Today in London’s religious history: Salvation Army pelted with mud & rotten fruit by Skeleton Army, Whitechapel, 1881.

Sick of religious fundamentalism leading to murder, rape and war? Feel rage at god-botherers preying on the poor and vulnerable? Infuriated by the vast wealth milked from millions by churches of all denominations… Think the world would be better off without superstition of all kinds…?

…then let’s revive the Skeleton Army!

In the 1880s the growing influence and offensive puritanism of the Christian sect the Salvation Army provoked the birth of the Skeleton Army – locally organized bands of rowdies who disrupted Salvationist crusades, abused and humiliated their preaching and parades, and physically attacked them…

In the 1880s the Salvation Army were regularly attacked when they marched to preach, harass and attempt to convert drinkers in working class areas. Their mission was openly to draw working class people away from the disorderly popular culture that revolved around drinking, singing, smoking, and riotous entertainment and resistance to the police and other arms of the state… towards godliness, respect for authority and sobriety… Like most religious sects of the 19th century, the Salvationists held that the poverty and squalor afflicting the lower classes was largely their own fault, for giving in to drink and gambling and other vices…

An attitude shared by many of the upper and middle class do-gooders, as well as large sections of the more respectable working class – including the chartist and socialist movements…

… as if class divisions, property, the power of the rich and the hierarchies imposed on us all have nothing to do with it…

The original Skeleton Army was organised at Weston-super-Mare, towards the end of 1881. The same year, a Sally Army march to Stoke Newington led to them being attacked outside the Shakespeare pub. According to the Daily Telegraph: “Yesterday morning… the bands issued forth in the afternoon… the largest marched to the Shakespeare… Here the division of about 20 persons, male and female, began to sing but before the end of the first verse a crowd of roughs had gathered round and began a counter chant. At the third verse someone issued forth from the tavern with a can of beer in his hand, and making use of foul expression, offered it to the Salvationists. This was a signal for a general riot, and in a few moments the members of the Army were attacked, knocked down, and shamefully used. Acting under the orders of their captain, the and gave no blow in return but avoiding their brutal assailants as best they could, covered the retreat of the women. There were over five hundred persons present, but not a single hand was raised in defence of the band… One young girl yesterday was seriously injured, two of the men were much hurt, and nearly every member of the band had been robbed of some article of property. All of this took place within a stone’s throw of two large police stations.”

On New Years Eve 1881, the local Skeleton Army assaulted a Salvation Army parade outside the Blind Beggar pub, in Whitechapel, pelting them with rotten fruit and mud. Now that’s the way to usher in a New Year…

As the location of William Booth’s first sermon, which led to the creation of The Salvation Army, this was a very symbolic spot for the god-botherers.

Colonel George Holmes of The Salvation Army, who was a boy Salvationist in 1881, later recalled:

“It was very rough. I remember attending an Open-Air Meeting one Sunday night outside ‘The Blind Beggar.’ Afterwards we marched to our Hall in Whitechapel Road. The ‘skeletons’, directed by Jeffries, headed our procession, proceeding at a snail’s pace and compelling us to do so. Thus handicapped, we were jostled and pelted with decayed fruit and mud. I was only a boy, and for safety was placed in the middle of the ranks.

An enthusiastic Salvationist in our front rank wore a high hat with a Salvation Army band round the crown. Slipping behind him, Jeffries leant upon his shoulders and deftly pushed the high hat over his eyes, whilst wriggling into the desired position. Then, using the top hat as a drum and his legs as a goad, he ‘drove’ his victim in the procession to the Hall. The Salvationists could have dismounted Jeffries only by rolling their comrade in the mud.”

Charles Henry Jeffries, describer here, sadly succumbed himself to the lure of the Salvationists, after this, however, and rose to become a high-ranking officer… His former allies targeted him repeatedly, as you should…

“In the Open-Airs my old mates gave me many a blow and kick – but I stuck fast. At times they would follow me home singing, ‘Jeffries will help to roll the old chariot along’ – and, thank God, I am doing it.”

The ‘Bethnal Green Eastern Post’ described the Skeleton Army “a genuine rabble of ‘roughs’ pure and unadulterated… These vagabonds style themselves the ‘Skeleton Army’…. The ‘skeletons’ have their collectors and their collecting sheets and one of them was thrust into my hands… the collector told me that the object of the skeleton army was to put down the Salvationists by following them about everywhere, by beating a drum and burlesquing their songs, to render the conduct of their processions and services impossible… 

Amongst the skeleton rabble there is a large percentage of the most consummate loafers and unmitigated blackguards London can produce…”

The skeleton armies usually carried flags bearing a skull and crossbones; sometimes with additions such as two coffins and the motto “blood and thunder! Others decorated theirs with monkeys, a devil, and rats. Another had a yellow banner with three B’s-” beef beer and ‘bacca !

Some of the local Skeleton bands produced “gazettes” – ribald, obscene, blasphemous and slanderous news-sheets. Favourite ammunition for showering the preachers and marchers included flour, red and yellow ochre, rotten eggs, stones, brickbats…

The organisation of skeleton armies in London and the publicity this received inspired the growth of other similar groups throughout the country. Serious fighting and conflicts with the police eventually resulted in drastic repression being introduced to deal with the rowdies in the capital, bringing organised trouble there to an end.

The Skeleton Army however, thrived in other parts of the country until 1892. During those years the corps officer’s wife at Guildford was kicked into insensibility, not ten yards from the police station, a woman soldier was so injured that she died within a week, At Shoreham, a woman captain died through being hit by a flying stone.


As austerity bites, and poverty increases for many; as religious wars multiply, disillusionment and uncertainty, fear and superstition are on the rise… Religious bigots both powerful and powerless try to push back against the freedoms won by hundreds of years of struggle against church, mosque and temple…

But religion by its very nature belongs in the middle ages. Organised faith continues to play a huge role in violence against women, the support of war and of hierarchies and power relations that keep us poor and divided, in the worldwide assault on people’s ability to determine their own sexuality and gender…

Isn’t it time to bring back the Skeleton Army… Not just to harass the modern religious parasites like the United Church of the Kingdom of God…

…but to also oppose the building of new places of worship of whatever religion, to fight religious control over the vulnerable, to support rebels resisting religious control from within.

For a future free from fear, bigotry and hate… from Syria to Tottenham..


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


Today in London’s maritime history: the Crew of the ship Glatton fight off press gang, 1770.

In the eighteenth century, Britain’s territorial and commercial empire was expanding in every direction across the globe; this exponential scramble rested heavily on its military might. Throughout the century war was almost constant, by land, and increasingly importantly, by sea. Britain’s navy was increasingly the most powerful on the planet, and protected the ‘national’, ie ruling interests on all continents.
For instance at the beginning of the year war broke out Parliament increased the size of the Navy to 45,000 (the population of Britain at the time was around 9 million). In 1794 this was increased to to 85,000 and in 1799 to 120,000.

But seagoing was always an expensive business, high on wastage, with a high rate of loss of ships – in battle, in storms, shipwreck and through incompetent command, faulty construction or occasional mutiny. A constant source of new sailors was needed to replenish the navy’s forces; but as it was a dangerous life, where your health and safety was in low regard, death was likely, and your pay was often years in arrears. Thus experienced sailors would generally rather plump for any safer and better rewarded forms of shipping (although all in all a sailor’s life was hardly a peach).

To make up the vast numbers, the state resorted to various forms of persuasion – advancing some wages up front (though you were expected to buy clothes and a hammock, known as slops, out of this: ‘At their coming on board they may be supplied by slop clothes, but the value thereof must be deducted out of the said two months advance.’), and making joining the navy a way to escape from the threat of the debtors prison (the navy would protect any man from his creditors if his debt was less than £20).

When this was insufficient, the Impress Service (popularly know as the press gang) was charged with rounding up men. In theory it was limited to seamen, (though this was given a broad interpretation), between 18 to 55 years of age, (frequently these limits were ignored).

In every port in Great Britain, the press gang sought out likely ‘recruits’; usually consisting some of the local hard men as ‘gangers’, not often sailors themselves (and serving on a press gang was the only sure fire way of not being pressed yourself). The Gang roamed the ports and countryside in search of suitable recruits, and were paid money for travel, 3d per mile for officers 1d for men, and money per man pressed, anything up to 10 shillings. The scope for corruption was large, many men would bribe their way out of the gangs clutches, for a prosperous man a £10 bribe to the press gang was a small price to pay for his continued liberty. The press gang was a hated enemy of the poor, in London as elsewhere.

Merchant ships provided obvious targets for the press gang and captains would board merchant ships to take off any men he might want, officers and apprentices were exempt. Merchant captains built hideaways for one or two particularly valuable men to hide in if the press gang came aboard. The rule was that the press gang had to leave enough men on board to ‘navigate the ship‘, again a phrase open to wide interpretation.

The press gang was backed by the state nationally; but local civil authorities on shore would often do everything in their power to disrupt its operations.

But resistance, both individual and collective, to impressment, formed the best defence against this forced co-option. Avoidance of the Press Gang was a practiced art form; warning systems were developed to alert eligible tars to hide when the gangs were on the prowl, and sympathetic inns and houses would shelter men fleeing impressment.

Partly resistance arose from the demographic the press gangs often ended up targeting. Sailors as a social group were accustomed to collective solidarity, arising nor only from there experience of working together to run a ship, but often from acting together in their common interests to combat poor working conditions (from which sailors were also famous for their central involvement in social struggles, riots, revolts, for centuries). But the press gang also sought unwilling volunteers among the residents of slums and rookeries, where sentiments were generally anti-authoritarian and collective self-interest against the powers that be was necessary for daily survival (eg: In April 1721, the inhabitants of Southwark’s Mint rookery took up “Arms in defence of Liberty” & expelled the press gangs from Southwark). The gangs also raided taverns to round up drunk and unwary pub goers… running battles were frequently fought between the Press Gang and locals, often crowds would gather to rescue men captured by the Gang. Women often take the leading part in battles against them: especially prostitutes, as many sailors lived with prostitutes, or women who made part of their living through prostitution.

Whole-scale raids on merchant ships were far from uncommon; for instance, today in 1770, press-gangs raided many ships on on the Thames – not, however, entirely successfully:

“This night there was a very hot press on the river Thames; they paid no regard to protections, but stripped every vessel of all hands that were useful. They boarded the Glatton, East Indiaman; but the crew made a stout defence, got on shore, and came into London about twelve o’clock. It is computed that on the river, and on shore, they took upwards of 700.” (Annual Register, 1770.)

The crew of the Glatton, like many before them, fought off the press man and escaped forced service in the navy.

The high level of opposition to impressment led the navy to resort to intercepting ships carrying freed Britons from imprisonment (eg prisoners exchanged with France) and kidnapping as many men as they needed. The press gangs in the ports where these ships were returning also kept a look out for them. But the exchange ships were hired merchantmen and the crews were sympathetic to the former prisoners often landing them in places they knew there was no press gang. One ship ran up the river into Rye at night and let 300 men flee into the countryside long before the press gang from Folkestone could catch them.

Officially no foreigner could be pressed into service, although he could volunteer. However if he married a Briton or worked in a British merchant ship for two years, he became liable for pressing. The impressment of Americans (in theory protected by sworn certificates) was one of the factors that lead to a British – US war of 1812.

By the 1790s and the titanic struggle between Britain and revolutionary/Napoleonic France, the press gang’s unpopularity and violent resistance to it had made it an unwieldy and impractical method of recruitment. In 1795 the government had to bring in mass conscription, in the form of the Quota Acts, which laid down that each county had to provide a quota of men depending on its population and number of seaports, for service at sea. Again, this produced less than it promised – while counties offered a bounty for men to sign up, few came forward. So instead men convicted of petty crimes were given the option go to sea or go to jail. Since the Georgian code of justice at the time prescribed a harsh jail sentence or death for what we would consider quite trivial offences, the option of going to sea and a pension at the end could appear the least worst option…

Impressment was last used in Britain during the Napoleonic wars of 1803-1815. Although not used after that period, the right to use impressment was retained. In 1835, a law was passed that exempted sailors who had been impressed and had served for five years in the navy from being press-ganged again. In 1853, the navy introduced continuous service for sailors who wished to make a career in the navy. After a fixed number of years, they would receive a pension. This reduced the need for general impressment and it died out in the form that it had been used previously. However, in the twentieth century, during the two world wars, another type of impressment has been used in the form of compulsory national service or conscription and this type of service continued until the early 1960s.


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

Today in London’s radical history: Anarchist Tom Cantwell, publisher of Freedom, dies, 1906.

This post was totally nicked, tis hard this time of year, and Nick Heath basically wrote what needed to be said…


“Cantwell was neither a great writer nor speaker, yet he did both well whenever he made the attempt. His specialty was spade work. He often comes to my mind when I listen to the excuses of those who think they cannot be useful without genius. The arranging of meetings, distribution of hand bills and the hundred and one things incident to the revolutionary movement, where hard knocks and privation prevail, without the compensating advantages of glory or notoriety were his speciality”. obituary of Tom Cantwell by Harry Kelly, Mother Earth, February 1907.

Tom Cantwell was born on the Pentonville Road in London on the 14th December 1864, the son of a map-mounter’s clerk. He worked first as a basket-maker and then as a compositor. It was while he was working as a basket-maker that he probably joined the Socialist League in 1886. It was there that he learned the basics of the compositor’s trade. He signed a notice of the North London branch and served on the committee to organise the Whit Monday outing. At this time he was living in Holloway. In February 1887 he served on the committee to prepare for the commemoration of the Paris Commune. He became a lecture secretary, served on the SL executive, and worked hard as a lecturer and propagandist. He had become an anarchist by at least 1887 which is indicated by a lecture he gave entitled “No Master”. That year he spoke with John Turner, Sam Mainwaring and H.B. Samuels at an anti-Jubilee meeting in Hyde Park. He played the part of the foreman of the jury in William Morris’s play The Tables Turned put on in the SL hall in 1887. He lectured at the Berner Street Club in the East End in 1888 on sweated basket-makers and was particularly critical of the Parcel Post department’s behaviour in its contracts for basket-making.

On the evening of May 1st 1891 he was a speaker on the Mile End Waste alongside David Nicoll, Yanovsky, Charles Mowbray and Arnold. The large crowds were mainly made up of dockers and other riverside workers. In attendance was a large force of police, both foot and mounted.

With the repression brought down on the movement by the Walsall affair in 1892 the Commonweal offices were raided. According to David Nicoll the Special Branch officers were told by Cantwell in jest that “We have been expecting you for some time, and do you think we should be fools as to keep anything here likely to get men into trouble”. This was contradicted by W. C. Hart in his highly sensational book Confessions of An Anarchist who says that a book – The Emancipator – which was an explosives manual being prepared by the provocateur Coulon had its type already made up. According to Hart Cantwell “ accidentally” dropped the formes of type during the raid. However this is contradicted by Inspector Melville, one of the police officers supervising the raid who was to construe Cantwell’s sarcastic comment as an admission of guilt but fails to mention the dropping of type formes.

Cantwell was one of the speakers who spoke at the protest meeting on Sunday April 24th at Hyde Park. A large crowd were amused by his imitation of the Scotland Yard inspectors Littlechild and Melville who had told him that they were anarchists.

He was one of those who restarted the Commonweal in May 1893 alongside John Turner, Carl Quinn, Ernest Young , Joseph Presburg and H.B. Samuels. On 5th December of the same year he wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Police on behalf of the Commonweal Anarchist Group Publicity Committee giving notice of a meeting to be held in Trafalgar Square “for the purpose of obtaining a condemnation of your actions in suppressing Anarchist opinions and misrepresenting Anarchist principles”. He had received no intimation on the expected conduct of the police and wanted to know “if you adhere to the claptrap in which you indulged about a fortnight ago”. The letter was minuted as to be ignored and that no meeting would be allowed subject to a decision by the Secretary of State. Cantwell was described as a militant Anarchist who had been connected with The Commonweal for some time. In 1893 Cantwell produced the last issues of the original series of The Commonweal as well as the new series during 1893-4 – with only the six month break when he was imprisoned. He started printing it from 27th May 1893 at 4 Sidmouth Mews. On 29th June he and Ernest Young were arrested for flyposting a poster about the wedding of the Duke of York. The poster advertised an indignation meeting to be held in Hyde Park on 2nd July to protest against the “waste of wealth” expended on “these Royal Vermin”. Apparently Cantwell was behind the idea of the poster and of meetings around the theme. The case was finally dismissed, both Cantwell and Young remaining in prison until the trial, though the owner of the hoarding fined them both.

In 1894 Cantwell published an edition of Mikhail Bakunin’s God and the State with a postscript from Max Nettlau.

On 29th June 1894 he and Carl Quinn addressed a meeting at the new Tower Bridge which was to be opened the following day by members of the royal family and politicians. They wanted to appeal to the workers who had built it and Cantwell had printed a placard which read : “Fellow workers, you have expended life, energy and skill in building this bridge. Now comes the royal vermin and rascally officials in pomp and splendour to claim the credit. You are taken to the workhouse and a pauper’s grave to glorify these lazy swine who live upon our labour”. The reaction to the two anarchists speech was violent. There were many professional anti-socialist hecklers around this speaking pitch, many of them retired soldiers. A mob of 400-500 attacked the anarchists, surrounding Cantwell and shouting “lynch him”, whilst others attempted to strike him with large pieces of wood. For this the police arrested Cantwell for disorderly conduct! As John Quail says “ being pursued by people who were trying to hit him with large pieces of wood obviously amounted to disorderly conduct”.

Quinn managed to escape but was arrested the following day when he went to the police station “to see fair play for Cantwell”. They were kept in prison for a month during various court appearances. Their subsequent trial was something of a travesty. The meeting had been like many previous ones, with no charges brought by the police but this time the charges were incitement to murder members of the royal family, seditious libel on the royal family, and two other incitements to terrorism, all rather flimsy. The judge showed much bias towards the defence. The police were doing what they could to get Cantwell and Quinn sent down, part of the ongoing State campaign against anarchism that had began with the attacks on free speech in Manchester in 1893. Despite many defence witnesses – including William Morris who declared as a character witness that Cantwell was “a good-natured man, perhaps rather rash” – the two anarchists received six months imprisonment with hard labour.

In the period after his release he was also involved in the publication of the anarchist paper The Torch which was set up by the well brought up young ladies Olivia and Helen Rossetti and their brother William. However Cantwell’s habits and character became sources of irritation for the rest of the group. The Rossetti sisters in their fictionalised account of the London anarchist movement of the time, A Girl Among the Anarchists, were to write in a derogatory fashion about Cantwell (disguised as Short in the novel). Geoffrey Byrne, another member of the group was to state that the Rossettis were driven away from the movement because of Cantwell’s behaviour, although there may well have been other reasons for their departure.

In spring 1895 Cantwell was invited by Alfred Marsh to join the Freedom Group, together with John Turner and Joseph Presburg to “reinforce” the ranks and to relieve William Wess who was seeking other employment. With occasional interruptions, when other people were available, Cantwell was in charge of the Freedom printing office from 1895-1902. Harry Kelly, an American anarchist who had moved to England, wrote that “Cantwell and I were the only simon-pure workingmen in the group”. However Cantwell had become difficult. It may be speculated that his imprisonment had affected both his physical and mental health. Harry Kelly was to remark that “he had never quite recovered from the six months hard labour”. He threatened the Italian anarchists Pietro Gori and Edoardo Milano with a gun and appears to have tried to dictate editorial policy to Marsh.

In April 1895 the printing of Freedom was re-started at Judd Street in Kings Cross, in a small building described as a “glass house”.

In April 1896 Cantwell moved with all the print type to 127 Ossulston Street in Somerstown. The printshop there was known as the Cosmopolitan Printery until 1902. In the next year all other anarchist papers closed down. From September 1898 A Belgian, F. Henneghien was able to replace Cantwell and this was a relief to many as he tended to fall out with comrades on a regular basis and was seen as very unreliable rarely producing anything on time. As regards Freedom George Cores noted that Cantwell “ had, as acting editor, a peculiar habit of censoring all contributions, making everything which appeared conform to the gospel according to Cantwell. This did not suit the comrades”. Marsh himself was to write in 1897 to Nettlau that “you cannot imagine what a time I had. 2½ years with Cantwell is enough to kill anyone” (Cantwell had left Freedom in November, at least temporarily). He was again responsible for the printing of Freedom after Henneghien left in 1900.

Cantwell had a heart complaint from at least 1894 and he was soon to have a stroke.

Cherkesov found him on Christmas Day 1902 with his head lying in the “ashes of the fireplace all but dead. He recovered and lived several years after but was never able to work and was never again the same man”. Apparently he had continuing heart trouble after the stroke. Freedom published an appeal for him in 1903 saying that he was “overtaken by a long and trying illness”. He died on December 29th 1906. He was buried at Edmonton Cemetery on 3rd January 1907, his funeral being attended by William Wess, Tom Keell, and Frank Kitz, among others.

Max Nettlau in a tribute to him wrote of his unfailing attendance of meetings, his regular publication of Commonweal after 1892 despite great difficulties and his night activities when he flyposted on prohibited hoardings.

Despite his many faults Cantwell had a long record of activism and remained loyal to his ideas until the end, unlike, say, Olivia Rossetti who ended as a sympathiser of Italian fascism and devout Catholic. He was still able to win the affection of an anonymous member of the Freedom Group who wrote :“We shall all miss poor T.C., in spite of his many crochets”, and Harry Kelly was to remember his old comrade with the final comment: “Farewell, Tom Cantwell! It was worth while meeting you”.

Nick Heath.


Becker, Heiner. Notes on Freedom and the Freedom Press 1896-1986. Raven 1. Freedom Press.

Becker, Heiner and Walter, Nicolas. Freedom : people and places in Freedom : A hundred years 1886-1986. Freedom Press

Cores, George. Personal recollections of the anarchist past. Kate Sharpley Library.

Meredith, Isabel (Helen and Olivia Rossetti) A girl among the anarchists. University of Nebraska Press.

Oliver, Hermia. The international anarchist movement in late Victorian London. Croom Helm.

Quail, John. The Slow Burning Fuse. Paladin.

Avakumovic, I , Saville J. BiEntry on Cantwell in Dictionary of Labour Biography Vol. 3

Old Bailey Proceedings, 23rd July 1894.


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

Today in London’s anti-gentrification history: Tony’s Cafe re-occupied, Broadway Market, 2005 

In the rolling juggernaut that is gentrification, in London, we are mostly losing. Since the 1970s, the middle class who once fled the capital and left the inner city to decline and collapse, have been returning, sometimes singly, sometimes en masse, and transforming neighbourhoods to resemble themselves. Behind them comes big money, for this is not an individual process, though individuals are crucial to it – it is a colonisation, with ideological aims, and economic imperatives.

In the last few years many local groups and campaigns have arisen to combat the process of being forced out of areas they or their families have lived in so that a better class of persons can bump up property values. On inspirational campaign that had an impact on some that followed was the Broadway market fight in 2005-6 which centred around Tony’s Café and Spirit’s shop.

On Boxing Day 2005, early in the morning, Café Francesca in Broadway Market, Hackney, was re-occupied, after being evicted a few days before. Local residents, protesting against gentrification and the cut-price selling of publicly-owned property in the area to developers, had been occupying the cafe since November, holding many protests and public meetings and generating support and interest in London and beyond.

Sicilian-born Tony Platia had been evicted from the cafe he had run for 31 years, having tried to buy the property from Hackney Council, but been shut out, as the Council was working in collusion with property developer Roger Wratten to guarantee that Wratten would get the building. Multi-millionaire Wratten, who had bought up several properties in the street, and evicted other long-term traders, had plans to develop the café site and neighbouring buildings… Evicted in July 2005, he had re-occupied the café with supporters in November.

Similarly Lowell ‘Spirit’ Grant had been threatened with the same treatment. Rastafarian Spirit built up his Nutritious Food Gallery from 1993, selling fresh fish and veg. Like Tony, he tried to buy the shop he had rented from Hackney Council, in December 2001, presenting the council’s estate agents with a deposit cheque for £10,000. Mysteriously, it was later sent back to him, unused. He turned up at the auction the same day. In a spectacular coup for Hackney’s Equal Opportunities policy, the only black Rastafarian to have attended the sale was summarily barred, due to ‘concerns’ that he may not have been able to pay.

Tony & Spirit were popular local figures who ran shops used by local working people who couldn’t afford to use the new boutiques and upmarket cafes that were springing up in Broadway Market. Their situation was the consequence of Hackney Council’s pro-big business policies – over the previous decade the council has been selling off its commercial properties to rich investors at knock down prices often leaving long term leaseholders in the lurch.

Aiming to get out of the red in the second half of the 90s, Hackney flogged £30 million of its own property, in keeping with a series of privatisations among London councils at the time. Nurseries and libraries tumbled to the ground, swimming pools evaporated, and all manner of voluntary advice and advocacy groups shut up shop.

But still the council wasted cash. A botched attempt to outsource social security benefits left it £36 million out of pocket. And its failed ‘Transforming Hackney’ programme of institutional change led to an accounting cock-up which, we’re led to believe, meant that when the auditors arrived in 2001, they found a financial ‘black hole’ of £72 million.

From then on, central government turned the screw, the funding cuts got deeper, the sell-offs accelerated At the same time, with a still burgeoning London population, newly-extended underground line and the 2012 London Olympics shimmering lucratively on the horizon, Hackney’s streets began to seem paved with gold.

The effects of this – still continuing -process can also be seen across Hackney as former public buildings have become reborn as yuppie flats.

Sheriffs and Police had broken into Tony’s Café on December 21st, injuring one of the occupiers and allowed Wratten’s men to start demolishing the building immediately. However, campaign supporters squatted the half-trashed café on Boxing Day, and began rebuilding and reinforcing it (your blog editor/typist did some plumbing…)

On re-taking the café, the occupiers stated: “We have now undertaken an ambitious reconstruction scheme and are rebuilding the cafe almost as fast the wreckers smashed it down. (We plan not one but two floors – but no exclusive penthouse apartments or concierge on this development!).

“We are loath to describe this as regeneration but it’s probably closer to it than anything Wratten or Hackney Council have been capable of so far.

“We still have lots of work to do, so if you have building skills or just would like to help out, we’d be glad to see you. We urgently need more bedding, food, heat, and other provisions. Anything you got for christmas and don’t want would be gratefully received. Please come down if you would like to help out keeping the place occupied.

“As promised, we are going to go on fighting for Tony to get his place back and to defend Spirit’s shop. The fact that new people were willing to come forward and carry on this community occupation only shows how strongly many in this area feel about the sell off of Tony’s and Spirit’s places and the wider process of social cleansing affecting long-term working class areas like Broadway Market.”

The astonishing re-building of the cafe on Boxing Day after the developer evicted protesters and tore it apart demonstrated the power of collective action. This defiant act strengthened the resolve of those involved and made them more confident.

Locals also organised two public meetings where Councillors were exposed to people’s anger about the sell-offs in Broadway Market. These well attended, highly charged events were a long way from the meaningless ‘consultation’ sessions that New Labour love to talk about.

This popular pressure forced Hackney Council to re-open investigations into its commercial property sales… the campaigners also visited Wratten’s home village in Kent to leaflet his neighbours…

What was most powerful about the occupation of Tony’s Cafe was that ordinary working people have been central to its success – not just the ‘activist’ types usually associated with this kind of protest. Some people involved spoke about what moved them to act.

“I’ve lived in Hackney all my life. Tony’s was a place I used around here. Loads of pensioners liked using the place. Tony was pushed out as he didn’t fit in with the ‘new’ Broadway Market. I’ve made real friends in this group who are working together for something they believe in.” Betty, Grandmother, aged 76, Regents Estate

“Before I just existed where ever I was and not been conscious of what’s been going on around me. This has expanded my social awareness and I’ve made so many new friends in the area. It’s also been a great experience, fighting against property development and corruption. I’ve never been involved with anything like this before”. Mother of 3, aged 42, Regents Estate

“I’d been really unhappy about the changes in Broadway Market for ages. When I kept meeting Tony in the street and saw how his life had been messed up I felt like enough
was enough and it was time that people took a stand against the developers and the council. It’s been brilliant and we’ve been amazed by what we accomplished” John, aged 34, Ada Street

“This is where I was born, I’ve seen the changes going around. People have come in and taken over everything and local people are moving out. My family has been pushed out right and left. What those people did to Tony & Spirit is totally out of order. If all of us had got together in the first place this would never have happened. If you don’t like whats happening around you have to stand up and be counted. It’s been nice to see those responsible having to look over their shoulders as everyday people take over”
Floyd, aged 45, Broadway Market

Tony’s Café was in the end evicted again, a few weeks later, and despite a long and complex legal and public battle, Spirit’s shop was also taken away from him. Although the campaign was a bright and inspiring episode, it is worth noting that Broadway market today is very much lost to the middle classes, a haven of artisan olivery and poncy boutiques, including the repulsively expensive Donlon Books, where you can spend £50 on superficially alternative DIY self-published pap; and the posh fish shop which replaced Spirit, from where the stink of money wafts like gone-off dover sole…

Ironically Broadway Market would very likely not have survived into the 21st century to be gentrified, if it wasn’t for the mass squatting of houses around the surrounding streets in the 1970s-80s. The Greater London Council (GLC) and London Borough of Hackney (LBH) had plans in the 70s, to develop the Broadway Market and London Fields east side areas respectively to preserve local employment. But they proceeded so slowly that the areas were blighted and many properties were left empty. Squatters moved in, created new communities, and campaigned to prevent demolition and development. Otherwise, the majority of the 19th century houses and shops would have been replaced by more modern blocks and maybe a mall, which would have left them much less attractive to the Hegemonising Borg[eois] Swarm. Many of these squats became co-ops and tenancies over the years… For a brief glance into this area’s squatting past check out this walk past tense took part in.

and there is there any truth to the muttered aside that in many cases, anti-gentrification campaigns in London represent one wave of the middle class takeover resisting the next wave? Ho hum… a discussion for another post…

Since 2005, Hackney has in many ways been utterly transformed… Broadway market was only one of a number of entering wedges… Tis fucking mad to see Dalston now, of an eve, white bourgy hipster central, if Ridley Road market is still resolutely diverse and unrepentant in the daytime. LIke Brixton, a few years further down the sanitising/respectable/business-friendly road, Hackney remains a battleground… We still live here and we’re not going quietly. 

Read: Some posts relating to the campaign from the time.

and more info here

Yez can also watch a film made about the struggle


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

Today in London’s festive history: Puritan ban on Xmas widely ignored in London, 1644.

Everyone knows that Cromwell and the puritans of the English Revolution banned Christmas…
Perhaps less well-known is the opposition and resistance the ban aroused. In London, as elsewhere, the repression of popular culture was not imposed without rioting and disorder…

During the seventeenth century, as now, Christmas was one of the most important dates in the calendar, both as a religious festival and as a holiday. Over the twelve days of a seventeenth-century Christmas, churches and other buildings were decorated with rosemary and bays, holly and ivy; pretty much everyone went to Christmas Day church services, presents were exchanged at New Year, and Christmas boxes were distributed to servants, tradesmen and the poor. Large quantities of food were obviously also eaten – this period of winter following on from the annual slaughtering of livestock, and a couple of months after the harvest, it was one time in the year when food was in relatively plentiful supply (in contrast summertime was comparatively lean); so great quantities of brawn, roast beef, ‘plum-pottage’, minced pies and special Christmas ale were consumed. Dancing, singing, card games and stage-plays filled the days.

Also associated with this time of year were drunkenness, promiscuity and other forms of excess (so some things have TOTALLY changed then…!) Most of the festivals dotted through the year had an element of disorder and licence to go a bit wild. The idea of ‘misrule’, and of a ritualised reversal of traditional social norms, was an important element of Christmas (generally associated with Holy Innocents Day, 28th December), a time of limited licenced reversal and breakdown of hierarchies, a useful safety-valve for the simmering class and other tensions within society.

The disorderly pleasures of Christmas, however, enraged the Puritans of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. In the 1580s, Philip Stubbes, the author of The Anatomie of Abuses, complained:

“That more mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides, what masking and mumming, whereby robbery whoredom, murder and what not is committed? What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used, more than in all the year besides, to the great dishonour of God and impoverishing of the realm.”

The celebration of Christmas emerged as one focus of a kind of culture war, a religious division within early seventeenth-century society. This was a contributing factor to the tensions that lead to the breakdown of government, civil war and revolution in the 1640s. When the Puritans took control of government in the mid-1640s they made a concerted effort to abolish the Christian festival of Christmas and to outlaw the customs associated with it.

Pressure had been building before the civil war, from zealous Protestants, outraged by the unruly and immoral nature of Christmas festivities (and other festivals) and suspicious of feast’s link to Catholicism and the old saints’ days. The 1637 Scots Presbyterian Rebellion jacked up the pressure – the Scots had already banned Xmas before, and did so again in 1640. As both England and Scotland slid into Civil War, the alliance of English parliamentarians with the Scots church led to a spreading of the idea of doing away with the celebrations south of the border.

The controversy over how Christmas should be celebrated in London and the other Parliamentary centres surfaced in the early stages of the Civil War. In December 1642 Thomas Fuller remarked, in a fast sermon delivered on Holy Innocents Day, that ‘on this day a fast and feast do both justle together, and the question is which should take place in our affections’. While admitting that the young might be ‘so addicted to their toys and Christmas sports that they will not be weaned from them’, he advised the older generation among his listeners not to be ‘transported with their follies, but mourn while they are in mirth’.

There were three angles to the repression – the phasing out of traditional Xmas church services, the closing down on the more festive celebrations, and the enforcing of 25th December as a normal day not a feast day.

In 1643, some Puritan tradesmen in London opened up their shops for business on 25 December in order to show that they regarded this day as no different from any other, while several London ministers kept their church doors firmly shut. Puritan MPs also turned up to sit in the parliament on Xmas Day.
But the cancellation of Christmas aroused huge popular resentment – not just in the royalist camp, but in the districts controlled by parliament, too. In 1643, the apprentice boys of London rose up in violent protest against the shop-keepers in Cheapside who had opened on Christmas Day, and, in the words of a delighted royalist, “forced these money-changers to shut up their shops again”. In reporting the incident Mercurius Civicus sympathised with the shopkeepers but argued that to avoid ‘disturbance and uproars in the City’ they should have waited ’till such time as a course shall be taken by lawful authority with matters of that nature’.

The following year Christmas Day happened to on the last Wednesday in the month, the day set aside for a regular monthly fast, upon which parliament’s supporters were enjoined to pray for the success of their cause. On December 19th an ordinance was passed directing that the fast day should be observed in the normal way, but:

“With the more solemn humiliation because it may call to remembrance our sins, and the sins of our forefathers who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights…”

Both Houses of Parliament attended fast sermons delivered by Presbyterian ministers on December 25th, 1644, the Commons hearing from Thomas Thorowgood that:

“The providence of heaven is here become a Moderator appointing the highest festival of all the year to meet with our monthly fast and be subdued by it.”

But again there was resentment and resistance. Many therefore simply defied the government, and despite the pressures and intimidation, refused to abandon their traditional practices. On 24 December 1644, the editor of a pro-parliamentarian news-pamphlet expressed his support for the MPs’ decision to favour the monthly fast over the traditional feast, but admitted that “the parliament is cried out on” by the common people as a result, with incredulous shouts of “What, not keep Christmas? Here’s a Reformation indeed!”

Immediately following this (in January 1645) parliament issued its new Directory for the Public Worship of God, aimed at replacing the Book of Common Prayer, which made no reference to Christmas at all. At Christmas-time 1645 it was said, you could walk right through the parliamentary quarters, and “perceive no sign or token of any holy day”. Over the following year and a half, the king was beaten in the civil war, and the puritans strengthened their hand over the country.

MPs suspected those celebrating Xmas of harbouring sympathies for the king. In some cases this might have been true (though the London apprentices who rioted in favour of keeping this and other festivals had also formed part of the shock troops of the early struggles against the king a couple of years earlier). But its also apparent that such social repression drove previously sympathetic or neutral folk into a more pro-royal position.

But most Englishmen and women continued to cling to their traditional Christmas customs. So strong was the popular attachment to the old festivities, indeed, that during the postwar period a number of pro-Christmas riots occurred. Most notably, in December 1646 threats by a crowd of young men at Bury St Edmunds against local tradesmen who had opened their shops on Christmas Day led to a riot.

In June 1647, parliament passed an ordinance which abolished the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, and substituted as a regular holiday for students, servants and apprentices, the second Tuesday of every month; it also declared the celebration of Christmas to be a punishable offence. But again there were pro-Christmas riots, on 25 December 1647, at Bury St Edmunds again, and at Norwich and Ipswich. During the course of the Ipswich riot, a protestor named ‘Christmas’ was reported to have been slain – a fatality which could be regarded as richly symbolic, of course, of the way that parliament had ‘killed’ Christmas itself.

In London, a crowd of apprentices assembled at Cornhill on Christmas Day, and there “in despite of authority, they set up Holly and Ivy” on the pinnacles of the public water conduit. The lord mayor sent militia “to pull down these gawds,” but the apprentices fought them off, until the mayor and a party of soldiers arrived to break up the demonstration by force. During the Christmas of 1647, a number of ministers were taken into custody by the authorities for attempting to preach on Christmas Day, and one of them subsequently published his intended sermon under the title The Stillborn Nativity.

The worst disturbances of all took place at Canterbury, where a crowd of protestors first smashed up the shops which had been opened on Christmas Day and then went on to seize control of the entire city. This riot helped to pave the way for a major insurrection in Kent in 1648 that itself formed part of the ‘Second Civil War’ – a scattered series of risings against the parliament and in favour of the king, which Fairfax and Cromwell only managed to suppress with great difficulty.

The least successful prong of the attack on Xmas was Parliament’s attempt to abolish the traditional holiday over the Christmas period. With the churches and shops closed, the populace resorted to its traditional pastimes. In 1652 The Flying Eagle informed its readers that the ‘taverns and taphouses’ were full on Christmas Day, ‘Bacchus bearing the bell amongst the people as if neither custom or excise were any burden to them’, and claimed that ‘the poor will pawn all to the clothes of their back to provide Christmas pies for their bellies and the broth of abominable things in their vessels, though they starve or pine for it all the year after’.

On December 27th, 1650, Sir Henry Mildmay reported to the House of Commons that on the 25th there had been:

“…very wilful and strict observation of the day commonly called Christmas Day throughout the cities of London and Westminster, by a general keeping of their shops shut up and that there were contemptuous speeches used by some in favour thereof.”

Several newsbooks reported a similar complete closure in London in 1652, and on Christmas Day 1656 one MP remarked that ‘one may pass from the Tower to Westminster and not a shop open, nor a creature stirring’.

However, as time went by, and puritan culture achieved ascendancy through the 1650s, Christmas effectively ceased to be celebrated in the great majority of churches. The Anglican diarist John Evelyn could find no Christmas services to attend in 1652 or 1655, but in 1657 he joined a ‘grand assembly’ which celebrated the birth of Christ in Exeter House chapel in the Strand. Along with others in the congregation, he was afterwards arrested and held for questioning for some time by the army. Other services took place the same day in Fleet Street and at Garlick Hill where, according to an army report, those involved included ‘some old choristers and new taught singing boys’ and where ‘all the people bowed and cringed as if there had been mass’.

Despite this government pressure, however, Christmas festivities remained popular, and successive regimes throughout the 1650s felt obliged to reiterate their objection to any observance of the feast.

In February 1656 Ezekial Woodward had to admit that ‘the people go on holding fast to their heathenish customs and abominable idolatries, and think they do well’. The same fact was also obvious to those few MPs who attended the Commons on Christmas Day 1656. One complained that he had been disturbed the whole of the previous night by the preparations for ‘this foolish day’s solemnity’, and John Lambert warned them that, as he spoke, the Royalists would be ‘merry over their Christmas pies, drinking the King of Scots health, or your confusion’.

Traditional Christmas festivities duly returned to England with Charles II in 1660, and while the Restoration’s association with maypoles and ‘Merry England’ may have been overstated in the past, there is no doubt that most English people were very glad that their Christmas celebrations were once more acceptable. According to The Kingdom’s Intelligencer, at Maidstone in Kent, where there had been no Christmas Day services for seventeen years, on December 25th, 1660, several sermons were preached and communion administered, ‘to the joy of many hundred Christians’. On the Sunday before Christmas, Samuel Pepys’ church in London was decorated with rosemary and bays; on the 25th Pepys attended morning service and returned home to a Christmas dinner of shoulder of mutton and chicken. Predictably, he slept through the afternoon sermon, but he had revived sufficiently by the evening to read and play his lute. The Buckinghamshire gentry family, the Verneys, resumed their celebrations on a grand scale; in 1664 a family friend wrote that:

… the news at Buckingham is that you will keep the best Christmas in the shire, and to that end have bought more fruit and spice than half the porters in London can weigh out in a day.


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

Today in London’s mad history: Mad Pride founder Pete Shaughnessy’s funeral, 2002.

“This has to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Pete Shaughnessy, a great man and true friend is dead. The last month has been a daze. Christmas and New Year have passed, seemingly everybody rushing around enjoying themselves, whilst I’ve been feeling anger and extreme sadness, then shock and disbelief.”
(Simon Barnett, Mad Pride)

Pete Shaughnessy was a mental health activist, a founder of Reclaim Bedlam, and of Mad Pride. He died on 15th December 2002, after committing suicide, stepping in front of a train at Battersea Park station.

Pete was born in South London in a working class Irish family. After studying drama he worked in a children’s home and as a carer for people with disabilities, before becoming a bus driver in 1990 on London Buses, driving the no 36. In April 1992, coming to the aid of a conductor who was being assaulted, Pete was hit with an iron bar. Shortly afterwards he went on a silent hunger strike outside his bus garage in protest at the privatisation of the service, which was leading to more work for less pay: “my road into ‘madness’ began with direct action. I worked on the buses at Peckham, south London for three years, and had to put up with some shit there. So, when the company announced longer hours and less wages to a group of drivers at my garage, enough was enough. I went on a hunger and speech strike at the bus stop outside the garage. Most drivers at the time said that this was when I went ‘mad'”.

By the end of the year he was hospitalised, diagnosed with manic depression.

Signed off sick for six weeks, Pete went on a journey to Glastonbury via the road protest at Twyford Down before being declared ‘fit for work’: ‘Back at work, they made me sit around for a day before giving me my first job on the road. At 8.20am on the 4th of January 1993 I went to pick up a bus in Peckham. I spotted the brake light wasn’t working, so I should’ve got the engineer out to fix it, but instead decided to drive the bus as far away from the garage as possible. At Harrow Road Police Station, I booted the last two remaining passengers off, told the police about the defects i..e. no brake light, no fare chart, dummy video and a cold bus, as said ‘PC Harrow Road’. I rang the engineer and he choked in his tea when I said ‘No fare chart.’ That was the end of his career as a bus driver (though not the last time driving a bus! In when his illness was at its most florid, Pete chanced upon a bus with its keys in, at a depot in south London. He drove it all the way to Worthing. Realising he wasn’t well, he headed to the local A&E. After several hours unsuccessfully waiting see a psychiatrist, he returned to the bus and drove it back to London’.)

Pete’s depression was exacerbated by further violence in his life – his sister was murdered by her boyfriend in Brixton, and Pete was then sectioned in Guys after hitting a policeman.

In response to the 750th anniversary of ‘Bedlam’ – the asylum which was the precursor of South London’s Maudsley Hospital , where Pete was a patient – in 1997, Pete and others gathered under the banner of “Reclaim Bedlam”, seeing nothing to celebrate in either the original Bedlam (‘a symbol for man’s inhumanity to man, for callousness and cruelty,’ in historian Roy Porter’s words), or the state of mental health care.

As Pete wrote: “Maudsley & Bethlem Mental Health Trust saw itself as la crème de la crème of mental health. In 1997, it was more like the Manchester City of mental health [This was written back when Man City were the shite end of Manc football… ho hum – Ed]. Situated in one of the poorest areas of the country, it put a lot of resources into its national projects, and neglected its local ones.

It’s history went back to the first Bedlam, the first institution of mental health. If you pop down to the museum at Bethlem Hospital, you will see a picture proudly displayed of the 700th celebrations in 1947, with the Queen Mother planting a tree. Well, not exactly planting, more like putting her foot on a spade. So, when some PR bureaucrat came up with the idea of 750th celebrations, it must have all made sense. An excuse for a year of corporate beanos. The Chief Executive could picture the MBE in the cabinet. There was only one problem: in 1947, the patients would have been well pleased with a party, in 1997 some patients wanted more. In the so-called ‘user friendly’ 90s, I thought ‘commemoration’ was more appropriate. So, a few of us went to battle with the Maudsley PR machine. It was commemoration vs. celebration. I think for the first time, we were taking the user movement out of the ghetto of smoky hospital rooms and into the mainstream. We spoke at Reclaim the Streets and political events. We would gatecrash conferences to push the message. I know we pissed users off by our style; personally I found some users more judgemental than the staff we talked to. They were even a few users who wanted to have their stall at the ‘Funday’ and cross our picket line. Frustrating. When that proposal was put to me, I lost my nut, which meant I threatened to bring Reclaim the Streets down to smash up their stall. Because of that remark, I had two police stations hassling me up to the day of our Reclaim Bedlam picnic and the picket at the staff ball, the appropriate opening event of the celebrations, had to be dropped. We had our first picnic at Imperial War Museum, one of the sites of Bedlam Hospital; Simon Hughes MP came and spoke. Features in Big Issue and Nursing Times, and we were afloat.

Our next event was to screw up the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral which a member of the Royal Family was attending. BBC2’s ‘From the Edge’ got in on the act for that one, and it’s widely thought that because of our antics on the steps of St Paul’s – as well as stopping the traffic at 11am with a boat forcing Tower Bridge to open – that the Chief Exec didn’t get his MBE.

Our next event was to join up with ECT Anonymous and the All_Wales User and Survivor Group and picket the Royal College of Psychiatry. It was the first time Reclaim Bedlam had been involved in International Direct Action. Keeping up the pressure on the Royal College of Psychiatry we hijacked their anti-stigma campaign, ‘In Every Family in the Land’. The soundbite I used was: ‘the psychiatrist is patting you on the head with one hand, and with the other hand he /she is using compulsory treatment to inject you up the bum.”

Pete also re-invigorated a local mental health group, turning it into a legend of user-led self-help:

“Before 1997, Southwark Mind was essentially just a management committee accused by some of being a middle-class do-gooders consisting of Maudsley consultants’ wives and the like, who would meet up every month or so to decide which worthy causes at the Maudsley should get grants out of the money Southwark Mind is given from the shop in East Dulwich. Pete, with the help of Denise Mckenna changed all this by carving up the 1997 AGM and turning Southwark Mind into a user-lead charity. This led to a development worker – me – being employed to take ideas forward including Pete’s. I met him at my first day at work at Southwark Mind. He said that he’d just come out of hospital and was depressed, but nevertheless introduced me to the Lorrimore drop-in and Mary’s Caff. We got on immediately.

Pete had already built up quite a reputation for himself by this stage. He was being groomed by Mental Health Media to be a top ‘mad’ media spokesman. He’d started the group ‘Reclaim Bedlam’ who had organised a sit-in outside the original Bedlam site at the Imperial War Museum to protest against ill-conceived ‘anniversary celebrations.’ And he’d started the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe mental health Support Group, a local self-help organisation. In all these ventures, Pete gave of himself without talking very much.” (Robert Dellar)

Pete was involved with others around Southwark Mind organized a demo against SANE head-quarters in 1999 “opposing their support (at the time) for compulsory treatment orders being proposed by the government – to no small part because of SANE’s lobbying – things started to get serious. We managed to get 200 people turning up to the SANE march – which at the time was an unprecedented figure for a ‘mad’ demo. We had whistles, drums, a 7-foot long syringe together with a kitchen table, corn-flakes and milk, tridents (because we’re the devil), banners, flyer you name it – we pulled out the stops. SANE didn’t know what the fuck had hit them. They dropped their support for CTO’s and to this day, they’re still reeling from this event.”

Then Pete went on to found Mad Pride with Robert Dellar, Simon Barnett and Mark Roberts.

Mad Pride orchestrated a campaign of publicity and protest – holding a vigil on Suicide Bridge in Archway, to remember all of the people who’ve died there and all of the other people who commit suicide – ‘murder by society’; protesting against the pharmaceutical industry’s predominance over psychiatric services; organising a Mad Pride open-air festival in Stoke Newington in July 2000; the publication of a book ‘ Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture,’ which was highly acclaimed and successful… “we got user-led mental health issues into the media as never before, and we inspired many people. We also, without a doubt, moved the paradigm of the British ‘user movement’ left-wards.”

“Mad Pride has only ever been a small group, but what we’ve managed to do together has been tremendous, and this has been in no small part down to Pete – the ideas man. It was his idea to hold a vigil on Suicide Bridge in Archway, to remember all of the people who’ve died there and all of the other people who commit suicide – ‘murder by society.’ This felt particularly relevant to me as my friend Jo Crane had killed herself there not long before.

Pete’s networking skills ensured that radical clinicians joined with us to protest against the pharmaceutical industry’s predominance over psychiatric services in 2001. Pete offered endless good advice , calmed us and used brilliant conflict-resolution techniques to keep us together as a group. And if he hadn’t woken up in time that fateful day on the 15th of July 2000 ( after a drunken Nikki Sudden performance at a book-shop the night before), the famous Mad Pride open-air festival in Stoke Newington wouldn’t have happened, because the Festival Support Group would have assumed we weren’t turning up. Pete was also our most prolific and best media spokesman, appearing on telly and in Newspapers all over the place. I’ll go into more detail about some of this later, in a book.

I think that we (MAD PRIDE) over-reached ourselves during that summer of 2000, which also saw several indoor concerts, and the publication of a book ‘ Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture,’ which was highly acclaimed and successful, and for which Pete wrote one of the best chapters( ‘Into the Deep End’). The Mad Pride work was too intense, and none of us have ever been quite the same again. But we tried, we got user-led mental health issues into the media as never before, and we inspired many people. We also, without a doubt, moved the paradigm of the British ‘user movement’ left-wards.

Being a ‘survivor activist’ is hard work in a harsh world, and its not surprising that there is a large burn-out rate in this field. Pete burnt out in the most shocking way imaginable, but we must respect his decision whilst mourning his departure. I think Pete would have wanted us to carry on his work and stay alive and help change this obscene capitalist society so that it is not too awful a place for people like Pete – and us – to live in.” (Robert Dellar)

“He was a wild man, a howling wolf. In Mad Pride, Pete could be relied on to arrive dishevelled to our meeting place with always the most outrageous idea. He would have us lying down in the traffic at the Elephant dressed in doctor’s coats, he posed before pigs (real ones) in Parliament Square hoisted up next to Churchill with our monster syringe, he formed our anarchic identity with his polemic and unremitting message of no compromise. Everybody knew Pete. At festivals he fixed up discussion for us in canvas premises of politics and maverick groups. He worked as a volunteer for the Big Issue. He was our mouthpiece, the mouthy one, one step away from professional journalism, the one the media always asked for. It is unthinkable that such a bright flame should end his own life, not reach his own potential, take himself away from us. But the chaos set in, and at one drastic and crucial moment he decided to could not beat it. How any of us wish we could have been with him at that moment to argue him round or try and instil some optimism. He is gone. Our roaring boy, who shocked the establishment and made them love him, as we did. He goes with all his energy, passion and success lighting his path. He was totally committed, to inclusion, to the Survivor Movement for over ten years. As a man and as a star he leaves a huge void which will never be filled. We mourn with pain for a great personality who lit our way for so long. I’ve used the analogy with Pete verbally many times that its as if we were side by side in the fucking trenches in a war, in battle. That’s what it felt like doing all the MAD PRIDE stuff with him. I’ll never forget Pete: my friend, my comrade, a man brave and able enough to change the world through force of personality rather than power. It’s an incredible strength that he had. Hopefully some of us will have learnt something from this.” (Debbie McNamara)

There are many other memories of Pete Shaughnessy here

Check out Into the Deep End, Pete’s chapter for Mad Pride – A Celebration of Mad Culture, edited by Ted Curtis, Robert Dellar, Esther Leslie & Ben Watson.


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

Today in London’s rebel history: Riot in Newgate Prison, 1648.

As we have previously related, for 100s of years Newgate Prison was the most potent symbol and reality of state repression in London, the ultimate representation of terror for the poor.

… and of resistance. Escape attempts were common, some failing, but many succeeding… As many of the prisoners awaiting death at Tyburn were held there, some cons had nothing to lose by trying to break out; desperate measures were sometimes called for…

According to a tract published 26th December 1648: – “Terrible News From Newgate.- On Wednesday, December 20th the Honourable Bench at the Sessions House in the Old Bayley, having given sentences against the convicted prisoners, being 17 in number; on Thursday night last they had their funeral Sermon at Newgate as accustomary, where divers had admittance in to heare the same; and amongst the rest many of the prisoners’ wives who were condemned to die, brought swords and rapiers under their coats (being a designed plot for an escape) and so soon as the Sermon was ended, delivered the said Weapons to the 15 condemned prisoners, who taking their opportunity, about 7 of the clock at night, ran violently at the Turnkey and the rest of the Keepers, wounding them, and forced their passage down the stairs, all of them making a clear escape away.”


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

Today in London’s theatrical history: Actors nicked in Clerkenwell, & jailed, 1649.

It is mentioned in Whitelocke’s Memorials, that on the 20th of December, 1649, some stage players were seized by troopers at the Red Bull Theatre, in Sekforde Street or Woodbridge Street (then Red Bull Yard), Clerkenwell; their clothes were taken away, and themselves carried off to prison. The elevated and prestigious role the theatre had attained in the days of the monarchs Elizabeth and James had altered greatly with the increasing power of the puritans, and the devastating civil war.

There were several orders issued by Parliament, and late under the Commonwealth, during and after the Civil War, closing down theatres and banning most plays for encouraging immorality and frivolity. To a certain extent, as with bans on other aspects of popular culture in the era, there was a limit to the success of these orders, although it was easier to close down a theatre, a fixed visible building, than to, say, prevent private citizens celebrating xmas. AS the piece below suggests, there may have been a sympathy of the acting profession generally with the royalist side in the civil war, although how much this may have been created or inflated by hatred and resentment of the puritan view of their way of life is open to question. Maybe it was more of a cultural leaning generally; although it is worth remembering how much actors and theatres often depended on royal or aristocratic patronage for funding.

Regular complaints against the hardships on actors and the professions who depended on the theatre for a living, and petitions for relief of the anti-theatrical ordinances, op up through the 1640s, including this one.

The following, from Davies’ “Miscellanies,” is a striking picture of the condition of actors at this time, interestingly coloured by a strongly pro-royalist bias:

“When the civil wars shut the doors of the theatres, many of the comedians, who had youth, spirit, and vigour of body, took up arms in defence of their royal master. When they could no longer serve him by the profession of acting, they boldly vindicated his cause on the field. Those who were too far advanced in age to give martial proofs of their loyalty, were reduced to the alternative of starving, or engaging in some employment to support their wants. During the first years of the unnatural contest between King and Parliament, the players were not unwelcome guests to those towns and cities which espoused the royal cause; but in London, where bigotry and opposition to the King were triumphant, they experienced nothing but persecution. A few of the nobility, indeed, who loved the amusements of the stage, encouraged the players to act in their houses privately; but the watchful eyes of furious zealots prevented all public exhibitions, except, as the author of Historia Histrionica asserts, now and then such as were given with great caution and privacy. Some time before the beheading of the unhappy Charles, a company of comedians was formed out of the wreck of several, who played at the Cockpit three or four times; but while they were acting Fletcher’s Bloody Brother, the soldiers rushing in, put an end to the play, and carried the actors to Hatton House, at that time a sort of prison for royal delinquents; where they were confined two or three days, and, after being stripped of their stage apparel, were discharged. Much about this time, Lowin kept the Three Pigeons at Brentford, where he was attended by Joseph Taylor. Here they lingered out an uncomfortable existence, with scarce any other means of support than those which they obtained from the friends of royalty, and the old lovers of the drama who now and then paid them a visit and left them marks of their bounty. Upon these occasions Lowin and Taylor gave their visitors a taste of their quality. The first roused up the spirit and humor of Falstaff. Again the fat old rogue swore that he knew the Prince and Poins as well as he that made them. Hamlet, too, raised the visionary terrors of the ghost, and filled his select auditors with terror and amazement. To entertain their guests we must suppose they assumed various personages, and alternately excited merriment and grief. How often were those honest fellows surprised into a belief of the good news that the King and Parliament had come to treaty, that peace would be restored, and the King return to his capital in triumph. How would their countenances then be lighted up with joy, the glass cheerfully circulate, and the meeting be dismissed with: ‘The King shall have his own again.’

Their honest friend and associate, Goff, the actor of women’s parts at Blackfriars and the Globe, was the usual jackall to summon the scattered comedians together, that they might exhibit at Holland House, or some nobleman’s seat, within a few miles of the capital.”

But not even “the saints” were immaculate; one Robert Cox found means to bribe the officers appointed to look after such affairs, and gave short interludes and “drolls” at the Red Bull to crowded houses, under the guise of rope-dancing entertainment. It was vile buffoonery, and could scarcely be dignified by the title of dramatic performance, and was therefore more likely to be tolerated by their saintships than the noble productions of Shakespeare and Beaumont; and therein they are closely followed by the Mawworms of the present day, who grin at the dreary and doubtful jokes of a circus clown, and gaze approvingly at the lightly-skirted young ladies with one toe on the bare-backed steed and the other in a horizontal line, but would consider it sinful to listen to the noble with of Touchstone, and highly indelicate to look upon Rosalind in her forester’s dress. With a company consisting only of himself, a man, and a boy, Robert Cox contrived, in spite of ordinances, to travel all over the country, to perform at the Universities–which, for want of better things, eagerly welcomed his–and to make a large fortune by his mummeries.

But even the partisans of the Commonwealth were beginning to grow a little weary of the Cimmerian gloom and intellectual paralysis in which they lived, and having obtained the countenance of Whitelocke, Sir John Maynard, and other persons of distinction, Davenant, in 1656, opened a sort of theater at Rutland House, Charterhouse Yard, where he began with the representation of what he called an opera (“The Siege of Rhodes”). This was followed by other works of a similar kind. In 1658 he went a step farther, and opened the Cockpit with a performance he described as “The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, expressed by instrumental and vocal music, and by the art of perspective in scenes, at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, at three in the afternoon.” We see he carefully avoided the word “play,” that red rag of bull-headed fanaticism. It is said that Cromwell’s hatred of the Spaniards, who in this piece were held up to execration, had much to do with my Lord Protector giving his consent.”

Ironically, before the Civil War, the Red Bull Theatre, where the actors were arrested, had had a bit of a reputation for satirical theatre against the king. In 1638 the Theatre had got into trouble for putting on a play satirising William Abell, one of the most powerful monopolist merchants of the City. “The most unhappy, hated object of three kingdoms”, Abell was also instrumental in attacks on opponents to king Charles I’s policies in the City. Of course popular opposition to the king and the pre-civil war elite is not incompatible with opposition to the puritan ascendancy; you could be against both politically, and satire generally tends to take on the authorities whoever they are.

The Red Bull was also famous for its stroppy and disruptive audiences, and for several incidents – in 1610, 1622 and 1638 – when there were riotous occurrences either in or around and associated with the theatre.

Now, theatre audiences between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries were notoriously rowdy, disrespectful and easily provoked; not only eating, shouting, arguing, with each other during the performance, but also interrupting the actors, heckling, picking pockets…

There is disagreement among historians about how much also theatre audiences were prone to erupt into rioting, or riots were prone to start in or outside theatres. But there were enough incidents between the 1590s and the 1610s for the association to be commonplace – the perception of the London authorities was that playhouses were hotbeds of possible sedition and trouble. Add to that a widespread (though not universal) puritan perception of plays as encouraging immorality and of theatres as facilitating it… Interestingly, the perception of theatre audiences as troublesome may have extended to the playwrights and theatre management; Eric Dunnum reads much of the presentation of the idea of drama within early modern London theatre as an attempt to discourage action of any kind from the audience. The authorities blamed the theatres for encouraging riots, and threatened to close the playhouses down – in response, Dunnum suggests, early modern playwrights sought to ‘construct’ a non-reactive audience, who would not act in any way in response to drama.


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

Today in London’s legal history: William Hone acquitted for writing parodies of religious liturgies, 1817.

Journalist and writer William Hone briefly became a popular hero in December 1817, when he defended himself against government prosecution for blasphemy and sedition, specifically for parodying the forms of church liturgy to attack self-serving government corruption.

Brought up in a strictly religious family, Hone had come into contact with political radicals while working as a “factotum” and legal copyist in the early 1790s, and began to doubt the religious foundations of his upbringing. He became affiliated with a branch of the radical London Corresponding Society (LCS). After an attempt by his father to divert him from this scene (by sending him to work in Chatham for a couple of years), he tried his hand at the book publishing and selling trade.

Together with LCS activist John Bone, Hone set up a book and print shop (after the two had tried and failed to launch a a savings bank/annuity company). Although not a financial success, it did gain Hone a experience in antiquarian books and prints, which stood him in good stead for the future… through thee shop, he also met leading radicals Francis Place and Thomas Spence as well as other figures of literary and political London. However, in 1810, the project ended in the bankruptcy courts. After this Hone earned a living as an auctioneer of private libraries, and later as “Literary Editor” of the venerable Critical Review, a position he held for about 18 months. The status (and salary) afforded to Hone by this position enabled him to open a bookselling shop at 55 Fleet Street, where he moved with his family in December of 1814.

But Hone’s political activism, honed (sorry) in the 1790s, which had taken back seat to his need to earn a living, cropped up now and again: in the early 1810s he worked with James Bevans and Edward Wakefield to develop a new form of asylum for the humane treatment of the insane. The orject failed for lack of funds.

Hone then became involved with exposing the miscarriage of justice over the killing of Edward Vyse, who had been shot dead during the March 1815 street protests about the Corn Laws – shot from the windows of the home of the MP Frederick Robinson. A concerted effort was made in the subsequent trial to make sure no-one of ‘importance’ would be held responsible. Hone took it upon himself to publicise this miscarriage of justice.

He also wrote about the trial and execution of Elizabeth Fenning, a servant girl accused on scanty evidence of poisoning the family of her employer. Hone wrote a short narrative pamphlet about the case – La Pie Voleuse, or the Maid and the Magpie – which was very popular in itself and which inspired Hone to produce other pamphlets documenting the abuses of power within the legal and political systems.

In 1815 to 1817, Hone continued to write and publish journalistic exposes. For example, just days after the Spa Fields Riots of late 1816, Hone published his own account of the affair. His account included a broader social and economic analysis founded loosely on the principles of the radical Thomas Spence, whose followers had been prominent in the riots. But Hone also issued radical critiques of the government, developing a style rich in parody and satire.

At the beginning of 1817, political tensions and the threat of social unrest were running high. Post-Napoleonic War recession and unemployment, and the juggernaut of industrial development and the mechanisation of labour and growth of factories, had produced huge social anger and poverty, which had collided with renewed pressure for political reform. A scared government suspended habeas corpus and tried to jail leading reformers. Hone began publishing a radical weekly newspaper called the Reformists’ Register. The Register formed a part of a burgeoning radical press, an explosion of journals, pamphlets, newspapers recounted aloud by a huge and increasing public, sometimes read aloud by the literate to those who could not read… This popular press terrified the authorities, as the atmosphere was volatile and the appetite of millions for new ideas was a clear threat to the elites of the time.

Early in 1817 Hone wrote and published a series of pamphlets which parodied church liturgy, in which he savaged government corruption and political complacency.

The three pamphlets – Political Creed, Political Liturgy, and Catechism of a Ministerial Member – satirised government ministers as divine beings and MPs as “worshippers at the font of patronage”. The 5000 print run circulated throughout the country, in great demand, rapidly achieving cult status and sparking imitations and rip-offs. The enraged government and its toadies regarded Hone as the worst example of a free press who needed teaching a harsh lesson.

These pamphlets got Hone was arrested in May 1817, and charged with blasphemy and sedition, and briefly held in the King’s Bench prison. Although he managed to get himself released, the Reformist’s Register collapsed in the wake of this due to lack of funds and energy, as he prepared to face his trial.

During the process of selecting a jury, Hone was however able to expose the process by which judges and prosecution collaborated to select the jurors they wanted illegally, and to overturn this nobbling by legal action.

The case came to trial in December 1817, held in the Guildhall, which had a long history of state trials, including prosecutions of Leveller John Lilburne, treason trials of Lady Jane Grey and Thomas Cranmer… But it was also very much a public arena, a centre of political life in London, a forum for debate and pagreantry. The government wanted a show trial in front of the nation – Hone was “the fittest object for prosecution”, an example which would overawe other journalists and radicals – and the authorities believed a guilty verdict a foregone conclusion.

The Attorney General had singled out three of the offending parodies for separate trials, and these occurred on successive days, 18, 19, and 20 December. In each case, the Attorney General’s argued that using liturgical texts as the basis for comic parody was an act of blasphemy, publishing a libel “with intent to excite impiety and irreligion in the minds of his Majesty’s liege subjects”. The sacred quality of religious language was being degraded and mocked by being used for comic satire. In addition, the Book of Common Prayer, from which the church liturgy was filched, was published by authorisation of Act of Parliament, part of he official religion of the nation, and thus satirising it was a criminal and unpatriotic act.

In reply, Hone arrived at court with hundreds of books which contained similar satires on church litanies, written by all sorts of highly respected persons, among them Martin Luther, John Milton, protestant martyr Bishop Latimer, and most damningly George Canning), former Foreign Secretary, and at the time of the trial President of the Board of Control. Parody of religious texts was a recognised literary device, aimed at instruction and ages old. He had no interest in attacking religion, he said, he was a political satirist, and if they government had wanted to try him for that, they should have charge him with seditious libel.

Hone defended himself by reading these parodies in the courtroom. There were frequent eruptions of laughter from the packed galleries, and equally frequent but pompously ineffectual warnings from the presiding judge, Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough. After each day’s trial, the jury returned a verdict of “Not Guilty” which was met by enthusiastic cheers from the gallery.

Hone’s defence was based on common sense and the ridiculousness of the charge, and how he had been singled out by the government, rather than complex legal arguments, and showing that he had a highly skilled knowledge of literary tradition. Next to which the hysterical assertions of the prosecutors that to acquit him would be a victory for atheism, and that the satires were “so injurious… that any man, on the first reading, would start in horror…”, sounded weak and laughable. The judges tried to rule his defence inadmissible, but Hone showed they were wrong in law, and his exposing of the clear bias of the judge Ellenborough won the jury over.

The trials were widely publicised and as a result Hone became a popular hero—a kind of humble common man who had bravely stood up to the political authorities of the day. The forces of repression, as Hone put it later, had been “laughed out of court.”

Hone continued to publish satires and attacks on the government and establishment, often collaborating with the artist George Cruikshank. In early 1819, Hone and Cruikshank published a parodic Bank Note in response to an increase in executions for forgery. The Note received wide acclaim and may well be credited for accelerating a change in the nation’s fiscal policy. Later that year, in the wake of the Peterloo Massacre in August, Hone and Cruikshank published the famous Political House that Jack Built—a pamphlet that went through dozens of editions.

This highly influential pamphlet was followed with The Man in the Moon (early 1820) and a series of illustrated satirical pamphlets on the Queen Caroline affair. (See, for example, The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder and Non Mi Ricordo!) Finally, Hone capped this phase of his career with two more political parodies: A Slap at Slop and the Bridge Street Gang, and The Political Show-man, At Home!  Each of these works was extremely popular; indeed, Hone and Cruikshank were among the best-selling writers in England during this tumultuous period.


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

Today in London’s employment history: unemployed workers occupy Edmonton factory, 1921.

After World War 1, with the end of the war economy, and the de-mobbing of millions of soldiers and sailors from the armed forces, Britain (and much of Europe) sank into recession, with mass unemployment, poverty hardship the main reward working class people received for supporting and fighting in the war.

However, the end of the war had also thrown up revolution, mutiny, mass movements aiming not just at fighting for a bigger slice of the social pie, but a whole new arrangement of society.

While attempts at revolution shook Russia, Germany, Hungary, in the UK, one of the biggest movements that arose in the post-war years was that of the unemployed. Originating in local committees of the unemployed, struggling for livable levels of relief (the dole), and support for those out of work and their families, and against the harsh social control the workless were then subject to, by 1921 the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) was born.

Many of the committees were based on groups of ex-servicemen, out work and angry after years of the trenches…
… but the movement was also very much a continuation of the pre-war industrial unrest of 1910-14, the wartime shop stewards’ struggles, and, to some extent, reunited the strands of the socialist movements divided by the war.

One of the early campaigns the unemployed committees focused on was against the working of overtime in factories, arguing that those out of work could be employed instead of existing workers doing longer hours. In 1921, in London, the main tactic was to invade workplaces where overtime was being worked and convene meetings of the workforce to argue for an overtime ban and the hiring of those on the dole to instead.

Wal Hannington, national organizer of the NUWM, who organised the raid with Lilian Thring, takes up the story:

“The success of these raids on the smaller firms encouraged us to tackle the big factories. The first big firm to be tackled was one at Edmonton, where approximately 1500 men and women were employed. The raid took place on 15th December, 1921. It was carefully prepared, all the necessary details concerning the plan of the building being ascertained beforehand. A much larger body of raiders was needed to carry out this job. We used about 150, and great care had to be taken in mobilising them near the works in order not to arouse suspicion. I was in charge of the raiding party, and at 4.15 pm I gave the signal for all raiders to rush the main entrance of the firm, enter, and close the gates behind them. The commissionaires on the gates were taken unawares and with the first inrush they attempted to slam the gates to, but the raiders tackled them while the rest of their colleagues entered.”

Once inside, the gates were firmly shut and the telephone exchange near the entrance was captured by a group detailed for this task; but subsequent events proved that we still had left a loophole for communications with the police. The bulk of the raiders proceeded to the main workshops. We selected a shop where there were millions of finished fragile articles [lightbulbs] and where considerable damage would have been done if the police had been brought in and caused trouble.”

Sympathetic engineers inside the factory switched off the production line. Lilian Thring went to address a meeting to the many women working in the factory.

“The news of the raid spread rapidly through the works and the workers gathered in large numbers to hear what we had to say. Many expressed warm sympathy for our stand against overtime. After the meeting had been in progress half an hour we received a message asking us to send a deputation to the main office to interview the responsible officials of the firm. The deputation was courteously received by the management who stated that they were very desirous of getting on with the interview as quickly as possible in order to facilitate the withdrawal of the unemployed from the factory. Whilst the interview was proceeding a knock came at the door and we were informed that 200 police had been brought into the factory. They were, however, not interfering with the men but were just standing about awaiting orders from the management. After a further quarter of an hour’s discussion with the management, the principal of the firm and another manager decided to sign the following agreement which we put to them:

  1. That all overtime should cease at Christmas.
  2. That in the event of the management contemplating the working of overtime at some future date, before putting it into operation they should first explore all channels to find suitable workers by applying to the local labour exchange, local trade-union branches and the local unemployed organization.

The main argument of the management had been that they had to work overtime because they were unable to obtain suitable workers. We, of course, had strongly disputed this, but the agreement which they gave us met with our approval and when the results of our interview were reported to the men in the shop it was accepted without dissent. We then asked the manager if the workers would be paid for the time which they had been stopped working by the raid. We received a promise that they would be paid and then the raiders formed up four abreast and marched out of the works, singing the ‘Red Flag’ and the ‘Internationale’. As they came out they were cheered by a huge crowd who had heard of the raid and had gathered outside.”

This phase of the unemployed movement was by far the most successful, creative and autonomous. Organised locally, at the grassroots, addressing issues shared by millions but at an immediate level. Increasingly, however, through the 1920s, the NUWM became more centralised, controlled by members of the Communist Party who had always formed the central plank of the movement… The creative, local focus was also more and more submerged into a culture of mass national stunts like the hunger marches, which drew mass attention but absorbed vast amounts of energy. However the unemployed movement of the 1920s and ’30s represents a movement of huge importance, especially in their constant attempt to link waged and unwaged workers, their challenge to daily austerity as it was implemented directly in people’s lives, and an attempt to work out how to share out the meagre resources allotted to us under capitalism while also fighting for more…

Two books worth reading on the NUWM: Unemployed Struggles, 1919-36, by Wal Hannington, and We Refuse to Starve In Silence, Richard Croucher. 


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