Socialist Worker

Hidden: Illustrating the secret history of workers’ resistance

by Paul Furness
Issue No. 2275

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Dissenters of Newington Green

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Dissenters of Newington Green


If you’ve ever watched the news and wondered why the demonstration you’ve just been on wasn’t on it, then don’t worry.

You didn’t blink and miss it—it was probably never reported on in the first place.

There is nothing new in this. Generations of working class resistance have been airbrushed from history. But the past has a habit of not keeping quiet.

Photographer Red Saunders, a founder of Rock Against Racism in 1976, has taken this denial of history and wrung its neck in his latest exhibition, Hidden.

His massive photographs of a long line of rebels are far more than fancy dress re-enactments of socialist history.

Just through looking at the pictures, bursting with colour and ideas, you get plunged headlong into the action.

The Peasants Revolt of 1381 is in the same room as the London Chartists when they elected William Cuffey, the black son of a slave, as their leader in 1848.

You can see Tom Paine ride horseback out of the American Revolution straight into the French one.

And you can meet 18th century women’s rights campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft and her friends in Newington Green, north London.

She wears a ribbon in support of the French Revolution—illustrating that there is no women’s liberation without revolution and vice versa.

Saunders has produced three new big pictures for Hidden.

In one you meet three hooded men hiding in a reed bed. They are all Captain Swing—that mythical man who was like Spartacus in that he was everyone and everywhere.

The Swing riots that he gave his name to were forced by agricultural unemployment in the 1830s.

In another we meet Hilda of Whitby, the Northumbrian nun in the seventh century who insisted that girls had as much right to education as boys.

Then we meet the Grindletonians. These were mainly women from the Yorkshire Pennine village of Grindleton who challenged the accepted world view in the run up to the English Civil War.

They argued that a new way of living was possible in this old world if only the people living in it would seize it back from those who run it.

The picture shows a gathering of radical soldiers and villagers seated together in a clearing at dusk.

They listen intently to a woman who tells them that a new world is not just possible but is within their reach if only they would stand up as one and take it.

It was little gatherings like this that mushroomed into the Civil War—in fact a revolution where the king’s head came off.

As Red says, “If Britain were a republic, what might its stamps look like without the queen’s head on them?”

It is this power of the imagination that can turn daydreaming into a reality.

All these people, who for so long have been hidden from history, will then be able to step forward into the new and better world they fought for.

Hidden
by Red Saunders
Impressions Gallery, Centenary Square, Bradford
until 10 December
admission free


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Reviews
Tue 25 Oct 2011, 17:45 BST
Issue No. 2275
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