02 December 2021
This Disability History Month, staff from across the British Library have collaborated on a series of blog posts to highlight stories of disability and disabled people in the Library’s collections. Each week a curator will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s Disability Support Network. These selections are a snapshot insight into the Library’s holdings of disability stories, and we invite readers to use these as a starting point to explore the collections further and share your findings with us.
This selection has been made by Eleanor Dickens, Curator, Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.
In November 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act was passed into law in Britain, after years of campaigning. Now repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010, the act was the first piece of legislation to attempt to address the needs of people with disabilities in the UK since the end of the Second World War.
The focus of the act was on anti-discrimination and, for the first time, placed responsibility on service providers and employers to make reasonable adjustments for people with impairments and disabilities.
The Act was not perfect. It was even described by Rachel Hurst, the activist and former director of Disability Awareness in Action (DAA), as ‘The Train spotters Charter’ because ‘[…] you could now stand on the platform but you couldn’t get on the train.’ However, the implementation of this legislation, and the campaigns around it, were a turning point in the history of disability activism and did reflect the beginning of changing attitudes in terms of where the responsibility lies for social change.
“Join Our Protest” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. The rest of this flyer discusses the initial bill being talked out of the House of Commons and lists MPs to write to, demanding their support of the bill. (Add MS 89385)
The act made discrimination a societal issue and not just the responsibility of people with impairments or disabilities.
But, more than anything else, one of the momentous parts of the act was the story behind it. The act was fiercely campaigned and fought for by civil rights campaigners and disability rights activists. And it was these protests and these people that made the passing of the act such a remarkable moment in disability history.
More than 100,000 thousand people took to the streets to protest for the bill and it was a highly publicised campaign.
For a lot of people it felt shocking to see people with disabilities protesting and being arrested and for many it therefore challenged false preconceptions they held about the independence and vulnerability of people living with impairments.
This is reflected in some of the popular slogans of the campaign:
“KEEP FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS NOT CHARITY”
“PISS ON PITY”
(– Popular slogans from the 1994 protests.)
“Keep fighting for rights not charity!” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. (Add MS 89385)
The story of these protests is recorded, in part, in the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals held at the British Library.
The ADP is a charitable organisation, founded in 1971, to support and advocate for disabled people in employment and education. It was one of the first organisations managed entirely by disabled people and sought to challenge and change age-old perceptions of disability. The organisation and its members were part of the campaign and protest around the bill.
The founding of the ADP is written about in more detail in our blog by a founding member, Diana Twitchin, here.
“Surely progress can be made, I simply cannot believe that in an age where men are sent to outer space it can’t be possible to let disabled youngsters make their way to better chances. So much talent is allowed to wilt.” Letter to the Association of Disabled Professionals, April 1994. (Add MS 89385)
Reflection from staff Disability Support Network member:
Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, and latterly the Equality Act, 2010, the disability community are still fighting for equality and equity in day to day life. Having reasonable / workplace adjustments enshrined in law is a start, but it isn’t enough.
Elements of society still view the disability community through the medical model of disability where it is seen that the individual is disabled by their impairment or difference, and that these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments.
The Social Model of Disability, however, explains that there are multiple barriers including physical, intellectual, attitudinal, social, and policy which society puts in the way of people with disabilities. The Social Model of Disability sees that people with impairments and differences are disabled by the world around them, not by their impairment or difference. The more of these barriers are removed, or not created in the first place, the less need there will be for adjustments to be made.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ongoing inequalities faced by people with disabilities. “Worldwide, disasters and emergencies often disproportionately impact the disability community, and this pandemic is no exception”. 
In response to this, this year’s theme for International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December) is “Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era”. “People with disabilities have been differentially affected by COVID-19 because of three factors: the increased risk of poor outcomes from the disease itself, reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation, and the adverse social impacts of efforts to mitigate the pandemic.” 
The Association of Disabled Professionals Archive: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:LSCOP_BL:IAMS032-003453637
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
25 November 2021
In the second part of this series, Anthony Barnett's guest post recalls his time as a member of the editorial collective of a little-known revolutionary weekly newspaper entitled '7 Days'. In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy.
Looking back half a century to 7 Days makes me realise the pain of its failure which is still buried within me - it was such a glorious achievement and had such promise. I’ve been asked to say something about how I became involved, what I saw as being at stake, the experience of producing it, and how it influenced me. To start to answer them I want to signal why it was so good and why something so good failed.
What 7 Days expressed in its range, radicalism, intense seriousness and dramatic layouts was the radical spirit and global intelligence of the young English left of ‘the Sixties’. It was the anti-Vietnam war movement turned into stunning photojournalism. It was the best revolutionary radicalism, shorn of its Trotskyism. It was a pioneering engagement with feminism and anti-racism. It was fresh and fearless.
The attack on Miss World. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
One person orchestrated the outcome across the pages of 7 Days, edited the layouts and presentation: Alexander Cockburn. I dislike the term ‘flair’, as I associate it with superficiality. But Alex’s flair was breath-taking in its audacity. Thanks to him, 7 Days focussed a tabloid energy on the British class system and its snobbery as well as world capitalism and its proto-fascism.
I’ll take a closer look at the first issue to show its range which was crucial to the paper’s qualities, building on Madeleine Davis’s analysis in her opening post. Page 2 reports the trial of the Mangrove 9 (recently brought back to life by Steve McQueen). The portraits of all nine were to fill a page when the historic 55 day trial ended. Rage against racism, in the UK and around the world, was a 7 Days theme from the start.
The Mangrove Nine. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Page 3 has reports on the European “Common Market”, the role of the City of London and a financial scandal in Italy. They initiated coverage of capitalism rather than ‘the economy (at the back, launching a weekly essay on concepts, Gareth Stedman Jones asks ‘What is Capitalism?’).
Two photo-stories give the paper its hard-hitting edge. One exposed a reunion of ex-SS Nazis in Bavaria and got the cover splash. The second is a dramatic account of how a British army unit provoked a riot in Northern Ireland. It is by the photographer, Tom Picton, who became a regular. It proved a harbinger of Bloody Sunday, which 7 Days covered like no other mainland paper.
Bloody Sunday. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
A striking report on a ‘Day at the Dogs’ by Peter Fuller, who was the indefatigable home affairs editor, launched coverage of sport with a strong working-class angle.
7 Days pioneered discussion of mental illness as a form of control and repression. In her cool, invaluable overview in the digitised archive, Rosalind Delmar, the paper’s production manager, captures the radical imperative to break the silence about this issue. A story on ‘Madness in Two Minds’ and one on ‘Inside Britain’s Psychiatric Prisons’ launched the coverage along with a provocation (by one of the editorial collective, John Hoyland under a pseudonym) about whether parents should make love in the presence of young children (answer, not if they sit on top of you).
The Labour Party features in a short article by Tom Nairn, ‘Has the Labour Party any new ideas?’ Tony Benn had published a Fabian Pamphlet that called on Labour to adopt workers control of production, referendums (there had yet to be one in the UK), direct action against the media and democratic education to replace elite rule. Nairn says it is absurd to think Labour could just adopt such a “staggering” vision. He points out that in a subsequent Fabian Tract, Tony Crosland’s responded to Benn with a call for what Nairn saw as right wing-populism - a warning of what was to come. Nairn’s conclusion: “totally new” thinking would have to come from outside Labour. No one thought its source would be a Conservative of whom we had barely heard, Margaret Thatcher.
Turn the page and the nature of pop music and the role of musical charts is looked at by Dave Laing, while Stuart Hood (once the BBC Director of Programmes) writes on TV as an industry. Next there is Peter Wollen on the “Real, Surreal and Mundane”. In part he discusses how we mostly see paintings reproduced in a small format in books and this changes their nature. Opposite, a review of the ‘Advertisement of the Week’ is by John Mathews. Across all such coverage the new weekly focussed on the production of what is experienced and refused to take the output of capitalist society at face value.
In addition, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith contributed a superb review of Bertolucci’s The Conformist. He sets out how it resolved failures in his earlier films and shows how a bourgeois husband “is more fascist by his emptiness than anyone who is fascist by conviction”.
If this wasn’t enough, a four-page feature follows on gambling, its nature, scale and addictiveness and the role of the state by Jon Halliday, the brother of Fred Halliday, who was in charge of 7 Days' ‘Foreign News’, and Peter Fuller.
The British Army at work. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Later, Fred Halliday was to write a multi-page spread on why Nixon was going to China - one of the world-turning events that coincided with the six-month life of 7 Days. These included Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland, when the paper ran the photographs others would not; the first miners’ strike that humiliated the Heath government; the trial of the Mangrove nine; the women’s liberation attack on the Miss World contest at the Albert Hall; the liberation of Bangladesh, and the huge, penultimate Vietnamese attack on the American regime in the South. It was the six months that launched the Seventies.
7 Days could have been an English language version of Libération, launched just over 18 months later in July 1973, or the Tageszeitung launched in 1978 - both also started with egalitarian editorial collectives – and survived, even if, like them, it would have undergone the traumas of a triumphant market fundamentalism. A print publication needs in some way to be a ‘home’ for a core readership. 7 Days never had the time to build one. But the potential readership was there, later expressed by Rock against Racism and, in the early Eighties, with Ken Livingston’s inventive and effective Greater London Council (1981-86).
7 Days closed because it had no serious start-up funding. It was without capital in a capitalist world and lacked any core backers. But this itself needs explanation. I was the prime mover and fund-raiser, using a dummy we’d created as well as a business case. At the heart of it, all of us were attempting to by-pass the sectarian divisions of the English far-left by seeking to demonstrate what could be done by looking outwards. But this also meant there was no initial network of organised support in a highly sectarian situation.
The Miners’ Strike. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Specifically, it was an effort to recover from the wounding split in the Black Dwarf . 7 Days was what the Black Dwarf should have become. This sounds like an odd thing to say, I know! Black Dwarf was a revolutionary paper conjured into existence by the theatrical agent Clive Goodwin and the poet Christopher Logue and others, edited initially (after a false start) by Tariq Ali. I joined the Dwarf later. Among its other editors and contributors who were to work full-time on 7 Days were Fred Halliday (who delighted in the Dwarf’s memorable front page banner: “We shall fight, we shall win, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin”), Peter Fuller, who wrote pseudonymously the Dwarf’s ‘City’ column and John Hoyland.
Tariq Ali became a committed Trotskyist and decided to help create the International Marxist Group (IMG), as a British branch of the Fourth International. Backed by like-minded Black Dwarfers (none of whom were writers), he urged Goodwin to make it the paper of the IMG and Goodwin refused. Ali had recruited a wealthy supporter and they split off to launch the Red Mole. I took over editing the Black Dwarf but Goodwin had no funds and it died.
As it did so, some of us determined to start a new paper out of the ashes of the debacle, convinced that a committed non-sectarian paper of the left was needed. An example of the linkage: a key contributor to 7 Days was the great critic Peter Wollen, who wrote the Xmas cover story ‘Was Christ a Collaborator?’ I asked him why he wanted to become involved with us and not Red Mole. He said that it was when he saw one of the later Black Dwarf’s that I edited, where I’d put FOOTBALL FOOTBALL on the cover. Here is a characteristic picture from the time, with Margarita Jiménez.
Margarita Jiménez. Copyright © 1970 Howard Naish.
7 Days became a message in a bottle. One that recorded what the left’s culture and spirit should have been like. I’m very happy that Madeleine Davis’s eagle eye spotted the bottle and has opened it up half a century later.
Looking back I realise that for me personally it was a moment of uninhibited revolutionary expression. Much later I enjoyed bringing some radical energy into constitutional reform with Charter 88 – but it was consciously preconditional: a call to democratise the state sufficiently to make socialist strategy a credible option. Twelve years after that, the aim of openDemocracy was to create a space to prevent suffocation by Blairite globalisation. But 7 Days was an uninhibited ‘weapon’ of revolutionary advocacy, advance and learning, or so we thought!
How did it influence me? I felt vindicated as well as defeated. It meant my experience of that period was different from many of those who joined organisations like the IMG, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), or even became Bennites. It was defeated but it deserved to have survived. I was greatly helped overcome the loss by gaining the friendship and mentorship of John Berger, whom we’d asked to become a ‘Trustee’ of 7 Days. He was a wonderful example of how to retain voice and principle even when times are dire.
I’d like to add one codicil. We were not helped by the state of England. In his article, Nairn quotes Tony Crosland, once the most interesting of Labour intellectuals. Now he denounced ‘participation’ and ‘liberation’. The British people, Crosland claimed, “prefer to lead a full family life and cultivate their gardens. And a good thing too … we do not want a busy bustling society in which everyone is politically active and fussing around in an interfering or responsible manner”. This still shocks. It expressed the deep conservatism of the political class and the revulsion shared by the Labour leadership of democracy itself. Unfortunately, at the time, far too many voters agreed. They had still to vomit up the loathsome elixir of fatalism, deference and belief in British superiority and this effected everyone. This helps explain why 7 Days was also like an oasis in a desert.
The spirit of 7 Days in this stunning layout. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
27 October 2021
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. The openDemocracy archive and the Papers of Anthony Barnett were both acquired by the British Library on the 6th February 2020.
This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of published and unpublished material, editorial documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the editorial collective of a little-known revolutionary weekly newspaper titled 7 Days. In this first post, historian of the British New Left Dr Madeleine Davis introduces the newspaper and the series.
Fifty years ago this month a very unusual newspaper appeared on UK newsstands. Titled ‘7 Days’ and with a bold red and black design, it might have caught the eye both for its deliberate revival of Picture Post-style ‘photo-journalism’ and for the selection of topics trailed above the title-piece. Gambling/Capitalism/Sex and Children/Arms Deal Exposure appeared above an image headlined SS Reunion in Bavaria, one of two ‘photo-features’. The other feature was a photo-record of an army action against ‘rioters’ in Derry, in a packed issue that evoked yet subverted standard newspaper fare.
A ‘Life’ section detailed conditions in psychiatric prison; ‘Ideas’ featured a primer on Marxism from Gareth Stedman Jones; ‘Sports’ delved into the economics of dog racing; ‘Arts’ featured Stuart Hood on the TV industry, as well as film and book reviews (Bertolucci; realism) and an ‘ad of the week’ dissected (in this issue) a pro-feminist critique of a gas cooker ad campaign. On top of this there were foreign and home news sections and a special feature on the gambling industry.
But if the paper’s radical socialist credentials were not in doubt, it differed from other left organs in having no party allegiance nor editorial sermonising, nor even an editor in chief.
The new venture’s launch was preceded by a publicity and funding drive, for the aim was to secure commercial distribution and a circulation of up to 40–50,000. Dummy issues had been sent to sympathetic contacts in the press, and funds, with an initial target of £25,000, were raised through donations and loans from a network of left-leaning contacts. Ex-Communist Party names figured prominently in lists of potential donors, as did artists David Hockney and Sylvia Guirey, as well as Sonia Orwell and playwright John McGrath.
As W.L. Webb noted in a perceptive pre-launch write up in The Guardian in September 1971, the names of the Trustees of the magazine – respected journalist Claud Cockburn, artist John Berger and former BBC Controller Stuart Hood, were designed to reassure: ‘if the kids must have revolutionism, then this might be the brand for the station bookstalls’.[i] Yet Webb was cautiously optimistic, noting with approval that 7 Days, ‘the new hope of the New Left’ appeared to be taking both its journalism and its Marxism seriously, seemed more ‘above board than underground’, and in its determination to ‘break out of the ghetto readership’ of the far left was certainly doing something new.
One of Webb’s chief sources must have been the fold out flyer distributed in advance, which set out the paper’s ambition and appeal to commercial distributors. ‘It will look good, it will read well, and it will explode onto a market that has never been touched before’.[ii] The market figured was professional and semi-professionals working in education, medicine, architecture, technology, media and the creative arts, as well as student radicals; even ‘housewives and mothers who have themselves been through further education’. As Webb noted, this was the ‘68 generation who’d ridden a revolutionary wave then been beached on the shores of Conservative election victory. Whether it was a big enough constituency to justify the planned print run of 50,000 copies would remain to be seen.
Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Madeleine Davis.
7 Days was launched just over a year after an earlier paper, Black Dwarf, folded. Black Dwarf had been founded in 1968 by a group including Tariq Ali, Sheila Rowbotham and well-connected literary agent Clive Goodwin. Goodwin, described by John McGrath as an ‘entrepreneur of the left’ [iii] conceived the paper, and it was named, by poet Christopher Logue, after a satirical paper published by radical reformer Thomas Wooler between 1817-24. Beginning as a self-styled non-sectarian paper of the radical left, and conceived, in the heady atmosphere of 1968 as a ‘political action’ not just a means of communication, it adopted a bold and confrontational style while also maintaining strong links with the more austerely intellectual radicalism of the New Left Review, with whom it shared offices and several personnel.
Amid the ferment after 1968, the Dwarf’s editorial board split between a group increasingly influenced by Fourth International (FI) Trotskyism and a group wanting to maintain an independent stance. [iv] There were also tensions over the paper’s stance on feminism, vividly recalled by Sheila Rowbotham in her memoir Promise of a Dream. When in early 1970 Clive Goodwin, who owned the title, refused to allow Black Dwarf to become the official paper of the Trotskyist International Marxist Group (IMG), the FI contingent around Tariq Ali left, founding Red Mole and then Red Weekly, which was formally affiliated with the IMG.
From March 1970, Black Dwarf was edited from Clive Goodwin’s flat on Cromwell Road, and then from new premises in Soho, by Anthony Barnett, with a group including Rowbotham, John Hoyland and Fred Halliday. Eight issues were produced in this way between March and September, the style changing in a way that in some senses prefigured 7 Days. The paper’s final issue appeared on 5 September 1970, late. It contained no formal announcement of suspension, though a statement reflected a little on its record while also speaking of money problems. A ‘Black Dwarf benefit painting sale and exhibition’ was advertised with work by artists including David Hockney, Joe Tilson, Richard Hamilton and Ralph Steadman, but the paper did not reappear.
Some months later, however, some of those involved set up a new working group to discuss a new paper. This group included activists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which held its first conference in the same year, and contacts from New Left Review, the student and independent left.[v]
Though there was some continuity from Black Dwarf in terms of personnel and in the insistence on political independence, the new publication was intended to be of a quality and seriousness sufficient to break out of the ‘underground’, with all the precariousness and minimalist production values this had implied. Pre-publicity made much of the seasoned journalistic talent involved, as Alex Cockburn, who had worked on the TLS and New Statesman, was a key figure and de-facto editor. It also claimed a gap left by the rightward shift of the New Statesman under Richard Crossman’s editorship.
As Rosalind Delmar has pointed out, 7 Days was emphatically not part of the counterculture – ‘Bauhaus rather than Aubrey Beardsley was being channelled’. Rather it was more representative of an independent and intellectually-oriented New Left tradition that developed from the late 1950s ‘between communism and social democracy’, and which underwent significant radicalisation, as well as some fragmentation, in the late 1960s. 7 Days was in part – at least for some of those involved - an attempt to broaden the reach and scope of this tradition, as well as to take seriously (as much of the rest of the radical left seemed unable to do) the emergent politics of women’s liberation.
The moment must also have seemed both urgent and propitious, for the cusp of the 70s was, as this series will remind us, an intensely eventful and conflictual period in British politics. Social and protest movements (industrial militancy, women’s and gay liberation, black power) asserted themselves against an establishment which itself was regrouping ideologically and politically in ways that would crystalise more clearly toward the end of the decade. In the six months of its existence 7 Days covered the wave of industrial action against the imposition of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act; the Mangrove trial, the IRA, UVF and Angry Brigade bombing campaigns and the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry.
Simply as a contemporaneous record of these events, 7 Days is fascinating and important. For historians of the left, it is the more so because its political perspectives had continually to be negotiated amongst a journalistic and production team which recognised no party discipline, avoided the simplistic revolutionary sloganeering characteristic of the far left, yet saw itself as supporting all those ‘who are making the foundations of revolutionary change’.
A pre-publication document set out the strategic perspective hammered out thus: ‘7 Days recognises that with the significant exception of Northern Ireland, British capitalism wields its power not through violence or terror (though these weapons are in the cupboard) but with the consent of the mass of the people. People tolerate the intolerable because of the inherited weight of ideology …. That’s why 7 Days takes its starting point from people’s daily lives’. That was also why 7 Days covered, sometimes in groundbreaking ways, issues of mental health, abortion, children, the mass media and ‘popular arts’. Taken together, this social and cultural coverage amounts to a unique record and a considerable achievement.
Independence fostered innovation, but also tension and frustration. While the published contents of the paper usually contained little direct editorial content, internal papers are replete with memos and counter-memos criticising its record and disagreeing over its direction, both political and editorial. ‘Left papers are real heartbreakers and money –burners’, remarked Rowbotham of her time at Black Dwarf.[vi] In the event, it was financial crisis that brought the career of 7 Days to an abrupt end. Optimistic projections for readership were not borne out in sales figures, and by February 1972 losses were reported to be running at £500 per week, while two thirds of the £16000 launch capital raised was spent.
In March 1972, after twenty one issues, 7 Days went into ‘suspended animation’ while funds were sought for a relaunch. The relaunch never happened, and apart from one final Vietnam-themed issue in May 1972, which commemorated the evacuation of American troops from Saigon with the doubly-apt headline ‘Who’s for the chopper?’ the paper disappeared.
Few people, even among historians of the radical left, have ever heard of 7 Days. It is far less well known than International Times (IT), usually regarded as the first paper of the London underground and alternative press, than Oz, made famous by the trial for obscenity of Richard Neville and others, or even than the Black Dwarf which it in some sense replaced. I first came across it when researching the history of the New Left Review, interest piqued by a reference in some unpublished editorial documents to a spin-off publication in which several NLR editors were involved.
Years later, acquiring material for an exhibition on the activist histories of the British New Left, its striking visuals and neglected history made me keen to include it, so I got in touch with Anthony to see if he would let me use some of his originals. Fascinated anew, I proposed its addition to the Amiel Melburn Trust’s online archive of radical periodicals. From Anthony’s collection, the whole run was digitised and made available in 2017, funded by the Trust, and with an introductory essay by Rosalind Delmar, the paper’s production editor.
This series of posts over the next few months, will give a space to some of those who produced it to tell the story of the paper and of their own involvement. In doing so we hope to recover not just the history of 7 Days, but the feel and significance of a moment.
[i] The Seven Days left: W. L. Webb on a new radical magazine The Guardian (1959-2003); Jun 26, 1971;
[ii] Unpublished document ‘Add 7 Days to your week’, papers of Anthony Barnett, BL, not yet catalogued.
[iii] McGrath, J., ‘Clive Goodwin 1932-1977’ History Workshop, Spring 1978, No.5 p.236. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4288183.pdf
[v] The working party consisted of Barnett, Hugh Brodie, Alex Cockburn, Rosalind Delmar, Judith Furguson, David Fernbach, Peter Fuller, Clive Goodwin, Fred Halliday, John Hoyland, Phil Kelly, Ros Linnell, John Mathews, Maxine Molyneux, Christine Moore, John McGrath, Jenny Moss, Gareth Stedman Jones, David Triesman, Peter Wollen , Alan Hayling, Stephen Ginsburg. (source, pre-publication leaflet, File 120, papers of F Halliday, BLPES, LSE)
[vi] Rowbotham, S., Promise of a Dream, Remembering the Sixties (Verso; 2001 p.250)
30 July 2021
‘Like tripe on a slab’: women’s accounts of reproductive healthcare provision in Spare Rib magazine are now available through the Library’s digital map.
A guest post by Alice O’Driscoll
Find out more about the letters and listings made available via the Library's Spare Rib magazine digital map.
Spare Rib 6 December 1972 p. 27 © Sue Coe, courtesy Galerie St. Etienne
When Jo Evans from Bristol was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst after a visit to the hospital in late 1981, her (male) doctor gave her the ‘stark and unsettling ultimatum’ of either having a baby straight away, or a hysterectomy. A third option was available, he conceded, but it was expensive.
Evans was incensed, not just by the lifechanging decision she was being faced with, but with how her doctor had presented the dreadful choice in a ‘jocular fashion’ while several of his medical students awkwardly looked on. ‘He should stop whipping the wombs out of the women of Bristol and resign’ she wrote, ‘so that more women can rise to the top of the gynaecological profession’. (Letter from Jo Evans, ‘Hospital Confrontations: Taking on the “Big Man”’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, pp. 24-5.)
Evans wrote into Spare Ribmagazine shortly after this experience to vent her frustration. She also wanted to express her gratitude to the magazine for their timely publication of an article about hysterectomies, written by Kath Cape with the aid of the Sheffield Women’s Health Group and Sheffield Radical Nurses. (Kath Cope, Sheffield Women’s Health Group, and Sheffield Radical Nurses, ‘Womb Loss’, Spare Rib 112, November 1981, pp. 6–8, 38.)
Complete with diagrams and patient testimonies, the piece, called ‘Womb Loss’, aimed to inform and, consequently, empower. In the case of Evans, it worked. She also consulted friends in the medical profession, and the classic feminist tome on women’s health, Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Her letter, which opened with an account of her degrading treatment at the hands of hospital staff, ends with an assurance that she ‘will return to the hospital and tell the consultant how outrageous his suggestion is’. Her determination to become an active and assertive recipient of healthcare is clear, this transformation catalysed by her poor treatment and facilitated at least in part by the informative contents of Spare Rib.For scholars interested in the history of women’s healthcare, the form and function of feminist publishing, or the women’s liberation movement more broadly, there is much material to work with here.
First UK edition of Our bodies ourselves, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1978 (X.319/18521)
Another ‘jolly consultant’ was the object of Abigail Mozley’s ire, a Spare Rib reader from Falmouth who wrote of her humiliation at being surrounded by a ‘small horde of medical students’ during childbirth. (Letter from Abigail Mozley, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 4, February 1973, p. 4.) She felt the same impotence as Evans in the face of an inconsiderate medical profession: ‘they discussed my interesting case as if I wasn’t there, then had me stripped naked’.
A reader named Kathryn Woodward from Sheffield similarly reported having a ‘group of staring students’ standing round her hospital bed as she was giving birth. (Letter from Kathryn Woodward, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 4, February 1973, p. 4.) She too considered herself relegated during the experience, feeling ‘superfluous’ at her own labour, since ‘all congratulations at the end were for the doctor… my only role was being that of a nuisance’. A mother, she said, ‘is often still regarded as an object – a stupid one at that’.
All of these letters are searchable on the interactive Spare Rib magazine digital map of women’s liberation movement networks and activities. The Spare Rib letters pages are littered with accounts such as these, which relay the distress of women made to feel passive and irrelevant, ‘like tripe on a slab’. (Letter from Paula Harmer, ‘...And Choosing Women Doctors’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, p. 25.)
The rise of the epidural
Many of those who wrote into the magazine perceived the problem to stem not from the attitude of the physicians themselves, but in the limitations of their empathy because of their gender. The solution offered by Evans - that more women become gynaecologists - alludes to this, as does Mozley’s memory of being told her epidural would not hurt (‘it did bloody hurt actually’). Paula Harmer from Knottingley asked ‘can we insist on a female doctor, who will perhaps be more thoughtful and understanding?’ (Letter from Paula Harmer, ‘...And Choosing Women Doctors’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, p. 25.)
The rise of the epidural – touted in one Spare Ribarticle as enabling painless childbirth – is undoubtedly a remarkable moment in the history of women’s reproductive healthcare. For the author of this piece, journalist and author Kathleen Tynan, it was a feminist victory, facilitating her own ‘thoroughly unnatural’ labour which defied the ‘Puritan hand-me-down that, to be rewarding, childbirth must also be an agonising process’. (Kathleen Tynan, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 6, December 1972, pp. 6–7.)
Woodward’s letter, however, inserts a poignant qualifier into this triumphant narrative, one which expands the definition of labour pains by taking into account her dismissive treatment at the hands of the medics around her. Following the epidural, she conceded that she ‘felt no pain’, but she ‘was frightened and humiliated’, leading her to conclude that ‘drugs are just part of the answer’.
Despite the ‘ultimate lack of pain during the delivery I hated the experience and only remember it with horror’ she said, ‘I felt like a failure’. The contractions which had caused her to be in ‘excruciating’ agony before the epidural kicked in were not to be overlooked either.
A screenshot of the interactive Spare Rib digital map
Breast vs Bottle
One letter, written by reader Jane Cottingham and published in 1981, offers a root cause for the problem with the medical profession which would perhaps appeal to the women above whose reproductive healthcare was so distressing: ‘concern is almost always with the infant and rarely with women’. (Letter from Jane Cottingham, ‘Breastfeeding - How Men Brandish the Bottle’, Spare Rib 103, February 1981, pp. 4, 22.)
Cottingham wrote on behalf of ISIS, the women’s international information and communications service based in Geneva and Rome, and her letter therefore not does feature on the Spare Ribdigital map of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The map offers an easily searchable sample and visualises the location of women’s health groups and related events, such as a ‘spiritual midwifery’ tour in 1982, but does not include international letters and listings.
The matter at hand in Cottingham’s case was the recurrent debate between advocates of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. She had contacted the magazine after having become aware of companies exploitatively promoting their formula to poor women who were then forced further into poverty once their own supply of breastmilk ceased and bottle-feeding became the only option.
Cottingham’s anger was not wholly directed at the market-driven brands, although she was stung by the acute irony that they were ‘capitalizing (literally) on the ideas of the early women’s movement – that our oppression stemmed from our biology and thus we had to get away from reproduction, motherhood, and everything to do with child care in order to be liberated’.
She reserved some of her frustration for the ‘male government delegates, World Health Organisation experts, industry representatives and consumer advocates’ who weighed in to ‘argue about breast or bottle as though the two were interchangeable commodities’ with little regard for the difference forms of parental labour required of the two.
Cottingham’s aim was to problematise the fact that these conversations about ‘breast versus bottle’ were led, at least in the public arena, by the medical profession and corporate stakeholders in childcare. The exclusion of mothers’ perspectives facilitated the commodification of women’s bodies. The fruits of women’s maternal labour, she concluded, were consequently rendered products and services akin to any others in the capitalist system.
While this letter takes a different tone to other, highly personal accounts of their healthcare, Cottingham’s description of the erasure of women’s experiences at a policy level might still have resonated with those who felt invisible during their own treatment, and is part of a larger conversation within the movement that took place through a network of talks and conferences on childbirth, searchable on the Spare Rib map.
The subject and the provenance of Cottingham’s letter speak respectively to the magazine’s international outlook and reach. Regarding those letters about reproductive healthcare which stemmed from within the UK, however, the map can serve as an extremely valuable resource for scholars. It is a wonderful tool for those interested in writing local or geographically-sensitive histories: a full postal address is supplied by many readers and printed alongside their letter, meaning that it is possible in many cases to pinpoint exact hospitals, GPs, playgroups and nurseries.
The map is also searchable by category, allowing researchers to identify relevant material across the two decades the magazine was in print – for instance, ‘Health, Sex & Therapy’. A more specific keyword search allows users to search for, e.g. ‘childbirth’. The cases above are just a fraction of those which have been plotted so far, but their candour and detail hopefully indicate the potential benefits of this resource for scholars of feminist publishing in modern Britain.
Alice O’Driscoll is a PhD student in History at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. Her thesis focuses on women and warfare in seventeenth-century Britain and Ireland, but she is interested in all aspects of gender and violence.
30 October 2020
Written by The Business of Women's Words team.
Think 1970s UK feminism was a purely metropolitan affair? Ever wondered whether the Women’s Liberation Movement stretched beyond the boundaries of big cities? The new digital map resource at the British Library might have some surprising answers.
Spare Rib cover, Nov 1976, Issue 52 © Michael Ann Mullen
The Spare Rib map is the first digital resource to visualise the networks and activities of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) across the UK and Ireland. It has been created by the Business of Women’s Words project, a research partnership between the British Library and the Universities of Sussex and Cambridge funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Its data is drawn from Spare Rib (1972-1993), the iconic feminist magazine digitised by the British Library. Based on a sample (around 30%) of Spare Rib’s listings, adverts and letters pages, the map represents a slice of the intense feminist activity that flowered during the magazine’s twenty-year run. What it shows is that the WLM was a truly national movement, with datapoints ranging from the Western Isles of Scotland to Leiston in Suffolk, and from Derry in Ireland to Falmouth in Cornwall.
Snapshot of the Spare Rib map from 1983
The map sheds new light on the structure of the WLM and illuminates its regional centres and hubs, as well as a wider web of more isolated feminist activity. Lancaster, for example, was a regional hub that hosted a number of feminist publications, women’s counselling services, a lesbian helpline and took part in the Feminist Book Fortnight; and Bangor in Wales offered an array of feminist groups, businesses selling feminist postcards, jewellery and shoes, and alternative communal accommodation. The map’s colour-coded categories and symbols visualise the sheer diversity of activities and goods generated by the WLM, from political demonstrations to carpentry workshops to co-operatively produced clothing.
Although the WLM is often thought of as outside capitalist transactions of buying and selling, the map makes clear that Spare Rib, and the movement more broadly, was a site of exchange – personal, ideological, but also commercial. Businesses, from dating agencies to therapists to bookshops and publishers, were a key part of the feminist community and helped to advance the reach of the movement. The extraordinary number of women-only or lesbian B&Bs advertised in Spare Rib in the 1980s, for instance, demonstrate how women-run businesses extended the movement into some of the most rural parts of the UK, from the Lake District to the Isle of Arran, and from Piltown in Ireland to Yelverton in Devon. By drawing on letters as well as listings and adverts sent into Spare Rib, the map visualises not only the nationwide distribution of feminist events, commodities and services, but a network of (often critical) consumers and activists. It charts change over time, revealing the changing priorities and infrastructure of the movement, from consciousness raising groups to women’s centres, feminist businesses and women’s studies courses.
Fully searchable by category, year, keyword and geographical location, the Spare Rib map is a rich interactive resource which opens up new avenues of research for historians of UK and Irish women’s movements across two decades of intense activism.
28 April 2020
In this blog post, Katrina Georgiades, in our Government and Official Publications team, explores our collections of Electoral Registers to find information relating to a key figure in the fight for women's right to vote.
The modern UK electoral register is published on an annual basis and provides a list of all those eligible to vote in local government and parliamentary elections. As the British Library is home to an extensive collection of registers (as well as the nation’s only complete collection of electoral registers from 1947 onwards) our holdings provide a unique starting point for anyone looking to discover more about how the democratic process has evolved over time and adapted to changes in the cultural and political climate. Inspired by the preparations for our exhibition on women’s rights activism “Unfinished Business “ I decided to learn more about how the registers can be used to demonstrate the changes in women’s rights through the knowledge they preserve about individuals and their private histories. My goal was to trace the whereabouts of one of the most famous women’s activists of all time: Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).
The first standardized form of electoral registration in the UK was introduced with the Reform Act of 1832. Its introduction in effect conferred the right to vote upon those whose name was included within its pages, explicitly barring all women from electing members of parliament (see Johnston, 21). From 1903 onwards Emmeline Pankhurst and her fellow campaigners in the WSPU fought for the parliamentary franchise to be extended to women. It wasn’t however until the Representation of the People Act in 1918 that the parliamentary franchise was granted to (some) women over the age of 30 and the names of women began to appear on the registers as evidence of their right to vote for MPs.
Electoral registers are arranged by polling district and published separately for individual parliamentary constituencies. Entries for voters are recorded in order of address. During the First World War Ms Pankhurst established a nursery and adoption home for orphaned children near her house at 50 Clarendon Road, Holland Park. 50 Clarendon Road remained Ms Pankhurst’s dwelling until 1919 when she departed for Canada. My search therefore began with a hunt for her address. Parliamentary constituencies are by no means static and are continuously updated to include changing areas and demographics. During Ms Pankhurst’s period of residence 50 Clarendon Road in fact straddled the division between two constituencies that now no longer exist: the boroughs of North Kensington and South Kensington in London - neither register is included in the British Library’s holdings.
After the war Ms Pankhurst undertook a significant amount of travelling, lecturing and touring within the USA and Canada. Upon her return to England in 1926 she moved in with her sister Ada Goulden Bach at 2 Elsham Road Kensington. At this point she began campaigning on behalf of the Conservative party for the constituency of Whitechapel and St George’s in Stepney (again no longer in existence). By 1927 she and her sister were living at 35 Gloucester, Pimlico and by March 1928 she had moved to lodgings within her prospective constituency at 9 High Street Wapping. Sadly her health failed her before she could face the electorate and she moved to a nursing home in Hampstead less than three months later. Despite being present in the ladies’ gallery at its second reading, (see Purvis, 348) she did not live to witness the 1928 Reform Act (which granted the franchise to both sexes on an equal basis) become law later that year.
Given the substantial amount of relocating that Ms Pankhurst undertook during this time I imagined that finding a record for her in any of the registers during this period would prove a challenge. Luckily the library holds a substantial collection of electoral registers on microfilm and I was able to locate a copy of the 1928 register for Whitechapel & St. George’s Stepney Division. Instead of Emmeline Pankhurst I found entries for a Mr and Mrs Chipperfield. A letter written by Ms Pankhurst to one Esther Greg helped to explain my discovery: ‘You will be amused at my quarters over a hairdressers shop. His wife is my landlady and their name is Chipperfield. It sounds like Dickens. They are a nice couple and are good Conservatives …’ (Pankhurst quoted in Purvis p.350).
Beyond preserving print copies, the Library is actively involved in digitising its holdings of Electoral Registers, many of which are now accessible through databases such as FindmyPast. The database (which is accessible in the Library reading rooms) did not however return any results and it became necessary to expand the search beyond our collection. On the morning of the 10th March I took a trip to the London Metropolitan Archives. On their premises I was able to access digitized records from a 1918 register. Under the entry for 50 Clarendon Road, Holland Park I finally found what I had been searching for: evidence of Ms Pankhurst’s right to exercise the democratic privilege the suffragettes had campaigned so long for.
English Heritage, “PANKHURST, Emmeline (1858-1928) & PANKHURST, Dame Christabel (1880-1958)”, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/. Web. 06 March 2020.
Johnston, Neil, “The History of the Parliamentary Franchise”, https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings, 2013. Web. 29 Feb 2020.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Pankhurst [nee Goulden], Emmeline”, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35376. Web. 28 April 2020.
Purvis, June, Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography, London: Routledge, 2002.
The British Library, Parliamentary Constituencies and their Registers since 1832, 2015. https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/uk-electoral-registers Web. 27 Feb 2020.
09 April 2020
Our free online course, Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher, starts on 20 April. The course has been developed in partnership with the University of Nottingham, and is available from FutureLearn.
The course aims to introduce sources used by researchers, with an emphasis on material that can be discovered and accessed online, and the methods that researchers use to analyse and understand these sources. We are also interested in how an understanding of the past both informs and is influenced by contemporary issues - such as globalisation or climate change.
Over three weeks, we look at language and history, images and artefacts, and newer types of research resource. Learners can find out about British Library collections and projects, such as:
- The UK Web Archive
- Maps and our Georeferencer tool
- Recorded sound, including Oral Histories
- archives from around the world, in the Endangered Archives Programme
The course is designed for anyone who has an interest in the past. Our learners include students considering a research project, people who have followed a personal research interest for years, and those getting started on family or local history projects.
As a taster of the course, you can see Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, talking about an 18th century map of Canada and the Arctic at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-from-the-past/0/steps/58711
01 July 2019
Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library, writes
During the first month of my fellowship, I learnt at the Doctoral Open Days that the British Library has approximately 170 million items, which include books, academic journals, government records, personal correspondence, oral histories, newspapers, stamps, and currencies from all over the world, and archived websites.
I felt excited about the possibilities for research, thinking, surely, that with this number of documents, I should be able to find ample material for my project on race and ethnicity.
However, it can be quite daunting to know where to start. I embarked on my search by having a 1-2-1 session with a Reference Specialist at the Social Sciences Reading Rooms to get training on how to use Explore (the British Library’s main catalogue).
This platform was quite familiar to me because it is very similar to catalogues I have used at other academic and public libraries.
The Archives and Manuscript catalogue (for documents like personal papers, unpublished documents, and photographs) proved trickier, as information relating to items varies in detail. In some cases, it is better to start your search with the printed indexes like the list of the official publications of the India Office Records, which can be found in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. These lists will help you get an idea of the documents in the collections.
Whether I was doing a search with Explore or a specialist catalogue like Archives and Manuscripts or SAMI (Sound and Moving Image Catalogue), I found it useful to speak to the relevant curator, who often had tips for navigating the catalogue and helpful suggestions for materials that I had not considered. For instance, my discussion with Debbie Cox, Lead Curator for Contemporary British Publishing, alerted me to recent independent publications that feature the experiences of Black and Asian youths such as Thiiird.
Thiiird Magazine s/s 2017. © Thiiird Magazine.
While searching through 170 million items can seem like an impossible task at times, the British Library’s Reference Team are available to help with finding your way.
Social Science blog recent posts
- Reflecting on activism and protest around the Disability Discrimination Act
- Six months that launched the Seventies
- Introducing '7 Days': a revolutionary weekly newspaper in the Anthony Barnett archive
- ‘Like tripe on a slab’: women’s accounts of reproductive healthcare provision in Spare Rib magazine are now available through the Library’s digital map.
- New Spare Rib map resource: putting women's activism on the map
- Finding Emmeline Pankhurst
- Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher
- A social scientist’s experience of navigating the British Library’s collections
- Meet the new British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library
- Spare Rib Archive - possible suspension of access