Politicians

In view of the forthcoming General Election, here is a selection of remarks on British MPs published by ex-MP Matthew Parris in his ‘Scorn with Extra Bile’ (1995 and later editions).

He lied and lied and lied.

Guardian headline on the news that former Tory Minister Jonathan Aitkin had withdrawn his libel case against the paper, 1997.

Jail Him!—Aitkin: serial liar, cheat, coward. His marriage is over and he faces a £2 million legal bill. It is not punishment enough. He must be sent to jail…he is unfit to mop the floor in a soup kitchen. He is not just a failure as a politician. He is a failure as a human being.

The Mirror on Aitkin.

Mr Aitkin was duly tried and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Here he ‘ got religion’. He is now a minister at St Matthews church, Stoke Newington. By declaring himself bankrupt he managed to avoid paying the enormous costs awarded against him, though the Guardian suspected him of having more resources than he admitted to.

A semi-house trained polecat.

Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit.

In March 2022 Mr Tebbit ( aka ‘ the Chingford skinhead ‘ ) retired from politics aged 90.

…He was always the sort of Socialist who would do anything for the workers except like them.

Bruce Anderson on Roy Hattersley in The Spectator.

Apparently Hattersley has written three ‘ novels ‘ and several biographies. He retired from politics and is little heard of nowadays.

Harold Wilson was one of the men who ruined post-war Britain. He was a small posturing visionless politician, personally pleasant to his friends and even his enemies, amusing, irreverent and apparently kind. But his public work was a long strung-out disaster, overlaid by the impression at the time that it was at least dextrously accomplished.

Hugo Young, the Guardian, 1995.

The Bertie Wooster of Marxism

Anonymous, about Tony Benn.

A rather harsh verdict on the former Viscount Stansgate, whose son Stephen inherited the title that his father renounced. It’s hard to imagine Bertie Wooster swapping champagne for copious mugs of tea.

A perfectly good second-class chemist, a Beta chemist…she wasn’t an interesting person, except as a Conservative…I would never, if I had amusing, interesting people staying, have thought of asking Margaret Thatcher.

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John Langdon-Davies: poet, Conscientous Objector, pro-Anarchist (1897 – 19 71)

The Complete Self-Educator (nd. but c1939), a copy of which we found in the archives at Jot HQ the other day,  was one of those doorstep self-help books that Odhams brought out in the late thirties. We have already discussed various aspects of a companion volume in previous Jots. The Complete Self-Educator, however, is a different kind of multi-author book altogether and a much more challenging one. It sought to give the average intelligent reader a grounding in the principles of a number of important academic disciplines, including biology, medicine, physics, chemistry, economics, psychology, philosophy and logic.

Some of the writers were prominent experts in their field—people like Professor Erich Roll( psychology) and Max Black ( philosophy). Others, like Stephen Swingler, who later become a Labour minister, were relative newcomers who had published work in areas not altogether related to the subjects on which they were invited to write. One of these tyros was John Langdon- Davies, who had published books on Spain and women in society, but whose topic for the Complete Self- Educator was ‘The English Common People’.

Among the rather conventional fellow contributors Langdon-Davies stood out as a bit of a maverick. Born in Zululand, when it was part of South Africa, he came to England as a young boy and went on to attend Tonbridge School, which he hated. He was not, it must be said, officer cadet material. When he was called up in 1917 he declared himself a Conscientious Objector and as such served a short prison sentence. Declared unfit for military service, he lost two of the three scholarships for St John’s College Cambridge that he had gained at school. At Cambridge he tried to live off the remaining scholarship, but was obliged to abandon his studies. As a result, he switched his attention to the fields of archaeology and anthropology and ended up with diplomas in these disciplines. While an undergraduate Langdon-Davies did, however, manage to publish a volume of poems, The Dream Splendid, which received some favourable reviews. 

After the War Langdon-Davies embraced leftish politics, promoting the cause of women with his book A Short History of Women and embracing the anarchist cause in the Spanish Civil War with Behind the Spanish Barricades. His opposition to Nazism, fascism and ‘scientific racism’ can be gleaned from the opening paragraph of ‘The Story of the Common People’.

‘…English history is what it is because geography and geology made England what it is. We can go further than this, and say that geography and geology have made the Englishman himself what he is…’

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The World in 1943 according to Everybody’s Pocket Companion

Jot 101 Everybody's Pocket companion cover 001

The world has certainly changed since 1943.  Everybody’s Pocket Companion, a handy paperback of some eighty pages compiled by someone called A. Mercer during the Second World War, dishes out a variety of ‘ useful ‘ facts on astronomy, geography, chemistry and sport, among other topics. While some things remain the same, the world’s political geography has altered considerably since the booklet was published. Here are a few examples:

EUROPE

Albania was annexed by Italy in  April 1939. It became a communist state after the War and is now a sovereign nation again.

The Irish Free State was designated a Dominion governed by a Governor-General. It later became a Republic with a President.

Lithuania’s, capital was Kovno. It is now Vilnius and the old capital is now spelt Kaunus.

ASIA

Alexandretta’s,capital was Alexandretta. This now forms a part of modern SE Turkey.

 

China’s, capital was Nanking, which is now spelt Nanjing. Beijing is the current capital, thanks to Mao Tse Tung.

 

Malaya’s capital was Singapore. The capital of the ‘ Malay States ‘in 1943 was Kuala Lumpur. Malaya and the Malay States were amalgamated and became Malaysia, with Kuala Lumpur as the new capital. Singapore is now a separate entity. Continue reading

Richard Hoggart and the Culture Wars of the sixties

I just missed being taught by Richard Hoggart at my University, which is a pity, since I was very
impressed by his arguments in The Uses of Literacyand would have enjoyed listening to him discussing some of the ramifications of his book in lectures and seminars. Never mind.

Jot 101 Richard Hoggart pic

Today the hot subjects of the chattering classes are the Culture Wars, especially those   being played out on social media. Hardly a day goes by without some academic or TV presenter being arraigned on Twitter for his or her remarks on cancel culture or identity issues. Back in 1961, however, there were different sort of Culture Wars raging in the columns of newspapers and magazines and Hoggart was one of the commentators whose words carried weight.

 

So Hoggart’s review of Richard Wollheim’s Fabian pamphlet Socialism and Culture (1961) in the New Statesman, though seemingly passé in today’s overheated political climate remains a perceptive commentary on a raging issue of the time which has implications today for the qualities of intellectual debate in newspapers, on social media and the inherent values ( or non-values) of those producing TV. It is also interesting as being, probably, the last critique on cultural life in which those horrible terms ‘ high brow’ and ‘low brow’ are used, in this case,  in a derogatory way.

 

Hoggart takes issue with the crude, unintelligent and lazy discrimination used by some commentators on social culture in the past that identified ‘ lowbrow ‘ culture with that enjoyed by the ‘ lower orders ‘ ( presumably the working class ) and ‘ mass culture ‘ with that enjoyed by the ‘ 80 per cent who have not been to a grammar school’ ( presumably most of the working class plus a section of the lower middle class).

 

‘ The crucial distinctions to-day are not those between The News of the World and The Observer, between the Third Programme and the Light Programme, between sex-and-violence  paperbacks and ‘ egghead ‘ paperbacks, between Bootsie and Snudge and the Alan Taylor lectures, between the Billy Cotton Band Show and the Brains Trust, between the Top Ten and a celebrity concert, or between ‘ skiffle ‘ and chamber music. The distinctions we should be making are those between the News of the World and the Sunday Pictorial, between ‘ skiffle ‘ and the Top Ten; and for ‘ highbrows’ between The Observer and the Sunday Times, or in ‘ egghead ‘paperbacks, between Raymond Williams and Vance Packard.
Continue reading

9 Clues to Racism and Sexism in Children’s Books: a perspective from 42 years ago

Taking into account the current debate on identity politics, and in particular the climate of ‘ wokeness’ regarding racism and sexism, it is interesting to read one of the earliest texts on this subject, Racism and Sexism in Childrens’ Books( Writers’ and Reader’ Publishing Cooperative, 1979). In it Judith Stinton, who edited the book, drew up a list entitled ‘ How to Look for Racism and Sexism in Childrens’ Books: a guideline.

Jot 101 childrens book censor 001

 

 

These points seem to have been discussed ever since, often inducing a polarisation of views according to various agendas and prejudices. As the publisher Nicholas Parsons observed in 1985

 

The Central Committee of Teachers Against Racism complained that ‘black people’ are shown as greedy in Bannerman’s The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899) because Sambo eats 169 pancakes. Right-wing letters to the Times, on the other hand, produced arguments of varying implausibility liberally laced with self-righteousness, to demonstrate the impossible that : The Story of Little Black Sambo does not purvey a view of black people that is at best patronising in the extreme, and at worst unpleasantly racist.’

 

Who was this would-be censor? The only Judith Stinton we could find online was someone who is currently curating exhibitions on literature for museums. From her photograph she looks too young to be the person responsible for the groundbreaking booklet, but she may have produced it when in her very early twenties. Continue reading

Visionary Speech by Earl Russell (part 3)

Found – a small folding pamphlet illustrated by Ralph Steadman and published in London by IMG_1869Open Head Press about 1980 at 50p. It came from the estate of the Dutch radical Simon Vinkenoog whose  birthday (18th July)  was the same day as this revolutionary (not to say crazy) speech was given. It has the full text of Earl Russell’s 1978 maiden speech to the House of Lords. John Conrad Russell was the son of Bertrand Russell. After the speech he left the House of Lords and was prevented from re-entering it by ushers. It is said to be the only speech given  in the Lords that is not fully recorded by Hansard. His proposal to give three quarters of the nation’s wealth to teenage girls had some coverage in the papers the next day, but the speech has never appeared in full, apart from in this rare pamphlet, this is the last part: –

Such is the present position of the United States after the war in Vietnam: the whole human race can accuse it every day. The helpless, which were physically or spiritually imprisoned, can then stand up and point the finger; revealed injuries to mankind can now stand up and accuse, with whatever rebuke pleases them. The State authorities of Europe and the United States must now admit that they have done these deeds and practice no longer the harm they have wrought. 

“Let them grant the gift of gifts, the gift of life, and not wait until death has shown his hand. People who have been imprisoned by the CIA in Latin America, or are so imprisoned today, cannot stand up and answer for themselves. It is meaningless to ask them to be gifts, the gift must proceed from you to them. If you want a man to stand up and be a man, and not be a figleaf or a shadow of himself, you have to grant him the spiritual gift to be able to do so, for the American nations of Latin America this is a genuine reality. And the same goes for all classes of oppressed persons in Europe. Reproof, or the concept of rebuke, guilt, and morality, are no use to him. Accused all the time by the pride of life and vigorous gentlemanliness which governs him, the man is all but paralysed. And the young people are accused by older persons, or older established institutions which will not remove themselves, of being pitiless pride of life to older persons, the same law applies. Rebuke, guilt, morality are no use to them. Get the pitilessness removed: and do not cause the older person, or the police, in the name of the older person, to prostitute the younger person out of unforgiveness. The punishment for such conduct is the guillotine. Cause this murder of young people to cease: abolish all institutions or spirits which cause such things. What is not granted at present is the gift of life. The older person is not granted the gift of life to be generous, kind, forgiving, or merciful to the younger person, and the younger person is forced in self-defence to defend himself against the older person. This spirit will have to leave Europe, and Latin America; and so will all the institutions which exemplify it. A relationship of extreme cruelty results, delightful to all those who relish the experience of sadism. The older person can continue at his pleasure to prostitute the younger person unless the younger person can find a way of answering him and get out of the trap. This spirit or happening is confined to England, and to the English spirit. It does not happen to Free Americans who are not subject to the powers of envy ingrained in the British Class System, which gives such spirits power. Free Americans banish the spirit, and when Americans complain of the British Royal Family for being pampered decadent and snobbish, are they not right? The Police Doll which prostitutes people is probably the responsible author of these evils: the Doll of Love, which says to a person: You are excited from Love: you must prostitute yourself. It is the British Doll, which praises and cherishes the British Jesus Christ, which is all right so long as He is praised, but not so funny if he is condemned or out of grace. Continue reading

Memories of Herbert Asquith

Asquith-as-Chancellor-1907Found among papers at Jot HQ is this carbon copy of an anonymous typescript article on the Liberal Prime Minister H. Herbert Asquith (1852—1928). The author—evidently a Liberal supporter and a great fan of Asquith—reveals various tantalising clues as to his identity, but remains a mystery, despite intensive online research by your constant Jotter.

 

As he was a junior member of staff at the Home residential school in Heaton Mersey ( a reform establishment ) from 1905 – 1910 and remembers reading in 1907 ‘ a wrong prognostication in a Manchester newspaper, the Daily Despatch ‘  concerning Asquith’s cabinet, he was probably born in the early eighteen eighties. An online site devoted to the school from around 1893 to 1909 does give the names of the teaching staff  during this period, including the Head Teacher  (a Conservative), who took part in ‘ exciting arguments ‘ with our writer on various hot topics of the day , most notably Lords Reform. However, when the names of the teachers were searched for , the results were disappointing. If our Asquith supporter made some sort of name for himself as a teacher or mover of some kind in Manchester or elsewhere, it seemingly wasn’t big enough to figure online. If those in the Jottosphere can make anything of W. M. Powell, Mr Barlow, Mr Mayall, J. W. Ross, Mr Milburn or J. R. Burns, then we at Jot HQ would like to hear from them. What the Asquith supporter has to say on his hero is rather interesting.

 

He felt that Asquith’s ‘ parliamentary gifts ‘ were equal to those of Gladstone and that the reform of the Lords, against immense opposition,  was his ‘ crowning glory ‘. He revealed that as a young man two of his ambitions were to see Frank Woolley bat for Kent and to hear one of Asquith’s ‘ oratorical triumphs ‘. He fulfilled the first, but was disappointed in the second. However, consolation came in the form of a visit to the City Temple, Holborn, where he heard Asquith deliver an ‘ exquisite ‘ and ‘decidedly witty’ address of ten minutes alongside the Education minister, Donald Maclean. He also conceded that his hero was capable of errors, the most significant of which was his opposition to Proportional Representation, which the first Labour leader, John Burns, had supported. ‘ Had Burns been successful in his quest ‘, our writer declared,’ today there would have been more Liberals in Parliament ‘. A prescient remark, given the long-standing campaign by our present-day Lib Dems ! Continue reading

Visionary Speech by Earl Russell (part 1)

Found – a small folding pamphlet illustrated by Ralph Steadman and published in London by IMG_1869Open Head Press about 1980 at 50p. It has the full text of Earl Russell’s 1978 maiden speech to the House of Lords. John Conrad Russell was the son of Bertrand Russell. After the speech he left the House of Lords and was prevented from re-entering it by ushers. It is said to be the only speech given  in the Lords that is not fully recorded by Hansard. His poposal to give three quarters of the nation’s wealth to teenage girls had some coverage in the papers the next day, but the speech is rather forgotten (until now). Here is the first part. More to follow.

My Lords, I rise to raise the question of penal law and lawbreakers as such and question whether a modern society is wise to speak in terms of lawbreakers at all. A modern nation looks after everybody and never punishes them. If it has a police force at all, the police force is the Salvation Army and gives hungry and thirsty people cups of tea. If a man takes diamonds from a shop in Hatton Garden, you simply give him another bag of diamonds to take with him. I am not joking. Such is the proper social order for modern Western Europe, and all prisons ought to be abolished throughout its territories. Of course the Soviet Union and the United States could include themselves in these reforms too. Kindness and helping people is better than punitiveness and punishing them, a constructive endeavour is better than a destructive spirit. If anybody is in need, you help him, you do not punish him. Putting children into care and other forms of spiritual disinheritance ought to be stopped. Borstal ought to be stopped and the workings of the Mental Health Act which empowers seizure of people by the police when they are acting in a way likely be harmful to themselves or others or to be looked into.

 

What are you? Soulless robots? Schoolmasters who are harsh with schoolboys who later as a result burn down the schoolhouse ought to be more human. Schoolboys in any case are present treated with indescribable severity which crushes their spirits and leaves them unnourished. The police ought to be totally prevented from ever molesting young people at all or ever putting them into jails and raping them, and putting them into brothels or sending them out to serve other people sexually against their wills.

The spirit ought to be left free, and chaining it has injured the creative power of the nation. The young unemployed are not in any way to have become separate from governmental power, but ought to have been given enough to live on out of the national wealth to look after themselves and never ask themselves even to think  of working while there is no work to be had. Continue reading

Charles Morgan to Arthur Bryant

IMG_0562Found –an interesting signed presentation from Charles Morgan to the historian, Arthur Bryant. It reads – “Arthur Bryant, more about the froggies from his old friend & admirer, Charles Morgan 7.7.49.” It was in a copy of his 1949 book The River Line.

Morgan had been awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1936 and was elected a member of the Institut de France in 1949. In his time Morgan enjoyed an ‘immense’ (Wikipedia) reputation during his lifetime, particularly in France.

The River Line became a play but was originally written as a novel in 1949 and concerned the activities of escaped British prisoners of war in France during World War II.

The inscription is interesting given Morgan’s high standing in France and his professed love for the French. He is still admired there but has become a  slow seller in Britain. The inscription possibly panders to Bryant’s tastes and views, notably to the right.  Bryant had written a book in 1940 which he had to rapidly repress (see Bookride) due to its failure to condemn Hitler.

Anarchy magazine, 1963

 

Anarchist magazine 1963 001We at Jot 101 only have this copy of Anarchy, issue number 27 ( May 1963) as a guide to what this notable magazine was all about. We do know that it was founded by Colin Ward  in 1961 and ran under his editorship until 1970 and that regular contributors included committed anarchists like Nicolas Walter and Harry Baecker. A check list printed on the back of the front cover gives some idea of the political tone of the magazine. Each issue had a theme. The copy we have focuses on ‘Youth ‘, and this seems to have been a prominent talking point in earlier issues, along with calls to oppose capitalism, challenge educational values and generally practise non-violent disobedience and dissent. But Colin Ward was a great advocate for adventure playgrounds, so issue 7 was wholly devoted to this. There were also issues devoted to ‘ Technology, science and anarchism ‘, ‘ De-institutionisation: conflicting strains in anarchism ‘, and ‘ The work of David Wills ‘.

It would be revealing to compare the intellectual level of Anarchy with that of Class War, the agitprop mouthpiece of anarchism in the eighties and onwards run for a time by Ian Bone, who recently became a media bad guy when he cornered the children of Jacob Rees-Mogg and told them that their dad was a ‘horrible’ person.  Both magazines have in common the basic tenets of anarchism—anti-capitalism, dissent, ‘ do-it-yourself ‘, and us-versus them—but the violent undercurrent ( ‘Kill the Rich’) that characterises Class War is notably absent from Anarchy, which specifically rejected violent confrontation in favour of powerful arguments that challenged orthodoxies in society. Some of these in this ‘Youth ‘ issue are certainly worth reading.

One of the most perceptive pieces is ‘ The Young One ‘ by Nicolas Walter, which focuses on Cliff Richard, arguably the most popular male singer of a bunch that included Adam Faith, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury, all three of whom Walter saw as genuine working class rebels. In contrast, Cliff, though also working-class, stands apart from his peers as distinctly conformist:

 

‘ Sometimes he looks like the politician who finds out what most per cent of the voters thinks before he thinks. But he really doesn’t like smoking, drinking, chasing girls and so on. His secret is simple—he has no secret. His personality is simple—he has not personality. He is, as Colin MacInnes once said of Tommy Steele, “ every nice young girl’s boy, every kid’s favourite elder brother, every mother’s cherished adolescent son “ . He is a non-hero of our time, an innocent idol. Continue reading

The Book Trade Strike of 1925

Book Trade strike cover 001Everyone knows about the General Strike of 1926. It paralysed the nation for nine days and the serious damage it inflicted on the relations between employers and employees was never quite repaired. However, just a few months before the General Strike another strike took place that largely seems to have been written out of labour movement history. The Internet has little or anything to say about it and it doesn’t seem to have troubled historians.  It was the Book Trade Strike of December 1925.

We at Jot HQ were unaware of the strike until a four page flier was discovered among a pile of papers. Entitled ‘The Strike in the Book Trade ‘and issued by the Book Trade Employers’ Federation on December 10th1925, it outlines the reasons for the strike, who were involved in it, the effects of it on the public, and possible remedies. The main arguments put forward by the employers’ Federation against the strike focussed on the privileged position of those unskilled workers in the book trade who were at the centre of the dispute—the ‘ packers, porters and lookers-out ‘—compared with other unskilled employees doing similar work in other branches of industry in London.
The figures supplied by the Federation to support their case are themselves revealing. Packers in the book trade were indeed paid better and worked fewer hours than the majority of their peers elsewhere in the metropolis, as this table of payment demonstrates:

Wage     Age   Hours

Packers in Drug and Chemical Trade           58/-       21      48

Packers in Co-operative Societies                 60/-       24      48

Packers for London Employers’                    62/-     24       48

Association

Packers in Furniture Trade                           62/1       21      47

Packers for Wholesale Textile Association  63/-      25       44

Packers in Cloth Trade                                 64/8       21      48

Packers for Export                                       64/8       21      48

Packers in Book Trade                              65/-        21       44 

Continue reading

Vote! Vote! Vote!

IMG_5565Found – a one page  leaflet from the Fabian Society urging people to vote no matter what political party or candidate they supported :

‘…be sure you use your vote somehow. The right to vote was won for you, not by the great statesman whose names are connected with reform bills… but by the persistent agitation of generations of poor political workers who gave up all their spare time and faced loss of employment, imprisonment and sometimes worse, in order to get you a share of the government of the country. Now is your chance to use what cost so much to win. A political battle is about to begin. Choose your side according to your conscience; strike the one blow that the law allows you. There is no excuse for not voting. Even when there is no candidate worth voting for, there is always a candidate worth voting against. Even if you think that both candidates are fools, make the best of it by voting for the opponent of the bigger fool of the two. Whatever you do, don’t stay at home and waste your vote.

 …If you want to be protected from unjust legislation use your vote. You owe it to your fellow citizens and to yourself not to lose your opportunity. It is the selfish, indifferent, the shortsighted, the lazy man who cannot see why he should trouble himself to vote. No sensible man throws away a weapon which has won so much for those who’ve learned how to use it. For all you know, the election maybe decided by your vote alone. How will you feel if you neglect to vote, and find, the day after the poll, the candidate who best represents your interest is beaten by one vote?’

Although the message is ‘just get out there and vote’ it is likely that Fabian  backed radical candidates would profit from a higher turnout as the middle classes, traditionally conservative, were more likely to vote anyway. In an era of gentleman MP’s, some very silly indeed, the advice to vote for the least foolish candidate would have been useful too. Note the way it assumes the voter is a man. Nothing sexist here – the leaflet dates from 1893 and it was not until 1918 that women (over 30) got the vote. Full voting rights came in 1928.

Attack on Auden, Spender etc., 1934

Found– a poem in the autumn 1934 issue of the literary and political periodical Cambridge Left. It was titled  ‘Theodolite’ and  was by one Minton Courtauld (probably a scion of the wealthy family and about 22 at the time. Minton was a family name.)  The poem is aimed at W H Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis and Rex Warner– all anti-fascist and sympathizers with the Soviet Union and Communism, although some of them became disillusioned. This is not quite MacSpaunday (Macneice, Spender, Auden, Day-Lewis) as Macneice was intellectually opposed to Communism. The periodical has a manifesto against war and fascism and Courtauld’s beef with Spaudwarnerday (if I may) is likely to have been   their taunting warlike stance. The ‘L’ referred to is a mystery…

IMG_5511THEODOLITE

Wystan, Rex, Stephen, Cecil, all of you::
It is now time to discontinue abuse.
The spent bullets from your machine guns are quickly
Building a rampart to protect the enemy.

You are awaiting orders to make an advance movement.
Heavy guns should have found the approximate range.
Those attacking the cathedral will wear gas masks.
So far there have been no casualties.

A concerted attack pushed home at every point.
No mercy now: they will have none if they beat you.
Remember how they tortured L. till they killed him:
That’s what they’ll do to you, if they get you alone.

You must stop sniping now from the gasometer,
It gives away the position and does us no good.
Are you prepared to fight for days without sleeping?
For years without going home to visit your girl?

Are you quite sure that you understand the position?
Visibility poor. Have you a windscreen-wiper?
Are you sure that you know the road now the signposts are gone?
Wystan, Rex, Stephen, Cecil, all of you?

Harold Smith (1918 – 2005)—librarian, writer, publisher and collector

Labour movement bibliography picThe link between Socialism—or at least, left-leaning tendencies– and bibliophilism has a long and honourable tradition. One thinks of William Hone and Leigh Hunt in the Regency period. Charles Lamb, who wrote warmly of his love for ancient volumes, wrote blistering attacks on the Tory administration of Lord Liverpool in the same era. Later on there was William Morris, a proto- Socialist, who was into fine printing. In our own time the radical Labour leader Michael Foot could be classed as a bibliomaniac. My late uncle, Denis Healey, with a library of around 16,000 books could be placed in the same class. Also, in our own time, David King, the chronicler of Soviet history, had a vast library.  And then, two years younger than Foot and a year Denis’ junior, there was Harold Smith. Not quite in the same league as a collector perhaps, but a bibliophile with a collection of over 3,000 volumes of, and certainly one who devoted all his working life to books—initially as a librarian and latterly as a publisher in the tradition of Morris.

Smith was born in 1918 in the Hackney Salvation Army Women’s Hospital to a Polish couple who had come to Britain as children. Tragically, Harold’s father died six months after his birth and his mother was left to care both for her son and her war-injured brother, on the proceeds of a sweet shop. After Highbury School and at the outbreak of hostilities Harold served in the army Pay Corps, mainly in South Africa, where he learnt the rudiments of librarianship. On returning to the UK he continued his studies part-time while working on the journal of the Plumbing Trades Union.  Following his initial appointment as an assistant at Westminster City Libraries in 1947 he moved to various posts around the country, including one in Manchester, where he became friendly with the artist L. S. Lowry. He ending up back in London as Deputy Borough Librarian at Battersea in 1961. The amalgamation of the old boroughs under the GLC in 1965 saw him as the Deputy Librarian for Wandsworth, which was when his troubles began. Continue reading

Eliza Lynn Linton —the first salaried female journalist

Eliza Lynn Linton letter 001Found—a letter dated February 22nd 1889 from the journalist and novelist Eliza Lynn Linton (1822 – 98). Before she arrived on the scene in the 1840s women who wrote for magazines and newspapers were freelancers. E.L.L., as she became known, was the first salaried female journalist in Britain, and perhaps the world—and one of the best paid, at one time receiving an annual salary which today would be the equivalent of over £50,000.

Lynn came from a conventional middle class background in Crosthwaite, Cumberland. Her father was a parson and her grandfather Bishop of Carlisle. Attractive and gregarious, she might have married into one of the professions, but instead educated herself in the ancient and modern languages and literature ( her father was too ‘ indolent ‘ to do so himself, she later wrote) and in her early twenties left her comfortable home for London, determined to make a name as a novelist. Her first two novels failed to impress, but undaunted in 1848 she turned to journalism, joining the staff of the highly respected Morning Chronicle. She continued to write short stories and novels and eventually found a degree of success. However, her reputation in literary circles was founded less on her novels and more on her popular journalism, which appeared in All The Year Round, the Monthly Review and the Saturday Review. In perhaps another gesture of defiance she married the woodcut artist, writer and Chartist W. J. Linton , and moved into his ramshackle Lake District house named Brantwood, later to become the home of John Ruskin. The marriage failed and Linton returned to London, where her home became a sort of literary salon. Continue reading

Help the Spanish cause – don’t drink Port (1936)

spanishFound in a pamphlet called Spain and Us. (Holborn and West Central London Committee for Spanish Medical Aid, London 1936) this contribution by  Louis Golding suggesting a boycott of the drink Port. Quite early in the history of political boycotting of products. Other contributors to this rare booklet included J. B. Priestley, Rebecca West, Stephen Spender, Ethel Mannin, Francis Meynell,  T. F. Powys, J. Langdon-Davies, and Catherine Carswell.

Drink no port.

The aeroplanes are still entering Portugal for the assistance of the gallant Generals, Franco and Mola. So are the shells, the rifles. Perhaps the poison-gas bombs are on their way by now.

And Port is still leaving Portugal.

We must drink no Port.

I know that the Port we might deny ourselves tonight is not the Port which left Portugal a fortnight from now is not likely to be balanced on adept palates for another ten, twenty, fifty years. Ten years from now there may be no docks at Oporto for the disembarkation of its Port, nor docks on the Thames for its reception. Continue reading

A pre-Coronation Communist Party pamphlet of 1937

Communist Party leaflet 001Aimed specifically at workers looking forward to the glamorous Coronation of King George VI on May 12th 1937 is this glossy brochure published by the Communist Party of Great Britain. It argues that it is scandalous that a total of £20,000,000 will be spent by the Government in staging the event and by those attending it (new outfits and hotel bills) when that sum might be better spent on new homes, nursery schools and underfed children.

Naturally, the Party denies that it against those with money spending it on whatever they like. What it does argue is that it is divisive for members of the moneyed class to flaunt their wealth before working people. It is also hypocritical for them to spend it on ‘fripperies’ when the ruling class has acknowledged that the Coronation is an occasion for the rich and poor to come together and celebrate the pageantry of this memorable event like ‘ one happy family’.

‘The idea is that you, Bill Smith, miner, fitter, shop assistant, belong to the same happy British family as Lord Nuffield, Mr Selfridge and your own employer—all the King’s loyal subjects together.’

Of course, the pamphlet argues, this is an example of government duplicity. Those in power see the millions as money well spent if the pageantry invokes sufficient feelings of patriotism among the working class to encourage workers to fall in with their ‘ war plans ‘. However, the pamphlet argues that it is up to workers to ensure that the ruling class do not achieve this cosy arrangement.

‘First, make them pay more. If you have to work on Coronation Day, demand holiday rates of pay. Some employers are trying to show how patriotic and generous they are by giving a holiday with pay on Coronation day. If your employer is one of these, demand a proper holiday of at least a week with pay this year and every year—like the French workers get. When they urge you to brighten up your street with flags and streamers, demand that the landlord brightens up your home as well. If they provide a free tea for the children on Coronation day, accept it and see that your children have a good feed and a good time. But demand also, that your children and happy and properly fed during the rest of the year…’   Continue reading

G.B. Shaw—-playwright & enthusiast for alternative energy sources

Shaw 1949Found in a copy of Evelyn August’s entertaining Black-Out Book (1939) is a slightly damaged clipping from the Letters page of the Times newspaper published sometime between 1947 and Shaw’s death in 1950.

In it Shaw voices incredulity at the failure by Government to exploit the energy from waves:-

‘ It is now many years since I arrived at the northern edge of Scotland and looked across the Pentland Firth to the Orkneys, estimating the sea journey at about half an hour. When I embarked on the hardy little steamboat with my car I found out what the Pentland tide rush meant. We were swirled away like corks in a millrace to John O’Groats House and back again through Scapa Flow in three hours and a half; and I was told that it would be a fortnight before my car could be taken back to the mainland.

   When I at last got back I explored the coast along to the west and found there several flumes like the Kyle of Tongue, ready-made by Nature , through which the tide rushed twice a day carrying thousands of tons of sheer power both ways. Continue reading

Fake news—-1932 style

Buddha matches

Found in the Jan-Feb 1932 issue of Collector’s Miscellany is this report on a bizarre anti-religion campaign rumoured to have been created by the USSR.

‘It has been extremely difficult to secure definite information relating to the anti-religious match-box labels said to have been issued by the Soviet Government as part of their anti-God campaign. The one illustrated in this issue depicts the crucification of Christ and bears the words “Jesus Christ Safety Matches”. This label is understood to be one of a series, as there are said to be others depicting the Sacred Heart and various other religious subjects.

       These matches which have been the subject of much comment in the daily press, are said to have been hawked upon the streets of London by gutter merchants and that a member of Parliament raised the question in the House of Commons as to whether any action was being taken by the British Government.

         One thing is certain, and that is these labels are likely to be rare; I do not know of any collector in this country fortunate enough to secure a specimen. A London correspondent assured me that the matches were never sold in London but were produced by the Krishna Match Co. of India, who also issue of BUDDHA MATCH, and others featuring various Indian religions. Personally, I am inclined to favour this statement, as the box in question, said to have been bought in the New Cut, may easily have been bought from India by some seaman.                                                                                                        (JOSEPH PARKS ) Continue reading

A Pre-First World War European Federation formed on Co-operative principles

waechter-sir-max-picOn June 12th 1913, sixty years before the UK joined the EEC, and 103 years before it voted to leave it, The New Age, a well-known Socialist weekly, published a prescient article by one of its frequent contributors, Joseph Finn (1865 – 1945), a former tailor who, according to one source, became ‘one of the first Jewish labour leaders in Britain.’ In it Finn put forward a radical economic alternative to the political vision of a ‘United States of Europe’ that Sir Max Waechter had outlined in a recent issue of The Fortnightly Review.

On the eve of a possible war between Britain and Germany Waechter had argued that there were no political, racial or dynastic reasons why the two nations should not join as the prime movers of a larger European Union. Finn, however suggested that the basis for any such federation should not be political, but economic. Germany and Britain were in direct economic competition with one another and therefore were unlikely to cooperate within a proposed political union, but might even go to war in furtherance of their own economic ambitions. Finn continued:

‘If nations were not afraid of competition they would not surround themselves with tariff walls. England is no exception, though she is a Free Trade country. English free trade originated in a period when England was the workshop of the world. On the one hand, she had no rivals; on the other hand, she stood in need of cheap food for her factory hands. Such economic conditions were the natural mother of the political institution of Free Trade. Now, having lost her monopoly in manufacture, and she being compelled to face formidable rivals, we see growing up a political tendency towards Protection. Thus we see clearly the truth of the sociological law, that the political structure of society is the outcome of the economic structure. Continue reading