Today in sporting history: West Indies cricket victory over England sparks victory demo through West End, 1950.

‘Calypso at Lords! The Turkey Trot on the hallowed turf! “outrageous sir”, said an old member, “Just outrageous.”’

When the West Indies first beat England at cricket at Lords in 1950, hundreds of West Indians living in Britain had obviously turned up to support them…

Their numbers at Lord’s in June were relatively small, not more than 100. But they made more of an impression than this statistic would suggest:

“The West Indian supporters created an atmosphere of joy such as Lord’s had never known before”. The Times, snooty as ever, described West Indian supporters as providing “a loud commentary on every ball” and, after the last English wicket had fallen, invading the field armed with “guitar-like instruments.” In Jamaica’s Gleaner, the match report noted that West Indian fans had been “beating out time on dustbin lids” and that “one enthusiast scraped away on a cheesegrater with a carving knife.” Not surprisingly, “bottles of rum were produced like magic,” reported the Gleaner, while England’s Daily Telegraph and Morning Post ran a story under the headline “Calypsos sung at Lord’s”. When the final English wicket fell, the Windies supporters rushed onto the pitch to party. Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), a famous Trinidadian calypso artist, led them in singing victory songs:

‘”I went there, with a guitar. And we won the match. After we won the match, I took my guitar and I call a few West Indians, and I went around the cricket field, singing. And I had an answering chorus behind me, and we went around the field singing and dancing. That was a song that I made up. So, while we’re dancing, up come a policeman and arrested me. And while he was taking me out of the field, the English people boo him, they said, “Leave him alone! Let him enjoy himself! They won the match, let him enjoy himself.” And he had to let me loose, because he was embarrassed. So I took the crowd with me, singing and dancing, from Lords, into Piccadilly in the heart of London. And while we’re singing and dancing and going to Piccadilly, the people opened their windows wondering what’s happening. I think it was the first time they’d ever seen such a thing in England. And we’re dancing in Trinidad style, like mas,” and dance right down Piccadilly and dance around Eros. The police told me we are crazy. So, we went a couple of rounds of Eros. And from there, we went to the Paramount, a place where they always had a lot of dancing. And we spend the afternoon there, dancing and having a good time.”

You can imagine what the stuffed shirts of the MCC made of it: one diarist sniffed it was “unnecessary”. Generally the British press congratulated the West Indies side with generous condescension. Only the Evening Standard managed to come up with its usual lovely turn of phrase (consciously racist or just stupidly ignorant?) “the blackest day for English cricket”. 

Written later that day, the Victory Calypso immortalised the spin bowling pair of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine:

Cricket lovely Cricket,
At Lord’s where I saw it;
Cricket lovely Cricket,
At Lord’s where I saw it;
Yardley tried his best
But Goddard won the Test.
They gave the crowd plenty fun;
Second Test and West Indies won….

Chorus: With those two little pals of mine
Ramadhin and Valentine.

Walcott, Weekes and Worrell held up their name
With wonder shots throughout the game
But England was beaten clean out of time
With the spin bowling of Ramadhin and Valentine.

West Indies was feeling homely,
Their audience had them happy,
When Washbrook’s century had ended,
West Indies voices all blended…
Hats went in the air,
People shout and jump without fear,
So at Lord’s was the scenery,
It bound to go down in history

There’s a dispute about whether Lord Kitchener or fellow calypsonian Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore) wrote the song. Lord Beginner certainly later recorded it and had the hit, but some present on the day remember Kitchener coming up with some of the lines.

The occasion could not help but have enormous significance. All the Caribbean islands from which the Windies team were drawn were British colonies, and the prevailing opinion in the UK, from Labour government, the press, to vast sections of the population of whatever class, felt that this the way things should be and would remain.

But pressure for change had been building in the Caribbean. Nationalist movements had been developing since the 1920s and 30s; black trade unions had been increasingly active in many parts of the region. ‘Moderate’ politicians, taking tentative steps towards possible independence, were being jostled from below by more radical voices.

Also significant was the nature of many of the West Indian spectators, present in London at the time, early movers at the start of the process of migration that would bring thousands of Afro-Caribbeans to the UK and change society here forever. A number of them – including both Kitchener and Beginner – had come over on the Empire Windrush in 1948, widely seen as heralding the birth of that change.

By the time the 1950 touring side arrived, there were around 5,000 Caribbean-born people in the country. The victory was celebrated enthusiastically both here and in the West Indies. In the Caribbean, the victory sparked scenes of delirium with public holidays in Barbados and Jamaica. Undoubtedly it had an impact on self-confidence which influenced the increasingly unstoppable momentum towards independence from British rule. Ironically, as with all West Indies sides until the 1960s, the team was captained by a white cricketer, John Goddard, and dominated by a white clique. Goddard himself was known for anti-black comments. Its also true that although to some extent cricket played an integrating force in West Indian region, there were also intense rivalries and resentments between the islands over the make-up of the team.

I was also always told that of old a number of the West Indies cricket team would always come down and hang at the Coach and Horses in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, the first black-owned pub in modern Britain, in the heart of one the first areas afro-caribbeans first settled in, and still an area with a strong black community – also that some of the crowd that day ended up there that evening. Though I lived over the road, and used to drink there (in its last incarnation with a West Indian landlady before it was closed for several years and translated into a succession of soulless hipster shite-spots), I have never found out whether this is myth or truth.


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


Today in London’s radical history: Black communist Paul Robeson speaks & sings at anti-nuclear rally, Trafalgar Square, 1959.

“Shall we have atom bombs and hydrogen bombs… the hellish destruction of men, women and children… or shall we have peace in the world?”
Paul Robeson, Trafalgar Square, 1959.

On 28th June 1959, 10,000 demonstrators marched to Trafalgar Square from Hyde Park for a rally against the use and development of nuclear weapons. The procession was made up of groups and trade unionists and peace organizations and left-wing political groups.

There were a number of speakers: the most famous was Paul Robeson, the black American singer and actor, internationally renowned, a campaigner for civil rights and international peace. He was confined to the US in 1950, so that he would not be able to speak out abroad about civil rights issues in the United States and his passport was not returned to him until 1958. He ended his speech with a song, “delighting the demonstrators by ending with his beautiful singing voice rolling out across the hushed crowd and passers-by.”

We aren’t generally into Soviet nostalgia, and have many reservations about many Communist Party fellow travellers, being anti-state communists or thereabouts. However Robeson, like Woody Guthrie, transcended the genre into a whole different stratosphere. A favourite evocative image related to him is when he sang at an outdoor concert for more than 25,000 people (estimates range as high as 45,000) gathered on both sides of the United States/Canadian border at Peace Arch Park in Blaine, when he was banned from travelling outside the States. An anti-racist rendering literally rendering nations and their borders irrelevant, if only for a moment… thinking about it makes my fingers tingle and my heart soar. Worth a mention this week, post-Brexit vote, with racism and nationalism on the rise, and borders going up in many hearts.

“The extraordinarily multitalented Robeson was not only a world-famous singer and actor, but became a political activist during his peak performing years. Robeson’s father, a runaway slave who became a minister in Princeton, New Jersey, exerted a strong influence on the young Robeson, instilling in him a quiet dignity, a love for African-American culture, and an all-embracing humanism.

An outstanding scholar-athlete at Rutgers University in 1915-19, Robeson went on to become one of the world’s leading concert singers, stage actors, and film stars in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. During the period 1927-39, when he was based in London, his artistic growth led him to study world cultures and to support social and political movements. He sang concerts to benefit trade unions, especially the Welsh coal-miners’ union, and he came to see the connection between the struggles of the British working class and those of the oppressed colonial peoples. Robeson was introduced to socialist ideas through his friendship with George Bernard Shaw and his acquaintanceship with several leaders of the British Labour Party. As a result, Robeson studied the classic Marxist writings and became attracted to the basic premises of communism.

In the early 1930s Robeson met many African students in London and developed a deep appreciation of the close links between the African and African-American cultures, learning several African languages. He also met Jawaharlal Pandit Nehru of India, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. Prompted by the desire to extend his artistic range, Robeson studied many other languages and cultures throughout the 1930s and 1940s, mastering Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, and most European languages. This focus on the centrality of culture went hand-in-hand with Robeson’s increasing radicalism – a duality that continued for the remainder of his career.

Robeson responded to the rise of German fascism by becoming one of the world’s leading antifascists. Invited to the Soviet Union in 1934 by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, Robeson was almost assaulted by Nazi storm troopers in Berlin as he changed trains on his way to Moscow. In the USSR he was deeply impressed by the lack of racial prejudice and by flourishing diverse cultures in the Soviet republics. These experiences and the communist leadership of the worldwide antifascist and anti-colonialist struggles were the basis of his unwavering support for the Soviet people in their attempts to build socialism. The fact that Robeson viewed the Soviet Union and the world communist movement as reliable allies of the colonial liberation movements led him to form a close alliance with Communists despite his private misgivings about the Stalinist purges of 1936-38 and his disagreement with the Communist Left’s exaggerated emphasis on class priorities over “nationalist” priorities in the Third World.

In 1938 Robeson demonstrated his commitment to the fight against fascism by going to Spain to sing and speak in support of the Spanish Republic in its civil war against General Francisco Franco’s fascist rebellion. The profound effect this experience had on Robeson’s radicalisation was reflected in his dramatic statement at that lime: “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice; I had no alternative.” By 1939, Robeson was a key figure symbolising on a world scale the unity of the antifascist and anti-colonial struggles.

In the fall of 1939 Robeson returned from England to the United States, where he continued his highly successful concert and theatre career while simultaneously becoming a leader of the civil rights movement and a spokesman for left-wing causes. He was the first major performing artist to refuse to perform for segregated audiences and to lead voter registration campaigns in the Deep South. Robeson also played an important role in support of the union-organising drive of the CIO in the early 1940s, and in bringing black workers into the unions.

In 1946 Robeson challenged President Harry S Truman’s refusal to sponsor legislation against lynching by telling him that in the absence of federal protection blacks would exercise their right of armed self-defence. An opponent of the Cold War from its inception, Robeson attended a world peace conference in Paris in 1949 and expressed the view that black Americans should not fight an aggressive war against the Soviet Union on behalf of their own oppressors. In the wake of those remarks, the U.S. government and the media launched an attack of unprecedented ferocity against Robeson that lasted for nine years.

Robeson’s passport was revoked in 1950 and was not restored until 1958. Inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State, and numerous other U.S. government agencies compiled tens of thousands of documents on Robeson and illegally harassed him over a period of more than twenty years. Robeson was also blacklisted in the entertainment industry and prevented from appearing in professional engagements until 1957. Despite this persecution, Robeson continued to sing and speak in black churches and in the halls of the few surviving left-wing trade unions. He also wrote a book titled Here I Stand in collaboration with the black writer and journalist Lloyd I. Brown in which he outlined the program and strategy subsequently adopted by the civil rights movement and foretold the advent of the movement for economic justice.

During the anticommunist witch-hunts of the late 1940s and the 1950s, Robeson defended the rights of Communists and defied congressional committees when they compelled him to testify before them. Although he was not a member of the Communist Party, he refused on constitutional grounds to answer any questions concerning Party membership or affiliation.

Robeson remained publicly neutral concerning the USSR-China rift that began in the late 1950s, maintaining his cordial relations with both countries, and expressed no opinion about Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” in 1956 denouncing Stalin’s crimes However, Robeson’s political attitude on these issues was conveyed indirectly by his personal friendship with Khrushchev and his enthusiastic support of Khrushchev’s domestic and foreign-policy reforms.

In 1958 Robeson’s passport was restored on the basis of a Supreme Court decision, and he traveled abroad for five years to reestablish his artistic career. After a successful comeback, Robeson became ill with circulatory disease, and in 1963 he returned to the United States to retire. Contrary to the claims of the media, Robeson was not disillusioned or embittered. As he put it in 1973, three years before his death from a stroke: “Though ill health has compelled my retirement, you can be sure that in my heart I go on singing.” Drawing upon lyrics he had made world famous, he continued, “I must keep laughing instead of crying, I must keep fighting until I’m dying, and Ol’ Man River, he just keeps rolling along.”

We stole this from here

Sometimes we nick things because they say we wanted to say, better than we could, and to be honest sometimes because we just run out of energy. Posting (nearly) every day is a bit exhausting, when you have to get the kids out of bed and to school and slope off to work as well. We’re not historians, just talentless amateurs. So if we aren’t always totally original, we apologise…


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

Today in London radical history: Police raid Fitzrovia house looking for ‘French anarchist bombers’, 1892.

As we have already noted on this blog, late 19th century London was home to large numbers of exiled socialists, radicals, and anarchists.

In the early 1890s, French anarchists, very much inflamed against social injustice and repression, became obsessed with the idea of revenge and individual acts of terror against representatives of the bourgeois society that they hated.

Heavy repression against workers organising to improve conditions in 1891, including police shootins on demonstrations, resulting in nine deaths, and arrests, beatings and jailings of anarchists, sparked a campaign of bombings against members of the judiciary by the anarchist Ravachol. Ravachol’s arrest in turn led to further bomb attacks by other French anarchists.

Several of those involved were suspected of having fled to or have been based in London. Two French anarchist exiles, Theodule Meunier and Jean-Pierre Francois, were wanted for alleged involvement for a bomb attack on the Café Very, in revenge for the part a waiter there had played in informing against Ravachol.

A cabinet maker by trade, Meunier had joined the French anarchist movement during the early 1890s. It was said of Meunier that he was “…the most remarkable type of revolutionary illuminist, an ascetic and a visionary, as passionate for the search for the ideal society as Saint-Just, and as merciless as seeking his way towards it.”

On June 27th 1892, Inspector Melville of (Special Branch) and 30 officers raided the houses of Delbacque, a French exile who lived in 30 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, an area teeming with French political refugees and their projects. They smashed open doors and wrecked the place, but failed to find either Francois or Meunier. Further raids in July also netted no bombers… There were rumoured appearances by Francois (to the adulation of the faction that enthusiastically supported ‘propaganda by the deed’) at the anarchist Autonomie Club, though it was was supposed to be awash with police informers. This may or may not have resulted in the tip-off that led Melville to be seeking Francois in Poplar, where he was living in the name of Johnson. Unluckily he came across him in the street in October (it took Melville and four cops to arrest him; his wife grabbed for a gun when their lodging was raided in turn).

In fact there was little concrete evidence against Francois, although he was extradited to France.

Meunier was not nicked until 1894, when Melville grabbed him in Victoria Station. He was also extradited and sentenced to 25 years penal servitude. He died in penal colony in Cayenne in 1907, stating “I only did what I had to do. If I could start over again, I would do the same thing.”

I am not sure what happened to Francois…

Interestingly, in order to extradite Meunier to France, the British courts re-defined the idea of a political crime. To a certain extent Britain tolerated ‘political’ refugees, nationalists, socialists, so long as they fitted into certain ‘acceptable’ parameters – only operating against their own government, fighting for democratic reforms, only organizing military conflict against soldiers- broadly aiming to replace one group in power with another. Political refugees fitting in with this could often expect a reasonable hearing in the liberal British courts, and requests for extradition from abroad might well be refused.

Many anarchists however refused to abide by the ‘rules’ that liberal governments were prepared to accept: they considered all authority as an enemy, aimed at the abolition of all governments; also, increasingly in the 1880s and 90s, some active in those sections of anarchism which believe ‘propaganda by the deed’ would inspire the overthrow of hierarchical society, felt that targeting politicians for assassination was OK, and even bourgeois civilians generally were the source of oppression of the working class, so they were also fair game.

Governments could all get behind the idea that this was just not cricket. The extradition court in Meunier’s case saw the idea of a political offence re-drawn to except anarchists, who be rejecting politics, refusing to aim at the replacement of one form of domination by another, thus excluded themselves from being ruled political. And could thus be extradited without anyone’s sense of their own liberal fairness being bruised. QED.

Special Branch’s Inspector Melville was to become a leading thorn in the side of the anarchist scene in late 19th/early 20th century London. Apart from rounding up exiles where he could, he built a formidable spying apparatus which not only collected information on anarchists of various nationalities, but also sponsored fake bomb plots to get as much publicity and put away as many comrades as he could. The notorious Walsall anarchist bomb plot was thought up in his fertile mind. He later rose to head Special Branch, and then became the secret chief of what later became MI5.


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

Today in London’s rebel history: ‘Incoherent insurrection’ in the City, 1263.

The later years of the thirteenth century reign of king Henry III were dominated by a constitutional crisis, which degenerated into civil war. Opposing the king’s attempts to raise more money, incensed by his methods of government, were a coterie of leading barons, led by Henry’s own brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort. Fearing Henry was attempting to centralize power in his own hands, reversing some of the powers and freedoms the baronial rebellions against his father king John had won.

The baronial discontent tuned in with a general rumble of anger in the country, caused by widespread famine and hunger in the 1250s and ‘60s. As a result the barons were able to recruit sections of the populace to their cause.

In 1258, initiating the move toward reform, seven leading barons forced Henry to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which effectively abolished the absolutist Anglo-Norman monarchy, giving power to a council of twenty-four barons to deal with the business of government and providing for a great council in the form of a parliament every three years, to monitor their performance.

However, the king soon reneged on this agreement, precipitating a struggle with de Montfort over control of the royal council and state policy.

London was of course divided, but there was a groundswell of popular support for de Montfort and the reformers. Although many of the aldermen and leading merchants were firmly behind the king, de Montfort and his allies learned to circumvent them by appealing to the popular opinion of London.

In London popular politics was often expressed through the folkmoot, an open assembly of citizens, held in what would later be the northeast corner of St. Paul’s churchyard (more extensive than it is now), close to the food markets of Cornmarket and Cheapside, which was then the effective nucleus of the city,

Earlier in the struggle the king had used the folkmoot against his opponents – harnessing the popular voice against the power of the City faction resisting the king, and using the authority it conferred to replace them with his own supporters. De Montfort now reversed this process, arousing popular support to push for his demand for a reform of royal government. The folkmoot was susceptible to pressure and manipulation by interested parties – the fact that its support was utterly reversed in the course of a few years may indicate a swing in opinion, or that the relevant meetings were packed.

But beyond the directed, considered alliance of leading citizens with the barons, there was a rage and rebelliousness, which has often characterized London politics, and which these respectable rebels would often flirt with, tap for allies, but fear at the same time. The uncontrollable violence of the London mob, sometimes progressive, sometimes reactionary and xenophobic – often, outbreaks had elements of both. Hatred of the royal family broke out in 1263 as de Montfort marshalled opposition to king Henry.

Henry refused to give in to de Montfort’s demand for the 1258 Provisions to be restored – sparking an uprising across half the country. In London, the king and queen locked themselves in the Tower as panic swept the capital. His attempt to raise a loan in the City to pay for troops was rejected, and his son, Edward, raided the New Temple on June 26th 1263 for cash. Order collapsed, and people poured into the streets, armed, as the aldermen tried to persuade the king to surrender.

Throughout late June and early July armed bands hunted down royalists, attacked their houses, and daily demonstrations thronged the streets. Leaders emerged from the crowds (their enemies, temporarily impotent, marked down 50 names of those they considered leaders of the popular movement). The uprising of the lower orders pushed the London authorities to make an alliance with de Montfort; the king, who had been besieged in the Tower, announced his surrender to their terms on July 16th. The husting and aldermannic government were set aside and the populace, led by a revolutionary mayor, governed through the folkmoot and reasserted control of the mayoral election. The ‘whole commune’ of London professed their support for the baronial reforms.

But the struggle was to continue, with the balance of power see-sawing between the parties, and erupt into pitched battles between the king’s party and de Montfort’s. In December 1263 the Londoners broke down the gate at London Bridge to allow Montfort and his army escape being trapped by the king’s forces outside of the city walls.

By March 1264, bands of Londoners led by Hugh Despenser were attacking exchequer and royal officers in London, as well as ravaging the lands of not just royalists but even members of the royal family in the home counties. And in May that year, many hundreds of Londoners lined up with their baronial allies on the battlefield at Lewes in Sussex, where king henry was defeated by de Montfort’s forces.

Though de Montfort then took over the government, calling the first real representative Parliament, he was killed in 1265 by royal troops. Revenge on Londoners who were known to have been prominent in support of the reform party was swift – hundreds of Londoners were rounded up, 60 leading citizens were taken as hostages, the property of several was seized by the royal party. A number of Londoners (and some non-Londoners who had happened to be in the capital during the revolt), most seemingly totally unconnected with the wars, were arrested, robbed and imprisoned in various parts of the country, in an orgy of retribution.


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

Today in parliamentary history: George Lansbury protests torture of jailed suffragettes & gets suspended from Parliament, 1912.

George Lansbury, Labour MP for Bow and Bromley, peace activist, opponent of the Boer War and World War 1, and probably the most leftwing leader the Labour Party ever had (without exception), was also a passionate supporter of the campaign for women to be win the right to vote.

His support sometimes got him into trouble…

Suffrage activists from the Women’s Social & Political Union had engaged in a campaign of direct action to press for votes for women. Smashing windows, attacking the odd politician… Their tactics had escalated to arson. In response to the increased fury of the movement the Liberal government had been jailing suffragettes, and force-feeding them when they went on hunger strike. Force-feeding was a brutal and dangerous procedure which left many women permanently injured.

On 25 June 1912 the Speaker suspended him from Parliament. The pacifist Lansbury, white with rage over the forcible feeding of imprisoned suffragettes, had shaken his fist in the Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith’s face, shouting “You will go down to history as a man who tortured innocent women.”

In response to an appeal to release imprisoned suffragettes, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had replied they could leave prison that day of they would give an undertaking not to repeat their offences.

This enraged Lansbury, who shouted: “You know the women cannot give such an undertaking! It is ridiculous to ask them to give an undertaking!”

Shouts of “Order, Order cam from all over the house, but Lansbury continued, and came forward towards the prime minster… He “immediately launched himself at the Treasury Bench shaking his fist in the faces of Premier Asquith and the other ministers. With his face only a few inches from that of Mr Asquith, Mr Lansbury screamed:’ Why, you’re beneath contempt. You call yourself a gentleman, and you forcibly feed and murder women in this fashion. You ought to be driven out of office.”

Described as ‘almost choking with emotion and passion’, Lansbury carried on, despite the speaker telling him to leave, and other MPs shouting their disapproval.

“It is the most disgraceful thing that has happened in England. You are going to go down to history as the man who tortured innocent women. The government have tortured women. It is disgraceful, disgusting, contemptible. You are murdering these poor women. You cannot tell them they they have the opportunity of walking out of prison. You know they can’t do it.”

The house was quickly consumed in disorder. The Speaker finally secured quiet and “ordered Mr Lansbury to leave. He replied, ‘I am not going out while these contemptible thugs are torturing and murdering women.’ He yelled this in a loud voice and appeared to be much overwrought, but when the Speaker warned him that he would be forcibly thrown out unless he went of his own accord the Labour members gathered about their colleague and induced him to quit.”

Lansbury found little support in his fight for women’s suffrage from his parliamentary Labour colleagues, whom he dismissed as “a weak, flabby lot”. In parliament, he denounced the prime minister, H. H. Asquith, for the cruelties being inflicted on imprisoned suffragists: “You are beneath contempt … you ought to be driven from public life”. He was temporarily suspended from the House for “disorderly conduct”.

He was ordered to leave the chamber by the Speaker, or he’d be ejected.

Lansbury’s passion on the issue came not only from his fierce sense of principle. A number of the suffragists facing force-feeding were his friends and comrades.

Later that year, Lansbury resigned his seat, to re-stand as a ‘Votes for Women’ candidate, but lost. Support for women’s suffrage among Labour voters was mixed – many of Lansbury’s previous supporters refused to support his position.

Campaigning on the same issue in 1913, he refused to be bound over to ‘keep the peace’ and was sentenced to six months imprisonment, part of which was remitted after he went on hunger strike.


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

Today in London rebel history: Fashionable strollers mobbed in Hyde Park in Sunday Trading Bill riots, 1855.

In June 1855, Hyde Park was the scene of mass defiance of the authorities. The spark was Lord Grosvenor’s Sunday Trading Bill, which sought to stop shopping and other activities on the Sabbath, and would have mainly affected the poor. There was also resentment at the Crimean war and at the hypocrisy of the aristocracy who wanted to parade up and down Hyde Park on Sundays while stopping others from enjoying themselves. It was not surprising therefore that the Park became the centre of opposition to the Bill. The first protest took place on Sunday June 24th, and among those present was Karl Marx, then in London, who wrote a report of the events for the German newspaper Neue Oder Zeitung:

“There has been a rapid succession of measures of religious coercion. The first measure was the Beer Bill, which shut down all places of public entertainment on Sundays, except between 6 and 10 pm. Then came the Sunday Trading Bill. In both cases there is a conspiracy of the Church with monopoly capital, but in both cases these are religious penal laws against the lower classes to set the consciences of the privileged classes at rest. The Beer Bill was as far from hitting the aristocratic clubs as the Sunday Trading Bill is from hitting the Sunday occupations of genteel society. The workers get their wages late on Saturday; they are the only ones for whom shops open on Sundays. They are the only ones compelled to make their purchases, small as they are, on Sundays. The new bill is therefore directed against them alone.

This was the occasion yesterday of a mass demonstration in Hyde Park. We were spectators from beginning to end and do not think we are exaggerating in saying that the English Revolution began Yesterday in Hyde Park (sorry Karl, we’re still trying!).

Lord Robert Grosvenor, who fathered the Sunday Trading Bill, when reproached on the score of this measure being directed solely against the poor and not against the rich classes, retorted that “the aristocracy was largely refraining from employing its servants and horses on Sundays.” The last few days of past week the following poster, put out by the Chartists and affixed to all the walls of London, announced in huge letters:

“New Sunday Bill prohibiting newspapers, shaving, smoking, eating and drinking and all kinds of recreation and nourishment, both corporal and spiritual, which the poor people still enjoy at the present time. An open-air meeting of artisans, workers and `the lower orders’ generally of the capital will take place in Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon to see how religiously the aristocracy is observing the Sabbath and how anxious it is not to employ its servants and horses on that day, as Lord Robert Grosvenor said in his speech. The meeting is called for three o’clock on the right bank of the Serpentine, on the side towards Kensington Gardens.”

It should be borne in mind, of course that what Longchamps means to the Parisians, the road along the Serpentine in Hyde Park means to English high society – the place where of an afternoon, particularly on Sunday, they parade their magnificent horses and carriages with all their trappings, followed by swarms of lackeys. It will be realised from the above placard that the struggle against clericalism assumes the same character in England as every other serious struggle there- the character of a class struggle waged by the poor against the rich, the people against the aristocracy, the “lower orders” against their “betters”.

“we are treated like slaves”

At 3 o’clock approximately 50,000 people had gathered at the spot announced on the right bank of the Serpentine in Hyde Park’s immense meadows. Gradually the assembled multitude swelled to a total of at least 200,000 due to additions from the other bank. Milling groups of people could be seen shoved about from place to place. The police, who were present in force, were obviously endeavouring to deprive the organisers of the meeting a place to stand upon. Finally a rather large crowd made a firm stand and Bligh the Chartist constituted himself chairman on a small eminence in the midst of the throng. No sooner had he begun his harangue than Police inspector Banks at the head of forty truncheon swinging constables explained to him that the Park was the private property of the Crown and that no meeting might be held in it… meanwhile Finlen, a member of the Chartist executive, rushed to a tree some distance away followed by a crowd who in a twinkle formed so close and compact a circle around him that the police abandoned their attempt to get at him. “Six days a week,” he said, “we are treated like slaves and now Parliament wants to rob us of the bit of freedom we still have on the seventh”.

Suddenly shouts could be heard on all sides: “Let’s go to the road, to the carriages!” The heaping of insults upon horse riders and occupants of carriages had meanwhile already begun. The constables, who constantly received reinforcements from the city, drove the promenading pedestrians off the carriage road. They thus helped to bring it about that either side of it was lined deep with people.

“A music that could drive one mad”

The spectators consisted of about two-thirds workers and one-third members of the middle class, all with women and children. The procession of elegant ladies and gentlemen in their high coaches-and-four with liveried lackeys in front and behind, did not this time pass by in review- but played the role of involuntary actors who were made to run the gauntlet. A Babel of jeering, taunting, discordant ejaculations, in which no language is as rich as English, soon bore down upon them from both sides. As it was an improvised concert, instruments were lacking. The chorus therefore had only its own organs at its disposal and was compelled to confine itself to vocal music. And what a devils’ concert it was: a cacophony of grunting, hissing, whistling, squeaking, snarling, growling, croaking, shrieking, groaning, rattling, howling, gnashing sounds! A music that could drive one mad and move a stone.

Meanwhile the metropolitan electric telegraph had informed all police stations that a riot was about to break out in Hyde Park and the police were ordered to the theatre of military operations. Soon one detachment of them after another marched at short intervals through the double file of people, each received with the popular ditty: “Where are the geese? Ask the police!”. This was a hint at a notorious theft of geese recently committed by a constable in Clerkenwell.

The spectacle lasted three hours. Only English lungs could perform such a feat. During the performance opinions such as “this is only the beginning!” “That is the first step!” “We hate them!” and the like were voiced by the various groups. Shortly before the end the demonstration increased in violence. Canes were raised in menace at the carriages and through the welter of discordant noises could be heard the cry of “you rascals!”.

Most of the London papers carry today only a brief account of the events in Hyde Park. No leading articles as yet, except in Lord Palmerston’s Morning Post – it claims that “a spectacle, both disgraceful and dangerous in the extreme has taken place in Hyde Park, an open violation of law and decency- an illegal interference by physical force in the free action of the legislature.” It urges that “this scene must not be allowed to-be repeated the following Sunday, as was threatened.””

A week later another protest took place in the Park, in defiance of a ban on meetings there. Faced with such protests, Lord Grosvenor eventually withdrew his proposals. Marx describes what happened on July 1st:

“Even according to the account given in the police bulletin at half past two already 150,000 people of every age and social estate surged up and down the park and gradually the throng swelled to such dimensions as were gigantic and enormous even for London… once again the crowd lined both sides of the drive along the Serpentine, only this time the lines were denser and deeper than the previous Sunday. However, high society did not put in an appearance. High society had given wide berth to the place of combat and by its absence had acknowledged vox populi to be sovereign.

It got to be four o’clock and it looked as if the demonstration for lack of nutrition was going to simmer down to harmless Sunday amusements, but the police reckoned differently. Were they going to withdraw amidst general laughter, casting melancholy farewell glances at their own big-lettered placards – posted up on the portals of the park? Eight-hundred constables had been strategically distributed. Big squads were stationed in neighbouring localities to serve as reinforcements. In brief, the police had drawn up a plan of campaign which was “of a far more vigorous description,” according to the Times “than any of which we have yet had notice in the Crimea.” The police were in need of bloody heads and arrests in order not to fall from the sublime to the ridiculous without some intermediate link.

[Orders were issued] allegedly for the protection of passing carriages and riders. But as both carriages and riders stayed away and there was therefore nothing to protect, they began to single some individuals out of the crowd and have them arrested on false pretences, on the pretext that they were pickpockets. When this experiment was repeated more and more often and the pretext no longer sounded plausible, the crowd raised one big cry. At once the constabulary rushed from ambush, whipped their truncheons out of their pockets, began to beat up people’s heads until the blood ran profusely, yanked individuals here and there out of the vast multitude (a total of 104 were thus arrested) and dragged them to the improvised blockhouses.

Only a small strip of land separates the left side of the drive from the Serpentine. Here an officer of the police and his detail manoeuvred the spectators to the very brink of the lake, threatening to give them a cold water bath. To escape the clubbing one of the crowd swam across the Serpentine to the opposite shore, but a policeman followed him in a boat, caught him in a boat and brought him back triumphantly.

During the demonstration several attempts were made again to hold separate meetings in various places. At one of them an anonymous speaker harangued his audience about as follows: “Men of Old England! Awake! Rise from your slumbers, or be forever fallen! Oppose it every succeeding Sunday, as you have done today… Don’t fear to demand your rights and privileges, but throw off the shackles of oligarchical oppression and misrule. His lordship wants to drive us to church and make us religious by act of Parliament; but it won’t do. Who are we and who are they? Look at the present war; is it not carried on at the expense and the sacrifice of blood of the producing classes? And what do the non-producing classes do? they bungle it”. The speaker as well as the meeting were stopped, of course by the police.”

The following extracts are from the report of the parliamentary enquiry “into the alleged disturbance of the public peace in Hyde Park on Sunday, July 1st, 1855; and the conduct of the Metropolitan Police in connexion with the same”:

“It was observed that many of the most disorderly characters were collected in front of the rails on the south side of the Drive near the Receiving House… to clear the crowd back to some distance from the railings [orders were given] to the police to clear the road and the rails, and to use their staves… the police advanced with their truncheons drawn along the carriage road of the Drive, clearing it of people. Some of whom, not readily yielding or quitting the road, were pushed, struck, and roughly handled. The policemen also passed along the Drive, striking on the rails, and brandishing their staves over the heads of the crowd there, and in some instances striking at them, in order to compel them to . These proceedings produced or increased irritation and ill feeling on the part of the people assembled; offensive expressions were used to annoy the police, some stones were thrown at them, and frequent collisions took place.

About six o’clock in the evening a large mass of people set out from Hyde Park towards Grosvenor Gate and Pink Street, with cries of “Now to Lord Robert Grosvenor’s.” Soon afterwards a crowd was collected before Lord Robert Grosvenor’s house in Park Street. No actual violence, beyond throwing a stone at Lord Robert Grosvenor’s messenger, was committed by them; but their number and clamour were alarming. The crowd yelled and groaned, calling “Chuck him out,” and using other expressions of hostility to Lord Robert Grosvenor, and their aspect and proceedings were sufficiently menacing to excite the fears of the inmates of the house, though some of the cries were of a jocular character.

The police rushed forward with their staves drawn. Though there was no serious resistance, some of them, whilst dispersing and pursuing the crowd, used their staves, and otherwise acted with violence, inflicting severe injuries on several persons who were not shown to have been guilty of any violence, but who refused to move off when requested so to do, or who, being inoffensively there, ran or stood still when the police came up the street.”

This is an excerpt from ‘Ruffians Radicals and Ravers: The Battle for Hyde Park 1855-1994.’
which is coincidentally available from past tense


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

Today in London history: Traditional date for beginning of rowdy Pinner Fair.

The Fair in the onetime Middlesex town (now Northwest London suburb) of Pinner was at one time the biggest popular fair in the London area. Originating in a charter granted to the town before 1336, the fair was at first held between the 23-25 June, & on 29-30 August. Later it was confined to Whit Wednesday (possibly an attempt to restrain the traditional weekend rowdiness by having it on a weekday when people had to get up the next day for work).

A pleasure fair developed out of Pinner’s medieval fair. By the early 19th century it featured wrestling, racing, ‘gingling’, climbing a greasy pole, and ‘other manly and old English sports’, beyond its surviving economic functions – the sale of cattle and hay. More recently of course you get a pre-ponderance of rides, games, etc.

“We used to go across the fields about four miles to Pinner. There were booths and stalls… the chief attractions were roundabouts, swinging-boats, single-sticks and boxing matches; among the labourers, jumping in sacks, climbing a greased pole for a leg of mutton or a hat on the top, and last but not lest in importance a dance at a public house… The dancing was in a small room, and the atmosphere, impregnated with the smell of beer and tobacco, and the noise of dancing in chaw-boots, etc, to a merry fiddle were something indescribable. Dancing continued till about midnight, when we walked back to Harrow…” (Reverend Henry Torre. Betcha some folks stayed up dancing beyond midnight, rev…)

Everyone would gather on the Tuesday evening before the fair to witness the ‘rush-in’. At six o’clock, the police sergeant would blow his whistle and all the fair people would rush in to the High Street from the side roads and try to claim the best spots by putting a pole down in the gutter.”

As usual with the London Fairs, Pinner Fair was always a rowdy occasion.

As the old country fairs lost their main economic functions  – hiring of labour, sale of livestock and produce – through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, their importance as pleasure-grounds grew more and more significant. Fairs became infamous for drink, music, dancing, gambling, theatre, extra-mural sex, and too, for robbery and the occasional spot of individual and collective violence.The violence and crime worried authorities, but the immorality, disorderly pleasure and vice was worse. As part of a wave of repression and social cleansing that gradually swept Europe through these centuries, Fairs, as with other pleasures and pastimes, were subjected to hostile propaganda, closed down, banned. This wide-ranging suppression was part of the process of disciplining working people into a more productive way of life, a vital element of the transition towards capitalism.

Of course, strait-laced folk also despised the unruly pastimes of the lower orders. Part of this contempt arises from an urge to demarcate themselves from those they considered beneath, them by developing a ‘higher culture’; but the potential for disorder, riot and uprising that any gathering of large crowds also raised a spectre of revolution for ruling classes beset by fears of the great unwashed. Mostly this was paranoia, although carnivals and feast days were always associated with protest and a number of rebellions in Europe had begun with feast day riots…

As the industrial revolution took hold in Britain this process intensified. Forcing millions into factory work and packing them into cities, the ruling elites realised they needed to not only control and order people’s desires, but get them to internalise this control, to repress themselves… Religion, temperance, hard work, hierarchical families and respect for authority. The teeming roaring popular culture of the fairs had to go.

Most London Fairs, from the huge and famous May Fair and Bartholomew Fair, to the outlying but equally notorious Camberwell and Greenwich shindigs, were suppressed between the 1760s and 1850s.

In 1829-30, Edgware magistrates tried to ban Pinner Fair, as many authorities were doing at this time to fairs and working class gatherings/entertainments… The specific reasons for their hostility have been lost, but if contemporary action against other fairs can be used as a yardstick, the annual cost of policing the event, keeping down disorder and a stern watch for immorality, together with the disruption and damage, may all have been factors. Local respectable types might well have objected to the inconvenience of the high street being blocked, and to the incursion of ‘roughs’ lowering the tone. However, local farmers certainly banded together in 1829 to petition the lord of the manor – whose decision it was – to allow the fair to continue. Many if the stalls may have been set up by showmen but farmers also probably sold produce too – as well as enjoying the knees-up. The Fair continued.

Further attempts to ban it were made in 1893. In December that year, local bigwig Mr Loveland-Loveland (really), Deputy Chairman of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions, in association with Thomas Blackwell and Mr Hill, submitted a petition to Lady Northwick, Lady of the Manor, and to the Edgware magistrates, to ban it. Lady Northwick agreed to abolish the Fair, noting that “many undesirable people came from Whitechapel” and that the fair brought disease into the district (for which there is no evidence at all.)
Mr Hill presented the petition to the magistrates, complaining that the Fair had become a nuisance, no cattle being offered for sale, and the event was just an excuse for rioting and drunkenness (yes, and what’s wrong with that?). The magistrates agreed (unsurprisingly, as at least one of them had previously been a petitioner to ban nearby Harrow Fair), but local publicans, shopkeepers and residents organised a counter-petition of 200 names refuting the charges and defending the Fair. On consideration the Home Office decided there was no public order case for closing the Fair down. Attendances increased every year after this attempt to ban it, although they had been declining beforehand, so maybe people made a conscious effort to keep the Fair alive by coming down, in the spirit of “if they want to prevent us having a good time we will enjoy ourselves even more.”

In 1903 Hendon District Council tried to ban the Fair on the grounds that it had no charter, but supporters proved that it did.

The fair was said to have been ‘unusually disorderly’ in 1901 and 1906. Commentators noted that “every year the village of Pinner has a tussle with progressives who think such frivolity unbecoming to the dignity of a rising town…” So there was also clearly a feeling that such events were a thing of the past, “low, vulgar and noisy”, and that it made the place look backward to urban sophisticates…? Most letters to or editorials in local papers identified the objectors to the Fair as being ‘newcomers’, and that a similar demographic had been responsible for the banning of Harrow Fair. Whereas opponents often claimed it was outsiders who benefitted from it and attended it. The varied and interesting career of the outside agitator…

A hilarious intervention from 1965 is worth recording. A Mr Jennery wrote to the Harrow Observer, claiming “Pinner was beset by gypsies, who lived in luxury caravans, with “spotless nylon curtains”. Healthy manly sports had been replaced by Bingo; there was “a cacophany of noise and an unwarrantable intrusion of privacy”. Mr Jennery seems to have had some proper issues – though what problem he had with spotless nylon curtains it’s hard to fathom. Travelling people should have dirty fishnets? It was however enough for him to advocate violence: he called for local residents to repel the invaders using “staves, pickstaffs, cutlasses and muskets.”
Not sure if he was for attacking all fairgoers or just travellers, but it seems unlikely that he or his would-be army of bourgeois liberation would have been able to purchase the archaic weapons he talks about using (except maybe at one of the Fair stalls, perhaps?)

Almost uniquely for medieval fairs, despite repeated complaints in the 20th century, Pinner Fair survives today, still held in the town streets: “the last surviving street fair in Middlesex.”


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

Today on the Thames, 1758: crew of Prince of Wales fight off pressgang during navy ‘recruitment’ campaign

In the 18th century, it could be dangerous to nip down the pub near the River Thames… Or pretty much anywhere in the country… and not just because the drinks were a wee bit stronger than today.

You also ran the risk of being accosted and politely asked if you would like to serve your country in an aquatic capacity… Since medieval times it had been the royal prerogative to impress free men into the navy, usually violently grabbing those too drunk to resist, since most men weren’t keen to sign up for an unknown length of time on a leaking ship eating rotting food, lousy with pests and disease and THEN get killed fighting the poxy pointless wars of their ‘betters’; with a fair chance that if you survived, they wouldn’t pay you for several years. “They were taken in any way, usually at night, through violence, entrapment, and fraud. Before anyone could discover their absence, they were taken on board and locked up until the ship sailed from port. The captured men were often wounded and would die from lack of treatment.”

This custom of using pressgangs to ‘recruit’ was roundly condemned – except when the nation was at more, when the “necessity of the sudden coming in of strange enemies into the kingdom” (read: the need to bash the fuck out of some foreigners, preferably – though not exclusively – defenceless ones with some natural resources worth snaffling) justified any mean necessary. “Outrages were of course deplored; but the navy was the pride of England, and every one agreed that it must be recruited.”
Some suggested other methods for guaranteeing the navy didn’t lack numbers, barmy ideas like paying higher wages, limiting the years of service, and increased pensions. Fucking liberal do-gooders.

During times of war, pressgangs would roam towns and the countryside to take men against their will to serve in His Majesty’s navy. Sailors were most at risk, as they were obviously more useful naval fodder. In theory, impressment was restricted by law to seamen. They were kidnapped on the coast, or seized on board merchantships, like criminals: ships at sea were raided for their crews, and left without sufficient hands to take them safely into port. But since the gangs operated on a bounty per head, and would be backed by authority in any dispute, in reality anyone not rich was fair game.

In vain did apprentices and landsmen claim exemption. They were accused of being “skulking sailors in disguise, or would make good seamen at the first scent of salt-water; and were carried off to the sea ports. Press-gangs were the terror of citizens and apprentices in London, of labourers in villages, and of artisans in the remotest inland towns. Their approach was dreaded like the invasion of a foreign enemy. Soldiers were employed to assist the pressgangs: villages invaded, sentries standing with fixed bayonets; and churches surrounded, during the service, to seize seamen for the fleet.”

The pressgangs’ best defence against bad publicity was to target those they knew would find little support among the establishment or the literati –

“rogues and vagabonds, who were held to be better employed in defence of their country, than in plunder and mendicancy. During the American war, impressment was permitted in the case of all idle and disorderly persons, not following any lawful trade or having some substance sufficient for their maintenance. Such men were seized upon, without compunction, and hurried to the war.”

Men’s only resort was to leg it – or to fight back. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries teem with stories of resistance to the press gang. Rumour of the pressgang’s being on the prowl could lead quickly to a crowd gathering to resist them, or to attempt rescue of anyone already grabbed. These affrays were often bloodily violent – “threatened seamen were prepared to use knives, cutlasses, pokers, shovels and broken glass to defend themselves.” Ears, noses and eyes were often lost; a quarter of all battles with pressgangs between 1740 and 1805 involved serious injuries or fatalities.

A popular target for the gangs were London’s rookeries and slums – however, the basic solidarity of the poorest, often causal workers, beggars or crims, could backfire on them. For instance, one such attack on The Mint, Southwark’s most notorious rookery, in 1721, ended with the pressgang being heavily beaten.

The Seven Years war, 1756-63, which involved much of Europe, saw bitter fighting between England and France in Europe and the Americas. Death rates were high, and demand for bodies to replenish the naval losses was constant. The press gangs were working flat out.

Attempts were made to control their activities. In 1758, a bill passed the House of Commons that would have extended habeas corpus (a writ requiring a person be brought before a judge or court especially for an investigation of a restraint of the person’s liberty; used as a protection against illegal imprisonment) to pressed men. Although this act was designed to stop impressment into the army it would have seriously sabotaged the war effort: pressure was brought to bear and the bill failed in the House of Lords

During one night of savage ‘recruitment’ on the river Thames, when hundreds of men were pressed, the crew of one ship, the Prince of Wales, armed themselves and prepared to resist.

The 22nd of June 1758 is described as “a hot press for seamen, when upwards of 1400 men were taken in the river for his majesty’s service” in the London Magazine “the hottest since the war began… no regard being had to protections… The crew of the Prince of Wales, a letter of marque ship, stood to arms, and saved themselves by their resolution.” (Annual Register, 1758).

We know little more – whether or not there was a fight, or whether their show of force was enough. However, we know they successfully avoided impressment.

The ship was described as ‘a letter or marque ship’ – basically a licensed pirate, a privateer, usually issued a licence to attack and capture enemy vessels and bring them before admiralty courts for condemnation and sale. Cruising for prizes with a letter of marque was considered an honourable calling combining patriotism and profit, in contrast to unlicensed piracy, which was universally reviled’.

Possibly the ship’s profession made the crew were a bit too tasty for the pressgang’s liking…

The Press Gang: Naval Impressment and its opponents in Georgian Britain, by Nicholas Rogers, and The Press-Gang: Afloat and Ashore, J. R.. Hutchinson, are worth a read…


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

Today in London radical history: Jewish workers’ demo protests pogroms in Russia, 1903.

The Kishinev pogroms were anti-Jewish riots that took place in Kishinev (Chişinău), then capital of the Russian province of Bessarabia (now the capital of the Republic of Moldova), on April 19 and 20, 1903.

Incited by populist newspaper in Kishinev, the which regularly published articles with headlines such as “Death to the Jews!” and “Crusade against the Hated Race!” (referring to the Jews), the riot erupted when a Christian Ukrainian boy, Mikhail Rybachenko, was found murdered in the town of Dubossary, about 25 miles north of Kishinev, and a girl who committed suicide by poisoning herself was declared dead in a Jewish hospital. The age-old anti-semitic myth that Jews would kill Christian children to use their blood in rituals was revived, and the town’s Russian Orthodox bishop incited violence against the Jews.

Imperial persecution was not new to the Jews of Russia. Their participation in the Russian revolutionary Socialist movement and trade union movements, especially in the large industrial centres in the Polish provinces, had led the ruling elites to support renewed persecution against them.

The pogrom began on April 19 (April 6 according to the Julian calendar then in use in the Russian empire) after church services on Easter Sunday. In two days of rioting, 47 or 49 Jews were killed, 92 severely wounded and 500 more also injured. 700 houses were destroyed, and 600 stores were pillaged. No official attempt was made by the police or military to intervene to stop the riots until the third day. Anti-semitism was not only rife in Russia as across Europe, but was also encouraged by the Tzarist regime as a way of diverting the anger of the poor to targets other than the aristocracy. Sadly many Russian peasants were only too happy to fall for this line. Unlike today when minority groups and migrants aren’t scapegoated for the social results of deliberate policies of the ruling classes. Oh wait…

Despite a worldwide outcry, only two men were sentenced to seven and five years and twenty-two were sentenced for one or two years. This pogrom was instrumental in convincing tens of thousands of Russian Jews to leave for the West or Palestine, and became a rallying point for early Zionists.

The anti-semitic outbreaks sparked anger in Jewish communities abroad, In London, many of the Jews of the East End had fled earlier Russian pogroms in the 1880s.

Rudolf Rocker gave an account of the solidarity demos held by the East End Jewish anarchists and other groups with the Jews being persecuted in Russia:

“In April 1903 the world was shaken by reports of a terrible pogrom against Jews in Kishineff, Russia. Later pogroms made it clear that this was not a spontaneous outburst by an ignorant populace, but a carefully organized massacre prepared in cold blood by the Tzarist police and authorities.

Anti-semitism had been for a long time used as an instrument of policy by the Tzarist government to divert the attention of the people from the the cause of their misery and poverty. Protest meetings were immediately held in both the East and West End of London, and early in May there was a huge demonstration in Hyde park, called by the Friends of a Free Russia, in conjunction with other bodies. Of course, we were there. Outstanding among the many speakers was Peter Kropotkin. I still carry a picture in my mind of Kropotkin as I saw him that day, his face pale with emotion, his grey beard caught by the wind. His forst words were hesitant, as though choked by his deep feeling. Then they came rushing out fiercely, each word like the blow of a hammer. There was a quiver in his voice when he spoke of the suffering of the victims. He looked like some ancient prophet. All the thousands who listened to him were moved to their depths. Who could have imagined then that the pogrom in Kishineff would seem like child’s play afterwards against the mass slaughter of millions in the Hitler period?

We also had a separate Jewish labour demonstration, which was held in Hyde Park on June 21st 1903. The initiative came from the Jewish Cabinet Makers’ Union, which called a conference for the purpose of all the Jewish political and labour organisations in London. All the Jewish trades unions sent representatives, as well as the Federation of Jewish Anarchists and the Jewish branches of the Social Democrats, the Social Revolutionaries and the Polish Socialist Party…

The two Yiddish dailies in London at that time, the Jewish Express and the Jewish Telephone, denounced the conference and all it was trying to do as an anarchist manouevre. The Jewish Express… told the Jews of the East End that if they went to our demonstration they would find that it was not directed so much against the pogrom in Kishineff as for socialism. It said that the Russian government had accused the Jews of Russia of being engaged in the socialist movement. Such a demonstration would give the Russian government an excuse to say that the charge was true, that the Russian Jews were linked with socialism.

The demonstration was held on a Sunday afternoon. It was the biggest manifestation of Jewish workers that London had seen till then. Thousands of Jewish proletarians marched in close ranks from Mile End to Hyde Park. It was a dull, unfriendly day, fitting for the angry sullen mood of the marchers. Thousands more had gone straight to the park… The speeches were in English, Yiddish, Russian and Polish. The London dailies estimated that there were at least 25,000 people people assembled around the three platforms. Besides our East End Jewish speakers there were Herbert Burrows, John Turner, Ted Leggatt, Harry Kelly, N. Tchaikovsky and W. Tcherkesov. Kropotkin was not well, and said he could not speak; but he came to the demonstration. He arrived late, and the crowd round our platform was so dense that he couldn’t get through to us. But some of the crowd recognized him; they lifted him shoulder-high and so passed him along over their heads till be reached our platform.

Having got there he made a short speech, first in Russian and then in English…

The demonstration had succeeded beyond our expectations, in spite of the incessant campaign against us in the two Yiddish London Dailies, and the way in which the Rabbis in the East End Synagogues had, with a zeal worthy of a better cause, preached for weeks past to their congregations to get them to boycott the demonstration.

I understand that the main motive for the opposition we met from the representatives of religious Jewry was their fear that such mass demonstrations abroad might endanger Russian Jewry still more. I am sure their fear was exaggerated; such huge demonstrations must have impressed the Tzarist government, and made it realize the extent of the feeling its pogrom policy aroused throughout the world. But it was an understandable fear, considering the state of continual uncertainty in which Russian Jewry had to live.”


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

Today in London’s radical history: Suffragettes target Chancellor Asquith’s house, 1906.

The Women’s Social & Political Union’s militant campaign for women’s suffrage stepped up in 1906, with one of the main tactics being to invade Liberal election meetings and heckle, demand support from and put pressure on candidates.

They focused especially on the Liberal cabinet members, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Herbert Henry Asquith (later Prime Minister).

“The general trend of events now made us feel the necessity of securing a personal interview with Mr. Asquith, and we therefore wrote asking him to receive us. He replied that his rule was not to receive any deputation unconnected with his office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we then wrote as follows :
To THE Right Hon. H. H. Asquith, Chancellor of   THE Exchequer. Sir: I am instructed by my Committee to say that the subject of the enfranchisement of women, which they desire to lay before you, is intimately bound up with the duties of your office. Upon no member of the Cabinet have women greater claims than upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Your Budget is estimated on a system of taxation which includes women. Women not being exempt from taxation have a right to claim from you a hearing. Women are told that you are mainly responsible for the refusal of the Prime Minister to deal with their claim. But being convinced of the justice of giving votes to women they renew their request that you receive a deputation on an early date in order that their case may be presented to you.
Faithfully yours, E. Sylvia Pankhurst. Hon. Sec. of the London Committee of the Women’s Social  and Political Union 45, Park Walk, Chelsea, S.W.

Mr. Asquith returned no answer to this, our second letter, and therefore, without making any further attempt to obtain his consent, we wrote to him saying that a small deputation would call at his house, No. 20 Cavendish Square, on the morning of Tuesday, June 19th. On the appointed day the women arrived just before 10 o’clock in the morning, but, early as it was, they were told that Mr. Asquith had already gone to the Treasury. They thereupon decided that half their number should wait on the doorstep and that the other half should go to look for him. Those who went to the Treasury were told that Mr. Asquith had not arrived, and those who remained on guard at his house were equally unsuccessful, for whilst they had been standing there waiting, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had escaped through the back door in a closed motor car.”

Two days later, they returned to Asquith’s house:

“Our determination to meet Mr. Asquith face to face was still strong, and after our failure to see him on the Tuesday we at once wrote to say that we were sending a larger deputation to interview him in two days’ time. We had now three flourishing branches of the Union in London, one in the centre and two in the East End, and some thirty or forty representatives, partly drawn from these branches and partly from our central Committee, formed the deputation. Carrying little white Votes-for- Women flags and headed by Theresa Billington, some thirty of the East End members marched off in procession for Mr. Asquith’s house ; but on arriving at the edge of Cavendish Square, they were met by a strong force of police who told them that they must at once turn back. The poor women stood still in affright, but would not turn. Then the police fell upon them and began to strike and push them and to snatch their flags away. Theresa Billington tried in vain to prevent this violence, “We will go forward,” she cried “You shall not hit our women like that,” but a policeman struck her in the face with his fist and another pinioned her arms. Then she was seized by the throat and forced against the railings until, as was described by an onlooker, “she became blue in the face.” She struggled as hard as she could to free herself but was dragged away to the police station with the East End workers following in her train.   Immediately afterwards Annie Kenney, with a number of others, most of whom were members of our Committee, came into the Square. Annie knew nothing of what had taken place and, preoccupied and intent on her mission, she walked quickly across the road, but, as she mounted the steps of Mr. Asquith’s house and stretched out her hand to ring his bell, a policeman seized her roughly by the arm and she found herself under arrest. Following this, Mrs. Knight, one of the East End workers, who, because she suffered from hip disease had felt that she could not walk in the procession, came into the Square and crossed the road. On seeing none of the other women she concluded that they had already gone into Mr. Asquith’s house. She intended to join them but, just as she was about to step on to the pavement opposite No. 20, she was roughly pushed off the curb-stone by a policeman and arrested as soon as she attempted to take another step forward. Mrs. Sparborough, a respectable elderly woman dressed with scrupulous neatness in worn black garments, who by the work of her needle supported herself and her aged husband, stood watching this scene in deep distress. Noticing that two maid servants and some ladies at the window of Mr. Asquith’s house were laughing and clapping their hands, she turned to them protesting gravely: “Oh, don’t do that. Oh, don’t do that. It is a serious matter. That is how the soldiers were sent to Featherstone!”A policeman immediately pounced upon her and dragged her away.”

Nicked from: The Suffragette; the history of the women’s militant suffrage movement, 1905-1910


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