Today in royal history: king Edmund Ironside killed on the toilet, 1016.

Normally past tense take a dim view of the kind of reactionary approach to history that concentrates on the doings of kings and queens. Today we make an exception: this post will focus on kings. And their doings. Or more accurately, what happened to them while they were doing their doings.

Edmund Ironside was briefly king of England in 1016 CE. He was a son of Æthelred, known to history (possibly due to a bad translation of old English word ‘Unraed’) as the Unready, the Saxon monarch forced from his throne in 1013 by a Danish invasion led by Danish viking Swein Forkbeard. When Swein died the following year, Æthelred returned from exile, but had to contest the kingdom with Swein’s son Cnut (‘King Canute’)

Æthelred being elderly and maybe a bit of a crap leader, his son Edmund took charge of the actual fighting (Now being a serf at the time, it’s a tossup generally as to whether you’d want a ‘weak’ king who would avoid battle or a strong one who might win – since you had fuck all choice as to whether to fight at all, as you’d get your head staved in and your pitiful rights to land taken away if you didn’t. Though in the anglo-saxon society of the time a slightly more egalitarian sharing of the land was practiced, than under later Norman rule, and there’s also the community self-defence thing of not being killed by invaders determined to nick your patch. So. Complicated. Anyway. We digress.)

When Aethelred died in 1016, Edmund was crowned king, but lost the Battle of Assundun in 18 October 1016, after one of his earls, Eadric Streona of Mercia, fled the field with his men at the height of the battle, leaving Cnut victorious.

Edmund was forced to agree to divide the England between them, with Edmund retaining the Saxon heartland of Wessex and Cnut taking the north and east of England. This arrangement, known as the Treaty of Alney, was made around the end of October. It lasted less than a month.

On 30 November (says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; though a 12th century Ely calendar gives the date as the 29th) Edmund died. Many histories make little of this, and although sudden death was common at the time, Edmund was said to be young and fit. But speculation that Cnut had had him done in was rife. Henry of Huntingdon, writing in the 1120s, asserts that king Edmund was murdered when he went to the toilet:

“King Edmund was treacherously slain a few days afterwards. Thus it happened: one night, this great and powerful king having occasion to retire to the house for receiving the calls of nature, the son of the ealdorman Eadric, by his father’s contrivance, concealed himself in the pit, and stabbed the king twice from beneath with a sharp dagger, and, leaving the weapon fixed in his bowels, made his escape.”

As Mike Dash has commented:

“There are plenty of problems, it must be said, with this story as it stands. For one, how could the killer be sure that the posterior he was stabbing was the king’s? For another, could he have got close enough to use a dagger? Cesspits, after all, were often deep, and the drops to them long, and at least two variant accounts wordlessly address this problem. The first suggests that the assassin employed a spear rather than a dagger; the second, by the French chronicler Gaimar, reports that the murder was carried out by the diabolical contrivance of a ‘spring-bow’ – a deadly sort of booby trap consisting of a loaded crossbow that could be triggered by pressure and was known to the French as li ars qui ne fault, or ‘the bow that does not fail.’ According to this account (it is a late one, dating to about 1137), Edmund was shown into a privy rigged with ‘a drawn bow with the string attached to the seat, so that when the king sat on it the arrow was released and entered his fundament.’  [Bell p.134; Bradbury p.256]

The truth, it is safe to say, will never be known. Several reliable chroniclers, such as William of Malmesbury and John of Worcester, say nothing of any murder. The chroniclers who do are not entirely trustworthy; Gaimar’s romance, for one, was denounced by Warren Hollister as ‘so grossly error-ridden as to be altogether unreliable.’ [Hollister p.103]  And there are a number of variants of the murder story; the German chronicler Adam of Bremen, writing in the 1070s, reported that Edmund was poisoned. [Schmeidler p.17]  Several modern historians stress that no contemporary source mentions murder, and conclude that Edmund merely died of natural causes. [Lawson p.20]”

However, Ironside was far from the last monarchs to snuff it on the bog; some of ‘natural causes’, others not so…

Godfrey the Hunchback, Duke of Lower Lorraine (an area roughly coinciding with the Netherlands and Belgium) was murdered in 1069 when staying in the Dutch city of Vlaardingen. Allegedly, the assassin worked out which of the latrines, which were built and drained on the outer side of the wall, according to medieval building style, belonged to the duke’s sleeping room, hid underneath, and stabbed him in the arse with a sword, spear or dagger, depending on different accounts. It took Godfrey several days to die. The assassination was said to have been ordered by Dirk V Count of Holland and his ally Robrecht the Frisian, Count of Flanders.

King Wenceslaus III of Bohemia was also murdered with a spear while sitting in the ‘garderobe’ on August 4, 1306.

More recently, king George II of Britain died on the loo, on October 25, 1760, from an aortic dissection. According to Horace Walpole’s memoirs, King George “rose as usual at six, and drank his chocolate; for all his actions were invariably methodic. A quarter after seven he went into a little closet. His German valet de chambre in waiting heard a noise, and running in, found the King dead on the floor.”

Finally, leaving aside all these petty ‘kings’, there’s The King – Elvis Presley, who left the building on August 16th 1977, collapsing, from a heart attack, probably induced by imbibing a cocktail of ten or more prescribed drugs he was addicted to at the time, having become deeply unhealthy, lonely and in pain.

The latter is missed much more than any of the warmongering parasites above. Although he was a complex character and expressed somewhat reactionary views, he made some fucking great music.

Anyway, that’s all the kings we’re going to cover for a while. Monarchy remains a pain the arse, and creative solutions for its permanent removal are always to be welcomed. But back to history from the grassroots up. Or the bottom up, if you like.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London radical history: freethought pioneer James Watson dies, Norwood, 1874

James Watson (1799–1874) was an English radical publisher, activist and Chartist.

Born in Malton, North Yorkshire, on September 21, 1799, Watson’s father died when he was only a year old. His mother, a Sunday school teacher, taught him to read and write, but around 1811, she returned to domestic service in the household of a clergyman, who had paid for James’s schooling and tuitions for a brief period. Watson worked there as under-gardener, in the stables and as house-servant, and he read widely.

In 1818 Watson moved to Leeds where he found work as a warehouseman, and joined a group of men in Leeds who met weekly to read and discuss the writings of radicals such as Tom Paine, William Cobbett and Richard Carlile. The group made contact with Carlile and agreed to distribute his Republican newspaper in Leeds.

Watson was converted to freethought and radicalism through this group and what he read. He began to spread freethought literature and helped raise money for Carlile when he was sentenced in 1821 to three years’ imprisonment for blasphemy. Watson moved to London in September 1822 to serve as a volunteer assistant in Carlile’s Water Lane bookshop. As Carlile’s shop published and sold radical publications that challenged the Six Acts imposed by Lord Sidmouth in 1819, this was risky work, and many of those who worked there went to prison. James Watson also became involved with other publishers such as William Hone and Henry Hetherington in the struggle against the stamp duties on newspapers and pamphlets.

In January 1823 Carlile’s wife, having completed her own term of imprisonment, took a new shop at 201 Strand, and Watson moved there as a salesman. As their publications were unstamped on principle, government agents were constantly employed to seize papers and nick those distributing them. A game of cat and mouse between printers and informers/excisemen ensued, with regular smuggled shipments of radical papers being hunted and sometimes stopped. Salesman after salesman was arrested. In February 1823 Watson was charged with selling a copy of Elihu Palmer’s Principles of Nature to a police agent. He spoke in his own defence, but was convicted and sentenced to a year in Coldbath Fields Prison.

In prison he read David Hume, Edward Gibbon, and Johann Lorenz von Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, and developed his anti-Christian and republican opinions. As he said later, “endeavouring to make the best use of the opportunity for study and investigation.”

After leaving prison in April 1824 James Watson was employed again by Richard Carlile who taught him the skills of the compositor and printer. In 1825 he was employed in printing Carlile’s The Republican; he was also hired as a printer by the radical publisher, Julian Hibbert. Soon after this he went into business on his own.

He lived in extreme poverty at times, and in 1826 caught cholera, nearly dying. Recovering, he became an Owenite, and in 1828 he was storekeeper of the “First Co-operative Trading Association” in London, in Red Lion Square.

In 1831 Watson set up as a printer and publisher in Finsbury. Julian Hibbert, his former employer, died in January 1834 and left him a legacy, allowing Watson to enlarge his printing plant. He started by printing the life and works of Tom Paine, and these volumes were followed by Mirabaud’s System of Nature and Volney’s Ruins. Later he printed Lord Byron’s Cain and The Vision of Judgment, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Queen Mab and The Masque of Anarchy, and Clark on the Miracles of Christ.

Watson printed, corrected, folded, and sewed the books by himself, taking great care for the appearance of his books, which he sold at one shilling or less per volume (effectively losing money on many).

At this time Watson also became a leading light in the National Union of the Working Classes, a working class radical group, strong in London. The NUWC was an alliance of more moderate elements working for an extension of the franchise for working men, and some more direct action–oriented wing, who felt the working class needed to take power, and would only win it by force. Like many NUWC members and other radicals the 1832 Reform Act bitterly disappointed him, and he denounced it: “The whole thing is from beginning to end humbuggery of the worst description. One thing self-evident is that there is not the slightest pretense to make an attempt at relieving the suffering millions from any part of their burden.”

Watson was arrested in 1832 for organising a NUWC procession and a feast on the day the government had ordained a “general fast” on account of the cholera epidemic. The government had stated that the cholera epidemic was God’s punishment on society, and that everyone should fast for the day to placate the Lord. The NUWC, enraged, announced that the poor were always hungry, that they would not fast but would march in anger and then have a slap-up feed to stick two fingers up to the authorities. The organisers were nicked.

However, Watson escaped imprisonment for this episode.

In the same year, Watson began publishing an unstamped radical newspaper, the Working Man’s Friend. This got him imprisoned between February and July 1833. He also served a further period in prison (August 1834 to January 1835) for selling Henry Hetherington’s Poor Man’s Guardian, the leading radical unstamped paper of the day. This was his last imprisonment, though he continued to issue books banned by the government.

Watson’s shop was near Bunhill Fields; he then moved first to City Road, and in 1843 to 5 Paul’s Alley.

During his political life, he associated with many leading radical figures, including freethought and unstamped guru Henry Hetherington, Chartists Thomas Cooper and William Lovett, and the radical MPs Thomas Wakley, and Thomas Slingsby Duncombe.

Watson was active in the campaign in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the six Dorchester labourers transported to Australia for forming a union branch; he was one of he committee which organised the great April 1834 meeting in Islington demanding the six be pardoned and returned home.

In June 1837 Watson was also on the committee appointed to draw up the bills embodying the Chartist demands. He was on the moral force wing of the Chartist movement, and was opposed to the violence of some of the agitators; however he was also resolutely opposed to alliances with middle class whigs and anti-corn law agitators, whom he denounced. He was averse to “peddling away the people’s birthright for any mess of cornlaw pottage”.

Watson corresponded with Giuseppe Mazzini, and in 1847 joined his Peoples’ International League. In 1848 he was one of the conveners of the first public meeting to congratulate the French Revolution of 1848.

An untaxed and absolutely free press became his main object in later years. He died at Burns College, Hamilton Road, Lower Norwood, on 29 November 1874, and was buried in Norwood cemetery. A grey granite obelisk erected by friends commemorated his “brave efforts to secure the rights of free speech”. A photographic portrait was in the Memoir by William James Linton.


As the printer, publisher and layout artist at past tense I feel an affinity with Watson, across the century and a half that separate us. Not just because like Watson I have spent several decades sweating and swearing over printing machines; also losing money because we try to produce our publications to be cheap and relatively accessible, while attempting to make them look interesting and presentable… Was his back knackered like mine, partly from hefting massive quires of paper from shelf to guillotine? Was his printshop piled with skyscraper piles of half printed tracts, through which you have to weave…? half-finished projects put on one side gathering dust, corners turning up from the cold? Dreading another rent rise, or the jamming screech of a snarlup in the press?

Watson came to printing and publishing through the unstamped and freethought movements; I came to it through the anti-poll tax agitation… Admittedly times have changed, and it takes more than publishing political tracts get yourself jailed. Part of the credit for this goes to Watson and many others like him who struggled against blasphemy laws and defied the government spies in the 1820s.

But Watson I also feel connected to because there’s a tangible link between us. In his old age, Watson was a formative influence on a young Ambrose Barker, who became a secularist, then a socialist in the London Emancipation League and the Socialist League, and would go on to write a biography of Henry Hetherington. Barker would live to a ripe old age, and himself in the 1930s would work politically with another young man, the anarchist Albert Meltzer. Who in his turn I later knew, and worked with for a while in the Anarchist Black Cross, before his death in 1996… Over 200 years of radical connections in four individuals. A small example of how ideas pass on through generations.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in festive history: St Clements Day, celebrated with singing and begging for beer.

On the 23rd of November, the old Feast of St. Clement used to be celebrated, long associated with an ancient custom of going about that night to beg drink to make merry with.

Pope Clement I is the patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths and so these workers traditionally enjoyed a holiday on his annual feast day. Saint Clement was held to be a martyr as he was tied to an anchor and tossed into the sea.

Ancient legends surrounding Saint Clement suggest that he was the first man to refine iron from ore and to shoe a horse. Clementine customs may originate from earlier pagan rituals as there has allegedly been some confusion of Saint Clement with the early Saxon –  Wayland the Smith – a fabled metalworker (a figure derived even further back from Thjasse-Volund, a Norse-Germanic elf-hero blacksmith). Wayland the Smith was also celebrated on November 23rd, which marks the beginning of winter.

St Clements Day feasts were of old eventful, to say the least.

“Old Clem’s Night”  started with a bang and a shower of sparks during the ritual called “firing of the anvil”. A blacksmith packed gunpowder into a small hole in an anvil and then whacked it hard with a hammer to cause a small explosion. This was both ritual and practical – it also tested the anvil’s durability. Weak anvils would break under the pressure and therefore had to be melted down and recast. Blacksmiths or their apprentices would dress up in wigs, masks and cloaks to represent “Old Clem” and in some places a procession of blacksmiths would follow through the streets, singing and stopping at taverns along the way. Obviously the more taverns the blacksmiths stopped at – the louder and ruder the singing became. A notable element was the demanding of free beer or money for the “Clem feast”.

London Farriers are said to have celebrated St. Clement’s Day at the White Horse, Castle Street, London, as late as 1883, when one of the fraternity appeared in a new apron with gilt tags, and a special drink, concocted of gin, eggs, ginger and spices, was consumed to the honour of the Saint as the ‘first man who shod a horse’.

This arose from a confusion with St. Eloi (also known as Eligius and Lo), who had a definite association with the farriers’ Craft, whilst St. Clement’s connection was through his patronage of anchor forgers and so of smiths in general. St. Eloi, like St. Dunstan, was an expert metal worker himself, and in representing his effigy, whilst it was natural to indicate his craft by the horse’s leg and shod foot which he held, yet—as it was not always convenient to paint or carve the whole of the animal—the partial representation no doubt, gave rise to the legend that, when a horse brought to be shod, being possessed by the devil, kicked so furiously that no one could approach it, the Saint cut off the leg, then put on the shoe, and completed the incident by miraculously rejoining the limb to the horse. This of course was an easy explanation in days when the greater the marvel, the more it was felt to redound to the glory of the Almighty.’

St. Clement was also claimed – as their patron by hatters, on account of his supposed invention of felt; by tanners, as having been of that trade; and by sailors on account of the story of his being thrown into the sea attached to an anchor; but, outside the relations of crafts, there seem to have been many convivial associations with his festival.

William Hone, in his Daybook, printed the following account of a rowdy annual ceremony on the evening of St. Clement’s day, by the blacksmiths’ apprentices of the dockyard at Woolwich:
“One of the senior apprentices being chosen to serve as Old Clem (so called by them), is attired in a great coat, having his head covered with an oakum wig, face masked, and a long white beard flowing therefrom. Thus attired he seats himself in a large wooden chair, chiefly covered with a sort of stuff called bunting, with a crown and anchor made of wood, on the top and around it, four transparencies representing the ‘blacksmiths’ arms,’ ‘anchorsmiths at work,’ ‘Britannia with her anchor,’ and ‘Mount Etna.’ He has before him a wooden anvil, and in his hands a pair of tongs and wooden hammer, which, in general, he makes good use of whilst reciting his speech. A mate, also masked, attends him with a wooden sledge hammer; he is also surrounded by a number of other attendants, some of whom carry torches, banners, flags, &c.; others battle-axes, tomahawks, and other accoutrements of war. This procession, headed by a drum and fife, and six men, with Old Clem mounted on their shoulders, proceed round the town, stopping and refreshing at nearly every public-house, (which, by the by, are pretty numerous) not forgetting to call on the blacksmiths and officers of the dockyard. There the money-box is pretty freely handed after Old Clem and his mate nave recited their speeches, which commence by the mate calling for order, with

‘Gentlemen all, attention give,
And wish St. Clem, long, long, to live.’

Old Clem then recites the following speech: ‘I am the real St. Clement, the first founder of brass, iron, and steel, from the ore. I have been to Mount Etna, where the god Vulcan first built his forge, and forged the armour and thunderbolts for the god Jupiter. I have been through the deserts of Arabia ; through Asia, Africa, and America; through the city of Pongrove; through the town of Tipmingo, and all the northern parts of Scotland. I arrived in London on the 23rd of November, and came down to his majesty’s dockyard, at Woolwich, to see how all the gentlemen Vulcans came on there. I found them all hard at work, and wish to leave them well on the 24th. The mate then subjoins:

‘Come all you Vulcans stout and strong,
Unto St. Clem we do belong,
I know this house is well prepared
With plenty of money, and good strong beer,
And we must drink before we part,
All for to cheer each merry heart,
Come all you Vulcans strong and stout,
Unto St. Clem I pray turn out
For now St. Clem’s going round the town
His coach and six goes merrily round.

After having gone round the town and collected a pretty decent sum, they retire to some public-house, where they enjoy as good a supper as the money collected will allow.”]

There was another old begging song that referred to the combination (St Clements Day & St Catherine’s Day) with the “catterning” custom two days later on St Catherine’s Day (25th November):

Cattern and Clemen
Be here be here!
Some of your apples and some of your beer!
One for Peter, Two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all,
Clemen’ was a good man,
Cattern’ was his mother,
Give us your best. And not your worst,
And God will give your soul good rest.

An attempt was made during the first flush of the protestant reformation in England to ban elements of the St Clements Day celebrations, together with other festivals seen as having pagan aspects and encouraging immorality, frivolity and idolatry:

In 1541 Henry VIII passed a law forbidding children to beg in this way within the London churches of Saints Clement / St Catherine and St Nicholas. This rule did not apply outside the church buildings where the custom cheerfully continued.

Brady, in his Clavis Calendaria, 1812, ii. 279, observes that OLD MARTINMAS continues to be noticed in our almanacs on the 23d of November, because it was one of the ancient quarterly periods of the year, at which even at this time a few rents become payable. A payment of corn at Martinmas occurs in the Domesday Survey, i. 280.

In 1837, the Woolwich blacksmiths’ apprentices, were still holding a St Clements Day procession round the town, carrying torches & letting off fireworks, followed by a mob.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Apologies for recent silence

If you’ve been missing our blog posts over the last six weeks… so have we.

Apologies. Every year October-November is a very busy time for past tense. We have publishing deadlines that usually  involve a lot of work at this time, and distribution of some of the things we publish which is also time consuming. Admittedly part of the pressure comes from leaving off doing some of the work till the last minute – but that’s how we work best anyway.

This year, for one reason and another, we were running even later than usual, and then got involved in a dispute, and the fallout from it, which took a lot of time and energy in various arenas, so time was even more stretched.

All of this meant that we haven’t had much time to write (or even steal) blog posts for the increasingly occasional London Rebel History Calendar entries here. Sorry. We will gradually get back to it as we have more time.

One of the publications that has taken up our energy is the paper edition of the 2018 London Rebel History Calendar, which is now available (a little bit later than usual). It’s on sale in lots of lovely London radical bookshops and some other places, and from us directly from the publications page on our website, as well as from AK Distribution and Active Distribution.

Plus we have lots of new pamphlets out, also ready to buy here, along with much of our back catalogue.


A Statement in solidarity with the London Anarchist Bookfair

Below we share a statement regarding events at the London Anarchist Bookfair 2017, written by some supporters of the Bookfair.

Please share as widely as possible.

On Saturday 28th October the 2017 London Anarchist Bookfair took place in North London. As usual several thousand anarchists and fellow travellers from diverse tendencies attended, ran stalls, held meetings and other activities.

The Bookfair is organised by a small voluntary collective of five, with a wider group of supporters who help out with setting up, facilitating areas or aspects of the events on the day, collecting donations to cover costs of this free event, tidying up at the end, and so on. It is a monumental amount of work, that generally falls on this small group of people (with families and lives, like the rest of us), who come together to spend much of the year running up to October facilitating the staging of an event and a space for several thousand others in the movement. The Bookfair Collective have always shown willing to take on board suggestions, follow up ideas, and include people and organisations with a view to broadening the range of ideas encompassed and the diversity of the program. They have always been open to more involvement in running the Bookfair.

Saturday’s events and the Open Letter

There were a series of incidents at the Bookfair this year which included distribution of leaflets about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act being consulted on and an ensuing stand-off. Several people intervened to stop what looked like a developing potentially physically violent incident against a lone woman activist by a group of people. We would hope that most people reading this would do the same.

Some of the people who intervened to do this were members of the Bookfair Collective but they were not doing so as a group in ‘authority’ on the situation, but as individuals and friends supporting a comrade; just as other bookfair-goers in the past have stepped up to stop others being chucked out. We would suggest it is a misinterpretation of events, and the role of the collective, to see this as a ‘Bookfair Collective intervention’ in order to stop the self-organisation of the group involved.

In the wake of the events on Saturday, an Open Letter has been written and circulated online, calling for changes to, and a potential boycott and/or picket of, next year’s Bookfair.

(Other public statements are also being discussed around withdrawal/disaffiliation with the Bookfair for instance here)
The open letter claims

“a pattern of response from Bookfair organisers where incidents of transphobia, anti-semitism, islamophobia, racism and misogyny are ignored” and “organisers have stepped in to defend and support those who use oppressive, violent and dehumanising language to perpetuate racist, colonial and patriarchal systems of oppression.” and the collective “allows racist imperialism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and ableism to ingratiate themselves as part of the culture of the Bookfair”

We would dispute this and would call for specific examples for any of the above, and evidence that we can reasonably judge from, enough to prove a pattern that the Bookfair Collective have refused to deal with them when raised.

What is the Anarchist Bookfair?

More fundamentally, we would ask to whom are the demands in the open letter really directed?
The Bookfair is not set up to be the representative body for anarchists, nor can it be. It is neither a membership organisation, nor are members of the collective Mediation Practitioners, there to settle the sometimes seismic differences and different perspectives that attendees bring to the event.

Come the day of the Bookfair that space the organisers have facilitated is filled with the politics brought into it by the anarchist movement itself, in all its initiatives, vivid colours and traditions. If a chasm of difference exists over issues that flare up, such as last weekend, the Bookfair Collective are not in a position, nor have the physical resources to arbitrate. So we ask: whose responsibility is this and how do disagreements (sometimes leading to threats of violence or actual violence) get dealt with? The existing statement on these issues can be found on the Bookfair’s website

We are left to wonder whether anarchist practice has become so inculcated by ‘customer service’ culture that even the Bookfair is attended by consumers forgetting the fundamental essence of DIY, self-organisation and self-regulation of events.

The Bookfair Collective operates on the principle that it is not for the small collective that organises it to take on defining and enforcing a rigid policy on safety and behaviour; it is for the wider movement that takes part in the Bookfair to do so, along anarchist principles of opposing centralized authority with dispersed and grassroots responsibility.

Points raised in the open letter call for a radically different event, with a much more centralised program, organised or tightly overseen by the collective. If we as a movement, decide that this is what we want, many more of us will need to commit time and energy to organising and supporting this annual event.

Where next?

We reject transphobia and have all actively supported struggles against oppression. We support the right of trans identifying people to live their lives free from harassment and abuse, to organise, campaign and engage in debate with whoever they choose; and to be addressed by the gender pronouns of their choice. We support the rights of all women to be heard. We recognise that both trans activists and gender critical feminists are currently feeling attacked, at times to the level of their very existence and identities. We would hope that everyone participating in London Anarchist Bookfair would treat each other respectfully and continue to believe that dialogue is possible so that we can strengthen our struggle against oppression and build a better world. We reject bullying and intimidation – in physical or written form.

The Bookfair can never be the ‘dreamed of Utopia’ the open letter imagines, despite all our desires and dedication. We agree with the open letter on one thing, that we should all always be challenging ourselves and each other to widen liberation and ensure the Bookfair is a safe and respectful event, drawing in communities, and reflecting them. But we also believe it needs to allow for discussion and dissent, while excluding hatred and oppression.

We are not members of the Bookfair Collective but some of us have been in the past, and some of us have been involved in wider support work for Bookfairs. All of us are long-time attendees of the Bookfair. As such we hope that it continues, we offer our solidarity and practical support to the Bookfair Collective. We urge the Collective to look beyond the signatories of the open letter to the many wider groups and individuals who attend and take part in the event every year, and to realise that they do have a groundswell of support out there.

Rather than calling for a boycott of the Bookfair, we would challenge the writers of the open letter to engage meaningfully with the Collective and others to help create the change they want. In the light of the statement’s refusal to engage with the Collective until their minimum demands are met, the Bookfair Collective would be reasonably entitled to ignore the open letter.

So we stand by the Bookfair Collective, and salute how the Bookfair is organised; recognising the immense work done in making it happen every year. But it remains up to all of us who attend and take part in it to ensure that it measures up to the standards of love, solidarity and empowerment that we all desire. It is not possible for the small collective that currently facilitates the space to police them. Nor is it fundamentally anarchism.

This statement is online at:

Comments and practical contributions to what is likely to be an ongoing discussion about the future of the London Anarchist Bookfair are welcome on this site.

For a statement by Helen Steel on the events at the bookfair: