Commemorative plaque unveiled in memory of Mark Ashton

On Friday 19 May 2017, on what would have been Mark Ashton’s 57th birthday, LGSM unveiled a blue plaque above Gay’s The Word bookshop, commemorating the life and work of Mark. The funds to cover production and installation of the plaque were raised by an appeal launched on Crowdfunder in January 2017, and over 200 people donated to the appeal. The funding target was reached within 16 hours of the launch. We are truly grateful to each and every donor for making this project a reality.

The plaque was unveiled on Friday 19 May at a small ceremony attended by LGSM members and invited guests. The gathering was addressed by Mike Jackson, LGSM’s Secretary, Ashtar Al-Khirsan, a close friend of Mark’s and the person behind the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund, Jim MacSweeney from Gay’s The Word, Dai Donovan from the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valleys Miners’ Support Group, and Lee Ashton, Mark’s younger brother. A message of solidarity from the Young Communist League, youth wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain, was delivered by LGSM member Dave Lewis. Mark became the General Secretary of the Young Communist League in 1986 and his membership of the Communist Party was a central factor in his political drive throughout the 1980s until his untimely death in 1987.

Mark died on 11 February 1987, just eleven days after being admitted to Guy’s Hospital with an AIDS-related illness. He was 26 years of age at the time of his death and his death left a huge void in the lives of so many people. Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles of The Communards (both personal friends) wrote the song ‘For a Friend’  on their Red release in Mark’s memory.

Mark’s politics formed as a teenager, when his family moved to India. His Dad worked as an engineer, installing machinery for the cotton manufacturing industry. Whilst there, Mark witnessed first-hand the dire poverty facing millions of Indian people and it changed him forever. His family moved back to the UK a few years later, but Mark returned a very different person to the boy that had set off on that journey. He joined the Communist Party shortly after returning and the rest is history. The ‘Commonwealth’ would never again mean quite the same to Mark.

At the unveiling, LGSM Secretary, Mike Jackson said: ‘We have been overwhelmed by the response to our plaque appeal and we thank everyone who has donated towards a permanent memorial to the life and work of Mark. Donations arrived from across the world. When Pride was released in 2014, we had no idea what an impact the film would have across the globe.

‘To this day, Mark’s loss remains deeply felt by so many family members and friends. Driven, principled and charismatic, Mark would have achieved so much more if he had not died so young. We are so proud to now be installing a permanent memorial to our lost friend. Solidarity Forever!’

The plaque is now available for all to see, above Gay’s The Word bookshop at 66 Marchmont Street. London WC1. The plaque wording commemorates both Mark’s life and the fact that LGSM met at Gay’s The Word during 1984. If you do visit to view the plaque, please visit the bookshop and make a purchase to secure the future of Gay’s The Word for future generations.

And if you would like to contribute to an on-going legacy in Mark’s name, please consider donating to the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund. The fund has raised in excess of £38,000 for those living with AIDS-related conditions today. Full details are on the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund site.