A short biography of anarchist Nannie Dryhurst, active in the Freedom group.
“I cannot but recall with feelings of deep gratitude how Mrs Dryhurst, during those years, would in spite of her middle-class education and upbringing, cordially interest herself in and render help to every comrade of the most down-trodden class who was fortunate enough to come in contact with her” (William Wess)
Hannah Ann Robinson was born in Dublin on 17th June 1856. She was the daughter of Alexander Robinson a dyer and Emily nee Egan. Her sisters called her Nannie and she decided to change her name to Nannie Florence. This was because she had a friend called Florence who died young. After her father’s death in the mid -1870s she became a school governess in Ireland and then London where she looked after Nellie Tenison an Irish doctor’s daughter. The doctor may have sexually harassed her, as indicated in letters and she suddenly returned to Ireland. Doctor Tenison was the family doctor of the Dryhurst family and this may have been how she met Alfred Robert Dryhurst, usually known as Roy.They became engaged in 1882 and were married in August 1884. There seems to have been some ambivalence from Nannie towards the relationship, which had been conducted for a long time in the form of letters. Nevertheless the marriage took place. A year later a daughter Norah was born in London and 3 years later another daughter, Sylvia ( who as Sylvia Lynd was to become a poet and novelist).
Nannie was passionate about the Irish independence struggle. She gravitated towards the group around Charlotte Wilson and became involved in the anarchist movement from the late 1880s. She had broken with the Fabians and became an anarchist communist and atheist. She became a regular correspondent for Freedom from the beginning. As William Wess wrote in a memoir in Freedom of January 1931 ; “speaking, debating, handing out bills, or going around with the collection plate; noting was too much or too little for her to do”. She often edited the paper whilst Charlotte Wilson was away, as well as “writing up notes and comments on contemporary events, corresponding with comrades all over the country; getting them to send up reports of propaganda; putting ship-shape all their notices and reports” (Wess). She spoke French, German, and Irish Gaelic and was an experienced translator (she was also an accomplished artist, and painted Christmas cards to order). This was of great use in her translation of articles for Freedom and she translated Kropotkin’s book The Great French Revolution into English. At the beginning of the 1890s she replaced Wilson as editor for a short while.
She taught at the International School, the anarchist free school set up at 19 Fitzroy Square in London in the early 1890s by the exemplary French anarchist and Communard Louise Michel, working alongside her and Charlotte Wilson, Agnes Henry, and Cyril Bell. In 1897 she was active in giving support to Spanish anarchist refugees fleeing from savage repression. She visited and financially supported the anarchist colony at Clousden Hill ,near Newcastle, which existed from 1895 to 1902.
She began a long affair with the journalist Henry ( H.W.) Nevinson whom she first met in February 1892. This relationship finally collapsed in 1912. It was through her that Nevinson briefly became involved with the Freedom group and became a close friend of Kropotkin.
In 1906 she became a member of the Georgian Relief Committee, travelling there on fact finding visits. She learnt Georgian from the anarchist associate of Kropotkin, Vladimir Cherkesov and the following year spoke at an international conference at the Hague on the subjection of Georgia by the Tsarist Empire. Her involvement in helping the Georgian cause meant a distancing from editorial work with Freedom. She became hon. sec. of the Nationalities and Subject Races Committee and also returned to her support for Irish independence. She wrote occasional articles on Irish history for the Daily Chronicle and Irish papers. She was a friend of W.B. Yeats and appeared in his play The Land of Heart’s Desire in June 1904. She died in 1930.
She was slight and graceful and was described by the rural writer George Sturt in 1889 as “surprisingly young looking” with high cheekbones, dark eyes and her hair in a coiled plait.
From “ How I Met Kropotkin” by N.F. Dryhurst
It was in 1885 I met Peter Kropotkin for the first time, at a party given by William Morris in the office of the “Commonweal…….My introducer was a friend (Mrs C.Wilson, first editor of “Freedom” later on) I had made through the reading of Stepniak’s books describing Russia as it was then, …
Never shall I forget the impression that first sight of Kropotkin made upon me, inexperienced as I then was in meeting men of renown. No one would think on seeing him that he had just undergone three years in a French prison. The perfect courtesy, always a feature of Kropotkin’s manner, first claimed attention, it made you feel that you were in his eyes an individual worthy of his attention; then the clear and penetrating blue eyes, the massive head and flowing patriarchal beard, the squarely erect figure……were all impressed on me as we exchanged greetings- in French, I suppose, for at that time he knew but little English…. Not long afterwards I was told that Kropotkin was interested in starting a monthly paper to be called “Freedom” for the propagation of Anarchist-Communist ideas. I was asked to co-operate- but how? Up to then my ideals had never gone beyond “Freedom in Ireland” and the history of her seven centuries of struggle against English domination. “The very thing we want” said Kropotkin. “We should know what is going on in the extreme west of Europe”. So I undertook to take notes for the movement, which at that time was agitating Ireland…the beginning of the peasants’ struggle for the land. It was long afterwards that Kropotkin told me how much he enjoyed those Irish notes which I had penned with the gay irresponsibility of youth.
Sources: Obituary in Freedom (1930)
Freedom: A Hundred Years
Becker, H. On 'Freedom' and Freedom Press. Raven no1
Oliver, Hermia. The International Anarchist Movement in Late Victorian London