Close to home: Research Notes 2
I think when studying things like Paris and revolutions, you do not expect to bump into even the most obscure references to it back home.
Back home for me is New Brighton, just the opposite side of the river to Liverpool. The history of the area is mixed; I have never really looked into it too much, but the breadth of activity is not huge- although if you were to ever visit, I would recommend the Museum of Liverpool, not least for its magnificent modernist design on the waterfront, but because of the excellent and accessible history of the city it houses.
The city has a tremendous radical history, from the strike in 1911, to sending hundreds of people over to fight for Irish Unification in 1916, to sending many over Republic Spain to fight Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and even Militant in the 1980s, but the Paris Commune? Even most exiles stayed in London.
The link I am about to explain is vague, to say the least.
The waterfront of the Wirral is long, given that it is a peninsular; it is an excellent walk in the summer. For the Wirral, it is this coast that really shows the history of the area; from Mother Redcap and the smuggling pirates, to Fort Perch Rock, a fort built to protect Liverpool during the Napoleonic Wars.
Along the route along the coast, there are various Victorian constructions, from when the area was a prime holiday spot for Northerners who needed a break, before budget airlines made it possible to fly to Spain cheaper than getting the train around the country. On one of these, I found a blue plaque, that contains the words;
HERE STOOD NEW BRIGHTON COLLEGE, WHICH BURNED DOWN IN A FIRE.
ONE OR BOTH OF GARIBALDI’S CHILDREN WERE TAUGHT HERE.
It took me re-reading it a few times to understand; Garibaldi’s children were taught in New Brighton?
Garibaldi’s connection with the Paris Commune was limited; he took on the French nationalist argument once he had finished in Italy, and set up a small regiment to fight against Prussian attacks on Paris, during the Franco-Prussian war. Once the war had been concluded, he was thoroughly welcomed in to the commune, being a celebrated General; he accepted the sentiment, but had already returned to Italy by the time he received notice.
There are numerous references to Garilbaldian tactics in Communal literature, and he served as an inspiration to many who got involved.
It may be obscure, but to think that this infamous revolutionary sent his one or both of his children to New Brighton to get an education? The historian inside me says that’s really, really cool.
Close to ex-home:
Reading a lot of history books can mean a bit of monotony every now and then when the names of places you do not know get repeated over and over again, but a spark is always set off when you come across the name of somewhere you used to live.
Reading through Frank Jellinek’s The Paris Commune of 1937 (Victor Gollancz Ltd. London:1937), Gennevilliers, a (then) very small suburb of Paris, where I lived a couple of years ago, popped up as a ‘redoubt’ that housed Monarchist cannons, who used the higher ground to attack the Commune. It would make sense; the hill at Gennevilliers gives a wonderful view across the city skyline.
It is just nice to see a name like that pop-up every now and then.
Quick Book Review:
The Paris Commune of 1871- Frank Jellinek
Left Book Club, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London. 1937
If you want an exhaustive recount of the Paris Commune from someone who is not just interested in what happened, but also in why it happened and ultimately why it failed, Jellinek’s 400-odd page work is a good place to go.
As recounts go, it is not particularly friendly to those who have never read about the Commune before; you could easily get bogged down in names, committees etc, so there are a lot better works for that. But for a comprehensive analysis from a time when many who took part where still alive, this is useful.
It was published as part of the Left Book Club series- a subscription-only service, that was sent out to those who paid- the series included such authors as George Orwell (Road to Wigan Pier) and Clement Attlee (The Labour Party in Perspective). It is available quite cheaply and easily off eBay.
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You can find an article from the Liverpool Mercury in 1862 about the fire here: http://www.historyofwallasey.co.uk/wallasey/News_Destruction_of_New_Brighton_College_1862/index.html
You can also find the info about the College here, under the name New Brighton Hotel. Here it says that both of Garibaldi’s sons were taught there, but the plaque at the site says different: http://www.historyofwallasey.co.uk/wallasey/Magazine/index.html