A century ago, the kidnapping and murder of an Italian politician could have prevented the rise of Mussolini, and there’s currently an exhibition about the man in Charing Cross.

The location of an exhibition about an Italian is no mere convenience, as the library has a strong Italian heritage.

The building was actually built in 1891 for Samuel Addington & Co, a woollen merchant. They moved out, and in 1937, it was taken over by the Italian Benevolent Society. It became the London offices of several organisations, including the London headquarters of the Italian Fascists.

The building was seized during WWII as an enemy property and, in 1940, was handed to the New Zealand armed forces for their London clubhouse. In October  1948, it became a library, and to walk inside is to step into a building that is structurally still remarkably similar to when it was first built.

The exhibition is upstairs and consists of a series of large display boards with old photos, newspaper clippings, and historical notices about a moment in history that many of us are unlikely to be familiar with.

Known as the “Matteotti Affair”, it tells the story of the attempts by Italian politician Giacomo Matteotti to oppose the rise of Fascism in Italy and his visit to London a century ago — in April 1924 — to give talks to local Italians.

It’s quite detailed and, at times, a bit confusing to follow if you’re not up on pre-war Italian politics, but it’s undeniably a fascinating insight into a period of history that many of us won’t have heard of before.

The exhibition is at the Charing Cross Library on Charing Cross Road – next to the Garrick Theatre – until 13th June and is free to visit. There’s nothing about the exhibition on their website, but there is a flyer in the window with the exhibition details, which is how I spotted it.

The library is open daily – opening hours here.


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