Today in London riotous history, 1821: the funeral of Richard Honey and George Francis

Continuing the story of the two men shot dead during rioting at the funeral of king George IV’s estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick in August 1821; the men’s funeral took place on 26 August and like Caroline’s became a public demonstration that ended in disorder.

here’s a contemporary account:

“PUBLIC FUNERAL OF HONEY AND FRANCIS. A number of Mechanics &c. having met at a public house, and resolved to attend in procession the funeral of the two unfortunate men who had been slaughtered by the Lise Guards; with this view they prevailed on the friends of the deceased to let the funeral be a public one, at Hammersmith church; a measure strongly reprobated by the well-disposed part of the community ; but which the original projectors would not relinquish. as anOU The following statement of the proceedings of the day is from a most respectable source: August the 26th, being the day upon which it was announced that the public funeral of these two unfortunate men was to take place, at the expense of the mechanics of London, an extraordinary interest was excited, not merely among the members of that numerous body, but in a very considerable proportion of the public of this metropolis. Upon the inexpediency and impropriety of the measure itself (which seems to have been resolved upon and effected by a committee of the bricklayers, and carpenters and joiners-of which two trades the deceased themselves were members,) we have already expressed a decided opinion. We condemned it as one which, under existing circumstances, was calculated rather to renew that animosity and irritation which on a recent which this day presented.

We should premise, that Mr. Sheriff Waithman – apprehending the possibility that the public peace might be endangered by the carrying in procession through the principal streets, and along the road to Hammersmith, the bodies of those who fell the unfortunate victims of the needless employment of the military power on the 14th – on Saturday addressed the following letter to several of the newspapers, with a view to dissuade the committee from the public execution of their designs:

Sir,-Seeing a paragraph that has appeared in some of the papers, that a procession is intended to proceed to morrow from Smithfield, to accompany the funeral of the two unfortunate men who were shot on the 14th inst. near Cumberland-gate, as I have assisted the relatives of one of those individuals in the investigating the circumstances which led to his death, I feel called upon to say, through the medium of your paper, that I highly deprecate such a proceeding, and particularly as the matter is now under judicial inquiry; and earnestly’ hope that the public will refrain from attending the proposed meeting. “ I am, Sir, your obedient servant, “ Bridge – street , Aug . 25 . ROBERT WAITHMAN.”

Finding, however, that the individuals in question were bent upon effecting their original intentions, the worthy Sheriff accompanied the procession in person. To his exertions and assiduous attention is mainly to be attributed the general good order in which the proceedings of the morning were conducted. It is very remarkable that it was not till four o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday that the Lord Mayor received the usual notification from Lord Bathurst, desiring him to take the proper measures for keeping the peace of the city during the next day. The Sheriffs of the county received no such intimation whatever; but the moment that the High Sheriff (Mr. Waithman) was satisfied that the procession would take place, he adopted the most prompt and vigorous measures to preserve the public peace. He wrote to Mr. Burchell, the Under Sheriff, desiring him to order out a sufficient posse of constables for the county, and sent a similar letter to the Secondary, with a like request for city constables. [ We subjoin a copy of the letter to , and answer from , these gentlemen . ]:

“ GENTLEMEN – A placard having appeared , inviting an assemblage of the people to – morrow in Smithfield , at twelve o ‘ clock , to pass up Holborn to Hammersmith , I wish you to have the officers and constables in readiness to prevent any breach of the peace . I do not wish to have them appear amongst the people , but to have them in readiness to act , in case there should be a necessity for their so doing.” “Sir, We have, agreeably to your directions, summoned the constables and officers to be in Charter-house-square to-morrow morning, at eleven o’clock precisely, ready to receive your further instructions. “ We are, Sir, your obedient humble Servants, ‘ “ Henchman and BURCHELL, “ Sheriffs’ officers, Red Lion-square, Aug. 25. “ To Mr. Sheriff Waithman, &c.”

Mr. Waithman met the chief officers of the peace, and gave similar directions for the attendance of constables; and having no apprehension of any tumults, save near the barracks, posted the larger proportion of the men in that vicinity, and, previously to the passing of the procession, he repeatedly rode in among the people, entreating them to abstain from hissing or using any other expressions of anger towards the soldiers. The general rendezvous was appointed for twelve o’clock in Smithfield; and long before that hour multitudes had congregated there.

A few minutes before twelve, some men on foot with mourning hatbands came down Long-lane; and shortly after them, Dr. Watson, of Spa-fields notoriety, attended by six or seven of his friends, entered the market-place by another avenue. Infinite confusion and uncertainty prevailed among the crowd, as to the direction which the first part of the intended procession was to take or had taken, when Dr. Watson addressed the spectators, for the purpose of dispelling their doubts. Having mounted upon the top of a post, he informed his fellow-countrymen, “that it would be useless for them to wait there any longer, as the procession was not to proceed from thence, but from Kingsgate-street, Holborn, in the neighbourhood of which the body of Francis lay.”

This information proved to be correct; but that some feud had sprung up, or that some misunderstanding existed between the Doctor and the managing committee, was evidenced by the appearance of several members of the latter, preserve the strictest order. At about half-past one the first part of the procession, consisting of the hearse and four, which contained the coffin of Francis, followed by four mourning coaches and pairs, and preceded by a man bearing a plateau of feathers, began to move from the neighbourhood of Red-Lion-square. As it advanced up Holborn, at a slow and solemn pace, it was met by one or two friendly societies, and by a band of music, which accompanied it all the way to Hammersmith, playing the Dead March in Saul, the 95th, the 100th, and other Psalms. The feeling which was apparent in the demeanour of the mourners, relatives and friends of the deceased—the undisturbed order and quietness with which they proceeded, and the general sympathy of the beholders, formed an interesting scene. From every street and avenue, at the windows of every house, in the carriage-road, on the pathway, crowds were collected, and a sense of decorum appeared to pervade the whole of them.

The procession having at length reached Oxford-street, was joined (nearly at that part where it is intersected by the Regent’s Circus and the other new streets) by the hearse which carried the body of Honey, and which had been waiting between Soho-square and Dake-street. This hearse was preceded by feathers, and followed by four mourning coaches, precisely in the same way as the other was, and we observed the High Sheriff and his Deputy a little in advance. The scene was striking, and neither the incredible numbers of the spectators, nor the long continued succession of vehicles of every description with which the streets were thronged, detracted from its general effect, which was mournful and extraordinary. When the procession had arrived near the end of Stratford-place, that effect was much heightened from the advantageous view which this position afforded. Two gorgeous banners, which were borne by the ‘Provident Brothers,’ and another society, offered a singular spectacle, in the contrast of their purple and yellow silks, decked in gold and silver embroidery, with long weepers of black crape, that were attached to them.

The multitude that was now assembled defied all calculation; yet the procession met with no obstruction in its course. It between that and Park-lane; and it was curious to observe from some point where these streets intersected one another, five or six dense columns of people, hastening down at once through as many streets, in order to arrive at Piccadilly in as little time as possible. Other individuals were not so fortunate; for, seeing the great concourse of equestrians, and vehicles of every imaginable variety, that almost choked up Park-lane, they ran to Cumberland-gate, in the expectation of getting through the Park. The gate, however, proved to be impracticable ; it was locked, and a chain was drawn across it. We did not see a single soldier near the place. In our way through Park-lane, we were struck with the utter solitude of the Park. We had almost said that not an individual was to be seen in it; but certain it is, that the Sunday promenaders, with whom it is usually so replete, were yesterday replaced by a small straggling party of the police horse patrol, who were riding up and down in undisputed possession. Stanhope-gate was not merely blocked up, but the iron gate was covered by a complete fencing of deal planks.

Before the procession reached to Hyde-park corner, every eminence between that and Knightsbridge barracks was thronged with spectators. Doorways, windows, and the tops of houses, for nearly the whole line, were crowded to excess. The footways on both sides of the road presented a dense mass of persons, as closely thronged together as it was possible for a moving mass to be. But the crowd was not confined to the footways alone : the carriage-road was so far encroached upon by pedestrians, that, at a first appearance, one would have thought it possible the funeral could pass through. As the procession advanced, however, way was made, and it came through, though in a much more compact body than it presented in any street from its first setting out.

Before it reached Knightsbridge barracks, every house and place, which commanded a view of that situation, was occupied. Indeed, so great was the anxiety for places from which to view the procession in that quarter, that as high as five shillings were offered for a single window- at another it was rumoured that the gates would be allowed to remain open, as they are on ordinary occasions. We were, however, very glad to find on our arrival that neither of those rumours had any foundation. For a considerable time before the arrival of the procession at the barracks, the gates were closely shut, and not a soldier was to be seen, except here and there a few who looked through the closed windows of the upper apartments. When the body of the procession was seen advancing towards Knightsbridge, some of the persons who had taken their stand in front of the barracks began to hiss and call out, “Butchers. This intemperate expression was no sooner enunciated than it was loudly condemned by the majority of the bystanders.

Mr. Sheriff Waithman was on horseback in the neighbourhood of the barracks, and exerted himself very earnestly to suppress every attempt which could lead to a breach of the peace. He was assisted in his laudable endeavours by a gentleman who acted as his Under Sheriff, and by a few other gentlemen on horseback, whose names we could not collect. Wherever the Sheriff went, he was loudly cheered by the people, who on every occasion paid the utmost attention to his orders not to disturb the peace. The first outcries against the Guards were very speedily put down. In a short time, however, they were renewed by a few individuals who had come on before the procession, but who had not been present at the previous expression of disapprobation by their predecessors. This intemperate conduct, we were happy to observe, was received with loud cries of Order, order,’ and was immediately put down. The persons who had the conducting of the procession appeared to us to be strenuously opposed to every act on the part of the surrounding thousands which could at all tend to disturb the public tranquillity.

We should here observe, that as soon as the first expression of disapprobation on the part of the people was evinced towards the Guards, they (the Guards) removed back from the windows through which they were seen. The greater part of them did not again make their W be properly denominated the funeral, approached close to the barracks, the utmost silence was observed; the greater part of the persons who walked arm in arm in front were uncovered, as were the majority of the by-standers. The scene at this instant was certainly very striking. Viewed from the tops of the houses in front of the barracks, the road, as far as the eye could reach on either side, was thronged as closely as it was possible for it to be by human beings congregated together. The hearses and mourning coaches had receded a little from the spot on which we stood, the parts above the wheels alone were visible, and they appeared as if floating in the midst of the thousands by which they were surrounded. From the spot of which we now speak, we do not think that the number of persons within view at both sides could have been less than from 70,000 to 80,000, though the exact numbers cannot of course be ascertained.

From Knightsbridge, the procession moved on in the same order, till it reached Kensington. Here there was a halt for some moments, in consequence of the difficulty of passing through the immense multitudes which had there assembled. Not an eminence from which a view could be commanded was left unoccupied. Here also the utmost good order prevailed among the crowds who formed, as well as among those who witnessed, the procession. It was every where received in a solemn and becoming manner. It then moved on from Kensington to Hammersmith. The houses along the road were all, as elsewhere, lined with spectators, who exhibited, if not a strong, at least a decent sympathy with the melancholy pageant which was passing before them. In many places the hedges were also filled with groups of observers.

About four o’clock the procession arrived at Hammersmith. The bell of the church began to toll as soon as it entered into the town, and did not cease till both the coffins were placed within its walls. The body of Francis was the first which reached the churchyard; and as soon as it arrived there, preparations were made for taking it out of the hearse. The persons who had taken part in the procession advanced first, England. It was carried by a person in deep mourning, and was followed by the supporters of the coffin, who were eight in number. A rich pall – and here again the difference between the funerals of these two poor mechanics, and that of the late Consort of the most potent monarch, George IV, presented itself to the mind – was thrown over the coffin, and thrown over it with a decency and solemnity which formed a striking contrast to the scene which was exhibited a short time before at Harwich.

Such of the mourners as were of the family of the deceased came next, and appeared to excite a strong interest amongst the crowds who were assembled in the church-yard. As soon as they had effected their entrance, which they did by the south gate, that gate was closed, to prevent a fresh influx of strangers upon those who were already assembled there, and who filled every inch of vacant ground that was to be found within the yard, to say nothing of the walls and trees which surround it. The clergyman, as is usual, met the corpse at the church gate, and read over it the solemn commencement of our burial service, – I am the resurrection and the life, ‘&c. &c. At that moment, as if by general consent, every head was uncovered, and not a sound was to be heard among the immense multitudes thus collected, except that of the trumpets accompanying the procession, which played a funeral psalm. The whole scene was impressive. It would be almost impossible to collect the same persons again together, and to influence them with a similar feeling with that which at that moment actuated them.

The coffin and its bearers proceeded at a slow pace through the midst of them, calling forth their remarks at every step. At last it reached the church porch, into which it was pre ceded by the two banners. As soon as the body of Francis had been placed on the rude kind of scaffold which was prepared in the interior of the church for its reception, orders were sent to admit into the church-yard the body of Honey, which for a few moments had been waiting at the entrance of it. It was ushered into the church with the same order and decency, and received by the people in the church-yard ‘with the same feeling, as had been evinced by them in the case of Francis. It was found, however, impossible to close the gates, which had been opened to admit this part of the procession. The wand-bearers endeavoured, but and on looking down into the chancel, we found it to be quite filled with the mourners who belonged to the family of these two unfortunate victims of military execution. The men who held the two banners which we have before noticed, placed themselves in the pew of her late Majesty, which, as well as the pulpit, was covered with black cloth, in consequence of her decease. The banners themselves, covered as they were with crapé, added to the picturesque appearance of the place, and increased the general melancholy which had been inspired by the sight of the escutcheons, between which they were ranged—those mournful memorials of departed royalty.

On the clergyman’s proceeding to read the impressive litany for the dead, enjoined by the Church of England, a vast, majority of the congregation drew forth their prayer-books, and followed him through it, thus giving another proof, if indeed any were wanted, that the lower orders of the people of England are not the immoral, irreligious, and infidel crew, which some of the unfeeling Pharisees of the age wish to represent them. After the funeral psalms, and that sublime and affecting chapter taken out of the first epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, had been read, the two coffins were carried to the grave. We do not know, sand shall not pretend to conjecture, what feelings influenced the people to such conduct; but were surprised at observing the eagerness displayed by numbers, both of men and women, to touch the coffins of the deceased as they were conveyed from the church to their last home. If they had believed in the efficacy of religious relics, and had conceived the coffin to contain the bodies of some of the earliest martyrs, they could not have touched them with stronger feelings of regard and veneration. The banners accompanied them to the grave, and on earth being committed to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,’ were lowered over them in the most impressive and CAS affecting silence.

On the conclusion of the funeral service, the different friends of the deceased retired to the mourning coaches which were waiting for them, attended by the warmest sympathies of all present. It ought not, however, to be overlooked, that the deep grief of the children of the either with the place, or the ceremony which they had just witnessed. With this exception in the conduct of a few, and but a few individuals, every thing which passed in the church-yard was highly creditable to their moral and religious feelings, notwithstanding the efforts which some individuals made, but in vain, to create a disturbance among the populace during the time that the funeral was in the church.

As soon as the motion of the mourning coaches made it known to the multitudes who were collected in the streets of Hammersmith, that the funeral was over, they began to turn their steps towards the metropolis. It was evident from their orderly conduct on the road to Hammersmith, that unless some irritation was given to them by the appearance of the Life Guards at Knightsbridge barracks, nothing would occur tó disturb the general peace and tranquillity which had prevailed on their whole line of march during the day. Mr. Sheriff Waithman, who, as our readers will have seen, had been most actively and successfully employed during the whole advance of the procession in using his influence to soothe the irritated feelings of the people, posted himself, and such of the posse comitatus as he had thought proper to call out, opposite to the barracks, in order that he might, if possible, prevail upon them to dispense with those expressions of indignation against the Life Guards, which the people thought, justly or unjustly, that the conduct of that corps on a recent occasion had richly merited.

About six o’clock a numerous group of soldiers planted themselves in a most conspicuous position before, the front gates of their barrack, and appeared by their behaviour to be challenging the attention of the passengers to their bold and undaunted demeanour. Mr. Sheriff Waithman, observing the manner in which they had ranged themselves on the footpath, along which a great part of the crowd were certain to walk in their return from Hammersmith, rode up to them, and requested them to withdraw from the conspicuous position in which they had placed themselves. The soldiers replied that they had a right to stand in the position which they then occupied, and declared their resolution of not moving from it. Mr. Sheriff Waithman then said to them, that he did not mean to insist, as he was justified in doing, upon their complying with his desire to remove from the footpath; that his sole anxiety was to preserve the public peace; and to effect that it been complied with in the first instance, would have indisputably prevented all the commotion which afterwards ensued, the soldiers persisted in retaining their station. The worthy Sheriff then asked them to give him the name of their commanding officer, that he might communicate with him upon the subject. To that proposition the soldiers, at whose head was either a corporal or a serjeant, gave a most unqualified refusal. Mr. Waithman made, however, another attempt to effect his object. He sent two or three of his officers into the barracks to find out the gentleman in command of the regiment, and ordered them to deliver his respectful compliments to him, and to state how expedient it would be to withdraw the military from the view of the populace. If the report of the officers is to be believed, the answer which they got from the officer to whom they delivered the Sheriff’s message was, “Tell Mr. Waithman, your Sheriff, he may go and be damned; my men shall stay where they are; I will not consent to have them made prisoners of.’ The import of this answer got’ spread among the people, and did not tend to a spirit of conciliation between them and the soldiers.

Different groups kept arriving from Hammersmith with feelings strongly excited by the melancholy fate of Francis and Honey. The news of this answer was not calculated to repress that natural irritation under which they laboured. The worthy Sheriff saw this; and in consequence went up to the gate of the barracks, and said to the men, “As your commanding officer will not give you the orders which appear to me to be necessary to preserve the public peace, I, as Sheriff of the county, to whom the King’s peace in that county is intrusted, take upon myself to act as your commanding officer, and order you to retire this moment within the barracks. If not, I shall look upon you as responsible for all the fatal consequences which may ensue from your obstinacy and perverseness. This was said in the presence of several individuals, both civil and military. The soldiers murmured, but at last reluctantly, and after considerable delay, withdrew within the gates. The people immediately gave Alderman Waithman three cheers. Shortly after this point had been soldiers, who had collected themselves in the windows of their respective apartments, laughed at them, in many cases most loudly, and, in several, shook their fists at the parties surrounding them. The populace retorted the insult by calling them. Piccadilly butchers, cowardly cut-throats, &c., and no longer confined themselves to hissing and hooting. Mr. Sheriff Waithman, whilst this scene was transacting, was riding up and down with his Under Sheriff, endeavouring to mollify the anger of the people. By threatening the more violent spirits that he would order his officers to seize them in case he saw them insult the soldiery, and by using milder arguments to the more peaceably inclined, he succeeded to a certain degree in accomplishing his object. The seeds of disturbance had, however, been sown among the people, and though his presence prevented them from striking deep root, they sprung up with greater vigour as soon as he retired.

Stones at last began to be thrown by both parties, and so simultaneously, that it would be difficult to decide which were the aggressors. In less than two or three minutes after the commencement of this distant warfare, several of the soldiers climbed over the wall into the street, and made an attack on the people, who, as we were informed by a respectable witness, though we certainly did not see the fact ourselves, were maltreating a drunken Life Guardsman, who was staggering through the streets to his quarters. A general engagement ensued between this man’s comrades (some of whom were armed with bludgeons, but none at this time with swords) and the multitude. The success was various; but during the barracks perceived that their friends were defeated, and immediately issued forth armed, some with swords, and others with carbines, to assist them.

It was at that exact moment that we ourselves became eye-witnesses of the scene, and we conceived, and are still inclined to conceive, that it was at this moment that the affray really commenced. It was a frightful spectacle. Soldiers, some dressed, some in their undress, were seen bursting out of the gates of their barracks, clambering over its walls, and rushing, with drawn swords and infuriated looks, into the midst of the unarmed multitude. Others were throwing stones and brickbats into the street from their private rooms, in much greater quantities than were thrown from the street. We saw several people around us struck by them. Some of the people now began to fly from the unequal contest which they were waging, but others stood up to the Guards, in spite of their superiority of offensive weapons, with the most undaunted fortitude.

Blood was flowing on both sides pretty freely, when Mr. Sheriff Waithman, in whose absence this tumult had occurred, rode up to the scene of action, and in the very throng of the contention. He endeavoured to part the combatants, who were then fighting at that end of the barracks which is nearest to Hyde-park. Not succeeding immediately in his efforts, he turned back his horse, and was riding on the foot-path towards the front gate of the barracks, out of which the men armed and unarmed kept continually issuing. As he was going along, he found another party scuffling with the military. He immediately ordered them to desist, and contrived to separate the corporal or sergeant, with whom he had been before conversing at the gate, and who, from the conversation which he had held with him, must have known him as the Sheriff-a point that is material to keep in mind_from the conflict in which he was engaging. The worthy Sheriff immediately desired him to return to his quarters and to induce his companions to return; the answer which the man made him was to slip aside and knock down an individual who was standing near him. Still the Sheriff attempted to persuade him to retire, and whilst he was doing so, a young officer, in plain clothes, came up, and, if we saw rightly, attempted to shoulder the Sheriff off the foot-path. The seeing this outrage, and immediately seized the Sheriff’s horse by the bridle, saying to him, “Damn you, I’ll soon show you the way off the foot-path. Mr. Waithman, around whom there were no more than five or six of his officers, all of whom were struck and wounded by the military, seeing himself thus assaulted, hit the individual thus wilfully impeding him in the discharge of his ministerial duties, a heavy blow on the top of the cap with a riding stick which he had in his hand. The blow stunned the man, but others of his comrades forced the Sheriff and his horse into the middle of the street.

Immediately afterwards every person who witnessed the transaction, either from the streets or the neighbouring houses, must have expected to have seen Mr. Waithman murdered. Two or three ruffians–for they deserve not the name of soldiers—ran at him with their pointed swords; his officers turned them aside; another was seen at the same moment, after having first deliberately taken a cartridge out of his pouch, and primed and loaded his carbine, to place it against his shoulder, and to take deliberate aim at the worthy Alderman. Whilst the carbine was in that situation, a Sheriff’s officer of the name of Levi, ran up, and knocked the ruffian down. The struggle continued a few minutes afterwards, and then suddenly closed, the men retiring, as we understood, by the command of their officers to the barracks.

The Sheriff was then fully occupied in calming the spirits of the enraged multitude, many of whom, even while the struggle was at the hottest, applied to him to know whether they had a right to repel the brutal force which was brought against them, adding, that, if they had, and he would lead them on, they were ready to die by his side. Of course, the Sheriff’s answer to these applications, was an injunction to those who made them to keep themselves quiet, and disperse. That, however, was advice not always very palatable ; for the irritation which these events had excited in the minds of the people was not likely to cease immediately. They stayed, therefore, for a considerable time before the barracks, hooting the military, and loading them with every term of vituperation that the English language could afford them. The women who were in the streets, and who had used towards them. This circumstance rendered it necessary for the Sheriff to remain riding up and down the road till nearly eight o’clock, to prevent the accumulation of crowds before the barracks. This he was at last enabled to accomplish, partly by threats, and partly by the influence which his conduct in the affray with the Life Guards had given him with the multitude. By eight o’clock the streets about Knightsbridge were comparatively cleared, and it did not appear that any interruption of the public tranquillity occurred, save that which has been just recorded. : Fortunately, there was not any person mortally wounded in this affray; though several of the people received heavy contusions, and some severe cuts. Several of the Guards were bleeding copiously from the nose and mouth, when they were called into their quarters.”

(from A Correct, Full, and Impartial Report, of the Trial of Her Majesty, Caroline, Queen Consort of Great Britain, Before the House of Peers, On the Bill of Pains and Penalties – Queen Caroline (consort of George IV, King of Great Britain), John Adolphus

A memorial stone was built to Richard Honey and George Francis in St Paul’s Churchyard, Hammersmith, after collections taken in pubs all over London.

The memorial reads:
Here lie interred the mortal remains of

Richard Honey, Carpenter,

aged 36 years, and of

George Francis, Bricklayer, aged 43 years,

who were slain on the 14th August, 1821, while attending the

funeral of Caroline, of Brunswick,

Queen of England

The details of that melancholy event

Belong to the history of the country

In which they will be recorded

Together with the public opinion

Decidedly expressed relative to the

Disgraceful transactions

Of that disastrous day

Deeply impressed with their fate

Unmerited and unavenged

Their respective trades interred them

At their general expence [sic]

On the 24th of the same month

to their memory.

Richard Honey left one female orphan.

George Francis left a widow and three young children.

Victims like these have fallen in every age

Stretch of pow’r or party’s cruel rage

Until even handed justice comes at last

To amend the future and avenge the past

Their friends and fellow-men lament their doom

Protect their orphans, and erect their tomb.

 

This stone is still visible in the Churchyard…

Today in London’s radical history, 1848: Armed Chartists arrested as they prepare for revolution

Traditional histories of the Chartist movement mostly end with the mass meeting and demonstration on April 10th 1848, when the third great Chartist petition was to be delivered to Parliament. The vast majority of historical accounts agree that the movement declined from this point, and rate it no further, except on some cases to mention, almost as an aside, the arrest of small groups of Chartist in London three months later for plotting to achieve their ends by violent insurrection.

But as David Goodway remarked in his study of London Chartism: “If, after the reverses of the Kennington Common rally and the off-hand rejection of the third great petition by the House of Commons, Chartism stood defeated in the summer of 1848, then the Chartists were yet to find out about it.” Revolutions were sweeping Europe, and many Chartists felt it would take little for radical change to also be achieved in Britain too.

Agitation and campaigning for political reform continued throughout the country, and in London itself, May and June 1848 saw several large demonstrations and a couple of attempts to organise another monster rally or march along the lines of April 10th. Many of the demonstrations were dispersed or prevented by force or banned.

Behind the scenes, some Chartists, frustrated by the repeated failure of peaceful and legal campaigning and petitioning, began planning to bring about the movement’s objectives by more direct means. Arrests of leading Chartists all over the country and of Irish radicals and nationalists with whom much of the Chartist movement was in sympathy and close contact, added an extra spur – the feeling was that not only would asking politely not win working men the vote, but many would be jailed for campaigning.

The atmosphere was electric, and the inspiration of the wave of revolutions and uprisings surging through Europe helped create a buzz of anticipation, ad a sense that maybe change could be won if people would fight for it. At a meeting of Chartist delegates from Lancashire and Yorkshire, held on 28 May, resolutions were passed in favour of forming a National Guard, a term with strong overtones of the French Revolution. Chartists began drilling in military formation in Bradford, Leeds and several other towns in Yorkshire. Chartists in Manchester and Oldham also paraded with weapons. Mass meetings were held all over the country and ‘strong expressions’ were used – which got a number of speakers arrested.

Shortly after a somewhat disappointing turnout for a national demonstration on June 4th, groups of Chartist began meeting clandestinely in the capital to plan an uprising.

Chartism as a movement had always been caught in a tension between its ‘moral force’ and ‘physical force’ camps – those who insisted on sticking to legal, peaceful methods of winning their aims, and those who believed the ruling elites would never grant them more than contempt if they went cap in hand, and that working class political representation could only be achieved by an armed revolution.

Sentiment within Chartism as a broad movement tended to see-saw between these poles, (a bit like the eternal struggle we see between left and right within the Labour Party…!). However, the physical force wing of Chartism was always a minority in the movement – though what size minority varied. In the lifetime of the movement, insurrectionary feeling ebbed and flowed. Another problem was that some Chartist leaders were quite prepared to bluster and sound all physical-force, but in practice were not ready to ever act or support action that backed up their words.

Chartism was part of an almost continuous thread of 60 years of campaigning for political reform – but the movements, organisations and political culture that reached a peak in Chartism drew on several traditions, one of which was a strong Jacobin insurrectionary impulse. Attempts to organise uprisings had capped several of the reform movements in the past half-century, most notably ending with the ‘Despard’ conspiracy of 1802 and the ‘Cato Street Conspiracy’ in 1820.

There had been a period before when concerted efforts to launch Chartist uprisings had been planned – in the winter of 1839 to 1840, which saw one actual revolt, in Newport, South Wales, and a number of botched plots, mainly in Yorkshire, which got no further than the planning stage. Some discussions were also had in London in 1840 and there were some arrests; but there is little evidence that much was even planned there. Much like the attempt to impose acceptance of the Charter by general strike in 1839, support had just not been there for a Chartist Revolution.

1848 would prove no different. Like most of the radical plots for insurrection since the 1790s, from Despard through Pentrich to Cato Street, the 1848 blueprints for revolution were known to the authorities from the start. Spies reporting to the home Office were deeply embedded in the Chartist movement and exposed the plot step by step as it was drawn up.

George Davis, a member of the Wat Tyler Brigade of Greenwich Chartists, attended meetings throughout the summer as a delegate, and Thomas Riordain Reading, the Northern Star‘s London Irish correspondent also reported to the Home office.

On 12 June 1848, Peter M’Douall (or McDouall), who had been a delegate at the first Chartist convention and had fled abroad with a price on his head after the general strike of 1842, chaired at a meeting in the Albion beershop on the Bethnal Green Road. Plans for an insurrection set in motion. A Secret Committee was set up, consisting of four appointed delegates (Henshaw, for East London; Pitt, for West London; Honeybold, North London; and Percy, South London), plus three from Chartist executive, two confederates (Irishmen) and two trade unionists, to decide time of uprising. The spies George Davis and Thomas Reading reported this meeting to the police.

In his report to the police, George Davis claimed that the committee used a map of London to draw up a series of possible plans of attack. In one scenario, barricades would have been constructed on the Strand, Ludgate Hill, Cheapside and other City streets from Clerkenwell to the Barbican and Hatton Garden Theatres and other buildings were to be set on fire, and pawnbrokers’ and gunsmiths’ shops raided to obtain arms. In South London, the police station at Kent Road was to be attacked.

Initially, it seems arrangements were being made for an uprising on the weekend of 16-18 June 1848. However, just two days after the meeting in Bethnal Green, on 14 June, the Chartist Executive ordered the disbanding of the Secret Committee. The executive had been well aware of the plans for insurrection, but had either realised or suspected there were police spies in the midst of the conspiracy. Peter McDouall himself named Mander, May and Plume as possible suspects (interestingly, their involvement in the plot seems to end from this point). McDouall himself was arrested in July.

The initial phase of the conspiracy then appears to have folded until early July. However, an uprising in Ireland was reported to be imminent, and habeas corpus there was suspended. Meanwhile, the police began arresting Chartist leaders in London. In early July, meetings of the would-be insurrectionaries resumed.

Plans made by the conspirators included rescuing arrested Chartist leaders (including Ernest Jones) from police custody as they were being moved from Newgate to Coldbath Fields Prison. This second conspiracy was probably unknown to the Chartist Executive – however, George Davis, and Thomas Powell (alias Johnson) of Cripplegate, were both keeping the authorities fully informed.

Between 20 July and 16 August, the conspirators held 16 meetings in one form or another, mainly in coffee houses (though occasionally in pubs).

Dates and locations of the delegate meetings of the 1848 conspiracies, with those in attendance as known (taken from London Chartism 1838-48, by David Goodway)
Tuesday 6 June. Windsor Castle, Holborn
H Mander May (?), Plume (?).
Monday afternoon, 12 June. Albion, Bethnal Green Road.
25 present. M’Douall (chair), Henshaw, Honeybold, Percy, Pitt, George Davis.
Tuesday 13 June. Windsor Castle, Holborn
James Bassett (chair), Henshaw, Honeybold, William Lacey, Percy, Pitt, George Shell, George Davis.
Wednesday morning, 14 June. Literary Institute, John Street
14 present. M’Douall (chair), James Bassett (vice-chair), Child, William Lacey, George Bridge Mullins, Pitt, George Shell, George Davis.
Wednesday evening, 14 June. Lord Denman, Great Suffolk Street, Blackfriars Road
8 present. James Blight, George Davis.
Monday 10 July. George, Old Bailey.
13 or 20 present. Brewster, Lacey, Mullins, Payne, John Rose, Smith, George Davis.
Thursday 13 July. Lord Denman, Great Suffolk Street.
Brewerton, Morgan.
Thursday 20 July. Black Jack, Portsmouth Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
14 present. William Allnutt, Bassett, Battice, Brewster, William Dowling, Mullins, Payne, John Rose, Davis, Thomas Powell (alias Johnson) (1st time).
Sunday morning, 23 July. Denny’s Coffee House, Great St Andrew’s Street, Seven Dials
10 present. Allnutt, Brewster, Dowling, Gurney, Mullins, Payne, Pedley, Rose, Smith, Stephens (?), Thompson, Davis, Powell.
Sunday evening, 23 July. Cartwright’s Coffee House, Redcross Street, Cripplegate
Brewster, Mullins, Payne, Rose, Powell.
Wednesday 26 July. Hopkinson’s Coffee House, Saffron Hill
18 present. Allnutt, Brewster, Dowling, Ferdinando, Flanagan, Mullins, Payne, Pedley, Rose, Smith, Stephens (?), Thompson, Davis, Powell.
Friday 28 July. Hopkinson’s Coffee House, Saffron Hill.
14 present. Brewster, Fay, Ferdinando, Flanagan, Hopkinson, Horn, Mullins, Page, Payne, Powell.
Sunday afternoon 30 July. Cartwright’s Coffee House, Redcross Street
28 present. Bassett, Brewster, Donovan, Dowling, Fay, Ferdinando, Hayman, Kirby, Lindsay, Mullins, Nash, Nowlan, Payne, Rose, Stephenson (or Stevenson), Davis, Powell.
Tuesday 1 August, Dispatch Coffee House, Bride Lane, Fleet Street.
34 or 29 present. Allnutt, Bezer, Brewster, Collins, Donovan, Dowling, Fay, Ferdinando, Fuzzen, Hayman, Lynch, Mullins, Payne, Raymond, Rose, Thompson, Warry, Davis, Powell
Friday 4 August. Cartwright’s Coffee House, Redcross Street
32 present. Bassett, Bligh, Brewster, Cuffay, Donovan, Dowling, Gurney, Lynch, Mullins, Payne, Rose, Thompson, Davis, Powell.
Sunday morning 6 August. Denny’s Coffee House, Great St Andrew’s Street
Brewster, Fay (?), Lynch (?), Mullins, Payne, Rose, Thompson, Davis.
Sunday afternoon 6 August. Dispatch Coffee House, Bride Lane
24 to 30 present. Allnutt, Bligh, Brewster, Cuffay, Fay, the two brothers Granshaw, Hammond (= Hayman?), Mullins, Page, Payne, Rose, Warry, Davis, Powell.
Monday 7 August. Denny’s Coffee House, Great St Andrew’s Street
About 30 present. Allnutt, Bassett, Brewster, Cuffay, Donovan, Dowling, Fay, Lynch, Mullins, Payne, Ritchie, Rose, Thompson, Warry, Davis, Powell.
Wednesday 9 August. Lord Denman, Great Suffolk Street, Blackfriars Road
28 present. Allnutt, Bassett, Bligh, Brewster, Cuffay, Donovan, Dowling, Fay, Flanagan, Fuzzen, the two Granshaws, Gurney, Horn, Lynch, Mullins, Nash, Payne, Pedley, Ritchie, Rose, Davis, Powell.
Friday 11 August. Perry’s Coffee House, Church Street, Shoreditch
Cancelled
Sunday morning 13 August. Hopkinson’s Coffee House, Saffron Hill
Allnutt, Bligh, Brewster, Fuzzen, Mullins, Payne, Ritchie, Salmon, Davis.
Sunday afternoon 13 August. Breedon’s Beershop, Shouldham Street, Crawford Street, Marylebone
26 or 30 present. Bligh, Cuffay, the two Granshaws, Hayman, Mullins, Nash, Payne, Ritchie, Warry, Davis.
Monday 14 August. Orange Tree, Orange Street, Red Lion Square
25 or 30 present. Allnutt, Bligh, Brewster, Cruikshank, Cuffay, Fay, Fleming, Ford, the two Granshaws, Gurney, Hayman, Mullins, Nash, Payne, Pearce, Ritchie, Scurrey (or Scurry), Simmonds, Warry, Davis, Powell.
Tuesday 15 August. Lord Denman, Great Suffolk Street.
30 or 40 present. Allnutt, Brewster, Cruikshank, Cuffay, Donaldson, Dowling, Fay, Ferdinando, Fleming, the two Granshaws, Gurney, Lacey, Mullins, Page, Payne, Pedley, Ritchie, Simmonds, Davis, Powell.

The plotters were well aware that surveillance by the authorities was likely, and were suspicious and fearful of being followed, and of infiltration. At one point around early August, two of the group, Mullins and Rose, were accused of being spies, which led to some resignations from the Committee. However, the real spies continued to be deeply embedded in their plans. Powell (aka Johnson) was said by some of the defendants to have accused some of the plotters of being all talk, and to have also hired some men to make bullets and gunpowder in readiness. As with previous insurrectionary plans, provocation by spies cannot be ruled out.

The Committee made contact with physical force Chartists in Manchester, Liverpool, Leicester, Nottingham, Birmingham and possibly Bradford. Finally it was agreed that the rising would take place on Wednesday 16 August. The local Chartist branches were to meet at 8pm and to be ready to go into action at 9.20pm.

Thomas Powell, who spied on the Committee using the name Johnson, later gave evidence at the trial of William Dowling. His account is a fascinating insight into the discussion, though, as with all evidence offered by such infiltrators, may not be entirely accurate about individuals’s roles in the plan:

“Early in the present year I became a member of the Chartist Association. I believe it was between April and May; after 10th April—I continued to attend the meetings of the Association from time to time down to June, July, and Aug. last—I have always understood there are district associations of the Chartists—I was a member of the Cripplegate locality—there was a council of management consisting of five persons—it was appointed after I joined them—it consisted of Mr. Battice, Mr. Fowler, Mr. Carter, Mr. Owen Jones, and myself—I entered by the name of Johnson, and was known in the Chartist Association by that name—the council had. the general superintendence of the business of the Association—they usually net in the front long-room up stairs, at Cartwright’s Coffee-house, in Red Cross-street—about 20th July a committee was formed to meet at the Black Jack public-house, in Portugal-street, Lincoln’s-inn-fields—it was called the. Secret Committee—I was elected by the Council as a delegate—I attended a meeting of that committee on Thursday, 20th July, at the Black Jack—there were about fourteen persons present at that meeting—I have notes which I made, not the same day, but the next—the notes were made by myself—referring to them)—Mr. Payne, Mr. Brewster, Mr. Rose, Mr. Mullins, Mr. Bowling, a delegate from Greenwich, myself, Mr. Battice, and another Confederate delegate, a Mr. Allnutt, of another locality, and two strangers, whose names I do not remember—each of those fourteen attended, like myself, as delegates from different districts—Mr. Dowling attended as one of the Irish Confederates; I was informed so that evening—there was also another person, a stranger, who represented himself as a delegate from the Confederates—I have no note of the transactions of that meeting, but I can remember them—verbal reports were given in of the state of feeling of the members of their respective localities with regard to the physical force movement, and each delegate returned the number of men he could depend on, and were willing to fight—a committee was appointed for the purpose of drawing up five plans of action—Payne, Brewster, Rose, Mullins, and the prisoner Dowling were appointed on that committee—the meeting commenced at nine o’clock, or a little alter, and lasted till about ten minutes after twelve—Battice was present the whole time—he had been requested by the Council to accompany me to witness the proceedings—we were to meet again at Dennis’s Coffee-house, Great St. Andrew-street, Seven Dials, on the next Sunday morning, 23rd—when I went to the Black Jack, on the Thursday, I was asked to produce my credentials, and I produced a paper which I had procured from a Mr. Bezer on my way to the meeting—Battice was with me at the time received it, and Bezer said in his presence they were going to get up a bloody revolution-—on Sunday morning, 23rd, at ten o’clock, I attendee at Dennis’s Coffee-house’—I found the prisoner and Rose, Mullins, Brewster and Payne accompanied me—we were together about an hour before any one else joined us—during that hour Mullins laid a pocket-book on the table with a map of London unfolded, and the whole of the persons present had papers in their hands—there was also a pen-and-ink sketch of various pars of London, belonging to Mullins, and a portion of it marked Seven Dials—I did not see either of the other four plans—the prisoner told Mullins that he thought it was difficult for him (Dowling) to undertake the management of the Seven Dials—in the course of the evening Payne, who occupied the chairs said, “Gentlemen, our object is to destroy the power of the Queen, and if possible, to establish a republic,” and there was a general acquiescence; in that—I do not remember the words they used—there was some conversation about vitriol, and assassinating the police—I can’t exactly remember the purport of it—Rose said, “We must first assassinate the police, burn down the station-houses, and build barricades”—that appeared to be generally receive:—at the end of the hour Allnutt, a member from Greenwich, and another Confederate leader, came: there were ten persons present—I do not know anything of this paper (looking at a plan)—I can almost swear this paper (marked A) is the one I saw in Mullins’s possession—I saw him put it into his pocket-book, and put the pocket-book into his pocket—I never saw anything of these others (looking at others), but 1 believe I my safely swear to this, I was so impressed with the first sketch of it—the; is no particular mark on it, but I will explain how I am so positive of it—I had a view of it, and I observed this drawing and also these pencil-marks for barricades—there was some conversation by Brewster about the barricades being half-way down some street in Oxford-street, leading to some square—after the others came in, Mullins said he was sorry they had not quite matured the plans for their inspection—Payne left about half-past eleven, and the meeting soon after adjourned, and it was arranged they should meet at Cartwright’s on the same evening—we met there—Payne, Mullins, Brewster, and Rose, were there—Dowling was not—they went into a back room- I did not accompany them—I next met the same parties on Wednesday, 26th July, at Hopkinson’s Coffee-house, Saffron-hill—that had been arrange: on the Sunday morning—there were eighteen present, Dowling, Rose, Mullins, myself, a delegate from Greenwich, Brewster, Ferdinando (this was his first appearance), a delegate from the Green Gate, Hackney-road whose name I do not know, Flanagan, Allnutt, and others—I sometimes made my notes when I got home the same night, and sometimes the next day—as regards this particular meeting, I must have made the note soon after I got home at night, or early in the morning—a return was given of the number of new delegates—there was nothing at all in writing, it was all done as matter of confidence one with the other—reports were given of the feelings of the members of each locality, and the number of men they could depend—on as fighting men—there was a motion made respecting an advertisement to be put in the Northern Star, calling on every Chartist and Confederate locality to send two delegates to meet on the following Tuesday, at the Dispatch coffee house, Bride-lane, Fleet-street—that was adopted—there was nothing further of any consequence transacted that evening—they adjourned to the same place on the Friday, the 28th—there were fourteen persons-present then—there were two new delegates—there were reports made of the feeling of their localities, and the number of fighting men—each new delegate made a similar report with respect to his own locality—a resolution was passed that the sum of 10s. should be sent by the delegates of each locality, for the purpose of carrying out the object of the committee—we adjourned, to meet at Cartwright’s on the 30th—I attended there—there were twenty-eight persons present—they were Payne, Dowling, Brewster, Rose, Mullins, Bassett (his first appearance) Stevenson, a new delegate, myself, Ferdinando, Fay, and others—there was a return made from the new delegates of the feeling of the members of their localities, and also the number of fighting men that they could depend on—I believe that afternoon there was a resignation of the committee that met at the Black Jack, on account of the charges brought against Rose and Mullins, as being spies—a new committee, called the Ulterior Committee, was then appointed, composed of Payne, Rose, Mullins, Bassett, and the prisoner—that was the same Rose as it had been suggested was a spy—there was a talk about his election—the person who charged him as being a spy was not left out (I judged it was Brewster)—he was elected, after discussion and an explanation—it was not stated what the Ulterior Committee were to take into their consideration—it was generally understood what they were appointed for—a resolution was passed that the delegates should meet, if necessary, at Cartwright’s, on the following Monday evening—there was no meeting that evening—the next meeting was on Tuesday, 1st Aug.—that was the meeting which I alluded to, that was to take place at the Dispatch coffee-house, Bride-lane—there were thirty-four persons present, all delegates, or representing themselves as such, Payne, Rose,. Mullins, Brewster, Dowling, Bezer, myself, Fay, Thompson, Donovan, Lynch, Fuzzon, Warry, Allnutt, Ferdinando, Raymond, and others—a report was given in by the new delegates the same as before—(there had tan a resolution passed at Cartwright’s, on July 30th, that four more should be added to the Ulterior Committee, to make it nine)—I do not think I saw this paper there—I might have done so—Bezer gave in his return of fighting men as fifty—he came from our district, Cartwright’s—I cannot say what number the others returned—it was taken down either in pencil or ink—the Irish Felon Society was held in our locality, and the Star Society—there was also a club called the Davis’ Club, the Emmett Brigade, and the Tom Paine’s locality, and various others—there were delegates from each of those localities at the meetings I have mentioned—there was a jealousy that there were not enough Irish on the Ulterior Committee, and four more were added—they were Thompson, Lynch, Fay, and Donovan—there was a discussion on the propriety of sending a person to some part of Limerick or Cork, to ascertain how they were getting on—I do not know who proposed it it was not adopted—the reason stated was because it was not likely they could get any true intelligence of the state of the country—a proposition was made by the prisoner that there should be a demonstration on Sunday, 6th Aug., at two o’clock, of Chartists and Confederates, on Primrose-hill, to ascertain the strength and numbers of the people—it was lost by a majority of five—a resolution was carried to the effect that every delegate should return to his locality, and ascertain how the members were for regularity of preparation, and ready to be called out at an hour’s notice—I do not know that that was a substitute for the Primrose-hill meeting—it was after that had been disposed of—a resolution was passed that they should meet at Cartwright’s on Friday, Aug. 4th, at eight o’clock—Mullins stated he had seen Mr. Kydd that day, 1st Aug., and that Mr. Kydd had said, if the people came out for physical force, he would not be backward in heading them; but that he, Kydd, had entered on the executive as a moral-force man, and had taken the office only on that ground—that was what Mullins remarked on Kydd’s statement to him—that was received with a degree of belief—Kycid was one of the executive of the council of the Chartists, of the convention that sat in John-street—I know out Cripplcgate-street district was in communication with the executive in John-street—we next met at Cartwright’s on Friday evening, 4th Aug—there were thirty-two present—Mr. Payne was in the chair—Rose, Brewster, Gurney, (his first appearance,) Mullins, Bassett, (his second appearance’ Cuffey, Donovan, Lynch, Dowling, myself, Thompson, and others—the committee had met previously at three, before the whole body—the prisoner was present in the evening, but I will not say he was present at the committee—the committee sat half an hour or an hour, before the rest of the body joined them, and there was a discussion about what scarfs were to be worn as a sign of officership—a red scarf was mentioned; and it was determined that they should have red scarfs—I was present, and Brewster also a report was given in that evening by the new delegates of the number of men, the same as before—I should tell you that the committee who were sitting, Payne, Rose, Brewster, Mullins, and Bassett, had some conversation about a circular that Mr. Kydd had received, stating that they were desirous of knowing how far the committee of delegates then sitting in London were disposed to send a delegate to Manchester—it was decided to do so—Mr. Lacey’s name was mentioned, and Bassett was deputed to want upon him, and Rose gave Bassett money that Lacey might go on the following morning (Saturday)—a resolution was passed that evening, to the effect that the delegates should submit to the determination of the ulterior committee, whatever it was—the thirty-two were then present—a resolution was passed that the delegates should call on the members in their localities to meet at half-past two on the following Sunday, the 6th, at their localities, and to prevent if possible the members attending the meeting on Kennington’ common; to wait there till their delegates returned from Kennington-common—there was a meeting advertised to take place at Kennington-common that day, called by Mr. Dwaine—to the best of my belief it was to be at three o’clock—each delegate, in his particular district, was to have his members—their place of meeting, to keep them from going, till the delegates retuned from the Dispatch Coffee-house—it being an unlawful meeting, many of the members would be brought in contact with the police, and they were desirous I of preventing it—there was a resolution passed that we should meet on the following Sunday at the Dispatch Coffee-house—there was also another resolution passed for every delegate to select four men, to appoint then as telegraphs on the Sunday, and to station them from Fleet-street to Kennington-common—the delegates were to be at the Dispatch Coffee-house, and thus communicate with the persons at Kennington-common—I attended the meeting on the Sunday—there were from twenty-five to thirty persons present—I do not recollect that the prisoner was present—the arrangement was carried out of having men placed between the Despatch Coffee-house and the Common—I was appointed as one of the lookers-on, to see that!” the telegraphs should be stationed—a resolution was passed that they should meet at Dennis’s Coffee-house on the Monday evening—I attended it-there were about thirty present—it began at eight—the prisoner was there—Ritchie and Cuffey, and the whole nine of the ulterior committee were there and others, amounting to thirty—that night the ulterior committee resigned—on account of the reports in the papers of the arrest of Smith O’Brien in Ireland, and Mullins explained that he had no confidence in the others who were selected on the committee, that he had not seen their plans—he alluded to the four new Irishmen that had been added—one or two of the other made the same statement—there—was a fresh election—Messrs. Rose, Mullins, Brewster, Payne, and Bassett were elected, and were called the ulterior committee—a resolution was passed that there should be a president, and that the one who had the lowest post on the committee was to retire when the president came in—this was a visionary president—he was not named—there was some remark made by persons present that he was somebody and nobody—he was somebody to be talked about, and nothing more—a resolution was then passed that the sum of three-farthings should be levied on every member of every locality for the purpose of paying this president, to supply him with a salary—no time was specified for the payment—every delegate was to make the statement to the members in his locality—a letter was read by Mr. Payne, which I can only explain in this way, as he read it, that trade, was very good, and we should soon have a good order—he stated that the letter came from Mr. Lacey, who had been sent to Manchester—there was some degree of satisfaction expressed by many of the delegates present—they were glad to hear Lacey was going on well—a resolution was passed that they should meet on Wednesday, Aug. 9th, at the Lord Denman beer-shop, in Suffolk-street, Blackfriar’s-road—Messrs. Payne, Brewster, Rose, Mullins, Dowling, myself, Gurrney, Donovan, Bassett, and others, twenty-eight in all, were present—reports were given in by the new delegates of the feeling of their localities, and the number of fighting men, and the state of preparation they were in—I do not think anything was said about ball-cartridges, or anything of that sort; merely about preparation—Payne was in the chair, but Mullins acted as chief speaker—he was vice-chairman, and sat at the other end of the table—he called on all the delegates to declare their allegiance and determination to abide by the decision of the committee for the good of the people—they did not swear, but some declared solemnly, and some said they were determined to risk their lives, and abide by the deci-sion of the committee—Payne read another letter from Lacey, stating that all was going on well, that he was still at Manchester or some other part of the country, and there was a question asked how long he was to continue there, and Payne said he was to remain there as long as necessary—a resolution was passed that they should meet at Perry’s coffee-house, Church-street, Bethnal-green, or Shoreditch, on the following Friday, 11th, at eight o’clock—I went, but found no meeting—I was informed that the police had been to Rose’s house, and had seized his papers, and that all was up—I then went home—I heard on the following Sunday that there was to be a meeting on the following Monday night, 14th, at the Orange Tree beer-shop, Orange-street, Red Lion-square—I attended it, and I was asked why I was not at the other two meetings that bad taken place since Wednesday—I found, I should say, twenty-five there—I have not got their names, but I think I can tell them—there was Cuffey, Brewster, Payne, Mullins, Gurney, Fay, Ritchie, Scurry, myself and others—Dowling was not there, at least I did not see him there—Gurney asked me how it was I did not go to the meeting at Perry’s coffee house—I said I did go, and there was none held—he said there was, and then he told me where it was held—Payne was in the chair at the Orange Tree, but Mullins was the spokesman, and he was chief spokesman on all occasions—he called on us to give a return of the number of ball-cartridges that each delegate and his members had prepared—each delegate gave in his return of half-cartridges that he had prepared, and also what the members of his particular district had prepared—I did not take any note of the number—I think it was somewhere about 500 or 600—there was a return given in of the number of fighting men—Mullins stated that there were nearly 5000 fighting men of the Chartists alone—a return was also given in from the Confederates—I can not remember the number of them for a certainty, but I think it was something bordering upon the same number—it was a considerable number—he said the time was near at hand—he said, “Gentlemen, the next business is that I want every delegate to select four or six men, or more, as many as the can select iron; his locality”—there was a question asked what they were for- I do not know by whom—Cuffy answered, “To fire houses, railway premises trains, or anything”—I did not put anything down at the meeting—I was obliged to be cautious not to put any thing down—Mullins looked up at the gas which goes along the ceiling, and said “If I look up at the gas, you will at know what I mean”—I was asked how many men I thought I could select and I said two, and the other delegates right round gave in a return also—it was said they were to be men who could be depended on, who would do any-thing and everything—in the course of the evening there was a proposition made and carried, to send a deputation of two persons to have an interview with some of the North-Western Railway engineers, and ascertain what then feelings were, and whether they were willing to come over and assist the Chartists—Ritchie and Scurry were proposed and unanimously carried the purpose—I was not aware till that evening that there had been a conference between the engineers and the company—it was mentioned then because it was requested to know what they were going for—1s. 6d. was voted to defray their expenses for refreshment—they left forthwith on lie: mission—they were not present when the other resolutions were passed-! did not see any more of them that evening—there was a resolution passed that we should meet at half-past seven at the Lord Denman on the following Tuesday evening—I went—Payne, Brewster, Mullins, Cuffey, Dowling, Allnutt, Fey Gurney, Lacey, Ritchie, Ferdinando, and others, in all about forty, were there-Lacey was there when I got there—he entered into conversation with several of us, and told us that the men of Birmingham and Manchester, and I think he said Liverpool, but am not certain, were up and were doing, or would be doing that night, and he had been watched all day by the police, and as he was coming out of his street-door, a boy came up and told him that he was watched by the police—I had never seen Lacey before, I had only heard of him—he said he had been to Birmingham and Manchester, and other places, but I do not re-member for a certainty what those places were, and he had also been watched for two hours, and he gave the police the double, and had reached the place safety—about three quarters of an hour after that, there was a distributed colours by Brewster—they were twisted plaited ribbons, and were gives a the delegates so that they might be recognised as the leaders of the people—Brewster stated so—they were to be put on the left arm—they were three colours, red, white, and some other—I received one—Mullins was present as their distribution, and after that some of the committee came in—they were not-all present, at least I did not see them, but one or two of them spoke, are told Lacey they had better retire and consult—the room up-stairs was ✗ pied by a sing-song, and we had the lower room—Lacey said, “If yes will wait a while I will go and see at a neighbour’s coffee-house, whether we cannot have a room”—he went out, returned, and said “All right, or some such word-, and the committee went out with him—I did not go—they were gone about three quarters of an hour, or it might have been an hour—the delegates remained till they returned—they went away, to consult to gather-when they retired, Cuffey said, “Now, Mr. Chairman, you has better give the; instructions as quick as possible”—Mullins was acting-as chairman—Laccy went with them when they went out—I did not see him return with them, and was surprised at it—Cuffey was secretary; I was informed he was chosen secretary by the committee—Mullins said, “Gentle-men, as you are aware, the committee have retired, and come to certain resolutions and decisions; they have directed me to give you the following instructions; and as our friend, Mr. Lacey, has informed us that the men of Birmingham and Manchester are up, and will be doing to-night, and we have no reason to doubt the correctness of his statement, therefore, gentlemen, to-morrow night you must come out to fight and strike the blow; and it is necessary, gentlemen, that you should speak out honestly and boldly, for there must be no flinching in the matter”—Cuffey stood by the fireplace, and said, “You had better put it round, Mr. Chairman, to every one present; let them answer, ‘Yes’ or ‘No'”—Mullins on that appealed to a delegate sitting by me, and said, “Will you come out to fight?”—he said, “Yes”—he said to me,” Will you?” and I said, “Yes”—then he said, “Will you?” addressing each in turn, one by one, round the room, till he came to Mr. Ferdenando, who made a bit of a speech, and explained his reasons that he could not conscientiously say “Yes” to coming out—he objected, he was not agreeable; in fact, he said, “No”—he gave his reason, and then said, “No,” and sat down—there was one more of the same opinion—I do not know his name—he was companion delegate, I understood, to Allnutt, who sat by his side—with the exception of those two, the answer from the rest was, “Yes”—after that Mullins said, “Gentlemen, you must understand we shall take up four positions: Clerkenwell-green will be taken by Mr. Brewster; the Tower Hamlets will be taken by Mr. Payne;” and the Seven Dials, and the Broadway, Westminster, were the other two positions—Basset and Mullins were to take those two—I do not know which was to take each—Mullins said, after giving the instructions in that manner, “Gentlemen,” every delegate must assemble the members of his locality, for them to communicate to their locality at eight o’clock precisely”—it was to be the next night—there was a question asked by a delegate, I do not know who, how they were to get there with their pikes and poles?—Mullins said, “I can only say they must get them there the best way they can,” (some of the poles were ten feet long), “and at twenty minutes past nine, to a second, every delegate must be with his men at their respective positions”—the delegates were to come armed—Mullins proposed, and it was carried unanimously, that Ritchie was to superintend and direct those men that were to be selected for the purpose of firing houses, railway premises, trains, or anything—Ritchie undertook it—the Orange Tree was to be the place of meeting—a question was asked, how Ritchie was to know these men, and some person said, “I propose the password to be, ‘Frost and Mitchell'”—Allnutt proposed the word “Justice”—it was put, and carried unanimously; so that when these men entered the room Ritchie might ask them, “What do you want? who do you want?” and they would make reply, “Justice;” and then he would know them—Mullins said to Payne, “Just take a list of the number of men;” and he put them down; but he made a mistake, and there was some little confusion with the delegates—he went round the room again, and the number was reckoned forty-six—he applied to the person who sat next to me first, and then to me, and I said, “Two,” but I could only depend on one—he went round to every delegate, and in that way forty-six was made up—Gurney was there at the time, and when—I said I could select two, he said, “Oh, nonsense, you can select more than that, half a dozen, I know” I Was rather put out at his taking on himself to judge upon it; in fact, there Was but one man that I could depend on for the purpose—Gurney was one of the wardens before I was elected on the council—each warden has 100 men under him, according to the rules of the Society—after the number of men was taken, the last words Mullins uttered were, “May the bitterest curse of God hang on the soul of that man that shall betray any one of us”—it was such a colour as this (produced) that was to be tied round the arm—nothing more took place that I remember—I came away—the prisoner was there that night, and sat nearly opposite me—I attended a meeting on the following day, 15th—it had been arranged on the Tuesday evening at the Lord Denman, that our locality, the Finsbury, City, and Clerkenwell localities, were to meet Brewster at twelve o’clock, at the Crispin, in Milton-street, Cripplegate, to receive the delegates from each locality—I went, but did not arrive till a quarter to one—I found Brewster, Gill, Gurney, and I believe Fay, and others, eight or nine altogether—I have not made a note—Brewster said it was his intention to attack the Artillery-ground, and, if possible, to take it, and he should have to fight b——y hard, and that we should know by four o’clock in the afternoon whether the Government had received any intimation of what was going on—there was another person with him at the time; in fact, it was the man who told me at Perry’s coffee-shop that there was no meeting there, and that it was all up with Rose—Brewster pointed to this person, and said, “Wait on me at Clerkenwell-green when you are all there”—Brewster said, “Don’t be afraid because you do not see the signals for a little while; you might not see the signals for half an hour, but wait a bit”—it had been arranged at the Orange Tree that there were to be bonfires—the men who were selected, were spoken to on that same evening, for I spoke to my men—Brewster also said, “Ritchie swears, so help his God, he will shoot the first person dead that flinches from his duty.”

Groups were assigned gathering places for the start of the action. Charles Baldwinson, a tailor, of Webber-street, Blackfriars, was told to lead his Chartist branch to the Broadway, Westminster, and was told other groups would be mustering at Clerkenwell-green, in the East End, and at Seven Dials. Other evidence at the later trials suggests that groups were also to gather at “the Peacock, Westminster-road; another, at the Crispin, in Milton-street, Cripplegate; another, at Breadon’s beer-shop, Shouldham-street; and the fourth, I think, at the Buck’s Head, somewhere about Bethnal-green-road, or Hackney-road”. According to testimony given by the police spy George Davis: “plans… [were] produced…. to erect barricades from Clerkenwell down to Seven Dials, and from Seven Dials down Drury-lane to St. Mary’s Church, in the Strand, by Somerset-house, and right along the Strand to Temple-bar; that would form a good barricade, and from Temple-bar down Fleet-street, and by the water-side, and they were to make sure of Chaplin and Home’s premises… they were to make a circle round from Holborn till they got to St. Martin’s-le-Grand, and down there till they got to Clerkenwell-green and Aldersgate-street, and they were to take possession of St. Paul’s Church.”

Davis also testified as to expected numbers: “Mullins remarked that it was not those they depended on; they did not depend on the organised Chartists, but they reckoned there were about 30000 thieves and vagabonds about London who would co-operate with and assist them.” Though this last may have been embroidery by Davis to increase the frisson of respectable fear…

Groups of Chartists in other towns and cities had certainly been sounded out, and some were seemingly ready to join in with the proposed uprising. In Ashton, Lancashire, a clash took place between Chartists and police on August 14th, which led to some arrests: whether this was linked to the plans in London is unknown.

Powell asserts that conspirators reckoned on 5000 supporters in London being ready to take part in revolt. What stage plans for a rising on 16th August had really reached, and what kind of numbers would have joined in, is unclear. In any case, the authorities were completely forewarned, and moved pro-actively to round up the groups readying themselves for revolution.

At 6pm on the night of 16 August, 11 men were arrested at the Orange Tree public house Orange Street, off Red Lion Square in Holborn. Later, at 9pm, 13 more were held at the Angel in Southwark, and within 20 minutes more a large crowd that had  gathered at Seven Dials, Covent Garden, were dispersed. Arrests continued for several days across London, and some caches of stashed weapons were discovered and seized.

Orange Street, off Red Lion Square, location of the Orange Tree pub.


“ARREST OF ARMED CHARTISTS IN LONDON

On Wednesday night a scene of the utmost confusion took place in Webber Street , Blackfriars which, for two or three hours, created considerable sensation in the neighbourhood.

It appears that, from private information received by the Government, about half-past nine, Superintendent Rutt, with nearly 300 men, marched to the Angel Tavern in Webber Street kept by Mr Smith. Mr Rutt, with a pair of loaded pistols and a cutlass at his side, entered the house, accompanied by a strong body of constables, and, at the same time, upwards of a hundred officers were drawn up in front of the premises under arms. The moment the police entered the tap-room or parlour, a general movement took place on the part of the persons assembled there, and Mr Rutt cried out, “If any man offers the least resistance I will run him through,” at the same time showing his drawn cutlass. This had the desired effect, and little or no resistance was attempted. The police then in a body seized fourteen men who were in the room, and conveyed them, under a strong guard, to Tower Street , where, upon being searched, pistils loaded to the muzzle, pikes, three-corner daggers, spearheads and swords were found upon their persons, and others were found secreted under the seats on which they had been sitting. Some of them wore iron breast-plates, and others had gun-powder, shot and tow balls. Under one man no less than 75 rounds of ball cartridge were discovered. The prisoners having been duly charged, their names and addresses were taken, and scarcely a man was brought forward who was not well known to the police as being a prominent Chartist. The whole of the prisoners were locked up at Tower Street under a strong escort of police. Soon after, Superintendent Rutt and Inspector Russell, from private information which they received, proceeded to Blue Anchor-yard, York Street , Westminster , where, it was stated, a gant of armed Chartists were waiting to march out and join the other portions in the event of a procession being formed. On entering the house of a well known leader, the man and a large pike were found.

Upon the police proceeding to the house of Samual Morgan, one of the men taken in the Angel Tavern, the police found the leg of a chair loaded with lead, and a number of nails driven in at the extremity. It was about the length of a policeman’s truncheon, and so heavily laden that a blow on the head with it must have caused instantaneous death. Swords and weapons of various kinds have been found at then residences of the other prisoners.

The whole of the military quartered at Buckingham palace, the Tower, Mint, Bank of England and the various barracks were under arms.

From what has already transpired, it is supposed that the Chartist and Confederate clubs intended to march out well armed, as they did some weeks back, and attack such buildings as may be pointed out to them.

Shortly after the capture was made in Webber Street , a meeting was attempted to be held at the South London Chartist Hall, in the same street, when one of the leaders rushed into the building, and advised them, for God’s sake, to disperse as their lives were in danger. In an instance a general rush took place for the street, and one man, in leaping from a side window, severely injured himself, and, it is rumoured, broke one of his legs.

In consequence of information received at the Home-office that a Chartist demonstration on a large scale was intended to be held at a house in Moor Street, Seven Dials, orders were issued to the superintendents of the various divisions of police at the wet end of the metropolis, to muster all their men and keep them in reserve till further orders. At four o’clock in the afternoon, a strong body of police, under the direction of Superintendents Pearce and Grimwood, went to the Orange Tree public-house in Orange Street , and having satisfied themselves that a number of armed Chartists were in the house, proceeded with several constables into the place, and arrested about eighteen men, armed with pistols, pikes, and blunderbusses. The landlord was also arrested, and several cabs having been procured, the whole of the prisoners were handcuffed and conveyed to the police station in Bow Street . The public house in question is now closed. About eleven o’clock an alarm was given that upwards of 500 Irish Confederates armed with pikes were about marching from Moor Street to meet the Confederates in Webber Street, and in consequence of the alarm manifested by the inhabitants, the whole of the C division, fully armed, under the orders of Superintendent Beresford, proceeded to the spot, and found that a number of Irish had assembled at a public house in the street under the pretence of having a raffle, in order to raise funds to defend the Confederate leaders on their forthcoming trial. This, however, turned out a mere subterfuge, for one the house being entered, the whole of the persons assembled there were found with arms in their hands. A violent resistance was offered on the part of the Confederates; but on the police drawing their cutlasses, they speedily threw down their arms and ran out of the house. Four fellows who were more violent than the rest were taken into custody. Quiet was not restored to the neighbourhood till a late hour.”
(The Scotsman, 19 August)

Thomas Barrett’s later testimony in court gives some sense of the atmosphere in the run up the 16th August:
BARRETT: “I am a shoemaker, of 17, Charles-street, Lisson-grove. On Whit-Sunday I became a member of the Emmett Brigade, which held its meetings at Morgan’s beer-shop, in Praed-street,. and one branch in Shouldham-street, kept by Broaden—I know a man named Mullins—I have heard him address meetings of Chartists and Confederates, at Breaden’s, on several Sundays, and on Sunday, 13th Aug. I heard him say it was necessary for each man to prepare himself for the crests that was coming, and it was necessary for each man to make a small sacrifice to aid the Committee of Progress in their undertakings, and they would judge by the exertions they made whether they were prepared or not—at a meeting there on Tuesday, 15th Aug., between thirty and forty Chartists and Confederates were present—at one time there were forty—it was staled that they were waiting for delegates from the Committee of Progress—on Wednesday, 16th Aug., about eight o’clock, I went to the Chartist meeting-house in Praed-street—about twenty of the Emmet Brigade were assembled—it was said that they were waiting for orders; they did not say for what, but it was generally understood for an outbreak—I went from thence to Breaden’s, I got there about half-past eight or a quarters to nine, and found thirty or forty persons of the same class—Mullins came in and a man named Smith clapped him on the shoulder, and said, “My boy, I was afraid you were taken”—he said, “No, they only take me with my life’—he retired, and a man named Cruickshank came in and placed a musket on the table—I had seen him there once or twice before—I do not know what branch he was a member of—there were two pistols, and several pikes and pike—heads, in the room—I heard the question put whether they were prepared, and whether they had got their toothpicks, which was the name they gave them—Mullins and others retired into another room—when they came back I was sitting in the angle of the room, and saw Mullins look into the room, and withdraw out of my sight—Smith said to me, but I cannot swear whether it was in Mullins’ presence, that they were to be in readiness to meet their leader at Crown-street Soho-square, and the Seven Dials, at ten o’clock—the leader’s name was not mentioned—a cab, which I was informed—had brought Mullins, drove up to the door, and he went away in it—I believe there was a question asked how they were to take their arms—the answers in the best way they could—I went to Crown-street, Soho, walked down to the bottom, and recognised about thirty persons whom I had seen in the room.

Cross-examined. Q. “What is Mullins? A. I believe he is a surgess—he seems to be a man of education—I think he said crisis, and not cress—was, not in communication with the police when I heard Mullins speak—I am a moral-force Chartist—I think it is not physical means that will carry out moral force.”

Searches of the homes of some Chartists produced evidence of plans and numbers expected to ‘turn out’: Constable Joseph Thompson testified that “On 11th Aug. I searched Rose’s premises—he was with us, and showed us the place—I found this plan, marked “A;” this map of the City-road, “B;” a map or sketch of Seven Dials, “C;” blank forms for plans to be filled up; one of Seven Dials; and the other, beaded “Clerkenwell;” three recipes for gun-cotton, and these two lists of numbers—I found this cipher…”

William Chubb gave evidence: “I believe this (No. 11) to be the prisoner’s writing—(This being read, contained various marks and figures, with names and words attached to them, among which were “Pikes,” “Rifles,” “Killed,” “Shot,” “Barricades,” “Victory,” “O’Brien,” “Doheny,” “Tipperary.” “Poison,” “Fire,” “English,” &c. The papers found at Rose’s being read, contained a variety of names contracted, with numbers placed against them, signifying the various localities, their number, and names of the leaders, among which were the following: “Wall. 80; Bass, and Nas.—Lamb, lo 150 Ped.—Ber. 50; Dean. 250; Cuff. Thom.—Star. 50; Pear.-War—Irish, 50; Ritch.—St. Gils. 100;—Carts. 50; Fel. 100; Mitch 30; W. Ty. 20;—Fuzz. Fa., &c.””

A search of 2, Cross Court, off Russell Court, Drury Lane, the home of Joseph Ritchie, turned up “a hundred and seventeen ball cartridges, four bullet-moulds, four bullets, three constable balls, one powder-horn three-parts full of powder, a three half-pint bottle three-parts full of gunpowder, a bayonet, a ladle for melting lead, a piece of lead, several percussion caps, some shot, a quantity of tow, and the tricoloured band”.

Other Chartist meeting places were also raided. According to police inspector John Haynes, “On Wednesday, 16th Aug., between nine and ten o’clock, I went to the Charter coffee-house, kept by Lacey, in Strutton-ground, Westminster—I went over the house, and into the club-room, with Lacey—the Wallace brigade branch of the National Chartist Association met there—I found a list of members, the treasurer’s-books, the Victim Fund-book, and a contribution-book—I found Thomas Jones in a room down-stairs—he was searched in my presence, and two old pistols were found in his pockets, a bayonet in his breast, a one-pound canister of gunpowder in his hat, and a box of gunpowder in his pocket (produced)—here are some ball-cartridges for pistols, and another box of ball-cartridges.”

The most prominent Chartist arrested in this frenetic week was William Cuffay, a Black tailor, the son of Caribbean slaves. Cuffay had been delegated by the London Chartists to represent them at the Chartist Convention, and he had been one of the most noted speakers at the April 10th rally on Kennington Common. A fierce critic of the empty bluster of Chartists leaders like Feargus O’Connor, Cuffay would have seemed not generally in favour of taking such steps as small groups plotting insurrection; he was usually pointedly in favour of ensuring that any actions taken by Chartist bodies were properly representative of wider opinion.

David Goodway notes that Cuffay, while commonly held responsible for the rising, had in fact only become secretary of the “ulterior committee” of organisers three days before the rising: others have speculated that Cuffay was in fact acting (whether for the Executive or on his own) as a brake on an uprising launching at this time. This is speculation, however. Police testified that when arrested Cuffay was in possession of a pistol and a pike-shaft.

The most consistent actors in the planning of the London insurrection seem to have been Payne, John Rose, Brewster, James Bassett, and most of all the 22-year-old surgeon’s apprentice George Bridge Mullins.

William Lacey, Thomas Fay, William Cuffay, William Dowling, and later George Bridge Mullins were found guilty in September 1848 of treason, and sentenced to be transported to Australia for life. Joseph Ritchie pleaded guilty and was also sentence to be transported for life.

Fifteen others who pleaded guilty to lesser charges of ‘unlawfully conspiring to excite insurrection and riot, and to obstruct by force the execution of the laws and preservation of the public peace, and to procure arms and ammunition for that purpose’ were imprisoned for two years. At least twelve others pleaded not guilty, but were in the end bound over ‘on their own recognisance’ for two years.

We will return to the trials of the Chartist insurrectionaries in a later post…

Many more Chartist leaders and spokesmen were arrested in the wake of the failed revolt, and a number were jailed for sedition based on speeches made before the events of August. Despite all the drilling, arming and speechifying, no general uprising manifested; the agitation died down slowly. Hundreds of activists were now in prison or awaiting trial; supporting the prisoners became vital. But Chartist leaders also fell into fighting amongst themselves and denouncing each other, either for failing to act on their words, or for falling into the trap of violent action and language. Genuine political divisions were also opening up which would soon splinter the movement again. Chartism would decline over the decade five years into smaller and smaller groups.

Was there ever a realistic chance of revolution in 1848? In hindsight, there just does not seem to have been the mass support or the will to really bring a successful insurrection about. The penetration of the movement by spies to its deepest levels might be identified as the reason for its failure – however, in reality, revolutions are not generally brought about by small groups of conspirators, or not on their own. An organic movement grown powerful enough to overthrow a deeply established class system can not be jemmied into existence by a tiny minority, but takes years to grow; to evolve an alternative culture. Chartism at its best was moving towards that. To some extent the insurrectionary impulse was the result of frustration with the failure of mass agitation to move things forward (a pattern seen in the 1802 and 1820 attempts at revolt too); understandable, given the poverty of most working people’s lives and the repression visited on the legal campaigning.

But other factors were at play. Part of the reason why revolutions across Europe were (at least temporarily) successful in overthrowing monarchies and establishing more representative regimes is that those regimes were rigidly adhering to despotic forms of government and class structure – substantial sections of the middle classes and some manufacturing interests supported revolution because they were excluded from power. In Britain, the 1832 reform act and other social and economic changes had strengthened the power base of the state by broadly bringing the middle class on board. The British establishment’s ability to adapt and evolve in the face of demands for change remained the most powerful card in its hand.

1848 may not have been a Revolutionary Moment Missed – it did mark in practice an end to the insurrectionary tradition in British radical politics. Chartism’s legacy, however, was much more nuanced and pervasive; the alternative culture it had inherited and strengthened would go on to influence future generations of radicals for decades.

 

 

Today in London theatrical history, 1805: tailors offended at anti-tailor play riot, Haymarket Theatre

One of the most unique riots in London history took place at the Haymarket Theatre London in 1805.

In 1767 playwright and impresario Samuel Foote wrote and staged a production of a play called The Tailors: A Tragedy for Warm Weather, a satire about Tailors. The revival of this play nearly four decades later sparked a furious response from the tailoring trade: the tailors of London vowed to oppose the performance by any means necessary.

Tailors in this era were often sneered at and satirised, their craft, highly skilled though it was, was regarded as ‘unmanly’.  Even in folk tales the tailor is often a fill Possibly because they worked inside, in a trade that require skill and patience, rather than brawn – was tailoring somehow seen as ‘women’s work’ ? It’s also worth noting that tailors were famous for political discussion and radical activity through the 18th and 19th centuries, so there may have been an element of class snobbery too – look at these plebs getting above their station…

Tailors were often also portrayed in political cartoons as mean and grasping for money.  A good part of this probably arose from the dependence that the well-off actually had on their tailors. Clothes were vitally important as a signifier of who you were in society and what your position was; ever-changing fashion required a constant supply of new clothes. But depending on the skill of low-class tailors for their image no doubt irked the wealthy… In addition, in certain periods, like the Regency, noble folk could in fact be heavily in debt, and relied on stiffing various creditors for payment as long as possible. Tailors regularly complained that they were owed large sums by the aristos they clothed; the well-to-do generally thought such questions beneath them, and sneered at those who had to chase what was owed to them.

Another reason for abusing tailors came from simple prejudice – the tailor might often be a foreigner – a Frenchie, or even a Jew!

However, messing with the tailors may have been unwise. London tailors had a long history of self-organisation – the trade’s journeymen fought battles to improve wages and conditions for centuries, dating back to the Middle Ages.

In the 18th century, the journeymen’s collectivity was so strong they were nicknamed ‘the tailors’ republic’.

The play itself (some of which is on google books) seems to be a satire on heroic theatre, but is also a clear dig at the journeymen tailors banding together to fight for better wages and conditions. This was very much a live issue in London. Several times in the eighteenth century the journeymen combined or went on strike – the latest wage battle had taken place only in 1763, a few years before Foote’s drama was composed. The play casts tailors’ self-organisation against their masters in the style of a Shakespearean war tragedy – with the clear aim of making the idea of those weedy tailors engaging in struggle appear ridiculous…

When actor William Dowton tried re-staging ‘The Tailors: a Tragedy for Warm Weather’ in 1805, the London tailors took umbrage. Not had their power to organise collective action diminished… Dowton received a series of threatening letters, warning him to abandon the plans to perform the offensive play, or else seventeen thousand tailors would attend to hiss and boo the piece; one letter signed “DEATH” added that ten thousand more tailors could be found if required.
Dowton laughed these threats off, and pressed on with the performance. However, when opening night came, it turned out that the tailors were deadly serious. They had managed to book almost every seat in the theatre, and a large crowd outside the Haymarket weren’t able to get in.

The moment Dowton appeared upon the stage, there was an uproar, and someone threw a pair of shears at him:

“At an early hour in the afternoon of August 15 about 700 persons mostly Tailors were waiting to gain admittance to the theatre at the opening of the doors. The greater portion went to the galleries while some took their station in the pit and the moment they got in commenced shouting and knocking their sticks in the most turbulent manner. The utmost noise and confusion prevailed in the house and when the curtain rose there was a general cry of ‘Dowton! Dowton!’  Mr Dowton, came forward but the tumult increased and there were loud shouts of ‘No Dowton!  No Dowton!’  He attempted to speak but could not be heard, the uproar now greatly increased.  A Tailor’s thimble and a pair of scissors were thrown from the shilling gallery on the stage; they passed very near to Mr Dowton and he took them up and coming to the front said “I would give twenty guineas to know who threw these scissors!”  This proceeding so alarmed some ladies in the stage box that at their request he left the stage.

The noise continuing with increased violence the managers despaired of obtaining a hearing in the usual way and had recourse to the exhibition of a large board whereon they asked to know the pleasure of the audience.  Papers were handed to the galleries and every possible intimation was given that offensive piece should be withdrawn and the farce of Village Lawyer substituted.  This however did not produce a cessation of hostilities and about nine o’clock managers finding it impossible to procure peace despatched a messenger to Mr. Graham the magistrate at Bow who soon arrived with some officers and having sworn several extra constables proceeded to the galleries and on the ring leaders took about a dozen of the rioters custody and lodged them in St Martin’s watch house.

After Catherine and Petruchio, the curtain being up discovered three Tailors seated upon a board.  The uproar then became universal; loud vociferations of every kind were made, and a very strong opposition was again formidably manifested.  The Bow Street Officers made their appearance after a time and eventually several of the most riotous were put out of the house.  The piece then proceeded but in consequence of these interruptions it was nearly one o’clock before the performance was over.  A party of the Horse patrolled up and down the Haymarket and remained until the crowd had dispersed.”
(from the Introduction to a later published version of ‘The Tailors, (or “Quadrupeds,”): a tragedy for warm weather, in three acts’)

The episode in which the theatre managers came on stage and tried to negotiate with the spectators is interesting. The objections being passed up to the stage and the attempt to get a different play put on reflect a very different attitude to theatre prevailing – almost an expectation of democracy, where the audience has a right to partially determine events on stage. As noted on this blog before, eighteenth century theatre audiences were drawn from a much wider spectrum of society than is generally true today – there was almost as moral economy, where cheap tickets and seats for different social sectors was expected (and attempts to restrict this ‘right’ caused riots). The right to view plays may have helped give birth to a sense that theatre belonged to all in a wider way – that audiences could take part in what was put on and how it was staged, even who could act. In 1773 the actor Charles Macklin’s role as Macbeth at Covert Garden caused so much controversy that a performance was halted when a large part of the audience demanded he be immediately sacked mid-play…

Partly this may have arisen from a peculiar lack of separation between performers and audience in many London theatres. There could be many factors that contributed to this. Street theatre and performance were so ever-present in London streets, that awe and distance when faced with a stage had evaporated somewhat? Trends in theatre production may also have helped – before naturalistic theatre in the 20th century, actor’s soliloquising and breaking the fourth wall was much more common, bringing the spectator into the play…

Theatre was also so accessible going to a performance was as routine for many as going to the pub, and some theatres became places to hang out and socialise – not necessarily to watch the play…

As late as 1844, in Sadlers Wells Theatre, the rowdy audience had become notorious for their refusal to behave like an audience. Respectable folk were increasingly staying away. Inside the theatre itself was even worse: the audiences mainly turned up to impose THEIR desires, and have a collective rowdy time, not to watch plays. The Sadlers Wells audience, “of the lowest possible class”, had, according to the Daily News, become “a sink of abomination, its plays a travesty, riots among its degraded audience a commonplace”. The performance was usually inaudible, drowned out by the shrieks, yells, lewd heckles and whistles, stamping and hails of thrown objects (including fruit and veg), and shouted demands for comic and popular songs. Charles Dickens disapprovingly described the “foul language, oaths, catcalls, shrieks, yells, blasphemy, obscenity – a truly diabolical clamour.”  This inversion of the spectacle sounds brilliant, in its total subversion of the ‘separate’ roles of performers and audience; more like a revival of the medieval carnival culture, where this separation was paper thin, and soon broken down. Theatre traditions like this helped evolve the great Music Hall scene onf the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The 1805 controversy over The Tailors also sparked a good old-fashioned pamphlet war. After the riot, a mock-heroic poem entitled ‘The Tailor’s Revolt’ was published under the pseudonym of ‘Jeremy Swell, Gent.’  Tailors issued a riposte in a tract called: ‘The Tailor’s Answer to the Late Attacks Upon their Profession from the Stage and Press With Critical Remarks on Jeremy Swell’s Mock Heroic Poem, by ‘a Flint’. (A ‘flint’ was a tailor working in a union shop):

“Does a man degenerate from his nature by becoming a Tailor?  Certainly not!  Why then do you laugh at us?  Is it because we sit cross legg’d at our work?  Fools who make themselves merry with this Circumstance do not know perhaps that this is the general posture of sitting adopted by all the Eastern nations as the most graceful and natural; nobody was ever seen to laugh at the Grand Signior and his Haram sitting cross legg’d at the Circus, but two Tailors in the same position at the Haymarket were deem’d a fit subject for mirth – 0 Tempore!  0 mores!  “But,” says some pert witling, “ a Tailor is only the ninth part of a man.””

Don’t mess with the Tailors’ Republic…

Today in London’s royal history, 1821: ‘Queen’ Caroline’s funeral procession ends in two deaths

Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of King George IV, died weeks after being refused entry to her husband’s coronation. She had become very popular, because of widespread hatred of the king, who had treated her pretty badly. When she died her funeral procession from Hammersmith turned into a riotous demo across London, erupting into fighting, and two working men, carpenter Richard Honey and George Francis, a bricklayer, were shot dead by soldiers in Hyde Park.

The daughter of Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, and Princess Augusta of Great Britain, Caroline was engaged to her first cousin, George, in 1794, and married the following year (despite the minor issue that Georgie Porgie was already secretly married to Maria Fitzherbert…)
George and Caroline separated shortly after the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte of Wales, in 1796.
Prince George was an unpleasant character, fond of overdoing it on the drink and other luxuries, and like his father, would gradually lose his grip on reality. He hated his wife, and had vowed she would never be the queen.
By 1806, rumours spread that Caroline had taken lovers and had an illegitimate child. Whether or not George had anything to do with the rumours, they certainly served his interests … Meanwhile, the prince of course continued to shag widely, because standards for men and women were considered totally opposite, even for the royals. Caroline was ostracised by the establishment, which conversely continued to toady up to the repulsive George.

The controversy led to an investigation into Caroline’s private life, which concluded there was “no foundation” to the rumours, but a gleeful prince and government ensured Caroline’s access to her daughter was restricted anyway. She moved abroad to Italy in 1814, where rumours continued to gather; spies were said to have been sent to dog her steps.

George attempted to persuade Caroline to accept a divorce: she refused. Parallels have been drawn between this ‘royal scandal’ and the more recent royal divorce of Prince Charles and Diana; similarly in that case, public sympathy was drawn in very much on Diana’s side, though she had a much more canny sense of good PR in a totally different age…

It is worth reading Anna Clark’s excellent Queen Caroline and the Sexual Politics of Popular Culture in London, 1820, which gives a good summary of the varying motives for popular support of Caroline, especially among plebeian radicals and most particularly among women. There are fascinating contradictions in the spread of support for her cause. Caroline’s assertion of her ‘rights’ against the unpopular George helped gain her support both from men willing to see themselves as defenders of women against violent and abusive husbands, as well as from women on similar grounds, with the added element that her robust independence helped enable a wider participation of women in the public sphere. Caroline’s alleged affairs were even dismissed among plebeian radicals who supported libertinism and a woman’s freedom to assert her own sexual choice; but contrary-wise, the debauched life of the Prince allowed her to appear as a virtuous ‘wronged’ wife.

In 1820, George became king of the United Kingdom and Hanover with the death of his father. On 5 June 1820 Caroline, who had now been living abroad for six years, arrived unexpectedly in England to claim her right to be crowned queen. A furious George put pressure on the government, to introduce a ‘bill of pains and penalties’ into the House of Lords, to annul the royal marriage and deprive Caroline of her title.

The country had been through several years of radical agitation, clamour for reform and some abortive attempts at uprisings. The new king and the government were wildly unpopular, and many radicals and a large part of the population took any opportunity to attack what they saw as a corrupt hereditary monarchy and political class, who had brought in oppressive measures to stay in power and repress popular movements. Caroline’s grievance was suddenly seized on, and she received a wave of public sympathy, being perceived as a ‘wronged woman’ bravely struggling to uphold her rights against a callous political establishment. Whig politicians gave Caroline their backing; prominent Radicals such as the journalist William Cobbett, MP Sir Francis Burdett and John Cam Hobhouse took up her cause, and addresses of support were forwarded to the queen from numerous meetings held all over the country. Radical papers and news sheets were printed in large numbers and distributed far and wide in support of her.

Cartoon depicting radicals’ use of the Queen Caroline agitation to further their ends, 1820.

Whig lawyers, Henry Brougham and Thomas Denman defended Caroline during the proceedings on the bill of pains and penalties in the House of Lords. Ministers found that increasing numbers of usually reliable peers were deserting them and, in the division on the bill’s third reading, 9 November, their majority shrank to just nine. Lord Liverpool, recognising that there was no possibility of carrying the Bill through the Commons, abandoned the process, to the king’s rage.

Jubilant scenes in the country greeted the news of the bill’s demise: subsequent public gatherings, saw speeches linking the queen’s cause with the popular clamour for parliamentary reform…

In July 1821, on the orders of her husband, Caroline was barred from George IV’s Coronation, planned for the 29th April 1821. Caroline asked the Prime Minister what dress to wear for the ceremony and was informed that she would not be taking part in it.

However, Caroline arrived at the door of Westminster Abbey on the day demanding to be admitted. She shouted “The Queen…Open” and the pages opened the door. “I am the Queen of England,” she shouted and an official roared at the pages “Do your duty…shut the door” and the door was slammed in her face.

Since arriving back in London, Caroline lived at Brandenburgh House, Hammersmith. She died there, on 7 August 1821, having fallen ill shortly after her husband’s coronation. Rumours she had been poisoned may have been unfounded, but were inevitable, in the circumstances…

Caroline had requested that she be buried in her native Brunswick; the government arranged for the body to be conveyed by carriage to Harwich to be shipped to Germany. But they were worried about the possibility of a public demonstration of anger against the king and in support of the ‘wronged queen’, and drew out a route to avoid what they thought trouble spots.

They were right to anticipate trouble, but wrong to think they could avoid it.

On the day of the funeral procession, 14th August 1821, there was an altercation with the organisers before the executors would allow the Queen’s body to be removed.

Meanwhile crowds were gathering. The determination of the government was to shepherd the queen’s corpse quietly out of England without going through the City where crowds could gather and demonstrate support for her – equally, unruly elements were out to make sure the procession travelled through the capital.

“Before six o’clock a crowd assembled at Hyde Park Corner. The anxiety of the people as to the course the funeral procession [for Caroline of Brunswick] would take was here most strikingly displayed. The crowd were unwilling to depart from a place where there was a favourable chance of joining or viewing the procession; but there was the greatest agitation and alarm lest it should pass another way.

The procession reached Kensington at half past nine. It was after eleven that it moved on into Hyde Park, and an attempt was made to pass, but this failed, for the people, apprehensive that the hearse would not pass through the City, shut the gates.”
(Manchester Guardian, 18/7/1821)

Barricades were built. Before long the route “was blockaded… rendering it impassable.  The whole procession therefore came to a halt, and a messenger was despatched to Lord Liverpool for orders.” Liverpool decided that the route was to proceed through Hyde Park.

“About twelve o’clock the procession entered the Park, and during its passage through it a scene of confusion and outrage ensued of which the annals of this or any other Christian country can present few parallels. Vast numbers of persons on foot and on horseback passed with great speed along Park Lane. Their object was suspected by the Guards to be to reach that gate before them, with the view of meeting the procession, and forcing it to turn back. To prevent this, the Guards galloped through the Park to gain Cumberland Gate before them. The procession moved at a very quick pace through the Park. Suddenly, it halted, and it was understood that the people had closed the gates. It became necessary to force a way for the procession through whatever impediments might present themselves. The people were equally bent on turning the procession, and forcing it into the route of the city. Here a contest arose, and here, we deeply regret to say, blood was shed!”
(Manchester Guardian, 18/7/1821)

The procession reached Cumberland Gate at the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park

“where the obstruction to their passing was renewed and the guards endeavouring to remove these obstacles and clear the way were assailed with bricks, paving stones and such other missiles.

Some stones and mud were thrown at the military, and a magistrate being present, the soldiers were sanctioned in firing their pistols and carbines at the unarmed crowd. Screams of terror were heard in every direction. The number of shots fired was not less than forty or fifty. So completely did the soldiery appear at this period to have lost the good temper and forbearance they previously evinced, that they fired shots in the direction in which the procession was moving. Immediately upon the cessation of the firing, the latter part of the procession joined the rest of the funeral train. The rain, which had lately abated, again poured in torrents, as the procession advanced.”
(Manchester Guardian, 18/7/1821)

Here is part of a contemporary account of the start of the procession and the shooting at Cumberland Gate:

“The hamlet of Hammersmith, as the procession passed up the Broadway, presented a striking spectacle. The windows of the houses were filled in every part, chiefly with females, all in the deepest mourning; and a great number of men had climbed upon the roofs, and even upon the chimneys, so great was the anxiety to obtain a view of the procession. On each side of the road vehicles of every kind were drawn up, and seats or standing places on them were purchased


eagerly, at from 1s. to 3s. The owners of some of the carts and waggons had provided canopies of carpet or sail-cloth, which protected the occupiers of seats from the rain, and these men made a very considerable sum by their speculation. The space between these carriages and the houses was completely filled with spectators on foot, many of whom were without umbrellas, or any other than their ordinary covering ; but the heavy rain which continued to fall the whole of the morning did not dismay them. We saw hundreds of women, of all ages, standing patiently beneath the pelting shower, and bearing, without a murmur, the rude assault to which they were every minute subject, from the want of common tenderness on the part of the men. wept aloud as they took their last view of the hearse. The fair inhabitants of the hamlet evinced the strongest sensibility upon this melancholy occasion. They were seen at their windows gazing with tearful eyes upon the solemn spectacle, and many were heard to sob aloud, apparently in the greatest agony of grief. When the head of the procession reached the Broadway, the spectators were gratified with one of the most interesting sights, we believe, ever witnessed. The children, male and female, of Latimer’s Charity-school, issued from the school-house, in their best dresses, wearing crape upon their hats, and each bearing a small white basket filled with choice flowers. The sides of the basket were covered with crape. The little ones having ranged themselves at the head of the cavalcade in proper order, two and two, they proceeded on, strewing their flowers in the road as they walked along. The extremely neat dresses of the children, with their simple but earnest manner of performing this ceremony, excited the highest admiration and the deepest sympathy. It imparted a degree of painful interest to the scene, that will long be remembered by those who had an opportunity of beholding it. These children had been furnished with their baskets on Monday, and they went round on that day to the principal inhabitants of the hamlet, and begged from each a supply, of the best flowers in the garden. The children walked bareheaded, and bore the heavy rain with great cheerfulness. When their stock of flowers was exhausted, they walked out of the line, and stood at the side of the road until the procession had passed them, when they returned to the school-house.

ASSEMBLAGE IN HYDE PARK.

While the arrangements for the procession · were forming at Brandenburgh House, an immense crowd of horsemen and pedestrians was collected at Hyde-park-corner, which increased rapidly from five until eight o’clock, by which time it was prodigious, notwithstanding the deluge of rain which continued without intermission the whole morning, as if the very Heavens were weeping in sympathy with the hearts of the English people. By half-past six a Upon arriving at the turnpike, the populace insisted that the horsemen should pay no toll, it being, we believe, a popular error that funerals pay no toll under any circumstances. The gentlemen themselves seemed willing to pay, but hesitating in consequence of the calls from the crowd, the keeper closed the gate against them, upon which the populace instantly tore it from its hinges, and dashed it on one side; nor did they suffer any horseman who passed afterwards to pay. Shortly after this, a doubt seemed to prevail as to which route the procession would adopt, and the anxiety upon this subject soon became extremely intense. Every coach, every horseman, or even foot-passenger, who came from the direction of Hammersmith, was questioned with the greatest eagerness as to whether he knew any thing of the matter : and each succeeding person interrogated gave a different answer from the preceding one.

Funeral procession of Caroline of Brunswick

At about a quarter past eight, it was announced that the procession was moving along the road at the other extremity of the Park, and instantly the whole crowd streamed off with all the speed in their power to the Oxford-street gate. Here they found that the same uncertainty prevailed as at Hyde-park-corner; and, after having waited with great patience for half an hour, another report was circulated that the procession was going along by Knightsbridge. Immediately the whole Park was covered with a moving cloud of umbrellas, the people having made their way over all parts of the wall along the Edgeware-road, and directing their course back again to Hyde-park-corner. Still the route remained unascertained, and it was now understood that not even any of the persons at Hammersmith, except the undertaker, who was in the confidence of His Majesty’s Government, were informed of the intended line it was to take. This circumstance appeared to excite a general murmur of indignation. Multitudes proceeded on to Hammersmith, as the more certain way of avoiding the frustration of their purpose. But the greater number appeared to conclude, from the stationary the arrival of the procession, that it would certainly pass that way. However, once more (in consequence of the arrival of a horseman with the intelligence,) it was understood that the procession was about to pass the other way; and again the immense multitude rolled back the whole length of Hyde-park to the Edgeware-road, and again disappointment alone awaited them. The angry feeling excited against the authors of this irritating suspense became considerably enhanced by a suggestion, that the different horsemen who had given the false intelligence at various times, were persons expressly employed to deceive the people with unfounded reports, and thereby call off their attention from the direction in which the procession was to move. At this period the whole length of the Edgeware-road was thronged to excess as far as we could see; and vast numbers made their way to the Paddington-road, under the impression that that was the destined route. A long line of carriages also blocked up each of the various roads through which there was any chance of the procession passing. It now approached to eleven o’clock, and nothing but feelings of the deepest, the most heart-rooted affection and grief, could account for the extraordinary patience and self-devotion with which this immense concourse of persons, male and female, endured unintermitting fatigue, wet, and hunger, for a space of six hours; and still, although the water streamed in torrents from their drenched limbs-although they were hardly able to stand, from incessant running in every direction during the whole morning, and although almost fainting from exhaustion and want of food, they maintained an unshaken resolution to undergo every possible extremity of suffering from hardship or privation, rather than lose the opportunity of uttering a parting blessing on the cold remains of their lamented Queen. At length the arrival of one or two horsemen from Hammersmith, known not to be in the service of Government, who informed the anxious inquirers that surrounded them, that was at length announced in reality.

ROUTE FROM HAMMERSMITH TO HYDE-PARK-CORNER.

The procession moved on, at a slow pace, through the immense crowds that lined each side of the road. The order was not interrupted till its arrival at Kensington church. The constables and police officers, who, by that time, headed the procession, endeavoured to turn it out of the direct road leading to Picadilly, by guiding it along Church-street, which is by Kensington church; and thus to convey Her Majesty’s remains into the Bayswater-road, following the route previously marked by Mr. Bailey. This was promptly and loudly resisted. The people cried out “Shame! Shame !—Through the City! Through the City !” but finding that exclamations would avail but little, they resisted with personal force. A stout scuffle ensued; and as no military had yet arrived, the populace triumphed. This brought the procession to a stand-still. A communication of what had passed was made to superior powers lower down in the procession; and while this was taking place, the people, assembled in Church-street, set to work with an alacrity and success that were truly surprising, to render ineffectual an attempt to pass that way, by blocking up and cutting up the street ! Waggons, carts, &c. were brought and placed across the street; the linch-pins were taken out, and some of the wheels were taken off; and all the horses were removed. Higher up the stones were removed; trenches were dug in the roadway; even the water-pipes were opened. Crowbars and pokers were at work, and the workmen were cheered with cans of porter and with the applause of the multitude. A stoppage of as impassable a nature was thus created, in less than half an hour, as ever was raised by a retreating army to check the pursuit of an enemy. A waggon, Foot Guards, was seized and placed in Church-street. The Serjeant who commanded the party immediately represented to

The Queen’s funeral procession passing through Hammersmith, published 20 October 1821

Sir Robert Wilson the great inconvenience the delay would occasion him and his party, as they had a long march before them. Sir Robert Wilson immediately addressed the populace, and pointed out to them that the delay would be of serious inconvenience to the soldiers. The short speech of Sir Robert was received with great good humour; the baggage waggon was instantly released, and suffered to proceed on its journey, but another waggon was instantly placed in the same situation. While these labours were going on, a soldier was forwarded to town, with a despatch to Lord Liverpool for orders. In the mean time the whole procession remained stationary; and, by a singular coincidence, Her Majesty’s remains with the hearse stopped directly opposite to Mr. Cobbett’s house. That gentleman had the whole front of his house covered with black cloth. The appearance was singular, and the attention was respectful. As Mr. Bailey, the conductor of the procession, would not take upon himself the responsibility of moving in any other route previously marked by Mr. Bailey. This was promptly and loudly resisted. The people cried out “Shame! Shame !—Through the City! Through the City !” but finding that exclamations would avail but little, they resisted with personal force. A stout scuffle ensued; and as no military had yet arrived, the populace triumphed. This brought the procession to a stand-still. A communication of what had passed was made to superior powers lower down in the procession; and while this was taking place, the people, assembled in Church-street, set to work with an alacrity and success that were truly surprising, to render ineffectual an attempt to pass that way, by blocking up and cutting up the street ! Waggons, carts, &c. were brought and placed across the street; the linch-pins were taken out, and some of the wheels were taken off; and all the horses were removed. Higher up the stones were removed; trenches were dug in the roadway; even the water-pipes were opened. Crowbars and pokers were at work, and the workmen were cheered with cans of porter and with the applause of the multitude. A stoppage of as impassable a nature was thus created, in less than half an hour, as ever was raised by a retreating army to check the pursuit of an enemy. A waggon, Foot Guards, was seized and placed in Church-street. The Serjeant who commanded the party immediately represented to Sir Robert Wilson the great inconvenience the delay would occasion him and his party, as they had a long march before them. Sir Robert Wilson immediately addressed the populace, and pointed out to them that the delay would be of serious inconvenience to the soldiers. The short speech of Sir Robert was received with great good humour; the baggage waggon was instantly released, and suffered to proceed on its journey, but another waggon was instantly placed in the same situation. While these labours were going on, a soldier was forwarded to town, with a despatch to Lord Liverpool for orders. In the mean time the whole procession remained stationary; and, by a singular coincidence, Her Majesty’s remains with the hearse stopped directly opposite to Mr. Cobbett’s house. That gentleman had the whole front of his house covered with black cloth. The appearance was singular, and the attention was respectful. As Mr. Bailey, the conductor of the procession, would not take upon himself the responsibility of moving in any other direction than that laid down in the written directions, the whole cavalcade halted until new instructions arrived. At half-past eleven, a troop of Life Guards appeared, coming from London. They were headed by Sir R. Baker, the Chief Magistrate of Bow-street, mounted on an officer’s horse; and on each side of him was a military officer. Sir Robert and the officers having reconnoitred the end of Church-street, and found it impossible to remove the obstruction raised there, yielded to necessity, and gave orders for the procession to move on in a direct line, which was complied with, amidst the stunning huzzas of the multitude, who could not restrain their joy in having thus defeated the plan to carry off Her Majesty’s remains without their even entering London.

KENSINGTON BARRACKS.

Their exultation, however, was doomed to speedy interruption. As soon as the Procession arrived at Hyde-Park gate, by Kensington Barracks, Sir Robert Baker, with some of the soldiers, entered it, with the view of leading the procession. instantly rushed into the opening, seized the gates, dragged the keeper and his helper forward, and closed them. This exasperated the Serjeant of the troops inside, who cried out, “ I’ll chop your hands off if you do not let go the gates.” The gates were again drawn back, and again closed by the people. Here one of the soldiers outside, putting spurs to his horse, Ons dashed up to the gate, when a person amongst them immediately held a great stick over him, crying out, “ Let our lives be lost before we let her pass this way.” Here the cry of “Murder” was vociferated, and a voice exclaimed, « Sir Robert Baker, remember you have not read the Riot Act.” Again a soldier from the roadside of the gate rode up to cut those hanging on to the gate, when one of the committee-men rode up between them and interposed. The cry was now, “ Horsemen ! horsemen! stand in the gate.” Olive only attempting it, whose horse was frightened, he could not get him forward. Several persons now got up to the gate, and though the soldiers were not three yards from it, several large stones were thrown at the military, one of which struck a soldier on the breast; and the cry of “Murder!” still continuing, Sir Robert Baker said, “ Open the gate, and we will go on.” The gate was opened, Sir Robert Baker came out, and headed the procession, and it proceeded on towards Hyde-Park-corner, the people crying out, “ The City! the City! Nothing but the City! Fly to Hyde-Park-corner ; block up, block up; every man in the breach.” The people now began to fly towards Hyde-Park-corner, when they reached the gates they were closed, and the military were stationed close to the gates inside the park. The gates were soon opened sufficiently for them to come out one by one; they were then closed again, and the military rode through the crowd to Park-lane, with their horsepistols in their hands.

HYDE-PARK CORNER.

After the commencement of the procession had passed Hyde-Park corner, and entered Piccadilly, fresh interruption took place. Considerable parties of Benefit Societies, of different trades, &c. who had carried Addresses to the Queen, appeared at this point with their banners and solemn music, prepared to join the procession. They occasioned some delay. Next it was found that Park-lane, the then contemplated route, had been stopped up almost as effectually as Church-lane at Kensington had been previously rendered impassable. The procession was thereby again brought to a complete stand-still, one that was rendered the more painful and alarming, owing to the increased numbers of the populace as well as of the horse soldiers. Several hundreds of Horse-guards and of Blues lined the streets, and the former certainly were not hailed in a very complimentary manner by portions of the vast and in many instances irritated multitude now assembled. Sir R. Baker knew not what to do; Officers of the Guards said they must obey their orders—they were positive-they were peremptory. The people looked to the Gentlemen on horseback, particularly to several distinguished Citizens, for them to advocate their cause at this critical juncture, with the Civil and Military Authorities. A more frightful state of things we never beheld ; we apprehended the most dreadful consequences-pistols, as well as swords, were drawn, the Guards displaying the most determined demeanour. Mr. Hurcombe, the Common Councilman, at this fearful moment, rode up to Sir R. Baker, and claimed his attention, if he had no right to ask that of the officers. He said, amongst other observations, “For Heaven’s sake! Sir Robert, let the procession proceed through the City. You see the people will not be satisfied without such course be pursued. If the contrary course be persisted in, the consequences, I fear, must be dreadful. There is every reason to apprehend that in such case blood will be spilled-lives will be lost. Therefore reflect well, and let the procession proceed through the City.”, * Sir R. Baker.-I know not what to do; the orders are positive-peremptory: I cannot change them. : Mr. Hurcombe.—You see that the lives of your fellow-citizens are placed in jeopardy-you see what is the state of the public mind; therefore, let me beseech you, take on yourself the responsibility of ordering the corpse to pass through the City. You will thereby doubtless save many lives; and if you do not pursue such course, and should lives be lost, who will be answerable for them after this warning ? Will not you be be the consequences what they might, he must fulfil his orders. He at the same time called on Sir R. Baker to aid him with the civil power in the execution of such duty.

RETROGRADE MOVEMENT-PARK-LANE.

Mr. Bailey now intimated a desire that the cavalcade should again attempt to pass up Park-lane into Oxford-street: but it was found impracticable. The head of the procession was then moved down the line of Piccadilly, and had proceeded nearly as far as Lord Coventry’s house, when it was met by a fresh reinforcement of horse-soldiers, by whom its further progress in that route was stopped. The conduct of the people during this stoppage, towards the military, was of a trying nature. After some hesitation, the leaders of the procession and the military commanders being apparently occupied in deliberating on the course to be taken, the whole made a retrograde movement towards deep shout, and mud and missiles flew at the soldiery from all directions. A party of dragoons were immediately sent round to Park-lane, with strict orders to remove the carts; in which service, we regret to say, many of them, as well as the crowd, were badly wounded, the former with stones, and the latter with the swords of the soldiery. One dragoon had his eye severely cut with a stone; and he would, no doubt, have killed the man with his sabre, had it not been for the humane interference of Sir R. Baker. The line of waggons, however, was so very compact, that it was found impossible to remove them, and this circumstance being communicated to the Magistrates, whose strict orders were, that it should take no other route than that prescribed by the officers of His Majesty’s Government, it was, after considerable stoppage, agreed to open Hyde-Park-gate, and orders were given to admit the whole cavalcade, and to exclude the crowd, which was at length effected after considerable resistance, and pelting on the part of the latter.

HYDE-PARK.-FATAL CONFLICT BETWEEN THE MILITARY AND THE POPULACE.

At half-past twelve the whole of the funeral procession had entered the Park; and, in accompanying the funeral in the Park, turned up Park-lane, and pursued the direction of Oxford-street, at a rapid rate. No further interruption took place till the arrival of the procession at Cumberland-gate. Some of the more zealous of the populace finding their efforts to force a passage for the hearse in a direct route for Temple Bar frustrated at one point, now bethought themselves of bringing their favourite plan to bear by shutting Cumberland-gate against the military. They seized upon the iron gates at this point, and having closed them, collected in great force, and seemed resolved upon keeping possession to the last. Their object was, by obstructing the advance in this quarter, to force the procession back to Piccadilly, when, as Park-lane was blocked up, it was deemed that it would of necessity take the direction of St. James’s-street. The crowd grew more dense every moment around the gate, and in every avenue leading towards that quarter, a determined disposition became manifest to maintain their object by forcible resistance. The military, notwithstanding the great opposition they had to encounter, succeeded in carrying the gates without resorting to extreme measures. Indeed the forbearance displayed up to this period was highly praiseworthy. Having made clear the passage of the gates, the military gained Oxford-street, and were about to proceed according to the appointed route by the Edgeware-road. In this design they were rudely opposed by the populace, who, in the most daring manner, rushed upon the horses, and seizing the bridles, at a tempted to turn their heads down Oxford-street, their backs to Tyburn turnpike. The soldiers took no other means of repulsing this attack than by repressing the people as they advanced with the backs and sides of their sabres. An eye-witness of this part of the conflict, and particularly of the firing, states, that a strong party of Life Guards had been drawn across Oxford-street, from the top of Park-lane, to prevent the passage of the cavalcade in that direction; and the Officer commanding it was exceedingly active in the distribution of his orders to the men posted at the several points. Upon him an attack was first made by the crowd, his party. At this period Sir Robert Baker, having in vain endeavoured to open a passage through the mob, and to remove the impediments from the entrance to the Edgeware-road, read the Riot Act, and the military preparing to move, the populace began to retreat in all directions. About thirty yards of the iron railing on the parapet wall of Hyde-Park, between Cumberland-gate and Tyburn-turnpike, were torn down, and a way thus made for the passage of the multitude. The materials of the wall were immediately converted into ammunition by the crowd, and a party of the Life Guards having dismounted, advanced under the cover of a double line of mounted cavalry to force the barricade which had been thrown up across the road, and were furiously attacked by them. Orders were then given for the remainder of the party to charge the crowd, which they did, advancing rapidly upon them, and flourishing their swords right and left, striking chiefly with the flat or broad sides, but in many instances using the points and edge. Upon this some persons in the rear, presenting a dense and formidable mass, raised the cry of— “ The soldiers are cutting down the people,” which was immediately followed up by showers of brickbats, stones, and missiles of divers descriptions, which were hurled at the soldiers. The pressure of the crowd continued, and the shower of missiles was kept up at so brisk a rate, that the troops must have been forced from their ground had they not adopted the most decisive measures. Several were unhorsed by brickbats, and many suffered the most severe bruises, and, after bearing with the most exemplary patience and fortitude, these repeated assaults, the painful order to fire was given. We believe the first discharge of carbines was over the heads of the people, but not having the desired effect, it was found necessary to fire amongst the crowd, in consequence of which one person was killed ; another, George Francis, a bricklayer, mortally wounded; and several others şeverely. One of as the sufferers was named Richard Honey, a carpenter, residing to St. George’s Hospital. As the carbines were discharged at random, some gentlemen belonging to the parish of Hammersmith, and who occupied a coach next to that of Alderman Wood, narrowly escaped with their lives. A ball passed through one of the panels of the coach, and came out at the other side, but most providentially without any injury to those within it. Upon the wall of the City of Quebec public house, is the mark of a ball from a carbine, which penetrated between two bricks, within a few inches of the window, which was occupied by persons viewing the scene then passing in the street.

CUMBERLAND GATE AND THE NEW ROAD.

The procession now crossed the end of Oxford-street; and, leaving Tyburn-turnpike on the left, passed down the Edgeware-road towards Paddington. Almost immediately upon the cessation of the firing, the latter part of the procession, which during the continuance of the unfortunate affray between the military and the people had remained in the Park, proceeded rapidly forward, and joined the rest of the funeral train in the Edgeware-road. Upon leaving the Park, several mourning coaches, followed by a considerable number of horsemen, broke out of the line of the procession, and proceeding down Cumberland-street, turned off to the right, and, as far as we could learn, did not again take any share in the solemn ceremony in which they had previously borne a part. Whether this proceeding resulted from a feeling of disgust at the transaction which had just before taken place, we do not know; but it was evident that at this moment the minds of the individuals in the procession were much discomposed. The populace in Oxford-road and at Tyburn-gate appeared to be in the highest degree exasperated against the military, whom they loaded with the bitterest execrations. Some cried out “ They have shot a man, and killed him ;” others wished to draw the attention of the horsemen in the funeral train to the blood of the unfortunate sufferers in the conflict, which stained the ground in several places. It must be confessed that, under these circumstances, it required some little nerve in an individual to continue in a course in which it was not improbable he might again be liable to behold scenes of horror and danger similar to that of which he had recently been a spectator. However, the admirers of her late Majesty were not to be deterred, and the procession continued to proceed…”
(‘A Correct, Full, and Impartial Report, of the Trial of Her Majesty, Caroline, Queen Consort of Great Britain, Before the House of Peers, On the Bill of Pains and Penalties’, by Queen Caroline (consort of George IV, King of Great Britain), John Adolphus)

Along the rest of the route, the crowd “thronged the procession’s progress The Lord Mayor met them at Temple Bar and they passed in a very orderly manner through the City, cheered by the citizens.“

From there the procession proceeded to Colchester, where the coffin was placed in the church. Caroline’s Executors put upon the coffin an inscription with the words “much injured Queen”, which was removed, and replaced by a “Latin inscription prepared by the King’s orders. The executors clamoured, railed & protested but the body was put on board of the Glasgow frigate lying off Harwich on the 16th August.“

Two men died as a result of the shooting at Cumberland Gate:
“The number of persons who suffered in consequence of the dreadful attack made by the military on the multitude, near Cumberland-gate, has never been accurately known; but was fortunately much less than, under such circumstances, might have been expected. The only individual actually killed on the spot was Richard Honey, a carpenter. This unfortunate man was among the spectators at Cumberland-gate; and though there appears much conflicting testimony, respecting the circumstances of the attack, (as will be seen by our subsequent particulars of the Inquest,) the general evidence concurs in stating that he was perfectly inoffensive. The attack and firing, it appears, took place at the moment the people were endeavouring to turn the direction of the funeral down Oxford-street. George Francis, a bricklayer, was another unfortunate victim, who during this contest between the military and the people expired.” (A Correct, Full, and Impartial Report, of the Trial of Her Majesty, Caroline…)

Caricature denouncing the Life-Guards’ contempt for the law after no-one was charged over the deaths of Honey and Francis.

The Jurors sitting in the inquests into the two deaths recorded verdicts of “wilful murder against a life guardsman unknown” for the death of Francis, and “Manslaughter against the officers and soldiers of the 1st Guards” for the death of Honey.
Despite this, no individual was ever specifically named as having been responsible or prosecuted for the deaths, which caused some anger. On the contrary, an army officer, Sir Robert Wilson, who had attended the funeral procession, was dismissed from the army for allegedly remonstrating with Life Guards officers while the shooting was taking place, and attempting afterwards to argue that they should be held responsible.

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Richard Honey and George Francis were buried at St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith, on August 26th: thousands turned out for their funerals, which became another public demonstration, after which crowds attacked the Life Guards barracks in Kensington. (We will return to this in another post).

Brandenburgh House was pulled down after Caroline’s death.

Spotlight on London’s grassroots organising: feminism in Islington in the 1970s

Beyond The Fragments:
Feminism and the Making of Socialism (A Local Experience)


by Lynne Segal

An account by feminist & socialist activist Lynne Segal of the grassroots feminist and community organising she was involved in in Islington, North London, in the 1970s.
Nicked from ‘Beyond the Fragments’, Sheila Rowbotham, Hilary Wainwright, and Lynne Segal.
Reposted here because it’s interesting and useful.

Lynne Segal was born in is an Australia, and became involved in the anti-authoritarian milieu of the Sydney Libertarians (known as ‘The Push’), and has always remained within the libertarian wing of Left politics. She emigrated to London in 1970 and for the next decade her main energies went into grass roots politics in Islington, North London, helping to set up and run a women’s centre, an alternative newspaper, the Islington Gutter Press, and supporting anti-racist politics. It was a decade in which the extra-party Left was on the ascendant, but divided structurally and ideologically.

With Sheila Rowbotham and Hilary Wainwright, Lynne Segal wrote Beyond the Fragments in 1979, arguing for broader alliances among trade unionists, feminists and left political groups. Its argument quickly won a large following leading to a major conference in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1980 and a second edition in 1981. In 1984, publisher Ursula Owen invited her to join the Virago Advisory Board and write an appraisal of the state of feminism, resulting in her first book, Is the Future Female? Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism. This book reached a broad audience, with its questioning of gender mythologies, whether of women’s intrinsic virtues, or men’s inevitable rapaciousness, which had been appearing in the work of many popular feminist writers in the 1980s.

 

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This article was originally based on a talk given together with Sheila Rowbotham at the Islington Socialist Centre in August 1978. Since the first edition of Beyond the Fragments I have rewritten sections of it. The sympathetic comment and criticism of the first edition by my friends and comrades in Big Flame and by other independent socialist feminists have been of invaluable assistance to me in clarifying some of the ideas which appeared rather sketchily in the first edition. I am very grateful to all those who participated in this learning process with me.

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Certain political ideas and experiences are always more fiercely and critically debated than other on the left. The debate is usually confined within certain orthodox frameworks of discussion. The need for a revolutionary party and programme, the relation between party and class, and the nature of the working-class road to power, are among these classic debates. As the theses pile up on these important debates, the actual experiences of people as they consciously, and less consciously, participate in the struggle for a better life can disappear from history. And that is most unfortunate.

I believe we can learn useful, if limited, lessons from the activities of a group of people struggling for socialism, fighting for feminism, within their own small groups in one local area. I am writing as a woman with a libertarian feminist history, living in Islington since 1972. Islington is an inner suburb of London. It does not have any large industrial base, workers are mostly employed in the public sector, or in small factories. Like me, many people who live in Islington don’t work there. My political experience has been as a community activist; it is not based on the workplace.

I will be trying to draw on my experiences in the last seven years, not just in the women’s movement, but also as part of the libertarian left in London. It is a subjective account, but I hope it will raise general issues concerning women and revolutionary politics and the problems we face. I was lucky in that I wasn’t around in England in 1969 and 1970 when the reaction of the whole of the left to women’s liberation was derisory and dismissive. Though I do clearly remember Sheila’s books being dismissed by left colleagues of mine at work, and declared both diversionary and reformist.

In 1970 a group of women organised a demonstration against the Miss World contest; some were arrested, and they later produced a pamphlet which explained what they had done. And this was just one of the things I remember that influenced and inspired me in 1972-because that pamphlet Why Miss World? not only talked of the humiliation of women as sex objects, but also of the lack of confidence and fear these women felt mounting the first protest against their own oppression. It wasn’t just that women felt frightened to protest politically, but that most of us found it difficult to speak publicly at all; we were used to relating passively and dependently to the world as presented to us by men. We were used to being dominated by men: it was hard not to want to be. And it really hasn’t been easy to change this, either then or since.

Libertarianism
For me, in many ways the ideas of the libertarian left and feminism did seem to be in harmony. I will try and explain this. First of all, they both seemed new. The libertarian politics of the seventies did not really owe much to the anarchism of the past. Though anarchism has a very long history, as old as Marxism, the student radicals of the 1968 generation were in the main not radicalised through the efforts of the ‘organised’ libertarian and anarchist groupings. I know this also from personal experience as I was a student anarchist in Australia in the early sixties but I took me a few years to begin to understand the political Ideas that came to prominence after May 1968.

Libertarian politics were more of a genuinely spontaneous upsurge of ideas which drew their inspiration from many different thinkers, from Marcuse, Che Guevara and the early Marx, to Laing and Vaneigem.(l) This upsurge was a product of capital’s period of boom, when everything did seem possible, when in the Western world capitalism’s main problem seemed to be how to keep buying all the goods it could produce. This led to the reaction against pointless consumption; ‘consume more, live less’. The emphasis was on the quality of life in capitalist society and this is why psychological writings seemed important, as did those of the young Marx when he spoke of the effect of alienated labour on the individual spirit and saw the division of labour itself as a stunting of human potential.

To those who had become active in 1968 it seemed a time when anything could happen. Looking back on it, we could say that from Vietnam we drew the lesson that American imperialism, despite its technology, was not invincible. Though I’m not sure that we were aware of this at the time, we only knew whose side we were on. We certainly felt politically inspired seeing a small nation fighting ‘the Beast’ to the death. From the mass workers’ struggles which occurred throughout France in 1968 and in Italy in 1969, people drew the lesson that the working class was prepared to fight for a better life, and that it had not been bought off by consumer durables. Students, for example, were inspired by the thought that they had a political part to play, and could act together with industrial workers, as happened in the worker-student alliances of May 1968, and the worker-student assemblies in Turin in 1969. So class struggle was once again on the agenda, and the class militancy which continued in Italy and in Britain in the early seventies showed how difficult it was for the ruling class to keep a grip on the situation in a period of economic boom. That the optimism of the early seventies and the militancy of workers’ struggles which inspired us then, have not been able to survive the capitalist economic recession of the mid seventies is something I will return to later on.

After 1968 the emphasis among the new largely ex-student libertarian left centred on the following issues. First, autonomy – which is not the same as individualism, but meant to us taking control over your own life. Libertarians believed that people could act to change the quality of their own lives; they were more than just the passive tools of historical forces. There was a deep suspicion of any organisation that claimed to do things for or in the name of the people. ‘Power to the People’ was one of the slogans we were chanting, as we watched our friends arrested on demonstrations, or were hauled off ourselves. As we saw it, we were the people, up against the repressive forces of the state, in our attempt to change our lives now. This meant that we were slow to form any alliances with others in our struggle, whether it was to seek support from the organised labour movement or the organised left, or progressive forces in local authorities or the left of the Labour Party. We saw them all as intrinsically reformist and hostile to our attempts to control our own lives. This wasn’t inconsistent with their response to our activities.

Secondly, personal relations – you’ve got ‘to live your politics’. We argued that our social relations now must reflect or ‘prefigure’ the social relations we want to create after the revolution. We said that the desire to change your own life and the world about you now is an important part of building for socialism in the future. So we opposed the Leninist position that you couldn’t change anything under capitalism, you could only build an organisation to overthrow it. We thought that there would be little reason for people to join a revolutionary movement unless it brought an immediate improvement in the quality of their lives, as against those who believed that you could make a split between public politics and private life. We were critical of those who might participate in some form of socialist politics and yet remain authoritarian and uncritical of their relation to their wives or their children at home; or to others in their work situation. We had in mind, for instance, the male militant who left his wife at home to mind the children while he did his ‘political’ work. We wanted our political activity to make room for those with children, and also to include the children.

Thirdly, you organise around your own oppression. You begin from your position as a woman, a squatter, a claimant, etc. This was linked to attacks on the nuclear family. We read both Laing and Reich, and were quite certain that we could never return to the restricted and restricting lifestyle of our parents. We saw that oppression, the power of one person to dominate and control the life of another, could be as much a part of personal social relations as of economic social relations. This led to an emphasis on collective living, collective childcare, and the setting up of nurseries.(2) The family was seen as the producer of neurosis and ‘the policeman in the head’ which leads people to collaborate in their own oppression.

Fourthly, the rejection of vanguards and any hierarchy of struggle. We rejected the idea that the industrial working class must be the vanguard of revolutionary struggle. Libertarians argued that all areas of life were of importance to revolutionaries. The traditional left was seen as only concerned with people at the workplace, not in the community. But libertarians always argued that people who worked at home, minded the kids, etc., were doing as important work as that done in the factories. This was expressed theoretically In a rejection of the Trotskyist left’s permanent illusion that capitalism was on the point of collapse, saved only by props like the ‘permanent arms economy’, as IS used to suggest.(3) We felt this underestimated the role of the state in stabilising the economy, not just through economic measures such as investment policies but through the hegemony of state ideology, and ideas expressed at every level. We saw the capitalist state as far more resilient and flexible than much of the left had previously argued. So libertarians developed richer theories of the role of the state, and its hard and soft forces of repression, not just through the police and the army but via education, health, sex role conditioning, etc.(4)

Before most of the left we: emphasised work with youth. Though left groups did have their youth sections, libertarians were interested in practical work, setting up youth houses, youth newspapers, adventure playgrounds and free schools. This youth work was not only practical but also prefigurative in its stress on young people being able to experience a different situation and develop a sense of self-determination.(5)

We worked mainly in community politics, starting community papers, squatters’ and claimants’ groups, and trying to organise around housing. ‘Decent homes for all’ was the slogan we used, aiming in particular at the failure of local authorities to provide housing for single people.
The squatting movement, was reduced in strength as people could no longer bear to keep on moving, keep on facing the bailiffs, as they were bought off by councils with licensed short-life houses, and the number of empty houses declined. But it did nevertheless win certain limited victories. In Islington it eventually forced the council to change its policies and begin providing housing for single people: It introduced the notion of ‘shared singles’ to the housing bureaucracy, to add to their ‘family units’. (This can’t simply be dismissed as ‘reformism’ since struggles were not fought in a reformist way.)

This was the time of the ‘gentrification’ or middle-class take-over of working-class .housing in inner city boroughs like Islington. Landlords conspired with estate agents like Prebbles to ‘winkle’ tenants out of their homes. There was a campaign against Prebbles by the Islington Tenants Campaign which picketed Prebbles’ office for many months until a historic high court judgement against them ruled that all non-industrial pickets were illegal. We did extensive research on the activities of the big property sharks like Raine, Freshwater and Joe Levy; and how the housing system worked in general until we felt we could understand what was going on.

We resisted all notions of revolutionary leadership. Living our politics meant sharing skills and breaking down all authoritarian relations now. We emphasised the creative aspects of politics, that it should be fun, and not dreary. All bourgeois social relations around work, the family, ‘pleasure’, possessions and relationships were challenged. This was perhaps why we supported those most oppressed by bourgeois society, prisoners, the homeless, claimants, etc., and believed that you could only fight back if you shared the material situation of the most oppressed. ‘When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose’ the tough ones sang along with Dylan. But misery does not always equal militancy, and those most oppressed are sometimes so smashed that it’s hard for them to fight back at all.

Feminism

Many of these issues which I’ve described as central to libertarian thought were also central to feminist thought.

First, the autonomy of the women’s movement was the crucial issue for women. Though left groups saw this as divisive, we were aware that their programmes of formal equality for women could conceal the actual subordination of women in their own organisations. Women had to organise their own fight against male domination; it could not be done for them.

Secondly, feminists always emphasised the importance of the personal and the subjective, the need for a total politics. By this we meant a politics that saw the links between personal life and the oppression of women at home, and the exploitation of men and women in paid work. Women demanded changes in the social relations between men and women now. We wanted to help to break down the isolation of women in the home, and to begin to change ourselves. We had to change ourselves, because the whole ideology of sexism ensured that we had always seen ourselves, and were seen by men, in ways which made us feel inferior and allowed men to dominate us. We spoke of our sexuality being defined and controlled by men, as well as the suppression of women’s sexuality in most hetero-sexual relationships. We supported the demands of lesbians, and the importance of women exploring their own sexuality. We knew that women’s sexual passivity and sexual objectification by men was linked to our feelings of powerlessness.

Thirdly, as feminists we organised around our own oppression. We also criticised the nuclear family, seeing it as the seat of women’s oppression. But we were not simply concerned with the repressive ideological role of the family but saw ,it as the place where woman do unpaid work, thus creating the basis for our social subordination in general. We argued that the way in which domestic labour, childcare and work are organised today will all have to be changed before there can be any real liberation for women. We saw that the Marxist analysis of capitalism and class struggle had not proved itself an adequate theoretical tool to conceptualise these changes. While the traditional left was slow to realise the anti-capitalist nature of women’s liberation, feminists were able to show how it was the unpaid work done by women in reproducing labour power and servicing the workforce that was essential to capitalist social relations. ‘Women in labour, keep capital in power’ was one of the slogans painted on the wall at the first women’s liberation conference held in Oxford in 1970.

More thoroughly than the libertarians, women developed new theories of the welfare state.(6) Women as mothers came into contact with the state more directly than men, in the form of welfare, nursery provision, education and health services. So it was more urgent for us to analyse the control of the state over our lives. We were aware that it was the inadequacies of these social services that created the burden borne mainly by women today. And we were aware that the provision which was available to us was not what we wanted. For example, women took up many issues in the field of health care. We demanded control over our reproduction. We exposed the way that doctors, who are mainly men, treat women’s specific illnesses with contempt. We publicised the way millions of women are regularly prescribed tranquillisers and other drugs by doctors instead of them examining the social causes of many women’s problems. Indeed, feminists were able to establish that the medical profession saw femininity itself as in some way pathological.(7) The feelings of passivity, dependence and powerlessness, felt by most women today, are rightly seen by psychiatrists as opposed to mental health. But instead of these aspects of femininity being attributed to the oppressive socialisation of women, reinforced in everyday life, they are wrongly seen by most doctors as natural to women. These are only a few of many such issues.

Fourthly, the women’s movement also rejected ‘stageism‘-the idea that women’s liberation could be put off until after the revolution.(8) We argued that our struggle against male domination, or patriarchy, was as central as the struggle against class oppression.(9) We said that women’s oppression could not be reduced to class exploitation, that though interconnected with it, it pre-dated it and could continue after the smashing of capitalist class relations.

It was women who not only introduced many new issues into socialist politics, but also developed new forms of organisation – ones which would enable us all to participate more fully in revolutionary politics. We introduced consciousness-raising groups, where all women could learn that their misery, isolation and feelings of inferiority were not simply personal problems but common to nearly all women and the product of material and ideological conditions. We introduced the small group as a more supportive and equal way of discussing things and working together. We wanted the experiences of all women to be respected and the movement to grow on this basis rather than through following general principles. We criticised the formal public meetings of the labour movement and the left where inexperienced and less confident women (and men) felt unable to contribute.

We were opposed to all forms of leaderism, and struggled for equality in all our social relations, because we were aware that the forms of dominance and subordination we were fighting could easily remain invisible, as they had been before. We knew that our struggle began with the need for women to believe that what we could contribute was important and valuable. Through writing, poetry, music and film we began to create a new feminist culture, as a part of changing our consciousness and because we knew that men have dominated every aspect of our life, including all areas of culture. We worked locally in the community, at a time when most of the left, apart from the libertarian left, was not interested in this.

Many of these ideas on the form and nature of political activity and organisation can be illustrated by looking at some of the things which the women’s movement initiated in Islington in the early seventies. In August 1972, a group of women opened the first local women’s centre in York Way. This was one of the first women’s centres anywhere in England. The idea of having a centre was in itself different from the way in which most of the left organised. A leaflet from Essex Road Women’s Centre explained:

The Women’s Centre grew out of a need to meet and talk to other women about the particular problems that we all face. Many of us feel anxious that we alone are responsible for the problems we have-like loneliness if we’re stuck with our kids all day and can’t get out, finding a decent place to live, worrying about our health and our kids’ health, or worrying about work and keeping a home going as well.

By meeting and talking to other women we found that we are NOT alone in our problems. And when we find that we do share experiences, it’s not only a big relief, but it makes it easier to try and change things that need changing-whether it’s the planning of the street you live in, or whether it’s about contraception or childcare, schools, problems at work, etc. We think that women are in a really strong position to change things-because they are close to the root causes of the problems of day-to-day living, both in the house and at work.

So the idea of the centre was, firstly, as a place to meet and give real support to any women who were in some way trying to break out of their isolation, and, secondly, to allow us to build our confidence and strength that we as women could change things.

At York Way we began one of the first women’s health groups, taking up many of the ideas of the women’s health movement in the States, We were also active in the family allowance campaign, demanding that it be increased and paid directly to women. At about this time the Wages For Housework campaign Was started and began to demand wages for women working in the home. We agreed that it Was valuable to emphasise that domestic work is work, important work which is undervalued and invisible because it is unpaid. All this was a revelation to some people on the left.

We too saw woman’s unpaid domestic labour in the home as central to her oppression, and also central to the reproduction and maintenance of the workforce (labour power) and thus to the maintenance of the capitalist social formation. There was a theoretical debate here, though we were not all aware of it. Wages For Housework, following the analysis of Mariarosa Dalla Costa.(10) argued that women’s work at home was not only essential to capital as we said, but it also produced surplus value-that is, it directly added to the profits which capitalists could make out of their labour force. Because if there were no housewives male workers would have to pay someone to look after them, and thus would demand higher wages. We thought that this whole debate was perhaps not important, because whether or not housewives and other domestic workers produced surplus value, we were equally concerned to challenge the division of labour which consigned women to the home.

It was the pressures of housework, the double shift for ‘working’ women, and our general servicing role which were the major causes of women’s isolation and exploitation at home and at work, as well as of our low self-evaluation and status. So the Wages For Housework campaign seemed wrong at a practical level, because their solution would institutionalise the division of work in the family. (Then are now ideas to implement such a suggestion in Italy and Canada.) It also seemed wrong at a theoretical level being simply the other side of the economism of tradition a Trotskyism, which sees the only way to get power in that class struggle as that of fighting for more and more money through a wages offensive.

We began to argue generally for the Socialisation of housework, for more nurseries, playgrounds, and so on Here it wasn’t just that we widened the areas of political activity in which the left had been active, in order to include women’s needs. There was also the recognition of the need to have control over any gains we might make.

For instance, in the demand for nurseries, we didn’t just demand money from the state for more nurseries, but helped to create more community-based, non-authoritarian, non-sexist relations in the nurseries we helped to establish. Val Charlton describes this in her account of the Children’s Community Centre in North London which was opened in 1972 after feminists had successfully battled for council funding:

We are trying to break away from the traditional authoritarian mode of relating to children and are attempting to offer them as many choices as possible and as much independence as they can cope with. All activities are made available for children of both sexes but it’s not simply enough to treat all the children equally. The boys have frequently already learned their advantage and are quick to make capital of it. There has to be positive support in favour of the girls, who are generally already less adventurous.(11)

Also in 1972 a women’s Holloway Prison Support Group was set up, to campaign around women prisoners. We picketed Holloway Prison saying ‘Free our sisters, free ourselves.’ In 1973 we protested over the death through fire of Pat Cummings in Holloway Prison. We knew that most women are not in prison for crimes of violence. Petty crime, SS fraud, prostitution, etc., are the main reasons for women being sent to prison-often simply attempting to fulfil their social role of caring for their families on inadequate means. Yet, women prisoners are notoriously violent, mostly self-destructively violent – cutting themselves ip and smashing their cells. Used to providing the caring and affection for just a few people, women in prison face he possible break-up of their families and loss of their children. Women face this more than men because women end to support men more than men support women.

In this vulnerable position, official ideology can easily work to persuade the woman in prison that she is not so much ‘criminal’ as maladjusted or sick-another role which women in our society, through powerlessness and training into passivity, are more likely to accept. in line with this, we tried to expose the fraud behind the rebuilding of Holloway Prison as more of a hospital, creating even greater isolation for the women inside. Over 50 per cent of women in Holloway are on drugs, indeed drugs are the only provision which women can freely obtain in Holloway. The new Holloway Prison, which places even greater stress on the therapeutic rehabilitation of women, simply encourages them to blame themselves for the predominantly material problems which landed them in there in the first place.

But York Way was not a good site for a women’s centre. It closed in 1973, and in February 1974 we opened a new women’s centre in Essex Road. Many women’s groups, campaigns and activities started at that women’s centre. The most successful was probably the health group, which produced literature on women’s health, did pregnancy testing, provided a woman, doctor for advice sessions, learnt self-examination, took health classes with school children, collected information on doctors and their treatment of women, provided information on abortion facilities, and, more generally, argued for the importance of preventive health care rather than simply curative medicine. Less successfully, we wrote and distributed leaflets on housing conditions and the isolation of women at home with children. We supported women’s struggles for better housing, and some of us were active in squatting struggles.

By 1975 many campaigns were being co-ordinated by groups originating from the women’s centre. 1974 was the beginning of the various cuts campaigns against the ever-increasing public expenditure cuts. We began campaigning to prevent’ the closure of our local Liverpool Road Hospital, and fought hard for it to be kept open as a community health resource. Some of us were active in the Islington Nursery Action Group, visiting nurseries to help unionise workers and also successfully pressurising the Council, into abandoning its attempts to make cuts in nurseries, showing how the cuts hit women hardest.

The campaigns for ‘more and better services’ emerged at the same time as the government pressure for cuts. It was in November 1974 that the first government circular came demanding cuts. And that’s when a general cuts campaign started in Islington, with its first meeting held in December of that year, initiated by a group of militants, some inside and some outside the Labour Party. As a broad front campaign it was supported by community groups like the women’s centre, tenants’ groups, public sector workers and, in particular, by the many council-funded community service groups like law centres, Task Force and the Neighbourhood Forums. This was perhaps the first time that we got some relationship developing between the libertarian and feminist milieu and the labour movement. But at this time it was an uneasy alliance. It was never given my real support by the Trades Council, which even came out and attacked the campaign after it had held a day of action. This campaign did not last. Today with the left in a stronger position in Islington there is more hope for the new anti-cuts campaign which is being formed.

The National Working Women’s Charter Campaign was also started at this time, holding its first delegate conference in October 1974. It was never very popular with us at Essex Road. This was because of the dominance of the organised left in the Charter and their wrangles over leadership, and also because it was very schematic, being simply a list of demands, and because it was concerned primarily with women in the workplace. Marxists had always argued that woman’s liberation would be achieved through her full participation in waged labour. In this way they were able to subordinate women’s struggles to class struggle. And it was also in this way that they were able to dismiss the importance of organising with housewives or the struggles of those many women marginal to the wage system, for example, prostitutes.

The Working Women’s Charter, a list of ten demands which would improve women’s situation in paid work, was originally put together by a subcommittee of the London Trades Council. It was seen by some women in left groups as an adequate basis for socialist feminists to organise from. Though the demands did include ones around contraception, abortion and nurseries it was not an adequate platform for the socialist feminist current of the women’s movement to base itself on. (And there have always been socialist feminists in the women’s movement despite the different setbacks we have faced in our attempts to organise ourselves. )

The Charter’s inadequacy stemmed from its orthodox reflection of the position that women’s oppression is due to her unequal share in class struggle. The demands did not even criticise the sexual division of labour, which is central to male domination. It is this sexual division of labour which ensures that even if women can go out to work they will in general have the lower-paid jobs and the lower-status jobs. The point is not just that women happen to be low paid, it is that they are overwhelmingly concentrated in ‘women’s jobs’. And these jobs which are available to women are low in pay and status precisely because they are ‘women’s’ jobs’.(12) The threat to male workers of more women entering a particular career, is that by their very presence in any large numbers, they lower the status of that work. The best-known example of this was the change over from male to female secretaries at the end of the nineteenth century.(13) So even at work women are oppressed as much by their sex as by their class position.

The Working Women’s Charter was basically a trade union response to feminism, and it was good to get some response, but it shared the inadequacies of trade unionism towards women. Some of us did however support the Working Women’s Charter activities, although in fact local Charter groups interpreted and used the Charter in quite different ways-in Islington, women were involved in the local Nursery Action Group, in the Liverpool Road Hospital Campaign, in attempts to unionise workers at Marks and Spencers and elsewhere, and organising a general meeting on women in Islington sponsored by the Trades Council. There were, however, many aspects of feminist struggle that the Charter could not incorporate. In 1975, the Working Women’s Charter was rejected by the Trades Union Congress conference. It had fallen between the two stools of feminist and labour movement politics, and in the end could not survive.

In 1975 a local NAC (National Abortion Campaign) group was formed to fight James Whites’s anti-abortion bill. NAC was also organised as a national campaign. But once again many women were suspicious of the national structure, saying that it was not feminist. They saw it as dominated politically by the International Marxist Group (IMG), and objected to its main focus for activities being that of lobbying MPs, seeing this as reformist. Feminists often felt that any national campaigning structure gave women in left groups an advantage over them, in terms of determining policy, as they were more experienced in that form of centrally organised politics. This has always been a problem in the women’s movement, and one of the causes of the deep tensions between women in left groups and nonaligned women, even in the socialist feminist current of the movement. Outside of left groups we moved more slowly, each of us puzzling over the pros and cons of particular tactics, particular slogans, etc., most of us frightened to push ourselves forward, and therefore hostile to those women who already seemed to have all the answers on the questions of tactics and organisation. Today I feel that, difficult as it is, we must all learn to overcome our fear of political differences and be prepared to argue through our politics.

But many women did become involved in local activity against the threatened restrictions on women’s access to abortion facilities, with stalls in the local market and elsewhere. We also organised colourful public protests against the Miss Islington beauty contest, describing the degradation, violence and restriction on women’s lives created by our status as sex objects for men. It· was especially when we challenged this area of men’s control over women, speaking of the daily rape and violence against women that we were most ridiculed in the local press and elsewhere. For it was here that we were most directly challenging the central ideology of male domination, a sexist ideology which not only attributes certain particular characteristics to women that enable men to dominate us, but also belittles and degrades those characteristics it sees as feminine.(14)

Together with the Arsenal Women’s Group and others we held a local conference to try to organise the women’s movement on. a local area basis. We were also actively involved in all the early socialist feminist initiatives at organising in the women’s liberation movement. Many consciousness-raising and study groups started at the centre, and a women’s self-help therapy group was formed, partly as a support for some women who had suffered severe emotional crises, but also because all the women involved saw mental health as an important issue. We saw that many of our deep anxieties and fears were a reaction to our powerlessness, and often because we could not receive any adequate nurturing from men. We were used to providing emotional support, but not to demanding and receiving it. This is behind the current emphasis on feminist therapy, and the creation of a Women’s Therapy Centre in Islington. We talked on women’s liberation at schools like Starcross, a local school for girls, and some women ran classes on women’s liberation for schoolgirls at the centre. A literacy class was set up for women. There was a group for women working in traditional men’s jobs, and, in fact, so many groups that I can’t remember them all.

But, despite all of the creativity and energy which originated from the women’s centre, it was always hard to keep it open to all women for more than a few hours a week, on Saturdays and Wednesday nights. And many women were only active in the centre for about a year, and would then drift off. It was often hard to get the new women who came along involved in the centre, and it was difficult to keep up any good communication between the different groups which did meet there.

Some of us wanted to obtain money for a paid worker at the centre in order to keep it open to co-ordinate and plan activities. But others rejected such an idea out of hand, believing it would be ‘selling out’ to obtain money from the local council or the state, paving the way to our co-option by them. Women also feared that a paid worker would create a hierarchical structure. The first point came from our analysis of the state, which led us to see social workers, for instance, as the repressive ‘soft cops’ of the system. There seemed to be a contradiction between our emphasis on self-help and collective activity and the idea of state funding. Wasn’t the role of the social worker or the state-funded service centre to prevent people taking collective direct action to solve their problems by holding out the false promise of there being some individual solutions for people’s problems? But weren’t we just unpaid radical social workers anyway?

At that time we were less aware of the radical potential for militancy in the state sector workers, living out the contradictions of trying to provide a service for human needs while employed by a state tied to the profitability of capitalism. Many of these workers are very frustrated by the futility of their attempts to meet their clients’ needs. Some social workers, for instance, were already referring people to squatting advisory centres and other groups committed to building struggles around particular issues. It is in the area of social services and the state that the threat to jobs through cuts and closures and rationalisation can be most easily linked to wider possibilities for anti-capitalist struggles, because they raise the question of people’s needs. Many health workers, teachers, etc., are aware that it is not just lack of resources that makes their jobs unsatisfactory. It is also the formal hierarchy and the rigid rules through which the state is organised that makes their jobs so difficult.

The current attack on the funding of so-called voluntary groups, for example, law centres, housing aid centres, and other radical advice centres is precisely because they have been able to provide the space for and have been effective in helping to organise struggles around people’s needs. The money that is being saved by such cuts is often quite negligible, the motivation for them is political. It may be true that these voluntary groups provided new jobs mainly, although not only, for the ‘radical professionals’, but I think that at Essex Road we were not as aware as we might have been of the contradictions over funding, and the possibilities of using it to ‘bite the hand that feeds you’.

With others I have thought more recently about some of these problems and think they need more analysis. The modern state is such a huge and complex organisation, the situation being quite different from that in 1917 Tsarist Russia, from which so much revolutionary strategy derives. Then the state’s role was purely repressive, defending the interests of the ruling class. But the modern state has been formed by the ongoing compromise between the working class movement channelled into reformist political strategy and the capitalist class. The state spreads its tentacles throughout society. Nationalisation, health care, education, care of the young and old, research, funding of the arts are some of the ways in which the modern state interpenetrates society in a way it never did before 1945.

For libertarians and many feminists, instances of the creeping hand of state control were everywhere, from community festivals to nurseries and old people’s homes. We tended to argue that the whole system was rotten, and it was useless to tinker with it. We were not wrong to emphasise the extent of this state control over our daily lives, but we were wrong to see the state in all its ramifications as a monolith, and not see that there could be contradictions in its development. This is particularly clear now that the Tory government is trying to sell off state services to the private sector as fast as it can – continuing the attacks on state welfare already initiated by’ the previous Labour government. Today it should be clearer that we must defend many existing state services, from the National Health Service (NHS) to school crossing patrols. It’s no longer simply a question of the overthrowing of the state, but of a strategy which fights for an expansion and transformation of the services it provides-not necessarily in a centralised form. This raises the whole issue of the nature of a socialist state, which we all need to think about, and which is crucial for us as women fighting the sexual division of labour which is basic to women’s oppression.

Today we need a more sophisticated analysis of reformism and the state, which, on the one hand, is not based on the traditional social democratic idea, and in a different way on the Leninist model, which sees socialism as nationalisation plus state planning, nor, on the other, one which turns its back on the need for struggle to expand state provision. This means a strategy which both defends the welfare institutions of the state when they are under attack while arguing the need to go beyond them. On a small scale this strategy can be illustrated by the 160 women’s aid ‘refuges that have been set up over the last few years to enable battered women to escape from violent husbands. The National Federation Of Women’s Aid was able to obtain local state funding for refuges while insisting that the refuges should be run by and for women and should encourage self-help and independence. Similar examples, as Sheila shows, can be given of nursery victories where funding was provided and the people who fought for it retained control over the nurseries.(16)

But to return to my story, when our women’s centre was forced to close in late 1976, we had sufficient anxieties over whether we were going about things in the right way that few tears were shed. One woman, involved from the start, said, ‘That’s good, now we can start again, and build up another women’s centre.’ But we never did. For the next three years there was no broad-based open women’s liberation group in Islington, though we did have a national Rape Crisis Centre, women’s refuges, a NAC group, and other groups organised around particular issues as well as women’s consciousness-raising and study groups. Today there is a new women’s centre in Islington, but there is little continuity between our old women’s centre and the new one which is being opened. It is as though things are all starting again from scratch and I’m not sure that any lessons have been learned, or could have been learned, from which this new group of women can begin. Those feminists who were active around Essex Road have not become involved in the new centre, most of them saying, ‘Oh no, not the same problems all over again.’

Feminism and the Left

Meanwhile, the traditional left was belatedly trying to catch up with the energy of the women’s liberation movement. In particular they were impressed by the 40,000-strong pro-abortion march of 1975. They weren’t laughing at the ‘women’s libbers’ any more, though of course they did say we were all middle class, or at least that’s what their middle-class leaders were saying. I don’t feel in a position to give a complete analysis of the left’s position on feminism, but I want to give my impressions of the main left groups, ignoring the smaller groups and those that choose to dismiss feminism altogether.

The reason I want to look at the revolutionary left is not to engage in any form of sectarianism, but because as socialist feminists we accept that women’s oppression is an integral part of the capitalist system. As I’ve said, the subordination of women through the division of labour centred on the family is central to the maintenance and reproduction of the capitalist system of existing class relations of exploitation. But women’s oppression (like black oppression) is not simply just another aspect of class exploitation. All men do benefit from it, by having power over at least some women, however exploited they themselves may be. But we do realise that only a revolutionary transformation of capitalist society can overcome women’s oppression, class exploitation, and all forms of social domination. We know we must unite all those fighting their oppression with the struggle against class exploitation.

By the mid-seventies, most of the Communist Party (CP) had come officially to accept the need for an autonomous women’s movement. The CP argues that it wishes to make broad alliances with an autonomous women’s movement. Certain CP women have placed great emphasis on the importance of studying the ideology of women’s oppression, the ways in which women as well as men come to accept ideas of women’s inferiority and invisibility. They have also begun to theorise the role of the capitalist state as it organises reproduction and maintains women’s subordination in the interests of the ruling class. Much of the official contribution of CP feminists has tended to be more of a theoretical and intellectual one, though many CP women do actively support NAC, and other feminist initiatives.

The intellectual contribution of CP feminists is consistent with the direction of the CP as outlined in their publication the British Road to Socialism. This direction encourages an ideological offensive against capitalist domination while doing little to build any form of mass working-class resistance. Indeed the CP often finds itself in the position of having to curb actual militancy, which potentially threatens its broad alliances with reformist leaders of the labour movement. For example, in Islington through their control of the Trades Council they have consistently failed to offer any practical support to the most militant industrial struggles which have occurred in the borough. And again, on the whole issue of unemployment they have failed to respond in any practical way to the five occupations which have occurred against redundancies, the largest being the occupation of n when 300 people were made redundant. They were also opposed to the industrial action of the Tyndale teachers in 1976 who were eventually sacked after a campaign was launched against their progressive education methods, supported by the Labour right of the council. These alliances are part of the CP’s general acceptance of a peaceful parliamentary road to socialism in accordance with what is now called ‘Eurocommunism’.

Thus women CP members could be given the space to develop an ideological critique whilst having little impact on their parties overall political direction. The British Road to Socialism does often mention the importance of the women’s liberation movement. But the political contribution of the women’s movement or of other autonomous movements as they ·affect the actual potential for a real revolutionary unification of the working class is not discussed.

Indeed, in the final analysis the British Road to Socialism does not depart from orthodox Marxist analysis. And this is an analysis which overlooks the significance of existing divisions within the working class, and the demands of the women’s movement and of the black movement that the fight against their ‘oppression must be an essential part of the struggle for socialism.

So the CP support for the autonomous women’s movement does not seem to have served to educate its leadership when they write:

Only socialism can overcome the basic contradiction from which every aspect of the crisis flows. Socialism replaces private ownership by public ownership. The basic contradictions of society are removed. [My italics. British Road to Socialism, line 465.]

It seems that CP women have been allowed to do what they wanted, while the CP leadership did what it wanted. Though even this situation of tolerance for feminism has begun to change within the CP today. As the CP and other left groups begin to scent the long-awaited revival of industrial militancy, feminists in the party will be told not to obstruct the ‘turn to the class’.

The International Marxist Group (the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International), does appear to have a more consistent theory and practice in support of the need for an autonomous women’s movement.

Their weekly paper, Socialist Challenge, now takes the question of women’s oppression seriously. But while (‘(aiming to support the women’s liberation movement in its totality, there is still a strong tendency to reduce women’s oppression entirely to class oppression. For example, in 1978 a centre spread in Socialist Challenge which argued for women’s liberation made no analysis of women’s oppression as distinct from class exploitation. It gave no analysis of patriarchy.

The point about this is that while the IMG are prepared to accept women’s right to organise separately, they don’t seem to accept what we have to say on the limitations of orthodox Marxism.16 The way in which they want to integrate feminism and socialism is by adding on ‘women’s demands’ to their existing programme, adding on demands for nurseries, abortion facilities, etc. But again they do not seem to see the need for feminism to transform the whole nature of working-class politics and the left.

As feminists we argue that we are not simply fighting together with men against capitalism as a more exploited section of the class. We are also fighting against male domination now, which manifests itself in all aspects of life, both within and outside of the working class. (Black people of course have a similar theory about their oppression.) So women are central to the struggle against capitalist social relations not only in the workplace but also in the home. We are demanding that men change themselves, that they change their relations to women, and to children, and take on some of the nurturing and caring work which women have always done.

And this is the way in which we want to transform the nature of working-class politics, and overcome the divisions within the working class. It is presumably because of our talk about everyday life, about finding new, non-patriarchal and non-authoritarian ways of relating to and caring for each other that the women’s movement has been dismissed by certain leading members of the IMG as a ‘cultural movement’. The analysis is that because we are not simply making demands on the state, we are not making ‘political demands’. In 1977, John Ross, who sees the women’s movement as a social movement which can make political demands, stated that the issue of women’s rights to abortion only became political when it began to make demands on the state.I7 Such an analysis obviously would be rejected by most feminists.

So while the lMG has accepted the organisational autonomy of the women’s movement, and indeed have now set up women’s caucuses within their own organisation, I don’t think that they accept the political autonomy of feminism as adding a new dimension to the nature of class politics. The fact that we believe that women’s oppression cannot be understood simply within the Trotskyist analysis of ‘the historic interests of the working class’ does not necessarily mean that we as socialist feminists ignore the working class and fail to prove ourselves true revolutionary socialists. The fact that some of us may not have joined a revolutionary organisation which we feel has not adequately taken up and integrated the insights of feminism does not mean that we are not a part of the struggle to build one.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the largest group in the Trotskyist tradition in Britain and one which has broken from many orthodox positions of Trotskyism, does not accept the need for an autonomous women’s movement at all. Their basic attitude to the women’s movement is determined by the way they see themselves as the only ‘real revolutionaries’. This means that for the SWP, fighting for women’s liberation, like building the class struggle, is one and the same thing as building the SWP. If you accept the need for a revolutionary socialist perspective, then you join the SWP, they say. So they reject the need for either the organisational or the political autonomy of the women’s movement.

‘Class struggle is a form of warfare, and in warfare there has to be a single leadership,’ says Chris Harman from the central committee of the SWP, echoing Lenin, in What is to be Done? in 1902. So the need for any organisational independence of women is rejected. Women’s oppression is derived from capitalist exploitation, he argues, so they reject the need for a political independence for women organising.(18)

When the SWP comes to write about the women’s movement, all that I have ever found are jibes about it being middle class. Thus Anna Paczuska, one of the SWP’s leading writers on women’s politics, dismisses the 1979 socialist feminist conference like this:

All we’ve got is a movement of middle class women, many in their thirties, polishing their memories for the glossy magazines, complacently surrounded by mortgages and monthly subscriptions to Which magazine … The movement is dying on its feet or rather in its Habitat armchairs. It is being choked to death by respectability, nostalgia and direct aid from the state and the Establishment. [Socialist Worker, 7 April 1979.]

The term ‘middle class’ is one of the favourite terms of abuse used by the SWP. Of course, they never bother to define the contemporary working class, or the position, for instance, of teachers. For the SWP, teachers are working class when they are in the SWP or are attending union meetings, but middle class when they attend a women’s liberation conference. I think that many workers would be surprised and insulted to learn that they have never had mortgages, magazines or comfortable furniture. It is true that we do need to distinguish a person’s class origin from their class perspective, but the SWP certainly makes’ no attempt to do so. As they are aware when it suits them, there is a real need to develop a new understanding of the working class which includes proletarianised white collar sectors such as teachers, technicians, etc. So why resort to mere hypocrisy?

In this piece and many others which have appeared in Socialist Worker the weekly paper of the SWP, and elsewhere, Anna shows herself to be not just ambivalent about but quite blatantly hostile towards the women’s movement. She is concerned to dismiss us and our activities altogether.

In a more recent article in which she is referring to the three of us writing this book, she comments:

They do not believe that the working class has the capacity or the creativity to win the struggle for women’s liberation. They have no trust so they separate off their struggles for themselves. [Socialist Worker, 18 August 1979.]

Here Anna is illustrating the SWP position, which I have referred to as the orthodox Marxist position, which takes no account of divisions within the class as barriers to class unity. Against this position, we argue that a strong and independent women’s movement, which seeks to understand and organise itself around the struggles of women, is a political necessity for changing the nature of the left and, more importantly, overcoming the divisions within the class and society.

Moreover statements made by Anna should not be seen as the voice of an individual-they represent the views on women of an overwhelming majority on the male-dominated Central Committee of the SWP. However, within Women’s Voice, the women’s magazine and organisation started by SWP members, the situation is more complex. The Central Committee of the SWP want Women’s Voice to be a ‘periphery organisation’ of the SWP, organising with working-class women, primarily in the workplace, in order to draw ‘the best of them’ into the SWP. However, many SWP women in Women’s Voice are opposed to this position. They want a greater degree of independence for Women’s Voice as a sister organisation of the SWP, and they do want to give more importance to women’s struggles against all aspects of their oppression. Unfortunately, however, many of them still continue to dismiss the women’s movement as middle class and reformist, unorganised and unable to relate to working class women. It was this sort of attitude which led them a few years ago to organise a separate abortion demonstration after the official NAC one.

Contrary to this view, I believe that there are many women in the socialist feminist current of the women’s movement who do also want to locate their politics in the current situation and build a working-class base to the women’s movement. The SWP is not alone in holding this perspective, though they have perhaps done more about it. Although we may not get many working-class women along to our conferences and local meetings, many of the initiatives of the women’s movement in Women’s Aid, rape crisis centres, nursery campaigns, cuts campaigns like the one to defend the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London, and others, clearly do involve working-class women. The women’s movement did mobilise in defence of the Trico women on strike for equal pay, and the Grunwick strikers who were demanding union recognition. Many feminists have been active in trades councils and tenants’ associations. We don’t deny that we have problems in developing a working-class orientation, but we think that it is politically wrong for Women’s Voice to dismiss the importance of the women’s movement and to deny what they have learned from it. Even the success of their new Women’s Voice magazine came after it began to model itself more closely on the women’s liberation magazine, Spare Rib, borrowing many ideas from that publication.

I also cannot accept the degree of workplace orientation of Women’s Voice which leads them still to accept a priority of struggle which places many of women’s central struggles against male domination at the periphery. Thus Lindsey German writes of women’s movement initiatives:

Working class women are related to in most areas where they are weakest (in battered wives’ homes or rape crisis centres) rather than where women are strongest (in unions and tenants’ associations) … [Socialist Review, November 1978.]

And ‘Reclaim the Night’ demonstrations, against the harassment and violence which women daily face in the streets, are referred to as ‘a “soft” issue’. There is an argument for considering where women are strongest. But in fact women are not strong in unions today, and are not getting any stronger, even, if their membership is rising numerically. We believe that the only way women in unions will get stronger is if they are supported from the outside by a strong women’s movement. It’s a dialectical process, which the SWP in spite of its Marxism, seem unable to see. Of course, ‘Reclaim the Night’ and NAC are helped by support from women in trade unions, and women in trade unions are helped by the support they can get from the women’s movement.

While Women’s Voice has shown itself at times to be effective in mobilising support for women’s struggles, I think the priority which they place on recruiting to the SWP, and the fact that they accept the identification of joining their party with holding a revolutionary perspective, means that Women’s Voice could not itself become the focus for building a mass women’s movement.

What we have got to get right in the women’s movement, to confront the left and the labour movement, is the interplay between sex and class oppression. Not only are they both central, but they feed off each other. And they are not reducible either one to the other. Whereas the orthodox Marxist analysis puts class before sex, and Lindsey German writes: ‘The fundamental division is not between the sexes, but between those who produced the wealth in society and those who rob them of it’ (Socialist Review, September 1979) there are also ‘revolutionary feminists’ who put sex before class. They say: ‘Women’s revolution is the revolution. Sex struggle is the struggle .. .’(19) This is not the place to develop a critique of revolutionary feminism. Though I see a political theory which seems to write off half of humanity as a biological enemy as absurd. However, some of the issues revolutionary feminists have emphasised, those of rape, pornography and male violence against women are central to feminism and need to be taken up by socialist feminists and the socialist movement as a whole.

But I would argue now that it is not sufficient simply to talk of organising around your own oppression, as libertarians and revolutionary feminists have done. For instance, although we are all oppressed as women, it is not true that we are all oppressed in the same way, even as women. Black and working-class women are oppressed in distinct ways, and we need to understand this in order to build solidarity amongst women. Without a more general perspective we won’t be a part of many of the most important anti-capitalist struggles today, struggles which involve women obviously, black struggles, anti-imperialist struggles, and the growth of the new working-class offensive that is needed in this period of ferocious Tory attacks on the working class. Feminists do need a socialist perspective, but a Marxism which does not base itself on feminism, which does not recognise that the division within the working class and society as a whole necessitates a strong and autonomous women’s movement, is not what we call ‘socialist’. It will not liberate women.

Socialism in One Borough

The main left groups did not seem to have found adequate ways of integrating Marxism and feminism in their theory or practice. But by the mid-seventies it was also becoming increasingly clear to me that there were problems and limitations in the political perspectives of many of us active simply within the women’s movement. Most of us did believe that full women’s liberation depended on the destruction of all hierarchical relations, of class, race, and sex. ‘There will be no women’s liberation without revolution. There will be no revolution without women’s liberation.’ The women’s. movement alone, however, didn’t seem to equip most of us with a full interpretation of modern capitalism, and the way things were moving in the struggle against it, both nationally and internationally.

A split remained between women’s politics which produced a clear understanding of personal relations and personal oppression in everyday life, and the politics of the left groups which seemed more able to produce an understanding of the world as a totality. This in turn reflects, of course, the traditional division between women’s concern about people and their feelings and men’s concern about practical matters and the big wide world. We could always take up the subjective side of struggles, but in some areas could not always go further than this. This was one of the reasons why towards the end of 1974 I started shifting my energies more towards a local political paper, the Islington Gutter Press. This was a libertarian socialist and feminist paper which some of the women who set up the women’s centre had also worked on.

It was our inability at Essex Road to get working-class women involved, as well as the fact that women who had established the centre were no longer enthusiastic about it, that led me to seek new political initiatives. But it had been the writings of, and the discussion in, the women’s movement that enabled me to get a clearer theoretical perspective on the world, or at least a real understanding of women’s subordinate place in it. Our activities at Essex Road did increase our confidence that we could contribute politically, and so we became more confident both emotionally and theoretically. I think this point is made more generally by the American socialist feminist Linda Gordon when she writes …

…once people do connect deeply felt personal problems to larger political structures, they often go on to make political sense out of the whole society rather quickly. This is- not merely hypothetical; many women in the last decade moved rapidly from complaints about sexual relationships to feminism to socialism.(20)

Working on the Gutter Press gave us an understanding of the area we lived in. It took us several years to get to grips with the complexities of the local political scene. We began to understand some of the workings of the local state, and how local authority finance worked. We made more contact with local men and women. We learned more about housing problems in the borough, the various struggles for better services, the inactivity of the Islington Trades Council, and the activity of the small Labour left in trying to get more progressive policies adopted inside a Labour council.

We tried to make the links between the different struggles and activities we were reporting on; for better housing, and against the abuses of private landlords and property boom speculators, against the decline of local industry, for better education and for more space for youth, against racism, against sexism, against all welfare cuts and for control over services. We were not parochial in our approach to these issues, but always tried to place them ‘in a global perspective’ declaring ourselves interested ‘in what went on, in Hackney, in Haringey or even Haiphong’.

We had remained independent of any of the left groups because we didn’t want them to tell us what to do. We thought they were all authoritarian, hierarchical and male dominated. Though, of course, similar problems of professionalism and male’ domination cropped up continuously-on the paper. More importantly, we also knew that apart from Big Flame they. did not take seriously our politics which emphasised local work and attempts to organise on an area basis, which differed from their focus on industrial activity or particular national campaigns.(21) We believed, and rightly I think, that their emphasis on recruitment and party building, and their reliance on launching national campaigns, could interfere with our attempts at sustained local organising in a way which was open and sensitive to the particular activities and needs of all those engaged in any form of resistance or struggle. But we did also worry about becoming isolated as a small group producing a local socialist paper but not being accountable to any wider socialist grouping.

In May 1978, the Gutter Press organised a local socialist conference, partly to overcome our own feelings of isolation, and our own failure to grow as a collective and get more people directly involved in the paper. We also wanted to see if there were ways in which the paper could become more efficient in its attempt to provide support for and link different areas of struggle, by becoming more accountable to a larger grouping of socialists with a similar political perspective to ours. We wrote that we wanted, ‘to help stimulate enduring organisational links bridging the community and industrial struggles … We feel that it is possible to. create greater co-ordination and support between people involved in local struggles. In the absence of a militant Trades Council, which could do just such a job, we are looking for new possibilities of co-ordination.’ (Gutter Press leaflet, March 1978.) At the conference, which was attended by 150 people, we found that there were a large number of people, inside and outside of left groups, and inside and outside of the Labour Party, who were keen to set up a socialist centre in Islington. This socialist centre now meets weekly in a local pub, and is supported by most of the left, in particular by individuals in the Labour Party, the CP, the IMG, and Big Flame as well as by most socialist feminists and many non-aligned socialists.

The centre has organised many very well-attended and successful meetings, on Ireland, on feminism, on racism and on fascism, on struggles internationally and nationally, as well as attempts to understand the local situation in more detail and provide entertainment and pleasure. Evenings are planned to fit in with wider struggles; for example, a meeting on Ireland before or after a big Irish demonstration. It has therefore provided a useful base for meeting other local militants. It has increased the possibilities for more regular joint work when struggles arise, as well as providing political education, and entertainment which strengthens the growth of an alternative socialist and feminist culture. I think it was the consistent work done by the Gutter Press in establishing contacts and trust between militants that made the centre a real possibility in Islington. The paper collective has also now expanded, and become politically more diverse.

The socialist centre has therefore, in part, served to validate attempts made originally by those outside of the traditional left to find new ways of organising. It is true, though, that at present the centre serves better as a focus for co-operation and discussion between the left than as a place for extending our base further within the working class. Some of us are hopeful that the support that we can give to people in struggle will begin to overcome this problem. Others are less worried about it. In fact, one of the most interesting, or perhaps most distressing, aspects of the centre is how clearly it often defines and separates the two groups of people, those most concerned with creating left alternatives and those most concerned with class struggle. Nevertheless, most of us still feel that the centre does create real possibilities for strengthening co-operation amongst socialists and feminists, as well as a way to reach out to working-class women and men in the area. This does not mean that. we reject more traditional forms of political work centred on the workplace and the unions.

Some Conclusions

In this last section I want to return to some of the problems created by the way we organised in the women’s movement and the libertarian left. As I have illustrated, we always emphasised the importance of local activity and tended to under-emphasise, and were suspicious of, national organisation·. In national structures we felt women, in particular, couldn’t overcome the problems of male domination and leaderism and feel able to contribute their own experiences. This of course contrasts with the traditional revolutionary left who tend to have an overemphasis on national and international politics and to dismiss attempts at local organising as mere localism. The national organisation which the women’s movement has achieved is only around particular struggles, for example, NAC, Women’s Aid or WARF (Women against Racism and Fascism). But this leaves us with problems, even in linking up these particular struggles. How do we arrive at any overall perspectives, decide which activities to get involved in and evaluate the results of our work?

I think the final collapse of the Essex Road Women’s Centre and our failure to replace it are linked to the general problems which can occur for any loose network of small local groups. It’s not easy to work out where you are going on your own as a small group, or to work out where you have succeeded and where you have failed. It’s difficult for other people in other places to learn from your experiences, and for you to learn from them. We could have benefited from more regular exchange of experiences from other groups, comparing and contrasting our activities.

The problem of not really operating within an experience sharing and learning process is a difficult one. At a recent conference on women’s centres in July 1979 all the old debates and conflicts came up, as though for the first time. Were women acting as unpaid social workers? Should men ever be allowed in? Should centres be funded? Why was it hard to reach working-class women, and was this important?

Resolving the conflicts seemed to be as hard as ever. There was no agreement on how the centres fitted in to an overall strategy for achieving liberation. These recurring conflicts do seem to be a strong argument for some form of national organisation. Though it is also true that national organisations can be slow to learn if they rely on old formulas and dogma seen as universally valid, instead of learning from new movements. For instance, issues like sexism, racism, national autonomy, and energy policies are all ones which the revolutionary left has been slow to take up. But the women’s movement does need some way of assessing its past effectiveness, and using this to develop future directions in less random ways.

At Essex Road we did learn that it was hard to extend our politics outside of ourselves, and to relate to local working-class women, but we never really knew what to do about this. It is not an easy problem to solve. But if you are trying to involve working-class women, you sometimes need to take up issues which don’t relate only to women, for example nurseries, housing, etc. Though you can carry a feminist perspective into these issues, you will need to go outside of your women’s group to do this, extending the base of your activity. Our lack of structure perhaps made it difficult for working-class women who were outside of our friendship networks, to know how to get involved. I know of one woman who used to walk past our women’s centre every day before she had fled from her violent husband, and never dared to come in. She now works at a women’s refuge, but in those days, not knowing who we were, it would have been difficult for her to have looked to us for support.

This is linked to another problem. Women correctly realised the importance of including a struggle around personal relations within the struggle for socialism, and argued that without this many women would not become involved at all. ‘The personal is political’ was a central slogan of the women’s movement. But this slogan did come to be interpreted in a very vague way, as though it meant that whatever you do, your actions have political significance. I don’t think that this was the idea behind the slogan. What it did assert was that there is a connection between how you choose to live and relate to people and the struggle for social change.(22) This was all the more obvious to women in that our training into inferiority and passivity made it even more difficult for us to struggle or to feel a part of a male-dominated left. We had to create new supportive structures if we were to feel confident enough that what we said and did in our struggle against patriarchy and capitalism was important. Women said that how we relate to each other in everyday life is a part of the struggle for socialism, and in this way socialism can begin to grow within capitalism itself, but the struggle against oppression remains to be fought and won.

Over the ten years since 1968, however, there has been a complex development in the often overlapping areas of libertarianism and feminism. It does seem that many libertarians have overstressed the prefigurative lifestyle element. This has led many of them to retreat from public political activity and class politics into rustic bliss, or mysticism, or whole foods or ghetto-ised co-ops. But these forms of retreat are not options which are open to many people; in particular, working-class people do not have the freedom to choose them. They are more trapped within the capital-labour relationship, both at home and at work, as they do what they must to support themselves and their families. But this withdrawal from consumer and urban life does have deep roots in English socialism (Carpenter, Owen, etc.) and it does maintain a visionary strand in the socialist movement that we can ill do without. It exists most clearly today in what is known as the ‘communes movement’. Some parts of the women’s movement have shown the same tendency, which others have characterised as ‘cultural feminism’, on the analogy of cultural nationalism.(23) Perhaps it is also possible to talk of a ‘cultural libertarianism’. These politics do show us the possibilities of new and better ways to live, but exactly how they relate to the building of a combative feminist and socialist movement is something that remains ambiguous both historically and in the present.

The preoccupation more with lifestyles than with building the women’s movement increased -in Islington once the women’s centre had closed. Because then it became less clear how women could help build a movement which was open to all women in their struggle for liberation. Women in their different groups, whether women’s groups or mixed groups or campaigns, found it more difficult to get support from each other. We became more isolated and have difficulty in responding to specific feminist issues as they arise. In Islington there are now moves from one local study group to change this, by organising open discussions on women’s liberation locally. Obviously in many areas socialist feminist groups are working towards a similar goal. Nevertheless, I think it’s true to say that at least some women have lost some of the confidence they had in the early seventies in the struggle to build the women’s movement and have become even more suspicious of any overt political work.

Part of the problem is related to the general crisis of the profitability of capitalism, and the defeats of the working class. As I said at the beginning, the early seventies was still a period of economic boom. In these conditions it was clear that militancy did payoff. In many places people were able to fight for, and win, particular struggles, whether it was setting up a nursery, the funding of a youth project, improved housing conditions, or the establishment of a workers’ co-operative, such as the women’s co-operative at the shoe factory in Fakenham, Norfolk. People could feel more optimistic about the possibility of changing their lives collectively, and feel that it was worth the effort of trying to do so.

In the women’s movement we did seem to be winning some of the things we fought for in the early seventies, even if in a deformed way. For instance the demands for women’s liberation did seem to get rid of some of the more superficial forms of women’s oppression. It is now becoming more and more acceptable that sexual discrimination in jobs, pubs and clubs is wrong, and its days may well be numbered. Though it is still clear that, despite equal pay, the relative position of women to men in the workforce, as the most exploited wage earners, was not changing very fast-in fact it has got worse since April 1978.(24)

But the economic recession of 1975 began to undermine the earlier forms of militancy, both in the workplace and the community. The ruling class – at first through a Labour government, and now with a Tory government – has been able to launch a general offensive against working-class organisation. So we began to see unemployment rise, the thorough-going dismantling of welfare services, increasingly restrictive and racist immigration policies, and the continuous expansion of state repression, seen daily in Northern Ireland but also used against any large-scale industrial or oppositional militancy whether at Grunwick, or in the housing struggles of Huntley Street in London, or in the anti-fascist demonstrations at Southall.

In this situation industrial militancy was on the retreat, forced back into more sectoral and negotiating tactics, as each group of workers tried to have themselves declared a ‘special case’. In this way they hoped to fight off the attacks on their living standards caused first of all through the ‘social contract’ (government-imposed limits on wage increases) and state expenditure cuts. Today, under the Tories, the workforce is being further disciplined primarily by the threat of unemployment as the state cuts its public spending even more drastically and reduces its subsidies to industry. This means that both in the workplace and the community, victories, whether local or national, have become much more difficult and there is an increasing demoralisation amongst militants in all sections of struggle. So it is also becoming clearer that there cannot be local victories against the forms oppression is taking; for example, cuts in the NHS are nationwide. This is the reasoning behind the creation of national organisations such as ‘Fightback’ in the area of health care, campaigning both against all hospital closures and cutbacks and against low pay as well as for better services in general.

This means that it is forms of organisation which have national and international perspectives and links which seem to be even more necessary for successful struggles today. It’s also true that, more urgently than ever, the current period demands that we ally with the traditional institutions of the labour movement. We need to understand the possibilities and the limitations of these institutions. The tendency in the past of libertarians and some feminists to by-pass these institutions (trades councils, union branches, etc.), which perhaps was never really justified, is quite definitely not possible today .. There is always the danger that these forms of national organisation and these alliances can lead to a dismissal of the dimensions of struggle which libertarians and feminists brought into the political arena. A sense of urgency Can create a stronger pressure on the left to push aside the significance of the more personal areas of struggle. This danger will now be with us for a long time. And so the split between feminists and the traditional left remains, despite the attempts on both sides to build new bridges.

What I am wanting to focus on in this last section are three main problems which need a lot more thought. First, the relation between feminism and personal politics, and left groups and the general political situation. Secondly, the relation between local organising and national organising, and how this relates to the conflict between libertarians and feminists and the traditional left in the Current situation. Thirdly, how we move on to a perspective for building socialism which can incorporate both feminists’ politics and the new ideas and ways of organising which have emerged over the last ten years.

The problem for both libertarians and feminists, focusing on the importance of local work and the need to build local organisations, is how to create a larger socialist and feminist movement. A movement, built from the base up, which could mobilise enough people to fight and win, not just anyone struggle – difficult as this is-but strengthen us so that the experience of each struggle is not lost but contributes to the next. Libertarians tried building a network of local groups to link up experiences and activity. There were three national conferences in 1973 and 1974. But there wasn’t the political will to maintain any national organisation at that time. The libertarian rejection of vanguards meant that we could not really accept the necessity for any politically coherent central organisation. But, we cannot assume that links will just happen spontaneously as they are needed.

Today the women’s movement also finds it difficult to take political initiatives, except in very specific areas such as fighting off attacks on women’s access to abortion. Yet right now we face an enormous ideological attack on all our recent gains. Women are under attack not just in our struggle for equal pay, for more nurseries and better health care (now all threatened by Tory cuts), but attacks on even more basic things, such as the threat to women’s right to maternity leave. This amounts to an attack on women’s rights to waged work at all, if we have young children. Thus we increasingly hear, as was argued recently in the House of Lords, that ‘unemployment could be solved at a stroke, if women went back to the home’. As a way out of the economic crisis, the ruling class! is seeking to strengthen the ideology of sexism to justify its attacks on the working class in general, and women in particular, thus revealing more clearly than ever the links between sex oppression and class exploitation.

In this deteriorating situation, it’s going to be harder for the women’s movement not to feel politically marginal, unless we can find ways of making alliances with all those in struggle, both women and men, to co-ordinate actions to defend women’s interests. We are not well organised in the women’s movement. Although the socialist feminist current is trying to organise regional networks, and has been quite successful in some areas, it has been less successful in others. The useful national socialist feminist newsletter Scarlet Women has not yet managed to serve as a co-ordinating focus. We know that socialist feminists are not a minority in the women’s movement-over a thousand women attended our last two conferences. But in the coming period we do need the support not just of a strong and autonomous women’s movement but of the general perspectives and priorities of the socialist feminist current within it. The structures we agreed to build at our last conference mean that we must put a lot more energy into developing our regional socialist feminist organisations, and use them to co-ordinate the different campaigns we are involved in.(25) This would enable Scarlet Women to be more effective as a national co-ordinator.

I think we are also going to have to go beyond a criticism of the left and labour movement forms of politics, however correct we are to say that they have failed to take up the issues of feminism except in a tokenistic way. We do have to relate to both the left and the labour movement, but only by insisting that they learn from what we have to say as feminists. The left will have to understand and criticise the way in which working-class organisations through the labour movement have consistently failed to fight women’s oppression. A wages offensive, for instance, is of little use to women unless it also recognises the need for more nurseries, for a shorter working week, and actively seeks to change women’s position both at home and in the workforce. We need to argue, for example, that the struggle for a shorter working week is a crucial struggle for women because it allows men to share in the childcare and housework. A recent article in Red Rag makes this point as follows:

Implicit in our strivings of the last years has been an adaptation to the world of work, rather than an adaptation of that world to one that allows time for children, leisure, politics … (26)

This means that we insist that the labour movement takes into account the needs of women not just as waged workers, but also as housewives and consumers. At the same time we must strengthen our ideological offensive against the acceptance of separate spheres fo’r women and men on which our subordination rests.

For women who want to be active in left politics outside of the women’s movement, I think it is also true that male domination, elitism and passivity can exist in unstructured local groups and sectoral campaigns as well as in national organisations. People who are less confident, and less experienced at organising, or who have less time, will find it harder to participate effectively in such groups. I have found that sometimes it can be even harder to combat ‘leaderism’ within the small group, as interactions are more likely to be seen in purely individual and personal terms, rather than as political manifestations. Nevertheless, we do need to find alternatives to the old structures of organising used by the left and the labour movement, of large meetings and platform speakers which clearly silence people and do not encourage any sort of mass involvement.

There is no easy solution to the problem of creating new political structures which overcome rather than reproduce existing hierarchies of sex, class and race. For this reason most feminists could not take seriously any national organisation which did not actively support the autonomy of groups to organise against their particular oppression, which did not realise that it had as much to learn from as to teach those in struggle, or one which ignored what women have said about how to organise, using truly egalitarian and supportive structures which build the confidence and participation of all involved. Alongside the need to organise in workplaces, I do think it’s important to build up open and active local, organisations which can increase left unity, and can be easier for people to participate in. I have in mind the sort of structures which have been developed in socialist feminist groups, community papers, socialist centres, and other community resource centres, which are different from those characteristically used by the left.

But for me today as someone wanting to be active both within and outside of the women’s movement, local organisations are no longer sufficient. I also want to be a part of an organisation which is trying to build upon and generalise from different situations, and thus develop overall strategies. I don’t think that it is possible to build a single unified revolutionary organisation in Britain in 1979, or that anyone left organisation has all the answers. But revolutionary groups do have a vital role in helping to build the widest possible support for all areas of struggle, and the widest possible unity on the left.

What possibilities are there for combining socialist and feminist politics in a national organisation which is not subject to the degeneration, splits and paranoias which plague all the left groups? Could such an organisation work out a supportive practice in relation to the autonomous groups and activities which occur all around the country? We will not all agree on the answers. My own way to find out has been to join Big Flame, a group which in its theory and practice seems to put the class struggle before its own organisational development, which recognises the need to fully support and help to build the autonomous organisations of women and other oppressed groups, and in general strives for a vision of socialism which includes a theory of personal politics. Time will tell whether I was right.

NOTES

  1. It would be hard to draw up a list, but some of the most important books for us were Marx: Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology; Marcuse: Eros and Civilisation and One Dimensional Man; Laing: The Divided Self; Reich: The Mass Psychology of Fascism and Vaneigem: The Revolution of Everyday Life. Henri Lefebvre, in The Explosion-Marxism and the French Upheaval attempts to give an account of what led up to the ideas and actions of May 1968.
  2. See the discussion on libertarianism and personal life ‘Coming Down to Earth’, Paul Holt, in Revolutionary Socialism, no. 4, Autumn 1979.
  3. This theory was outlined by Michael Kidron in Capitalism and Theory, Pluto Press, 1974.
  4. This relates, as many people will know, to Althusser’s now famous essay on ideology, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ in Lenin and Philosophy, New Left Books, 1971, in which he argues that class relations are produced through two kinds of interrelated state institutions, the ‘repressive state apparatuses’ (the police, etc.) and the ‘ideological state apparatuses’ (in particular the education system which slots a person into their class position through a process whose operation is disguised from that person). Some Marxists today point out that Althusser is only a modern and vulgar variant of earlier Marxists like Gramsci and the Frankfurt School. Back in the thirties Gramsci was writing in his Prison Notebooks of the importance of ‘civil society’, referring to those institutions like the family and the media, which are not directly controlled by the state, but nevertheless play a crucial role in maintaining existing class relations and the capitalist state.
  5. An attempt to do youth work in the local community in Islington from the base of a libertarian squatters’ group, is colourfully described in Knuckle Sandwich by David Robins and Philip Cohen, Penguin, 1978.
  6. For example, Elisabeth Wilson, ‘Women and the Welfare State’, Red Rag, pamphlet no. 2,1974.
  7. This is well illustrated by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English in For Her Own Good, Pluto Press, 1979.
  8. This concept is used by Barbara Ehrenreich in her excellent speech on socialist feminism in Socialist Revolution, no. 26, October-December 1975.
  9. Patriarchy has been defined by Heidi Hartman as ‘the systemic dominance of men over women’, referring to the social structure and all the social relations through which men dominate women. (‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union’ in Capital and Class, no. 8, Summer 1979.) There is a debate over the usefulness of this concept, because some people feel it does not explain the way in which women’s subordination, though universal, is different in different societies. I do find the concept useful, but for a fuller discussion see R. Mcdonough and R. Harrison, ‘Patriarchy and Relations of Production’ in Kuhn and Wolpe, Feminism and Materialism, (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), and Z. Eisenstein, ‘Developing a Theory of Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism’ in Eisenstein, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, Monthly Review Press, 1978, and P. Atkinson: ‘The Problem with Patriarchy’ in Achilles Heel, no. 2.
  10. Mariarosa Dalla Costa, ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’ in The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, M. Dalla Costa and S. James (Falling Wall Press, 1973). For a fuller discussion of this debate see Jean Gardiner, ‘Women’s Domestic Labour’, New Left Review, no. 89, 1975.
  11. Valerie Charlton, ‘The Patter of Tiny Contradictions’, Red Rag, no. 5, 1973.
  12. See Mandy Snell ‘The Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts: Their Impact on the Workplace’, Feminist Review, no. 1, 1979.
  13. See Mary Kathleen Benet Secretary: An Enquiry into the Female Ghetto, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1972.
  14. Despite some claims to the contrary, radical and revolutionary feminists were not the only ones to talk about rape and violence against women. Though it is true that recently they have perhaps been the main impetus behind some of the large demonstrations on these issues.
  15. Similar victories of this sort over a nursery, play space and other community facilities are described in Jan O’Malley: The Politics of Community Action, Spokesman, 1977.
  16. The limitations of orthodox Marxism in its analysis of women’s oppression has been discussed elsewhere, for example, in Rosalind Delmar’s, ‘Looking Again at Engel’s “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State” “ in A. Oakley and J. Mitchell (eds.) The Rights and Wrongs of Women, Penguin, 1976 and Heidi Hartman, ibid.
  17. John Ross, ‘Capitalism, politics and personal life’ in Socialist Woman, Summer 1977.
  18. This account of the SWP’s present position on women’s politics and what is described as ‘the crisis’ in Women’s Voice is obtained in part from detailed discussions with SWP comrades.
  19. From the ‘Revolutionary Feminist statement’ to the Birmingham Women’s Liberation Conference, 1977.
  20. From ‘Sex, Family and the New Right’ in Radical America, Winter 1977/78.
  21. Judging from the impact of the first edition of Beyond the Fragments in the Trotskyist press, where this section on local organising was completely ignored in almost all the reviews, the ·situation has not changed very much. I had hoped that it might have.
  22. Barbara Ehrenreich makes this point when discussing the importance of developing political morality, ‘Toward a Political Morality’, Liberation, July-August 1977.
  23. See Brooke, ‘The Retreat to Cultural Feminism’, Feminist Revolution, 1975.
  24. See ‘Equal Pay: Why the Acts Don’t Work’, Jenny Earle and Julia Phillips, Spare Rib, no. 86, September 1979.
  25. A discussion of the points of agreement which were reached at the Socialist Feminist Conference in March 1979 can be found in Scarlet Women, July 1979.
  26. B. Campbell and V. Charlton, ‘Work to Rule’ in Red Rag, January 1979.

 

Today in London’s penal herstory, 1784: Sarah Scott killed during Clerkenwell Bridewell ‘riot’.

Clerkenwell Bridewell was a prison and correctional institute for prostitutes and vagrants located in the Clerkenwell area, immediately north of the City of London, between c.1615 and 1794, when it was superseded by the nearby Coldbath Fields Prison in Mount Pleasant. It was named ‘Bridewell’ after the Bridewell Palace, which during the 16th century had become one of the City of London’s most important punishment institutions, aimed at disciplining the increasing unruliness of London’s lower classes through hard work, moral lessons and brutal physical abuse. The Clerkenwell institution served a similar purpose.

If the original Bridewell served the City of London, Clerkenwell was opened to cope with the large numbers who lived just over the City’s northern border, in the county of Middlesex, in the growing and disorderly suburbs outside the City’s control.

Both men and women were imprisoned here, in separate wings, (though married couples could get a joint cell!)

Next-door to the Bridewell was another prison, the New Prison (open 1617-1877). With the House of Detention, the Bridewell, the Clerkenwell Workhouse, the Quaker Workhouse (just north of the Bridewell), the madhouse & the charity school, this small area was a close network of institutions for coercion & repression in the late 18th century.

Prison escaper supreme Jack Sheppard famously broke out of the New Prison with his squeeze Edgeworth Bess in 1724, descending down the wall by rope, only to find they had landed in the yard of the neighbouring Bridewell, and had to promptly improvise an escape from there as well… In June 1780: the Clerkenwell Bridewell was broken into & all the prisoners released, during the Gordon Riots.

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On 1st August 1784, a ‘riot’ broke out at about six in the evening, in the women’s section of the Clerkenwell Bridewell prison. During the disturbance, William Stevenson, a member of the London Watch, shot a prisoner, Sarah Scott, dead.

There was some disturbance in the prison of Clerkenwell by the prisoners, concerning the distribution of their provisions, which were either detained longer, or not given at the usual place…”

According to witness John Woodward, at Stevenson’s later trial:

“I was a turnkey at this prison, there was a disturbance, I think it was on Friday; on Friday night I let the women down as usual to serve them their fines, but there was a great disturbance, and I thought proper on the Saturday to serve them through the hole, as well as the men, and that would keep them from the men, and so I did, it was very quiet; on the Saturday, the men had broke a hole through their wall into the women’s wall; we were obliged to set up all night, and have workmen all night to mend that hole up again: on Sunday evening, about six o’clock, I went to serve the women as usual, and thought they would take it quietly again; when I came to bring in the basket, Ann Charnock, one of the women, began to blaspheme and swear that they would have it down as usual, I expostulated with them that it was the Governor’s orders, which I must obey; I thought within myself, if I let her down the rest will be quiet, and take their fines as usual; she slew at me and drove me from the gate, the rest began to swear they would have the gate down: Forsyth, another servant of our’s, came to my assistance, and she began to sly at him, however between us we got her into the lodge, we told her we must punish her for her impudence, and we put her on a small pair of irons, to cool her and calm her; she caught me by my coat; and I did not see them take the arms.
– Whilst you was in the lodge was there a great noise and disturbance in the gaol? – Undoubtedly.
– Did you hear any thing particular? – I heard nothing particular, I cannot say what kind of noise it was.
– Was there any stones, or any thing else thrown? – There were stones thrown whilst I was in the yard, undoubtedly, plenty, a great many.
– Where did they get them from? – Pulling the wall down, and pulling up the pavement, here are some of the stones.

(A quantity of stones almost as big as a man’s head produced.)”

A prisoner later gave evidence at the same trial, which makes it sound like not so much of a threat:

“- You say the women were very riotous at this time? – Yes, they did make a great noise.
– In consequence of this Charnock was ironed? – Yes.
– That did not appease them, I take it for granted, that made them still more riotous? – Yes.
– In consequence of which they abused the turnkeys, and used them extremely ill? – They did call them very bad names.
– Did you see any stones thrown? – I never saw but one piece of stone or brickbat, but whether from the men’s side or women’s side I cannot tell, that fell just by the water tub, which is almost before the governor’s window.
– Did it fall near the turnkeys? – No, not near them.
– What was the purpose of throwing it? – I cannot tell.
Did they throw it at one another? – That I cannot tell, I was not on their side.
– You do not know whether it was thrown at the turnkeys or not? – I do not know, the order that was given, was to arm and to go down the yard and quell the riot, and after the soldiers had been desired to fire, the prisoner said, he would fire if they forced him to it, he said, he would fire, I heard one woman say, if you will fire you must.
– During the minute, from the time he said he would fire to the time he fired, they were perfectly peaceable? – Yes.
– There was no riot in the gaol at the time? – No.
– When was it they first broke through the wall? – That I believe was on the Saturday.
– That had furnished them a tolerable quantity of materials to batter with? – I cannot tell.
– Was all the materials and rubbish moved? – I cannot tell.”

William Stevenson, a member of the London night watch outside the prison, was called inside in response to the riot. Three soldiers arrived, coincidentally, to visit a woman prisoner, but instead, they were taken to the keeper’s lodge and given a blunderbuss each by Brown, a screw. As they were being led into an internal courtyard William Stevenson snatched a blunderbuss out of the hands of one of the soldiers, William Rickwater. Once in the courtyard the soldiers were ordered, by a Mr. Forsyth, possibly in charge of the prisoners at hard labour, to fire into the women’s section, but they refused. Stevenson announced that he would do it and he fired through a wicket gate, despite efforts by Rickwater to stop him. His shot killed Sarah Scott, “a prisoner, committed… for six months, about half of which was expired, and was standing at a wicket gate within a partition wall of the prison”. Scott had two children, and was also seven months pregnant.

This quelled the rioting, but this was not the end of the matter. William Stevenson was charged with murder, of “Sarah the wife of Samuel Scott , in the peace of God and our Lord the King, then being, feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did make an assault, and with a certain blunderbuss, value 5 s. which he the said William Stevenson then had and held in both his hands, charged with gunpowder and two leaden bullets, against the said Sarah Scott , feloniously and wilfully did shoot and discharge, and with the said leaden bullets so discharged and shot off, by force of the gunpowder aforesaid, from the blunderbuss aforesaid, in and upon the face, near the left eye of the said Sarah, feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did strike, penetrate, and wound, giving her, the said Sarah, in and upon her face, near her left eye, one mortal wound of the width of three inches, and of the breadth of two inches, of which the said Sarah instantly died.”

William Rickwater, the soldier who had refused to fire on the rioters and whose blunderbuss Stevenson had used, gave evidence against Stevenson, at the trial at the Old Bailey, in September 1784:

“I am a bricklayer and a soldier, I was at Clerkenwell Bridewell on the 1st of August, at six in the evening.

What happened then in your presence? – I went up to the gate, and knocked at the gate, one of the turnkeys opened the gate and said, soldier, come in.

Court: How many were there of you? – Me and two more, when I got in I went to the lodge, there was one Ann Charnock at the lodge, very much disguised in liquor, they were ironing her, Brown was assisting them; the woman was used very ill, they were pushing her down.

Court: What business had the soldiers there? – I went to see a comrade’s wife there, one Mrs. Harding.

Then you was not sent for as a party of soldiers? – No, my Lord, not at all; then Brown, the turnkey, unlocked the place where the fire arms lay, and gave me and my two comrades a blunderbuss each; he says, soldier, go backwards, in the mean time, as I was going out of the lodge, the prisoner Stevenson catched the blunderbuss out of my hand, and immediately I took my bayonet up and went backwards with them, I went first, and Stevenson the prisoner followed me, and my two comrades followed him, we went to the women’s gate.

Mr. Peatt. Where is the women’s gate situated? – At the upper part of the yard, beyond the men’s.

How far is that from the outward gate? – As nigh as I can guess it is four or five roods, but to say the truth, I cannot resolve the question.

Is it the length of this Court? – About the length of the boards before the bench to the door of this Court.

Is that gate in a partitioned wall? – Yes, it divides the partition wall between the gate and the passage that goes to and fro to the prisoners, the women’s gate is at one part of the yard, and the men’s at the other, there is a free passage between them.

Court: Then the women’s gate is on one side the passage, and the men’s on the other? – It is a common yard, the same as you may go up any other yard, the doors are both on one side: we went up to the gate, there was some women knocking with their hands at the wicket of the women’s gate, the wicket was shut.

Court: Do you mean a woman prisoner that was knocking? – I believe there was nobody but the women prisoners there, but I cannot resolve the question for certain.

What happened then? – Some person opened the wicket, I cannot say who it was.

Some persons within? – No, my Lord, without-side, it was some person belonging to the party that was with us; when the wicket was open, some person said, soldier, why do not you fire; I cannot say who said so.

Mr. Peatt. Did it appear to you that there was any danger of the walls being beat down, or any thing of that sort? – No, only women talking together, like a couple of companies talking in a tap-room, gathered together, not as any ways riotous at that time, in the mean time the person, after he had said, soldier, why do not you fire, made an uncommon expression to mention before the Court, he said, if we would not fire he would; he repeated them words twice, and I said, for God sake do not fire on them; he made the expression, with the same oath, that be would fire immediately up the women’s yard, and immediately turned it round, and presented it right at the body of Sarah Scott , she stood by herself; when I saw his intent, I caught hold of the blunderbuss, to draw it from the wall as far as I could, to prevent his firing and doing any mischief.

Did you succeed? – I did not, he immediately at the same time pulled the trigger; I had the blunderbuss in my hand at the same time, and after he pulled the trigger, the body of the deceased stood but a very trifling time, and fell, and a couple of girls caught her, she was all over a gore of blood, as if you had poured water; she leaned her head on two women near her, I said to him you have killed the woman; he said, I do not care; immediately he returned to the lodge, and the other two soldiers; I gave the bayonet to the turnkey at the women’s gate, and asked him to let me go in among the women, he let me in, and I went and saw the body lay all over a gore of blood on the ground, she was soon after moved up the yard; I saw as much blood and brains lay after they had removed her, as would fill the crown of my hat, it lay in such quantities.

Did any thing material happen after that? – Nothing at all that I saw, the prisoners were very quiet at the time, and as far as ever I saw afterwards: the woman was with child, I saw her the day before.

Mr. Silvester, one of the Prisoner’s Council. Now you have told us the whole? – Yes, Sir, as far as I know.

Exactly as it was from the beginning to the end? – Yes.

You had been there the day before? – Yes, Sir.

You was not acquainted with this Sarah Scott ? – No.

When you came there the gaol was perfectly quiet? – All but this woman that was drunk at the lodge.

Then did not you think it very odd that they should put arms into your hands? – Yes, Sir, I supposed there was some riot, but I found none; I had the arms from the lodge.

Did not they tell you why they gave you the arms? – No.

Nor you did not ask any reasons why? – No.

Nor they never told you? – No.

And every thing appeared to you perfectly quiet? – Yes, I saw no other.

What is this man? – I do not know, they said he was one of the watchmen of the street.

Was not he one of the turnkeys? – Not that I know of.

Was he called in to assist? – I do not know, he was there when I came in.

What did they say when they came in? – Nothing at all; Mr. Brown, said, soldier, come in, this is Ann Charnock . I never saw any stones thrown, nor did not perceive any thrown at the time; what was done before or after I cannot resolve.

Nor the men upon the wall endeavouring to make their escape? – I never saw any thing of the kind, as God is my Judge.

Nor none of the men had got into the women’s apartments? – I never saw any thing of the kind.

Then your business was merely to see Mrs. Harding? – Yes, Sir, I went from her husband, he was in New Prison gaol, for having some words with a man.

Then you mean to say there was no riot or disturbance or any remarkable noise in the gaol? – Not in my presence, no further than this, Ann Charnock .

How came you not to ask some of these turnkeys? – I supposed it to be such, by giving us arms, but I found none.

You say Stevenson ordered you to fire? – No, Sir, I beg your pardon, I said somebody ordered me to fire, somebody said soldier, why do not you fire? we made answer, we will not fire.

What did they say fire at? – They did not mention at any thing at all, they said, soldier, why do not you fire; the door was shut, but the wicket was open.

How came it open? – Some person on the outside belonging to the party we were with opened it.

Did you see them open it? – I saw some person open it, who it was I do not know.

Did he open the gate? – No, Sir.

Will you upon your oath say it was not forced open by the prisoners on the inside? – Yes, if required I would at that time, what happened before we came in I do not know, and as to asking me questions I cannot answer, is of no use, for I think I have a just God to answer to when I go into another world.

You know many of the gentlemen that reside in that prison? – No, Sir, only by sight.

You did not see them that day? – Yes, I did.

Were they in the women’s apartments? – I believe Mr. Hopkins was, but who else was I cannot say; I do not say clearly that there was not, or that there was; I saw some man, but whether he was a prisoner or not, I cannot say.

Was he in irons? – No, Sir, there was no man in irons as I saw.

Can you tell us how many men were there? – I cannot; there were people to see their acquaintance as well as me; I saw the men prisoners walking to and fro in their yard, their wicket was open.

Then this blunderbuss did not go off till you had got hold of it? – I had hold of it up to the muzzle, in order to prevent it.

Not to list it up? – No.

How could you see him pulling up the trigger so easily? – Because the man had it in his hand.

Do you mean to swear that he pulled the trigger? – No, Sir, I swear that he had the blunderbuss in his hand; I tried to pull it back, but I could not, at that instant it went off.

You never saw any thing of a stick poked through the wicket? – No.

Was you the man that washed your hands in the blood; or who did? – Upon my soul, I cannot resolve the question; I never saw any thing of the kind acted.

Gently, gently, soldier, was you there when the justice came? – That is the gentleman that came in and looked at the body.

Aye, was Hopkins or any of the witnesses there then? – I cannot say.

Did you see any man run his hands into the blood of this poor woman, and say, this is delightful work, I will sleep in these hands? – I did not.

Will you say it never did happen? – I never saw it happen, and more than that, that gentleman said it was too partial to fire on them as soon as they did, he said, they need not be so hasty as they were.

How came you not to knock it up in the air? – I know the nature of a blunderbuss and firelock too well, I tried as far as my endeavours lay to prevent it, I tried to pull it back but I could not; those fire arms will not go off with a shake.”

Despite all the evidence given against him, Stevenson was, however, acquitted. When was the last time a screw or copper was convicted over any one of the many deaths in custody?

Not so much changes over 200 years.

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In 1847 the new Clerkenwell House of Detention, also known simply as Clerkenwell Prison, was built on the site of the two former prisons.

Later, the site was occupied by the former Hugh Myddelton School (1893-c.1960), in Bowling Green Lane, – which has itself now been converted into flats. The Victorian vaults of the House of Detention can still be accessed from Clerkenwell Close.