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Losing its chains

The Marx Memorial Library celebrates its 90th birthday this year and is reaching out to new audiences

By Oliver Bennett

The logo of MML's 90th Birthday
The logo of MML’s 90th Birthday

With the works on Clerkenwell Green beginning this month it’s a happy coincidence that the Marx Memorial Library and Workers School (MML) is 90 years this year. The MML, housed in an historic building on the Green dating from 1738 with an imposing portico, was established in 1933 by trade unionists, socialists and communists to commemorate the anniversary of Marx’s death in 1883.

Last year, the MML gained a National Lottery Heritage Fund award of £93,710 to develop a campaign called ‘Marx Memorial Library at 90: Enduring and Engaging’ – and in the course of this anniversary year, it is set to branch out and engage with local schools, voluntary organisations, community groups and visitors to the Green.

“The library is a treasure trove of rich history, and we’re delighted to expand our work into the local community,” said Meirian Jump, MML manager and archivist. “The work on Clerkenwell Green will expand knowledge of the historic area and its links with radical traditions, from the Peasant’s Revolt to the Mayday celebrations.”

Items and objects that can be seen at the MML include a 200-strong ceramic collection with pieces from the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and the 1984–5 Miners’ Strike, as well as William Morris artefacts and Karl Marx’s cigar case.

At present the MML attracts a steady stream of interested visitors. With the new works to Clerkenwell Green, and the MML’s own push, it hopes to gain new audiences.

“There are many more things here than people expect,” says Jump. “We want the Library to emerge from this initial project more well-known, but also more resilient, with a business plan and a dynamic engagement plan.”

To help with its visibility, the MML has a new logo by Steve Smith, the result of a design competition. The statue of Sylvia Pankhurst by Ian Walters for Clerkenwell Green, which was on the back burner, is now likely to be built and, as Jump says, “is likely to point towards the MML.” A maquette or model of the statue is in the MML’s reading room.

Jump adds that the MML is “really excited” about the plan to revive Clerkenwell Green. “This is a pivotal point for us,” she says. “While people have always been attracted to the library, it will be a real opportunity to increase footfall and attract more.

“We also look forward to becoming part of a cluster of local organisations that have historical and research depth, from the Museum of London to the London Metropolitan Archives and The Peel.” This summer residents in Islington will be invited to weekend workshops on radical Clerkenwell, including on May 20.

For further details and the rest of the programme for the year visit marx-memorial-library.org.uk.

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