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KNOW YOUR RIGHTS - Taking Liberties at the British Library
31 October 2008 – 1 March 2009
Reviewed by Cardinal Cox


Write Dope on Pnuk part 75

The British Library in London hosted a free exhibition on the history of how the British people came to have those rights that we do, the rights to free speech, a free press, the rule of law and the ability to vote. It also looked at how fragile those rights are and how we could lose any or all.

The oldest item on display was one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta from 1215. Our local contribution to this historic event was that when the army of the Northern Barons met with the force of East Anglia, it was at Wansford Common (between Peterborough and Stamford) that they gathered. Although ingrained in our history, the Magna Carta itself largely only granted rights to the baronial class, it was the Charter of the Forest from 1217 (and some clauses of which survived in law until the 1970s) that granted rights for the common folk.

The next major period of our history to be covered was the Civil War and on display they had both the transcription of the Putney Debates (lost until the nineteenth century) and the Death Warrant for King Charles. Following the restoration, the next major laws were the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 (interestingly this doesn’t cover Scotland), the Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration, both of 1689. Following the Act of Union in 1707 various designs were considered before settling on the Union Flag similar to the one we have today, and these designs were part of the exhibition.

Amongst the artefacts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a bound edition of the journal Black Dwarf (from 1817), a title revived in the mid-twentieth century and also the source of inspiration for the gaming magazine White Dwarf. There was also a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, a display on Thomas Paine and William Blake’s notebook. There was also a display on the Chartist campaign. Plus a subversive paper tobacco wrap.

Things that caught my eye from the twentieth century included items relating to the OZ trial (1971) and also the Spies for Peace document from 1963. This revealed the plans the British Government had for any post-nuclear war society.

Through the exhibition there were opportunities to vote on various subjects such as lowering the voting age or extending the time suspects can be held before the case needs to be aired before a judge, and rather than simple yes/no votes, there were a choice of four possible responses.

Another good exhibition, interesting items on show and provocative.


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