Thursday, September 28, 2017

St Peter’s on the Wall

By Carole Barclay

This chapel, built on the ruins of an old Roman fort in the 600s, is a place for contemplation. Though only a mile away from civilisation, this spot on the Essex coast takes you back to a bygone age when Essex was still a kingdom in its own right and Christianity was battling against the pagan beliefs of the old gods of the Anglo-Saxons.
            St Peter’s was founded by Cedd, a monk trained at Lindisfarne in Northumbria, who had been invited to spread the word by the newly converted King of Essex. In 654 Sigeberht the Good gave Cedd land inside the ruins of the old Roman fort to build the first monastery in the East Saxon Kingdom.
The 1km footpath from the car-park in Bradwell-on-Sea is, in fact, the old Roman road to the Roman fort of Othona. But little is left apart from a small section of the wall hidden in the undergrowth because most of it was swept away in a disastrous storm and tidal wave in 1099.
 The monastery, built entirely from the stones and bricks taken from the Roman ruins, declined as the population drifted after the storm to what is now Bradwell village. The monastery continued as a chapel-of-ease during Catholic times for peasants working along the bleak coastline far from the parish church in the centre of the village.
St Peter’s was dissolved when Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church in the 16th century.  It then sank into obscurity, being used as a barn until it was restored and reconsecrated as an Anglican chapel in 1920.
What’s left is just the nave of a more substantial church. The foundations of the long-lost apse, tower and two small porches are marked out in concrete, and there’s an image on the notice board inside of what it might have looked like in its heyday. 
Don't hesitate to visit the nearby Anglican retreat that uses the chapel as its spiritual centre and if you have time take the coastal footpath to Bradwell village, which will take you around the site of the air-base used by night-fighters in the Second World War. Nearby a memorial with a replica Mosquito aircraft is dedicated to the Bradwell Bay-based airmen who fell during the war. More RAF memorabilia can be found at the Bradwell Bay Military & Science Museum in Eastlands Meadows Country Park, which is only open on weekends.
In the village you can pass by Bradwell Lodge, an 18th century mansion built on the foundations of a much earlier Tudor house. There Erskine Childers, the Irish Republican writer who was shot by the Free Staters in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, wrote the novel The Riddle of the Sands, which was published in 1903.
The lodge was later owned by Tom Driberg, the left-leaning Labour MP who pioneered the modern gossip column as “William Hickey” of the Daily Express; became a friend of Guy Burgess, the leader of the Soviet ‘Cambridge Spies’ that included Donald Maclean and Kim Philby, and allegedly peddled tittle-tattle to Soviet and British intelligence throughout the Cold War!
Bradwell-on-Sea is on the Dengie peninsula in Essex. It is best approached by car because the nearest train station is 10 miles away at Southminster. There is a regular bus service from Southminster and a more sporadic service from Maldon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mike Hicks

In Memoriam
Mike Hicks: 1937–2017

Mick Hicks, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) who was jailed for his role in the Wapping print-workers dispute, died on Thursday 7th September at the age of 80. Appropriately enough he collapsed whilst giving a speech just after being made Honorary President at the AGM of the Bournemouth Labour Party, thus ending a political career that began with him joining the Young Communist League (YCL) 64 years ago in 1953.
Born Michael Joseph Hicks in August 1937, Mike’s father was a leader of the London dockers. His elder brother Pat Hicks, who died in 2011, was of the same mould as Mick, being a leader of the London taxi drivers. Mike recalled that instead of Cowboys and Indians, he and his friends played Blackshirts and Jews in the bomb sites of his native south London and remembered being given rare wartime treats, such as bananas, that the dockers had ‘liberated’ from the London docks.
His first job was with Waterlows, printers of stamps and banknotes, but much of his working life was with John Menzies’ newspaper and magazine distribution branch. He was active in the printers’ union the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT), becoming a member of its London Central Branch and rising to becoming Imperial Father of Chapel covering six depots. In 1986 he became a full-time official of SOGAT.
 He was very active in the Wapping dispute that began in January 1986 when Rupert Murdoch's News International group moved production of its four national newspapers to Wapping in London's Docklands. Over 5,000 Fleet Street printers and clerical workers were sacked overnight when Murdoch transferred production to a modern printing plant at ‘Fortress Wapping’ in the East End of London.
Using scab labour, News International continued production with the full support of the Tory government and the strike ended in defeat for the printers in February 1987.
During the dispute pickets and rallies outside the plant were frequently charged by mounted police. In addition to hundreds being injured, in all 1,435 pickets and supporters were arrested. Mike was one of four people jailed, allegedly for pushing his megaphone into the face of a police officer. This merited a sentence of a year, with eight months suspended, a sentence that resulted in national protests. Even the national executive committee of the Labour Party voted unanimously to call for his release.
In 1991 he was instrumental in the merger of SOGAT and the National Graphical Association to become the Graphical, Print and Media Union (GPMU), now part of Unite the Union.
     Within the old CPGB Mike Hicks was a leading opponent of the ‘Eurocommunist’ trend, an ultra-revisionist faction within the CPGB associated with the monthly magazine Marxism Today. Their influence, which extended right to the top of the CPGB bureaucracy, ultimately ended with the dissolution of the CPGB in 1991.
     Mike was expelled from the CPGB in 1984 after he ignored an order from the Eurocommunist General Secretary Gordon McLennan to close down the London District Congress of which he was Chair. Following his expulsion he played an important role in the Communist Campaign Group (CCG), which was established to defend the Morning Star, the paper that had once been the flagship of the CPGB, now under threat of closure by the ‘Euros’ who wanted all the CPGB’s efforts to revolve around Marxism Today.
The CCG later became the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and Mike Hicks was elected General Secretary of the newly formed party in 1988.
He worked closely with his second wife, Mary Rosser, who died in 2010. She was Chief Executive of the Morning Star between 1975 and 1998, and Chair of the Marx Memorial Library from 1977 to 2010 with a short break. Even her enemies acknowledge it was she who kept the paper alive (often by taking harsh measures) when vital overseas orders were lost at the time of the Gorbachov counter revolutions. Mike’s trade union contacts were vital in securing alternative sources of funding for the paper and securing co-operation with the printers.
A tough working-class militant, his forceful character did not always go down very well with his more refined comrades. An internal split at the Morning Star over the rights of the Management Committee brought to light internal CPB disputes, which saw him deposed from the post of General Secretary by a 17–13 vote moved by the Editor of the Morning Star during a CPB Executive Committee meeting in January 1998. Hicks’ supporters on the Management Board of the Morning Star retaliated by suspending and then dismissing its Editor. This led to a prolonged strike at the paper that only ended when the Editor was reinstated.
In the wake of that split Mike Hicks became involved in the ‘Marxist Forum’ group organised by opponents of the new General Secretary Robert Griffiths.
For many years after 1998 it was Mike who ensured that the Marx Memorial Library’s Committee remained in safe hands by ensuring a good turnout of print-workers to vote at the stormy AGMs. He was an effective trade union officer for the Library, helping building links with the trade unions and helping to secure a large donation of printers’ records and memorabilia.
Retirement to Mary Rosser’s native Bournemouth saw them both join the Labour Party, on whose behalf he served as Trade Union Officer. He also unsuccessfully stood for Labour during the 2011 Bournemouth council elections.
Although he disagreed at the time with the foundation of the New Communist Party (NCP) in 1977 he was a good friend to former New Worker Editor Ann Rogers and NCP leader Andy Brooks, to say nothing of many other comrades who were inspired, informed and entertained by his countless anecdotes.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Audley End: A palace in all but name

By Carole Barclay

 Audley End in northern Essex is what people used to call a ‘stately home’ back in the 1930s when most of them were still owned by the landed gentry. Later it was taken over by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to train Polish commandos preparing to join the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. It remained in private hands until 1948, when was sold to the public. Today the house is one of the jewels in the crown of English Heritage, the charity that now runs many of our historic buildings and monuments.
Audley End shows that some sections of the ruling class could live like kings in the 17th century. Thomas Howard, the first Earl of Suffolk, built this mansion on what had been a much more modest house built on the plunder of Walden Abbey during the Reformation.
Suffolk, who was the Lord High Treasurer of England, built his pile to impress a king. But when James Stuart, the first Scottish king of England, stayed at Audley End he began to suspect that his chancellor had had his greedy hand in the royal till. In 1619 Suffolk was charged with embezzlement and sent to the Tower of London. Only a hefty fine secured his release and he died in disgrace in 1626.
Later owners modernised the building and landscaped the grounds whilst demolishing whole wings to cut the costs of running the house. What was once the largest private house in the country was reduced to a third of its size. But it still retains much of its former grandeur and the interior houses period collections, a number of works of art, and exhibitions of life in Jacobean and Victorian days.
Audley End is open throughout the year, though it is wise to check in advance because the house is sometimes closed for filming. Buses from Saffron Walden pass nearby, and Audley End railway station is about a mile and a half away. There’s free parking on the site. Tickets cost £17.50, and £15.80 for students and pensioners. Admission is free for members of English Heritage.