Today in London radical history: betrayed by her lover, socialist Eleanor Marx kills herself, Sydenham, 1898.

Eleanor Marx, Karl’s daughter, a socialist and trade unionist, was heavily involved in leftwing politics, both domestically and on the burgeoning international scene, from her teens until her death. She was a member of the pioneering socialist organization, the Social Democratic Federation, and then part of the large minority that split away, disillusioned with the authoritarianism, racism and opportunism of the SDF’s founder HM Hyndman, to form the Socialist League in 1885. With lover Edward Aveling, she founded the Bloomsbury branch of the League. To great scandal at the time, Eleanor and Aveling lived together in Bloomsbury, unmarried.

Although Eleanor did see her open co-habitation with Aveling as rejecting “immoral bourgeois conventionalities”, she wasn’t really a campaigner for Free Love. She did view women as being the most oppressed in the capitalist society of her day, but didn’t believe it was best addressed on a domestic or personal level, focussing instead on collective solutions – especially to the struggles of working class women.

Setting up home with Aveling, Eleanor discovered that she hated housework. Uniquely among Marx’s family (and the middle class generally then), she had no servants – she couldn’t afford it, and again, unlike Marx and most of his family, she was reluctant to continually tap Marx’s well-financed mate Friedrich Engels for cash. She attempted to support herself writing essays and reviews, lecturing on Shakespeare, and teaching.

The Bloomsbury branch of the Socialist League, which grew to 80 members at one point, met for a while (February 1886) at the Eagle and Child coffee house in Soho’s Old Compton Street; layer at the Arlington Hall, Rathbone Place, (June 1886)l but they also held events at other nearby venues, including the Athenaeum Hall, 73 Tottenham Court Road, where they put on an evening of Musical and Dramatic Entertainment. Eleanor also lectured in Bloomsbury’s Hart Street (now Bloomsbury Way), in Neumeyer Hall, for the annual socialist commemoration of the Paris Commune in March 1885 (a speech praised even by the SDF’s HM Hyndman, no mate of Eleanor, who called it “one of the finest speeches I ever heard”. At another Commune commemoration, held at the ‘Store Street hall’ off Gower Street in March 1888, she spoke on a platform with Hyndman, William Morris, Kropotkin, Annie Besant and John Burns. Interestingly Eleanor and Aveling also celebrated an earlier sometime Bloomsbury resident, Shelley, in two lectures on ‘Shelley and Socialism’ in 1888, later published as a pamphlet.

But if the Socialist League was united mainly by opposition to Hyndman, it was divided by many principles and tactics. Eleanor and Aveling, as well as others of the membership, especially in the Bloomsbury branch, were in favour of parliamentary representation and campaigning in elections, a minority position in the League, which increasingly became dominated by anarchists or anti-parliamentary socialists. From the start Eleanor and Aveling were hostile to the anarchists, not only politically, but because they saw them as easy meat for the many police spies sniffing round the broad socialist movement. Growing internal differences manifested as bitter faction fighting and attempts by the Bloomsbury branch to capture the League for their position; at the SL’s fourth annual conference their resolutions proposing the standing of candidates in local and parliamentary elections, and for moving towards uniting with other socialist groups were defeated. The widening split to led to their eventual departure in 1888 (they were suspended after it emerged they had put up local election candidates jointly with the SDF that April, and had encouraged joint membership, despite League policy), after which they reformed themselves as the Bloomsbury Socialist Society, which helped to organise the first British May Day demo in 1890. The Society met weekly at the Communist Club in Tottenham Street from 1890 to 1893.

Eleanor was very active in trade union work, especially with the Gasworkers Union and with striking East End matchgirls in 1888; and while on the one hand the Bloomsbury ‘faction’ undoubtedly intrigued and supped on parliamentary illusions, they also rejected the purist attitudes of the Socialist League towards workers striving for immediate improvements in their day to day lives, which isolated some socialists from much working class organisation.

Eleanor may have been down on the anarchists; she was more complimentary about the Fabians, many of who were personal friends, though she thought their politics misguided, and even the Christian Socialists, who she considered sincere, though again she called their mix of Christianity and socialism “ludicrous”.

But Eleanor’s long-time lover Edward Aveling was a cad, as they used to say; infamous in the secularist and socialist circles the couple moved in, for philandering, poncing (and sometimes embezzling) money and never repaying, two-timing Eleanor and generally behaving anti-socially. At the same time he genuinely dedicated his sharp mind to both Darwinism and Marx’s ‘scientific socialism’. Shaw called him “an agreeable rascal… who would have gone to the stake for Socialism or Atheism, but with absolutely no conscience in his private life…” “In revolt against all bourgeois conventions, Aveling did not replace them by any moral concern, but simply filled the vacuum with his own egotism…” (EP Thompson) His amoral attitudes gradually alienated many fellow socialists – for instance William Morris, who worked with Aveling closely in 1883-6, was by late 1887 calling him a “disreputable dog”; admittedly, though, they had fallen out politically by then.

For all their shared life, unmarried in defiance of bourgeois convention, he later betrayed Eleanor by secretly marrying someone else, after a number of other affairs, and a despairing Eleanor, who had long defended Aveling against the criticisms of fellow socialists, killed herself at her home in Sydenham in 1898, by swallowing prussic acid. Aveling himself died later the same year.


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


Today in London’s radical history: veteran East End dissident communist Joe Jacobs dies, 1977.

Joe Jacobs was born in 1913 in the East End of London. He lived and worked in London and was involved in socialist organizations his entire life. Joe was a member of the Young Communist League, before he joined the adult party from which he was expelled not once but twice. He was later one of those who helped to found the libertarian socialist organization Solidarity, and after being expelled from that, was a founder of the network Echanges et Mouvement in 1975.

Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1913 Joe endured terrible poverty and personal hardships while growing up. His father died a year after he was born and the family was constantly short of money. When Joe was 12, he lost an eye due to a medical problem. An elder sister was lost to TB in squalid circumstances and other family members lived in equally dire circumstances.

Joe developed a fierce class politics, not surprisingly. Through his father’s first wife, Joe had an elder brother, Dave, who he never met, who returned to Russia to take part in the Revolution. Dave had been a Bolshevik supporter, but later joined the “Workers Opposition” and eventually left Russia to live in Paris. Joe’s own introduction to politics came in 1925 when he was 12 and stumbled across a demonstration in support of the Jewish Bakers’ Union; he was also “profoundly affected” by the General Strike in 1926, especially after witnessing mounted police attacking a crowd with sticks.

Coming into contact with the Communist Party, Joe joined the Young Communist League, and later the adult party. It was to become the centre of his life. In his autobiography Out of the Ghetto, he vividly describes the tremendous variety of activities and organizations in which the Communist Party was involved.

But Joe was often considered a trouble maker in his branch. Throughout the latter part of the book, he paints a picture of the struggle in the branch between those who wanted to work through the trade unions and those who looked to alternative organizations and street work to advance the party’s message, each brandishing Marx and Lenin to support their positions. Joe was a supporter of the latter group and was labelled an ultra-leftist by his colleagues.

No account of life in the East End in the 30’s would be complete without a mention of the “Battle of Cable Street.” The announcement by Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists that they would march through Cable Street on Sunday, October 3 and the efforts to prevent it have become the stuff of (C P) legend. The Fascist movement in Britain, while it never gained the influence that it achieved in continental Europe was certainly growing. Mosley’s march was a provocation. Yet, despite the wave of popular indignation, and later CP accounts, the Communist Party initially decided to press on with their already announced demonstration for solidarity with Spain at Trafalgar Square on the same day. Joe was part of a faction that opposed this decision and fought for a more robust street based response to fascism. A letter from a CP leader to Joe stated that if “Mosley decides to march let him.” Organizing around the slogan ‘They Shall not Pass’ was deemed to be a stunt! When it became evident that the people of the East End were going to resist Mosley whatever the CP’s position the party switched gears. Mosley never got to Cable Street. The Metropolitan police, watching the massive display of force and resistance called off the demonstration and Mosley was forced away. Joe rightly commented that it was a defeat for Mosley courtesy of “Jews and Gentile alike.”

But Joe’s opposition to the party line eventually got him expelled from the party, a little over a year after the events of Cable Street. He did war service and did a spell in the nick after a clash with an officer. After returning to his work in the clothing trade, Joe was as active as ever in the workplace and led a strike/occupation at a factory in Warren Street .

In 1951 he rejoined the party and although welcomed with open arms, he fell out again with the Party, too much thinking for himself, and was expelled again within a year.

Joe had always been critical of the CPGB policy of concentration of the official trade union structure , favouring building up the working class organisation at the workplace. Eventually he left manufacturing and began work at the Post Office at Mount Pleasant. After brief contact with trotskyists he also turned to a more radical alternative, libertarian marxism.

Joe Jacob’s life was important for two reasons. The first was that he was one of the best examples of a political working class activist who associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain at its peak. Yet within a few years, the CPGB had lost the leadership of many of this group and in Joe’s case had expelled him twice.

Secondly Joe did not just hide himself away and pack in political activity but joined what was by far the best example of a libertarian marxist group, Solidarity , sometimes called Solidarity-for-workers-power. He participated in full and worked in both an industrial and political context – he was an ace reporter and writer.

He was a very diligent writer about the important Post Office workers strike in 1971, as he had just retired from employment at the PO. Next he was prominent in the dispute with Big Flame over the 1972 Fisher-Bendix strike and that organisation was forced to back down. Joe also wrote for the monthly journal doing reviews and suchlike.

Joe was increasingly involved in international contacts. He had lost friends as volunteers in the Spanish Revolution and later took a serious interest in French libertarian groups. He was enthusiastic about the council communist group Echanges et Mouvement. Ultimately this new version of politics took him away from Solidarity and he was expelled from the organisation. His politics were now centred in this aspect of ideas and activity.

Joe had worked on his autobiography and had practically finished the key passages when he died in 1977. His daughter Janet (partner of council communist Henri Simon) completed his manuscript and published the book privately, the great classic Out of the Ghetto (Re-published by Phoenix Press in 1991).

Alan Woodward’s brief account of Joe Jacobs’ life since 1940, After Cable Street – Joe Jacobs 1940 to 1977, is available from past tense here.


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


Today in London’s history: nazi skins attack black filmgoers, Woolwich, 1980

On 28th March 1980, a queue of mostly black people queueing to see a film outside the Odeon cinema in Woolwich, south-east London, were attacked by around 100 British Movement skinheads.
The skinhead gang had marched in military formation down the High Street clutching iron bars, knives, staves, pickaxe handles and clubs, having spent two days planning their attack.

The British Movement was an openly nazi organisation which concentrated in street violence, and racist attacks. The British Movement “unit” involved in the Woolwich attack had already acquired a reputation for brutal racist violence thanks to its charismatic young local organiser, Nicky Crane. 6ft 2in tall, covered with Nazi tattoos, Crane was to  become a leading light of far-right politics in London throughout the 1980s.

The Woolwich Odeon attack of 1980 was described by a prosecutor at the Old Bailey as a “serious, organised and premeditated riot”. After their intended victims fled inside, the skinheads drilled by Crane began smashing the cinema’s doors and windows, the court was told. A Pakistani man was knocked unconscious in the melee and the windows of a nearby pub were shattered with a pickaxe handle.

In 1981 Crane was given a suspended sentence for this attack. But it was only one of a series of racist attacks locally Crane had been involved with. Later in 1981 he was jailed for four years for his part in an ambush on black youths at Woolwich Arsenal station. Crane and other British Movement activists had waited at Woolwich Arsenal train station and attacked a train of black passengers as it arrived, killing two of them. As the judge handed down the sentence, an acolyte standing alongside Crane stiffened his arm into a Nazi salute and shouted “sieg heil” from the dock.

After his release, Crane soon began providing security for the white power skinhead band Skrewdriver, and remained associated with the band and its leader, Ian Stuart Donaldson, for the rest of the decade, designing two of the band’s album covers and writing the lyrics for the song “Justice” on the LP Hail the New Dawn. He was jailed again in 1986 for six months following a fight on an Underground train. In 1987, he was instrumental in setting up the neo-Nazi network Blood and Honour with Donaldson.

However, Crane was hiding a secret life from his nazi mates – he was gay, and was leading a double life in the London gay scene, even serving as a steward at the London gay pride march in 1986. He was a regular at London gay clubs such as Heaven, Bolts and the Bell pub. At various times, Crane had worked as a bin man, bicycle courier, and a doorman at an S&M club. He worked for a protection agency, and shrugged off any connection with the London gay scene as just part of his security work (or beat the shit out of anyone who raised the issue). He also appeared in the video Unclean for contraversialist wankers Psychic TV, and in amateur gay porn films while still a neo-Nazi activist. In January 1990, Crane was given a hiding and pushed under a bus by anti-fascists in Kilburn, when he was spotted hanging around near a Troops Out Bloody Sunday march (an event regularly threatened by Nazis at that time). (Sadly your past tense correspondent only turned up in time to see him carted off in an ambulance). Three AFA activists were jailed for 3-4 years each for this attack. This may well have marked the end of Crane’s involvement with the far right, as there is little record of any activity after this… The conflict between his sexuality and his politics seems to have been getting to him…

In July 1992, Crane admitted his homosexuality on the Channel 4 programme Out. He was immediately disowned by his Nazi associates, including Ian Stuart Donaldson, who said he felt “betrayed”. The same month, the UK newspaper The Sun ran an article on him entitled ‘Nazi Nick is a Panzi’, and included a picture of Crane with his face snarling at camera, head shaved bald, braces worn over his bare torso, faded jeans, white-laced boots and brandishing an axe. Some 18 months later, Crane was dead from AIDS.

There is a lot more on Nicky Crane at:


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


Today in London’s radical history: Rioting outside Parliament in support of Mayor of London, 1771.

In March 1771, Lord Mayor of London, Brass Crosby, was jailed in the Tower of London, after sanctioning the arrest of an agent of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The context was a struggle superficially about Parliament attempting to stop the printing of reports of Commons debates; at a deeper level, this was an episode in a battle between a government desperate to preserve the political status quo, and a growing movement for reform.

Over the previous few years London had been shaken by the riotous movement in support of John Wilkes, demagogue, agitator for reform, opportunist. Wilkes had many allies in the City of London, among them powerful merchants who combined genuine opposition to the corrupt political establishment with an eye for their own advancement and enrichment.

The printing of parliamentary debates in the newspapers had long been forbidden – repeated statues had renewed this. Parliament was dead set on that the only reports that the public should have of events there were to be released by Parliament itself or its own officers. Partly this was a concern with its own privilege; but in one debate on the subject, the Speaker of the Commons asserted that: “Modest timid members would never give us their sentiments if they were liable to be misrepresented and made the subject of ridicule and contempt thereby…” Or to have anyone actually know what they were doing and saying and hold them up to scrutiny ?

Occasional breaches of the regulation against parliamentary reporting had happened now and again in the eighteenth century. But since 1768, editors of the newspapers had begun to report debates and detailed accounts of parliamentary practice. This had been initiated by John Almon of the London Evening Post, but by 1771, over a dozen papers and journals were involved.

That this was connected to the growing movement for parliamentary reform was undeniable. As was the determination of pro-government MPs that a stop should by put to it. In those times printers of journals, books or pamphlets were liable to prosecution for the contents, and were usually the point at which pressure was applied by the authorities to repress radical or seditious ideas – ie anything challenging the status quo.

By a vote in the House of Commons in early February 1771 two of the most offending printers (John Wheble of the Middlesex Journal, and R. Thompson of the Gazetteer) were ordered to attend the House to be told off; after they defied the order, their arrest was ordered and they went into hiding. The plan to defy the Commons seems to have been encouraged or even proposed by John Wilkes and the circle of reformers connected to him, linked to the ‘city patriots’.

On 12th March, it was (after a long divisive debate in the Commons) ordered that 6 more of the printers be ordered to attend the House – four came, two didn’t show up. An order to arrest one – John Miller of the London Evening Post – was issued. When William Whittam, a Commons messenger, tried to nick Miller at his house, a City of London constable arrested Whittam, on the orders, or at least backed by, the Lord Mayor of London for 1771, Brass Crosby, who refused to release Whittam on the grounds that he had no jurisdiction to arrest Miller in the City. Crosby was himself summoned to the Commons, eventually appearing on March 25th (sent off with acclaim as a ‘friend of the people’ and defender of liberty, and accompanied by large crowds) He defended his action, “in protecting the liberty of the subject.”

When Crosby was ordered to the Commons again in the 27th, vast crowds (reputedly 50,000 people, “most of whom appeared to be respectable tradesmen”) surrounded his carriage, and blocked the roads to Parliament. They harassed government supporters; “Lord North’s Chariot glasses were broken to pieces… by which he received a wound, and was exceddingly terrified. The populace also took off his hat and cut it into pieces, and he narrowly escaped with his life.” Other pro-government MPs were pelted with mud and insulted. Mobs ran riot in Westminster for five hours.

The king was also insulted the next day as his state coach passed down Parliament Street… there was chaos as MPs abused each other, and Westminster magistrates tried to re-impose the rule of law.

Crosby was found guilty of ‘a breach of privilege’ and ordered to be held in the Tower (joining Alderman Richard Oliver, a supporter of Wilkes, accused of being part of the plot to detain Whittam).

Both Crosby and Oliver were held for several weeks, supported by mass demonstrations and speeches organized by allies in the City… But the printers went unpunished, the newspapers went on printing parliamentary debates, and the authority of the Parliament was seriously undermined.

When he was brought to trial several judges refused to hear the case and Crosby was released. No further attempts had ever been made to prevent the publication of Parliamentary debates, facilitating the emergence of Hansard.

In July 1771, the newly constructed obelisk at St George’s Circus in Southwark was given an additional inscription. Below the text: ERECTED IN/ XIth Year/ OF THE REIGN/ OF KING GEORGE THE THIRD/ MDCCLXXI was added THE RIGHT HONOURABLE/BRASS CROSBY ESQUIRE/ LORD MAYOR.


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

Today in London’s radical history: Mile End mass meeting celebrates Russian Revolution, 1917.

On 24th March 1917, 7000 people pack the Mile End Assembly Rooms in East London, for a mass meeting celebrating the February Revolution in Russia and the downfall of Tsarism. 1000s more were unable to get in. Called by the Russian Socialist Groups, the meeting was mainly attended by Russian refugees and socialists of various stripes.

The East End – Whitechapel, Spitalfields and Mile End in particular – was at this time teeming with Russian exiles, many of them socialists, and especially Jews. Hundreds of thousands of Jews had been forced to flee Russia by the violent anti-semitism of the Tsarist regime. Many other leftists, socialists, anarchists and others had also taken refuge during regular bouts of reactionary repression there – most notably after the defeated 1905 Russian Revolution. While always involved with politics in the area they settled in, many exiles kept one eye on events back in Russia. So the area was full of joy and hope when the hated regime was overthrown…

The impact of the February Revolution was huge, given the history of the Tsars as the most repressive regime in Europe. It wasn’t just widely welcomed among the exiles – Aneurin Bevan recalled in South Wales “the miners when they heard that the Tsarist tyranny had been overthrown, rushing to meet each other in the streets with tears streaming down their cheeks, shaking hands and saying: ‘At last it has happened!’ ” There was an upsurge of strikes in Britain, inspired by Russian events… Conscientious objectors in prisons also heard the news, and went on strike…

George Chicherin, a Russian refugee living in London, who was later to join the Soviet government and become its Foreign Minister, described the Mile End meeting:

“It was an unforgettable demonstration of enthusiasm, unbounded joy and revolutionary feeling. Over 7000 persons were present, and many thousands were unable to get in and had to go away… again and again delirious outbursts of boundless enthusiasm filled the immense hall.”

Many of the East End’s Jewish and socialist exiles were to return to Russia, to get involve in the struggle to push change further, which was to result in another revolution in October…

The Mile End Assembly Rooms were on Mile End Road, roughly where no 31 is now, just to the east of Cambridge Heath Road.


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


Today in London’s musical history: the ‘March of the Women’ premieres, Albert Hall, 1911.

“The March of the Women” was a song composed by Ethel Smyth in 1910, to words by Cicely Hamilton. It became the official anthem of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and more widely the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement throughout the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Activists sang it not only at rallies but also in prison while they were on hunger strike. Smyth produced a number of different arrangements of the work.

Ethel Smyth composed the song in 1910, as a unison song with optional piano accompaniment, with words by Cicely Hamilton. Smyth based the melody for on a traditional tune she had heard in Abruzzo, Italy. She dedicated the song to the WSPU. In January 1911, the WSPU’s newspaper, Votes for Women, described the song as “at once a hymn and a call to battle”.

“The March of the Women” was first performed on 21 January 1911, by the Suffrage Choir, at a ceremony held on Pall Mall, London, to celebrate a release of activists from prison. Emmeline Pankhurst introduced the song as the WSPU’s official anthem, replacing “The Women’s Marseillaise”. The latter song was a setting of words by WSPU activist Florence Macaulay to the tune of the La Marseillaise.

On 23 March 1911 the song was performed at a rally in the Royal Albert Hall. Smyth was ceremonially presented with a baton by Emmeline Pankhurst, and proceeded to conduct the whole gathering in singing it. Smyth was active in promoting the performance of the song throughout the WSPU’s membership. It became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement throughout the United Kingdom.

The ‘March’ was sung by suffragettes in prison, most famously in 1912, at Holloway Prison, after many women activists were imprisoned as a result of a window-smashing campaign. Smyth had been arrested as part of this action, having broken the window of Lewis Harcourt, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The conductor Thomas Beecham visited Smyth in prison and reported that he found the activists in the courtyard “…marching round it and singing lustily their war-chant while the composer, beaming approbation from an overlooking upper window, beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush.”

While imprisoned in April 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst undertook a hunger strike which she did not expect to survive. She told Smyth that at night she would feebly sing “The March of the Women” and another of Smyth’s compositions, “Laggard Dawn”.

Words to The March of the Women

Under the title of the song is the subtitle,
“Dedicated to the Women’s Social and Political Union.”

Verse 1
Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.
Song with its story, dreams with their glory
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and louder it swells,
Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord!

Verse 2
Long, long—we in the past
Cowered in dread from the light of heaven,
Strong, strong—stand we at last,
Fearless in faith and with sight new given.
Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty,
(Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!)
These, these—beckon us on!
Open your eyes to the blaze of day.

Verse 3
Comrades—ye who have dared
First in the battle to strive and sorrow!
Scorned, spurned—nought have ye cared,
Raising your eyes to a wider morrow,
Ways that are weary, days that are dreary,
Toil and pain by faith ye have borne;
Hail, hail—victors ye stand,
Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn!

Verse 4
Life, strife—those two are one,
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
On, on—that ye have done
But for the work of today preparing.
Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
(Laugh in hope, for sure is the end)
March, march—many as one,
Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.

Ethel Smyth was a prolific writer of both music and words. Born on April 23, 1858 in England in Rectory (Middlesex), London, or Foots Gray (Kent), depending on the source, she lived an exciting and productive life as an independent woman who actively pursued her many talents.
A prolific composer, Ethel Smyth composed a wide variety of music including chamber music, chorals, instrumental music, and operas, as well as orchestral, piano, and vocal pieces. She conducted much of her music and even broadcasted some of it. Ethel Smyth also wrote many books, plays, librettos (some in German), articles, and essays.

An activist in the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900’s, Smyth also composed the song used as the anthem for this suffrage movement, March of the Women. She developed deep friendships with many influential figures of her day including Virginia Woolf, Empress Eugenie, Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Vita Sackville-West.

More on Ethel and her music and life at:

Actress, writer, journalist, suffragist and feminist, Cicely Mary Hamilton supplied the lyrics of “The March of the Women”. She is now best known for the play How the Vote was Won.

Born in Paddington, London and educated in Malvern, Worcestershire. After a short spell in teaching she acted in a touring company, wrote drama, including feminist themes, and enjoyed a period of success in the commercial theatre.

In 1908 she and Bessie Hatton founded the Women Writers’ Suffrage League. This grew to around 400 members, including Ivy Compton-Burnett, Sarah Grand, Violet Hunt, Marie Belloc Lowndes, Alice Meynell, Olive Schreiner, Evelyn Sharp, May Sinclair and Margaret L. Woods. It produced campaigning literature, written by Sinclair amongst others, and recruited many prominent male supporters.
In the days before radio, one effective way to get a message out into society and to have it discussed was to produce short plays that could be performed around the country, and so suffrage drama was born. Elizabeth Robins’s Votes for Women and Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St. John’s How the Vote Was Won are two predominant examples of the genre. Hamilton also wrote A Pageant of Great Women, a highly successful women’s suffrage play based on the ideas of her friend, the theatre director Edith Craig. Hamilton played Woman while Craig played the painter Rosa Bonheur, one of the 50 or so great women in the play. It was produced all over the UK from 1909 until the First World War. Hamilton was a member of Craig’s theatre society, the Pioneer Players. Her play Jack and Jill and a Friend was one of the three plays in the Pioneer Players’ first production in May 1911.


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


Today in London’s radical history: Peckham anarchist rally attacked by scabs and police, 1894.

In the early 1890s, Peckham, South London, had an active anarchist group, part of quite a boisterous and prominent anarchist movement in London at that time. The Peckham Anarchist-Communist Group was one of a number of groups of young activists who had broken away from Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation and coalesced as anarchist groups in London. The group held open air public meetings, a favourite tactic of the time, every week, on Peckham Park Road.

But in early 1894, the anarchist movement came under severe and sustained attack, in the press, and from the police. The anarchist scene was a diverse mix of class struggle activists, individualists, with a fair smattering of those who believed in ‘propaganda by the deed’, meaning planting bombs, assassination and the like (or blusteringly ranted about such actions)… and a very unhealthy seasoning of police spies, informers and narks. The presence in London of hundreds of exiled anarchists and socialists from repressive regimes in Europe meant that a swarm of police agents from these countries were also nosing around. Prompted by the police, the rightwing press also whipped up a lather of anti-anarchist hysteria, mingled with a good dollop of fantastical allegations, xenophobia and moral panic… All in all a recipe for agent provocateurs, fitting up people for conspiracy to cause explosions, thus generating a lot of paranoia and some naïve behaviour… (much more of this story can be found in The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the British Anarchists, by John Quail, recently republished…)

The Peckham anarchist speaking pitch became one of the first public targets of attack, prompted by the police, and involving reactionary elements susceptible to rightwing provocation… On 15th March 1894, the anarchist meeting was attacked by a crowd of ‘constitutional Peckhamites’, assisted (ie directed) by Detective Sergeant Walsh of CID “who exhibited his manliness by getting behind little boys and pushing them on us… They surged up to the platform and tied to seize the red flag. A fight for possession ensued which ended with the flag being ripped to shreds.”

Alfred Foster, the main speaker, twenty seven years old and living at Commercial Road, Peckham was arrested by P.C. Martin for ‘disorderly conduct by causing a crowd to assemble’. At Lambeth Police Court the following day Foster appeared before Justice Biron. Biron was hostile from the beginning asking “You were making Anarchist speeches?” Foster was ordered to find a surety of £25 to be of good behaviour for six months or go to prison for a month; he stayed in prison for a week till a ‘suitable’ surety could be found.

When the anarchists tried to hold a meeting again on March 22nd,

“an enormous crowd assembled… Comrades Quinn, Banham, Carter and Alsford addressed the meeting which was perfectly orderly for some time, until an organized gang of blackleg gas-stokers and detectives started hooting and pushing, finally breaking up the meeting by force. The police were present in large numbers watching eagerly for the least opportunity for a ‘charge.’ These meetings have now had a drop owing to the fact that local comrades will not turn up and support but the propaganda will be kept up in other ways…”

Nick Heath writes that the Peckham anarchist group “was present for the May Day assembly in Hyde Park later in the year where its black banner was inscribed with the motto: ‘Away with authority and monopoly – We demand free access to the means of life’. However this meeting too was attacked by a gang of toughs, again working with CID detectives and Inspector Melville’s Special Branch. Anarchist speakers like Ted Leggatt, Banham and James Tochatti were physically assaulted.

In all of this the press portrayed the attacks on the anarchist assemblies as a popular response from outraged citizens when it appears that the police instigated and organised these attacks in collusion with reactionary thugs. The account in the Huddersfield Chronicle ‘An Anarchist and his Prupperty” describing the arrest and trial of Foster is particularly shrill and virulent, and this local daily seems to have specialised in anti-anarchist diatribes.
William Hart is of course W.C. Hart who was involved in the anarchist movement for ten years, acting as secretary for the Peckham group and then the Deptford group. He wrote an extremely bitter and hostile attack on the anarchist movement in the 1906 book Confessions of an Anarchist. Interestingly, he describes many cases of provocation in his book including one incident when a close friend of his, an extremely good-natured anarchist sheltered a French anarchist, even pawning his carpenter’s tools to buy food for him. This comrade is almost certainly Foster. The Frenchman attempted to involve him in bomb attacks, writing on his behalf to France to send for bomb recipes. Hart read the letter before it was sent and had it burnt. The Frenchman had gone out in the morning and never returned. Meanwhile the comrade carpenter was under surveillance for several weeks by detectives. Hart wrote that he was told by someone from Scotland Yard that the Frenchman had informed the French police of the arrival of the letter, and they in their turn had informed Scotland Yard (this of course, raises a number of questions about Hart himself and his contacts with the London police).”


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

Today in London’s radical history: Mental Patients Union founded to oppose psychiatric oppression, 1973.

The Mental Patients Union (MPU), in the early 1970s, could probably be seen as the first service user involvement movement. Founder member Andrew Roberts described the Union’s genesis:

“The idea of a Mental Patients Union was first developed by a small group of mental patients and supporters back in December 1972. A pamphlet was produced — which came to be known as the Fish Pamphlet (it had a picture of a fish struggling on a hook on the cover) — that was strongly Marxist in its analysis. Its argument was that psychiatry was a form of social control of the working classes in a capitalist state, and that the psychiatrist was the “high priest” of technological society, exorcising the “devils” of social distress through electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), lobotomy and medication. The thinking was that, in the same way that workers formed trade unions, mental patients also needed a union to fight for their rights against political oppression and social control.

There were six of us involved in setting up the union: Liz Durkin, Brian Douieb, Lesley Mitchell, Eric Irwin, me and my partner Valerie Argent, but only Eric, Valerie and I were mental patients. Valerie and I were mainly focused on forming the union. We didn’t participate in the political analysis, or sign the Fish Pamphlet.

The group planned to hold its first public meeting at Paddington day hospital, where Liz had been a social worker. She had been making contact with the press to promote the cause for a Mental Patients Union. The idea of the union caught the fancy of Radio 4’s Today programme and they asked her to come and talk about it on the programme on the morning of the meeting. Liz realised they were asking her because she was a social worker, but at a “council of war” meeting we decided we wouldn’t take part unless they agreed to interview a patient — and that we wouldn’t give them any information about the patient, whether they were from Broadmoor or whatever. We had this idea that we’d line up in the studio and say: “Spot the loony.” They took three or four hours to ring us and agree to interview a patient. They needed time to think about that.

In the end, I was the only one of the three of us with mental health problems willing to do it. At the studio, it was all very civilised. The interviewer’s main question was: “How could patients possibly form a union – if they were sick, how could they take part in something like that?” In those days it was radical to suggest that people with mental health problems could do things together as an association.

The response after the broadcast was overwhelming. I gave out my home number on air and from the moment the interview went out, the telephone was ringing.

We had only booked a small room at the hospital for the meeting later that evening. More than 100 people turned up and there wasn’t room for us all. It was chaos and they found us a bigger room. Some people picked up the Fish Pamphlet and were asking if, to join the union, they had to share its analysis. We told them no, those were just the views of one small group.

We told them the union was about the dignity of mental patients, about being able to speak for ourselves and not having to talk about “them”, because, in those days, if you were in any group and the subject of mental patients came up, everybody assumed you couldn’t be one — you talked about “them”, not “us”.

Andrew Roberts is a member of the management committee of the Survivor History Group


Mental Patients Union Demands taken from the Declaration of Intent of April 1973

We Demand

  1. The abolition of compulsory treatment i.e. we demand the effective right of patients to refuse any specific treatment.
  1. The abolition of the right of any authorities to treat patients in the face of opposition of relatives or closest friends unless it is clearly shown that the patient of his own volition desires the treatment.
  1. The abolition of irreversible psychiatric treatments (ECT, brain surgery, specific drugs)
  1. Higher standards in the testing of treatments before use on us.
  1. That patients be told what treatments they are receiving are experimental and should have the effective right to refuse to be experimented on.
  1. That patients be told what treatments they are receiving and what the long-term effects are.
  1. Also the abolition of isolation treatment (seclusion in locked side rooms, padded cells, etc.)
  1. The right of any patient to inspect his case notes and the right to take legal action relating to the contents and consequences of them.
  1. That the authorities should not discharge any patient against his will because they refuse treatment or any other reason.
  1. That all patients should have the right to have any treatment which we believe will help them.
  1. That local authorities should provide housing for patients wishng to leave hospital and that adequate security benefits should be provided. We will support any mental patients or ex-patients in their struggle to get these facilities and any person who is at risk of becoming a mental patient because of inadequate accommodation, financial support, social pressures,etc.
  1. We call for the abolition of compulsory hospitalisation.
  1. An end to the indiscriminate use of the term ‘mental subnormality’. We intend to fight the condemnation of people as ‘mentally subnormal’ in the absence of any real practical work to tackle the problem with active social understanding and help.
  1. The abolition of the concept of ‘psychopath’ as a legal or medical category.
  1. The right of patients to retain their personal clothing in hospitals and to secure their personal possessions without interference by hospital staff.
  1. The abolition of compulsory work in hospitals and outside and the abolition of the right of the hospital to withhold and control patients’ money.
  1. The right of patients to join and participate fully in the trade union of their choice.
  1. That trade union rates are paid to patients for any work done where such rates do not exist.
  1. That patients should have recourse to a room where they can enjoy their own privacy or have privacy with others, of either sex, of their own choosing.
  1. The abolition of censorship by hospital authorities of patients’ communications with society outside the hospital and in particular the abolition of telephone and letter censorship.
  1. We demand the abolition of any power to restrict patients’ visiting rights by the hospital authorities.

22, The right of Mental Patients Union representatives to inspect all areas of hospitals or equivalent institutions.

  1. We deny that there is any such thing as ‘incurable’ mental illness and demand the right to investigate the circumstances of any mental hospital patient who believes he or she is being treated as incurable
  1. We demand that every mental patient or ex-patient should have the right to a free second opinion by a psychiatrist of the patient’s or Mental Patients Union representatives’ choice, if he or she disagrees with the diagnosis and that every patient or ex-patient should have the right to an effective appeal machinery.


Another early MPU member, Joan Hughes, picks up the history of the group:

“In England, around about 1972, a few groups of psychiatric patients and sympathetic mental health staff began to make political comments on their situation in society. Effectively, many mental patients were without civil rights – For example, even the right to vote used to be removed for a mental patient without any address outside an institution


The first group I heard about was a group of patients attending the Paddington Day Hospital in West London. This was reputed to use enlightened methods of treatment including psychotherapy. National Health Service authorities wanted to close it.

There were meetings and discussions among patients and the protest against closure was successful. The Paddington Day Hospital stayed open.


One of the patients at Paddington Day Hospital was Eric Irwin. He and three professionals, Liz Durkin, Lesley Mitchell and Brian Douieb, thought there was a need for an organisation of patients. They met together write a booklet called “The Case for a Mental Patients Union”. Later they were joined by two other patients, Andrew and Valerie Roberts.

This group is called the pilot committee for a mental patients union. The booklet is often called “The Fish Pamphlet” because it has a picture of a fish on a hook on the cover. This is to illustrate that the behaviour of someone who is suffering from mental illness may appear mad, but may really be a way of getting over his or her problems.


A big meeting to discuss forming a Mental Patients Union was held in the evening of Wednesday 21st March 1973. About 100 people attended this meeting at Paddington Day Hospital. The majority were patients or ex- patients. Most lived in London.

It turned out that this was not the first Mental Patients Union. People came who had previously formed the Scottish Union of Mental Patients. People were present who had tried to form a Union in Oxford and a message was received from another group in Leeds.

The national Mental Patients Union was formed with full membership reserved for patients and ex-patients.


There was a lot of discussion about the content of the Fish Pamphlet. Many patients objected to its use of marxist ideas. It was decided that the Fish Pamphlet could be circulated by The Mental Patients Union, but would not be a MPU publication. The policy of the union would be written independently and voted on at meetings where only patients and ex-patients had a vote. This was called Declaration of Intent of the Mental Patients Union. It begins

“We proclaim the dignity of society’s so-called mental patients. We challenge repressive psychiatric practice and its ill-defined concepts of ‘mental illness'”


The declaration contained demands.

Some demands were moderate. For example, the right to receive private letters unopened by staff.

Some were long term aims. For example, the eventual abolition of mental hospitals.

Some were impractical. For example, the right to be represented by a member of the Mental Patients Union at mental health tribunals. This was impractical because not enough MPU members were available to be representatives.

The most controversial demands seemed to be the right to refuse certain forms of treatment, such as Electro Convulsive Shock Treatment (ECT) and drugs.


As I have said, when the MPU was formed nationally, it was found out that patients unions had been formed already in different parts of the country.

SUMP, the Scottish Union of Mental Patients, was formed in 1972 by Tommie Ritchie and Robin Farqhuarson. This was the first union of psychiatric patients in the United Kingdom that we have the written records of. Tommy and Robin both helped to form the national MPU in 1973.


We know that a lot of history is forgotten or goes unrecorded. One of the aims of a history group should be to trace the activities of patients in different parts of the country before and after the public start of the mental patients movement in 1973.


Following 1973, mental patients unions were established in many parts of the country. Hackney MPU acted as a coordinating centre for some years.

Some, like the West London MPU, were very small, others had a substantial membership. Some operated in mental hospitals, other were outside the hospital. Two (Hackney and Manchester) ran houses for members.

Sometimes there was a union in a hospital linked to a union outside. This was the case in Hackney where Hackney Hospital patients established their own union with the support of the Mayola Road MPU. Hackney Hospital MPU may have been the first hospital union to win recognition from the hospital authorities.

A Federation of Mental Patients Unions was formed, at the Manchester Conference, in 1974.

Mental Patients Unions did not all have the same Declaration of Intent. Groups were free to select their own demands from the original declaration, and add others that they wanted.

It needs to be remembered that the main surviving record of the Mental Patients Union are those kept by Hackney for the movement generally.

This means that a lot of local history is still to be recovered – Including the history of MPU groups outside Hackney that carried on after Hackney MPU closed. One group. Dundee MPU is believed to have carried on into the 1990s. Although it changed its name.


In Hackney there were two autonomous MPU’s who worked together. Although I was, at one time, a patient in Hackney Hospital, the group I belonged to was the Mayola Road Mental Patients Union. I lived in Robin Farquharson House and was, at one time, the union treasurer and, at other times, its secretary.

As far as I know, no Mental Patients Union ever received any public funds. Hackney MPU was supported by donations from patients and ex-patients, and some associate members and from the rents that those of us living in the houses paid.

Associate members were people like sympathetic social workers and health service workers. There were very few of these and, whilst I was involved, all the active members were patients or ex-patients. Any patient or ex- patient could attend and vote at our meetings. Before anyone else attended, the full members present had to agree that they could.

Without funding and relying completely on our own resources, we provided services. We ran the Robin Farquharson House in Mayola Road for three years. This was divided into individual rooms that were entirely under resident’s control, but it also had an office which served as a crash pad in emergencies. We often had people staying who were going through a crisis and who were supported by other residents. We also helped and advised people by telephone and letter, and there were any visitors from all over the country as well as from abroad.

We set up two other houses in Woodford to accommodate people and, after a while, these became self managing.


COPE (Community Organisation for Psychiatric Emergencies) was running in West London at the same time as MPU. Some of its members were patients. others were not. It ran a crisis centre with and published a magazine, and also tried to provide short-term housing. COPE provided a base for Eric Irwin’s “West London MPU”. Many people met him there. One of those people was Julian Barnett, the founder of PROMPT (Protection of the Rights of Mental Patients in Therapy)


I joined the Mental Patients Union shortly after it started. I took part in many activities but, because of my experience, I was particularly interested in the side effects of psychiatric drugs. In October 1975 I was one of the three people who brought out A Directory of the Side Effects of Psychiatric Drugs.

As an analytical chemist, I was able to help a lot on the scientific side and in reading and understanding reports.

My name at this time was Joan Martin. The other two people were Andrew Roberts and Chris Hill, who typed the directory.


Let me tell you something, first about my experience of psychiatric drugs and why it is so important that people who take them are well informed about their effects.

One day in 1969 I visited my G.P. and told her about my depression. She said that she could give me an injection for this and I would soon feel better. She said that the title of the drug was “Modecate”, which I knew nothing about.

I had this injection, walked home and into a cinema to see a film. Midway through the film I felt not sleepy but incredibly depressed. The world was slipping away from me. Everything which was happening around me appeared to be taking place in another world, with which I had no connection.

For the next two years I did not initiate any activities for myself. It was a shadowy world in which I lived and I am not able to describe it. In fact I could observe what people were doing, but not act for myself, except in a desperate way, which soon ended with my entering Rubery Hill Mental Hospital.

I am not against Doctors. It was a doctor who took me off the drugs and restored my health. I entered Goodmayes Hospital on November 1st 1971, having taken an overdose. My drugs were stopped and the first day on which I began to feel better was November 29th, 1971.

Some years later I told a doctor in Hackney Hospital

“I know that drugs do me no good. And the MPU is not against doctors. In Goodmayes Hospital there was someone called Dr Abrahamson. He must have been a good doctor for he stopped giving me drugs, and after two years chronic illness, I suddenly got better.”


When MPU was formed, many doctors denied that psychiatric drugs had serious side effects. There are also drugs now considered dangerously addictive that doctors then said were entirely free of problems.

We had been issuing a one-sheet listing the main psychiatric drugs with their side-effects, almost since MPU was first formed. Some people thought this was based on patients reports. But it was based on the official reports of the drugs. We were careful not to be sensational and explained that the side effects only sometimes occurred. The list was so that people would not blame their illness if they suffered the side effect.

We thought this was very reasonable – But many people were very angry about it. Mind re-published it in the first Consumers issue of their magazine, but forgot to include the warning that it was only a list of effects that might happen. This caused a great debate in its correspondence columns.

The side effects directory was eight pages. We researched it carefully, and divided it into different types of drugs, so that people were not confessed by changing names. By this time Mind were frightened to mention side effects, but the Directory was well reviewed by some medical papers. Many drug companies bought copies. We charged them extra.

Orders for the drugs directory soon outpaced the supply and I kept on reprinting it for several years, and even revised it. It is now, of course, hopelessly out of date.


Hackney MPU closed in 1976. Members who lived in the house moved into two new house. One of these was run by Matthew O’Hara until his death in June 1980. The Matthew O’Hara Committee: for Civil Liberties and Community Care was formed in his memory.

I [Joan Hughes] lived, with other members, in the other house (which still exists). We kept the same telephone line and continued to answer calls to the union and correspond with people who wrote. Visitors from the movement in the United Kingdom, Europe and America frequently stayed with us. One of those who stayed was Judi Chamberlin from America, a patient activist from the United States. When she was invited to the World Congress of Mental Health in Brighton in June 1985, she was shocked to find no United Kingdom activists were invited – But worked with those who came uninvited.


PROMPT (Protection of the Rights of Mental Patients in Therapy) was formed in 1976. It was not a patients group, although several patients and ex- patients joined. Eric Irwin from West London MPU was one of its most active members. The group used the MPU logo and reprinted many MPU publications, with additions of its own.

PROMPT did not try to provide housing or set up groups in hospitals. What id did do was to provide a telephone advice service for patients and ex=patients in difficulties, unsatisfied with their treatment or living conditions. It also gave considerable attention to campaigning on specific issues such as the abolition of Electro-Convulsive Therapy.”

For more information about the Mental Patients Union see:

The Mental Patients Union evolved during the 1970s into PROMPT (People for the Rights of Mental Patients in Treatment), which eventually turned into CAPO (Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression) in the early 1980s. CAPO went on to issue a seminal manifesto which is still regarded by many as inspirational.


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

In London’s radical history: Marx on The Increase of Lunacy in Great Britain, 1858

OK, not sure how we got this down as happening on March 20th; twas August. Our proofreaders have been sent to a re-education camp. However, in keeping with our theme of March as the month of madness, we re-produce Marx’ article, published in the New York Daily Tribune in 1858, in response to a flurry of stories  in the British press about how outrageous it was how many rich people were ending up in asylums.

The Increase of Lunacy in Great Britain

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, August 20, 1858.
Transcribed: by Tony Brown for the Marx-Engels archive

There is, perhaps, no better established fact in British society than that of the corresponding growth of modern wealth and pauperism. Curiously enough, the same law seems to hold good with respect to lunacy. The increase of lunacy in Great Britain has kept pace with the increase of exports, and has outstripped the increase of population. Its rapid progress in England and Wales during the period extending from 1852 to 1857, a period of unprecedented commercial prosperity, will become evident from the following tabular comparison of the annual returns of paupers, lunatics and idiots for the years 1852, 1854 and 1857 :

Date. Population. Patients in County or Borough Asylums. In licensed houses. In Work houses. With friends or elsewhere. Total of Lunatics and Idiots. Proportion to population.
Jan. 1, 1852 17,927,609 9,412 2,584 5,055 4,107 21,158 1 in 847
Jan. 1, 1854 18,649,849 11,956 1,878 5,713 4,940 24,487 1 in 762
Jan. 1, 1857 19,408,464 13,488 1,908 6,800 5,497 27,693 1 in 701

The proportion of acute and curable cases to those of a chronic and apparently incurable kind was, on the last day of 1856, estimated to be somewhat less than 1 in 5, according to the following summary of official returns:

Patients of all classes in Asylums. Deemed curable.
In County and Borough Asylums 14,393 2,070
In Hospitals 1,742 340
In Metropolitan licensed Houses 2,578 390
In Provincial licensed Houses 2,598 527
Total 21,311 3,327
Deemed curable 3,327
Deemed incurable 17,984

There exist in England and Wales, for the accommodation of lunatics and idiots of all sorts and of all classes, 37 public asylums, of which 33 are county and 4 borough asylums; 15 hospitals; 116 private licensed houses, of which 37 are metropolitan and 79 provincial; and lastly, the workhouses. The public asylums, or lunatic asylums properly so called, were, by law, exclusively destined for the reception of the lunatic poor, to be used as hospitals for the medical treatment, not as safe places for the mere custody of the insane. On the whole, in the counties at least, they may be considered well regulated establishments, although of too extensive a construction to be properly superintended, overcrowded, lacking the careful separation of the different classes of patients, and yet inadequate to the accommodation of somewhat more than one-half of the lunatic poor. After all, the space afforded by these 37 establishments, spreading over the whole country, suffices for the housing of over 15,690 inmates. The pressure upon these costly asylums on the part of the lunatic population may be illustrated by one case. When, in 1831, Hanwell (in Middlesex) was built for 500 patients, it was supposed to be large enough to meet all the wants of the county. But, two years later, it was full; after another two years, it had to be enlarged for 300 more; and at this time (Colney Hatch having been meanwhile constructed for the reception of 1,200 lunatic paupers belonging to the same county) Hanwell contains upward of 1,000 patients. Colney Hatch was opened in 1851; within a period of less than five years, it became necessary to appeal to the rate-payers for further accommodation; and the latest returns show that at the close of 1856 there were more than 1,100 pauper lunatics belonging to the county unprovided for in either of its asylums. While the existing asylums are too large to be properly conducted, their number is too small to meet rapid spread of mental disorders. Above all, the asylums ought to be separated into two distinct categories: asylums for the incurable, hospitals for the curable. By huddling both classes together, neither receives its proper treatment and cure.

The private licensed houses are, on the whole, reserved for the more affluent portion of the insane. Against these “snug retreats,” as they like to call themselves, public indignation has been lately raised by the kidnapping of Lady Bulwer into Wyke House, and the atrocious outrages committed on Mrs. Turner in Acomb House, York. A Parliamentary inquiry into the secrets of the trade in British lunacy being imminent, we may refer to that part of the subject hereafter. For the present let us call attention only to the treatment of the 2,000 lunatic poor, whom, by way of contract, the Boards of Guardians and other local authorities let out to managers of private licensed houses. The weekly consideration per head for maintenance, treatment and clothing, allotted to these private contractors, varies from five to twelve shillings, but the average allowance may be estimated from 5s. to 8s. 4d. The whole study of the contractors consists, of course, in the one single point of making large profits out of these small receipts, and consequently of keeping the patient at the lowest possible expense. In their latest report the Commissioners of Lunacy state that even where the means of accommodation in these licensed houses are large and ample, the actual accommodation afforded is a mere sham, and the treatment of the inmates a disgrace.

It is true that a power is vested in the Lord Chancellor of revoking a license or preventing its renewal, on the advice of the Commissioners in Lunacy; but, in many instances, where there exists no public asylum in the neighborhood, or where the existing asylum is already overcrowded, no alternative was left the Commissioners but to prevent the license to continue, or to throw large masses of the insane poor into their several workhouses. Yet, the same Commissioners add that great as are the evils of the licensed houses, they are not so great as the danger and evil combined of leaving those paupers almost uncared for in workhouses. In the latter about 7,000 lunatics are at present confined. At first the lunatic wards in workhouses were restricted to the reception of such pauper lunatics as required little more than ordinary accommodation, and were capable of associating with the other inmates. What with the difficulty of obtaining admission for their insane poor into properly regulated asylums, what with motives of parsimony, the parochial boards are more and more transforming the workhouses into lunatic asylums, but into asylums wanting in the attendance, the treatment and the supervision which form the principal safeguard of patients detained in asylums regularly constituted. Many of the larger workhouses have lunatic wards containing from 40 to 120 inmates. The wards are gloomy and unprovided with any means for occupation, exercise or amusement. The attendants for the most part are pauper inmates totally unfitted for the charge imposed upon them. The diet, essential above everything else to the unhappy objects of mental disease, rarely exceeds in any case that allowed for the healthy and able-bodied inmates. Hence, it is a natural result that detention in workhouses not only deteriorates the cases of harmless imbecility for which it was originally intended, but has the tendency to render chronic and permanent cases that might have yielded to early care. The decisive principle for the Boards of Guardians is economy.

According to law, the insane pauper should come at first under the care of the district parish surgeon, who is bound to give notice to the relieving officers, by whom communication is to be made to the magistrate, upon whose order they are to be conveyed to the asylum. In fact, these provisions are disregarded altogether. The pauper lunatics are in the first instance hurried into the workhouses, there to be permanently detained, if found to be manageable. The recommendation of the Commissioners in Lunacy, during their visits to the workhouses, of removing to the asylums all inmates considered to be curable, or to be exposed to treatment unsuited to their state, is generally outweighed by the report of the medical officer of the Union, to the effect that the patient is “harmless.” What the workhouse accommodation is, may be understood from the following illustrations — described in the last Lunacy Report as “faithfully exhibiting the general characteristics of workhouse accommodation.”

In the Infirmary Asylum of Norwich the beds of even the sick and feeble patients were of straw. The floors of thirteen small rooms were of stone. There were no water-closets. The nightwatch on the male side had been discontinued. There was a great deficiency of blankets, of toweling, of flannels, of waistcoats, of washing basins, of chairs, of plates, of spoons and of dining accommodation. The ventilation was bad. We quote:

“Neither was there any faith to be put in what, to outward appearance, might have been taken for improvement. It was discovered, for example, that in reference to a considerable number of beds occupied by dirty patients, the practice exists of removing them in the morning and of substituting, merely for show during the day, clean beds of a better appearance, by means of sheets and blankets placed on the bedsteads, which were regularly taken away at night and the inferior beds replaced.”

Take, as another example, the Blackburn Workhouse:

“The day rooms on the ground floor, occupied by the men, are small, low, gloomy and dirty, and the space containing 11 patients is much taken up by several heavy chairs, in which the patients are confined by means of straps, and a large, projecting fire-guard. Those of the women, on the upper floor, are also much crowded, and one, which is used also as a bedroom has a large portion boarded off as a privy; and the beds are placed close together, without any space between them. A bedroom containing 16 male patients was close and offensive. The room is 29 feet long, 17 feet 10 inches wide, and 7 feet 5 inches high, thus allowing 2,39 cubic feet for each patient. The beds throughout are of straw, and no other description is provided for sick or bed-ridden patients. The cases were generally much soiled and marked by the rusty iron laths of the bedsteads. The care of the beds seems to be chiefly left to the patients. A large number of the patients are dirty in their habits, which is mainly to be attributed to the want of proper care and attention. Very few chamber utensils are provided, and a tub is stated to be placed in the center of the large dormitory for the use of the male patients. The graveled yards in which the patients walk are two for each sex, surrounded by high walls, and without seats. The largest of these is 74 feet long, by 30 feet 7 inches wide, and the smallest 32 feet by 17 feet 6 inches. A cell in one of the yards is occasionally used for secluding excited patients. It is entirely built of stone, and has a small, square opening for the admission of light, with iron bars let in to prevent the escape of the patient, but without either shutter or casement. A large straw bed was on the floor, and a heavy chair in one corner of the room. Complete control of the department is in the hands of an attendant and the nurse: the master seldom interferes with them, nor does he inspect this as closely as he does the other parts of the workhouse.”

It would be too loathsome even to give extracts from the Commissioners’ report on the St. Pancras Workhouse at London, a sort of low Pandemonium. Generally speaking, there are few English stables which, at the side of the lunatic wards in the workhouses, would not appear boudoirs, and where the treatment received by the quadrupeds may not be called sentimental when compared to that of the poor insane.


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

Today in London’s legal history: Tottenham 3 wrongly convicted of PC Blakelock’s murder, 1987.

19th March 1987: Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite convicted of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm uprising in Tottenham in October 1985. The convictions were based on little evidence, much of that concocted.

During a police search on the home of Cynthia Jarrett on 5th October 1985, after the arrest of her son Floyd on trumped up charges of car theft and assault on police, DC Mike Randall shoved Mrs Jarrett to the floor, stepped over her body and continued with his search. She suffered a heart attack and died before arriving at hospital. The following day a demonstration at Tottenham police station protesting the raid and demanding the suspension of the officers involved, ended in clashes… As a result police besieged the estate later that day, and invaded in force, in riot gear, with dogs, shouting racist challenges and blocking all exits. The battle that followed ended with PC Keith Blakelock being hacked to death, 243 police officers injured, 2 officers and 3 members of the media suffering gunshot wounds.

A police crackdown followed, as enraged cops sought revenge for the death of one of their own:
* Between 10 October 1985 and May 1986 the police raided 271 homes and arrested 362 people.
* Over 80% of those arrested were of African-Caribbean descent.
* Those arrested were taken to 14 different stations across London, Tottenham police station was not used as the police did not want the ‘suspects’ to be found.
* 167 charged 195 released without charge
* Three men and three juveniles charged with Murder, Riot and Affray
* 7 people charged with Riot
* 70 charged with Affray
* 20 charged with Threatening Behaviour
* 1 charged with Manufacture of Petrol Bombs
* 13 charged with Possessing Stolen Goods
* 8 charged with possessing an Offensive Weapon
* Seven charged with Theft
* Four charged with Arson
* 3 charged with Assault on police
* Remainder charges unrelated to 6 October
* 68 heard cases were held at the Old Bailey
* 19 pleaded Guilty
* 49 pleaded Not Guilty

* Of those pleading Not Guilty 26 were acquitted (no surprise as 37 of the 49 were charged on confessional evidence only)
* Most had been held incommunicado for up to five days without access to solicitors, family or legal advice.

In the meantime, Floyd Jarrett was acquitted of all the charges that had sparked the search…

Det Ch Supt Melvin put in charge of the investigation into the killing of PC Blakelock. With no forensic evidence to go on, Melvin’s main tactic was to arrest and pressure suspects – including juveniles, some of them regarded as vulnerable as they attended a local school for ‘educationally subnormal children (ESN school) – holding them for days without access to lawyers or family.

Of the 359 people arrested in connection with the inquiry in 1985 and 1986, just 94 were interviewed in the presence of a lawyer and many of the confessions that resulted – whether directly about the murder, or about having taken part in the rioting – were made before lawyers were given access to the suspects.

When people did confess to even a minor role in the rioting, such as throwing a few stones, they were charged with affray a serious offence for which many were to receive up to 8 years in prison.
One resident told the 1986 Gifford inquiry into the rioting: “You would go to bed and just lie there, and you would think, are they going to come and kick my door, what’s going to happen to my children? It was the horrible fear that you lived with day by day, knowing they could come and kick down your door and hold you for hours.”

Forty-nine men and youths were convicted of offences arising from the riots, out of 359 arrested and 159 charged, not counting defendants charged with Blakelock’s murder.

Six men were charged with the murder: Mark Pennant, Jason Hill, Mark Lambie, Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite. Pennant, Hill and Lambie were all under 16, Pennant and Hill had been questioned without lawyers, and all the six had been intimidated and held in highly threatening conditions. Under pressure from the police the first three had named Silcott as having been a ringleader in the riot and the killing. The police had a prior vendetta against Silcott and to an extent the Blakelock investigation was all about how to get Winston Silcott convicted, not discovering who killed Keith Blakelock.

Known as “Sticks” locally, Silcott was living in the Martlesham block of the Broadwater Farm estate at the time of the riots and was running his greengrocer’s shop in the Tangmere block, the block near the spot where Blakelock was killed. He told The Observer in 2004 that he had been in the Tangmere block on the night of the death, and had stopped someone throwing a scaffolding pole through the window of his shop. Then a friend of his, Pam, had invited him to her apartment to keep him out of trouble. He told the newspaper: “And look, I’m on bail for a murder. I know I’m stupid, but I’m not that stupid. There were helicopters and police photographers everywhere. All I could think about was that I didn’t want to lose my bail.” He said he first learned of Blakelock’s death when he heard cheering in the apartment he was staying in, in response to a news report about it.

He was arrested for the murder on 12 October 1985, six days after the riot; he was interviewed five times over 24 hours, Detective Chief Superintendent Melvin asking the questions and Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle taking the notes. During the first four interviews, he stayed mostly silent and refused to sign them, but during the fifth interview on 13 October, when Melvin said he knew Silcott had struck Blakelock with a machete or sword, his demeanour changed, according to the interview notes. The notes show him asking: “Who told you that?” When the detectives said they had witnesses, he reportedly said: “They are only kids. No one is going to believe them.” The notes say he walked around the interview room with tears in his eyes, saying: “You cunts, you cunts,” and “Jesus, Jesus,” then: “You ain’t got enough evidence. Those kids will never go to court. You wait and see. No one else will talk to you. You can’t keep me away from them.” The notes show him saying of the murder weapons: “You’re too slow, man, they gone.” He was at that point charged with murder, to which he reportedly responded: “They won’t give evidence against me.

Nineteen-year-old Engin Raghip, of Turkish-Cypriot descent, was arrested on 24 October after a friend mentioned his name to police, the only time anyone had linked him to the murder. During his trial, the court heard from an expert that Raghip was “in the middle of the mildly mentally handicapped range,” although this testimony was withheld from the jury. His mental impairment became a key issue during his successful appeal in 1991 in R v Raghip and others, when the court accepted that it rendered his confession unsafe.
Raghip was born in England in 1968, ten years after his parents had emigrated from Cyprus. He left school at 15, illiterate, and by the time of the murder had two convictions, one for stealing cars and one for burglary. He had a common-law wife, Sharon Daly, with whom he had a two-year-old boy, and he worked occasionally as a mechanic. He had little connection with Broadwater Farm, though he lived nearby in Wood Green, and had gone to the Farm with two friends on the day of the rioting to watch, he said. One of those friends, John Broomfield, gave an interview to the Daily Mirror on 23 October, apparently boasting about his involvement in the rioting. He was arrested, and he implicated Raghip. Broomfield was later convicted of an unrelated murder.

At the time of Raghip’s arrest he had been drinking and smoking cannabis for several days, had not slept or eaten properly, and his common-law wife had just left him, taking their son with her. He was held for two days without representation, first speaking to a duty solicitor on the third day, who said he had found Raghip distressed and disoriented. He was interviewed by Det Sgt van Thal and Det Insp John Kennedy ten times over a period of four days. He made several incriminating statements during the interviews, at first admitting he had thrown stones, then during the second interview saying he had seen the attack on Blakelock. During the third, he said he had spoken to Silcott about the murder, and that Silcott owned a hammer with a hook on one side. After the fifth interview he was charged with affray, and during the sixth he described the attack on Blakelock: “It was like you see in a film, a helpless man with dogs on him. It was just like that, it was really quick.”

During a seventh interview the next day, he described noises he said Blakelock had made during the attack. During the eighth interview, he said he had armed himself that night with a broom handle, and had tried to get close to what was happening to Blakelock, but there were too many people around him. He said: “I had a weapon when I was running toward the policeman, a broom handle.” He said he might have kicked or hit him had he been able to “get in.” He was held for another two days, released on bail, then charged with murder six weeks later, in December, under the doctrine of common purpose.

Mark Braithwaite was 18 when Blakelock was killed, a rapper and DJ living with his parents in Islington. He had a girlfriend who lived on Broadwater Farm, with whom he had a child. On 16 January 1986, three months after the murder, his name was mentioned for the first time to detectives by a man they had arrested, Bernard Kinghorn. Kinghorn told them he had seen Braithwaite, whom he said he knew only by sight; stab Blakelock with a kitchen knife. Kinghorn later withdrew the allegation, telling the BBC three years later that it had been false.

Braithwaite was taken to Enfield Police Station and interviewed by Det Sgt McDermott and Detective Constable Colin Biggar. He was held for three days and was at first denied access to a lawyer, on the instruction of Det Ch Supt Melvin. He was interviewed eight times over the first two days, and with a lawyer present four times on the third day. During the first 30 hours of his detention he had nothing to eat, and said in court – as did several other suspects – that the heat in the cells was oppressive, making it difficult to breathe.

He at first denied being anywhere near the Farm, then during interview four said he had been there and had thrown stones, and during interview five said he had been at the Tangmere block, but had played no role in the murder. During interview six, he said he had hit Blakelock with an iron bar in the chest and leg. Rose writes that there were no such injuries on Blakelock’s body. In a seventh interview, he said he had hit a police officer, but that it was not Blakelock. On the basis of this confession evidence, he was charged with murder.

The trial of the Tottenham Six began in court number two of the Old Bailey on 14 January 1987, and lasted 44 days. All the men were charged with murder, riot, and affray; Lambie was also charged with throwing petrol bombs.

The jury consisted of seven men and five women, including one Afro-Caribbean woman. They were not told that Silcott’s had been out on bail for the murder of Anthony Smith when Blakelock was killed, or that he had subsequently been convicted of that murder. Silcott’s barrister, Barbara Mills (1940–2011), a future Director of Public Prosecutions, decided that he should not take the stand in case it left him open to questioning about his previous convictions. The effort to avoid introducing the previous conviction meant the jury could not be told that Silcott had signed on for his bail – related to the Smith murder charge – at Tottenham police station at around 7 pm on the evening of Blakelock’s death, when witnesses had supposedly placed him at a Broadwater Youth Association meeting, making inflammatory speeches against the police.

The press coverage of the trial included the publication on day two, by the Sun, of a notoriously violent-looking photograph of Silcott, one that “created a monster to stalk the nightmares of Middle England,” as journalist Kurt Barling put it. Silcott said he had been asleep in a police cell when it was taken; he said he was woken up, held in a corridor with his arms pinned against a wall and photographed, and that the expression on his face was one of fear, not violence.

The charges against the youths were dismissed by the judge because they had been detained without access to parents or a lawyer. Four armoured police vehicles waited in Tottenham as the jury deliberated for three days. They returned on 19 March with a unanimous guilty verdict against Silcott, Raghip and Braithwaite.

The men were sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that Silcott serve at least 30 years. The black female juror fainted when the verdicts were read out. The tabloids knew no restraint, writing about the beasts of Broadwater Farm, hooded animals, and packs of savages, with the old jail-cell image of Silcott published above captions such as “smile of evil.”

A campaign to free the “Tottenham Three” gathered pace, organised by the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign. They published an 18-page report in 1987 by two American law professors, Margaret Burnham and Lennox Hinds, who had attended part of the trial, and who wrote that Silcott’s conviction “represents a serious miscarriage of justice.” In May 1989 Silcott was elected honorary president of the  London School of Economics by its students’ union, to the dismay of the college’s more serious director and governors. Silcott resigned shortly afterwards, saying he did not want the students to become scapegoats.

Engin Raghip’s solicitor was now Gareth Peirce – who had also represented the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, prominent cases of miscarriage of justice – and his barrister Michael Mansfield. Peirce applied for leave to appeal. She began to explore Raghip’s mental state, arguing that his confession could not be relied upon. She arranged for him to be examined by Dr. Gísli Gu?jónsson of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, a specialist in suggestibility; Gu?jónsson concluded that Raghip was unusually suggestible, with a mental age of between 10 and 11. Silcott was again represented by Barbara Mills and Braithwaite by Steven Kamlish. Mills noted the lack of photographic or scientific evidence, and argued that Silcott would have been unlikely to stop firefighters from extinguishing a fire on the deck of the Tangmere block, given that he was renting a shop there.

Lord Lane, then Lord Chief Justice of England, dismissed the applications on 13 December 1988, arguing of Raghip that the jury had had ample opportunity to form its own opinion of him. Amnesty International criticised the decision, pointing to the problems with confessions made in the absence of a lawyer, and was criticised in turn by Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, who said Amnesty had abandoned its impartiality. During a BBC Newsnight discussion of the case, Lord Scarman, a former Law Lord, said the convictions ought to be overturned. Gareth Peirce obtained another psychologist’s report about Raghip and, supported by Raghip’s MP Michael Portillo, asked the Home Secretary to review the case. She also submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the way Raghip had been interviewed breached the European Convention on Human Rights. In December 1990 Home Secretary Kenneth Baker referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.
In parallel with the efforts of Pierce, Silcott’s lawyers had requested access in November 1990 to his original interview notes, so that the seven pages from his crucial fifth interview – the notes he said were fabricated – could be submitted for an Electrostatic Deposition/Detection Analysis (ESDA) test. The test can identify a small electrostatic charge left on a page when the page above it is written on; in this way, the test’s developers say, the chronological integrity of interview notes can be determined.
In Silcott’s case, according to the scientist who conducted the ESDA test, Robert Radley, the notes from the section of the fifth interview in which Silcott appeared to incriminate himself had been inserted after the other notes were written. The seventh and final page of the fifth interview, where the participants would normally sign, was missing. The ESDA test suggested that, on the third to sixth pages of the interview, no impressions had been left from previous pages, although these earlier impressions appeared throughout the rest of the notes. According to Will Bennett in The Independent, the test “also revealed an imprint of a different page five from the one submitted in evidence which was clearly the same interview with Silcott but in which he made no implicit admissions.” In addition to this, David Baxendale, a Home Office forensic scientist who was asked to investigate by Essex police, said that the paper on which the disputed notes were written came from a different batch of paper from the rest of the interview.

The disputed section of the interview had been written down by Det Insp Maxwell Dingle. It said that, when Silcott was told the police had witness statements that he had attacked Blakelock, he replied: “They are only kids. No one is going to believe them”; he reportedly said later: “Those kids will never go to court, you wait and see.” As a result of the ESDA test evidence, the Home Secretary added Silcott and Braithwaite to Raghip’s appeal.

The appeal was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice on 25 November 1991.
The Court of Appeal heard the case on 25 November 1991, and took just 90 minutes to quash all three convictions, delivering their 74-page decision on 5 December. R v Raghip and others is regarded as a landmark ruling because it recognised that “interrogative suggestibility” might make a confession unreliable.

Lawyers for the three argued that Silcott’s interview notes were contaminated, and that Raghip’s suggestibility and Braithwaite’s having been denied a lawyer rendered their confessions unreliable too. The Crown prosecutor, Roy Amlot, conceded that the apparent contamination of the evidence rendered all three convictions unsafe. Rose writes that Amlot’s statement to the court was “one of the more sensational speeches in English legal history.” Amlot said: “We would not have gone on against Braithwaite, against Raghip, against any other defendants, having learned of the apparent dishonesty of the officer in charge of the case. I say that because the Crown has to depend on the honesty and integrity of officers in a case … The impact is obviously severe.”
Braithwaite and Raghip were released on 25 November. Silcott remained in jail for the 1984 murder of Anthony Smith. He received £17,000 compensation in 1991 for his conviction in the Blakelock case. He was offered up to £200,000 in legal aid in 1995 to sue the police for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The Metropolitan Police settled out of court in 1999, awarding him £50,000 for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. He was released on licence in October 2003 having served 18 years for Smith’s murder

In July 1992 Det Ch Supt Melvin was charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and Det Insp Maxwell Dingle with conspiracy. None of the three people present during the disputed interview with Silcott – Melvin, Dingle and Silcott himself – gave evidence during the detectives’ trial at the Old Bailey in June–July 1994.

The prosecution alleged that the notes of the fifth interview with Silcott had been altered to include the self-incriminating remarks. Silcott had refused to answer questions during the first four interviews. During the fifth, when told that he had struck Blakelock with a machete or similar, the notes show him saying that no one will believe the “kids” who have spoken to the police, and “Those kids will never go to court. You wait and see. No one else will talk to you. You can’t keep me away from them.
The detectives’ lawyers produced 14 undisclosed witness statements from the tainted Blakelock inquiry, one of which said Silcott had been carrying a knife with a two-foot-long blade on the night of the murder, and that he had attacked Blakelock. The detectives were acquitted on 26 July by a unanimous jury verdict. They told reporters after the verdict that they had been through a “terrible ordeal.” Both officers had been suspended during the case. Melvin returned to work afterwards, while Dingle retired.


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