Thursday, February 07, 2008

Part of London's radical past


By Stella Moutafis

A radical history of Greenwich and Deptford by Terry Liddle, Freethought History Research Group, 83 Sowerby Close, London SE9 6EZ. 2007, 24pp, £3.00

EVER LOOKED into the working-class history of your local area?
If, like me, you are not a historian by inclination, you may not have come across much about this subject. Of course, there is information to be had – on the Internet... books on local history at the library... but, maybe, you could do with a few pointers to follow up.
Possibly the easiest way to appreciate the great social changes that have swept society over the centuries is through local studies. Back in the 1960s “local history” research was something left to librarians and 6th form projects but the interest in antiques and collectable “bygones” has been a boon to local historians. Few boroughs are without at least one pamphlet recording local lore. True most don’t go beyond the “yesteryear” of old picture postcards or the past 100 years. But some do delve beyond recording old buildings to tell us how working people lived in the past and how they struggled for a better future.
Well, if you live in the Greenwich and Deptford area in London, you are in luck because this pamphlet by Terry Liddle is most readable, and is wide-ranging.
You will probably agree with the author when he maintains that: “History is not about kings, bishops, capitalists...–but about people in struggle”. It is to the people that he dedicates this study.
This coverage starts at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century, continuing through to the popular resistance to fascist activity here in the 1970s. People and events with a local connection are set in the context of wider national developments. We learn of popular struggles of those working on the land, among seamen and dockworkers, and artisans along with the early development of trades unions and socialist political organisations by local people in Greenwich and Deptford. This short pamphlet is clear and concise and, importantly, annotated.
Rather than summarise the contents of Terry’s pamphlet in this review you would do much better to get hold of a copy and read his own words yourself!
But some brief details on the author and the publisher may be of interest.
Terry Liddle has always lived around this part of London. Educated locally, he has an honours degree in history. And he has practical experience in working class struggle at the sharp end. This includes serving as a branch official in the civil service union CPSA, involved in the Hither Green DSS strike against the employment there of BNP activist Malcolm Skeggs – which went so far as to be himself assaulted by fascist thugs!
He has been active in a succession of left and progressive organisations, from the early 1960s to the present, and has also been involved in the Humanist movement.
Terry is a founder and the secretary of the Freethought History Research Group –who are the publishers of this pamphlet. The aim of the Group is to “encourage interest and research into atheism, secularism, and related subjects”, producing reprints and original works in this field, and an annual journal.
Humanism maintains that humanity’s moral values are a product of our species’ social nature – and do not result from the diktat of some supernatural creator, so, also, this life on Earth is the only one we have.
Some of those readers who have been bombarding the New Worker letters columns with contributions on Jesus would be well advised to take note!

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