Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp’s Lynette Edwell, interviewed by Amy Longmuir and James Watts for Women’s History Month

As part of our #GlobalGreenham40 campaign, we are delighted to have been given the opportunity to speak with Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and Cruisewatch activist Lynette Edwell about her involvement in the movement and the importance of being a woman in the campaign against American nuclear weapons.

We also spoke about the international connections and friendships that Greenham women were able to make, and how Lynette believes their actions will be remembered (particularly the singing). From protests, to prison, to international campaigns, to the daily challenges women faced in the camp, Lynette paints a vivid picture of life at Greenham. Her reflections on the global legacy of the movement as well as its personal legacy for her life is an invaluable insight into this remarkable period of women’s history in Britain.

Thank you, Lynette, for speaking with us, and to Berkshire Record’s Office for their resources and support.

Make sure you follow the whole #GlobalGreenham40 campaign: @UniRdg_History

Amy Longmuir and James Watts are third-year undergraduate History students at the University of Reading.

Please note: This video has been edited for the purposes of this blog. If you would like to view the whole interview, please contact f.baldwin@pgr.reading.ac.uk.

Posted in News, women's history month | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why the Greenham Common peace camp needs to be remembered 40 years after its inception, by James Watts

‘Women Come Now’ Poster (Berkshire Record’s Office)

Amidst the disruption and uncertainty that we have started the year with, 2021 marks both the 40th anniversary of the inception of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and the 30th anniversary of the final US cruise missiles leaving Greenham Common. Thousands of women from across the world travelled to Greenham, situated 20 miles South-West of Reading, to take a stand against nuclear armament and US imperialism, as the superpower placed its cruise missiles on European soil in an effort to square up to the Soviet Union.

Despite being described as the largest demonstration in modern history, the camp has vanished from many people’s memories and it does not feature on the curriculum. Despite being a keen history student, I began my placement at the Berkshire Record Office with very little knowledge of the camp. I knew the stories of the striking miners who confronted police officers at the Battle of Orgreave in an effort to protect their livelihoods but I had not heard the stories of those who fought for global peace at Greenham.

What began as a march from Cardiff to Greenham Common had rapidly evolved into a catalyst for change.

Britain Fuels the Apartheid War, 1984 (Berkshire Record’s Office)

The camp must be remembered for sparking resistance to nuclear armament on a global scale. Peace camps soon sprung up at every US military base across Britain and Greenham activists travelled extensively, helping local communities in places such as Comiso, Italy mobilise against US cruise missiles. Fundraising marches from Greenham to the Soviet Union were also organised, enabling Greenham activists to make international connections, and actions of solidarity with communities in places such as Namibia, where the uranium for the cruise missiles was being mined, became common. The camp must also be remembered for simultaneously challenging and utilising traditional notions of femininity. The movement rejected the widespread belief that women should not become involved in political discussion whilst playing to the concept of the maternal, caring woman.

It is vital that we tell the stories of the brave women who protested everyday in spite of extreme police brutality, harsh weather conditions and tabloid smears. One way to do this would be through an interactive walk-in exhibition where the voices of Greenham women from recorded oral testimony are played in the background and visitors can follow the story through from when Women For Life on Earth first arrived at Greenham in September 1981 to when Greenham women were finally able to reclaim the land that the airbase occupied as public land in 2000. The exhibition would contain accessible descriptions of the events alongside newspaper cuttings from the Lynette Edwell Collection at the Berkshire Record Office. It would also contain pamphlets which were used to raise awareness of the international situation and how Greenham women created links with activists across the globe. This would enable us to adopt a decolonisation approach to determining archival value and choosing primary sources to display at the exhibition.

James Watts is s an undergraduate History student at the University of Reading.

Follow our commemorative campaign on Twitter through #GlobalGreenham40.

Posted in News, women's history month | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp’s international ‘web’ and the anti-nuclear movement, by Amy Longmuir

Women Linking Hands at Greenham Common Cruise Missile Base – Newbury,
1985 (Evening Standard, 19 Oct 2019)

The history of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp near Newbury, Berkshire has been well documented in popular history and the media to narrate the development of the camp as an important element of the nuclear disarmament movement.

Missing from this, however, is the ever-expanding ‘web’ that the camp created; first in the UK with women’s support groups in cities such as Manchester working alongside the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Quickly this became an international network with the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp establishing connections across the world, many of which are coming to light with the decolonisation of history both within the public sphere and in the archives, as room within the narrative is afforded to previously ignored countries. The Lynette Edwell Collection at Berkshire Records Office has captured this international nature with communication, newsletters, and posters from across the world that were sent to Greenham Common.

Extensive literature has been collated in this archive concerning the anti-nuclear dumping campaigns that gained significant support in the Pacific, notably in Guam. These home-grown initiatives are illuminated in the collection with leaflets and posters being sent to Greenham Common as part of their ongoing communication. The issue of nuclear dumping by the US military was then picked up by campaigners in the UK, forming the basis of a symbiotic relationship that can be seen across the world as more groups started to communicate with each other to create an international campaigning community.

Nicaragua is also significant in the development of this global ‘web’ with many groups protesting for the removal of American troops and nuclear weapons from South America. For example, Spinsters Against Nuclear Genocide played an important role in highlighting the presence of the American military in South America and the Caribbean as part of the campaign for a ‘Nicaragua Libre’. This further exemplifies the continual expansion and securing of relationships between the Peace Camp in Berkshire and their international partners.

The Lynette Edwell Collection also includes material on the anti-nuclear movement within Europe which maintained strong links with Greenham Common Peace Camp as they became an inspiration across the continent. La Ragnatela [spider’s web] in Italy is one of the most significant camps that worked with Greenham Common and who were subject to various police raids and evictions, the same as the Greenham women. There is also evidence of similar movements and correspondence with camps in France, Belgium, and Denmark, as woman began to organise in protest against nuclear weapons, especially those being deployed by the USA on foreign soil.

Widening the Web Poster (Lynette Edwell
Collection, Berkshire Records Office)

These examples are just the start of the international ‘web’ that was created around nuclear disarmament, with Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp becoming the epicentre of a network of protest groups across the world. Their stories and actions, as shown through the Lynette Edwell Collection, are of particular importance in showing the activism that occurred across the world rather than focusing solely on Western states. This exemplifies the fact that anti-nuclear activism allowed women to belong to an international community which was instrumental in challenging nuclear powers across the world.

Amy Longmuir is an undergraduate History student at the University of Reading.

Posted in gender history, News, women's history month | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Christmas Cancelled? Nothing is new, ask the puritans of 1647 by Dr Rachel Foxley

In 2020 we are approaching Christmas with warnings ringing in our ears, as well as encouragement to celebrate – and that’s just from the Prime Minister, whose characteristically mixed messaging tells us to be jolly, but also to ‘be jolly careful’. Across the UK we are digesting Christmas rules which will mean that families have to haggle about which three households can ‘bubble’ across the 5 days of relaxed Covid restrictions. We may be taking more comfort in our Christmas customs than ever – my tree is already up – but there’s no denying it will not be the usual Christmas experience for most of us.

But Christmas isn’t cancelled, and although Covid restrictions have become politicised and divisive, we can hope to avoid the battles over Christmas which were seen in the streets of Canterbury and Ipswich in 1647. Parliament had been victorious in the first civil war against Charles I, and the puritans who had for years been preaching against the ‘superstitious’ practice of celebrating Christ’s birth on a particular day now saw their wishes made law. Christmas was banned. Christmas fell on a Saturday: churches were not to offer services, and shops were to open as usual.

The highly partisan newsbooks (early newspapers) which had sprung up to report on the events and politics of the civil war were keen to put their spin on what happened next. What is certain is that there was a real attempt to suppress the most visible celebrations of Christmas, particularly church services; and that this did not go down well with much of the population – parliamentarian or not – who saw comfort and not harm in the traditional customs. In London, church services were broken up – although the churchwardens of St Margaret’s, Westminster reportedly explained that they had only allowed a sermon in the pragmatic belief that people were not intending to work or open their shops on Christmas day, so catering for them with a sermon would ‘prevent their mis-spending of time in Taverns and Ale-houses’. The Mayor himself went out to pull down the festive greenery of rosemary and bay which decorated the conduit in Cornhill, and was met by a ‘mutiny’ which turned violent. Political divisions exacerbated the tension, and in Canterbury and Ipswich, in particular, events got completely out of hand.

Royalist newspapers reported these disturbances with relish. In Canterbury, pro-Christmas vigilantes apparently trooped door to door, checking that their neighbours were properly supplied with ‘Pies and Plum-pottage’ and violently targeting the ‘nigardly Schismaticks’ (i.e., puritans) who were abstaining. They then seized the weapons in the town hall and declared themselves for ‘God, King Charles, and Kent’. Even a rather less colourful account (in the pamphlet Canterbury Christmas) has them targeting the wares of the dozen or so shops which dared to open on Christmas day, and certain key puritans including the Mayor, before staying in arms until a climbdown on the Tuesday. The ebullient royalist newsbook Mercurius Dogmaticus praised these ‘honest Christians of Canterbury, angry to be prohibited both of their Cheare and devotion at one time’ even while reporting that they had broken the windows of those who failed to answer their doors, and beaten up the Mayor. An anti-royalist newspaper, in contrast, railed at the ‘superstitious sons of Canterbury, who were so incorrigible as to beat their Mayor, and so barbarous as to assault their neighbours in their own houses.’ Rather than any noble motive, according to this parliamentarian, ‘it was the spirit of Ale that wrought these wonders’, as the rioters were ‘well tipled’. Satirical parliamentarian doggerel mocked this attempt to ‘rise/ To right [i.e. restore] Plum-Pottage, and Mince-pies’. Meanwhile, in Ipswich, two were reported killed in disturbances which involved an attempt to free prisoners held for the initial pro-Christmas disorder. An acerbic parliamentarian newsbook reported that the dead included a man with the surname Christmas ‘whose name seemed to blow up his zeal to the observation of the day’. 

The authorities took all of this extremely seriously, in the unstable political conditions of 1647-8. The Christmas rioters were subjected to trials which, in the words of Blair Worden, ‘fanned the mood of protest that grew into renewed civil war in the spring and summer of 1648.’ In 1649 the regicide followed, and Christmas continued to be banned throughout the 1650s.

All of this might put our current troubles into some perspective. Christmas may be scaled back this year, but we can look forward to a new year which brings the hope of vaccines and a slow return to a more sociable and lively version of everyday life. Let’s hope for better Christmases to come.

You can find out more about Rachel and her research at the University of Reading at https://www.reading.ac.uk/history/about/staff/r-h-foxley.aspx

Posted in News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dreaming of a White Christmas? It may all be in the stars! by Professor Anne Lawrence

Recent forecasts and news stories have raised hopes of a white Christmas, even though the Met Office has pointed out that there has only been a widespread covering of snow on Christmas Day in the UK four times in the last 51 years.  They also warn that accurate forecasts of snow on a specific day can only be made 5 days in advance.  For more details see:  https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/types-of-weather/snow/white-christmas 

Snow at Greenwich, December 2017

However, medieval and early modern meteorologists had no such problems and could predict the weather several years ahead!  The downside, of course, was that their forecasts were made on a basis which has subsequently been shown to be entirely unscientific, and accuracy was thus more by accident (and experience) than design.

Astrometerorlogical forecast for October 1590 (image copyright University of Reading Special Collections)

This year, the History Department decided to experiment and see whether medieval methods would forecast a white Christmas in 2020.  The results follow!

Medieval and early modern forecasters made their Prognostications on the basis of astrometeorology, so the first step is to calculate where the planets will be on the chosen dates, as seen from the relevant place.  In this case the relevant place is Berkshire, and the chosen period is 20th to 27th December, focusing on Christmas Day.  The locations of the planets are, of course, calculated in relation to the zodiac – and only the planets known before 1700 are used.

The Sun will start in Sagittarius (28°) and move into Capricorn (3° on Christmas Day)

The Moon will move across Pisces and Aries, and reach 6° Taurus on Christmas Day

Mercury will be close to the Sun, at 6° Capricorn on Christmas Day

Venus will be in Sagittarius (12° on Christmas Day)

Mars will be near the Moon on Christmas Day, at 24° Aries (the Moon will have moved through this position on Christmas Eve)

Jupiter and Saturn will be in very close Conjunction, in the first degree of Aquarius. 

These two powerful planets have been moving closer through 2020 and will come closest of all at the Winter solstice.  They have not been this close since the 13th century – and medieval astrologers agreed that this placing signified major events affecting large regions on Earth.  

For weather forecasters, the element linked to each planet (Earth, Fire, Air and Water) was important, as was the degree of power attributed to each planet.  The sign placings are significant as each sign was also linked to an element and to factors affecting the weather.  Finally, the relationships of the planets to one another (their aspects) also needed to be taken into account as well as their directions of movement.

Traditionally, a powerful placing for Saturn signified colder-than-usual weather, making snow perhaps more likely.  However, the conjunction with Jupiter may predict unusual or dramatic weather; and its occurrence in the Air sign of Aquarius could mean strong winds or storms.  It is also important that the pairing of Jupiter and Saturn is in a significant relationship to the Sun and Mercury, which are in the Earth sign of Capricorn – another cold location.  Mercury is fast-moving and believed to cause turbulence in the air; and the powerful, fiery planet, Mars, is in a significant aspect with Mercury and the Sun.  Mars is placed in the Fire sign of Aries, which suggests that the winds are likely to be warm.

It looks as if the medieval prognostication for Christmas 2020 would be that it will see strong, warm winds blowing over very cold ground – a combination which could produce snow-storms but is unlikely to result in a picture-perfect white Christmas!  So we can all feel very happy that this is unlikely to be correct.

Snow in February (Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry)

A medieval white Christmas (from the Torre Aquila in Trent

Find out more about Professor Anne Lawrence Mathers and her research at the University of Reading here

You can also find out much more in her book Medieval Meteorology

Posted in News | Leave a comment