Big Flame



Posted by archivearchie on May 17, 2009


The internet has transformed the way in which information is available, but traditional archives can also be a valuable resource. Many former members of left groups will arrive at a time when they start to ask themselves: shall I carry on keeping that dusty box of my former group’s publications in my attic or storage cupboard. One alternative to throwing the lot in a bin is to give them to an archive.

 In the case of Big Flame, a number of former members have recently chosen this path. Unfortunately these donations are still to be fully catalogued, and if you go to the websites of the institutions which received them, the Big Flame material is not mentioned.

For anyone who might like to look through these archives, I provide relevant details below. I also give the website addresses of the institutions. Even if there is no listing of the Big Flame documents, there will be other vital information, such matters as location, opening hours, and whether an advance appointment is required.

 University of Leeds

Special Collections
Leeds University Library
Woodhouse Lane
West Yorkshire



A deposit by Max Farrar contains a variety of political documents from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, as well as Big Flame material. The Big Flame documents cover the period 1975-81, and include most magazines and pamphlets; some papers; Internal/Discussion Bulletins; minutes of the Anti Racist/Anti Fascist and Education Commissions and some National Committee minutes. 

Special Collections also houses the Feminist Archive North (see This has a considerable amount of Big Flame documents: issues of the newspaper (Manchester edition, 1975–77, 79), the magazines Big Flame Journal (1974-76), Revolutionary Socialism (1980-81), the Internal Bulletin (1976-77), the Women’s Commission 1976 conference report, and two runs of Women’s Struggle Notes.


Working Class Movement Library, Manchester

Working Class Movement Library
51, The Crescent
Salford M5 4WX



This deposit is called the ‘Big Flame collection’. It combines donations from three different former Big Flame members and includes: copies of the second series of the newspaper from no.2 Aug 1972 to no.114 Jul/Aug 1983 (the last issue) with some gaps, plus the special unnumbered Jan 1974 issue and three issues from the 1985-86 reprise; all issues of Big Flame Journal (1-2) and Revolutionary Socialism (1-10); many pamphlets; Internal and Discussion bulletins; conference documents; Industrial Commission papers; documents on Big Flame activities on Merseyside including a folder of material from the Socialist Unity campaign in the 1979 Edgehill, Liverpool by-election.

Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry

Modern Records Centre
University Library
University of Warwick



This collection has been given the accession number 672 and will be listed as ‘Big Flame’. The dates covered are 1970-81. The earliest item are copies of the Big flame Bulletin from 1970-71. There are also copies of the newspaper from no.1 June 1972 to no.112 Feb-Mar 1983, though there are gaps in the sequence.

A search of the MRC archives reveals a few other Big Flame related documents: a folder in the International Marxist Group collection (MSS 128/257), the pamphlet Introducton to Big Flame – Our Politics, History, Structures and Publications and a few other items in the Andrew Whitehead collection (MSS 21/1538/212), the same pamarchive3phlet and A close Look at Racism and Fascism in the S.E.Taylor Collection (MSS 21/1571/22), and The Revolution Unfinished? A critique of Trotskyism in the Harry Wicks papers (MSS 102/5/3/25).

 These are not the only documents in archives in Britain or abroad. However, most simply consist of one or two pamphlets or copies of the newspaper. A couple are worth mentioning.

Liverpool Record Office 

Liverpool Record Office,
Central Library,
William Brown Street,
Liverpool L3 8EW



This institution holds three copies of the first series of the newspaper: no.1 February 1970, no.6 May 1970 and no.7 July 1970. The reference number is M329 COM 36/9.

 Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University

The Women’s Library
London Metropolitan University
Old Castle Street
London E1 7NT



The relevant collection is the ‘Papers of Sheila Rowbotham’ (7SHR). This contains her correspondence and drafts for books, resource material, including Women’s Liberation Movement papers, socialist periodicals and campaigning papers, all from the period 1969-88. The Big Flame material includes discussion papers on women from the West London BF group; on men’s politics from the East London BF group; the pamphlets Walking a Tightrope and We Won’t Pay, and three issues of Women’s Struggle Notes.

There is another deposit at the women’s library which would have been of interest. Unfortunately because it is not catalogued, it can not be viewed. This is the ‘Papers of Nina Hutchison (nee Helweg)’ (7NHH). The archive consists of her personal working and political papers including correspondence and resource material from the period 1969-94. Nina was a member of Big Flame and the archive apparently contains documents relating to this. She died in 1994 and these items were deposited on her behalf in 1998 by her literary executor.

 Final Comments

 If anyone knows of any other significant deposits of Big Flame documents in archives, please tell me.

 If you are a former Big Flame member (or someone who accumulated their documents) and want to dispose of them. Please do consider giving them to a archive near you.

 Archive Archie

5 Responses to “ARCHIVING BIG FLAME”

  1. Nate said

    hey there –
    The critique of trotskyism piece is online here:

    You might want to check it against hte original of course.

  2. archivearchie said

    See the “Publications” page for a few more items which are available online, plus on ongoing index of everything we have added throught this site.

  3. Teresa said

    Hello from The Women’s Library,

    We are currently concentrating on collecting and cataloguing wlm material. As well as the Rowbotham archive we have recently catalogued Women’s Research & Resources Centre inc file 5WRR/B/02 which mentions “Organising with women in hospitals by Big Flame women”

    In addition to Nina Hutchinson, other feminists have deposited their papers, inc material by Big Flame. Keep an eye on our archive catalogue and on our newly catalogued page as work progresses:
    Apologies for lack of access to uncatalogued archives. We are dependent on external funding for cataloguing larger archives. If anyone wants to help fundraise for a particular archive, or to include cataloguing funds as part of joint research bids please contact us.

    Additional available material is held in our Printed Collections. If you search our Printed Collections Catalogue you’ll see Big Flame publications. Again, more material is being catalogued in this area. We also have copies of Big Flame Journal and Big Flame Manchester (journal) which are available to researchers (though are not yet catalogued in our online catalogue). There is also some material by/about Big Flame in our Ephemera Collection.

  4. max farrar said

    What a fantastic job you’ve done in listing all the places where Big Flame papers are currently held. There’s just one other thing to mention re the Warwick University library archives. These archives contain the papers of Tony Whelan, who was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Current. (I think that’s what they called themselves; we called them the Red Currants). The RCC I think might have been a splinter from the Intetnational Marxist Group. Since Tony wrote extensively, and eruditely, on everything, it is very likely that his papers will include his thoughts on why the RCC should apply to join BF. These are bound to be illuminating. They might also include the documents he wrote when he and his pals joined BF (in about 1978 I think). I think these are archived as ‘the papers of Tony Whelan’.

  5. archivearchie said

    Re: Max’s comment (no4)
    I’ve looked through “The papers of E.A. Whelan” (MSS 95) at the Modern Records Centre. They are all from the 1970-74 period, and all about the International Marxist Group (apart from a few items about the left in Oxford, Irish Solidarity, etc). Fascinating stuff if you are interested in the history of the IMG (as indeed I am), and the MRC has several other extensive collections of IMG documents. I don’t know what Tony did with his post 1974 documents from the Revolutionary Marxist Current (RMC) and Big Flame. It would be great if they were to be deposited somewhere.

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