Book Review: Nightwalking- A Nocturnal History of London

Nightwalking Front Cover

Nightwalking by Matthew Beaumont.

Matthew Beaumont. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. London: Verso, 2015. £9.99

Nightwalking by Matthew Beaumont is an exploration of London at night through the eyes of the men (and it is all men) who wrote about it. Starting with Chaucer, Beaumont traces evolving societal attitudes to night time and darkness in the city. He ends the book with Dickens (well, sort of- Edgar Allen Poe features heavily in the conclusion), “the great heroic and neurotic nightwalker of the nineteenth century” (Beaumont, 2015; p.6). The writers Beaumont studies walked the line between polite society and the world of the social outcasts; the prostitutes, criminals, orphans, and homeless who inhabited London’s streets after dark. Some writers managed the balance better than others.

Who walks the streets alone at night? The sad, the mad, the bad. The lost, the lonely. The hypomanic, the catatonic. The sleepless, the homeless. All the city’s internal exiles.

Beaumont, 2015; p.3

When I first got Nightwalking, I was a little disappointed to realise that it had a literary focus. I like to read, but I’m not a fan of literary analysis; perhaps there are too many bad memories from GCSE and A-Level English Literature. I thought Nightwalking was a straight social history, and I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the literary angle.

I needn’t have worried. Beaumont uses the cultural history of the London night to explore its social, political and economic history. He strikes a nice balance between detailed textual analysis and wider contextual discussion. The social and legal discourses surrounding those who wander the streets of the city at night have developed over time, but in an uneven manner. For hundreds of years, being caught outside after dark was a criminal offence. As society and technology developed, the night became a space of recreation, initially just for the wealthy; the evolution of cheap and effective street lighting is one factor that contributed to this process. Although the legal restrictions faded, moral restrictions remained, dictating which kinds of activity, and which kinds of people, were acceptable on London’s streets after dark.

London’s writers were drawn to this moral ambiguity, taking to the streets at night in order to better understand the city or themselves, to have a good time, and sometimes because they had no choice. Men such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Johnson, Blake, and Dickens “used the night as a means of creatively thinking the limits of an increasingly enlightened, rationalist culture” (Beaumont, 2015; p.10). Beaumont balances all the contradictory and sometimes vague associations and motivations for nightwalking well, explaining his arguments in a clear and concise manner. It is obvious to me that Beaumont is an academic, and that the book is based on extensive scholarly research, but I don’t think that the book would be unapproachable to non-academics, although another reviewer has said his style can be “cloudily academic.”

Nightwalking is a well-researched, well-reasoned book that manages to tell a complicated story in a way that is easy to follow. I can see this book being useful to students of English Literature and History alike, but I would also recommend it to those who just enjoy reading a good book.

On This Day: The London Women Transport Workers Strike, 16th August 1918

1915 Female bus conductor

One of the first female London bus conductors (Source: Daily Mirror, 28/10/1915)

In August 1918, female tram conductors in Willesden started a wildcat strike which quickly spread around the country and to other sectors of public transport. Initially demanding the same war bonus that had been given to men, their demands morphed into equal pay, over 40 years before the Equal Pay Act.

During the First World War, women took over many of the jobs that had previously been done by men. Public transport was one area where female employees became key. By the end of the war, the London General Omnibus Company employed 3500 women, and thousands more were employed by other bus and train operators in London as well as on the Underground. Lots of women joined unions, but the unions were more interested in protecting the long-term job security of men rather than the employment rights of women. The unions wanted to make sure that men could return to their pre-war jobs with the same working conditions when the war finished, so they didn’t want women to get too comfortable. In addition, both unions and management refused to entertain the idea of equal pay, arguing that the work that women did was not worth the same as men’s.

In mid-1918, male workers were given a 5 shilling a week wartime bonus to help cope with the increased cost of living. Women were not given this bonus, and some workers in London were not willing to accept this. On the 16th of August, a meeting of women at Willesden bus garage decided to go on strike the following day, without informing their bosses or unions.

The next morning, they were quickly joined by women at the Hackney, Holloway, Archway and Acton depots and garages, and the strike continued to spread throughout the day. At first the women demanded the same 5 shilling per week bonus as men, but their demands soon escalated to equal pay, and they adopted the slogan ‘Same Work- Same Pay.’

1918 Female strikers

Images of the strike from the Daily Mirror (20/08/1918).

By the 23rd of August, female bus and tram workers around the country had joined the strike, including in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton, and Weston-super-mare. Some women working on the London Underground also joined the strike- it mainly affected the Bakerloo Line. It is estimated 18000 out of a total 27000 women working in the public transport industry participated.

The strikers held a series of mass meetings at the Ring, on Blackfriars Road in Southwark. It was a boxing arena that had been destroyed by aerial bombing. Many women brought their children and picnics with them. The strike was settled on the 25th of August after a contentious meeting at the Ring- many women did not want to go back to work. The tube workers didn’t go back to work until the 28th. The women won the 5 shilling bonus, but not equal pay.

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 but even now, almost a hundred years after the women transport workers’ strike, women are not paid the same as men for the same jobs. London’s female public transport workers were some of the first to make a demand that is still yet to be fully realised. Without the aid of the experienced unions, the women were able to win the same bonus as men, if not the same wage. Little is known about how the women organised, which is a shame, although it might make a very nice research project!

Sources and Further Reading

Stuart. “London Buses in Wartime.” Great War London. Last modified 30th December 2014, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  https://greatwarlondon.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/london-buses-at-war-1914-1918/

View from the Mirror. “From Prayer to Palestra: The Ring at Blackfriars.” View from the Mirror: A Cabbie’s London. Last modified 4th February 2013, accessed 20th June 2016. Available at https://blackcablondon.net/2013/02/04/from-prayer-to-palestra-the-ring-at-blackfriars/

Walker, Michael. “London Women Tram Workers – Equal Pay Strike 1918.” Hayes People’s History. Last modified 13th February 2007, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at http://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/women-tramworkers-equal-pay-strike-1918.html

Weller, Ken. “The London Transport Women Workers Strike 1918.” libcom.org. Last modified 19th December 2012, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  https://libcom.org/history/london-transport-women-workers-strike-1918

Welsh, Dave. “The 90th anniversary of the Equal Pay strike on the London Underground.” Campaign Against Tube Privatisation- History. No date, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  http://www.catp.info/CATP/History.html

Turbulent Londoners: Ada Salter, 1866-1942

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. My next Turbulent Londoner is Ada Salter, a social reformer, environmentalist, and pacifist, who became the first female mayor in London.


Ada Salter

Ada Salter, 1866-1942 (Photo: Wikipedia).

Ada Salter was a strong-willed and radical woman, who dedicated her life to the people of Bermondsey. Originally moving there as a charity worker, she became a local councillor and eventually mayor, the first in London (Daisy Parsons became Mayor of West Ham in 1936, 14 years after Ada). Born Ada Brown on the 20th of July 1866 in Raunds, Northamptonshire, Ada was an active Methodist and member of the radical wing of the Liberal Party from an early age. In 1896, aged 30, she moved to London to work as a ‘Sister of the People’ in the St. Pancras slums. The following year she moved to the Bermondsey Settlement, and joined the community which she would spend the rest of her life fighting for.

The Settlement movement started in the 1880s, and encouraged the rich and poor to live closely together in interdependent communities. Volunteers lived in the Settlements and shared knowledge and culture with their low income neighbours, as well as alleviating poverty. The Bermondsey Settlement was founded in 1892, and stayed open until 1967. Ada worked with young women, and was admired for her ability to get through to them. Whilst at the Settlement Ada met Dr. Alfred Salter, whom she persuaded to convert to Christianity and join the Liberal Party (he was previously a socialist). They were married on the 22nd of August 1900.

After the Salters’ marriage Ada wanted to stay in Bermondsey, so Alfred set up a GP practice in Jamaica Road, whilst Ada continued to work at the Settlement. In 1902 the couples’ only child, Ada Joyce, was born. Four years later Ada left the Liberal Party because they reneged on their promise to grant women the vote. She joined the International Labour Party (ILP) and co-founded the Women’s Labour League (WLL). The ILP was the best party in regards to womens’ rights, and they wanted to stand female candidates at the next local council elections, including Ada. As a Liberal Councillor for the London County Council, Ada’s move must have put her husband in an awkward position. He supported her, however, and eventually joined her, founding a Bermonsdey branch of the ILP in 1908.

Alfred and Joyce Salter

Alfred Salter, Ada’s husband, and their daughter, Ada Joyce (Photo: Spartacus Educational).

In November 1909, Ada was elected the first female and first Labour councillor in Bermondsey. Tragedy struck the following year when Ada Joyce was killed by scarlet fever in one the periodic epidemics that swept through the overcrowded community. The Salters’ had made the conscious decision not to send their daughter away from Bermondsey to protect her health. Joyce attended the local Keeton’s Road School, and caught scarlet fever 3 times in her 8-year life. It was an admirable decision to keep their entire family within Bermondsey, but the guilt after Joyce’s death must have been overwhelming.

Devastated, Ada threw herself into her political and charity work. She started to recruit local female factory workers into the National Federation of Women Workers. At first there was little response, but in August 1911, 14000 women struck for, and won, better working conditions. Ada was hailed as the inspiration of the ‘Bermondsey Uprising,’ although in fact she was only one contributing factor. She continued to support worker’s disputes, setting up food relief points during strikes. Ada became National Treasurer of the WLL, and President in 1914. The WLL wasn’t affiliated to any specific suffrage movement, but Ada supported the non-violent Women’s Freedom League (she was friends with the President, Charlotte Despard). The Salters had become Quakers in the early 1900s, which had solidified Ada’s commitment to non-violence.

After the start of the First World War the Salters’ dedicated themselves to campaigning against it. Ada was a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and they both worked for the Non-Conscription League from 1916. They used their house in Kent to help conscientious objectors recover from harsh treatment in prison. In 1915 the government prevented Ada from attending the Hague Peace Conference, but she did make it to Bern, Switzerland to represent the ILP at a conference of socialist women opposed to the war. Vocally opposing the war was an incredibly brave stance to take, and the Salters were threatened and abused for their views.

Whilst in the WLL Ada conducted research into social housing; she advocated replacing slums with council houses designed to suit the needs of working class women. She also believed that fresh air and nature helped physically, mentally, and morally, so advocated urban gardening and pioneered organised campaigning against air pollution in London. In 1919 Ada was re-elected to Bermondsey Council, and in 1920 she launched the Beautification Committee, which went on to plant 9000 trees and 60000 plants.

In 1922 Ada was made Mayor, which gave her the power to launch a housing campaign. She demolished slums, and beautified those that couldn’t be knocked down with window boxes, trees and flowers. Also believing in the ‘beautification’ of the individual, Ada organised cultural and sporting events across the borough. She finally managed to get her perfect council housing built in Wilson Grove, small cottages inspired by the Garden City movement. They were too low density to really be a solution to housing problems in London, but the small estate was successful, and still stands today.

Ada Salter stature

A statue of Ada Salter has stood next to the Thames in Bermondsey since 2014 (Photo: SE16.com)

Despite the risks, the Salters’ refused to leave Bermondsey at the outbreak of  the Second World War. Their house was bombed in 1942, and Ada died on the 4th of December 1942. Ada Salter was a brave and determined woman who dedicated most of her life to the community of Bermondsey. She didn’t compromise, even refusing to wear the mayoral chain because it contradicted her Quaker beliefs. She is an important figure in local London history, and her perspectives on social housing are still relevant today, as the fight for affordable housing in the capital increases in intensity.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Brown, Matthew: “ILP@120: Ada Salter- Sister of the People,” Independent Labour Publications. Last modified 11th November 2013, accessed 22nd July 2016. Available at  http://www.independentlabour.org.uk/main/2013/11/11/ilp120-ada-salter-%E2%80%93-sister-of-the-people/

Oldfield, Sybil. “Salter, Ada (1866-1942),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 2004, accessed 22nd July 2016. Available at http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/view/article/38531 (subscription required for access)

Quakers in the World. “Quakers in Action: Ada Salter.” No date, accessed 22nd July 2016. Available at http://www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/297

Simkin, John. “Ada Salter,” Spartacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed 22nd July 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/PRsalterAD.htm

Wikipedia. “Ada Salter.” Last modified 2nd March, 2016, accessed 21st July 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Salter

Wikipedia. “Bermondsey Settlement.” Last modified 24th April 2015, accessed 21st July 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bermondsey_Settlement

Wikipedia. “Settlement Movement.” Last modified 27th April 2016, accessed 21st July 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Settlement_movement

 

Protest Stickers: London Road, Brighton

Like most other cities, stickers of all kinds are a common sight on the streets of Brighton.

Like most other cities, stickers of all kinds are a common sight on the streets of Brighton (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Brighton is a coastal city in the south of England, about an hour away from London by train. It is well known for being an open and accepting city, and it also happens to be my home town, so it’s very special to me. I have written about protest and dissent in Brighton on Turbulent London before, but the city also has an awful lot of protest stickers so I think it deserves (at least) one more post. I took the pictures featured here on a walk down a single (admittedly quite long) road in the city. London Road runs from the city centre to the outskirts in the direction of London, funnily enough. Quite run down when I was younger, the area along the road is going through a rapid process of gentrification, to the extent that is known by some as the Shoreditch of Brighton. Gentrification is frequently a contested process however, and London Road has no shortage of protest stickers.

This is a tile stuck to the wall of a Greggs bakery, so not technically a protest sticker, but I couldn't resist putting it in because I like it so much. London Road is changing rapidly, and not everyone supports the changes.

This is a tile stuck to the wall of a Greggs bakery, so not technically a protest sticker, but I couldn’t resist putting it in because I like it so much. London Road is changing rapidly, and not everyone supports the changes (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Le Turnip produces quite a few satirical stickers, and I have featured some of them before on the blog. This one apes CCTV warning signs, but refers to Sauron, the personification of evil in the Lord of the Rings. Sauron's eye sits atop a huge tower, and can see everything that goes on in Middle Earth.

Le Turnip produces quite a few satirical stickers, and I have featured some of them before on the blog. This one apes CCTV warning signs, but refers to Sauron, the personification of evil in the Lord of the Rings. Sauron’s eye sits atop a huge tower, and can see everything that goes on in Middle Earth (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many of the issues protested in London Road stickers are similar to those in London. This striking sticker criticises the reliance of the state on police forces. Brighton generally has an anti-authoritarian vibe.

Many of the issues protested in London Road stickers are similar to those in London. This striking sticker criticises the reliance of the state on police forces. Brighton generally has an anti-authoritarian vibe (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The anti-authoritarian vibe is also played out through this sticker, variations of which are common throughout Brighton, not just in London Road. The dome which the cannabis leaf is imposed on is frequently used as a symbol of Brighton. It comes from the Brighton Pavilion, a palace built by George IV.

The anti-authoritarian vibe is also played out through this sticker, variations of which are common throughout Brighton, not just in London Road. The dome which the cannabis leaf is imposed on is frequently used as a symbol of Brighton. It comes from the Brighton Pavilion, a palace built by George IV (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another cause close to the hearts of many Brightonians is environmentalism. The city elected the first ever Green Party MP in 2010, and had one of the first Green-run councils in the country.

Another cause close to the hearts of many Brightonians is environmentalism. The city elected the first ever Green Party MP in 2010, and had one of the first Green-run councils in the country (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Some stickers along London Road are about less familiar issues however. Most of this sticker has been obscured, but it is still possible to make out that it is declaring solidarity with the zapatistas, a topic which I have not seen in a London sticker yet.

Some stickers along London Road are about less familiar issues however. Most of this sticker has been obscured, but it is still possible to make out that it is declaring solidarity with the Zapatistas, a topic which I have not seen in a London sticker yet (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Unfortunately, not everyone in Brighton is liberal and accepting, this sticker declares a vicious anti-immigration stance in support of UKIP. This was not the first time I have seen this sticker around the city, and I must admit I have removed them from the streets in the past.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Brighton is liberal and accepting, this sticker declares a vicious anti-immigration stance in support of UKIP. This was not the first time I have seen this sticker around the city, and I must admit I have removed them from the streets in the past (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The location of stickers can sometimes be important. These stickers were on the entrance to the London Road open market, which has fish stalls.

The location of stickers can sometimes be important. These stickers were on the entrance to the London Road open market, which has fish stalls (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There are many people in Brighton who are not afraid to be different. Nevertheless this sticker accuses people of being sheep, blindly following the herd.

There are many people in Brighton who are not afraid to be different. Nevertheless this sticker accuses people of being sheep, blindly following the herd (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Just like in London, protest stickers in Brighton are subject to the ravages of time. It is just possible to make out that this sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli goods, although the colours have faded and most of the letters have worn away.

Just like in London, protest stickers in Brighton are subject to the ravages of time. It is just possible to make out that this sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli goods, although the colours have faded and most of the letters have worn away (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Anti-fascism is another prominent issue in Brighton, largely due to the March for England demonstrations that are frequently held in the city. This stickers adapts the norm anti-fascist logo to reflect the city's large LGBTQ population.

Anti-fascism is another prominent issue in Brighton, largely due to the March for England demonstrations that are frequently held in the city. This stickers adapts the normal anti-fascist logo to reflect the city’s large LGBTQ population (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The March for England events draw participants and opponents from elsewhere to Brighton.  This stickers comes from Southampton, a city along the coast to the  west.

The March for England events draw participants and opponents from elsewhere to Brighton. This stickers comes from Southampton, a city along the coast to the west of Brighton (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Getting Grants, Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life After the PhD

dav

Getting Grants: Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life after PhD was organised by History Lab Plus at the Institute of Historic Research in London on the 15th of July 2016 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As I near the end of the third year of my PhD, what comes after is starting to loom increasingly large on my mind. As a result, I signed up for an event organised by History Lab Plus about life after the PhD. Getting Grants, Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life after the PhD took place on the 15th of July at the Institute of Historical Research in London, and I found it very helpful. There was a workshop about our post-PhD hopes and fears, and four panel-based sessions on making the transition, getting funding grants, getting published, and jobs outside academia/impact/public history.

The thing about advice is that it is personal; you can only really talk from your own experience, and it quickly became obvious that the post-PhD period is just as varied as the PhD itself. For example, it is very hard to get an academic job without a publication, but almost everyone seems to know at least one person who managed it. Any career is an individual experience, and people can only really give advice from their own personal experiences, which may not be relevant to yours for any number of reasons. This is something I always try to remember when given advice.

One piece of advice that does seem to be universally applicable is to spend time thinking about what you want to do after your PhD. Do you want an academic career? Do you want to turn your thesis into a book? Do you want to focus more on teaching or research? Think about what you want to achieve, and then decide which jobs/opportunities/ experiences will help you to get there. Also think about what skills you have, what you can offer to a potential employer. What are you interested in, and what are you good at? I spend a lot of time thinking about life after the PhD, but before this event it hadn’t occurred to me to try and think in these practical, concrete terms that might actually be helpful instead of just terrifying.

sdr

There were four panels covering multiple different aspects of life after the PhD (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There were other bits of advice that I think would be useful for everyone; for example Emily Russell, an editor at Palgrave Macmillan, gave a talk about the process of converting a thesis into a book, but I think the aspect of the day that I found most helpful was the sense that we are all the same boat here. There must have been around 30 people sitting in that room, all of whom are coming close to finishing their PhD, or just recently had, who all had very similar questions about what comes next. As a PhD student, I am constantly being made aware of how difficult it is to get an academic job, how competitive it is (the ‘CV arms race’ is an analogy I like). As a result, I often find it hard to be happy for my contemporaries when they achieve something that might give them an advantage over me if we applied for the same job. My first reaction is frequently jealously, or despair that I haven’t managed to achieve the same thing yet, and I hate it. Life After the PhD was a reminder that we are all in the same boat. We are all dealing with the pressure, we are all getting frustrated about the structural systems that make academia so tough in the first place, and we are all worrying about how we are going to pay rent and feed ourselves when our funding runs out (those of use who were lucky enough to get funding in the first place). So we need to look out for one another. This can take the form of joining a union or a campaign like FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Academia), or simply being nice to one another- one of my favourite pieces of advice from the day came from Dr. Will Pooley and is a favourite saying of comedian Adam Hills: “Don’t be a dick!” Will posted the text of his talk on his blog.

I am scared about what is going to happen when I finish my PhD- this is the first time in my life when I don’t know what I’m going to do next, where I don’t have a solid, concrete plan that I know is going to work out. However, events like Life After the PhD  help me to put it into perspective. As well as providing advice, the day was an opportunity to discuss my fears, and my ambitions, with others who are going through the same thing, which I found helpful.

I would like to thank History Lab Plus for organising the event, particularly Kelly Spring and Jessica Hammett.

Book Review: This is London- Life and Death in the World City

Front cover- This is London.jpg

This is London by Ben Judah.

Ben Judah. This is London: Life and Death in the World City London: Picador, 2016. £18.99 

This is London: Life and Death in the World City is the latest in a long line of books that try to say something new about one of the most written about cities in the world. Ben Judah does this by trying to get to know London’s immigrants, the people who make up almost half of the city’s population, but who only ever get talked about with scaremongering statistics and dehumanising metaphors. It takes all sorts to make a city, and Judah talks to all kinds of people in this book; the wife of a Russian oligarch, a Nigerian policeman, a Polish builder, Filipina maids, a Polish registrar, Afghani shopkeepers, a Nigerian teacher.

I was born in London but I no longer recognize this city. I don’t know if I love the new London or if it frightens me: a city where at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 per cent are living illegally in the shadows. I have no idea who these Londoners are. Or even what their London really is.

(Judah, 2016; p.3)

This is London starts in the same place that many European migrants arrive in London; Victoria Coach Station- “our miserable Ellis Island” (Judah, 2016; p.1). It ends where some of the city’s one million Muslim inhabitants (according to the 2011 census) end their lives; the mortuary of a mosque in Leyton. It covers a large number of major life events and experiences in between; marriage, birth, employment, illness, faith, and recreation. The book has no introduction or conclusion, which I think is fitting. This is not a story with a nice neat beginning and ending, it is not even a single story. When I review books about London, I try to find a quote in which the author summarises London. I couldn’t find one in This is London. London is complex, multiple, and heterogeneous, it is almost impossible to sum it up. Ben Judah doesn’t offer any solutions or grand plans, he tells stories, and allows the reader to interpret them.

Unfortunately, I have some serious issues with This is London. The biggest is Judah’s ethics and attitudes towards his interviewees. On several occasions he lied to the people he was talking to about who he was, covering up the fact he is a journalist. When he visits Harlesdon Road to try and talk to some of the customers of London’s 1773 betting shops, he has little success until he pretends to be conducting a survey for William Hill (Judah, 2016; p.294). As an academic, I am horrified by the prospect that some people were trusting Judah with their stories, some of them highly personal and traumatic, without knowing what he was going to do with them. Maybe journalists don’t care about informed consent, but I do.

There are other points where Judah seems to relish his power over his interviewees in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. In the first chapter he follows three recently arrived Roma women from Victoria Coach Station all the way to Hyde Park because he wanted to talk to them. He continued to follow them even once they realised they were being followed. Judah eventually forces a Romanian busker to talk to him, saying “I know he wants to leave but I won’t let him. I have power over him for a few seconds. And I want him to speak” (Judah, 2016; p.8). Later on, he talks to some prostitutes in Ilford Lane, paying them to talk to him. They sit in his car, as one woman, Diana, talks about another woman who was murdered there. He seems to enjoy forcing the second woman to talk; “I know she does not want to talk about this. That she would rather I just fucked them both- or hit them, the way some of the men enjoy doing- than ask about what happened to Mariana. But I don’t care. And I gesture. I want you to talk now” (Judah, 2016; p.370). He exploited the women’s vulnerability in a way that I find completely unacceptable.

I have conflicted feelings about This is London.I really enjoyed the stories the book tells, and reading about parts of London that are completely unfamiliar to me. However, I cannot condone Judah’s methods in obtaining some of these stories; he was unethical, insensitive, and exploitative. Because of this, I think there are other books out there that do similar things to This is London, better. For example, Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now by Craig Taylor (London: Granta, 2012), provides snapshots of what it’s like to live and work in London without making me feel deeply uncomfortable. I would recommend it much more highly than This is London.

Turbulent Londoners: Mary Prince, 1788-?

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. This post is about Mary Prince, a woman who escaped slavery to become a key figure in the campaign to abolish slavery.


Mary Prince Plaque

There are no surviving images of Mary Prince, but this plaque, on Senate House in Bloomsbury, commemorates her (Source: sgwarnog2010).

In 1807, the Abolition Act abolished the slave trade, marking a great victory for abolitionists. They had won a significant battle, but had not yet won the war; the slave trade was gone, but slavery itself was not. Slaves, and any children they had, remained indentured. Women were over a century away from winning the vote in Britain, but they found other ways to influence politics and were key to the success of the abolition movement. As the main food purchasers, they were ideally placed to organise boycotts of slave-grown sugar in the 1790s, 1820s, and 1830s. Mary Prince was both a slave and a woman, significant disadvantages in the early nineteenth century. However it was these characteristics that made her such a powerful tool for the abolition movement.

Prince was born to an enslaved family in Bermuda in 1788. She was passed between owners and suffered from awful treatment. In 1815 she was bought by the Wood family, her last owners, for $300. In December 1826, Prince was in Antigua when she married Daniel James, a former slave who had bought his freedom. She did not seek permission from the Wood family, and they badly beat her as punishment.

Despite a deteriorating relationship with the Woods, they took Prince with them when they travelled to England in 1828. She ran away, but was legally only free in England. The Woods refused to emancipate or sell her, so if she returned to her husband in Antigua the Woods would have been able to claim her as their property once again. She petitioned Parliament to grant her freedom, but this too failed.

History of Mary Prince Title Page

The title page of Mary’s biography (Source: Yale Center for British Art).

Prince got a job with Thomas Pringle, an abolitionist writer and Secretary of the Anti-slavery Society. With the help of the Society, she published an autobiography entitled The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave (1831). It was the first account of a black woman’s life published in Great Britain. The book went through three printings in its first year; Mary’s personal story helped to raise awareness of how bad conditions still were for those in slavery.

Nobody knows what happened to Prince after her book was published. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, which banned slavery in the British Empire. Colonies were given time to allow their economies to adapt, so slavery was abolished in Bermuda in 1834 and the West Indies in 1838. If she was still alive, Prince could have gone back to her place of birth or to her husband.

Mary Prince was not seen as a campaigner in her own right, not even by her supporters; as a black, working class woman her social status was about as low as it could get. Nevertheless, her powerful and shocking narrative played an important role in maintaining the momentum of the abolition movement. Sarah Salih, who edited a recent edition of Prince’s book, argues that Mary was a defiant woman; her illicit marriage, and her tendency to defend herself and others both verbally and physically, hinted at a rebellious streak that culminated with the publication of her History. Mary may not have been respected in her lifetime, but she certainly deserves our respect now.

Sources and Further Reading

100 Great Black Britons. “Mary Prince.” No date, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at  http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/mary_prince.html

Abolition Project, The. “Mary Prince (1788-c.1833): The First Woman to Present a Petition to Parliament.” No date, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at  http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/oct/19/race.historybooks

Hochschild, Adam. “The Unsung Heroes of Abolition: Mary Prince.” BBC History. Last modified 17th February 2011, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/abolitionists_gallery_04.shtml

Simkin, John. “Mary Prince.” Sparacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/SprinceM.htm

Wajid, Sara. “‘They Bought Me as a Butcher Would a Calf or Lamb.'” The Guardian. Last modified 19th October 2007, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at   http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/oct/19/race.historybooks

Wikipedia. “Mary Prince.” Last modified 11th May 2016, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Prince

 

London’s Protest Stickers: Anarchism

07-06-15 Brick Lane (2)

Stickers of all kinds are ubiquitous on street furniture in London, like this post box in Brick Lane (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 07/06/15).

Along with anti-fascists, anarchists are some of the most prolific stickerers I’ve come across in London. The Anarchist Federation (AFed) are particularly keen on stickers as a method of protest. At its simplest, anarchism is the belief in a society based on voluntary, cooperative institutions. Force, compulsion and government are not required. Anarchists believe that this is the only way to achieve a fair and just society. The Anarchist Federation is a working class organisation that works towards achieving that.

As anarchist communists we fight for a world without leaders, where power is shared equally amongst communities, and people are free to reach their full potential. We do this by supporting working class resistance to exploitation and oppression, organise alongside our neighbours and workmates, host informative events, and produce publications that help make sense of the world around us.

(Anarchist Federation, no date.)

01_20-05-15 Upper Street, Islington (2)

This is the most recognisable style of stickers that AFed make. The colours, logo, and web address remain the same, but the content changes. This photo was taken on 20/05/15 in Upper Street, Islington (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

dav

This is another variation of  the classic AFed sticker. The group advocates direct action for achieving their goals (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 12/01/16).

03_17-04-15 Malet Street (2)

This sticker is part of another series that the AFed produce featuring prominent figures in anarchist history. This is Buenaventura Durruti, a Spaniard who was very active in the run up to the Spanish Civil War, as well as the War itself. He was killed by a sniper in November 1936 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 17/04/15).

04_12-05-15 Byng Place

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was, and still is, well known for her anarchist writing and speeches. Born in present-day Lithuania, she moved to America when she was 16, and was significant in the development of anarchist philosophy in the US (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Byng Place, 12/05/15).

05_20-05-15 Regent's Canal Towpath Islington-Camden (12)

This is one of the best known quotes attributed to Emma Goldman. I don’t know who made this sticker, but it is a sentiment I have seen in other AFed stickers. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Regent’s Canal Tow Path, 20/05/15).

06_04-06-15 Heygate Road

This sticker is one of my favourites. It is made by Active Distribution, which makes and sells all things anarchic. I come across their stickers quite often (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Heygate Road, 04/06/15).

07_25-06-15 Elephant and Castle

AFed have also been known to use references to popular culture in their stickers. This sticker features Finn and Jake, the main characters of an animated TV series called Adventure Time. It is made for children, but has developed a large adult following (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 25/06/15).

08_27-02-15 Euston

And who doesn’t love a good yoda impression?! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Station, 27/02/15).

dav

AFed stickers can often be funny. This is a relatively new sticker (I think!), and is particularly pertinent in the context of the Islamaphobia that our society is currently struggling with (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/16)

10_05-05-15 Aylsebury Estate (6)

This is another one by Active Distribution; you can just make out the web address in the top right corner. I found this sticker on the Ayslebury Estate during the occupation that took place there last year (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Ayslebury Estate, 05/05/15).

11_19-05-15 Tottenham Court Road (4)

This sticker echoes the sentiments of the Emma Goldman quote above. It looks like someone objected to the message however, as the sticker has been quite badly torn. It reads “never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 19/05/15).

12_17-04-15 Malet Street (4)

My French is rusty, but I know enough to identify this as an anarchist sticker! I think that it roughly translates to “The elections…are you still having fun?  Abstention” Revolution! Self Management!” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 17/04/15).

You can see where I found these stickers on the Turbulent London map.

Book Review: Picking Up- On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City

Picking Up cover

Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by Robin Nagle.

Robin Nagle. Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

On a visit to New York in March as a member of staff on an undergraduate field trip, I was presented with a wealth of book buying opportunities. I was unfortunately (or fortunately, if you are my bank balance or my boyfriend) limited by BA’s baggage allowance, so I had to be highly selective about what I bought. Picking Up was one of the lucky few (well, 7) that made the cut. I enjoy books about cities, but I especially like books that approach a city from a direction that’s a little bit different. And, as Robin Nagle makes abundantly clear, what public service is more overlooked than rubbish collection?

All of us create trash in great quantities, but its a troubling category of stuff we mostly ignore. We particularly ignore how much care and attention it requires from a large, well-organized workforce. What would life be like if the people responsible for managing the waste of contemporary society were not on the streets every day? What do their jobs entail? Why don’t they get the kudos they deserve?

(Nagle, 2013; p.12)

Picking Up blends statistics, history and personal stories to tell a rich and detailed story of the Department of Sanitation New York (or DSNY- the book contains a helpful glossary so you can get your head around all the acronyms and slang that the sanitation workers use). The DSNY only receives public and media attention when something goes wrong; you don’t often stop to be grateful when your rubbish is collected on time, but you certainly do kick up a stink (pun intended) when a collection is missed. So Nagle had to work hard to gain the trust of the DSNY and its employees, first getting access to their archives, then being allowed to observe garages and collection trucks on their rounds, then, finally, getting a job as a sanitation worker herself. Her fascination with the topic, and her dedication to finding out more about the complex system that prevents New York City from drowning in its own waste, is evident in her writing.

Nagle uses her own transition from curious outsider to tolerated observer and finally valued colleague to structure the book. As she learns how to lift properly, how to navigate bureaucratic politics, and how to operate the complex and dangerous machinery (you are statistically more likely to die on the job as a sanitation worker in New York than a police officer or fireman) so does the reader. Well, not literally, but I felt like I was discovering more about this overlooked world with Nagle, rather than just being told about it.

An anthropologist by trade, Nagle is fascinated by what the ways that society deals with rubbish can tell us about ourselves and the societal norms we construct. The book doesn’t contain much theory- it is clearly aimed at a non-academic audience, but what is included adds a depth that I think the rest of the book could have benefited from. The discussion about the term ‘throwing away’ and its implications for how society views waste, for example, is fascinating.

I work from home quite often, so I regularly see my local sanitation workers coming to collect our rubbish and recycling on Thursday mornings. Before reading Picking Up, I might have glanced up to see what the noise was. Now, I am much more aware of the service they perform. Picking Up takes a new perspective on New York City, a difficult thing to do for one of the world’s most observed and represented cities. But it also encourages you to think differently about your own city, and what more can you ask from a book than to change your perspective?

The American Dream and Global Citizenship: Politics through Music at Wembley Stadium

2016-06-16 22.37.52.jpg

Opened in 2007, the current Wembley Stadium is visually impressive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This month, I have been lucky enough to see two concerts at Wembley Stadium in the space of two weeks. On the 5th of June, I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and on the 16th, I saw the second of Coldplay’s 4-day run. They are two very different artists, with two very different performance styles.  However, both used the opportunity  of 70,000(ish) strong audiences to promote political viewpoints, although the two viewpoints, and the way they were were presented, were also very different.

2016-06-05 18.07.40-2

Wembley Stadium has a capacity of 90,000, but this is reduced to about 70000 for concerts. This is the stage set up for Bruce Springsteen’s concert on the 5th June 2016 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Bruce Springsteen has always been known for his vocal political stance. A liberal, he has campaigned against nuclear power and on behalf of Amnesty International, supported labour unions and gay rights and gay marriage, and endorsed two Democrat presidential candidates, John Kerry and Barack Obama. He also uses his music to explore political ideas, particularly class relations and the impact of economic recession on American towns and cities. Songs such as Born in the USA (1984), The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995), and Death to my Hometown (2012) are powerful criticisms of some of the biggest faults in American society. Springsteen’s live performances are legendary; he has been known to perform for four hours straight. The staging is simple, he does not use elaborate lighting or pyrotechnics, he allows the music to speak for itself. He is a consummate showman; he performs every song with the energy of a finale, and his skill and passion are obvious.

For me, one of the things that makes Springsteen’s political songs so powerful is the way that they continue to resonate with current events, sometimes even decades after they were first recorded. Towards the end of the concert, Springsteen performed American Skin (41 Shots). First performed at Madison Square Gardens at the end of a 1999-2000 world tour, the song was written about Amadou Diallo, a 22-year-old who was shot dead outside of his apartment block in the Bronx by four New York City police officers. They fired 41 bullets at the unarmed man. In 2012, Springsteen dedicated a performance of the song to Trayvon Martin, who was killed by police in Florida that year. With the recent deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others, it is painfully apparent that the song’s lyric “you can get killed just for living in your American skin” is just as true now as it ever was.

mde

Springsteen does not use elaborate staging at his live concerts, allowing his music and performance do the talking (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

sdr

Coldplay use elaborate visual effects in their live performances (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

To say Coldplay’s style of performance is not as understated as Springsteen’s is putting it mildly. The show was visually spectacular, including pyrotechnics, videos, and light-up wristbands which are given to every member of the audience creating a beautiful effect throughout the stadium. Their performance may be more dramatic than Springsteen’s but their politics is not as obvious. Their lyrics are not overtly political, and the band members are not as clear about their personal politics as Springsteen.

dav

Love buttons, which were handed out at Coldplay’s concerts. The band is a supporter of the Love Button Movement (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

You could find politics at Coldplay’s concert however, if you looked closely. As you entered the stadium, you were offered the wristbands and some button badges with the word ‘love’ on them. On closer inspection, the buttons turned out to have 3 web addresses on the rim; www.coldplay.com, www.globalcitizen.org, and www.lovebutton.org. The Coldplay address is fairly self-explanatory, but the other two I had to follow up. Global Citizen is a website that encourages people to take action to fight extreme poverty and inequality; safe, legal, actions like sharing videos, signing petitions and donating money. The Love Button Movement is a kind of ‘pay it forward’ campaign- it encourages participants to give strangers love buttons and overcome the “fears that keep us from seeing what we have in common.” This upbeat attitude fits in with Coldplay’s performance style and the buoyant tone of the band’s last 2 albums. It would be easy to sneer at them for this approach, this kind of politics can be seen as naive and overly optimistic. However, I am inclined to agree with journalist Richard Bradley when he says “We have plenty of bands singing about why George Bush is a crummy president, and that’s fine. Let Coldplay sing about love. Isn’t that political enough?” Let Coldplay promote global citizenship and love, sometimes a little positivity is exactly what I need.

Both Global Citizen and the Love Button Movement take a positive approach to alternative politics which is very different to Springsteen’s scathing critique of the American dream- the campaigns provide small, manageable actions that people can take to make the world a better place, whilst Springsteen’s lyrics can sometimes leave me feeling a little hopeless. I am not going to say I prefer one approach over the other- I think both Bruce Springsteen and Coldplay are fantastic musicians and performers, and I admire the fact that they both use their influential position as incredibly popular acts to try and make a difference. There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the old, if a little distasteful, saying goes.

Sources and Further Reading

Bradley, Richard. “The Politics of Coldplay.” The Huffington Post. Last modified 25th May 2011, accessed 21st June 2016. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-bradley/the-politics-of-coldplay_b_2671.html

Kershaw, Tom. “The Religion and Political Views of Bruce Springsteen.” The Hollowverse. Last modified 15th May 2012, accessed 20th June 2016. Available at  http://hollowverse.com/bruce-springsteen/

Kershaw, Tom. “The Religion and Political Views of Chris Martin.” The Hollowverse. Last modified 15th May 2012, accessed 20th June 2016. Available at http://hollowverse.com/chris-martin/ 

Pearlman, Mischa. “The 11 Best Political Songs by Bruce Springsteen.” TeamRock. Last modified 31st August 2015, accessed 20th June 2016. Available at http://teamrock.com/feature/2015-08-31/the-11-best-political-songs-by-bruce-springsteen