of the new film The Acting Class.
This is not a film about acting; it’s about the lack of working class representation on our stages and our screens.  Struggling actors outline the difficulties they face when they don’t have the resources to get into the industry, and actors including Chris Eccleston, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Maxine Peake talk about why this situation should concern everyone.
This Inside FiIms documentary won the National Feature category prize at the 2017 Labour Film Festival.
Tickets price £5 on the door.

"Any help possible will be given": the work of the Manchester and Salford Women's Trade Union Council 1895-1919

An event at the Library on Saturday 10 March from 2pm to 5pm will celebrate the deposit at the Library of the original handwritten minutes of the Manchester and Salford Women's Trade Union Council (MSWTUC) by the Mary Quaile Club, which came across them during research into the life of Mary Quaile, an organiser for the Council 1911-1919. They are an invaluable record of the work done by Mary and others to organise low-paid women into trade unions in Manchester.
The speakers will include Maggie Cohen, chair of the WCML Trustees, and Bernadette Hyland from the Mary Quaile Club, who has transcribed the entire set of minutes (130,000 words) for a Web site on the MSWTUC:
This event is free and has been organised jointly by the Mary Quaile Club and the Library.

Ada Nield Chew - 'pop-up protest'

6 February 2018 is the centenary of the legal assent of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the vote for the first time, thanks to activists like Ada Nield Chew.  Ada was a radical suffragist, women’s trades unionist and an author. Her long career in activism began in 1894 with a series of protest letters to the Crewe Chroniclecomplaining about the unfair conditions in the factory, where she was employed as a tailor.
A free 'pop-up protest' takes place at Manchester Metropolitan University on Tuesday 6 February, 10.30am-11.30am.  It is an original adaptation of Ada Nield Chew’s 'Crewe factory girl' letters.
The event is at Geoffrey Manton Building, Rosamond Street West, Manchester M15 6EB. For more information and to book places, click here.

150 years of union women

On Friday 9 March from 5pm to 8pm TUC North West are putting on a Manchester International Women’s Day event, as the start of celebration marking that the fact that 150 years ago the TUC was formed at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester.
The invitation states: 'Please come and join us for food, drink and stories to inspire. You will hear about our fantastic history, hear from those involved in some of our present day struggles, and hear from some of the women shaping the future of our movement both nationally and internationally'.
The event takes place at Thompsons Solicitors, 55 King Street, Manchester M2 4LQ
It is free but you should register in advance here

Public meeting marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of the TUC150 years ago this month the Manchester and Salford Trades Councils convened a conference on the challenges they faced and the need for workers to organise to defend themselves. That conference was the birth of the TUC. The delegates declared that unions were 'an absolute necessity'. An event of that title, hosted by the Manchester Trades Council, will be held at the Mechanics Centre, 103 Princess Street, Manchester M1 6DD on Monday 26 February at 7pm, with speakers from the TUC Organising Young Workers Project, Unison's Care Workers for Change and others.  
Admission free, all welcome.

Radical Readings 3 - Suffer the Little Children
The Working Class Movement Library is proud to present another in its series of Radical Readings fundraising events, this time introducing some of our younger supporters and readers as well as a couple of stalwarts. This year's show takes place on Sunday 25 March at 2pm at Peel Hall, University of Salford, and consists of accounts, stories and poems by and about the children who worked in our mines and factories in the 19th century.
These will be brought to life by Andrew Ellis (This is England), Nico Mirallegro (Rillington Place, Common, The Village), Elle Pemberton and Molly Windsor (Three Girls) together with ever-present favourite Mike Joyce and possibly, if her filming schedule allows, aided and abetted by the Christmas voice of Radio 4 herself. 
Devised and introduced by Royston Futter, Working Class Movement Library trustee.
Tickets price £12 are available - click here.  All proceeds will go to support the Working Class Movement Library. 
We are most grateful to the University of Salford for hosting this event.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 [copied form LSHG]

No Platform Book Project - appeal for sources

From Evan Smith over at Hatful of History -  I am very excited that my book project on the history of the NUS policy of no platform in the UK is moving forward. At the moment, I am on the lookout for further primary sources from no platform campaigns from the 1970s to the present (particularly from the 1980s and 1990s). So if anyone has any material relating to specific campaigns, please send an email to I am especially interested in any material relating to campaigns to prevent Enoch Powell and representatives of the apartheid regime in South Africa from speaking on university campuses in the mid-to-late 1980s.


The latest issue of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #63 is now online, with a comment piece by Keith Flett on the royal wedding, and a book review of Origins of Collective Decision Making by Andy Blunden which discusses the Chartists' view of democracy.  Other pieces include an obituary of William Pelz, and book reviews by Ian Birchall and Merilyn Moos.  With respect to the LSHG Newsletter, letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome - please contact Keith Flett on the address above for more info, and on how to be a member of the LSHG. The deadline for the next issue of the Newsletter is 12 March 2018. The LSHG Spring seminar programme is:

All seminars take place in Room 304 (third floor) at 5.30pm in the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU and entry is free without ticket although donations are welcome.

Monday 22 January
Steve Cushion ‘By Our Own Hands’: A People’s History of the Grenadian Revolution

 Monday 5 February
Kevin Morgan Communism and the Cult of the Individual: Leaders, Tribunes and Martyrs under Lenin and Stalin

Monday 19 February
 Marika Sherwood  ‘They were not Communists they were Independistas!’ The Beginning of the Cold War in Ghana and Nigeria in 1948

Monday 5 March
Keith Flett 1848 Revisited
Bishopsgate Institute
230 Bishopsgate
London, Eng EC2M 4QH

Katherine Connelly uncovers the inspiring stories of Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Wednesday 7 February | 19.00 – 20.00    £7 / £5 concession 
FIrst published 1932. Subtitled "A Mirror to Life in England during the First World War" [1914-16].
Cresset edition 1987, Cover picture, not one of Sylvia's: The Food Queue 1918, by Joseph Southall.

And the real thing: "An East End Food Queue" from The Home Front.
Wakefield Socialist History Group

at the Red Shed (Wakefield Labour Club) 
on Saturday 24 March 1-4pm.

The speakers are:
  • Thomas Wright on "The Industrial Workers of the World" (Wobblies!)
  • Rob Turnbull on "Daniel de Leon"
  • Adrian Crudenon "Eugene Debs"
  • Alan Stewart on "The History of the US Socialist Workers Party."
Admission is free.  All are welcome.  
There is a free light buffet. And there is a bar with excellent real ale.

(From) Convenor, Wakefield Socialist History Group
Free exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives

Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts

Between 1700 and 1900, the state stopped punishing the bodies of London’s convicts and increasingly sought to reform their minds. From hanging, branding and whipping the response to crime shifted to transportation and imprisonment. By the nineteenth century, judges could choose between two contrasting forms of punishments: exile and forced labour in Australia, or incarceration in strictly controlled ‘reformatory’ prisons at home. Which was more effective?
This exhibition traces the impact of these punishments on individual lives, following the men, women and children convicted in London from the crime scenes and trials through their experiences of punishment, and on to their subsequent lives.
This free exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives is produced in partnership with the AHRC Digital Panopticon Project.
This free exhibition [opened] on 11 December 2017 and continues until 16 May 2018. Free during normal LMA opening times - check our visitor information pages to find out more.

DEBATE: Did militancy help or hinder the fight for the franchise?
Tue 20 February, £10 18:00-19:30, Kew

"By 1912, militancy associated with the Suffragette movement hit its peak, with regular arson attacks and targeting of MPs’ houses. But did these tactics help or hinder the cause?"
"Join us for this lively evening debate with Dr. Fern Riddell,Elizabeth Crawford andProfessor Krista Cowman."

FAMILY EVENT: The Time Travel Club - Badges, buttons and 'behaving badly'
Thu 15 February, £7.50 10:30-12:00, Kew
"Uncover the fascinating stories of women who were prepared to risk everything to win the vote. Become a creative campaigner by making your very own suffrage badges inspired by our records."

Tragedy on the Home Front
Coal miners played a crucial role in supporting the war effort, but unfortunately for many this job led to illness, injury or even death. On 12 January 1918 an explosion in Podmore Hall Colliery in Staffordshire, known as the Minnie Pit, killed more than 150 people. A relative of two of the men who lost their lives has paid tribute to this tragic accident in the Lives of the First World War blog.
New additions to the Sparrows' Nest Digital Library 

Please see below [a selection from] a list of new additions to the Digitial Library. This time it is a rather eclectic mix of documents, also including a bunch of comics which we digitised for a researcher last November. If you ever want us to digitise some specific document, please let us know.
Please note some of these files are rather large (50MB+), so if you think your browser has crashed, give it a few moments, it may just be loading the document. If any of the links are not working or lead to the wrong document, please let us know. All documents come in good enough resolution to blow them up to A3(ish) prints and feature OCR, though that does not always work well with some of the fonts used and OCR is usually pretty bad in picking up the more arty bits of writing.

The full catalogue information for these titles will be online with the next proper catalogue update (some time in February?). What you see below are just titles and some information on publishers/authors (etc.) to give you an idea what you will be clicking on.
Current opening hours [for visiting in person - Nottingham] are still every Thursday 11am-2pm or contact us to make alternative arrangements.

RaHN Blogger's Selection (links not tested): 
Wrigley, Chris: The General Strike 1926 in Local History; Loughborough University (1982)
 We are Winning - The Battle of Seattle: A Personal Account; Wildfire Collective (2000)
Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout! Collectif 1984
Poll Tax Riot - Ten Hours that Shook Trafalgar Square; ACAB Press
 Schulkind, Eugene: The Paris Commune of 1871; Historical Association (1971)
Goldman, Emma: The Place of the Individual in Society; Free Society Forum (1941
Garcia, Victor: Three Japanese Anarchists: Kotoku, Osugi and Yamaga; KSL (2000)
Facts on the Spanish Resistance #01; Centro Iberico
Curtis, Liz: They Shoot Children - The use of rubber and plastic bullets in the North of Ireland; Information on Ireland (1982)
Beating Fascism - Anarchist Anti-Fascism in Theory and [Practice] AFA
 Berneri, Camillo: Peter Kropotkin - His Federalist Ideas; Freedom (1943
Bakunin, Michael: The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State; CIRA (1971)
As we see it now; Workers’ Council Socialism (2008)
Anarchism - as we see it; ACF/AF Anarchist Communist Federation/Anarchist Federation
 Anarchism in the May Movement in France; IWW
Anarchy Comics - International Anarchy! (1978) 
60 years of CND at Aldermaston
2018 is the 60th anniversary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Founded in 1958 at the height of the Cold War, CND has been a powerful collective voice against nuclear weapons. Our founding meeting took place on the 17th February 1958 at the Central Hall, Westminster.

It's also the 60th anniversary of the first Aldermaston march, the path breaking protest which did so much to change British political culture. Join us at Aldermaston on Easter Sunday - 1st April 2018 - for speeches, music and an interfaith vigil.

Slightly tarnished?
Aldermaston, where Britain's nuclear bombs are made, has been the target of anti-nuclear campaigners in every decade since the founding of CND and continues to be central to all our work.

This is a major stop on the CND Now More than Ever tour, which will see a giant 3D CND symbol visit more than twenty dramatic locations across Britain, including the White Cliffs of Dover, the Angel of the North in Gateshead, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

CND at AWE Aldermaston
Easter Sunday • 1st April 2018
Berkshire • 12 noon - 2pm

On the march, 1963

60 Faces of CND exhibition
To mark 60 years ... a new online exhibition
"CND’s greatest strength has always been its members. Incredible people have shaped our history, our present and will continue to inspire in the future. 60 Faces of CND tells the stories of 60 people who represent all the millions of people who have campaigned for nuclear disarmament over the decades and have made our organisation so remarkable."
Advance Notice:
Second Bristol Radical History Festival 
Sunday 6th May
The all-day  event (10.30am-4.30pm) will include history walks, talks, performance, bookstalls and displays and is taking place on several floors and galleries in the M Shed Museum.
This year’s festival follows the successful event run at the M Shed in September 2017 and has two themes. We are working closely with the Bread, Print and Roses Collective to mark the 50th anniversary of May 1968, a month that saw worldwide demonstrations against capitalism, authoritarianism and war. We look at the legacy of May ’68 in Bristol, scene of significant student occupations, and beyond. The Remembering the Real WWI Group will also be putting on a programme of events to reflect on the impact and aftermath of the First World War, as we approach the centenary of the 1918 armistice. 
The aim of the RHF to bring radical hidden histories and histories from below into the public domain through various media and to link these to contemporary movements and struggles.