Friday, May 18, 2018

More about the First World War, in Haringey

The Lost Files
Al Johnson
Artist’s Talk: Monday 21 May 2018, 12.15pm
Bruce Castle Museum, Lordship Lane, N17 8NU

Al Johnson will talk about creating her new sculpture, 
‘The Lost Files’, currently exhibited at Bruce Castle Museum.

The sculpture explores the experience of the conscientious objectors: individuals who could not participate in World War One for moral, religious or political reasons. ‘The Lost Files’ focuses on the 350 conscientious objectors and their families 
who lived in Haringey, and the exhibition is part of 
Conscientious Objection Remembered
a series of events developed by the Haringey First World War Peace Forum.
Exhibition Opening times: 
Saturday 5 May to
Sunday 23 September 2018
Wednesday to Sunday 1 – 5pm

Al Johnson website:
Haringey First World War Peace Forum Email: 

And in Salford:

WCML - Working Class Movement Library
51 The Crescent,
Salford, M5 4WX

Invisible Histories talks

Our next free talk is on Wednesday 6 June at 2pm when David Swift will speak on The war and the workers: the labour movement and the home front during WW1.
"The First World War brought with it many trials for the working men and women of Great Britain: from food prices to rent increases, disability and bereavement, the war exacerbated existing difficulties and created fresh challenges. Nonetheless the labour movement, under the auspices of the Workers' National Committee, came together to try and protect the position of the working class, and fought to ensure that the country which emerged in 1918 was different from that of 1914. This talk will reveal how the Left put sectionalism aside and was able, against the odds, to win important victories for the workers of Britain."

Further talks in the series are:
20 June Film - Socialists, suffragists, pacifists and cyclists!: the last Clarion House
4 July Invisible Histories digitisation project - Seeing the hidden, hearing the unheard

Full details at

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

More about May in June and after in Liverpool and elsewhere

Date: FRIDAY, 8TH JUNE 2018 (9am-6pm)

F*ck May ’68, Fight Now: Exploring the Uses of the Radical Past from 1968 to Today
All Power to the Imagination! A workshop about the protests of 1968 and the movements that followed in its wake, with people who were there then, people who came after, and people who are doing it now! Come along. It's FREE!!!

and to register:


And some reminders from earlier listings:

1968-2018: A Celebration of 50 years of Resistance, Campaigning 
and Alternatives for A Better World 

- despite 50 years of police opposition, spying and repression. Full details here.

Saturday 7th July, 1-3pm   Roll Call / Commemoration / Celebration: Grosvenor Sq, London W1
Sunday 8th July, 10-4pm    Conference / Exhibition: Conway Hall, Red Lion Sq, London WC1
1st to 8th July   Week of local events and activities around the UK - please organise!
Flyer available for download/copying/distribution.  

  Contact for planning:


Remembering the 1968 Revolts - Nottingham
Join us for a film screening, an exhibition of original sources and a panel session of people sharing their memories of struggles fought here in Nottingham during that iconic year, which saw deeply-rooted conflicts erupt into open revolts all around the globe. 

Sunday, 3rd June 2018
From Midday at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham.

Midday-2pm film screening of “if....” (ticketed)
2-3pm browse our exhibition (free)
3-5pm panel session (free)
Please note that spaces for the panel session are limited (first come, first served).

From Midday to 2pm there will be a screening of “if….”, followed by an hour (2-3pm) to browse our exhibition of fantastic source materials (pamphlets, newssheets, posters, unpublished correspondence, etc.) documenting the 1968 Revolts in Paris, Berlin, Prague (etc.), and of course events here in Nottingham. At 3pm we will get together for a panel session with people sharing some of their memories of the struggles fought in Nottingham in 1968 (spoilers: the struggle for equal pay and anti-racist work were already high on the agenda five decades ago!). 

The film screening is ticketed. You will be able to purchase tickets from Broadway Cinema at their usual rates from early May. We have a very limited number of discounted tickets available. If you would like us to reserve you one of these tickets, please do get in touch (please note, if you do not get a response email confirming your reservation before Sunday 6th May, you are not on the list and will have to purchase a ticket from the Broadway Box Office). The exhibition and the panel session are of course free of charge.
Students vs. CRS (riot police) in Latin quarter

Mass meeting of workers at Renault-Billancourt
Workers and Students en masse:
Defining images of May 1968 from the celebrated Solidarity pamphlet:

Rolla Richards – The Only Anarchist in Heaven?

by Christopher Draper

There’s just one brief tantalising reference to Rolla Richards in John Quail’s “Slow Burning Fuse” and precious little account of him elsewhere. Quail notes that Richards, “a member of the Deptford Anarchist Group” was imprisoned in 1897 for committing a series of Post Office explosions and hints at other “outrages” but this begs far more questions than it answers. English anarchists are generally believed to have eschewed violent acts of “propaganda by deed” so was this just another “Walsall style” fit-up by the authorities? Who was Mr Richards and what became of him after his release? For the last couple of years I’ve been searching for Rolla and discovered a tragic story with an extraordinary ending.                  
An Unusual Lad
Rolla was born on 21st March 1861 in Clapham, London to William Charles and Mary Ann Richards. His mother was a housewife and his dad a “Sugar Cooper”. That September, Rolla was baptised at the local church, St John’s, but not long afterwards the family moved to Deptford where their only other child, Minnie was born in 1869. As a child Rolla proved a bit of a loner and an old school acquaintance remembered him as, “eccentric…when he was about twelve or fourteen he used to fancy he was a locomotive and trundle along the kerb-stone going, “Puff, puff, puff” , I cannot say I have seen other boys do that, only very little children”.
Rolla’s parents were respectable, hard working, upright, God-fearing members of the community but Rolla never fitted in. Even as a choirboy he was in trouble. After leaving school he was apprenticed to a firm of engineers but was accused of intentionally damaging equipment and sacked. Socially inept, with few friends, he seldom left the house he shared with his parents who registered him on the 1861 census as an “invalid”. Rolla didn’t understand people and preferred machines. He was fascinated by clockwork and skilled at both repairing and making the mechanisms although incapable of holding down regular employment. Today he would be recognised as autistic but in 1884 efforts were made to confine him to an asylum and Rolla was eventually hauled off to Bow Infirmary where, for 11 months he was treated as insane yet after release his peculiar behaviour persisted. He carried a formidable sheath knife and women complained of his brutality. It was reported that, “He wreaked vengeance on one by entering her house and cutting the water pipes and flooding the place, after stealing her watch and chain.”

Encouraged by old school friend, George Frederick Jarvis, who worked at the Government’s Deptford torpedo department, in October 1891 thirty-year-old Rolla enrolled as a student at the Goldsmiths Institution in Greenwich. Rolla followed practical courses in the electrical and machine departments learning a variety of metal-working techniques. Useful for clock-making and repair work these new skills also proved invaluable in bomb making.
He increased his expertise with discussions at the New Cross home of his friend George Jarvis. Drawing on his employment at the torpedo yard George was happy to exchange ideas with Rolla about explosives. Rolla questioned his friend about the likely effects of a small bomb exploded against a brick wall or door. George advised, “Put against a doorway, it would do considerable damage, especially if charged with gun-cotton” and warned Rolla,“If I were you I should be careful not to get into the hands of the blue-coat fraternity”.

Introduction to Anarchy
Rolla’s emotional development was retarded but in his thirties he was gradually moving out into the world. He was still a very intense individual with a fixation on clockwork and an unhealthy interest in explosives. Living at the heart of the richest and most powerful empire in history, Rolla was infuriated by the glaring social inequalities that confronted him everyday. Excited by the fiery rhetoric of the anarchists who preached on Sunday evenings from a soap box at Deptford Broadway, Rolla returned every weekend. Although Deptford anarchists advocated radical political change through social action they also described acts of “propaganda by deed” perpetrated by continental comrades who practised bombing and assassination to overturn tyranny. It was this approach that attracted Rolla and at one of these Sunday evening Deptford discussions on Spanish anarchism Rolla interjected from the crowd to recommend a more explosive approach, “Foreign anarchists, as a rule, used nitroglycerine in manufacturing bombs, especially for blowing up safes and they throw rugs and carpets over the safes to deaden the sound”. A few days later he was arrested by Special Branch.  

At twenty past ten on the evening of Tuesday 14th August 1894 “a serious bomb outrage was perpetrated at the New Cross Post Office. The lower part of the postal establishment at 177, New Cross Road was blown out and the pathway and road were strewn with glass and other fragments.” Nobody was killed but, “Mrs Brown, who with her son and two daughters, resides above the post office is suffering from severe shock.” Inconsistent reports were received of possible culprits but a clue was recovered after, “A man was despatched for the fire engine and at the same time water was brought from the adjacent White Hart and the fire extinguished…a railway inspector at the instigation of a policeman who had arrived at the spot picked up the bomb and plunged it in a pail of water which extinguished the fuse, remarking, “Here’s some writing, something about that French fellow…””
When the burnt, tattered remains of the brown paper bomb-wrapping were deciphered it read, “In memory of Ravachol, Valliant, Bourdin, Polti, Santo” (anarchist bombers).
It transpired that the size and effect of the explosive had been fortunately limited by its method of deployment, having been manually inserted into the mouth of the Post Office letter box by the unknown bomber. The bomber appeared to be politically motivated and a Post Office targeted as representative of the State.
“The London police have, it is stated, been making inquiry in Whitechapel for a foreigner who is known to have visited New Cross” but no-one was arrested and life returned to normal.

“An Infernal Machine at Lewisham”
It was 18 months before the bomber struck again, this time the Post Office at 139 Lewisham High Road was the target. On Sunday evening 12th January 1896 at a quarter to six , “Mr Higgins, the postmaster, and his family were sitting in the parlour when they were suddenly alarmed by a loud explosion which is described as being similar to the discharge of a cannon.” The fire brigade contained the fire and nobody was killed but the place was wrecked and it was evident that a bomb, “about the size and shape of a sardine tin”, had again been placed in the PO’s Post Box. The press were not slow to identify the similarity to the previous PO bombing that had occurred only half a mile away but again nobody was apprehended.

Red Letter Day
Just a year later, on Sunday evening January 3rd, 1897 Rolla Richards made his way to the Post Office at 61 Trafalgar Road, Greenwich and unseen posted into the letter box a small parcel before returning home. Then nothing! When a postman arrived just after ten pm to clear the box he found at the bottom, “a packet of unusual shape which aroused his curiosity. Upon inspection it was found that the packet was enclosed in brown paper from which two strips of touch paper protruded. The postman took it to the Park Row police station.” On the brown paper wrapping was another inscription, “In warm appreciation of Nov. 4th 1894 and of Tynan No. 1 and his friends. In memoriam: Fornara, Polti and Santo. Down with the Queen. Death to the Police. Justice to Ireland. Long Live Anarchy”.
Since the emergence of anarchism in England a decade earlier the London police had routinely spied on meetings and Special Branch had systematically infiltrated the movement but Rolla was an outsider. He was influenced and inspired by the anarchist fringe but hardly a systematic political ideologue nevertheless his frequent attendance at Deptford meetings and occasional outburst had attracted police attention. As the authorities matched evidence from this failed bomb attempt with intelligence from Special Branch and observations of local officers they concluded Rolla Richards should be immediately arrested and the home he shared with his parents searched.

An Inspector Calls
At 2.30pm on Monday 1st February 1897 Detective Inspector Walsh of Scotland Yard accompanied by other officers entered the side door of 168 Edward Street, Deptford and attempted to arrest Rolla Richards but he “made a dash for the kitchen”. He was soon secured but “struggled violently and used very bad language”. Rolla yelled at Walsh, “My God! Had I known you were coming I would have had a chisel and gouged your eyes out…You would not have taken me as it was if there had not been six or seven of you. You had not enough pluck to try it”.
As Rolla was marched off to the station, Walsh searched his bedroom where ample evidence of bomb-making (gunpowder, solder, tin, gun-cotton receipts etc) was discovered. Samples of Rolla’s handwriting were subsequently matched by experts with that inscribed on the wrapping paper recovered from the first and the third of the Post Office bomb packages. Despite the overwhelming forensic evidence Rolla feebly denied being the bomber, claiming his soldering equipment was for mending pots and pans but it took an Old Bailey jury just 20 minutes to find him guilty.
On 7th April 1897, Rolla Richards, aged 36, was convicted at London’s Central Criminal Court of violent political terrorism. “Mr Justice Bruce said he was satisfied that the prisoner was a dangerous man to be at large and was criminally responsible for his actions. The public must be protected from outrages of this nature, which were most mischievous. He ordered the prisoner to go to penal servitude for seven years – Prisoner who made no remark, was then removed.”

Imprisoned on the Isle of Wight
Rolla spent his two month remand period in Wormwood Scrubs but on conviction he was conveyed by train and steamer to the Isle of Wight where he was incarcerated for seven years in Parkhurst Prison. He received no support from the anarchist movement that insisted Rolla had acted as an entirely freelance agent. In April 1897 the Kentish Mercury explained, “Mr Wm Harrington, secretary of the Deptford Anarchist Group writes that Rolla Richards was never a member of that society and is not known to any of its members and consequently has never spoken from their platform”. The police never claimed conspiracy nor reported finding anarchist literature in Rolla’s possession so Mr Harrington was strictly correct if disingenuous and unsympathetic. Rolla had regularly attended Harrington’s outdoor meetings and was doubtless provoked to violence by anarchist loose talk.
Within five days of Rolla’s conviction his mother died (14.4.1897) and before his release his father also passed away (18.9.1901). Prolonged imprisonment and the death of both parents inevitably took further toll on Rolla’s already delicate mental constitution and his post release prospects weren’t rosy but fortunately there was a guardian angel on hand.

On the 11th March 1903, just ten days before his forty-second birthday, Rolla Richards was formally released, a year early, into the care of the London section of the Salvation Army, which in that period played a key role in the rehabilitation of offenders. On his release from Parkhurst, Rolla’s description was recorded as, “5 feet 8¼ inches tall, with a fresh complexion, brown hair, blue eyes and moles on his jaw and right ear”. As the press made clear, the special condition attached to his licence ordered that, “the convict shall proceed immediately on his discharge to the care of the Men’s Social Work Department of the Salvation Army and he shall remain under their control and conduct himself to their satisfaction until the expiration of his sentence (4.4.1904). If he shall fail to comply with this condition he shall return to Parkhurst Prison.”
Fortunately Rolla behaved himself and with the support of the Sally Army was able to move away from his old Deptford stomping ground and re-establish himself as a jobbing watch-maker and repairer in Biggin Hill, Kent.

Born Again at Biggin
Rolla married just months after the formal expiry of his seven year sentence. His wife, Emma Jane McNeale, was considerably older (by 12 years) and had been wed before and Rolla doubtless benefited from a mother figure easing him back into the ways of a world in which he’d never before prospered. The pair settled down at “Woodleigh”, Melrose Road, Biggin Hill, where they attended church and played an active part in parish life. Until 1952 Biggin Hill formed part of Cudham parish and Rolla’s name, in 1906, was recorded as “witness to the wedding of Laurena Myra Elbourne of Cudham”.
Rolla’s own married life was tragically was cut short by Emma’s death on 6th January 1912. Somehow Rolla took solace in horology and fortunately repairing clocks introduced him to a widening circle of friends and fellow enthusiasts. One young man in particular, Thomas Rufer Barnard Robinson, attached himself to Rolla as a sort of unofficial apprentice and maintained his friendship, becoming a widely recognised horological authority and ultimately serving as Rolla’s executor.

Cudham Companions
There is a plaque in Cudham parish hall dedicated to “Rolla Richards who died 23 April 1929 by whose generous bequest this hall was made possible”. A memorial tablet at the eastern end of the south wall of the church provides further testimony to the benevolent character of Rolla Richards, “by whose generosity this church has been enriched by the gift of three bells and a clock and by improvements to the organ”.
Rolla, a man who gained notoriety through planting a bomb adorned with the motto, “Down with the Queen, Death to the Police, Justice to Ireland and Long Live Anarchy!” in his latter years enjoyed companionship with Cudham’s vicar, who expressed polar opposite opinions. As the local paper recorded of, Revd Bryan O’Loughlin “A man of genial personality…in politics he has made no secret of his strong Conservative views and has always been one of the staunchest supporters of Sir Waldron Smithers, M.P., for who he addressed meetings at the last election”.
Rolla had mellowed and the pair shared a mutual interest in machinery. Revd O’Loughlin installed a generator to light Cudham’s church and vicarage and enjoyed tinkering with the mechanism. After he retired in 1936 he recalled his former friend and benefactor in a letter to his successor, Revd Henry Burgess, “Rolla Richards, a quaint old man, who lived at Biggin Hill used to come to see me at Cudham when he wanted bits for his clocks (He was very keen on clocks) and I turned them on my lathe. One night I was working on my electric-light engine and without saying any other word he said, “I want you to make my will, I am leaving all my money to the church.”  And so he did.
Rolla Richards found peace in Cudham and was buried in the churchyard. His early life was troubled and anarchism only increased his anxiety. Comrades claiming insight into power and politics provided little understanding or sympathy for a soul in torment. Where anarchy failed Rolla Richards, Cudham’s kindly parishioners offered the supportive fellowship he so desperately sought.

Christopher Draper

Friday, May 4, 2018

London Radical Bookfair 2018 and Little Rebels Award

Presented by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers

This year we will be celebrating the fair on Saturday 2nd of June.
The fair will be held for the third year running at Goldsmiths University, South East London.

All of our stalls have been booked and we will be announcing the list of stall holders very soon. This year’s event has more than 80 stalls showcasing the best in radical  publishing.
The bookfair will also have a free programme of talks, workshops and panels featuring the shortlisted authors of the Bread and Roses Prize for Radical Publishing and the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award. (3-5-2018)


The 2018 Little Rebels Award Shortlist:
Conflicts, Class and Youth Protest  

Islamophobia, young people’s activism, the Syrian conflict, challenges to gendered occupations, the English class system and workers’ pay and conditions are just some of the provocative subjects highlighted by the 8-strong shortlist for this year’s Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction.
MacMillan Children’s Books has scored a hat-trick with 3 books on the shortlist and the award welcomes a new indie collaboration, Sweet Apple Publishers and Muslim Children’s Books.

Carrying on a history of highlighting refugee narratives (Azzi In Between and After Nowhere won the Little Rebels Award in 2012 and 2013 respectively), this year’s Little Rebels Award shortlist sees two novels address the human cost of war in very different ways: Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere describes the flight of 12-year-old Omar and his family from Bosra to Jordan and then, ultimately, the UK. Brahmachari’s Tender Earth’s cast of young characters, who are all involved in political protest, includes Pari, a refugee from the Iraq war. Two other novels on the shortlist also, perhaps even more unusually for children’s books, take on the English class system. Kim Slater’s thriller, 928 Miles From Home, stars Calum, a Kes-inspired, working class boy from a Nottingham estate who dreams of being a scriptwriter but doubts his chances of entering this privileged world. Meantime, Gill Lewis appears on this award’s shortlist for the 4th time with Sky Dancer which explores ideas of deforestation and rewilding through a small community in the south Pennines whose economy is precariously dependent on an almost feudal class system.

Other shortlisted titles at the younger age of the spectrum are:

The Muslims by Zanib Mian, (Sweet Apple Publishers and Muslim Children’s Books); an illustrated chapter book which explores racism, bullying and self esteem through the hilarious character of Omar as he embraces a positive Muslim identity.

Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory by Elys Dolan (OUP); a picture book about a factory overseen by a fat cat, or rather, Mr Bunny, in which the chick employees go on strike for better conditions.

Clive Is a Nurse by Jessica Spanyol (Child’s Play International Ltd.); a board book for the very young in which Clive and his friends enjoy playacting in a world free of gender stereotypes.

Malala’s Magic Pen by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerasco√ęt (Penguin Random House Children’s); Yousafzai’s debut picture book gives a child-friendly account of her life in Pakistan and the political path she forged up until the present day.

Fen Coles, Co-Director of Letterbox Library, said of the shortlist: “We are so very proud of this list which puts young people’s voices centre stage. Many of the books star children who pick up a banner, who take a stand, who call us all to account. And those voices are brought to us by authors such as Lewis and Brahmachari, who have in their own actions and words, asked us to listen that much more closely and respectfully to those voices. In this current climate of political awakenings and consciousness-raising, young people are so often showing us the way- this award, more than ever, celebrates that movement”.

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is now in its 6th year. The Award recognises fiction for ages 0-12 which promotes or celebrates social justice and equality. It is run by booksellers, Housmans Bookshop and Letterbox Library and is awarded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB). This year’s judges are: authors Patrice Lawrence and Catherine Johnson; Emily Drabble, Head of Children’s Book Promotions/Prizes at BookTrust; B.J. Epstein, Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia; Darren Chetty, Teaching Fellow at UCL and contributor to The Good Immigrant 

Speaking about the award, Little Rebels judge, Patrice Lawrence, said, “I am looking forward to being a Little Rebels judge because a story can tilt my world. A picture can open a trove of new ideas for me. I can’t wait to be challenged and provoked by the books coming my way.”
The winner of the Little Rebels Award will be announced at sixth London Radical Bookfair on Saturday June 2nd at Goldsmith’s University. 
This is a free public event organised by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB).                                                                                           



Fen Coles

Letterbox Library
Unit 151 Stratford Workshops
Burford Road
Stratford E15 2SP
Tel: 020 8534 7502

Further Information

About the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award
Full details of the award, including the shortlist and prize giving ceremony for previous years, can be found at:

About Letterbox Library
Letterbox Library is a 34-year-old, not-for-profit, children’s booksellers and social enterprise. They specialise in children’s books which celebrate diversity, equality & inclusion as well as books which promote social justice.

About Housmans Bookshop
Housmans Bookshop is one of London’s longest surviving and last remaining radical bookshops. Housmans is a founder member of the ARB. They were awarded the London Independent Bookshop of the Year Award in 2016.

About the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB)
The ARB is a supportive community for the UK’s radical booksellers; The ARB also runs the (adult) Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing.

About the London Radical Bookfair


Reading with Granny c1981

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day in Dundee, 1965

The latest Document of the Month in the invaluable Sparrows' Nest "is something entertaining, a report on some encounters during a May Demo in Dundee in 1965."

The document is from "Ron's Archive", a unique collection about British syndicalism (SWF, Direct Action) post-Second World War. This is a transcription:

May Day in Dundee

    For the first time there was an Anarchist contingent on the May Day march in this city. Eighteen people marched under the Dundee Anarchists’ Banner (a red one with black lettering – the only red banner on the march).

    Before moving off a Labour party official said to one of our group, “We’ll allow you to take part in our march if you behave yourselves.” He was reminded that May Day belongs to the people, not to any particular faction. Another LP man drove a car into the Communist contingent, nearly knocking a young woman over. He then called a cop and told him to prevent the commies and Anarchists from taking over Labour’s march. However, he was overruled by another official and we set off.

    All along the route buses were passing slowly by. The busmen and general public were given copies of our May Day leaflet and the manifesto of the Scottish Federation. When the march reached City Square where we were to be addressed by Dundee’s two MPs the Anarchists were right to the front of the crowd. Everybody else furled their banners but we held ours and a poster with “No wage freeze under any government” right under the platform speakers’ noses. Meanwhile other comrades dished out leaflets to all and sundry.

    The first MP managed to make a speech without once mentioning the word “Socialism”. When the other one, Peter Dong, a violent opponent of disarmament whether unilateral or multilateral, rose to speak the Anarchist Group marched off in protest. We went back individually to heckle.

    Our group received some hostility but also some encouragement. At any rate nobody could ignore us. We undoubtedly made some people think, quite an achievement in itself. Our leaflet was not designed to make immediate converts but to encourage opposition to reaction and interest in Anarchism. In this it succeeded.


[*This must be Dave Coull, Dundee anarchist and syndicalist. - RaHN blogger]

Dundee city centre 1962

Dundee City Square January 1965
(The scene on May Day would have been somewhat livelier.)