Welcome to The Sparrows' Nest, Nottingham
Welcome to this new and immensely exciting feature (queue bombastic music)!
This is something we wanted to do for a while, as it is a good way to highlight particularly nice materials in our collections.
Deciding where to start was difficult, given that we curate thousands upon thousands of awesome documents. However, following the recent release of the Prime Minister’s Papers from 1989 and 1990 by the National Archives (also resulting in a few entertaining articles how Thatcher was threatened with a fine after failing to return her poll tax registration), we decided our first document of the month should be:
Fight Back! The Newsletter of the St Ann’s Anti Poll Tax Union (undated issue, probably April 1990).
This document ticks a number of boxes: the subject matter is fascinating, it provides evidence of grass-roots anti-Poll Tax action and organisation, it documents frictions within the movement, it discusses widely known events (the Poll Tax Riot in Trafalgar Square) in a local context and it is not only Nottingham, but St Ann’s specific (which is where the Sparrows Nest is based!).
Besides its contents, Fight Back! is an example for a certain style of publication: the awesome DYI zine style with its mix of (literal cutting and pasting) collages, drawings, handwriting and typewritten articles. It is thus a late(ish) example of a specific period in independent radical publishing: the years between the mid-to late 1970s and the early 1990s, after using photocopiers and other methods had become cheap enough that they were used when putting together publications, but before PCs became common.
This document (and there are many more great Poll Tax related materials in the Digital Library) is also an excellent example how the collections held in small independent archives and those curated by the big ones can complement each other, allowing researchers and interested readers to build up a multi-facetted perspective on historic events.
The materials recently released by the National Archives tell the story from the government’s perspective. But that story will always be incomplete without looking at a grassroots level what the Poll Tax meant for most people and how they organised against it (especially those not living in Tory heartlands, though the government remained unconcerned until some disquiet also began to be voiced in those parts).
For the overwhelming majority of recorded history there is only (if at all) direct evidence of the actions and motivations of those who rule, rather than those who are being governed. And although we are in a much better position when it comes to try and build up a history of more recent centuries, by default it is still the perspective of the rulers which will be preserved, whereas documents like Fight Back!, independently produced and distributed, far too often lie undiscovered in a forgotten box in someone’s attic before being cleared out sooner or later.
All the more reason never to throw such things out without getting in touch, who knows what treasures might hide in that old bag of papers and what stories they might tell?