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Southwark Spain Shop: anti-fascist shop in 1930s Walworth Road

This text first appeared at Transpontine blog.

Edith Tudor-Hart (1908–1973) was an Austrian photographer who studied at the Bauhaus. Born Edith Suschitzky, she came from a left wing Jewish background and fled rising fascism to move to London having married Alex Tudor-Hart in 1933. They lived for a while in Brixton where she had a photography studio. Alex became a GP and later went to Spain during the Civil War as part of the anti-fascist British Medical Aid Unit. Edith developed her practice as a documentary photographer, not to mention apparently helping to recruit Kim Philby to spy for the Russians.

A recent display at Tate Britain features some of her work, along with photos by her brother Wolfgang Suschitzky (a photographer and cinematographer who worked on the 1971 film ‘Get Carter’ among others). Both of them captured/constructed some great images of London life, but one image in particular caught my attention (featured above).

Tudor-Hart’s image shows something called the ‘Southwark Spain Shop’, with the caption stating that it was taken in 1937. As the shop in question is covered in posters there is quite a lot of information in the photograph itself. Messages include ‘Spain is fighting for you’, ‘Buy a tin of food, we will send it it Spain’, ‘Arms and food for Spain’, ‘Please step inside and see what Spain means to you’. It is obvious that the shop is in support of the anti-fascist side in the then-raging Spanish Civil War. But where was it? And what was the local context for the shop?

In terms of location there are some clues in the photograph. Posters on the seemingly vacant property next door advertise a dance at Manor Place Baths, situated off the Walworth Road and a major venue for public meetings, dances as well as swimming.

To dig further I spent some time looking through the online archive of the Daily Worker from this period, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It took a while, but I have confirmed the address. A report in the Daily Worker states ‘Outstanding features of Southwark’s Spain fortnight, which began yesterday, are a meeting at Manor Place Baths, February 13 and a dance at the same place a week later, and the opening of a Spain shop at 174 Walworth Road SE17’. The date of this article is 7 February 1939 so pretty sure that the date on photo caption is incorrect (of course it’s possible that there was another shop in 1937 but seems unlikely and there’s no trace of such in the Daily Worker).

A few days later the same paper advertised the ‘Aid Spain’ meeting at Manor Place Baths on 13th February with Ellen Wilkinson, Fred Copeman (Lewisham volunteer with the International Brigades) and Langdon-Davies, with an appeal to ‘Bring food, clothes, money to meeting and to Spain Shop, 174 Walworth Road. Volunteers needed day or eve’. The same issue mentions another Spain Shop in Hackney at 122 Upper Clapton Road E5, as well as a ‘Meeting for Spain’ at Bermondsey Town Hall, also on 13th February to ‘Welcome back International Brigade convoy’ (Daily Worker, 11 February 1939). There was also a ‘Help defend Spain in S.London!’ rally at Lewisham Town Halll on 20th February (also with Copeman as well as Vernon Bartlett MP), and at Greenwich Baths on 10th February, like the Bermondsey meeting to ‘Welcome International Brigade Convoy’ (Daily Worker, 10 February 1939).

174 Walworth Road was just around the corner from Manor Place Baths, just up from the still standing Tankard pub at number 178 on the corner of Amelia Street.  The 1953 Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Southwark shows that 174 Walworth Road was one of a number of ‘unfit and insanitary premsies’ demolished in 1953′

As is clear from above, the Southwark Spain Shop was just one aspect of a wider local anti-fascist Spanish solidarity movement which was of course part of an international movement that witnessed people travelling from many countries to join the fight. There are many other references in the Daily Worker to local events in this period, here are some examples:

– Southwark Amalgamated Engineering Union held a public meeting ‘Support Spanish Medical Unit’ showing the films ‘Defence of Madrid’ and Call to Arms (DW 20/3/1937)

– ‘Southwark! Support Spain by coming to CP Dance, Friars Hall, Blackfriars Road. Tonight, 8.0. Ritz Revels Band. 1s’ (DW 20/3/1937).

– ‘With the object of rousing support for a Spanish Medical Aid Committee… Southwark Communist Party  is organising a meeting to be held at Manor Place, Walworth Road on April 5, at 8 pm. All Southwark workers are urged to attend’ (DW 30/3/37)

– ‘Lambeth and Southwark Ambulance for Spain – Meeting, Victory Place School, Walworth. Tuesday, May 25, 8 pm. Speakers: G.R. Strauss MP, Councillors L. Styles, Searson and Gillian’ (DW 24 May 1937)

‘Lambeth and Southwark Ambulance for Spain – Dance, Sat. May 29, 7:30 to 11:30, Henry Fawcett School (opp. Horn’s), Kennington Road’ (DW 28/5/37)

‘Southwark and Lambeth Spanish Medical Aid Committee – demonstrate to Trafalgar Square from Kennington Church, Sunday July 11, 2:00 pm (DW, 10/7/37)

‘Southwark supporters of Spain’s fight have formed a branch of the International Brigade Dependants’ Aid Committee… “Inspired by or 15 Southwark comrades who are fighting in Spain and in memory of J.B.Dunbar, who gave his life fighting for democracy in Spain”‘ (DW 27/1/1938)


‘Southwark Aid Spain Dance, Manor Place Baths, Walworth Road tonight. 1s. Appearance of Teddy Joyce, Mayor of Southwark, Geo. Isaacs, G.A. Strauss, Lewis Silkin. Licensed Bar. 26 valuable prizes, including overcoat, frock, watches, table lamp etc’ (DW, 25/11/38 – same issue also mentions Communist Party meeting on same day at Brockley Co-op Hall on ‘Spain and Chamberlain’s policy’.

Update: on twitter @catford_se6 has noted this old photo of the Tankard on pubmywiki. On the right of the photo you can see the stonework of the shop and the barbers pole visible on the shop photo – there was a Scott Hyman, hairdresser, listed there in 1915.

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