28 May 2015

STRAWBERRY THIEVES


I went to the open day at Nunhead cemetery a couple of weeks ago.  Nunhead is one of the Magnificent Seven, the grand 19th century London cemeteries built by private companies and patronised during the heyday of top-hatted, Victorian funerary monuments, now neglected, overgrown, and perfect for film sets.

There was nothing funereal about Nunhead on 16 May, a sunny day and good for family outings among the tombstones and ivy.  There was an array of stalls run by local societies (top left) and plenty of tea and cake. Typical of London, which in the election the previous week had shown itself to be one of the most left-wing parts of Britain, there were many radical campaigning groups in evidence and in the ruins of the old chapel I found a socialist choir, Strawberry Thieves (bottom left). On their red tee-shirts you may be able to see a motif from William Morris’s Strawberry Thief textile, illustrated at the top of this post.

Morris was a romantic socialist.  Although in his fighting years in the 1880s he declared himself a Marxist, socialism in those days tended to be vague and lifestyle. There were more big ideas and Merrie England entertainments than actual policies. When Morris was asked why he didn’t run Morris & Co. on socialist lines, he said it would be pointless before the Revolution. His utopia, in which marriage and crime were unknown, was called Nowhere.

Morris still has descendants on the left, energetic in their opposition to the Conservative government but outside the political mainstream. They call themselves things like Strawberry Thieves and the News from Nowhere Club, small lights in a bad, dark world