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New exhibition flags up the bravery of volunteers in Spanish Civil War

Banners backing International Brigade fighters are restored for new exhibition

05 May, 2017 — By Angela Cobbinah

Exhibition curator Roz Currie

A SERIES of banners that were once paraded through the streets of London in support of anti-fascist fighters during the Spanish Civil War forms the centrepiece of an exhibition opening today (Friday).

But letters, collection boxes, photographs and other memorabilia also on display at Islington Museum, in Clerkenwell, tell the wider story of how ordinary folk rallied in support of the cause after the British government decided on a policy of non-intervention.

At least 30 people from Islington fought for the International Brigade – the volunteer army that was set up following the overthrow of the elected Republican government by General Franco in 1936. They included David Guest, son of former Islington North MP Leslie Haden-Guest, and 19-year-old Bosco Jones, a furrier from Finsbury.

Another name that is highlighted is that of former Islington East MP Leah Manning, who travelled to Spain to organise the evacuation of almost 4,000 Spanish refugee children to Britain.

“The stories we have come across are truly inspiring,” said Roz Currie, curator of the exhibition at the museum in St John Street. “It was not just communists and anti-fascists that rallied to the Republican cause, but ordinary men and women who simply did not agree with the British government’s stance.”

The six banners were unexpectedly discovered at the Marx Memorial Library, in Clerkenwell Green, last year and have all been carefully restored.

“In their day they would have been paraded through the streets of London,” said Ms Currie. “They are amazing, beautiful, the stars of the show.”

The banners can only be displayed thanks to conservation funded by Textile Society and the General Federation of Trade Unions.

The library also contributed a number of artefacts to the exhibition, among them leaflets from organisations such as Aid Spain and Milk for Spain, while purchasable tokens from the Co-op store in 165 Upper Street directly raised money for food and medical supplies.

Meirian Jump, archivist and library manager at the Marx Memorial Library, said: “These newly conserved banners – on display for the first time in decades – tell a fascinating and inspiring story of international solidarity. We hope that their exhibition at Islington Museum, accompanied by local accounts, brings the experiences of activists, volunteers and artists to life.”

In addition to the exhibition, the museum and the memorial library are hosting a number of free Spanish Civil War-themed film screenings, guided walks, workshops, and much more.

The Clerkenwell and Islington Guides Association is hosting three guided walks that will be held this Saturday, on June 3 and June 24. They will start at 11am at the Marx Memorial Library.

Walks are free but booking is essential. To book visit www.ciga.org.uk

Banners for Spain: Fighting the Spanish Civil War in London runs until July 8.

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