The Library holds a wide range of collections on individuals such as Wal Hannington, Phil Piratin, James Connolly, Noreen and Clive Branson and Helen Crawfurd, and organisations such as the British Soviet Friendship Society, the British Czechoslovak Friendship League and the China Campaign Committee.
A Welsh Charity school was built on the site of the Marx Memorial Library in 1738. It educated boys and later a few girls – the children of Welsh artisans living in poverty in Clerkenwell. Gradually the intake became too large and the school moved to new premises in 1772. After this the building was divided into separate workshops one of which became the home to the London Patriotic Society from 1872 until 1892.
The Twentieth Century Press occupied what had by then been labelled as 37a and 38, and expanded into 37 by 1909 – thereby returning the site to single occupancy for the first time since its days as a charity school. The Twentieth Century Press was founded by the Social Democratic Federation as printer for its journal Justice and was the first socialist Press in Clerkenwell. An early benefactor was William Morris, who guaranteed the rent of the Patriotic Club to the Twentieth Century Press. During its time in Clerkenwell Green, the Twentieth Century Press produced several of the earliest English editions of the works of Marx and Engels. The Twentieth Century Press remained at the building until 1922.
Lenin was exiled in London and worked in the building from April 1902 to May 1903. During this period he shared the office of Harry Quelch, the director of the Twentieth Century Press, from there he edited and printed the journal ISKRA (The Spark), which was smuggled into Russia. The office is still preserved and open to visitors. In 1933, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Karl Marx, a delegate meeting comprising trade unionists, veteran socialists belonging to the Labour Party and Communist Party, and representatives of the Labour Research Department and Martin Lawrence Publishers Ltd., considered setting up a Permanent memorial to him. That year also saw the Nazis in Germany burning books. In these circumstances the meeting resolved that the most appropriate memorial would be a Library. Thus the Marx Memorial Library and Workers School (as it was then known) was established at 37a Clerkenwell Green that year. Study classes, held in the evenings, became the distinguishing feature of the Workers’ School, which was divided into faculties of science, history and political economy.
In 1934 Viscount Hastings, who had studied under the great Mexican artists Diego Rivera, executed a large fresco style mural on the wall of the first-floor reading room. Titled, 'The Worker of the Future Clearing away the Chaos of Capitalism', it illustrates events and leading thinkers in the history of British Labour. A Library of books, pamphlets, archives and posters grew over the years and was augmented significantly by the donation of the International Brigade Association archive in 1975, the Klugmann Collection in 1977, the Bernal Peace Library in 1994 and the archives of the print unions in 2009. It expanded to occupy the whole building over the years.
The premises achieved Grade II listed building status after the facade was restored in 1968-9 to the way it had originally looked in 1738. During further refurbishments in 1986, tunnels were discovered underneath the Library. Their origins are obscure but they significantly pre-date the building.
Since its establishment the Marx Memorial Library has been the intellectual home of generations of scholars interested in studying Marx and Marxism. The Library is home to an impressive number and variety of archives and collections including the full run of the Daily Worker and Morning Star, The International Brigade Archive, Bernal Peace Library, Klugmann Collection and an extensive Photograph Library. For over eighty years the Library has continued this work of collecting published and archival material on Marxism, trade unionism, and the working class movement and makes them available through lectures and educational courses. As a registered charity we rely on your support to continue our work as one of the foremost institutions serving the British Labour Movement and working people, in preserving their past and in providing practical education for the future.