Oral historians

Howkins, Alun (13 of 17).  Oral History of Oral History

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  • Recording date

    2008-03-03, 2009-04-21, 2009-06-11, 2009-07-30, 2009-10-08, 2009-10-29, 2009-12-10, 2010-04-22, 2010-11-17, 2011-08-15

  • Interviewees

    Howkins, Alun, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 13: After 18 months, realised the local Labour Movement regarded QueenSpark with great distrust. They were ultra-leftist, Militant was strong in Brighton, as was the IS and SWP in different ways. Labour Party was very old Labour, still unsure of line on the Soviet Union. Longer description of QueenSpark . Somebody has finished a PhD which looks at QueenSpark, discusses early Arts Council grant applications which they were successful at getting when they moved away from history and into creative writing. [02:15] Produced something called Brighton on the Rocks which looked at cock ups by the local Conservative council, written by lefty academics at Sussex. Steven and Eileen were both Quakers. The background in oral history Alun had come from was more rumbustious.  Self-righteous people accused them of theft for academic purposes, while they were keeping it in the community for ordinary people. The local sense of not being sure how and why fitted in and the national sense of feeling that these people were quite unhelpful. Was developing a different relationship to Brighton, partly through music but largely because Nobby Duncan had recently been in the SWP and had left, hed lapsed. He soon moved into the Labour Party, not as a Militant, and became the last Labour Mayor of Brighton and Hove. [06:12] Andy Durr, is still a close friend, had come to Sussex to work at Dungeness before it closed, he then got a job as a technician at an art school. He got very involved in adult education and local history; he became active in the Labour Party and the Trades Council in particular, as well as trade union history. Became a lecturer in adult education, continued to do vocational stuff like picture framing. He was funny about QueenSpark, recalls Charlie, a vile Scotsman from Militant, Andy was amiable about it to Steven. He was nice about QueenSpark, helped with bits of printing but was never seriously involved. [08:30] started going to a nice pub with Nobby, some were from university, some were social workers and teachers. Was single at the time and enjoyed getting to know people of the left who were of the same age (20s and 30s). it was broad left, most were labour party. [09:50] QueenSpark was a cul-de-sac, Andy, Steven and Paddy McGuire from the old polytechnic became very important in the Workshop. They became involved centrally in the organisation of workshop conferences. They were enablers. Searches for reference. [11:29] In 1979 there was a Workshop at Ruskin called Peoples History and Socialist Theory which split the movement. Sunday December 2nd 5-7 social history past present and future. At that meeting the Ruskin students who had done a lot of the organisation. Reads Martin Kettles article in New Society on the conference. Students who organised the workshop said theyd been exploited, they felt it excluded working class people and said they would ensure it was never held at Ruskin again. He and Andy decided to take it to Brighton. Within a fortnight Andy had got the polytechnic on side, organised free accommodation and got a council grant. Held a Workshop in Brighton in 1981. In 1991 it briefly returned to Ruskin. It went round from place to place, Salford, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester. Fairly quickly good labour movement bureaucracy was established to run it, before it had been chaotic, workshops did make money but Raphael would give it to comrades. Paddy McGuire had a Liverpool Manchester background, trades council labour movement background like Andy Durr. Former polytechnics were better at organising their finances. Andy talked about them being local government and balancing budgets, they created a history workshop conference collective, set up bank accounts and was given a constitution. They passed on £2-3000 to give to the next conference. This worked pretty well until the early 90s when people stopped coming. After 1980 something happened to the British left. After the defeat of the pitman there were two or three years where people were scared, the defeat of the miners affected all northern communities. The Workshop was still built on the industrial working class. Discusses the 1983 Manchester Workshop, there is nothing about race. 1990 was in Leeds, spoke at that one. Discusses different conferences, noting a change. The audiences for the regional workshops, Ruskin from 1969 onwards the majority of the people were from outside Oxfordshire, regional conferences were not attracting this national audience. People were reluctant to speak, Anna Davin would always go, he and Stan Shipley used to go. The editorial and conference groups were split. [22:56] The Ruskin conference was in 1991. In 1992 or 93 there was one in Brighton which was the last regional one, was on the organising committee and it was a poor show, 300-400 people if that. It was a lot of work; the organising committee decided it wasnt worth it. [24:05] Lists people involved in running the History Workshop Journal; Sally Alexander, a student of Aluns from Ruskin in 1968, Sue Bullock was employed as a business manager; Anna Davin was a mature student from Warwick, Alun, Andrew Lincoln a graduate student from Balliol, Tim Mason, Raphael Samuel, Stan Shipley a Ruskin student. Gareth Steadman Jones and Ann Summers had spoken but didnt particularly help with the running. In 1976 the people still closely involved with the Workshop were Anna, Alun, Raphael and Stan. Movement was moving away from the Workshop. Monthly meetings used to last 14 hours. Tried to reflect the sort of things Workshop papers had been about, this quickly became more difficult; partly stuff wasnt being written, partly people were unconsciously applying a level of perfection or demand that could not be met by workshop papers. They were rejecting or people were put off. Looks at the first edition and discusses articles. Lots of it could have been published in past and present, couldnt find space for Workshop type papers. For the first three or four years stuff did come in, the Workshop nationally collapses in 1979 and they then lose a watching brief. Workshop papers by amateurs needed somebody to look after them, this could be done at Ruskin by Raphael or delegated by him. Once they moved out this became more difficult. It became more and more academic. The regional workshops and the London History Workshop Centre did continue the Workshop tradition but it ceased to feed into the journal and it wasnt going anywhere except to some extent into local publishing. This existed without the journal anyhow. Searches for article in journal. Discusses the Bradford journal and lists articles. Builds on work that will continue outside the Workshop, Mentions OConner Lysacht, an Irish Trotskyist, whose work had nothing to do with the Workshop. Workshops became regional history conferences, though it never became apolitical. Some Workshops sprung up outside their remit which werent left wing at all.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Alun Howkins, Emeritus Professor of History at University of Sussex and agricultural historian and folklorist.

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