THE SPARROWS' NEST - NOTTINGHAM

Library and Archive for Anarchist and Radical History

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The first London Anarchist Bookfair

We recently had a request from the London Anarchist Bookfair to solve a mystery concerning when the first such event took place and where it was held. Long-term memories varied and the Bookfair collective were presented with various accounts, so they sought hard evidence from our newly acquired Freedom archive.

We dug out volumes 41 (1980) to 44 (1983) and found evidence for what seems to have been the first event in December 12th 1981. It was a fund-raiser for the Autonomy Centre, Wapping, where it took place, and was called the ‘Big A Sale’. Volume 41 no. 23 (21/11/1981) contains an article announcing the event and asking people to get involved. No. 24 (5/12/1981) ran a back-page advert, and no. 25 (19/12/1981) a write-up so lack-lustre that, if its sentiments were shared by everyone who attended, may account why the event failed to be repeated the following year!

The next event, now called a ‘book fair’ for the first time, was on 26th November 1983. It was organised by A Distribution and was also a fundraiser, this time for the London Anarchist Federation. It took place in the Prince Albert pub, Kings Cross, where the Federation used to meet. Freedom volume 44 no. 23 (19/11/1983) carried the advert (thank you to the Bookfair collective for this original reference) and there followed a very enthusiastic report in no. 25 (17/12/1983), along with an item on the Federation itself.

Thus, the Bookfair proper appears to have been born. A 1984 event took place on 3rd November at the Tonbridge Club, Cromer St (advert in Freedom volume 45 no. 11).

And the rest, as they say, is history.