In the 1920s and ’30s, the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, in South London, was controlled by a leftwing Labour party group; their aim was implementing municipal socialism in behalf of the area’s largely working class population. Progressive measures were pioneered in housing, education, health, the environment; the councilors had as a rule been activists in the area, involved in the many struggles of the late 19th and early 20th century, notably the dock strikes, etc.
When king George VI’s silver jubilee came around in 1935, the Labour mayor of Bermondsey refused to participate in the celebrations, considering it a waste of public money. He was supported by Dr Alfred Salter, the local MP, an early member of the Independent Labour Party, and a longtime pacifist and anti-monarchist.
The mayor may not only have objected to the waste of money, but also been embarrassed to take part in the Jubilee ceremonies London mayors were expected to attend. As Dr Salter wrote: “Look at the ridiculous orders issued to Mayors and others who were to meet the king. They had to wear special gloves, hold their hats in a special way, bow and walk backwards in a particular manner… in an absurd and uncomfortable garb of black silk stockings, knee breeches, silver buckled shoes and other buffoonery…”
The Borough council’s decision infuriated both monarchists and the rabid press. The local tories besieged the Mayor’s house one morning, battering at his door and graffiting the walls with insulting slogans. Posters and leaflets were also issued by the Bermondsey Constitutional Club, calling on people to sign a Loyal Address to the king. The press denounced the Mayor and MP as an affront to the royal family and the nation…
Although the working class locally had a record of support for Labour, there was also a strong patriotic and pro-royal feeling. The area was festooned with flags, bunting and banners reading ‘God Save the King’ (although one banner in Alscot Road loudly proclaimed ‘God Save the People’).
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online