Bristol Radical History Festival


Any movement which is ignorant of its own history is a prisoner of other people’s history. We can’t possibly win the future unless we keep our hands on our own past. (Gwyn Alf Williams)

We are delighted to announce the 6th annual Bristol Radical History Festival. This year, due to popular demand, the festival has expanded to two days over the weekend of 20-21 April. The festival is hosted by two excellent Bristol venues, M Shed, the social history museum on the city’s historic harbourside and the Cube Microplex the volunteer-run Arts centre and cinema. Across two days and four themes, we can promise talks, walks, exhibitions, stalls, the never less than uplifting Red Notes Choir on Saturday at 11:30am, and, on Sunday night, a special film screening. Watch this space too for details of our pre-festival aperitif, Opening the Archives, on Saturday 13 April. We warmly invite you to join us…

At M Shed – Saturday 20 April – 10.30am-4.30pm

War Zones: Bristolians who went to struggle for a better world

From the Haitian revolution to present day struggles in Myanmar and Syria, by way of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the Zapatista rebellion, these talks will reveal the stories and motivations of those courageous souls who have undertaken international solidarity, put their lives in danger and even taken up arms in the cause of social justice worldwide.

Workhouses and Madhouses: Histories of mental health and social care in Bristol   

Investigating Bristol’s response to the poor and the mentally ill over the centuries, we show how the treatment of mental health and social care in the city changed in response to community pressure. From Mason’s Madhouse, an 18th century lunatic asylum in Fishponds, and scandals over the treatment of the sick and mentally ill in the Eastville and Bedminster workhouses during the Victorian period to hidden histories of the Muller Orphanage, we find out how the vulnerable were often trapped in intertwining exploitation. The more enlightened approach of the Victorian Glenside hospital, now the site of a fascinating museum of mental health, and the story of how some of Bristol’s most marginalised women defied psychiatric orthodoxy to create the user-led Bristol Crisis Service for Women in the 1980s, show us how much has changed and yet how much there is still to do.

Doing Radical History: a DIY guide

What is radical history? How can you do it? Find out in a series of talks, panels and multimedia presentations showing how anyone can chose a subject close to home and start their own research project. Find out how to ‘dig where you stand’ by uncovering treasures in your local archive, set up your own publishing press, create a community oral history project, celebrate overlooked heroes with commemorative plaques, make TV history from below and create educational resources that teach about the power of everyday folk. Citizen historians from the Bristol Radical History Group and beyond will share their knowledge, enthusiasm and experience to set you on your way to becoming the most radical historian you know!

It’s not just history talks…

History walks…leaving from M Shed

Exhibitions…in M Shed

There will also be stalls with history books and merchandise from the following local and national groups: 

Bristol Radical History Group, Anarchist Communist Group, BASE Social Centre, Breviary Stuff, The Bristolian, Bristol AFed, Bristol and Bath Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Bristol Archives, Bristol Atheists, Bristol Cable, Bristol Humanists, Bristol Kurdish Solidarity NetworkBristol Older People’s Forum, Bristol Transformed, Caribbean Labour Solidarity London, Corporate Watch, Dreadnought Books, International Brigades Memorial TrustKIPTIK, Newport Rising, OutStories Bristol, PastTense, Peoples’ Republic of Stokes Croft, Protect our NHS, Radical Tea-towel Company, Red Shoes Poster Archive, Remembering the Real World War One, Resistance Books, Show of Strength, Tangent Books, Welsh Underground Network, Wessex Solidarity, West of England & South Wales Women’s History Network.

As always, the festival at M Shed is a free event with no tickets or booking required.

At the Cube Microplex – Sunday 21 April – 2.00pm-8.00pm

Republicans and Revolutionaries

Further talks reveal a hidden history of the Irish revolution with a Bristol connection; the development of autonomous working-class education; and two new radical histories of the Spanish Civil War, the first investigating the role of Irish Republicans in the international brigades and the second based on oral histories of women who fought in the conflict.

Our friends from the Bristol Squatted project will be leading a guided walk leaving from the Cube  and taking us through the hidden history of squatting in St Pauls, Montpelier and Stokes Croft.

We are also delighted to offer in the early evening a rare screening of the new film Walter Rodney: What They Don’t Want You to Know, followed by a discussion about the life and death of the revolutionary Guyanese academic and Black Power activist, by co-director Arlen Harris and Luke Daniels of Caribbean Labour Solidarity.

The afternoon events at the Cube are free/donation, the film is £5.


You can also follow this event via social media here:

You can download and print a Bristol Radical History Festival poster (pdf) by clicking on the image below…

Full programme

You can download the hardcopy event programme here.

Central Reference Library - Archives (drag left/right):

Date Time Location Title With

Bristol Room Opening the Archives

M Shed - Performance (drag left/right):

Date Time Location Title With
Ground Floor Foyer Red Notes Choir Red Notes Choir

M Shed - Talks (drag left/right):

Date Time Location Title With

Studio 1&2 Level 1 ‘No Cure, No Fee, Boarding Excepted’: ‘Mason’s Madhouses’ in Old Fishponds Mike Jempson

Room B - Level 2 Putting History on Television David Parker,
Colin Thomas

Room A - Level 2 The Bristol Admiral who defended the Haitian Revolution Paul Clammer

Room B - Level 2 Writing and Publishing Radical History Stephen E. Hunt

Studio 1&2 Level 1 Eastville Workhouse, the mentally ill and systemic murder mysteries Roger Ball

Room A - Level 2 Bristol and the Zapatistas KIPTIK

Studio 1&2 Level 1 Women Listening to Women: feminism, self injury and the Bristol Crisis Service for Women Rosie Wild,
Sarah Chaney

Room A - Level 2 Resistance in Myanmar Bristol #WithMyanmar Group

Room B - Level 2 History From Below in Schools Lois Bibbings,
Jeremy Clarke,
Nick Smith,
Tony Wood

Room B - Level 2 Radical plaque-making Mark Steeds

Room A - Level 2 Bristol Heroes – Volunteer Fighters in the Spanish Civil War 1936-39 Alan Lloyd

Studio 1&2 Level 1 The Life and Death of Hannah Wiltshire: Bedminster Union Workhouse and Victorian social attitudes to Epilepsy Rosemary L Caldicott

Studio 1&2 Level 1 The Muller Orphanage Dismissal Books: saving souls and judging bodies Kate Brooks

Room A - Level 2 Bristol and the Rojava Revolution Mike Chant,
Josh Walker

Room B - Level 2 Listen Up! How to do a successful oral history project Marcus Smith,
Trish Mensah,
Rosie Wild

Studio 1&2 Level 1 What can we learn about mental health care from Bristol’s psychiatric hospital? Stella Mann

Room A - Level 2 The London Recruits: undercover in apartheid South Africa Ken Keable,
Bevis Miller

Room B - Level 2 Choose your own adventure: digital play and history from below Steve Poole

M Shed - Walks (drag left/right):

Date Time Location Title With

Front of M Shed The real story of the Countering Colston campaign Mark Steeds,
Christine Townsend

Front of M Shed The Fight For Reform: RIOT1831! guided walk Ralph Hoyte,
Steve Poole

Front of M Shed Bristolians vs Blackshirts: militant anti-fascism in the 1930s Paul Kingdon

M Shed - Exhibitions (drag left/right):

Date Time Location Title With
Foyer Level 2 The 1831 reform riots in the southwest – display Steve Poole,
Roger Ball
Gallery - Level 2 Voices of the Bristol Crisis Service for Women Rosie Wild

Cube - Films (drag left/right):

Date Time Location Title With

‘Walter Rodney: What they don’t Want you to Know’ Arlen Harris,
Luke Daniels

Cube - Walks (drag left/right):

Date Time Location Title With

Outside the Cube Stokes Croft Squatted Bristol Squatted

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