Today in football history: West Ham fans invade pitch in protest at Bond Scheme, 1992.

In the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at an FA cup semi-final, the Taylor Report into the disaster paved the way to all-seater stadia at football grounds in the top division.
Apart from the irony of imposing all seating on fans as a result of deaths caused by police incompetence, several leading clubs decided to push the cost of rebuilding their grounds onto their fans.

Arsenal and West Ham announced they would introduce Bond Schemes, to raise the millions needed.
Starting with what is now the Bobby Moore Stand, West Ham launched the Bond Scheme in November 1991.

The club offered supporters the ‘opportunity’ to purchase bonds in three price bands – £500, £750 and £950, ownership of which would confer the right to buy a match day or Season Ticket for a designated seat for 150 years. However, despite ‘purchasing this right’ the plan was they would still have to pay annually for the ticket…! The suggestion was that only those who paid the bond would heave the right to buy season tickets in future.

Outraged fans rejected this idea, seeing it as a total rip-off aimed at milking fans. Many fans would never have been able to find the money; critics saw it as  the opening wedge in a campaign to exclude the poorer and increase the money that clubs thought they could extract from fans, and to edge out those who couldn’t pay in favour of corporate hospitality and the wealthier sort…

Two pitch invasions took place in protest against the scheme. A post-match demonstration by fans against the scheme and new managing director, Peter Storrie, before a home game against Wimbledon was followed by pitch invasions in home games against Everton and Arsenal.

“I was one of the protest organisers having become thoroughly disillusioned with the club’s leadership. A few months earlier I had been one of the fans selected to be part of the club’s historical invite to let fans into the boardroom to discuss the bond scheme fiasco and to oppose all-seater stadia. We got to meet with Terry Brown and regularly met with Peter Storrie, sometimes late into the evening. They even enlisted Trevor Brooking to be the god guy opposing us. After a month or so the process broke down and the bond scheme protests began, orchestrated from a house in Harold Wood by a Sun Newspaper employee who went under the code name of ‘Chicken Ron’.
We got involved with protest groups from many other clubs and a big meeting was held one evening in Clerkenwell. The strangest thing to come out of this was to be invited by the Spurs group to participate in their protest against all-seater stadia during their League Cup semi-final second leg at home to Nottingham Forest.
Two representatives from each club (West Ham, Chelsea Arsenal, Charlton, Brentford and Man Utd)  were encouraged to wear their own club’s colours as well as bringing large banners indicating our unity – a very bizarre scenario now and I think I have some photos somewhere. We were given a prominent block of seats which had been provided opposite the TV cameras by Terry Venables who was their mystery backer.” (Jeff)

The West Ham board of directors were scared by the fans’ protest and announced that the purchase of a bond would no longer be required in order to buy a season ticket. Of 19,301 bonds originally available less than 1000 were sold.

There were also volatile protests by Arsenal fans against their club’s planned Bond Scheme.

The Bond Scheme may have been defeated; however, in the long run, the aims of the big clubs to turn football into a huge cash cow have succeeded. The game is unrecognizable compared to the early 1990s.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

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Today in London’s radical past: Chartists rally on Blackheath, 1846.

On 28th February 1846, a Chartist mass meeting, attended by around 700 people, was chaired by Mr Ellis, “an opulent tradesman of Deptford”, in the open air on Blackheath, then on the edge of southeast London.

A Chartist organisation was first formed in Greenwich in the 1830s. In the 1840s mass rallies on Blackheath were addressed by Fergus O’Connor and in the 1850s Chartist activities in the area were regularly reported in Deptford man George Harney’s Red Republican. In July 1842, Chartists held mass rallies on the heath, which 1000s attended.

Deptford was a very active centre of Chartism, and had been a radical centre for many years in fact. Partly this was fuelled by the large numbers of poor folk who lived here, and the high number of workers on the docks and in the shipyards, often venues of unionization and class struggles. There was a Chartist Hall in Union Street, now probably part of Creek Road… Chartists in Greenwich formed the Greenwich Workingmen’s Association in 1836. When Bronterre O’Brien came to open a Chartist Hall in Church Fields, Greenwich, the event suffered police interference but at last come to rest in the Globe Tavern.

Deptford Chartists started meeting in May 1841 and in the summer of that year they met together with the Greenwich group.

In 1847 Samuel Kydd, a shoemaker and speaker for O’Connor’s Chartist Land Company, appeared on the hustings at Greenwich as a Chartist candidate.

After some activity, in 1848, the Wat Tyler Brigade of the Chartist Movement again became active in Greenwich. Their ranks included a police informer called George Davis (he wasn’t innocent, ok?), whose evidence helped to convict black activist William Cuffay, who with others was nicked in August 1848, accused of plotting a Chartist uprising. Cuffay was transported to Tasmania.

Leading Chartist George Harney was born in Deptford in 181, the son of a sailor. Harney edited many Chartist Publications including The Red Republican in which the first English translation of The Communist Manifesto was published.

On 15th March 1848, Greenwich & Deptford Chartists held another mass rally on Blackheath: “No sooner did the placards announcing the meeting make their appearance, than the minions in power set to work to destroy the meeting if possible. Hundreds of special constables were sworn in, and the whole of the police from the neighbouring stations were ordered to attend on the day of the meeting likewise the mounted police from London.” Although the magistrates tried every means of intimidation, and the rain poured in torrents during the time of meeting, the people stood firm, and pledged themselves to stand by the Charter.

By 1850 the Chartists were meeting in the Earl Grey pub in Straitsmouth, Greenwich, on Wednesdays. This pub is now gone. Their secretary was A Cooper, a bookseller of Trafalgar Road, Greenwich and their treasurer A Floyd, a baker of Church Street, Deptford. The Greenwich delegate to the Chartist convention of 1851 was GWM Reynolds.

The Greenwich Chartists formed a joint organisation with the Irish Confederated Democrats.

Blackheath of course had many radical associations, especially to those aspiring for a greater say for working people in the affairs of the nation (or aspiring to even more… working class political power…) It was the host to the mass camp of the revolting peasants in 1381, where on June 13th that year, radical preacher John Ball preached to the assembled 1000s; “When Adam delved & Eve span, Where was then the gentleman?” Probably the earliest recorded egalitarian speech in English history.

In 1450: Jack Cade camps here with 1000s of Kentish rebel followers. From here they marched to attack the City of London.

In 1497, 1000s of Cornish rebels, incensed about a new tax brought in to pay for king Henry VII’s war on Scotland, marched on London, arriving at Blackheath on June 16th. They were defeated by the King’s army in a bloody battle (between Deptford Bridge & the heath). 200 are killed, the leaders including An Gof & Flamank, were executed. Many of the dead were buried on or around the heath.

In later centuries, Blackheath was defended from development by radical campaigners; and became a popular place for Suffragette open-air rallies. And as recently as August 2009, Climate Camp took over the heath for a week…

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical (?) history: Labour Party founded, 1900.

The Labour Representation Committee, later renamed the Labour Party, was founded at Congregational Memorial Hall, in Farringdon, London, on 27 February 1900, at a TUC congress.

In 1899, a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all left-wing organisations and form them into a single body that would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and the proposed conference was held at the Congregational Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street on 26 and 27 February 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations — trades unions represented about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.[8]
After a debate, the 129 delegates passed Hardie’s motion to establish “a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour.” This created an association called the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), meant to coordinate attempts to support MPs sponsored by trade unions and represent the working-class population.[9] It had no single leader, and in the absence of one, the Independent Labour Party nominee Ramsay MacDonald was elected as Secretary. He had the difficult task of keeping the various strands of opinions in the LRC united.

Labour had a mixed heritage right from the start: dominated by the trade unions that founded it, with all their confused heritage.
It was always a broad church, half opportunist leadership, half a working class membership that did change social conditions on the ground… basically reformist, yes, but involvement in local councils, education, etc, did make a huge contribution to an evolution of people’s working lives.
On the other hand… much of this was pressure from below, or hashed up half-baked reforms to stave off revolt. And the constant betrayals, compromises, nationalist rubbish, introducing of immigration controls, supporting wars and promoting imperialism, disempowering people’s self-activity, succumbing to corruption, graft, paternalistic contempt… From signing up to the slaughter of World War 1, calling in the troops on strikers from their very first spell in government (no to mention any number of times during their most radical period in power, after WW2), to New Labour adopting Thatcherism with a yuppie face and dancing off to dismember the Middle east (again)… On the other hand there’s little doubt that much of the welfare state, social housing, the NHS which made such a massive difference to us all, reformist or not, owed a great deal to the impetus from grassroots support from Labour activists.

The party tends to spasm from left to right, in reaction to the dominance of the other faction… Now, of course, we are experiencing a leftward surge. History suggests that all the promises of Corbyn and co may end as many new Labour dawns do… Without wishing to engage in posturing, we desire much more than we will ever get from Labour. What is sad in many ways is the eternal renewals of faith in the party’s somewhat bankrupt structures, given new shots of life in every generation. Since Labour always disappoints, the big question is what forms the disillusion of the thousands currently flocking to sing Corbyn’s praises takes, when the dream turns sour.

A book that’s worth a read on the history of Labour: Labour: A Party Fit for Imperialism, by Robert Clough.

On Labour and post-WW2 strikes: The Labour Government versus the Dockers.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

 

Today in London’s radical history: anti-war women’s meeting to plan Hague peace conference, 1915

The outbreak of World War 1 brought crisis and division in many of the movements struggling for a better world before the war. Socialists, anarchists, unions – many split bitterly as war propaganda and the frenzy of patriotism ratcheted up.

The suffragette movement faced similar angry divisions. All three of the main Suffragette groupings saw some support for the war effort, usually the majority, and a minority opposing the war, either on pacifist, or on internationalist grounds.

Controversies between the two clearly opposed groups within the National Union of Suffrage Societies, the largest, though not the best known or most prominent, suffragist organization, were sharpened by different notions concerning the preparations and proposals of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) congress in The Hague. NUWSS leader Fawcett unambiguously argued that talking of peace while the German soldiers were not driven back was betrayal. However, Catherine Marshall and Kathleen Courtney, influential members of the NUWSS, refused to follow the instructions of their president and in February 1915 they accepted an invitation from Aletta Jacobs to meet in Amsterdam. At this meeting, which also included the British Chrystal Macmillan, Emily Leaf and Theodora Wilson-Wilson, a Quaker, the Germans, Heymann and Augsburg, and some Belgian and Dutch members of IWSA, the programme of the congress to be summoned on April 28 1915 in The Hague was planned.

The inner clashes within the NUWSS culminated after the return of the British delegation from Amsterdam. Five enthusiastic British women came back from the Netherlands determined to do everything for the success of the congress. These women organized a women-only meeting in Caxton Hall for February 26th 1915. The meeting of the executive board of the NUWSS that took place on March 4 1915 launched a flood of resignations of many influential members. Courtney and Marshall resigned as secretaries and Royden as editor of the journal Common Cause. Courtney subsequently explained her decision: “I have some months felt strongly that the most vital work at this moment is the building up of public opinion on lines likely to promote a permanent peace and I am also convinced that such work is entirely in accordance with the principles underlying the suffrage movement [ … ] The Council, however, made it quite clear that they were not prepared to undertake work of this kind. They passed certain resolutions, it is true, but only on the understanding that they were not to be acted upon [ … ] To my mind, this refusal to do the work which the moment demands, it is also a refusal to recognise one of the fundamental principles of the Suffrage Movement.”

The atmosphere of the April meeting was very tense and even the usually reserved Fawcett expressed her bitter disappointment over the resignation of her co-workers; she was well aware that the successes of the NUWSS were largely a result of the hard work of these women. She particularly regretted the resignation of Marshall, whose delicate parliamentary and by-election work, where she achieved many successes due to her ability to come close to the members of Parliament, would not be easy to supersede.

In the following months the situation within the NUWSS became more acute because Fawcett and her co-workers – particularly Lady Balfour and Helena Auerbach – made an effort to prevent peace propaganda within the organization and to enforce a pro-war attitude. Their activities considerably aggravated the position of the internationalists who remained on the executive board of the NUWSS. The tense atmosphere within the NUWSS is well documented by the letter from Swanwick to Marshall on 22nd March:

“Mrs Fawcett wrote to offer to call on me here yesterday, so I invited her to tea and she came. I was absolutely blunt with her & told her that though we didn’t retaliate, she couldn’t expect us to sit under speeches like those she and Lady Frances had been lately dealing out to us – I tried to make her see that she couldn’t decently call her colleagues traitors & lunatics; but she just flushed & blinked & rambled away over all sorts of quite irrelevant things [ … ] just before she went I told her I intended to resign from the Executive & she implored me not to [ … ] I feel that so long as she dictates to the NU there is no place for me within it.”

According to the list compiled by Marshall at the meeting of internationalists of 9th May 1915, those who sharply refused to talk of peace were Fawcett, Lady Frances Balfour, Ray Strachey, Miss Palliser, Auerbach and Miss Atkinson. On the other hand, at this term resigned Ashton, Isabella Ford, Alice Clark, Courtney, Cary Schuster, Mrs Harley, Marshall, Leaf, Swanwick, Royden, Mrs Tanner and Mrs Stanbury

Organizing committees for the preparation of the Hague Women’s Peace Conference conference were formed not only in London, but the movement quickly expanded also to Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Dublin. The number of applications to the congress at The Hague reached 180 delegates, including the representatives of all possible British women’s organizations. The Hague congress aroused great interest among the British women activists and few organizations criticized it. Together with the nationalists of the NUWSS, the suffragettes of Emmeline Pankhurst stood against the peace activities and condemned the Hague conference, declaring that it is necessary to defend France and “to prevent her being crushed by the over-sexed, that is to say over-masculine [ … ] Germany. This terrible business, forced upon us, has to be properly finished to save us from the danger of another war perhaps in ten years’ time”. Sylvia Pankhurst, who enthusiastically supported the Hague congress with other members of the East London Federation, was rebuked by the wealthy Lady Astor (who became in 1919 the first female Member of Parliament). She told Pankhurst she would not have provided the Federation with her valuable patronage if she had known Sylvia would attend the congress.

The British government was also irritated by the notion of so many women setting out to the war-stricken continent. On 16th April 1915 the delegates were refused permission to travel to Holland by the Permit Office; moreover the Permit Office cancelled even those permissions already issued:

“His Majesty’s Government is of opinion that at the present moment there is much inconvenience in holding a large meeting of a political character so close to the seat of the war.”:

Marshall immediately appealed to the Home Office, which promised her permission for twenty-four chosen delegates.

The Admiralty then coincidentally closed the North Sea to shipping, however, the women found out that one more boat was sailing the following day from Tilbury. The delegates on the authorized list made every effort to board that boat; even Ashton and Royden arrived from remote parts of the country at dawn. However, the authorities continued to postpone the issue of permission until no boat was available. The disappointed women lodged at a hotel near the Tilbury dockside and waited there for ten days until the end of congress; only then did they decide to return home.

In spite of these setbacks, the British women were represented at the congress by three peace activists; Macmillan and Courtney were already in the Netherlands and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence arrived, despite danger and postponements, with the American contingent. Schwimmer (a Hungarian working for women’s organizations in London) travelled independently via Scandinavia. These women joined approximately 1,200 delegates from many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Sweden, the United States, and predominantly, of course, from the Netherlands. German delegates were stopped at the border and only twenty-eight of them crossed.

The gathered delegates were welcomed by Aletta Jacobs. The most important decision of the congress was approved on the last day when Rosica Schwimmer proposed, instead of a written resolution, to elect envoys who would be sent personally with the resolutions of the congress to the heads of both belligerent and neutral countries. This proposal provoked strong resistance but the emotive speech by Schwimmer finally convinced the delegates to support it. Among other things she said: “lf brains have brought us to what we are in now, I think it is time to allow also our hearts to speak. When our sons are killed by the millions, let us, mothers, only try to do good by going to kings and emperors.”

From May 1915 two groups of envoys operated in Europe and America, appealing to the rulers of the leading world powers to stop the war and renew peace. The first group of women was led by Jane Addams and Aletta Jacobs. The second group, led by Schwimmer and Macmillan, negotiated with the Swedish foreign minister, who was willing to host a mediating conference if the women brought him notes from two governments, one on either side, announcing that such an initiative would not be unacceptable.

The envoys almost achieved their objective when the British and German foreign ministers agreed not to oppose such a conference. After Addam’s departure to the United States, Schwimmer also decided to sail to America where President Woodrow Wilson received them. Although it seemed the women’s envoys came near to achieving their purpose, no statesman dared to grasp their appeal and call a mediating conference.

In Britain, news from the congress arrived through a telegram sent by Courtney from The Hague; she announced that despite the absence of 180 British women the meeting was a great success. On 11th May a conference chaired by Marshall took place in London at Central Hall, where the delegates decided to found a new organization, which at its first annual general meeting in the autumn adopted the title Women’s International League (WIL). The society announced it would struggle for “linking together two movements felt to be vitally connected: the Women’s Movement and the Pacifist Movement”. WIL was founded particularly thanks to the support of the leading suffragists; Swanwick was elected as the chair, with Royden, Ashton and Courtney as her vice-chairs, Ford and Marshall became members

Of the executive committee. Yet the membership was much wider and was not confined just to the rebels of the NUWSS; within a year the membership of the WIL increased to 2,458 members affiliated in thirty-four branches.

This account is lifted from this great report on the British women’s peace movement in WW1

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: striking tailors riot in the City, 1792.

The journeymen tailors had a history of solidarity dating back at least to the early 15th century.  What nowadays would be called trade unions were then in existence, under the names of ‘clubs’ or ‘combinations’, although they were much more at the local level than trade unions are today.  They met in ‘houses of call’, which were usually public houses. 1721 was a notably militant year: the master tailors of London presented a petition to the House of Commons, complaining that the journeymen in the trade had formed a combination and gone on strike.  The tailors’ combinations seem to have been quietly in existence for some years, perhaps starting as friendly societies, for them to have achieved by this time the power to challenge their employers in this way.  On five occasions between 1702 and 1720 the masters had appealed to Parliament, but the journeymen were never mentioned in these appeals.  In February 1721 the master tailors of London and Westminster complained that the combination of journeymen numbered 15,000, and that they were striking for better pay and shorter hours.  The result was a Bill passed in June, 1721, which supported the masters and made it lawful for journeymen striking or found to be part of a combination to be fined or imprisoned.  The effect of this act was to suppress overt activity in the combinations for twenty years. But the eighteenth century in the London tailoring trade was a tale of journeymen forming intermittent organisations to struggle for shorter hours and higher pay, and the masters enlisting their class allies in Parliament to repress these combinations.

In 1744, the master tailors again petitioned Parliament in a similar vein, that the journeymen had again organized combinations and were refusing to work for the legally enforced wage levels.  The Government response was to target the publicans on whose premises the ‘houses of call’ met, and to prosecute them for harbouring the members of the combinations.  No further action was taken by the Government, but the effect was that much public sympathy was generated for the plight of the journeymen.   Eventually, in July, 1751, the journeymen secured from the Court of Quarter Sessions in the County of Middlesex an order fixing their wages at “2s.6d. per day from Lady Day till Michaelmas and 2s. per day from Michaelmas to Lady Day, in addition to the allowance of three half-pence for breakfast.  The hours of work, however, were not altered and remained at 6 am to 8 pm with an hour off for dinner.”  The journeymen appeared happy with this, but there was soon further agitation, which gained them an hour’s reduction in their working day.  The masters attempted to undo these reforms on several occasions, but without success.  In November, 1763 the journeymen secured a further small daily wage increase, but the combinations continued to fight for better wages, bringing their activities more before the public gaze.

The masters evaded some of the restrictions of the legal rates of pay by moving some manufacturing out of London and Middlesex, and sometimes by secretly paying their best journeymen additional amounts in cash. The London combination again appealed to the Court in 1772 and received a further wage increase of 6d. per day, and 1s. per day during general mourning (see my ‘General Mourning’ blog).
In this context, another combination was formed, and a strike took place in 1792, both in London, and also in some other tailoring areas, such as Oxford. During this dispute, there was some riotous trouble in the City on February 25th.

In 1795, after further appeals, the Government fixed the journeymen’s pay at 27s. per week, with double during general mourning.   Further disputes over wages and hours ensued during the years.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s rebel history: The Call launched as the voice of the British Socialist Party anti-war faction, 1916.

The Call was a socialist newspaper, founded as voice of the British Socialist Party’s anti-war faction, and launched on February 24th 1916.

The British Socialist Party had been founded in 1912 as a merger of the Social Democratic Federation and a number of small groups. Although it initially grew to as larger size than previous socialist groups in Britain, it carried within it the fatal flaws that had crippled much of the life of the SDF – deep splits over patriotism and militarism, a domination from the centre by HM Hyndman, the SDF founder, whose uneasy mix of rightwing ideas and Marxist orthodoxy had alienated large numbers and caused numerous splits.

The BSP did benefit from some involvement in the brief upsurge of workers struggles that some call the syndicalist revolt (1910-14). But the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 exposed the fundamental divisions that broke the party apart.

After the declaration of War on August 4th, the national headquarters of the BSP supported the War; in line with the Labour Party and the memberships and leaderships of most trade unions. On September 5th its Executive Committee unanimously agreed to a manifesto supporting recruiting. The ‘old guard’ of the BSP were taking the patriotic line – however many of its local activists were deeply opposed to the War on internationalist grounds.

The result was chaos in the BSP. As with other parts of the workers, socialist, and anarchist movements there were battles on the question of the War. Views could even change rapidly within local branches. North Islington BSP for example took a pro-recruiting position in June 1915; by November the same year it had reversed this stance, yet in May 1916 it elected H. M. Hyndman, ‘grand old man’ of the BSP and leader of the pro-War tendency, as its delegate to the BSP Annual Conference; still later, it took a strongly anti-War position!

Nor were the fights restricted to verbals – a public meeting of the Socialist National Defence Committee. (including the most rabid war-mongers of the BSP) ended in tears after EC Fairchild of the internationalist faction suggested that, considering the aimless and endless slaughter on the Western Front, a negotiated peace might be a good idea. Violence erupted and Albert Inkpin, secretary of the BSP, was ejected with blood streaming down his face.

In February 1916 a group of the party’s active members founded the newspaper The Call, which played an important part in uniting the internationalists.

From 1916 onwards, The Call, edited by Fred Willis of Willesden (and later Inkpin) became the paper official journal of the British Socialist Party, replacing Justice, which had been the paper of the SDF/BSP since the mid-1880s. . The Call was produced between 24 February 1916 until the 29 July 1920, when it became the Communist the organ of the Communist party of Great Britain.

The Call was started in anticipation of a split in the BSP which eventuated two months later at Easter 1916 – at the 24-25 April national conference. This Conference reversed the BSP’s pro-War policy. This decision led to a walkout by the ‘patriots’, who took Justice, the party’s paper, and most of its assets with them. This faction then created its own organisation called – perhaps unfortunately – the National Socialist Party. The NSP later changed its name back to the Social Democratic Federation and they took a violently patriotic line. After the War the new SDF had its National Headquarters at 54 Colebrooke Row, Islington. It had a strong Islington Branch which included among its members W. S. Cluse and Fred Montague. The SDF finally went out of existence in 1939.

“Despite the success of the split from Hyndman, since the slaughter of the war went on and the mood of Britain was still very patriotic, the mood of the paper is gloomy, indeed the battle of the Somme started in July 1916 while the Irish rebellion was crushed during its opening conference. One has the impression that an immense change in optimism occurred after the first Russian Revolution which was warmly greeted in the paper on the 22 March 1917. There was a huge growth in all the Marxist currents in Britain without much direct Russian involvement through instructions or money. Still the BSP, as in the pre-Hyndman era, up to the end of 1918 though its members were often exceedingly active in the Trade Unions did not try to organise their members in groups and develop a line therein in the Bolshevik style.

Walter Kendall in his book, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900-21: the Origins of British Communism, 1969, deals with The Call, the BSP and its evolution into the Communist party. Most of his material about The Call is in Chapters 6 and 9. Kendall’s thesis seems to be that there was an organic growth until some point between early 1918 and early in 1919 when the changes that occurred were increasingly pushed through with Russian money and agents and did not arise out of British conditions and so were, in a sense, artificial, all of which is dealt with in great detail in the Part 2 of the book. Studies since the archives have been opened up have tended to confirm Kendall’s thesis as regards the amounts and frequency of Russian subventions though whether the CP was simply an artificial creation of the Russians is a much more debatable point.

A number of the leading members wrote articles for the paper, Dora Montefiore for instance, the other prominent woman is Zelda Kahan and apart from these two there is Fairchild, the editor, Walton Newbold MP, Fineburg, Dukes, Watson, Ward, Tom Quelch, and last but not least Theo Rothstein who also writes under the name John Bryan and the initials W.A.M.M. Many articles and editorials are anonymous.”
(Ted Crawford)

The British Socialist Party played a leading role in the “Hands off Russia” movement founded 18th January 1919, a campaign launched to stop British Government intervention (British troops landed in Murmansk, Archangel, Baku and Vladivostock in the summer of 1918) and aid to the “White” and “Czarist” Russians during the Civil War. The Campaign was famous for the “blacking” of the ship the “Jolly George” bound with armaments for the White Russians.

The BSP entered into negotiations with other socialist groups to form the CPGB, and formed the largest consitutent bloc in the new party’s membership. Effective with the merger, the BSP and its newspaper, The Call, was terminated, replaced by the new party with its new weekly publication published in London called The Communist.

An index of some articles published in the Call can be read at:
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/call/index.htm

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: black colonists embark in disastrous Sierra Leone scheme, 1787

The Sierra Leone Scheme – a shameful attempt to deport black people, or a charitable attempt to promote self-reliance? A bit of both…

From the 1590s (when queen Elizabeth I ordered all black people deported from England), to the 1780s, to the 1980s – black people living in the UK have largely been labeled a ‘problem’ to be ‘dealt with’ by the authorities. But schemes to ‘send them back’ didn’t begin with the National Front in the 1970s…

In the 1780s, with the slave trade still going strong between Britain and the West Indies, making huge profits for the traders, plantation owners and merchants (contributing to the massive wealth of the City of London and other financial and shipping centres), the British government was faced with a problem. Early advocates of the abolition of the slave trade had focused on the legality of importing slaves to England, and had managed to force Chief Justice Lord Mansfield into the 1772 Somerset judgment, making it unlawful to transport a slave to Britain.

As a result, black people already here, and those arriving here, began to believe themselves to be free, and many became de facto free. Growing numbers of black people also began congregating in Britain after many had to flee the new United States, having been persuaded to side with loyalists against independence, in the hope of being granted freedom.

There were also increasing large numbers of ex-sailors, runaway slaves, and former servants. Many of these ended up in London, and living in extreme poverty in the slums and rookeries, many inevitably taking to crime, begging and violence to survive. One such group, known as the St Giles Blackbirds, lived around the infamous St Giles Rookery. No doubt fears were also stoked by the numbers of blacks said to be involved in the 1780 Gordon Riots (at least two prominent black leaders were hanged in the days following this uprising.) These were the days of the earliest theorists of racial segregation and the sub-humanity of some races… A growing number of black residents, inter-marriage, involvement in crime and rebellion… The Enoch Powells of the day were frothing.

No-one was entirely sure how many black people there were in London in the mid-1780s, but all nervous government officials and concerned charitable souls could see was a problem that needed ‘fixing’ – by any means necessary…
After some philanthropists discovered the plight of the black poor and commenced the concerted effort to aid them, the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor was set up, which (later shortened to the Committee for the Black Poor) distributed food each day at two public houses and opened a ‘hospital’ to care for the sick among them. The more seriously ill, like Jonathan Strong in 1765, were sent to St Bartholomew’s Hospital. The Committee also helped those who wished to return to sea or to other countries if not born in Britain.

Partly from the charitable activities of the Committee and their supporters, a possible solution to black poverty in England arose, which came to be supported by the government, the philanthropists and the poor themselves – but from wholly different motives, which was in the end to doom the scheme to disaster. They could leave Britain, individually or en masse, and try to make a go of it somewhere else.
The government, delighted to help them leave, contributed enormous sums of money to sustain them before, during and after their departure. Racism and a certain amount of xenophobia contributed to their position too.
The Committee for the Black Poor had truly charitable concerns and wanted to keep them from literally living and dying on the streets.
Black people themselves wanted to find a place where they could establish a working community and support themselves independently. While some of them could see the government’s motives were not entirely benign, anything (apart from slavery) was better than starvation and the opportunity to found a colony seemed a heaven-sent solution.

Initially the Committee’s and the government’s planned to found a black colony in sending the people to Nova Scotia, Canada. After this fell through, in 1786 a man named Henry Smeathman stepped into the picture; a businessman and botanist, he offered a vision of a self-sufficient and lucrative African colony, which delighted the Committee; he had lived on the west coast of Africa and claimed it was entirely habitable, which was of prime importance to those blacks who read his proposal when it was distributed later that year in the form of a handbill. In short, he told everyone what they most wanted to hear.

Smeathman sent a memorandum to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury offering his scheme as the way to help rid the country of a problem, to prevent the assimilation of coloured persons into English society, but in a humane way. Smeathman’s proposal was to transport the black poor would to Sierra Leone, given three months of provisions, clothing, bedding, tools and medicine. Once there they would build housing and become self-sufficient, and quickly begin to supply Britain with various raw materials. He worked out the plan in enormous detail, listing in detail all the clothes, food, supplies, medicines etc. that would be needed. However he lied about the climate of Sierra Leone, relations with local chiefs, dangers from continued slaving ships, and more…

In their haste to accept such a relatively straightforward solution to the ‘problem’ of the black poor, neither the Committee nor the government did much investigating. Had they done so they would have discovered two important facts: first, that Smeathman himself had testified to a government commission only one year earlier that the climate of Sierra Leone was so deadly that if a convict station were set up there one hundred would die each month; and second, that he and his associates intended to establish a profit-making estate there by using slave labour. The black poor were being ushered into a deadly trap; but honest anti-slavery activists and philanthropists were happy to believe him, and the government may have colluded, not caring how the ‘problem’ disappeared. In the government’s desperation to fill the ships and have them sail, they greedily hoped to ship more problematic poor folk out. Not only had a number of unwilling blacks been rounded up and forced on board, but a number of white prostitutes had been made drunk and taken on board. A number awakened on board ship to discover that they had been married to black men the night before and were now to be transported to Africa with their new husbands. Certainly the London authorities had been given carte blanche to rid the city of ‘undesirables’ such as poor blacks and prostitutes.

Large numbers of poor black folk volunteered to join the colony; others were more or less coerced. Persuasion was starting to meet with grave doubts among London’s blacks, who feared being targeted by slavers once in Africa… The longer the plan went forward, more and more potential recruits fell prey to doubts or demanded better preparations and support. Angry sermonising, gold-pavemented lies about the land intended for them, bribery and arresting them for bribery were used to push reluctant colonists into signing up. The poverty, sickness of the future settlers handicapped the plan from the start; it was almost ended before it was begun by the death of Henry Smeathman himself, in July 1786.

It would have been better for the colonists if his scheme had died with him. But although alternative plans came u for other sites for the colony, a number of the black Londoners chosen to lead the expedition decided to stick by Smeathman’s plan, unaware that it was based on fantasy. They petitioned the Committee for the Black Poor to carry it through; the Committee pressed the Treasury, and doubts about the African coast were submerged…

At this point the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor appointed a black man, Olaudah Equiano, known in England as Gustavus Vassa, to act as Commissary for the expedition. His job was to supervise the preparations as well as act as an intermediary between the settlers, Committee and government. He willingly took on the job, unaware of the enormous frustrations and dangers that accompanied it. Equiano had been born in Africa, taken as a slave when a child, served on board ships and had ultimately freed himself and come to England, where he became an anti-slavery activist, writer and pubic speaker. He had toured the country speaking at abolitionist meetings, met with radicals and lived with democrats (he shared a house with Thomas Hardy, founder of the London Corresponding Society), and would write his autobiography in 1789.

When Equiano arrived in London after a trip to Philadelphia in August of 1786, he learned of Smeathman’s plan. Far from seeing it as an opportunity to rid Britain of unwanted aliens, he pronounced himself ‘agreeably surprised that the benevolence of government had adopted the plan of some philanthropic individuals’. With his combination of fierce abolitionism and enthusiastic mercantilism, he believed the plan offered independence to the settlers and the possibility for England to develop commerce with Africa in goods rather than people. He was acquainted with some members of the Committee, and they approached him to take on the role of superintendent. At their recommendation, and after several interviews, the Navy Board appointed him Commissary and put him in charge of making sure all supplies were provided and loaded as ordered.

Thrilled not only by the government’s recognition but by the opportunity to assist fellow former slaves, he outfitted himself at his own expense and threw himself into the execution of his duties. But he was an honest and scrupulous champion of his own people, and he soon suspected the shortcomings of the expedition, noted the inadequacy of the supplies, and argued against the methods of recruitment. He wrote to friends that he suspected the colonists would be used “as they are in the West Indies” and betrayed into slavery or death. His attempts to improve conditions on board the ships preparing to embark for Africa, and for the future of the enlisted, resulted in him being accused of stirring them up to resist and cause trouble. In the end, although the Navy Board found he had acted in good faith, he was sacked; but the scheme went ahead.

After these disasters, the government stepped up the pace of the resettlement. With the eventual departure of the three transport ships in spring 1787, many believed that the unwanted black people of Britain had finally sailed away.

A great deal of energy had gone into getting the black poor on board ships and out of England, but very little had gone into arranging a sustainable life for them once they arrived in Africa. But the inhospitable climate, poverty, bad preparations, disease took their toll almost immediately. Of those who set sail from Plymouth, only two-thirds survived the first three months.

A number of white men sent to ‘guide’ the colony fared much better than the black settlers, mainly because of their orders to sleep on board and do no manual labour. They were given Canary wine, a supposed restorative. The settlers on the other hand had salt food and rum, slept in soggy tents, and many fell ill and died. As they became more and more discouraged—and were labelled as ‘vicious, drunken and lawless, unfit to colonize’ by the whites—they grew less and less willing to obey their orders. Even the gardener and the seeds sent along to assist them died, and when they tried to cultivate at the end of the rains they found nothing would grow. They moved to better ground but had to barter the government-sent stores for rice to prevent starvation, and were blamed for this also. The white leaders abandoned the settlement, and many settlers also began to leave, ‘drifting away to work on passing ships or for neighbouring slave-traders’. By March 1788 only 130 black settlers were left; the rest had either died or run off.

Further problems came in the shape of the continuing slave trade. Slave ships did not like having this independent black community in their slaving territory, and their captains and crews sometimes captured settlers. The settlers retaliated by tracking down and punishing the kidnappers, infuriating the captains and leading them to encourage another local leader, known as King Jimmy, to oppose them. When Americans kidnapped some of King Jimmy’s people, he killed three Americans and sold the boat. The settlers, far from living in the safe and hospitable environment described by Smeathman, were in a near war zone full of local arguments and battles for power, with nearly everyone resenting their presence. An English ship, the HMS Pomona, was sent to protect them, but its captain, Henry Savage, watched from the deck as the settlement was attacked, going ashore only to bury the dead. He refused the settlers’ pleas to carry them to safety, and sailed away on 3 December. Three days later Granville Town was burned down. Relief did not arrive for nearly a year, until January 1791.

The Colony’s problems persisted, and continued attempts to prop it up or prolong its life failed miserably. It was only the efforts of black activists and anti-slavery abolitionists, which managed to establish another colony in Sierra Leone, mainly consisting of blacks previously settled in Nova Scotia, in 1793. This was the beginning of the modern country of Sierra Leone.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London publishing history: Parliament orders pro- (and anti-) American pamphlets burnt, 1775

“The said book is a false, malicious, and traitorous libel &c.; That one of the said printed books be burnt by the hands of the common hangman in New Palace yard, and another before the Royal Exchange…”

As the conflict grew between the British government and the colonies in North America, which would shortly erupt into the American War of Independence, one of the main vehicles was the pamphlet war. Supporters and opponents of the colonists engaged in furious debates through pamphlets and newspaper articles… both in America, and in Britain. A strong current of opinion existed on this side of the Atlantic, in support of the struggle in the New World. But the authorities here didn’t take kindly to pro-independence sentiments being aired under their noses.

“Lord Effingham complained in the House of Lords of the licentiousness of the press, and produced a pamphlet entitled, “The Present Crisis with Respect to America Considered,” published by T. Becket, which his Lordship declared to be a most daring insult on the king: and moved, that the house would come to resolutions to the following effect:
That the said pamphlet is a false, malicious, and dangerous libel…. That one of the said pamphlets be burnt by the hands of the common hangman in Old Palace-yard; and another, at the Royal Exchange.
That these resolutions be communicated to the House of Commons at a conference, and that the concurrence of that house be desired. Which resolutions being read, were unanimously agreed to…. A second conference now ensued, arising from a complaint of the Earl of Radnor in the Upper House, and of Lord Chewton in the Lower House, against a periodical paper, called The Crisis, No. 3 published for T. Shaw, &c. In the Lower House, the paper in question had been voted a false, malicious, and seditious libel; in the Upper House, the word treasonable was added; but, upon re-considering the matter, that was omitted: but it was, like the other, unanimously ordered to be burned by the hands of the common hangman…. In obedience to the above orders, these pieces were burnt, on the 6th of March following, by the common hangman, at Westminster-hall gate.”

(Annual Register, 1775)

The context in which this took place was tense: the colonies were on the brink of rebellion, after various actions and protests against taxation and trade inequalities had provoked a heavy crackdown by the British Crown. The Continental Congress had first met in September 1774, to organise opposition to the removal of self-government from Massachusetts; the first battles between rebels and crown forces were just two months away.

The pamphlet in question though, seems to have been arguing that it should be ok for the king to raise taxes without recourse to Parliament. It may be that it was burnt because it undermined the sovereignty of Parliament and the constitution established in 1689:

“I am told there has been a pamphlet published by one Becket, advancing a very extraordinary doctrine, viz. That it would be proper to impower the crown to raise taxes by its own authority, in times of necessity.  If this doctrine was approved by our parliament, our situation would be the same with that of Spain in Charles V. the emperor’s time, when the Cortez of Spain granted that power to the crown, under the pretence of necessity; which enabled the crown never to call a Cortez afterwards, for they always found out some cause of necessity for continuing that power.  I hear the house of peers have ordered that pamphlet to be burnt by the hands of the hangman — but is that sufficient punishment for an author, who durst advance a doctrine which at once destroys the British constitution, and establishes arbitrary power; which, as I have said before, I look upon as political damnation.  It appears how the Romans prized the least breathing by liberty, during the time of their emperors, by looking into Tacitus’s history of the reign of Trojan, which he calls Rara Tempora, when the Romans could speak or write what they thought, without being ruined by it:  for as the most part of those emperors were monsters of cruelty, so they persecuted every body who regarded virtue, and who did not approve of their vile actions.”

Becket seems to have been a bookseller and publisher in London’s Strand (on the corner of the Adelphi theatre), who printed various pro-American works in the 1760s and 1770s…

These included Benjamin Franklin’s, The Interest of Great Britain with regard to her Colonies, and the Acquisitions of Canada and Guadeloupe, 1760, and A Letter to the Right Honourable Wills Earl of Hillsborough, on the connection between Great Britain and her American colonies [George Canning], 1768).

Becket also published Ottobah Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species in 1787.

A noted above, the same week as Becket’s pamphlet was condemned in Parliament, a newspaper called The Crisis was also ordered to be publicly burned. Published for Mr T Shaw, his was also held to be “a false, malicious and seditious libel”. But as the Annual Register noted that this publication’s views were ‘diametrically opposite’ to Becket’s, it’s likely this was more pro-independence…

It’s possible Becket was purely motivated less by any idealism than by commercial potential; he is mostly remembered today for contesting a court battle, fronting for several booksellers trying to extend copyright longer than legally agreed statutory limits. He lost.

The duty of burning pamphlets outside Westminster Hall devolved upon the public hangman, already an unpopular figure with the rowdy London crowd. When the Lord Mayor of London also ordered the condemned publications burnt at London’s Royal Exchange, some of the mob took umbrage: “Some of them were at first very riotous; they seized and threw about the faggots which were brought, and treated the City marshal and the hangman very ill: but more faggots being brought, and dipt in turpentine, they immediately took fire, and soon consumed the publications in question. But soon after the sheriffs and other officers had quitted the place of execution, a man of decent appearance burnt, at the same place, a copy of the late address upon the American affairs, and the Birmingham petition.” (Annual Register)

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s insurrectionary history: Colonel Despard executed for planning revolution, 1803.

21st February 1803: Colonel Edward Despard & six others are executed for planning a radical uprising.

According to newspaper accounts, Colonel Edward Marcus Despard, “dressed in boots, a dark brown great co,, his hair unpowdered,” ascended the gallows “With great firmness.” He had played an important role in clandestine efforts in England and Ireland to organize a revolutionary army, whose goal was to seize power in London and declare a republic. He now faced hanging and beheading as a traitor. The sheriff had warned that the platform would drop instantly if he said anything “inflammatory or improper.” Facing the assembled twenty thousand with “perfect calmness,” Despard spoke these words:

“Fellow Citizens, I come here, as you see, after having served my country, faithfully, honourably, and usefully served it, for thirty years and upwards, to suffer death upon a scaffold for a crime of which I protest I am not guilty. I solemnly declare that I am no more guilty of it than any of you who may be now hearing me.­
But, though his MAJESTY’S Ministers know as well as I do, that I am not guilty, yet they avail themselves of a legal pretext to destroy a man, because he has been a friend to truth, to liberty, and to justice. [At this, one newspaper reported, “the crowd issued forth loud huzzas.”] Because he has been a friend to the poor and oppressed. But, Citizens, I hope and trust, notwithstanding my fate, and the fate of those who no doubt will soon follow me, that the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice’ will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny, and delusion, and every principle inimical to the interests of the human race.”

At this significant phrase – “the human race” – the sheriff admonished him for using such incendiary language. “I have little more to add,” Despard continued, “except to wish you all health, happiness, and freedom, which I have endeavoured, as far as was in my power, to procure for you and for mankind in general.” As his fellow conspirator John MacNamara was brought up to the scaffold, he said to Despard, “I am afraid, Colonel, we have got into a bad situation.” Despard’s answer, the newspapers noted, was characteristic of the man: “There are many better, and some worse.” His last words were, “Tis very cold, I think we shall have some rain.” Undoubtedly, he had looked up hoping to behold that little patch of blue which the prisoner calls the sky.

A former soldier, who had served with Nelson, Despard had became radicalised, after seeing the effets of British colonialism in the West Indies and in Ireland. After ending up in jail for debt, he mixed in Jocobin and democratic circles in London. He had been arrested on November 16, 1802, as he attended a meeting of forty workingmen in the Oakley Arms tavern in Lambeth. Those arrested included eight carpenters, five laborers, two shoemakers, two hatters, a stonemason, a clockmaker, a “plaisterer not long from the sea,” and “a man who cuts wood and sells it in penny bundles.” Many of them also

worked as soldiers. These men had organized among common laborers, dockworkers,.soldiers, and sailors-especially soldiers stationed at the Tower and Irishmen who had served on board the Kings Ships & had been used to Cannon.” Several of the Irish labourers had been involved in the Irish rebellion in 1798. Five thousand workers recently discharged from the wet docks were expected to join the cause: despite a period of intense shipping, they had been rendered either unemployed, as a direct result of hydraulic civil engineering, or homeless, by neighborhood clearances.

Despard described the revolutionary force as comprising “Soldiers, Sailors, and Individuals.” They had been recruited in the pubs of the slums of London: in St. Giles’-in-the-Fields, virtually an autonomous zone of the motley proletariat; south of the river, where the soldiers were concentrated; and in the East End river parishes, the neighborhood of sailors and dockers. These men had joined the movement in order “to burst the chain of bondage and slavery” and “to recover some of those liberties which we have lost.” They called Parliament the “Den of Thieves” and the government the “Man Eaters.” One thought “Windsor Castle was fit to teach the Gospel and maintain poor people’s Children in”. During their trial, the lord chief justice and presiding judge, Ellenborough, explained that “instead of the ancient limited monarchy of this Realm, its established free and wholesome laws, its approved usages, its useful gradations of rank, its natural and inevitable as well as desirable inequalities of property,” Despard and his fellow revolutionaries had sought “to substitute a wild scheme of impracticable equality.” We’ll drink to that!

Despard thought that “the people were every where ripe and anxious for the moment of attack.” The insurrectionary plan was to fire upon the king’s carriage with cannon shot as he made his annual way to Parliament, then to seize the Tower, the Bank of England and Parliament, and to stop the mail coaches at Piccadilly as a signal for the rest of the country to rise. Despard was expert in ordnance and military strategy and tactics. But the scheme was foiled by the arrests at the Oakley Arms. Fifteen men were indicted for treason, on the grounds that they “did conspire, compass, imagine, and intend” the king’s death. Eleven were found guilty. Although the jury recommended mercy, Despard and six others were executed on February 21st, 1803.

Some good accounts of the Despard Conspiracy, the social and political context, and the turbulent economic and international dislocations that it emerged from, can be found in:

The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Peter Linebaugh & Marcus Rediker, (Beacon Press 2002)

Insurrection: the British Experience 1797-1803, Roger Wells.
Available from http://www.breviarystuff.org.uk/roger-wells-insurrection/

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s rebel history: The Savoy Palace attacked, 1377.

The Savoy Palace, which lay roughly where the Savoy Hotel now stands on the Strand, in London’s West End, was built as the home of the king Edward III’s hated & powerful son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. On 20 February 1377, the palace was besieged by an angry crowd.

The day before, at St Paul’s Cathedral, rebel cleric John Wyclife had been called to answer to the Bishop of London, having denounced greedy & worldly church officials. Wyclife was a protégé of John of Gaunt, king’s son, head of the government, soon to be effectively regent for child-king Richard II. Wycliffe was a reformer, but he was also to some extent a tool in the hand of the Duke of Lancaster (some of his denunciations had been ‘inspired’ by Gaunt, aimed as they are at some of the Duke’s political enemies). When Gaunt appeared to defend Wyclife, his haughty behaviour lead to a slanging match with the Bishop: assembled crowds turned on the unpopular Duke & he had to flee. The next day a meeting of citizens heard that Gaunt’s ally Henry Percy was holding a captive in his house at Aldersgate: interfering with the City’s right to control its own judicial affairs…the result is a riot. Percy’s inn is stormed, the crowds then marched along Fleet Street to attack Lancaster’s palace of the Savoy. Gaunt, dining elsewhere, scarpered by boat to Kennington.

They also traced Gaunt to his sister’s manor house in Kennington & attacked that too.

(Wyclife meanwhile returned to Oxford, where his criticisms of the church will develop into outright heresy & inspire the Lollards.)

Four years later in the Peasants Revolt, the Savoy was totally destroyed (on 13th June 1381) by rebellious crowds on the Peasants’ Revolt’s most fun-filled day. Chroniclers disagree whether the men of Kent burned it, or the commons of London, who were the Duke’s most ardent enemies.
Later the restored building was used as prison for military rebels & deserters… The area of the palace was a medieval Liberty, that of the Duchy of Lancaster Without Temple Bar which partly led to the tangled jumble of rooms, having a right of sanctuary. A no-go area of crims, especially thieves, and rebels, grew up around it, which lasted for centuries.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online