David Rosenberg’s Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History was written for us to discover the hidden, radical history of London. But what inspired the author to write the book? We find out…
‘As you open my book, Rebel Footprints, take a moment to read the dedication at the beginning. “But that’s just the author’s family. I don’t even know them,” you are probably thinking to yourself. Please indulge me and read on. Apart from my family (who are nice and interesting people) it says, “…and to a ground-breaking social historian, Bill Fishman.” Those who knew Bill will understand immediately why I used the term “ground-breaking”. Bill was the pioneer of radical history walks in London’s East End.
In 1984 I had the privilege of attending one of Bill’s unforgettable and truly inspirational walks. Needless to say, I was blown away. Without that experience I would not have written this book. As well as providing shed-loads knowledge he showed me how important it was to put yourself in the shoes of the people who made our history. I wrote my dedication to him when I submitted the final manuscript of Rebel Footprints at the end of last November. Sadly Bill died just before Christmas, at the age of 93, but he lives on in the work of many people he inspired, including myself.
Since 2008, I too have been walking the streets of London telling the stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things to change life for the many, not the few. Yet each year, as I tramp the streets, it is a bit different. When I reach the Lord Morpeth pub on Old Ford Road, instead of saying: “Notice that pub sign with a suffragette selling a newspaper”, I find myself saying: “until last year there was a sign on that pub…” On Donegal Street in Islington, I now point to where there used to be a wall, “and on the wall there was a plaque for a leading Chartist, James Bronterre O’Brien.”
London is changing rapidly and not for the better. The inner-London sites of so many struggles for social justice are starting to be obscured and erased. As houses, shops, municipal buildings and other older structures disappear, often the artworks or plaques that had been placed on them come down too. New monuments are taking their place; the luxury flats and financial houses are monuments to the triumph of casino capitalism. We can occasionally win a small victory to temporarily halt a “development”, but we don’t seem powerful enough to stop this process of recolonisation of significant parts of our city and its spaces by massive wealth. Once an important landmark is gone, it is difficult to put back anything meaningful to show what once was there.