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Radical bookselling from the 1820s to Bookmarks in 2018

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2018 by kmflett

Radical Bookselling from the 1820s to Bookmarks in 2018

I was at the show of solidarity with Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop in central London, on Saturday 11th August after it had been attacked by UKIP members and other far-rightists on the previous Saturday.

The event was thronged with people, young and old, some I knew and many I didn’t. It was a reminder of the wider context even in 2018 that radical bookshops operate.

EP Thompson touched on it in the Making of the English Working Class, He wrote about Richard Carlile’s bookshop in Fleet St in the 1820s, not so far from where Bookmarks is today.

Carlile was a freethinker, critical of established religion, and at that time faced frequent prison terms for his views. Yet Carlile made it clear that under no circumstances would his bookshop close even for one day and it did not..

Thompson notes that around 150 volunteers were responsible for keeping the shop open. They were ‘shopmen, printers and newsvendors’. They served 200 years of imprisonment in total between them for supporting Carlile.

Thompson notes that ‘the men and women who came forward were, in nearly every case, entirely unknown to Carlile. They simply came out of London or arrived on the coach from Lincolnshire, Dorset, Liverpool and Leeds. They came out of a culture’. Thompson goes on to suggest that a ‘reading public which was increasingly working class in character was forced to organise itself’.

It is almost 200 years since Carlile set up his bookshop in central London, and no one expects to go to jail for selling books in 2018.

Yet the attack on Bookmarks has, as Saturday underlined, revealed a viibrant socialist reading culture and forced us to begin organising ourselves.

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