Women for Peace – exploring the art of Greenham Common

Women for Peace: Banners from Greenham Common (Four Corners Books, 2021) is the latest in the publisher’s Irregulars series, which seeks out overlooked and underground British art and design from the 20th century.

In some cases, the work is overlooked because the creator’s primary intention was not to create a piece of art, but rather to achieve a specific goal – so they may not have seen themselves, or been seen, first and foremost as artists.

This is the case with the banners featured in Charlotte Dew’s book, which were created as part of the long-running anti-nuclear protest held at RAF Greenham Common, which began in the early 1980s. However, while the protest banners were created as functional objects, taken out of context they can also be viewed as works of art.

Above: Women for Peace: Banners from Greenham Common by Charlotte Dew

The timing of the book’s release coincides with the 40th anniversary this month of the original protest activity that led to the Greenham saga. In response to the deployment of US nuclear missiles on UK soil, a group of women marched form Cardiff to Greenham Common, with some chaining themselves to the fence of the airbase. From there, the protest grew to become a ‘Peace Camp’; over the next few years, it developed into a women-only camp that would maintain a permanent protest and vigil outside the base for 19 years.

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Protest by Post – the Cold War activism of Leeds Postcards

Leeds Postcards was founded in 1979, with the intention of using postcards “as a political tool and agent for change”.

They quickly became well-known, producing some iconic work with activist groups such as the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW) and CND branches across the country, and artists including Peter Kennard and Steve Bell. They are still publishing postcards today.

Throughout the 1980s, Leeds Postcards published a number of cards satirising the threat of nuclear war, and celebrating the movement against the bomb, which I’m sharing here (with their permission). I’ve quoted the text from the back of the postcards for some context, as well as the artist and date, where known.

Greetings from Nuclear Free Leeds, unknown artist, 1981

On 30 July 1980 Leeds City Council adopted a resolution from Councillor Michael McGowan which expressed grave concern at the build up of nuclear weapons and agreed to contact other cities about action against the nuclear threat.

On 24 June 1981 Leeds became a Nuclear Free Zone. the City Council promotes peace education and peace exhibitions, and published Leeds and the Bomb to inform the public of the effects of a nuclear strike on Leeds.

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ONDG – So You Think You’re Safe?

This early 1980s protest flyer was handed out by members of Oswestry Nuclear Disarmament Group (ONDG).

Oswestry, found in Shropshire near the Welsh border, was under threat because of the nearby Criggion Radio Station. Criggion transmitted messages to British nuclear submarines, making it a potential target for attack in a war with the USSR.

As well as providing anti-nuclear viewpoints and information, the leaflet acted as a recruitment tool for new members for ONDG.

Looking for more?

My book, Nuclear War in the UK (Four Corners Books, 2019) is packed with images of British public information campaigns, restricted documents, propaganda and protest spanning the length of the Cold War.

It also tells the story of how successive UK governments tried to explain the threat of nuclear attack to the public. It costs just £10 – find out more here.

Don’t forget you can also follow me on Twitter@coldwaruk – to get extra bits and pieces, as well as being the first to know when I post something new here on the blog.