Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tottenham 100 years ago; R M Fox's autobiography

Wednesday   13 October   at 8 pm

Meetings venue; The Postmen's Office; at the North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, London, N17 (The old Post Office). The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham. Wheelchair accessible. Any High Road bus is OK 

Richard Michael Fox - more commonly known as R M Fox - was brought up in Tottenham and went on to become an 'Influential Irish Historian'.  We shall be examining his autobiography 'Smokey Crusade'. R M Fox lived in Bruce Castle Road, attended the Lancastrian primary school on the Roundway, N17, and worked in several local  factories, mainly in the Tottenham Marshes area; and they were 'marshes' in those days. His life can be divided into sections
* Working in Tottenham area factories up to 1912;
* Working around  London and active in the socialist and anti-war movement pre-WW1;
* Anti-war work after 1914, street corner meetings, court martial and prison, released 1919;
* Trade union student at Ruskin College, Oxford, visits to Russia, Germany and Ireland, as a journalist, the  move to Ireland, marriage, and a career as writer and academic.

We are concerned with his first 30 years and can look at three main themes in his book:
1.    Industrial work. He slaved away  for some years in various small plants then some big, organised ones. The original JAP motor cycle engine which eventually moved to Northumberland Park Road, then a sweat-shop on the marshes  and lastly in a  massive plant just over the border into Walthamstow. He worked as a machine operator, often on shifts and subject to the cut backs and the sack. This was the age of Taylorism as described in the mis-titled 'Sabotage', (see Brown below in further reading).  Fox read as he could and later wrote a book on 'Factory Echoes'.  Outside work he was become active socialist and he was a keen union member.  Later, he also lived and worked for a period in Woolwich.

2.    Anti-war work.  He was active in the North London Herald League, described by Ken Weller in his book 'Don't be a Soldier' (see below). This was mainly street work, there were dozens of open air pitches where speakers entertained the passers-by. Finsbury Park was a key site with rotations of speakers. Socialists, strikers, anti-war members harangued the audiences and Fox was a dab hand at this work The NLHL had its offices in Green Lanes, Harringay, near what was to become the old Unison offices. He fought off conscription (military tribunal at the old Town Hall on The Green). Later he went to prison at Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton and took part in the hunger strike. The brutality and ill treatment of the prisoners was notorious and marked him for life.

3.    From early on he was around the Socialist Party of Great Britain (Barltrop see below). He devoured Marx and Engels and graduated onto the Independent Labour Party.  Three years at Ruskin College impressed him and opened a career as a writer.  He went to Russia but his account is more travelogue than analysis. He found a home in the Irish national liberation struggle and settled in as the movement divided into Free Staters and nationalist revolutionaries. His career in Ireland is another, and longer, tale.

'Smoky Crusade' though it s now unavailable except through the British Library*, was for many years a crucial text among the left in Britain.  Older members recall parts of it almost as their own story, and for those of us in north east London, his career is of special interest. He wrote many books on Ireland as well as his earlier industrial articles. Though he did not understand the degeneration of the first workers' state, he was a conscientious and active socialist, as he saw it, all his life.  We can celebrate his development from  quite ordinary beginnings. (Some sections of this autobiography will be published on this blog -*

Further Reading
R M Fox, Smoky Crusade, 1937
Geoff Brown, Sabotage: a study in industrial conflict, 1977 
Peter Beresford Ellis, A History of the Irish Working Class,1985
Ken Weller, Don't be a Soldier  - the radical anti war movement in North London 1914-1918, 1985
Robert Barltrop, The Monument - the story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1975

*4 posts beginning with SMOKY CRUSADE - R M Fox(18-10-10)

Note, January 2018:
There is currently a copy on abebooks @ £55 and another via Amazon ' £20.
Apologies for mis-spelling of the title hitherto as "Smokey Crusade"; this has now been amended to "Smoky Crusade", which appears to be correct, although internet searches will probably find it either way.
- Blogger

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