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Open house at Clerkenwell Green on May Day

Why not celebrate International Workers’ Day with a visit to the Marx Memorial Library, where you can tour the historic building and view gems from the archives?

TOMORROW the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School is celebrating May Day with an “open house” invitation to the trade union and labour movement.

It will also present a joint exhibition with the Morning Star — an opportunity to see highlights from the paper’s historic archive held at the library. 

Clerkenwell Green has been the starting point of political marches and rallies since the pre-history of Britain’s socialist and working-class movement. 

Marx House at 37a Clerkenwell Green has been the cradle and the school of our movement.

It also holds some of our most important records, which we are now opening to a new generation of trade unionists as an educational resource to propagate our movement’s socialist roots. 

Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt rested here at Clerkenwell Green in 1381 before his fateful meeting with Richard II at Smithfield, where he was murdered by the king’s men. 

The Corporation of the City of London still displays a bloodied dagger on its coat of arms to commemorate this act of treachery. 

If representatives of monopoly finance capital can bask in their own inglorious history, then surely our class needs a home where archives can be accessed and researched by those who understand the importance of our own history.

Where better than at Marx House on Clerkenwell Green?

From John Wilkes to William Cobbett, who addressed a big anti-Corn Laws meeting here in 1826, the green has hosted many great political orators. 

In 1832 protesters here burnt an effigy of Governor Edward Eyre of Jamaica. In 1838 the first Tolpuddle Martyrs to return from Australia were welcomed at a mass meeting on the green.

The same year a crowd of 7,000 heard Scottish, Lancashire and Leicester delegates to the Chartist Convention here.

Chartist meetings here during the 1840s led Horse Guards supported by 5,000 police to occupy the green, and home secretary Sir Robert Peel to ban further meetings.

Clerkenwell Green was where many meetings for Irish political freedom took place. Clerkenwell Prison was attacked by the Fenians in 1867 to free Irish prisoners. 

In 1871 public meetings were held here to support the Paris Commune and later surviving communards met in a pub here as refugees. 

In 1884 the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) met here and moved its printing press into 37 Clerkenwell Green — since 1933 our very own Marx House. The SDF printing press was installed in what is now our main hall and almost all the socialist literature produced in Britain during the last decades of the 19th century was published from here. 

In 1902-3 Iskra, the revolutionary newspaper of the Russian Bolsheviks, was edited here by Lenin and smuggled through the port of London into the Russian tsarist empire.

City Press called the Green the “headquarters of republicanism, revolution and ultra-nonconformity.”

London’s first May Day march in 1890 organised by the London Trades Council began at the green. 

This year marchers will once again tread in the footsteps of history. But without a repository of our history and memory any movement can lose its identity and its direction.

This May Day, Marx Memorial Library is opening its doors to visitors. Tour guides will be on hand to show people our historic building and remarkable collections. In addition, the library will showcase highlights of its Daily Worker/Morning Star archive in a one-day-only exclusive exhibition.

Joint with the Morning Star, this slide-show display tells the story of May Day throughout history. Reports date back from the year of the paper’s foundation in 1930.

Front pages and feature pieces from politically significant years appear alongside gems from the paper’s unique photographic archive. 

The Marx Memorial Library is home to the complete archive of the Daily Worker/Morning Star — one of its key resources — that brings researchers to Marx House from all over the country.

This important collection is in the process of being digitised. This exhibition is an opportunity to get a sneek preview of this important work at the library. 

May Day is a time for new beginnings and Marx Memorial Library extends an invitation to all those who celebrate International Workers’ Day to come to visit our collection and to join us in ensuring that this important history is passed on to enrich future generations of workers. 

By Alex Gordon and Meirian Jump


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