Chaired anarchist meeting in [Eighteen-]Eighties [Obituary of Ambrose Barker]

It is with great sorrow that we record the death, on Saturday, February 14, of our grand old comrade, Ambrose Barker. He was 93, and died at his Walthamstow (London) home of bronchitis contracted during the fog last December.

To attempt anything like a full record of Ambrose Barker’s work in the revolutionary movement would need a great volume. A tiny indication of his early activity is given by the following extract from a letter he wrote to “Direct Action” in June, 1948:-

Our mutual friend G.C.(George Cores, who died on September 20, 1949, at the age of 82. - Eds.) has just sent me a letter enclosing the cutting from ‘Freedom’ to which he replied in May ‘Direct Action.’

Defended John Most

” ‘Freedom’ is NOT the earliest Anarchist paper. In 1881 John Most was prosecuted at the Old Bailey for an article in his ‘Freiheit’ on the execution of Alexander of Russia. A committee of which I was chairman was formed for the defence and it issued a weekly paper in defiance, ‘The English Frieheit,’ which contained in the first number a translation of the article for which Most suffered 16 months imprisonment, and was sold outside the Old Bailey while the trial was proceeding. It ran to seven or eight numbers and then succumbed for want of funds.

It is generally thought that Kropotkin first came to England in 1885. But that is not so. He first came in 1882. he met a few comrades at the Patriotic Club. I had a conversation with him and induced him to give a lecture at Stratford. He came with Tchaikovsky and we had a crowded meeting…”

In 1881, too, Ambrose Barker helped found the Labour Emancipation League, a militant organisation which developed a widespread indoor and outdoor propaganda for revolutionary socialism in London. Still earlier, he had belonged to the International Club in Rose Street, Soho, where comrades such as the brothers Murray were able to pass on the message from Chartist days.

Comrade Barker was a friend of William Morris, and worked with him in the Socialist League, when that body seceded from the Social Democratic Federation in 1883.

His activity in the working class movement was never relaxed. A schoolmaster, he was an able indoor and outdoor speaker. In 1929, when “Freedom” (not connected with the present journal of that name) was restarted by the London Freedom Group, he became its editor.

On his 90th birthday, I and another comrade spent the evening with him and his companion, Ella Twynam, at Walthamstow. During the two hours that we were with him he brought to life the story of his part in the working-class struggles of more than 70 years. We asked him what he thought of the Labour Government. “£1,000-a-year men - all of them,” he answered, “they’re doing the Tories’ work well.”

During the latter years of his life, Comrade Barker’s main activity was in the peace movement, but he always remained an Anarchist and revolutionary. His body was cremated at Golders Green on February 20, following a secular service conducted by his old friend, Mr. Percy Turner.

The S.W.F.[Syndicalist Workers Federation] salutes the memory of this brave fighter for freedom and social justice, and offers its deepest sympathy to our comrade, his companion of many years.

K.H.[Ken Hawkes]

From: Direct Action, v.8, no. 1, March 1953.