Lahr, Charles, 1885-1971

Charlie Lahr

A short biography of German-born British anarchist publisher and activist Charlie Lahr.


Charles Lahr
Born Carl or Karl Lahr, aka Charlie Lahr, born 1885 - Bad Nauheim, Germany, died 1971 - London, UK

Carl Lahr was born in Bad Nauheim in the Rhineland in 1885. He became a Buddhist at the age of 20 and then an anarchist. He left Germany on October 1st 1905 to avoid being drafted into the army, and moved to London. He became a baker's apprentice with a relative in Sheridan Street, East London. He became involved with a Hampstead Anarchist Group where he met Max Nomad

In London he met Guy Aldred whilst he was working as a baker and was helped and befriended by him. As a bakery roundsman he cycled his breadcart through Bloomsbury, with a detective following his every step. He told the story of how on a visit of Kaiser Wilhelm in 1907, he was in a crowd on the Strand. He scratched the back of his neck and was leapt on by 4 Special Branch officers who thought he was reaching for a gun hidden in his hat!

John Turner and Guy Aldred set up the Industrial Union of Direct Actionists (IUDA) based on already existing anarchist groups in 1907. Old stalwarts like Charles Mowbray were involved. Lahr became secretary of the Whitechapel branch.

The first Bakunin Press was established at Aldred's house in Clerkenwell by Aldred and Lahr when they transported a second hand platen machine across London on a wheelbarrow. On Aldred's release from a jail sentence in 1910, Lahr met him at a Welcome Back Guy Aldred meeting in Hyde Park. They hatched the idea of setting up the Ferrer Adult School based on the ideas of libertarian educationalist Francisco Ferrer. This opened on 13th November 1910 in Whitfield Street. Charlie was its secretary. It failed after 3 months in February 1911. John Taylor Caldwell remarked dryly in Come Dungeons Dark that: "It may be that 9am on a Sunday morning is a time of very low enthusiasm for self-improvement." With Aldred he was involved in setting up the paper Herald of Revolt (December 1910-1914) for which he supplied his translations of Mikhail Bakunin. He became a member of the revolutionary syndicalist union the Industrial Workers of the World in 1914. He was running a bookshop in Hammersmith at the time. He knew anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker and was interned as an enemy alien in Alexandra Palace with him for 4 years and acted as his secretary during World War I. When he first arrived at the Ally Pally he was recognised by one of the CID men who had maintained a two week surveillance of Charlie during the Kaiser's visit. He called out: "Hullo, Charles. Pity you didn't shoot the Kaiser."

After a short spell in the Workers Socialist Federation of Sylvia Pankhurst, he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain for a short period of time (1920-21) leaving it after visiting Berlin in 1921 and coming across the Bolshevik "New Economic Policy" text and translating it. He closed down the branch and left. In 1921 he took over the Progressive Bookshop in Red Lion Square. He began publishing and met literary figures, among whom were H. E. Bates, Rhys Davies and T. F. Powys, Liam O'Flaherty, and Aldous Huxley.

Bohemia has always been a refuge for anarchists and other free spirits. In New York, the Greenwich Village bohemia was a haven for Industrial Workers of the World members like Big Bill Haywood, and anarchists like Emma Goldman and Alex Berkman. In Paris there was an interplay between the working class and Bohemia, as well as the criminal milieu. This produced a proletariat that was both bohemianised and not afraid to resort to theft and forgery in hard times. In Britain Charlie Lahr was a link between Bohemia and radical circles after the collapse of the pre-World War I revolutionary wave.

In 1922 he married Esther Argeband (1897-1969 and who had taken on the English name of Archer) whom he met in the Socialist Club in Charlotte Street. She came from a Jewish family that lived in Whitechapel. She had flaming red hair, and during the War was a well-known open-air speaker and member of the WSF and IWW. She worked at Rothman's cigarette factory in the East End, which she organised for the IWW. (Charlie was one of a number of anarchist gentiles, like Rocker and Aldred, who took up with young Jewish women). After he was released they lived together all their lives and had 2 daughters. They were good friends of the artist William Roberts and William's portrait of Esther is in the Tate Gallery. He was seen as a figure of fun by the narrow minded for riding his bike in summer and winter(!?).

He published the New Coterie literary and artistic quarterly magazine from 1925-7 which was most famous for publishing D. H. Lawrence. He founded the Blue Moon Press, a small press.

He was charged with receiving stolen books in 1935 and served time. The bookshop was bombed in 1941. Its premises were moved several times. The Blue Moon Bookshop had its last home at 69 Red Lion Street . He was interned again as an enemy alien and sent to the Isle of Wight. George Woodcock first came upon anarchism when he discovered Charlie's bookshop in 1935 and Charlie published him. In fact he was one of many, that Charlie initiated into radical ideas and these included Ken Weller. Anarcho-syndicalist Albert Meltzer spent his lunch breaks as a 17 year old in Charlie's bookshop. He recalls that: "Charlie's wit was infectious and verbal sparks flew, though not many books were sold." Meltzer encountered George Orwell there as he tells us in his autobiography. He was often seen, even in his 80s, cycling to work from his house in Highgate. He died in London in 1971.

His daughter Sheila's' fascinating and bitter-sweet memories of her childhood can be read at Yealm at: http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/yealm/CONTENTS.htm

Nick Heath

Posted By

Steven.
Sep 22 2004 14:56

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Sleuth21
Oct 8 2009 16:17

Dear Madam / Sir

Can I please have permission to use a thumbnail sized version of the picture of Charlie Lahr
http://libcom.org/history/lahr-charles-1885-1971
for a small publication (ca. 100 copies) I am preparing on the History of Speakers Corner? It would of course be duly acknowledge and referenced and your website would be mentioned in the index and bibliography.
I have already quoted selectively (with permission) from Sheila Lahr's text, mentioned at the end of your webpage given above.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With kind regards,

Reinhard Wentz

Reinhard Wentz, Dipl. Bibl.
Medical Informaticist
33 Gladstone Avenue
Twickenham TW2 7PS
Middlesex England
Tel. 02(0)8898 6465 Mobile 0779 067 6628
e-mail: sleuthmedical@yahoo.com