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Camden New Journal - OBITUARY
Published: 10 January 2008

James Shallcross
Circus worker, artist and activist

JAMES Shallcross, who has died aged 90, was a tenant activist on the Maiden Lane estate in Camden Town, a lifelong member of the “Old”, as opposed to “New”, Labour Party and a regular contributor to the New Journal’s letters pages.
Cheshire-born, he spent much of his early life in Manchester, where his father was a baker. After leaving school aged 14, he worked in the family business.
In the mid-1930s he joined Gerry Cottle’s circus, travelling around Britain looking after the horses and helping to put up marquees. But he became romantically involved with a trapeze artist and had to leave.
With war approaching, he was torn between his pacificism and an awareness of the threat posed by Nazi Germany. On September 2, 1939 – the day before war was declared – he joined the army despite signing the Peace Pledge the day before.
As a baker, he worked in canteens and mess halls, and was posted for a time to Norfolk where he became an assistant to a colonel – a way of doing his bit for the war effort without compromising his beliefs.
However, he did see active service abroad: his unit was in the second wave of British soldiers who landed on the Normandy beaches.
Later, billeted in a chateau, he discovered a cellar full of calvados. His family recall his accounts of the raucous party that ensued.
He was also put in charge of guarding prisoners-of-war, and made a point of treating captured German soldiers with respect and humanity.
Following the war, he lived in the then bohemian enclave of Belsize Park, moving into a garret with a troupe of dancers and becoming an artist. It was here, in 1955, he met his wife Patricia, a ballet dancer. The couple had four children before divorcing.
James then lived in a number of squats in Camden, including a spell at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in Bloomsbury. In the 1980s he found a permanent home on the Maiden Lane estate.
His artistic nature took him into silkscreen printing. He had a business in Shoreditch and during the 1960s produced posters and T-shirts of pop stars such as Jimi Hendrix.
After retiring, he became interested in local politics, and campaigned alongside neighbours to improve conditions and defend the rights of tenants on his estate.
He also turned his hand to writing. As well as providing lively and considered letters on local and national issues for the New Journal, he wrote poetry and short stories. Many were published in periodicals and anthologies.
He is survived by his children, Lydia, Adam, Mark and Ben.


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