Sunday, 22 January 2012

William Morris in Lancaster

Last summer my son and I made a little You Tube video entitled ‘William Morris in Lancaster’ which commemorates Morris’s lecture here on Tuesday 2 November 1886, when he addressed 600 Lancastrians in Palatine Hall on ‘Socialism: The End and the Means’. Three key reasons for doing so. I want first to highlight Morris’s profile locally and to launch a campaign to get a blue plaque celebrating that visit on the wall of Palatine Hall (we already have a plaque which records Charles Dickens’s stays in the Kings Arms Hotel here in 1857 and 1862).

Second, because my students only come across Morris towards the end of our chronologically organised Victorian Literature course, when we get to the 1880s, too late in the day for him really to become a force in their own thinking. So with the You Tube video I can highlight his local presence for them rather earlier in the course and then keep a Morrisian socialist and utopian orientation towards the other writers on it active throughout. I want Morris to be a contemporary ‘tool for thinking’ for them, not just another dusty Victorian.

Part of our You Tube video concerns the history of the Lancaster branch of the Socialist League set up in the wake of Morris’s lecture here; and I feel, thirdly, that we have too little local history of the League, too little sense of its colourful local characters, polemics, struggles, successes and failures. We know the story of some of the key London branches quite well, but there are plenty of other groups up and down the country whose record remains to be fully reconstructed both from the local press and Commonweal reports. So may I suggest that UK readers of this blog consider posting a You Tube account of their own local Socialist League branch? Such videos may only be brief tasters of the full histories we need, but they will at least get us started.

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