The independent London newspaper

Fundraising appeal for library that is a ‘diamond hidden in a duffle coat’

Urgent building work need at Marx archive with council and unions ready with donations

13 December, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Archivist Meirian Jump

THE flood which nearly devastated the Marx Memorial Library must be a “springboard” to redevelop the iconic archive and open it up to the public, a union leader said as a funding appeal was launched.

Town Hall chiefs and unions pledged “very generous donations” to the library at a launch event for a crowdfunding appeal held in the building in Clerkenwell Green on Friday.

As the Tribune previously reported, patrons of the library fear it is at risk of a major flood if “emergency repair work” is not quickly undertaken and they have set a target of raising £50,000 by April next year – coinciding with the 150th birthday of the leader of the Russian revolution Vladimir Lenin.

Speaking at the launch event, Jim Moet, director of education for Unite the union, said: “I think in adversity there is opportunity. This is a diamond, but it is in somebody’s duffle coat. We have to get it out of the duffle coat and let it shine.

That is why my union is making a very generous donation. That is my commitment.”

He added: “I think we have got to be a lot more ambitious. We have to springboard from this position.”

The archive, 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 when a flood broke through the roof during heavy rain earlier this year.


Several books were damaged beyond repair, but the bulk of the artefacts that were swept up in the deluge have been saved through drying processes.

Volunteers are having to comb through the collection of nearly 60,000 documents every week to ensure mould is not growing in  the damp conditions.

An architect has drawn up plans to redevelop the library roof where rain water pools at the moment and there are plans to open up more areas in the building if new funds are made available.

Archivist and library manager Meirian Jump, who leapt into action when the flood hit, said: “It has been quite overwhelming actually the amount of support we have had. I think this demonstrates our unique position.

“Yes, we are a professionally run archive with a phenomenal collection on working-class history and Marxism, but we are also an education charity with really close ties with the trade union movement and we are a local Islington library.”

She added: “We reach out to the community and support families and schools in the area. That three-fold function came to the fore in the rescue effort.

“A long-standing intention of ours is to make this building more accessible and we have been talking to the council about this for some time. This £50,000 will contribute to a major capital rebuild in the next few years.”

Labour cabinet councillor Asima Shaikh pledged the council would “get the work going” on improving the roof and the memorial garden.

She said: “We need to look at how we can make this sustainable for the future because it is such a valuable asset for us.”

Donations can be made by going to the website:

Share this story

Post a comment