The Last Clarion House

One of my objectives during my wander around Pendle was to visit the Clarion House on Jinny Lane, between Newchurch and Roughlee. It’s only open on a Sunday between 10.30 am and 4.00 pm., and as I’d never been over this way on that day before, I was determined not to miss my opportunity, so planned the route so I could visit.

The Clarion, was a socialist weekly, established by Robert Blatchford in Manchester in 1890. It quickly built a loyal readership selling around 30,000 copies a week. A movement started to crystallise around the paper, with Clarion Vans, initiated by Julia Dawson, touring towns and villages throughout England and Scotland between1896 and1929 to spread the Socialist message.

Perhaps influenced by Continental Socialist movements such as the German Social Democratic Party (at that time a Marxist organisation), readers groups formed clubs dedicated to leisure and educational pursuits. Today we’re used to having the weekend off plus Bank Holidays and several weeks annual leave, and there are plenty of things to keep us occupied when we have leisure time. But it wasn’t the same back then. Workers had struggled to gain Sundays and Saturday afternoons off work and activities such as walking and cycling gained in popularity, particularly as workers wanted to escape the smoke and grime of the industrial towns and cities. So, not surprisingly there were rambling and cycling societies affiliated to the Clarion Movement. Clarion Houses were set up in rural areas, initially manly by the Clarion Cycling Club, to provide refreshments, and often accommodation, for cyclists and others enjoying the countryside. Socialist organisations such as the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and Independent Labour Party (ILP) started to follow their example. These also became known as “Clarion Houses“.

The Clarion House on Jinny Lane was founded by the Nelson ILP in 1912, funded by a loan of £350 from the Nelson Weavers Association. They’d originally rented a house on Barley New Road, a short distance away, in 1899 (I passed it later in my walk on the way back to Barley) but it became so popular that larger premises were needed.

The first Clarion House in Pendle

My arrival was well timed as there were a few hours before it was due to close

On the outside of the building was plaque commemorating ILP and Clarion Cycling Club member who had fought for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. This chimed with me as a relative (a Great Uncle), who was a miner and member of the Communist Party in South Wales, was involved in the recruitment of men to fight for the International Brigades.

Inside the walls were decorated with banners, posters and photographs relating to the Socialist and Clarion movements and above the coal fire there was a stained glass window from the former ILP building in Nelson

I bought myself a pint of tea for the very reasonable price of 70 pence, and chatted with the volunteers manning the counter. I sat down on one of the long benches to drink my brew and at my sandwiches, and soon started a conversation with an elderly couple sitting opposite who had walked down from a nearby town and were regular visitors. There were plenty of others in the building enjoying refreshments and a good chat, including groups of Clarion Cyclists (the club is still in existence, but, sadly, severed its historic link to socialism in 2021.

The House sits in it’s own grounds where it organises activities and where, on a fine day, visitors can enjoy sitting in the fresh air looking over very pleasant countryside

There’s a website devoted to the Clarion House with downloadable resources including a book.

Documentary about the Last Clarion House, Pendle, Lancashire. DOP Nick Gordon-Smith Editor Cliff West Music by Vini Reilly, Durutti Column Director Charlotte Bill Clapham Film Unit and Clarion House Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

This is the very last of the Clarion Houses, cared for and maintained by volunteers. In some ways it’s a relic of other, more innocent times. For me, it represents a reminder of a sadly forgotten past but also, perhaps, a small beacon of hope and inspiration for the future.

“Refuge:The Art of Belonging” at Abbot Hall

“No one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark.”  (From Home by Warsan Shire)

The world’s a pretty depressing place at the moment. War and poverty has led to waves of migration – people fleeing to the more prosperous parts of the world, seeking safety, a better life, or both. Sadly, the response of many people has been xenophobia, fear and a lack of compassion. A mood whipped up by the right wing press and populist politicians.

We’ve been here before, many times. Over the centuries migrants who have settled here and contributed to our culture and prosperity, but who were initially greeted with the same reaction. The 1930’s are an example when Jews and other “undesirables” had to flee Nazi repression and death camps. The reaction then, from the usual suspects, was the same as we see today.

Despite the hysteria of the likes of the Mail, some German Jewish refugees and radicals were able to settle in Britain, although the authorities didn’t make it easy. Amongst them were intellectuals and artists, some of whom made a lasting contribution to British business, science and art.

The current exhibition at Abbot Hall in Kendal, Refuge: The Art of Belonging tells the story of artists who entered Britain as a result of Nazi occupation, which is part of Insiders/Outsiders – a nationwide arts festival taking place throughout 2019 to celebrate refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture. We visited on the last day on our short break in Cartmel as Kendal was only a short diversion on our journey home.

The exhibition features paintings and ceramics from Lakeland Arts’ own collection with some loans from public and private collections . Artists include Kurt Schwitters, Hilde Goldschmidt, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Martin Bloch.

I was familiar with some of the works. This little collage, made chiefly of wooden scraps upon a wooden base, by Kurt Schwitters, the master of “Merz”, is often on display in the Gallery

Schwitters was a key figure of Dadaism but as a “degenerate artist” he fled Germany, initially to Norway before moving to Britain. At the outbreak of WWII, together with many other “enemy alien” refugees he was interned on the Isle of Man where he would create abstract sculptures out of leftover porridge! (They soon went mouldy). After his release in 1941 he moved to London where he formed a relationship with a younger woman, Edith Thomas, who he nicknamed Wantee (she was always asking him if he wanted tea – a woman after my own heart, I think!). After the war they ended up moving to the Lake District, where he would paint portraits and landscapes to earn a little money, and he spent his last years at Elterwater. The Lakeland Arts Trust have a small collection of his works.

Another refugee artist who lived in the Lakes, and who was a friend of Schwitters, was
the Austrian Expressionist painter Hilde Goldschmidt. When she arrived London in 1939 with her mother, she had little money so set up a small business, the Golly Studio, making and selling gloves and mittens to give themselves an income. Like Schwitters, she moved to the Lake District settling on the Langdale Estate near Ambleside.

Again, the Lakeland Arts Trust have a small collection of her paintings.

Martin Bloch was a German-Jewish artist who came to Britain as a refugee in 1934 via Denmark.  At the beginning of the war he was interned in Huyton, near Liverpool. On his release he painted blitzed London cityscapes. During the post-war years he painted the English countryside, and stayed in the countryside staying with his friend and fellow émigré artist Joseph Herman. In 1947 he became a British citizen, and from 1949 until his death in 1954 he taught at Camberwell school of Art,

Martin Bloch, Scorched Trees, (1943 )

Another artist who figured prominently in the exhibition, and who I’d not come across before (at least, as far as I can recall) was Fred Uhlman.   He had qualified as a lawyer in Stuttgart, with a doctorate in both civil and church law, but, being Jewish had to flee Germany in 1933.  He initially went to Paris, but as he was unable to work there legally he moved to Spain, leaving due to the start of the Civil War, moved back to France and then on to London. He married Diana Croft, the daughter of the right wing MP (and, like many of his kind today, an opponent of allowing in refugees) who wasn’t too pleased, to put it mildly. They were together for almost 50 years. Another one interned on the Isle of Man, where he had his portrait painted by Kurt Schwitters

Fred Uhlman (1901–1985)

he was released six months later and reunited with his wife and with his daughter, who had been born while he was away. Several of his pictures are included in the exhibition.

There were a number of beautiful ceramics displayed by Hans Coper and Lucie Rie . Coper was born in Chemnitz, Germany, and fled to Britain in 1939. He was interned as in Canada for two years returning to Britain in 1942. In 1946, he began working as an assistant in the studio of Lucie Rie, an Austrian Jewish refugee, even though he had no previous experience in ceramics. I particularly liked Coper’s pieces, especially the hourglass shaped vases.

There were plenty of other artists included in the exhibition, some well known such as Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach . Both are probably considered to be British artists but they were child refugees born in Germany. Of course, for some people, it’s convenient to forget that. After all “we want to claim our country back”.

Emil Nolde: Colour is Life at the NGI


A little while ago I developed an interest in German Expressionist art and am quite keen to see and find out more about it. So when I was in Dublin last Sunday afternoon, I decided to call into the National Gallery of Ireland to take a look at their latest temporary exhibition, which is devoted to the work of Emil Nolde.

He was born as Emil Hansen near the village of Nolde  in the Prussian Duchy of Schleswig, close to Denmark (and which had been the area disputed by Denmark and Germany in the mid 19th Century resulting in a war between the two countries). He changed his name to that of his home town, for reasons which probably reflect his political views (more of which later).

In 1906, he joined Die Brücke (The Bridge), the group of Expressionist artists based Dresden, but left after a year. He was a member of the Berlin Secession, from 1908 to 1910, leaving when he fell out with them, and  exhibited with Wassily Kandinsky’s Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1912. He clearly was found it difficult to work with artists working in a similar style – possibly reflecting his politics. Many of the Expressionists were relatively Radical while he was a German Nationalist who joined the Nazi Party relatively early in 1920. And it’s this latter point which has attracted a lot of attention in reviews of the Exhibition. Can you like and admire work by someone who adhered to such views? Ironically, like other Expressionists, the Nazi regime considered him to be a “Degenerate Artist”, having his pictures removed from public galleries and forbidding to produce any work. Despite this he remained an ardent supporter with anti-Semitic views.

I hadn’t particularly read up on Nolte before I visited the exhibition and wasn’t aware of his obnoxious politics, so this wasn’t something I was thinking about during my visit (although I started to clock this when reading some of the information panels in the exhibition), and I viewed the works with something of an open mind. My impression was that he was a talented artist who painted some quite stunning, colourful pictures in both oil and watercolour, drawings, etchings, and woodcuts. The works on display included portraits, landscapes, seascapes, scenes of Berlin café culture, views of the River Elbe, and paintings and drawings from his travels to the South Seas.

As usual, no photos allowed and not many of the pictures from the exhibition are on the NGI website, so here’s only a limited selection.

Party (1911), one of his paintings of Berlin night life before WW1


A lithograph from a series of 121 identical prints of a young couple, coloured by hand after printing. There were 68 variations, using different colours. 4 of the prints were on display


Candle Dancers (1912)


One of several beautiful, dramatic seascapes – Ruffled Autumn Clouds (1927)


I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. The bright colours and abstract style and the subject matter. the only paintings I didn’t particularly like were some of his religious works. For me, there were no real, obvious, blatant, reference to his political views in the works on display. Even the series of works from his visit to the South Seas as part of the German “Medical Demographic Exhibition” where he was meant to study the “racial characteristics” of the population, were sympathetic portrayals of the indigenous people.

So back to the difficult question. There are plenty of artists whose work I like who held views that were an anathema to me or where it has come to light that they committed some awful, horrific acts (Eric Gill comes to mind – he produced sublime work but abused his daughters). To some extent, Nolde’s support for the Nazis makes me want to dislike his work but I didn’t. There were plenty of other people who supported the Nazis too, who, like Nolde, were “rehabilitated” after the war. And, as I’ve already commented, I couldn’t see any blatant political reference in his work. So I’m not going to say I didn’t like what I saw, but reading up about the artist after seeing the exhibition certainly left something of a sour taste.




Shot Crowd


After looking around the Emotional Archaeology exhibition at the RHA in Dublin, I had a look around the exhibition in the next couple of galleries on the upper floor – Shot Crowd by Joy Gerard.

In the first room a series of images, some small with other larger pictures, of crowds of people viewed from above lined the walls. They looked like black and white photographs, but on closer inspection it was clear that they were drawings – Japanese black ink on linen.


The artist, Joy Gerrard was born in Ireland, being bought up in Co Tipperary. Currently she lives in London with a studio in Shoreditch. The monochrome drawings, depict dense crowd scenes, viewed from above, from tall buildings or from news helicopters, of protesters from The Arab Spring, the Ukraine, “Black Lives Matter”, and the recent Anti-Trump demonstrations.

The buildings, vehicles and street furniture are detailed and quite realistic, but the people merge into the mass of the crowd, there are no individual features discernible. To create the drawings she takes photographs from newspaper and online images of mass urban protest

Gerrard’s images present a topographical view of people contained within or spilling out of huge civic spaces in a kind of calligraphic active groundswell. Hundreds of intense, tiny brush marks draw the viewer into particular incident within the works, but equally, they are immediately recognisable – being derived from powerful images that have proliferated via the mass media of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, mass actions across European cities, US inner city demonstrations and many others. These are all part of our recent history. (artist’s website)


Describing her technique

I have rules, which are followed for every piece. The crowd starts at the back, at the furthest distance from the eye of the camera, when each person is just a minute dot, or a blur of grey. Here is the fracturing, the edge of the crowd, where there is no containment, and no line of building. It is an uncertain space. As, I work through the crowd towards the centre, the image darkens, and becomes more dense. The image is stationary, but there is a sense of animation in the multiplicity of tiny marks. Depending on the nature and angle of the image, sometimes there is figuration in the foreground of the crowd. When I am close to finishing a piece, most important is the balance between black and white. This tonal balance, often has no relation to the original photographic image, and is about making the image ‘right’. The image will not function, it cannot become an autonomous thing, until this is correct. Memory, for me, is always in black and white, the blacks becoming denser with elevated levels of emotion, doubt or belief. (Material Editions website)

In the second room a video was showing – Shot Crowd , after which the exhibition is named.


The video shows a model of a city shot from above. Completely deserted at first. Gradually what appear to be ball bearings start pouring in from one side moving into spaces, gathering in clumps around the “buildings” – behaving just like a crowd of people gathering for a demonstration

The “ball bearings” are actually lead shot gun pellets – so the title can be interpret is that it’s showing a crowd of shot or is a crowd shot with a camera. Clever. The pellets finally come to a halt and then after a short pause, the film goes into reverse until the city is deserted again. I thought the video really captured how crowds form, move and accumulate.

All the pictures in this exhibition are of protests and demonstrations that took place in 2016. As the artist says in an interview (see the film clip below) demonstrations occur all the time but 2016 was particularly notable for the mass demonstrations taking place across the world including the United States. And with instability created by Trump’s election and erratic actions, Brexit and potential events on the borders of Russia (with Putin likely to be emboldened by the election of Trump), 2017 is likely to be a vintage year for protests and demonstrations. Joy Gerrard is going to have plenty to keep her busy, I think.



Our last day in Northern Ireland. Our ferry to Liverpool didn’t leave until 10:30 in the evening for an overnight sailing, so we took the opportunity to visit Belfast. Driving into the city we passed Stormont, the home of the Northern Irish Assembly and decided to stop to take a look. We parked by the entrance to the estate, at the bottom of the mile long, tree lined, Prince of Wales Avenue which runs from the Upper Newtownards Road to the Parliament Buildings. We walked up the avenue right up to the foot of the steps of the building, passing the statue of Lord (Edward) Carson by L.S. Merrifield.  Carson was leader of the Irish Unionist Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party between 1910 and 1921,and led opposition to Home Rule for Ireland. The statue was financed by public subscription and unveiled in June 1933.


It’s an impressive building, completed in 1932. The architect was Sir Arnold Thornely, who was based in Liverpool. He designed the building with perfect symmetry and symbolism, such as the building being 365ft wide representing one foot for every day of the year; having six floors and six pillars at the entrance, one for each county in Northern Ireland.


It originally was home to the Parliament of Northern Ireland which was created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, after 6 of the counties of the Irish province of Ulster had voted to remain part of the United Kingdom when Ireland was given independence from British rule. The Parliament was dissolved with the imposition of direct rule from Westminster March 1972 at the height of “the Troubles”. It was also home to the short-lived Sunningdale power-sharing executive in 1974.

Following the Good Friday Agreement, signed on 10 April 1998, a new single chamber Northern Irish Assembly was established. Elections were held on 25 June 1998 and the New Northern Ireland Assembly met for the first time on 1 July 1998 . Politics are complicated in Northern Ireland and the new Assembly was suspended in October 2002 but after negotiations it was restored on 26 March 2007.


Today, the Assembly is responsible for making laws on transferred matters in Northern Ireland and for scrutinising the work of Ministers and Government Departments.

There are free guided tours of the building Monday to Friday at 11.00am and 2.00pm and during Summer recess tours are  available every hour on the hour from 11:00am to 3:00pm. So we decided to to take advantage of this.

After passing through security we walked round to the front entrance of the building and entered the Great Hall which is clad in Italian travertine marble.


We met up with our tour guide who gave us a history of the building and pointed out some key features of the hall. For example he told us that the very grand blue, red and gold painted ceiling of the Great Hall hasn’t been touched since it was first painted in 1932 as a special paint, formulated by Heaton, Tabb & Co. of London, was used.


Hanging from the ceiling is a grand chandelier, originally hung in Windsor Castle, where it had been a gift of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. It had been sent to Belfast for safe keeping during WW1 and it had never been returned! Two smaller versions, produced in the Harland and Woolf shipyards, hang to either side.


Next we moved through to the Senate chamber, passing through an ante-room where there are portraits of two of Northern Ireland’s literary greats – C S Lewis and Seamus Heaney – painted by Ulster artist Ross Wilson


Each portrait bears a famous quotation from the respective writers which have particular relevance to the Northern Irish peace process.

We then moved into the Senate chamber itself, with its red leather adversarial seats in two parallel blocks of benches remains as it was originally designed.


As the Northern Irish Assembly doesn’t have a higher House, the Senate chamber is now used as a committee room.

There are two notable painting hung in the room. One by William Conor of the opening of the Northern Irish Parliament in 1921 which took place in Belfast Town Hall.


The other is by Belfast artist Noel Murphy. ‘The House will Divide’, shows all the Members elected in 1998 to the Northern Ireland Assembly.


There were several well known faces – in the painting, that is.

We then moved across the building into the Assembly chamber


In the ante-room, this sculpture commemorates the historic Hilsborough agreement, that allowed the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Executive.


It’s much more modern than the Senate chamber, having been reconstructed and refitted following a major fire caused by an electrical fault, on 2nd January 1995 which destroyed the Assembly Chamber.


There are 108 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), 6 from each of the 18 electoral constituencies in Northern Ireland.


Unlike Westminster where the Government and Opposition face each other in the Northern Irish Assembly chamber a Scandinavian model has been used with the benches in a horseshoe in an attempt to reduce adversity and conflict.


International Brigade Monument

This monument to the British Battalion of the International Brigade that fought for the Republican Government against Franco’s Fascist uprising, stands in Jubilee Gardens on the Southbank in London, near the old City Hall and the London Eye. 4.5 metres high, it portrays four figures supporting a fifth wounded and kneeling figure. It was sculpted by Ian Walters, a Socialist who also created other memorial sculptures, including the statue of Nelson Mandela, not far away across the Thames in Parliament Square.

The International Brigades were a group of idealistic young adults who left their homes and families and risk death to fight for a cause they believed in. Some may see parallels with those travelling to Syria to join the so called “Islamic State”. But the International Brigade volunteers were going to fight to defend a legitimate government threatened by fascists, while those travelling to Syria today are supporting an organisation commiting atrocities, which has much in common with the most viscious Fascist regimes.

I have a personal connection with the International Brigade as a relative, Will Paynter, my Granmother’s cousin, an activist in the National Union of Mineworkers and the Communist Party, was involved in the recruitment of men to fight for the Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. In March 1937 he was sent to Spain to look after the interests of the British Battalion.

This is an extract from a speech he made to the TUC in 1938 seconding a resolution of support for the Republicans

It must be clear to every delegate in this Congress that the issue in Spain is one of which the outcome will not only determine the destinies of the people of Spain; it must be clear to everyone that the outcome of the conflict in Spain will involve the destinies of the people of all countries…. The conquest of Spain can well mean the commencement of further attacks upon other European democracies, and therefore I am pleading with this Congress that we should regard this matter not merely as one of solidarity, but as an issue of self-preservation for our trade unions in this country.

Sylvia Pankhurst at Tate Britain

File:Sylvia Pankhurst 1909.jpeg

While we were at Tate Britain recently we made a particular point of visiting the temporary exhibition devoted to works of art by Sylvia Pankhurst. It was a little hard to locate, tucked away in a gallery in the interior of the the first floor and not particularly well signposted. The exhibition came about because Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve, who work together as “The Emily Davis Lodge” pressurised the Tate to acknowledge someone they believed was an important, but neglected female artist.

Sylvia was one of the three daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst,  a socialist and member of the Independent Labour Party from Manchester who was the founder and leader of the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) better known as the Suffragettes. All three sisters, The older Christabel, Sylvia and the youngest, Adela, were active in the movement. But Sylvia became disenchanted with the militant tactics and political stance of the WSPU and split from the organisation in 1913 to work for the Labour Party and  founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes, which campaigned to ensure that working-class women were represented in the suffrage campaign.

Unlike her mother and older sister she believed in universal suffrage and remained a committed socialist when her mother moved to the right. She was passionate about campaigning to improve the lives of ordinary working class women, not just for votes for wealthier women who owned property (the position adopted by the WSPU).

Sylvia Pankhurst in her studio by Olivia Plender (Image source here)

Sylvia had trained as an artist at the Manchester Municipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art. William Morris was a family friend and she was influenced by artists associated with the “Arts and Crafts” Movement such as Morris and Walter Crane. However she gave up her studies in 1906 to work full-time for the WSPU.

From the works we saw in the exhibition I’d say that she was a talented artist with a lot of promise, but her activism meant that her art was firmly relegated to second place. However, she used her talents for the cause.

The exhibition includes some of Sylvia’s designs for the WSPU including a  the ‘Holloway brooch’, presented to the suffragettes who had been on hunger strike,

Holloway Prison brooch

The Holloway brooch (image source here)

and a banner and a tea set with the Suffragette’s symbol (they wouldn’t have used the word “logo” at the beginning of the 20th Century), the “Angel of Freedom”.


The WPSU tea set (image source here)

Given my personal background and my work, the most interesting part of the exhibition was the selection of paintings and drawings of working women.

In 1907 she spent several months touring industrial communities documenting the working and living conditions of women workers. Her combination of artworks with written accounts provided a vivid picture of the lives of women workers and made a powerful argument for improvement in working conditions and pay equality with men. (Tate Britain website)

The pictures feature women at work in the potteries in Stoke on Trent, the Leicester shoe-making industry, and a Glasgow cotton mill. The style of these paintings is very much “social realism”, clearly intended to

draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions. (MOMA website)

I snapped a few of the paintings during our visit (they’re not great pictures – I took them at an angle to minimise the reflections in the cover glass)

There were several featuring women  working in the potteries in Stoke on Trent. In this picture women can be seen “scouring” and stamping the maker’s name on the “biscuit” (the fired but unglazed ware). “Scouring” involved removing flint dust from the biscuit, leading to exposure to crystalline silica which, over a number of years, can lead to the debilitating lung disease, silicosis.


In this painting the worker is finishing off the edges of unfired plates on a “whirler”. Again she would have been exposed to dust containing respirable crystalline silica.


The next two pictures (charcoal sketches) show workers in the “dipping shed” where the glaze was applied. Although at this time lead based glazes were still widely used even though alternative glazes were available.


Workers applying the glazes could have significant lead exposures leading to industrial lead poisoning which can lead to many different symptoms such as anaemia, collic  and peripheral neuritis (where movement in the fingers hands and arms can be affected). Lead is also a teratogen – affecting the unborn child. And many pregnant workers suffered stillbirths and the mental development of surviving children would have most likely been affected.


According to the gallery’s caption the only reasons fro the continued use of lead based glazes was commercial – i.e. they were cheaper ten the less toxic alternatives. Profits came before the health of the workers. Regulation of lead has reduced the risk considerably in modern industry. The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 require that

No employer shall use a glaze other than a leadless glaze or a low solubility glaze in the manufacture of pottery. (Regulation 4)

Unfortunately there will always be ruthless employers who will disregard the health of their employees in the pursuit of profit and the Regulations have played an important role in preventing lead poisoning. That’s why it’s important to resist calls for “deregulation”.

There were a number of paintings of women working on cotton processes. Sadly not from my home county of Lancashire, but from a mill in Glasgow


The caption to this picture tells us of how Sylvia was told of how the workers were made sick by the heat and the “bad air” when they first began working in the mills.

Although there were no pictures to illustrate this in the exhibition, Sylvia visited my home town of Wigan and met with women who worked in the coal mining industry. Writing about the ‘pit-brow lassies’ :

In spite of their great strength and the arduous labours they perform, they are, like most other women workers, very poorly paid… A bankswoman earns from 1s 10d to 2s 4d; whilst a banksman, doing exactly the same work gets from 4s 9d to 5s a day. It is this question of underpayment that is at the root of most of the hardship and suffering.

Sylvia Pankhurst speaking in the East End of London in 1912

(image source here)

Sylvia remained a radical all her life, opposing the First World War, supporting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, helping Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and led the campaign against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. She was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but was expelled for opposing the leadership (she considered them too right wing). This exhibition revealed another aspect to her life and character.

Gerd Arntz – Artist and Activist

Gerd Arntz

(Source: Gert Arntz web archive)

While visiting the Art Turning Left exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool last week, I was particularly taken by a small number of simple wood cut prints with a political message by the German artist Gerd Arntz. I’d never heard of him before, but, curious, I decided to try to find out more.

Although he was born into a wealthy family, he became a committed socialist. Moving to Dusseldorf in 1919, and the year after he joined the Cologne Progressives, a group of Communist artists based in Cologne and Düsseldorf. He was a “council communist” who advocated the formation of worker’s councils, like the Soviets that preceded the Russian Revolution of 1917, to replace the existing state apparatus.

He created woodcuts for the ‘Allgemeine Arbeiter Union’ (General Labor Union) as well as the Communist ‘Intenationale Arbeiter Hilfe’.

(source – Creative Review)

In 1925, he took over Otto Dix’s studio in the city. Throughout his life, he specialised in producing woodcuts and linoleum cuts, criticising social inequality, exploitation and war – a technique that allowed reproduction and widespread dissemination of images for propaganda purposes.


Bürgerkrieg (woodcut 1928)

Linocut print by Gerd Arntz

The Third Reich (Linocut, 1934) 


Strike (Woodcut 1936)


His prints were exhibited, sold to sympathetic art lovers, and published in left wing magazines.There’s a good selection of his images here.

In 1926 he was recruited by Otto Neurath to design pictograms and further develop ISOTYPE – the International System of Typographic Picture Education –at that time, a revolutionary approach to communicating complex information using symbols.  From the beginning of 1929 Arntz worked at the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum (Social and Economic Museum) directed by Neurath in Vienna, and designed around 4000 pictograms which could be used to symbolise key data from industry, demographics, politics and economy, transcending language barriers.

In 1930 they produced the Atlas Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft a statistical atlas on society and the economy with charts and diagrams using the pictograms.



"Numbers of motor vehicles in the world" (USA and rest of the world).

A selection of around 600 of Arntz’s pictograms are available on-line at the Gerd Arntz web archive website. Here are a few examples.







gerd arntz archive

(source Austin Kleon)

Today these symbols and pictograms have a very familiar look. Just check out your clip art collection or look at the icons used on your phone, tablet and computer. Similar symbols are used in all sorts of applications, including representations of statistical data. But in the 1930’s they were revolutionary, from both an artistic and political perspective.

In 1934, Arntz fleeing the fascist regime in Austria, emigrated to The Hague, and in 1934, he published a series of prints warning against the danger of Nazism. In 1943, after the German invasion of the Netherlands, as a German citizen Arntz was conscripted into German military service, but deserted to the French Resistance in 1944. After the war he moved back to the Hague and continued to work as a graphic designer. He also remained a committed socialist to the end of his life in 1980.

Big Jim

Dublin 005

And Tyranny trampled them in Dublin’s gutter,
Until Larkin came along and cried
The call of Freedom and the call of Pride,
And Slavery crept to its hands and knees

(from Jim Larkin by Patrick Kavanagh)

This statue of the Anglo-Irish Trade Union leader and Socialist, James Larkin, stands in O’Connell Street in Dublin, in front of the General Post Office (the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during the 1916 Irish uprising). Born in Liverpool to Irish parents, Jim became active in the trade union movement on the docks in the city of his birth, becoming a full time organiser in 1905 for the National Union Of Dock Labourers (NUDL). He also became a socialist, joining the Independent Labour Party. He was an inspirational speaker and at over six feet tall earned the nickname “Big Jim”.

In January 1907 he was sent to Belfast to organise the dock workers and was successful in recruiting hundreds of new members. This ultimately led to a bitter industrial dispute. In 1908 he was sent to Dublin where he successfully organised casual labourers on the docks. Taking on the employers, he led the dockers in strikes against Union instructions, which led to him being expelled from the NUDL. This led to him founding the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) which grew rapidly. By 1913 the union had 10,000 members and had secured wage increases for most of them. However, the Dublin United Tramway Company, owned by industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy, sacked employees he suspected of ITGWU membership and in response, on 26 August, the tramway workers went on strike. The dispute escalated rapidly with other employers locking out workers who refused to sign a pledge not to join the ITGWU. The bitter dispute lasted for seven months with employers bringing in blackleg labour over from Britain. It was defeated mainly due to the refusal of the British TUC to support the Irish strikers with sympathy action.

(Image from here)

After losing the strike, Jim went to America where he continued to be an active trade unionist and socialist, joining the American Socialist Party and the “Wobblies” – the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) syndicalist trade union movement. He was imprisoned for violating New York’s Criminal Anarchy Act.  He served 3 years of a 5 year sentence before being deported, returning to Ireland in April 1923. In September of that year he formed the Irish Worker League which later evolved into the Irish Communist Party. Although later becoming disillusioned with the Soviet Union, he remained a socialist until the very end. He died in his sleep on 30 January 1947.

Read more about big Jim Larkin here, here and here.