The story behind Rebel Footprints

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, Rebel Footprints“…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.

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Video: David Rosenberg presents Rebel Footprints

Check out the book trailer for David Rosenberg’sRebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History, the radical response to conservative heritage tours and banal day-tripper guides.

‘You haven’t walked the streets of London unless you’ve understood the secret history of revolt, rebellion and poverty hidden all around you in its bricks and alleyways. Rosenberg takes you there as no other writer has done.’ Paul Mason

Read the Guardian review here.

You can buy the book directly from us, and we’ll throw in extra goodies to say thanks! Go to www.rebelfootprints.co.uk.

The full version of the video can be found on Pluto’s Youtube channel.

Team Pluto picks their highlights for 2015

2015 is set to be a very exciting year for Pluto Press, with a wave of original and adventurous books, as well as a return to some old classics. Here are some of team Pluto’s highlights from the upcoming season –

Rotbard White City, Black CityEmily Orford, Marketing Manager

Being a sucker for that beautiful Venn Diagram where architecture meets politics, I could not wait to crack open the spine of one of Pluto’s most eagerly-awaited books of 2015: White City, Black City by Sharon Rotbard. Reading the story of the aspirational yet darkly prophetic Bauhaus wave which transformed Tel Aviv into a ‘white city’ for the state of Israel was a revelatory experience. For me, reading books which describe public and private spaces and the buildings which populate them always transports me directly to their various locations. In this instance, the idea of walking the cool, paved avenues of Tel Aviv left me with a sickly feeling in my stomach. The second half of the book, ‘The Black City’, revealed why: it uncovers Jaffa, the original Arab city which was negated by Jewish colonisation in the 1930’s. Today, it remains only in traces, hidden behind the ‘mental iron-curtain’. And I hope, as Victor Hugo remarked, ‘The book will kill the edifice’, for a few of us, at least.

 

Rebel FootprintsChris Browne, Marketing Executive

Of all the books we have coming out in the new season, I’m anticipating David Rosenberg’s Rebel Footprints the most. This is not merely because I have had a hand in its creation (specifically, the maps), but because the author’s enthusiasm for his subject is completely infectious. Having spent a fair bit of time with David, photographing the book’s walks, and listening to him talk about Chartists, anarchists, suffragettes and early trade unionists, I am now utterly captivated by the people and the struggles which have defined the very fabric of London.

As the book demonstrates, this radical history is all around us, but risks being lost or forgotten amidst an ever changing physical landscape. As part history and part self-guided walking tour, Rebel Footprints is the perfect remedy. It is a wonderfully written, and – if our proof copies are anything to go by – a beautiful book. I will be counting down the days until its publication in March, and if you’re looking for the perfect outdoors activity this Spring, a walk down Cable Street (chapter 10), or a trip to Clerkenwell Green (chapter 2) would certainly fit the bill.

 

Anne Beech – Managing DirectorFriends of Alice Wheeldon

Reading Adam Hochschild’s magisterial counter-narrative To End All Wars last year, I came across a reference to a play by Sheila Rowbotham, Friends of Alice Wheeldon – and recalled that this was a book that we had acquired back in 1987 when Pluto Press changed hands. While we had kept Sheila’s early landmark publication Hidden from History in print ever since, Friends had slipped into the shadows – unremarked and almost forgotten. But now that we are commemorating the horror of the First World War, what could be more fitting than a new edition – as one of Pluto’s correctives to the general triumphalism of other publishers’ offerings? Would Sheila agree? Did she think it would be worth it? Fortunately, she responded with enthusiasm and set about adding, correcting and updating, incorporating subsequent research findings – as part of a continuing campaign to clear Alice Wheeldon’s name. Alice’s granddaughter even checked the proofs in Australia: a reminder that historic injustices can continue to resonate, maybe even more powerfully, a century later. I’m proud to have been able to help revive Sheila’s work, and to understand just how important history from below can be.

 

CurationismSolomon Lamb, Office Manager

Curationism is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. Despite its necessarily critical stance I found it remarkably even-handed and, far from a simplistic denunciation of contemporary art practice, infused with real passion for its subject which held my attention even where I disagreed with the book’s judgement of exhibitions or artists. Balzer is an able and engaging writer who does not presume anything from his reader above a basic literacy in matters pop cultural and yet manages a depth of discussion which can still impress a regular reader of the arts press.

Alison Alexanian, Publicity Manager

Of all the books in 2015, I’m particularly excited about Curationism by David Balzer. As soon as I heard about this project I was intrigued because it taps into a phenomenon that we’re all familiar with but haven’t looked at closely. Balzer, in a clever and entertaining way, looks at curating in the art world and how it has penetrated popular culture. He also writes with biting wit and fresh insight which makes this an especially enjoyable read.