Book Review: The Leveller Revolution- Radical Political Organisation in England, 1640-1650

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The Leveller Revolution by John Rees.

John Rees. The Reveller Revolution: Radical Political Organisation in England, 1640-1650. London: Verso, 2016. £25.

John Rees co-authored one of my favourite books, A People’s History of London. As such, I was really looking forward to the publication of The Leveller Revolution: Radical Political Organisation in England, 1640-1650, and I had high expectations. Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to A People’s History of London, it is a very good book.

The Leveller Revolution is derived from Rees’ doctoral research. As such it is thoroughly researched, as evidenced by the detailed content and and considered analysis. The book is not just a narrative of the rise and fall of the Levellers as a political force, it is also an intervention in the scholarly debate on the nature and significance of the Levellers. Rees argues that whilst other groups used similar organisational and campaigning tactics, no one else used them as consistently and to such effect as the Levellers. He also argues that the Levellers were the only group to focus on popular politics and mobilisation, as opposed to social and political elites.

I have tried to…examine the Levellers as a political movement integrating activists from different constituencies, and creating still broader alliances with other political currents, for the joint pursuance of revolutionary ends.

(Rees, The Leveller Revolution, p. xx)

The Leveller Revolution has multiple strengths. Rees’ arguments are persuasive; he makes a strong case that the Leveller organisation emerged out of pre-existing radical networks consisting of individuals who already had extensive experience of activism. Rees argues that London was significant to the development of the Levellers, but the book is not London-centric; many of the examples Rees uses to demonstrate his arguments come from elsewhere in the country. In addition, whenever there is historical doubt (e.g. over the authorship of a pamphlet, or exactly who was present at a particular event), Rees is open about that uncertainty, then justifies his own opinion. I always appreciate it when authors who are willing to acknowledge these kind of metholodogical subtleties.

Unfortunately, I often struggled to keep track of the book’s narrative, and I think there are 2 reasons for this. The first is that there were a large number of individuals involved in the radical networks around the time of the English Civil Wars, many of whom had quite similar names. As such, I found it difficult to remember who was who. Whilst there is little Rees could have done about the number of individuals involved and their names, a dramatis personae might have been helpful. The second reason for my confusion is, I think, that Rees assumes that the reader has a confident knowledge of the chronology of the Civil Wars. The book refers to events or battles by name only, making it hard to follow the narrative if you do not know when they took place or what happened. I did study the period as part of an A-level in Early Modern History, but that was almost a decade ago, and my knowledge is a bit rusty. If you are not familiar with the period, then I suggest reading The Leveller Revolution in conjunction with another book that details the key events of that time (I would recommend A Brief History of The English Civil Wars: Roundheads, Cavaliers and the Execution of the King by John Miller).

The Leveller Revolution is a thoroughly-researched, well-argued book. Whilst I found it less approachable than A People’s History of London, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has a interest in the English Civil Wars, or the history of protest and dissent.

On This Day: The Mud March, 9th February 1907

At the start of the twentieth century, the campaign for women’s suffrage was gathering momentum. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) organised the first large march for the cause on the 9th of February 1907. The women planned to march from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall, a large meeting hall on the north side of the Strand. Unfortunately the weather was not on the marchers’ side, and heavy rain made the streets of London very muddy, hence the name of the march. Despite this, the march was considered a great success.

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A flyer advertising the event which became known as the Mud March (Source: Woman and her Sphere).

Unlike the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the NUWSS refused to use militant or violent tactics in its attempt to win the vote for women. They were known as suffragists, which differentiated them from the suffragettes in the WSPU. However, they understood the need to have a visible presence in society; this march was their first attempt at using protest marches to attract attention.

Around 3000 women took part, from a range of social classes and occupations, and representing over 40 suffrage organisations. The march was organised by Phillipa Strachey, daughter of Lady Strachey. The march was considered so successful that she went on to organise all the NUWSS’s large marches. The march was led by Millicent Fawcett, leader of the NUWSS, and Lady Strachey, Lady Frances Balfour, and Keir Hardie, also prominent suffragists. The Artist’s Suffrage League designed posters and postcards advertising the march, and designed and made around 80 embroidered banners for the march itself.

Despite the wet weather, thousands of people turned out to watched the march. The sight of thousands of women from across social divides marching together was enough of a novelty to persuade people to brave the rain. Press from across Europe and America were fascinated by the diversity of women involved. At the time, it was perceived that women were reluctant to make displays of themselves in public. As such, the participants in the march were considered to be even more dedicated to the suffrage because they were willing to put themselves through such an experience. Kate Frye was on the march, and she obviously relished taking part, writing in her diary that she “felt like a martyr of old and walked proudly along.”

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The NUWSS used protest marches and rallies often after the success of the Mud March. This photo was taken in Hyde Park in 1913 (Source: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images).

The suffragists marched from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall in the Strand, where the Strand Palace Hotel stands today. The Hall was opened in 1831 as an organisational and meeting space for evangelical groups. The Great Hall could hold 4000 people, and lots of causes held meetings there, including anti-Slavery and temperance. In 1880 Exeter Hall was taken over by the YMCA, but the Great Hall could still be used for meetings. The suffragists’ rally must have been one of the last meetings to take place there, as the building was sold and demolished in 1907. It required expensive alterations that the YMCA were unwilling to pay for. The suffragist’s rally featured music from an all-female orchestra, and speakers such as Keir Hardy, Israel Zangwill, Millicent Fawcett, and Lady Strachey.

The success of the Mud March, despite the foul weather, established the large-scale organised procession as a key tactic for the campaign for women’s suffrage in Britain. It has also been argued that the march gave the women’s suffrage movement a sense of respectability that the militant tactics of the WSPU did not.

Sources and Further Reading

Cowie, Leonard W. “Exeter Hall.” History Today 18, no. 6 (1968): 390-397.

Crawford, Elizabeth. “Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: The Mud March, 9 February 1907.” Woman and her Sphere. Last  updated 21 November 2012, accessed 24 December 2016. Available at https://womanandhersphere.com/2012/11/21/kate-fryes-suffrage-diary-the-mud-march-9-february-1907/

The Armchair Anglophile. “The Mud March.” Last updated 7 February 2012, accessed 24 December 2016. Available at http://www.armchairanglophile.com/the-mud-march/

Wikipedia. “Mud March (Suffragists)” Last updated 17 December 2016, accessed 21 December 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mud_March_(Suffragists)

The Wicked Witch of the West: Terrorist or Freedom Fighter?

Spoiler Warning: This post contains spoilers about the musical Wicked.

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The successful musical Wicked has been running in London since 2006 (Photo: Wicked).

A few weeks ago, I went to see Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz at the Apollo Victoria theatre in London. Based on the 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, the musical retells the story of The Wizard of Oz, focusing on Elphaba, otherwise known as the Wicked Witch of the West.  Wicked turns the well-known narrative on it’s head, portraying Elphaba as a misunderstood rebel instead of an evil villain. As well as being a brilliant musical, the play is an ideal example of the idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and demonstrates the importance of representation and perspective when it comes to dissent.

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Rachel Tucker as Elphaba (Photo: Matt Crockett/Wicked).

Wicked begins long before Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz. Elphaba is an isolated young woman, hated by her father and shunned by her classmates because she was born with green skin and strange magical abilities. At university, she becomes concerned with the plight of animals, who are being demonised and suppressed in Oz to the extent that they are losing their ability to talk. The final straw comes when Elphaba’s history teacher, Doctor Dillamond, is fired because he’s a goat, and she uses her magic to rescue a caged lion cub.

Elphaba travels to the Emerald City to meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the hope that he will stop the ill-treatment of animals when he learns of their fate. She is distraught when she realises that the Wizard is in fact responsible for the anti-animal feeling, scapegoating them in order to unite the majority of ‘Ozians’. Refusing to participate in this Machiavellian form of government, Elphaba runs away and becomes what we might call an animal rights activist. Determined to prevent her speaking out, the Wizard vilifies Elphaba, transforming her in the public eye into the Wicked Witch of the West. She is only able to escape the persecution by faking her death at the hands of Dorothy, and leaving Oz forever.

Towards the end of Act 2, Elphaba confronts the Wizard, demanding to know how he can be comfortable lying to the people of Oz. He responds with the song ‘Wonderful’, which contains a brilliant explanation of the importance of perspective when it comes to how actions are perceived:

{spoken}: Elphaba, where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history.
{Sung}:
A man’s called a traitor
or liberator. A rich man’s a thief
or philanthropist. Is one a crusader
or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label
is able to persist.
There are precious few at ease
with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist.

Wicked – Wonderful Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Scapegoating a minority group by blaming them for all of society’s ills is a tactic which unfortunately feels very familiar at the moment. Elphaba’s treatment for refusing to go along with it also has contemporary parallels; Attorney General Sally Yates being branded a ‘traitor’ by Donald Trump for speaking out against his Muslim Ban springs to mind. Others have praised Yates for speaking out- the way her actions are perceived is a matter of perspective. Another real-life example is Guy Fawkes, who’s position as terrorist/freedom fighter I have written about before.

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The London cast of Wicked performing the well-known song ‘Defying Gravity’ (Photo: Matt Crockett/Wicked).

Elphaba is a fictional character, but fiction can make us think about real life in ways that we haven’t before. Wicked is a hugely popular musical; it has been seen by millions of people around the world, and even those who haven’t seen it have heard it’s soundtrack (‘Defying Gravity’ used to be as popular as Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’). This popularity makes it influential. Wicked contains messages of friendship, acceptance, and tolerance, urging audiences to stand up for what they believe in, and not to blindly accept what they are told by those in power-lessons that are just as important now as they ever were.

 

Runnymede: Exploring Legacies of Rebellion in a Field in Suburban Surrey

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King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta by rebellious barons at Runnymede in 1215 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Apart from playing host to Royal Holloway, Egham’s other claim to fame is Runnymede, the meadow by the river Thames where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. It is a significant location in British history, as well as the history of democracy more generally. there are several memorials located on the meadow, maintained by the National Trust. Despite studying at Royal Holloway for over 7 years, I visited the memorials for the first time a few weeks ago.

As you would expect, there is a memorial to Magna Carta at Runnymede. What you might not expect is that it was paid for by American lawyers. The memorial was funded by the American Bar Association, a kind of union for lawyers. Built in 1957, the aesthetics remind me of Captain America. A sloping paths leads from the meadow up to the classical columns, which are surrounded by 10 English oak trees. Magna Carta as a symbol has provided hope and inspiration to campaigners and radicals for hundreds of years. I think in some ways it is more important to Americans than the English, as it is cited as a basis for the American constitution and the Bill of Rights. There certainly are a lot of American connections on Runnymede meadow. As well as the Magna Carta memorial there is the JFK memorial nearby, and an oak tree planted in soil fro, Jamestown, Virginia, which was the first permanent English settlement in America.

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The Magna Carta memorial was built in 1957 and is maintained by the Magna Carta Trust (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

2015 marked the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. As part of the celebrations, a new piece of art by Hew Locke was installed at Runnymede. Entitled The Jurors, the artwork consists of 12 bronze chairs, each decorated with images and symbols of struggles for freedom and rights. You can pick up a leaflet explaining what each of the chairs represent, and providing a bit of information about the artist and the work’s commission. This leaflet states that “The Jurors is not a memorial, but rather an artwork which challenges us to consider the ongoing significance and influences of Magna Carta.” I found this interesting, and it got me wondering about the difference between a memorial and a piece of art. I would think that a good memorial is just as capable of making people think as art is. From my perspective, I enjoyed searching the chairs for images and symbols I recognised, such as the portrait of Mary Prince, a lesser-known anti-slavery campaigner.

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The Jurors (2015) by Hew Locke is designed to encourage to sit and think or discuss the images and issues represented on the chairs (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The other large memorial is for John F. Kennedy, President of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. After his death, the British government wanted to establish a memorial somewhere in the UK. They chose Runnymede because of the association with freedom and democracy. The land on which the memorial sits was given to the United States, so when a visitor passes through the entrance gate they are stepping onto American soil. The memorial itself is full of symbolism; 50 steps represent the 50 states, two stone seats represent the King-Queen/ President-Consort relationship, a hawthorn represents Kennedy’s Catholicism, and the overall theme is that of life, death, and progress, taken from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The wide range of metaphors and analogies seem messy on paper, but when I visited the different elements seemed to fit together well; I got a sense of peace and harmony.

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The JFK memorial has a lot of interesting symbolism involved in its design, and is a lovely place to sit and think (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I visited Runnymede meadow the day after the US presidential election. Despite the busy A308 running alongside the meadow,  it is a wonderfully tranquil place to be, especially on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in late autumn. Visiting the memorials gave me a chance to reflect on the events on the previous day. I was not surprised about Trump’s election, the Brexit vote in the summer has taught me to take nothing for granted in politics, but I was shocked. As I sat on the benches of the memorials I wondered what JFK would make of Donald Trump. I also thought about how Trump relates to the ideals that the magna carta has come to embody; he is a product of democracy, but I fear for his impact on freedom and civil rights. Whatever happens, Runnymede meadow will remain a lovely place to spend a few hours, whether you need a place to think or just somewhere to walk the dog.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “The Jurors.” No date, accessed 06 January 2017. Available at  http://artatrunnymede.com/

National Trust. “Memorials at Runnymede.” No date, accessed 06 January 2017. Available at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/runnymede/features/memorials-at-runnymede

Olive Evelyn Awcock, 1926-2016

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My Nan and I at a family Christmas party in 2012 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

At the beginning of December, my grandmother passed away. Olive Evelyn Awcock was stubborn, blunt, and wonderful, and she will be sorely missed by my entire family. Born in nearby Rottingdean, Nan lived in Brighton for most of her life. She married her childhood sweetheart, John, and they were together for more than 50 years. They had two children, Hilary and Graeme, my Dad. I knew her as Nan though, and it was a role she performed very well. Since her passing I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my memories of Nan, and I was surprised to find a lot of connections between her and my politics.

Nan was not one to mince her words, or hold back on her opinions. The two of us frequently differed in our political opinions, although we did agree in not liking or respecting most leading politicians. I mostly chose not to engage her in political debate, because she was my Nan and it didn’t really feel right. We all found her intransigence desperately frustrating at times, but it was one of her defining characteristics and we loved her for it.

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My sister Emily and I with Nan at my cousin Ben’s wedding in 2013 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Nan was not what you might call a radical, but I think in her own way she embodied feminist ideals. She was fiercely independent. My grandfather was in the Royal Marines, so was frequently away, and Nan had to look after my Dad and Aunty on her own. This included a two-and-a-half year stint in Malta in the late 1950s, when my Dad was just 10 months old. It must have been terrifying to move to a new country with two young children, leaving behind the support networks that she had in Brighton. She was also keen to have her own income independent from my grandfather, so worked in a local post office for more than a decade before her retirement. She tried to instil that desire for independence in her grandchildren. It was one of her biggest regrets that she never learnt to drive, so frequently had to depend on others to get around. As such, she helped every one of her grandchildren who wanted to learn to drive to do so. These are perhaps not the actions of your stereotypical feminist, and I very much doubt she would have described herself as such. However her attitude was one which I think any feminist would be proud of.

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My Dad, my grandparents, and I on a day out, probably some time in the mid-90s (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

Despite my Dad already having achieved a PhD, I don’t think she really understood what one was, or what it entailed. Nevertheless, she had strong opinions on my topic, and never failed to let me, or the rest of my family, know what they were. Nan was more than a little surprised when I decided to study for a PhD on the historical geography of protest in London. She was concerned that it meant I must be a “closet red,” and it didn’t fit with her opinion of me as a gentle, kind, shy young woman. In a way, she was right. I am scared of protesting, and terrified by the prospect of getting arrested. I do go on protest marches, but I have always been too nervous to participate in more daring ways than that. I strongly believe in the need for protest and social movements, and I hope I will someday find a form of activism that I am comfortable with. In the meantime, I feel like studying protest, as well as being enjoyable and engaging, is a way in which I can comfortably contribute to the ongoing struggles and conflicts.

Nan and I shared many traits. I too am stubborn, and like to be independent. I am not as blunt when voicing my opinions, but I think that the elderly, like children, can get away with saying things that most people cannot, so perhaps that is a trait that I will develop with age. Everyone that we love impacts us in ways that are hard to define, and it is through the characteristics I have inherited from Nan that she will remain with me.

IWM North

On a recent visit to Manchester I visited the northern branch of the Imperial War Museums (IWM) in Trafford. I liked the museum, and enjoyed making comparisons with the IWM site in south London. The IWM North was opened in 2002 as the IWM’s first (and only) branch in the north of England. It receives around 300,000 visitors a year. In comparison, the IWM London is visited almost one million times annually. The museum’s focus is people, and how they have been affected by conflict.

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The Imperial War Museums North was designed to mimic the effects of war. The building is meant to represent a shattered globe (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The IWM North is a striking, modern building, purpose-built and designed by Polish architect Daniel Libeskind, who also designed the Ground Zero site in New York. It is very different from the IWM London, which is housed in the former building of the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, built in 1815. The London building is flooded with natural light from the roof of the atrium, which stretches the entire height of the building. In contrast, the IWM North building was designed to be disorientating, in order to give the visitor a taste of the effects of war. There are no windows in the entrance hall or main exhibition space. It works; I didn’t like the interior of the building when I first walked in, it felt oppressive and disjointed. However, I thought the main exhibition space on the first floor was well-suited to its purpose, even more so when I discovered it was meant to be disorientating.

The permanent exhibitions are all housed in one space. They are arranged chronologically, from 1914 to the present. Dotted around the space are six ‘silos’, enclosed spaces that focus on specific themes such as ‘Women in War’, and ‘Impressions of War’. Every hour the entire space is taken over by ‘Big Picture’ shows, audiovisual presentations that fill the space with pictures and sounds from the IWM’s archival collections. The shows are immersive, and you have little choice to stop whatever you were doing and watch it. I quite like the idea that everyone in the space is watching, listening to, and thinking about, the same things.

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A Big Picture audiovisual show in the museum’s main exhibition space (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The museum’s use of artefacts feels minimal, with lots of text and open space. This is in sharp contrast to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) that I had visited the day before. MOSI is housed across five buildings close to central Manchester, several of which are chock full of planes, cars, motorbikes, trains and engines of various kinds. In contrast, IWM North felt almost sparse. I prefer this minimal approach; too many objects can make it difficult to take anything in.

The curatorial decisions in any museum can be controversial, but the representation of conflict and war must be particularly difficult. In some ways I think the IWM North makes better decisions than the IWM London, for example it is more inclusive of conflicts in which the British armed forces were not involved. In other respects, the IWM North makes some decisions that I think could have been improved upon. Like the IWM London, there is very little information on conscientious objectors and peace movements. Most of what there is is located in the ‘Women in War’ silo, implying it is only women who object to war and conflict. Also, the museum has some steel from the World Trade Centre on display. Whilst I do not necessarily think that it shouldn’t be there, I do think there should be some explicit discussion of the relationship between terrorism and war. The ‘War on Terror’ is a very different kind of conflict from the World Wars, the Falklands War, or the Gulf Wars, but the IWM North’s display does not acknowledge this.

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Part of the World Trade Centre on display in the main gallery space (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Over three days in Manchester I visited three museums. The People’s History Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and the IWM North are all brilliant, and well worth a visit. The IWM North is certainly the most innovative in terms of architecture and display, and although my favourite has to be the People’s History Museum (I am fully prepared to admit bias here), the IWM North has to be one of the most intriguing museums I have ever been to.

Sources and further reading

Museum of Science and Industry. “About Us.” No date, accessed 1 January 2017. Available at http://msimanchester.org.uk/about

Tully, Lucy. “8 Things You Didn’t Know About the IWM North Building.” Imperial War Museum. No date, accessed 1 January 2017. Available at  http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-iwm-north-building

Wikipedia. “Imperial War Museum.” Last updated 11 December 2016, accessed 1 January 2017. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_War_Museum

Wikipedia. “Imperial War Museum North. Last update 11 December 2016, accessed 1 January 2017. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_War_Museum_North

The People’s History Museum

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The People’s History Museum is housed in an old pump house on the banks of the river Irwell in Manchester (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have been studying the historical geography of protest for the last four years. For most of that time, I have wanted to visit the People’s History Museum. The problem was that I am normally in the south of England, and the museum is in Manchester. Last week, I visited Manchester and finally got to see the museum, and I was not disappointed!

The People’s History Museum started life as a collection of protest-related material belonging to a group of activists in the 1960s. They opened a museum in London in the 1970s, but it struggled financially. In the 1980s, the collection was rescued by Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester authorities, with some help from the TUC. In 1990, the People’s History Museum opened on Princess Street in Manchester, in the same building where the TUC had its first meeting, over one hundred years before. In 1994, the museum opened a second site at its current location—an old pump house on Bridge Street. In 2010, the museum relaunched in a restored and expanded pump house. Now the museum has several permanent galleries, a temporary gallery space, and meeting and conference rooms. It describes itself as “the national museum of democracy,” and receives around 100,000 visitors a year.

The permanent gallery spaces are arranged in a largely chronological order. The zones are colour coded, each colour chosen for its symbolism in radical culture (e.g. red for courage and revolution, blue for loyalty). The galleries are accessible, interactive, child-friendly, and well-paced. There is a nice balance between individuals, groups, and events, and between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary politics. I think it is important to highlight the connections between these elements, as it is all too easy to focus solely on one. Whilst the galleries begin with the Peterloo massacre, a local event, the rest of the museum covers the whole country. The museum presents itself as a national museum, and I think it lives up to that.

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The ‘Reformers’ section of Main Gallery 1. Each section is colour coded according to the symbolism of radical culture. Fittingly, green means reform (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

For me, there were two threads running through the galleries that connected everything together. The first was a series of videos about 5 generations of one family. With each family member, the videos and accompanying text explained what life was like for the individual, what rights and services they were entitled to, and whether or not they could vote. They demonstrated how the conflicts and struggles described in the displays affected people in very real ways, from working conditions to healthcare.

The second unifying thread running through the galleries was the banners. The People’s History Museum has one of the largest collection of protest banners in the country, and they are the only group that specialises in the restoration and preservation of these kinds of banners. There are banners on display in every area of the galleries, from the oldest surviving trade union banner, to a banner protesting the 2012 Bedroom Tax. Some are highly detailed, others were obviously made very quickly, but all are striking. They illustrate that whilst there have been many changes over the past two and a half centuries, there are also a lot of continuities in radical culture. Banners have provided a sense of identity and belonging for radical groups for decades.

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Some of the magnificent banners on display in the museum. The are spread throughout the gallery spaces, but banners do have their own devoted section in Main Gallery 2 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The museum has an open approach to curation which I like. The plaques describing items often explain how the items came into the museum’s collection. Many items were donated by activists or their descendants, and there can sometimes be a disconnect between the received history of an event and the stories that are attached to particular items and passed down through generations. All museums have to make decisions about the authenticity of the items in their collections, but most cover up this process. The People’s History Museum does not, asking the visitor to reflect on such issues—would you trust the descendants of a protester over historians? I liked this honesty, and appreciated the way it engaged visitors in the ongoing debate about how best to represent history.

The People’s History Museum is well worth a visit, even if protest is not something that particularly interests you. It is a museum of social history as well as radical history, and as I look back on 2016 it is a much-needed reminder that many of the rights and privileges we take for granted today had to be fought for, tooth and nail, by earlier generations. If we are not willing to fight, just as fiercely, to protect them, we will lose them.

 

Turbulent Londoners: Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, 1827-1891

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. Today I’m looking at Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, a feminist and campaigner for women’s rights.


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Barbara Leigh Smith Bodicon (Source: University of North Carolina).

Barbara Leigh Smith was born on the 8th of April 1827, the oldest of 5 children. Her mother was Anne Longden, a milliner, and her father was Ben Leigh Smith, a radical Whig politician. Barbara’s parents never married, but lived openly together, so she must have been used to controversy from a young age. Ben Leigh Smith held radical political views, despite being a member of the landed gentry. He treated all five of his children the same; he gave each of them £300 a year when they turned 21. It was highly unusual to for women to be treated this way. Like Elisabeth Jesser Reid, Barbara’s wealth gave her independence, a rare condition for single women at the time.

Barbara used her wealth to start a progressive school in London, researching other schools in London when deciding how to set it up. Later in life she co-founded Girton College in Cambridge, the first residential college for women that offered education to degree level. She gave generously to the college, in terms of both time and money. Her primary concern, however, was women’s rights. She was a member of one of the first organised women’s movements, known as The Ladies of Langham Place. They were a group of women who met regularly during the 1850s at no. 19 Langham Place to discuss women’s rights. They campaigned on many issues, including the property rights of married women. Langham Place served as sort of gentlemen’s club for women; it had a reading room, coffee shop, and meeting room. In 1858 it also became the base of the English Women’s Journal. Barbara set up the monthly periodical  for the discussion of women’s employment and equality, such as expanding employment opportunities and legal rights.

Laurence, Samuel, 1812-1884; Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

A portrait of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon by Samuel Laurence (Source: ArtUK).

As well as a campaigner and publisher, Barbara was also an author. In 1854 she published Brief Summary of the Laws of England Concerning Women, and in 1858 she wrote Women and Work, in which she argued that women’s dependence on their husbands was degrading. She practiced what she preached too; as a young woman she fell in love with John Chapman, the editor of the Westminster Review. She refused to marry Chapman because of her views on the legal position of married women. Barbara did marry eventually however, to French physician Dr. Eugene Bodichon in 1857. This is also the year that the Matrimonial Causes Act was passed. The Act protected the property rights of divorced women, and allowed divorce through the courts rather than by an act of Parliament, which was a slow and expensive process. Barbara had testified to a House of Commons committee looking into the legal position of married women, which led to the Act.

Married life did not mellow Barbara, however. Although she started spending the winter in Algiers, she continued to take an active role in women’s rights campaigns. In 1866 she founded the first ever group asking for women’s suffrage. The Women’s Suffrage Committee organised a petition, which was presented to the House of Commons by John Stuart Mill.

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon was a strong character, sympathetic to many causes. Her primary cause, however, was women’s rights, and she used the full range of skills and opportunities available to her to advance this cause. Her efforts had very real effects, particularly in relation to married women.

Sources and Further Reading

Girton College. “Girton’s Past.”No date, accessed 8 December 2016. Available at  https://www.girton.cam.ac.uk/girtons-past

Simkin, John. “Barbara Bodichon.” Spartacus Educational. No date, accessed 8 December 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/Wbodichon.htm

Wikipedia, “Barbara Bodichon.” Last modified 1 December 2016, accessed 8 December 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Bodichon

Protest Stickers: Egham

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Founders building on the Royal Holloway, University of London campus (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Generally, protest stickers tend to be found in large towns and cities rather than smaller towns and villages. There are some exceptions however, such as Egham, a small town in suburban Surrey. It is the location of Royal Holloway, the University of London college at which I have been studying for the last seven years. Students have historically been associated with radical politics, and student politics has experienced a resurgence since the campaign against the increase in English university tuition fees in 2010.

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In recent years, there has been a backlash against the commodification of university education. For some, the focus of contemporary university programmes is too much on developing productive employees rather than education for the sake of education. This sticker is a reflection of this opinion, alluding to the university as a factory, churning out workers to keep the economy going (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway campus, 26/11/15).

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The recent EU referendum permeated almost every aspect of British life. The position of students and academics from the EU, vital to the health of the British academic system, is uncertain in post-Brexit Britain. The National Union of Students (NUS) campaigned for a Remain vote (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 08/06/16).

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Most of the stickers I’ve come across in Egham are not directly related to student politics. This sticker is also advocating a Remain vote in the EU referendum, but it is a generic sticker that I have seen elsewhere, such as London and Brighton (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 08/06/16).

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Some stickers become so weathered that it can be difficult to see their original message. It is possible to make out two clasped hands however, which a common visual symbol of solidarity. If I had to guess, I would say that the words read ‘Solidarity Forever’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham High Street, 24/02/16).

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ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) is a common way of expressing discontent with the police in Britain. This sticker demonstrates that the phrase is also recognised in other countries, in this case Germany. ‘Acht Cola Acht Bier’ (which means eight cokes and eight beers) is apparently a common method in Germany of disguising ACAB as a drinks order (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham High Street, 24/02/16).

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This sticker is also in German. The texts beneath the symbols of the five major world religions translates to ‘Do not be afraid of each other,’ an admirable sentiment (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 01/02/16).

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This sticker, which is located near the library on the Royal Holloway Campus, looks as if attempts have been made to deliberately scratch it off. It is difficult to judge the motivation of people who deface protest stickers; this could have been done by students on a cigarette break, or by someone who opposes the sticker’s message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 01/02/16).

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This sticker was produced by the 161 Crew, a Polish Anti-fascist group (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham Hill, 01/02/16).

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Anti-fascist groups are some of the most prolific stickerers I have ever come across. When localised groups travel, they often put stickers up in the place that they travel to. I assume that is what happened here (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham Hill, 01/02/16).

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There are over 100 student Amnesty International groups in the UK, so they are a familiar presence on many university campuses (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 14/01/16).

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M31 was an event that took place in 2012, so this sticker is at least 4 years old. Not many stickers achieve this kind of longevity (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 01/02/16).

Book Review: Attack on London- Disaster, Rebellion, Riot, Terror and War

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Attack on London by Jonathan Oates

Jonathan Oates. Attack on London: Disaster, Rebellion, Riot, Terror and War. Barnsley: Wharncliffe Local History, 2009. £19.99.

Out of all the high street chains of bookstores, I have a particular fondness for The Works. If you’ve never come across one before, it’s a sort of outlet store for books and stationary, and I can rarely resist having a browse when I walk past one. I have found numerous bargains in there over the years, including Attack on London by Jonathan Oates.

Dr. Jonathan Oates is the Ealing Borough Archivist and Local History Librarian, but he has also published numerous books on London’s history, particularly its more criminal elements. In Attack on London Oates, inspired by the 7/7 bombings, traces how Londoners have reacted to tragedy, shock, and trauma. Starting with the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, Oates documents some of the most severe hardships faced by London, including the Great Plague (1665-1666), the Gordon Riots (1780), the Clerkenwell Outrage (1867), Bloody Sunday (1887), aerial bombing during both World Wars, IRA bombings during the 1970s, and the 7/7 bombings in 2005. Oates concludes by arguing that such dramatic events bring out both the best and the worst of Londoners; there has been resilience, bravery, and unity, but also looting and xenophobia.

If you are familiar with London’s history, then there probably isn’t much in Attack on London that will be new to you, although I was surprised to learn about the extent of aerial bombing on the capital during the First World War. However, the way the which Londoners reacted to these well-known events is a new angle, which brings together disparate events such as riot, war, disease, and fire in an interesting way. Oates’ referencing style is not very detailed, so it is difficult to identify the exact sources of his work, but it seems to be a well-researched book.

There are some elements of Attack on London that feel a little ‘amateur’. For example, each chapter ends with a conclusion identified as such with a subheading. This feels a little out of place in a history book aimed at a popular audience. Also, one of the photos reproduced in the book, of a plaque commemorating the deaths of 77 people in an air raid bombing in Southwark in October 1940, is blurry. I know I’m being picky, but little things like these combine to give a general impression of not-quite-finishedness that could have been so easily avoided. In addition, the book commits one of my biggest personal faux pas; putting all of the images on a few glossy pages in the middle of the book, and not referring to them in the main text. I know that lots of books have their images arranged in such a way, I guess it is an effective or cost-efficient way of illustrating books. I can understand that, although I would prefer to have the images close to the relevant text. However, when the author does not refer to the images in the text, then they become almost pointless, as they do not serve to back up or illustrate a particular point. Attack on London is by no means the only book that does this, but it winds me up nonetheless.

Because I found Attack on London in a bargain bookshop, it cost me quite a bit less than the £19.99 recommended retail price, which is a bit steep, in my opinion, for what you get. Nevertheless, it is an easy-to-read, engaging reflection on the best and the worst facets of Londoners.