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Vernon Richards
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Vernon Richards, (1915-2001)


Biographical/historical note : Vero Recchioni, later anglicised to Vernon Richards, was born in London in 1915 as the son of the Italian refugees Emidio and Constanza Recchioni.

He began his political activism helping his father with propaganda work against Mussolini's fascist system. He was arrested in Paris in 1935 and expelled from France.

Early in 1936 he published in collaboration with Camillo Berneri, a bilingual anarchist and antifascist paper Italia Libera/Free Italy. He founded and edited Spain and the World, which became Revolt in 1939. Later is was called War Commentary (1939-1945) and then Freedom, from 1945.

In 1945 Vernon Richards was accused of inciting agitation among soldiers and was sentenced to nine months imprisonment along with Philip Sansom and John Hewetson.

From 1949 until 1952 he was a member of the Freedom Press Group. He was the editor of Freedom from 1952 until 1964.

After he retired from the editorship, he continued to manage Freedom Press financially. He wrote many books and articles on anarchist topics and translated some books from the French and Italian into English. Trained as a civil engineer he was employed during the Second World War by Caffin & Co. Ltd as engineer/agent on several contracts, mostly for the Main Line Railway Companies (1).

From 1968 he worked as a commercial gardener. He also lead tours, did photography and was engaged in his father's wine and pasta store "King Bomba" in London.

MARIE LOUISE BERNERI (1918-1949)

Marie Louise Berneri, Vernon Richards' companion, was born in 1918 in Arezzo, Italy. She was a member of a well-known anarchist family. Her father Camillo Berneri was a leading theoretician of the Italian anarchist movement. Because he refused to accept the demands laid upon the teaching profession by the Fascists the family left Italy and went into exile in France.

Marie Louise Berneri soon became involved in the anarchist movement and took part in the publication of Révision in Paris with a group of French militants. In 1936 she went to Spain where Camillo Berneri edited Guerra di Classe. She returned to Paris to study psychology at the Sorbonne but went back to Spain after the assassination of her father by Stalinists in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

Later in 1937 she moved to London to help her companion Vernon Richards with the publication of Spain and the World. She became a member of the group that edited Revolt, which was later renamed War Commentary and Freedom (from 1945 on). In order to escape from the wandering expatriate existence of a political refugee she married Vernon Richards (2).

She wrote books, pamphlets, articles, editorials and reviews and edited anarchist publications. She also organized meetings, initiated weekly lectures and sold the papers and pamphlets in the Freedom bookshop, during meetings and in the streets. She maintained an extensive correspondence with anarchists in Europe and South America and played a leading role in the anarchist movement in England. In 1949 she died at an early age (in childbirth, at age 31).

FREEDOM AND FREEDOM PRESS

Published by Freedom Press, "Freedom" was originally founded in October 1886 by a group of people which included Peter Kropotkin, who lived in Britain from 1886 to 1917 and was a frequent contributor until the First World War. Other foreign exiles were also involved, but the group consisted mainly of native activists and was run for the major part of its existence by Tom Keell. When Freedom ceased to appear in 1927 he moved Freedom Press to Whiteway Colony near Stroud and ran it from there publishing at irregular intervals a Freedom Bulletin between 1928 to 1932. A rival paper called Freedom (New Series) was published from 1930 to 1936 by a group of opponents.

A second period in the history of the Freedom Press began in 1936 at the time of the Spanish Civil War. The achievements of the Spanish anarchist movement resulted in a revival of activity amongst anarchists and considerable interest and sympathy in a broader part of the general public.

In 1936 therefore "Spain and the World" was set up at the initiative of Vernon Richards and was supported by Marie Louise Berneri and some members of the old group. After Tom Keell's death in 1938, Freedom and Spain and the World were combined.

In 1939 a few months after the collapse in Spain the periodical appeared under the new title Revolt, with Vernon Richards still a editor, but several others as co-editors. The last issue of this paper appeared on June 3rd 1939.

Two months after the outbreak of war, November 1939, the first issue of War Commentary appeared, which had been founded by Vernon Richards, Albert Meltzer and Marie Louise Berneri.

As one of the former co-editors of Revolt Tom Brown was asked to join and later, as they entered the movement, John Hewetson and George Woodcock were also invited. In 1945 War Commentary changed its name back to Freedom, which it has retained ever since.

Freedom Press issued several other periodicals, notably the monthly magazine Anarchy during the 1960s, and also a large number of pamphlets and books, including reprints and anthologies of anarchist classics and a new quarterly magazine The Raven, whose first issue appeared in November 1986.

The work of running Freedom Press came under several headings: Office administration, editing, publishing, distribution and finances (6) and was done on a voluntary basis. Neither the staff nor the authors of the publications received any payment. Staff and editors had often been harassed by the authorities and the editors had been imprisoned for opposing both world wars. Freedom Press changed its premises many times (7).

Freedom Press publications were printed by Express Printers. In 1981 Aldgate Press was launched with funds from the Friends of Freedom Press and operated as an autonomous commercial printing partnership (8).

The Freedom Bookshop has been the main outlet for anarchist literature as well as a selection of relevant non-anarchist titles.

Source: International Institute of Social History Archives, whose contents include:

INVENTORY

The documents from Vernon Richards (no. 1-267) on the one hand and Marie Louise Berneri, Emidio Recchioni, other relatives and Freedom staff members (no. 268-367) on the other hand have been entered into separate sections.

Although Vernon Richards' papers mainly consist of Freedom Press material resulting from his work as editor and treasurer, personal papers were mixed in with these. In particular this was the case in the correspondence (no. 1-27) which contains personal as well as Freedom Press letters and some letters to others, i.e. his second wife Dorothy (Peta) Hewetson. Occasionally some bills, notes and bank statements may be found between the letters. Time did not allow a more rigorous split.

Also the documents under the heading "Documentation" probably partly concern Freedom Press documentation, while another part may have been collected by Vernon Richards personally.

In 1984 the institute received photocopies of letters and manuscripts from Vernon Richards. Although the originals of these documents have been received by the institute in 1988, these photocopies have been entered into an annex because they partly contain notes made by Vernon Richards.

The documents of the Freedom Defense Committee have been separated from the archives and added to the Freedom Defense Committee archive.
Books, pamphlets, periodicals and a series of 38 volumes of the Reclus' Universal Geography have been brought to the institutes' library.

Photographs and posters have been taken to the audiovisual department of the institute.

A more extensive detailed list of holdings is listed at the Archive link above.
(International Institute of Social History)


From Colin Ward's Obitutary, the Guardian, Feb 2, 2002:

Anarchist publisher who never let go

Vernon Richards, Writer and publisher, 1915-2001

Across seven decades, Vernon Richards, who has died aged 86, maintained an anarchist presence in British publishing. His chosen instrument was Freedom Press, based in Whitechapel, in London's East End. He edited the anarchist paper Freedom - and its prewar and wartime variations - into the 1960s. Earlier, he had been imprisoned in 1945, written a biography of the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, and photographed George Orwell.

Born Vero Recchioni in Soho, Richards was the son of the Italian anarchist Ernidio Recchioni, who had escaped from what was then the prison island of Pantelleria in the 1890s, set up the famous Italian delicatessen King Bomba in Soho, and taken part in inter-war plots to assassinate Mussolini.

Richards was educated at Emmanuel school, Wandsworth, and graduated in civil engineering from King's College, London, in 1939. In his Soho childhood, he had been taught the violin by the conductor John Barbirolli's uncle, and had performed the orchestral repertoire.

By 1934 he was becoming active in the battle against Mussolini, and, in 1935, was deported from France, where he had met the Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri, and fallen in love with his daughter, Marie-Louise.

Back in London, he anglicised his name to Vernon Richards and, collaborating with Berneri in Paris, started publishing Free Italy/Italia Libera.

In 1936, the year the Spanish Civil War began, Richards joined the veterans of Freedom - founded in the 1880s, it had effectively ceased publication by 1932 - to produce Spain And The World as an English-language voice for Spanish anarchists. This was at a time when the only version of events in Spain being heard on the left in Britain was that of the News Chronicle and New Statesman, supporting the Soviet-backed popular front.

In October 1937 Marie-Louise Berneri joined Richards in London, and they married. She and their baby died in childbirth in 1949.

Between the end of the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of World War II, the fortnightly Spain And The World briefly became Revolt!, before adopting the title War Commentary. Registered as a conscientious objector, Richards worked in a reserved occupation as a railway engineer. In 1945, War Commentary resumed the title of Freedom.

The previous year, however, four of the group around the paper - Richards, Marie-Louise, Philip Sansom and John Hewetson - had been charged with conspiring to cause disaffection among members of the armed forces. Despite a defence campaign backed by the likes of Orwell, Michael Tippett, T.S. Eliot and Benjamin Britten, Richards, Sansom and Hewetson were convicted and served nine months in jail.

Prison gave Richards the chance to resume playing the violin, and form a band with other jailed musicians. Friends regretted that he never played again after his release. He never worked as a civil engineer again either, saying that the one thing he learned in prison was the folly of pursuing a "career".

Instead, he ran the family business at 37 Old Compton Street, Soho, until it was sold in the 1950s. He also worked as a freelance photographer - producing subsequently famous images of Orwell in the mid-1940s - and as an organic gardener and travel courier. Convinced that the links formed by tourism helped to open closed frontiers, he went to Franco's Spain and the Soviet Union.

In 1968, he and Peta Hewetson moved to a smallholding in Suffolk, where, for almost 30 years, Richards produced vegetables for the organic market.

After 1951 he continued to edit Freedom as a weekly, and wrote, in weekly instalments, his continually reprinted and translated Lessons Of The Spanish Revolution (1953). He quit as the editor of Freedom in 1964, but assumed the role again whenever he felt that others were pushing it in the wrong direction. It was not until the 1990s that he finally stopped writing for the paper.

Looking for the source of Richards's single-mindedness, friends assumed that his father had set him in motion, though I once heard him dismiss Ernidio as a "bourgeois terrorist". The anarchist who influenced him most was Malatesta.

In his dedication, Richards was a quite ruthless exploiter of others. None of the group he had inspired in the 1940s - Sansom, Hewetson, and George Woodcock - were on speaking terms with him at the times of their deaths. Unable to recognise himself as a manipulator, he saw their withdrawal from his circle as proof that they had been seduced by capitalist values.

At the end of the 1990s, admirers sponsored the publication by Freedom Press of four books of Richards's photographs. In 1999, the Centre for Catalan Studies produced an album of his pictures, taken after 1957 while he was escorting holidaymakers to the then poverty-stricken Catalan village of L'Escala. For local families, the book became a precious record of their grandparents, their dignity and hard times.

Peta predeceased him in 1997.

Colin Ward, The Guardian, London


Pictured: Nicolas Walter & Vernon Richards

Page created July 2001; updated March & July 2002, Feb 2003, March 2006



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