Monday, November 01, 2010

Radical history snippets: Creative University and Consciousness Raising

One of my history addictions is looking through the listings pages of old publications to see what interesting things people were up to in the area in ye olden days.

At last week's Anarchist Bookfair in London I was in my element. At the Housmans stall I looked through some old copies of the paper Freedom and came across this little snippet from December 17 1966:

'Free University, The Creative University of S.E. London is currently being set up for courses in radical, progressive and unconventional subjects, and invites all intellectuals, artists, social reformers and students'.

Courtesy of a search in Google Books I can see that Anarchy magazine, January 1967 (also published by Freedom Press) included a notice stating that 'The Creative University of South-East London has been set up along similar lines to the Free University of New York and the Free University of Milwaukee'.

Efforts at creating non-institutional projects to share learning were manifold in the 1960s and 1970s, and have revived in recent years (see for instance the current London Free School, not to be confused with the Conservative educational initiative of a similar name). In Notting Hill, the 1966/67 London Free School famously acted as a launchpad for the early Pink Floyd, even if it's wider aims don't seem to have been realized.

Did the Creative University of SE London ever get beyond the ideas stage? Does anyone know or remember? Was there any connection with the later teach-in/free festival at Goldsmiths in New Cross, organised by Malcolm McLaren and others in 1969?


At the Feminist Library stall I also picked up an old copy of the feminist magazine Spare Rib from December 1983. A feature of the women's liberation movement at that time was the proliferation of 'consciousness raising' groups, gatherings of women to discuss their lives and support each other. In 1983 there was evidently established CR groups in Rotherhithe/Deptford/Greenwich (Anna and Tyra were listed as contacts), in Camberwell/Peckham (Sandra) and Clapham/Balham (Maria). Debbie in West Dulwich/Crystal Palace and Jane in Croydon were looking for others to start groups in their areas.

South London feminist histories and memories also gratefully received.



I think Peckham was one of the first womens liberation CR groups in London. They wrote a paper about the misery of housework which was very influential in the movement.

"After the Revolutionary Festival at Essex University (10th February 1969), various groups of women in local areas around Britain begin to organise themselves, setting up a network of communication. Five Women's Liberation (WL) groups in Greater London Tufnell Park, Peckham Rye, Notting Hill, Belsize Lane and Islington begin the Women's Liberation Workshop. They began Shrew and created a manifesto in 1970." (Rowbotham 1972)

'Jan Williams is a physiotherapist who lives alone in Brighton. She is divorced, and has two daughters, both of whom are now married.

Jan became involved in the Women's Liberation movement by way of the Peckham Rye One O'Clock Club, which had nothing to do with feminism: it was simply a group where women with young children could meet. Before long, however, politics became part of the women's group. Jan was one of the women who spoke at the first National Women's Liberation Conference in 1970. She, and others, demanded recognition for women's unpaid labour as housewives."

Jan Williams obituary here:

Michèle Roberts, the celebrated feminist writer lived in Peckham at some point. 'The novel, Paper Houses: a Memoir of the ‘70s and Beyond, written in the first person narrator, has an introduction and is divided into twelve sections which are titled according to specific places. The organization of the content is linear with conscious reflections from the narrator’s present perspective about the historical time that she lived. Areas in London where Roberts spent most of her youth are Regent’s Park, Holloway, Clapham Junction, Camberwell, Peckham Rye, Holland Park, Notting Hill Gate, Bayswater, Wivenhoe and Tufnell Park.'

An unsympathetic account of the Peckham Womens Lib group is in Modern Love by Marcus Collins - a reviewer says - 'Collins is at his most unengaging when doggedly logging the infinitesimally small shifts in opinion within, say, the Peckham Rye Women's Liberation Group ('Dungarees! Political badges! The right not to caress our husbands on demand!')'

shipwright's palace said...

Try British Periodicals on line, Proquest (needs Athens login) Deptford has a long history of religious and political dissent and i seem to remember cruising past several articles.