David Rosenberg, author and radical walker, gave a colourful talk on Clerkenwell’s left leaning past at the Annual General Meeting on May 16. In past times this was an area with London’s most abject slums, and during the nineteenth century had London’s highest murder rate.
The radical tradition started in the area’s coffee houses in the eighteenth century. These were meeting places for groups such as the London Corresponding Society – described as ”a motely crew of housebreakers and revolutionaries” – which met in Jerusalem passage.
But it was in the 1860s that Clerkenwell Green became almost synonymous with radicalism. Between the 1870s and 1890s, working-class meetings and marches attracted large numbers of local artisans. In 1887 William Morris addressed a crowd on the Green about the evil of unemployment, then led the procession to Trafalgar Square where they were attacked by police in what became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
In 1902 the exiled Vladimir Lenin shared the office of Harry Quelch, editor of the British Social Democrat weekly, Justice, at 37A Clerkenwell Green. From this address he printed the radical journal ISKRA (The Spark) to be smuggled back into Russia. In 1933 the building became the Marx Memorial Library and Workers School
You can read more about the radical history of London in Rebel Footprints by David Rosenberg published by Pluto Press 2015, or by joining one of his walks: www.eastendwalks.com