The Radical Road - Looking Backwards and Forwards
Damien Wootten has documented streets in England, Scotland and Wales named after historical radical and socialist figures. Accompanying this work are photographs of socialist literature, taken from his own collection, which have been annotated by previous owners.
The work explores notions of radicalism and socialist utopianism. In exploring these themes, Wootten raises valuable questions about the roles such figures had in shaping the streets and communities of Britain, the relevance such names and ideas hold today and what role they will play in the future. The annotations cause these otherwise impersonal documents to gain a deeper meaning - reflecting how radical ideas resonated with the reader.
The Radical Road encourages us to look beyond simply the utilitarian purpose of street names, and to instead interpret them as one of the clearest reminders of Britain’s socialist past, perhaps a warning against historical ‘amnesia’. The annotated books are emblematic of how radical ideas permeated British society.
In the 2017 general election, Jeremy Corbyn, standing on a radical programme, increased Labour's share of the vote more than any other party leader since Clement Attlee in 1945. In the 'Get Brexit Done' election of 2019, this was shattered, with many in Labour's heartlands deserting the party for the first time - as the Labour 'Red Wall' turned blue.
Together, the streets and literature serve as an enduring symbol of Britain’s radical and socialist history. But they also question what role there now is for the ideals of the Left, in it's modern-day pursuit of social justice, egalitarianism and environmentalism - and what relevance that holds for it's once traditionally loyal communities. And us all.
As Britain moves into a new era of post-Brexit change and long-term Covid-19 uncertainty, the work urges us to first look back before looking forward.
The past is not dead, but is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
- William Morris (b.1834)
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
- William Faulkner (b.1897)
The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed.
- William Gibson (b.1948)