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Scramble to save Clerkenwell Green archive as Marx Memorial Library suffers roof leak

Volunteers in dramatic race to remove historic documents as water poured in

27 September, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Archivist Meirian Jump with files and books that have been moved to dry out at Islington Museum

LIBRARIANS, archivists and historians rushed from all corners of Islington to save irreplaceable documents from the Marx Memorial Library after a “huge amount of water” came through its roof.

The archive, in Clerkenwell Green, which holds original documents on the Peterloo massacre and banners from the Spanish Civil War, could have been totally destroyed without a quick response from the London Fire Brigade and an army of volunteers.

Library manager Meirian Jump said she had first noticed something was wrong when the fire alarm went off at around 4pm on Tuesday.
She added: “I was sitting at my desk and it was very dramatic.

Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell Green

“I went down to silence the alarm and do a walk around and I opened the door and there was a huge amount of water coming in from the roof.

“The electrics had gone because of all the water causing the alarm to go off. The water was going down into the archive.”

She praised the fire brigade “who came within three minutes” and quickly started to pump out the water from two of the storage rooms.

“It was a very traumatic event. The water was about six inches deep.

“I called the Islington Museum for help and it was all hands on deck.

“Their workers and volunteers came over to help move the material. The solidarity we have is lovely.”

All of the documents which had to be moved from the library are “salvageable”.

“We had only three weeks before set up an agreement with Islington Museum to help each other out in an emergency – I didn’t think I would need to call on them so soon,” said Ms Jump.

As an archivist, Ms Jump said her “main ­priority” now was getting the humidity levels down in the rooms to prevent mould growing on the archival material.

She said they would be launching a crowdfunding campaign to pay for “crucial” roof repairs.

The library is in a Grade II-listed building and holds just under 45,000 books and other materials on working-class history and Marxism.

Julie Melrose, an archivist at the Islington Museum’s heritage department in Finsbury, said they had used four or five taxis to move all of the material from the Clerkenwell library to their space, which is less than half a mile away.

“Any staff available came to help, even those who weren’t actually meant to be in work,” Ms Melrose added.

“There were books that we need to quickly get out and dry, and that took a good few hours and it was a lot of hard work. There were so many fantastic volunteers helping.”

All of the salvaged material is now drying in two of their rooms at the Islington Museum in St John Street.

“We know the Marx Library would be here for us if anything happens here,” she added.

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