Today in London aeronautical herstory, 1909: Muriel Matters flies suffragette airship over West London

Steampunk rebels eat your heart out…

If you thought the scene in the old Ealing Comedy film Kind Hearts and Coronets, where the suffragette aunty flies a hot air balloon to distribute ‘Votes for Women’ leaflets from the air, was made up – think again…

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Women’s struggle to win the right to vote in the United Kingdom in the first couple of decades of the 20th century was long and full of both inspiring actions and fierce repression.

As well as traditional methods of campaigning, lobbies, meetings, leafleting, some activists carried out direct actions, sabotage, arson and destruction of property. As the male establishment continued to lock women out, suffragettes developed novel ways of grabbing media attention, devising elaborate and eye-catching stunts.

One lesser known but brilliant action employed red hot technology: the launch of the suffragette airship, flown over London in 1909 by Muriel Matters.

Muriel Matters

Muriel Matters was born in Australia and became a professional actress. Moving to England, she got involved with the direct action wing of the suffragette movement. She became politically active after being challenged by the anarchist Prince Kropotkin to use her skills for ‘something more useful’ than the dramatic recitals she was earning a living from, after she performed at his home…

Kropotkin asserted that “Art is not an end of life, but a means.” Matters took this on board, and soon became involved with the Women’s Social & Political Union, and then the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), to further the cause of women’s suffrage. She later wrote that her encounter with Kropotkin, “proved to be the lifetime in a moment lived – my entire mental outlook was changed.”

Throwing herself into campaigning for the vote, Matters travelled the south east counties of England in 1908 as “Organiser in Charge” of the first “Votes for Women” caravan, holding meetings, spreading the word and helping found WFL branches. In October 1908, she took part in a WFL protest at the Houses of Parliament, chaining herself to a grille in the Ladies Gallery of the House of Commons, while declaiming a pro-suffrage speech. As a result becoming one of the very first women to make a speech in Parliament… (if unauthorised)! She was jailed for a month in Holloway for this action. She also formed the League of Light, an organisation to support women, particularly stage actresses, who were oppressed or abused by their employers.

The Women’s Freedom League ‘Votes for Women’ Caravan

On 16 February 1909, King Edward VII officially opened Parliament for the coming year. As a part of the usual bombastic festivities a procession was to be held to the Houses of Parliament, led by His Majesty.  To gain attention to the suffrage cause, Matters’ decided to hire a dirigible air balloon (similar to a modern-day blimp in appearance) and intended to shower the King and the Houses of Parliament with pamphlets headlined with the words “VOTES FOR WOMEN”.

Thirty years later she recalled the trip:

“That morning I went to Hendon and met Mr Henry Spencer who had his airship all ready near the Welsh Harp [These days renamed the Brent Reservoir.] It was quite a little airship, eighty eight feet long (25m), and written in large letters on the gas bag were three words, Votes For Women. Below this was suspended an extremely fragile rigging carrying the engine and a basket, like those used for balloons. We loaded up about a hundredweight of leaflets, then I climbed into the basket, Mr Spencer joined me, and we rose into the air.”

The dirigible, with ‘Votes for Women’ painted on one side and ‘Women’s Freedom League’ on the other, ascended to an altitude of 3,500ft (1,000 metres). “It was very cold,” Muriel recalled, “but I got some exercise throwing the leaflets overboard.”  She later described how Spencer had to climb out of the basket repeatedly and clamber ‘like a spider’ across the dirigible’s framework to make adjustments to the engine. “Suddenly I realised that if he fell off, I hadn’t the first idea how to manoeuvre the airship.” she said. “Not that I was terribly bothered about that. I was too busy making a trail of leaflets across London.”

Matters scattered 56lbs weight of handbills on the streets and houses below as she flew, with other leading members of the Women’s Freedom League, Edith How-Martyn and Elsie Craig, following behind by car.

However, airships and dirigibles, in these early days of steampunk, were difficult to manoeuvre, especially in adverse weather conditions… They tended to drift with the wind, having limited power of their own – in this case a small motor. The wind on the day in question blew somewhat against the suffragette Air Force, frustrating Muriel’s plan to fly over the Palace of Westminster, Instead they drifted around the outskirts of London, passing over Wormwood Scrubs, Kensington, Tooting, eventually crash-landing in the upper branches of a tree in Coulsdon in Surrey, after a flight lasting an hour and a half in total.

Despite failing to fly over the king’s procession, Matters considered the aerial adventure a great success. “The flight achieved all we wanted”, she said. “It got our movement a great deal of publicity, as you can imagine. In those days, the sight of an airship was enough to make people run for miles!”

Muriel’s airship adventure was also the first powered flight from what later became the London Aerodrome at Hendon, which was to feature prominently in both World Wars, and site of various pioneering aviation experiments, among them the first airmail, the first parachute descent from a powered aircraft, the first night flights, and the first aerial defence of a city.

Muriel Matters continued with her political life as an active member of the suffragettes lecturing all over the world.

Like many of her comrades in the Women’s Freedom League and the core group of Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes (and in marked contrast to the bulk of the women’s suffrage movement), Muriel opposed the slaughter of the First World War. In June 1915, one year after the outbreak of the war, Matters declared her opposition to the war in an address entitled “The False Mysticism of War”.

Returning to London from lecture tours abroad in 1916, Muriel became involved with the “Mothers Arms” project in East London led by Sylvia Pankhurst. With the help of others, she educated working class children in the Montessori method in addition to feeding and clothing them. (She had previously studied under Maria Montessori in Barcelona).

After the war, Muriel ran (unsuccessfully) as Labour Party candidate for the seat of Hastings in the General Election of 1924, on a largely socialist platform advocating a fairer distribution of wealth, work for the unemployed and furthering the equality of the sexes.

Muriel Matters died on 17 November 1969 in St. Leonards on Sea nursing home aged ninety-two.

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Being obsessed by airships as well as radical history, Muriel Matters’ flight over West London blew our minds when we read about it. Imagine if this had not been an isolated event, but the start of a free feminist flotilla; airborne activists defeating the male establishment’s control of the streets by taking over the skies… Imagine if we could build such a fleet today; dirigibles or drone-powered; link them together to form free-floating libertarian communist cities in the lower atmosphere, outside the alleged national airspace of the so-called nations… Our theory heavier than cannonballs, our dreams lighter than air…

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

Check out the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar online

 

Today in London radical herstory, 1907: Women’s Suffrage campaigners first big demonstration for the vote, the ‘Mud March’

On 9 February 1907, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies held the first large-scale women’s procession through London, from Hyde Park Corner to Exeter Hall; on the Strand, (now the site of the Strand Palace Hotel).

Around 3,000 women took part, from a range of social classes and occupations, and representing over 40 suffrage organisations. The march was organised by Phillippa Strachey, daughter of leading suffragist Lady Strachey. The women’s suffrage movement had adopted a myriad of tactics, but had never really attempted a mass demo before; the success of the Mud March inspired the NUWSS and the WSPU to organise many larger and larger marches over the next few years.

The torrential rain led to this demonstration becoming known as the “Mud March”: “mud, mud, mud” was the dominant feature of the day, wrote Millicent Garret Fawcett.

The movement for women’s suffrage had become divided between the ‘constitutional’ wing, broadly grouped around the NUWSS, and those who supported direct action, who had largely joined Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The NUWSS continued to lobby, campaign, work through the main political parties, and try to convince politicians as female suffragists had done for several decades. The WSPU held that this approach had been failing to achieve the vote for women for so long that new tactics were needed – more militant and confrontational. WSPU demonstrations, heckling and harassing of politicians, and disrupting of political meetings had been achieving publicity beyond what the constitutional suffragists had managed… Although at this time, relations between the NUWSS and WSPU were still reasonably cordial, and certainly not as acidic as they became later, the more respectable wing felt the pressure to up their game a bit, to show they still had as much influence…

In January 1906 the Liberal Party, led by Henry Campbell-Bannerman, had won an landslide general election victory. Before the election many Liberal MPs had made vague or more definite promises that the new administration would introduce a bill to legislate for women’s suffrage, But after the election, safe in power, Campbell-Bannerman refused to act on the vote for women, saying that it was “not realistic” to introduce new legislation.In response, the WSPU organised a march in protest, attended by 300–400 women.To show that there was support for a suffrage bill, the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage proposed holding a mass procession in London to coincide with the opening of Parliament in February.

Plans for the march highlighted the divisions that were already opening up in the suffrage movement. The Women’s Cooperative Guild would attend only if certain conditions were met, and the British Women’s Temperance Association and Women’s Liberal Federation (WLF) would not attend if the WSPU was formally invited, objecting to the WSPU’s criticism of the government. The WLF was an arena where much of the suffrage movement thus far had been operating. At the time of the march, ten of the twenty women who sat on the NUWSS executive committee were connected to the Liberal Party.

The procession designed to raise public awareness for a private member’s bill for women’s suffrage at the opening of the Parliament.

The march was noted at the time for its wide-ranging class representation. The leadership of he suffrage movement was often highly aristocratic, and this was reflected in the prominent figures heading the march, including Lady Frances Balfour, sister-in-law of Arthur Balfour, the former Conservative prime minister; Rosalind Howard, the Countess of Carlisle, of the Women’s Liberal Federation; the poet and trade unionist Eva Gore-Booth; and the veteran campaigner Emily Davies. But the middle class was also heavily present – professional women – doctors, schoolmistresses, artists – and there were also large contingents of working women from various cities, marching under banners announcing their varied trades: bank-and-bobbin winders, cigar makers, clay-pipe finishers, power-loom weavers, shirt makers. If the leadership of the NUWSS and WSPU was generally posh, women’s suffrage was a cutting issue right down to the active layers of the working class.

The march was led by Millicent Fawcett, leader of the NUWSS, Lady Strachey, Lady Frances Balfour, and Keir Hardie, also prominent suffragists. The Artist’s Suffrage League designed posters and postcards advertising the march, and designed and made around 80 embroidered banners for the march itself.

Despite the wet weather, thousands of people turned out to watched the march. The sight of thousands of women from across social divides marching together was enough of a novelty to persuade people to brave the rain. Press from across Europe and America were fascinated by the diversity of women involved. At the time, it was perceived that women were reluctant to make displays of themselves in public. As such, the participants in the march were considered to be even more dedicated to the suffrage because they were willing to put themselves through such an experience. Kate Frye was on the march, and she obviously relished taking part, writing in her diary that she “felt like a martyr of old and walked proudly along.”

The rally at the end of the march was chaired by Walter McLaren, and his wife, Eva, a member of the Women’s Liberal Federation, gave a speech. Other speakers were made by Eva Gore Booth (Women’s Trades Council) and Esther Roper (Women’s Textile Workers’ Committee), and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, president of the NUWSS, Lady Strachey, Keir Hardy, and Israel Zangwill.

Although the militant WSPU was not officially represented, many of its members attended the demo, including Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Annie Kenney, Anne Cobden-Sanderson, Nellie Martel, Edith How-Martyn, Flora Drummond, Charlotte Despard and Gertrude Ansell. At this point “belonging to both organisations, going to each others’ events and wearing both badges was quite usual”, though heavy divisions were opening up and would sharpen over the coming months.

At 2.30 pm the march, having formed a line down Rotten Row, set off in the drenching rain, led by a brass band, and followed by a phalanx of carriages and motor cars, many of which carried flags bearing the letters “WS”, red and white banners and bouquets of red and white flowers. Despite the rain, thousands of onlookers thronged the pavements to enjoy the novel spectacle of “respectable women marching in the streets”.

Some of the press was heavily critical of the demo, including modern liberal darlings, The Observer, whose leading article the day after the march read:

“It is not so much who is to mind the baby … but a question concerning the fundamental idea of sex, and the effects physical, mental and economic, that any revolutionary change in the conditions of women’s life must have on the vital civic duty and natural function of women—which is the healthy propagation of race. … What is aimed at is nothing less than complete sex emancipation; the right of women not only to vote, but to enter public life on equal conditions with men. It is a physical problem before all things, and an economic problem of great complexity and difficulty. … It is the fact that woman are not educated to take any rational interest in politics, history, economics, science, philosophy or the serious side of life, which they, as the embodiment of the lighter side, are brought up, and have been brought up since the days of Edenic beginnings, to consider as the privilege and property of the stronger sex. The small section of women who desire the vote completely ignore the educational feature of the whole question, as they do the natural laws of physical force and the teachings of history about men and Government”

Lovely.

The Observer also recorded that “there was hardly any of the derisive laughter which had greeted former female demonstrations”, although The Morning Post reported “scoffs and jeers of enfranchised males who had posted themselves along the line of the route, and appeared to regard the occasion as suitable for the display of crude and vulgar jests”.  The Daily Mail —which supported women’s suffrage (unusually progressive, for them?) —carried an eyewitness account, “How It Felt”, by Constance Smedley of the Lyceum Club. Smedley described a divided reaction from the crowd “that shared by the poorer class of men, namely, bitter resentment at the possibility of women getting any civic privilege they had not got; the other that of amusement at the fact of women wanting any serious thing … badly enough to face the ordeal of a public demonstration”.

A commemorative napkin designed to remember the Mud March

Approaching Trafalgar Square the march split in two (along, er, class lines!): representatives from the northern industrial towns held an open-air meeting at Nelson’s Column, which had been arranged by the Northern Franchise Demonstration Committee. The main march continued to Exeter Hall, for a more respectable indoor rally chaired by the Liberal politician Walter McLaren, whose wife, Eva McLaren, was one of the scheduled speakers. Keir Hardie, leader of the Labour Party, told the indoor meeting that if women won the vote, it would be thanks to the “suffragettes’ fighting brigade” (possibly meaning the actions of the WSPU, a comment that got him loudly hissed by several Liberal women on the platform) Hardie spoke strongly in favour of the meeting’s resolution, which was carried, that women be given the vote on the same basis as men, and demanded a bill in the current parliamentary session. Daggers were certainly out between the constitutionalists and the militants: at the Trafalgar Square meeting, Eva Gore-Booth referred to the “alienation of the Labour Party through the action of a certain section in the suffrage movement”, and asked the party “not to punish the millions of women workers” because of the actions of a small minority. But when Hardie arrived from Exeter Hall, he expressed the hope that “no working man bring discredit on the class to which he belonged by denying to women those political rights which their fathers had won for them”.

The march was considered so successful that Pippa Strachey was asked to organise all the NUWSS’s later large marches.

Four days after the march, the NUWSS executive met with the Parliamentary Committee for Women’s Suffrage to discuss a private member’s bill. The same day, the suffragettes held their first “Women’s Parliament” at Caxton Hall, after which 400 women ‘rushed’ the Commons to protest against the omission from the King’s Speech, the day before, of a women’s suffrage bill; over 60 were arrested, and 53 chose prison over a fine.

On 26 February 1907 the Liberal MP for St Pancras North, Willoughby Dickinson, published the text of a Women’s Enfranchisement Bill, proposing that women should have the vote subject to the same property qualification that applied to men. This would have enfranchised between one and two million women. Although the bill received strong backing from the suffragist movement, in the House of Commons, some of the MPs who might have normally supported votes for women regarded it as giving more votes to the propertied classes, while doing nothing for working women. On 8 March Dickinson introduced his bill in the House of Commons for its second reading (pleading that members should not be swayed by their distaste for the WPSU’s militant actions; the “Ladies Gallery” was kept closed during the debate in case of protests by the WSPU). But the debate was inconclusive and the bill was “talked out” (filibustered) without a vote. After a mammoth effort in supporting the bill, lobbying MPs and campaigning, this feeble end affronted many on the NUWSS; the damp squib respectable campaigning had achieved had the effect of increasing support for the more militant WPSU.

The success of the Mud March, despite the foul weather, helped establish the large-scale organised procession as a key tactic for the campaign for women’s suffrage in Britain. The demo was the largest-ever public demonstration in support of woman’s suffrage thus far; although progress on the parliamentary front seemed as far off as ever, the demo had huge significance in the general suffrage campaign. It brought the constitutionalists’ tactics closer to those of the WSPU. The ‘humiliating’ idea of parading in the street also established a theme of martyrdom in the movement, which was to increase over the next decade (especially among the upper class women for whom public appearances were supposed to be carefully choreographed). Ray Strachey wrote:

“In that year the vast majority of women still felt that there was “something very dreadful in walking in procession through the streets; to do it was to be something of a martyr, and many of the demonstrators felt that they were risking their employments and endangering their reputations, besides facing a dreadful ordeal of ridicule and public shame. They walked, and nothing happened. The small boys in the streets and the gentlemen at the club windows laughed, but that was all. Crowds watched and wondered; and it was not so dreadful after all … the idea of a public demonstration of faith in the Cause took root.”

The Mud March marked a sea change in public perception of the NUWSS – from being seen as a “regional debating society” it entered into the sphere of national politics. The failure of Dickinson’s bill also led to a new direction in NUWSS strategy; it began to intervene directly in by-elections, on behalf of the candidate of any party who would publicly support women’s suffrage.

The stage was set for seven years of intense campaigning, that would accelerate into near civil war…

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

Check out the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar online

Today in publishing history, 1650: House of Commons orders burning of of A Fiery Flying Roll by ranter Abiezer Coppe.

“Howl, howl, ye nobles, howl honourable, howl ye rich men for the miseries that are coming upon you.

For our parts we that hear the Apostle preach will also have all things in common; neither will we call anything that we have our own…. Wee’l eat your bread together in singleness of heart, wee’l break bread from house to house.”
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Abiezer Coppe, A Fiery Flying Roll, 1650)

The so-called Ranters formed the extreme left wing of the sects which came into prominence during the English Revolution of the 1640s-50s. If theologically the English Revolutionary sects lay somewhere between orthodox Calvinism, (with its emphasis on the power and justice of God as illustrated in the grand scheme of election and reprobation, with its insistence upon the reality of Hell in all its most literal horrors and upon the most verbal and dogmatic acceptance of the Scriptures), and of antinomianism (stressing God’s mercy and universality, rejecting moral law and thus rejecting Hell in any but the most figurative sense, and its replacement of the authority of the Scriptures by that of the inner light).
The Ranters pushed antinomian beliefs to the extreme – their beliefs, when acted upon, soon brought them into conflict with law and authority.

Ranter theory combined both pantheistic mysticism and a plebeian materialism – seemingly contradictory, but often expressed in the same breath… Ranters rejected the belief in the literalism of biblical texts, instead plumping for their own symbolic interpretation of the Bible, or to rejecting the whole caboodle. From developing belief that the moral law no longer had authority for the people of a new age enjoying the liberty of the sons of God, many drew the conclusion for them no act was sinful – which some wasted no time putting into practice.

The political views of the Ranters followed logically from this theology. God existed in all things:

“I see that God is in all Creatures, Man and Beast, Fish and Fowle, and every green thing, from the highest Cedar to the Ivey on the wall; and that God is the life and being of them all, and that God doth really dwell, and if you will personally; if he may admit so low an expression in them all, and hath his Being no where else out of the Creatures.”

But man alone could be conscious of his Godhead and this gave to all a new and equal dignity. The poorest beggars, even

“rogues, thieves, whores, and cut purses” are “every whit as good” as the great ones of the earth.”

Many of the Ranters (unlike pretty much all the other political and religious groupings of the time), attempted to speak for and to the most wretched and submerged elements of the population, eg the slum dwellers of London and England’s other cities (though to what impact is unknown). Ranter writings share a deep concern for the poor; most denounce the rich, and several voice something like a primitive biblical communism. Like Winstanley and the Diggers (and unlike Leveller John Lilburne and his followers), they happily accepted the name of Leveller in its most radical implications – but to them, God himself was the great Leveller, who was to come shortly “to Levell with a witnesse, to Levell the Hills with the Valleyes, to lay the Mountaines low”. 

The Ranters began to attract attention soon after the defeat of the Leveller-inspired mutiny of radical New Model Army elements at Burford in 1649 – this was very much a theology the of defeated and disillusioned, to some extent of activists (many ex-Levellers and civil war veterans) for whom the war had not brought the just society they had dreamed of and fought for. Levelling by sword and political activity had failed (some also refer to the failure of ‘spade levelling’, ie the Digger projects of 1649-50; many ranters now placed their faith in Levelling by miracle. God himself would confound the mighty, through the agency and in the interests of the poorest, lowest and most despised of the earth.

The Ranter movement, such as it was, came into sudden prominence towards the end of 1649, reached its peak in the following year and thereafter survived only in fragments. It was never a coherent political movement united by any political programme in any sense. It is difficult to separate the true ideas the ranters expressed from the many hostile publications that denounced them and exaggerated or misrepresented them – however, what is know about their actions and the writings they did leave suggest ideas and activities calculated to totally outrage orthodox society, particularly when puritanism was basically politically and socially triumphant.

Although many accusations of lewd behaviour and what was then considered outrageous beliefs were charged to the ranters by their many detractors, it seems genuinely true that many ranters believed that all things should be held in common, that they were beyond the moral condemnation of moral authority, and that a joyous social life should be free and easy for all.

The Ranters Last Sermon, an attack on ranting ideas, acknowledges that ‘They taught, That it was quite contrary to the end of Creation, to Appropriate anything to any Man or Woman; but that there ought to be a Community of all things.”

Ranters’ social gatherings were noted; they ate together, drank wine, smoked tobacco (generally regarded at the time as an act of doubtful morality), danced and sang. Samuel Shepherd calls them “The Joviall Crew”.

Another hostile commentator, Ephraim Pagitt, admitted:

“They are the merriest of all devils, for extempore lascivious Songs, not extempore Prayer, but as absurd and nonsensicall, for healths, musick, downright baudry and dancing, the two last of which commonly proceed and follow the conjunction of the fellow creatures, which is not done in corners.”

These festive Ranter meetings may not have been just an expression of camaraderie and having fun (important as that was) – perhaps they also embodied ritual. Was the collective meal, a sharing of bread, a kind of sacrament? The Ranters parodies of the Christian sacraments seem like a striving towards a ritual of their own.

Hostile pamphlets also printed three alleged Ranter hymns – one a drinking song, one advocating sexual liberty and a third ridiculing orthodox religion. AL Morton compares this to the importance of singing among the American IWW, 250 years later: the early 19th century IWW “were also fond of irreverent parodies of hymns. Under the Commonwealth the old laws of settlement had broken down and one of the very real if temporary freedoms the Revolution had brought was the freedom to move about in search of work. It may well be that among these migratory workers, unattached and prepared to break with tradition, the Ranters found many of their supporters. This would at least help to explain the rapidity with which they seem to have spread to all parts of the country.”

Attack on the ranters charged them with sexual promiscuity: “They say that for one man to be tied to one woman, or one woman to be tied to one man, is a fruit of the curse; but they say, we are freed from the curse; therefore it is our liberty to make use of whom we please.

Edward Hide Junior, a hostile critic, but usually fairly accurate in his descriptions, wrote that the ranters believed “that all the women in the world are but one mans wife in unity and all the men in the world are but one womans husband in unity; so that one man may lie with all the women in the world in unity, and one woman may lie with all men in the world, for they are all her husband in unity”.

Abiezer Coppe both developed ‘Ranter’ attitudes the furthest, and became the best known and best-remembered of ranters. Coppe was born in Warwickshire and in 1636 went to Oxford, first to All Souls College, then to Merton College; here he (according, admittedly, to later detractors) became notorious for immoral behaviour: “And it was then notoriously known that he would several times entertain for one night or more a wanton huswife in his Chamber… in the little or old quadrangle, to whom carrying several times meat, at the hour of refection, he would make answer, when being asked by the way, what he would do with it, that it was a bit for his cat.”

It was later also alleged that after Coppe had turned Ranter “‘twas usual with him to preach stark-naked many blasphemies and unheard of villanies in the day-time, and in the night to be drunk and lye with a wench that had been also his hearer stark naked.”

Such accusations are typical of many that were made against Coppe – many of which he repudiated with what seems genuine indignation. Pamphlets written against the Ranters, he writes, are scandalous and “bespattered with Lyes and Forgeries, in setting me in front of such actions which I never did, which my soul abhors; such things which mine eyes never beheld, such words which my tongue never spake, and mine cars never heard.

All like that false aspersion – Viz, that I was accompanied to Coventry with two she-disciples, and that 1 lay there with two women at once. Which two she-disciples were Captain Blak, and other Souldiers, who have hurried me from Gaol to Gaol; where I sing Hallelujahs to the Righteous judge, and lie in his bosome, who is everlasting loving kindness.”

After leaving Oxford Coppe turned Presbyterian, then Anabaptist, preaching widely in Warwickshire. He was in prison in Coventry in 1646. Finally after a prolonged spiritual convulsion he became a Ranter. This crisis he has described more vividly and in greater detail than any other Ranter writer:

“First, all my strength, my forces were utterly routed, my house I dwelt in fired; my father and mother forsook me, the wife of my bosome loathed me, mine old name was rotted, perished; and I was utterly plagued, consumed, damned, rammed and sunk into nothing, into the bowels of the still Eternity (my mothers wombe) out of which I came naked, and whereto I returned again naked. And lying a while there, rapt up in silence, at length (the bodys outward forme being awake an this while) I heard with my outward eare (to my apprehension) a most terrible thunder-clap. and after that a second. And upon the second thunder-clap, which was exceeding terrible, I saw a great body of light, like the light of the Sun, and red as fire, in the forme of a drum (as it were), whereupon with exceeding trembling and amazement on the flesh, and with joy unspeakable in the Spirit, I clapt my hands, and cryed out, Amen, Halelujah, Halelujah, Amen. And so lay trembling, sweating and smoking (for the space of half an houre) at length with a loud voice (I inwardly) cryed Out, Lord what wilt thou do with me; my most excellent majesty and eternall glory (in me) answered and sayd, Fear not. I will take thee up into my everlasting Kingdom. But thou shalt (first) drink a bitter cup, a bitter cup, a bitter cup; whereupon (being filled with exceeding amazement) I was throwne into the belly of hell (and take what you can of it in these expressions, though the matter is beyond expression) I was among all the Devils in hell, even in their most hideous crew. And under all this terrour and amazement, there was a little spark of transcendent, unspeakable glory, which survived, and sustained itself, triumphing, exulting and exalting itself above all the Fiends.”

This conversion seems to have taken place in Warwickshire around mid-1649; the vision included a command, “Go up to London, to London, that great City”. Coppe, who expressed the social aspect of his teaching more than any other Ranter, began in the autumn of 1649 to wander the streets of London, giving sermons on the streets (and in the odd church), aimed at the London poor – denouncing the rich.

His pamphlet, A Fiery Flying Roll, both expresses the ideas these sermons touched on, and recounts his career preaching on the street. Coppe describes himself “charging so many Coaches, so many hundreds of men and women of the greater rank, in the open streets, with my hand stretched out, My hat cock’t up, staring on them as if I would look thorough them, gnashing with my teeth at some of them, and day and night with a huge loud voice proclaiming the day of the Lord throughout London and Southwark.”

Coppe’s sermonising in the streets, and then the publication of A Fiery Flying Roll (on January 1st, 1650) opened the period of maximum Ranter activity; quickly followed by a campaign of both official persecution and written abuse against them.

A Fiery Flying Roll described itself as “A Word from the Lord to the Great ones of the Earth”. With it was bound A Second Fiery Flying Roll, addressed “To all the Inhabitants of the Earth”. Coppe’s unconventional behaviour and violent language attracted lots of attention towards him and other ranters.

Coppe described the gospel as

“To the Scribe folly; to the Pharisee blasphemy, who hath [ad unguem] at’s fingers ends, he blasphemeth, is a friend of Publicans and Harlots, he is a glutton, and wine-bibber; and say we not well, that he hath a divil?Which Pharisee, in man, is the mother of harlots, and being the worst whore, cries whore first: and the grand blasphemer, cries out blasphemy, blasphemy, which she is brimful of . . .

But the hour is coming, yea now is, That all his carnal Outward, formal religion, (yea of Scriptural cognizance, so far as its fleshly and formal) and all his fleshly holiness, zeal and devotion shall be, and is, set upon the same account as outward drunkeness, theft, murther and adultery….

Yea the time is coming, that zealous, holy, devout, righteous, religious men shall (one way) dye, for their Holiness and Religion, as well as Thieves and Murtherers for their Theft and Murther….

But once more, the time is coming, that Thieves and Murtherers shall scape, as well as the most zealous and formal professors; and men shall be put to death (or be murthered by men) no more for the one than for the other.”

But cataclysmic as the impending Millennium may be, Coppe still maintains a marked pacifism: as he insisted, he “never drew sword, or shed one drop of any mans blood … all things are reconciled to me, the etemall God (IN HIM) yet sword levelling, or digging levelling, are neither of them his principles.
And now thus saith the Lord: Though you can as little endure the word LEVELLING as could the late slaine or dead Charles (your forerunner who is gone before you) and had as live heare the Devil named as heare of the Levellers (Men-Levellers) which is, and who (indeed) are but the shadowes of the most terrible, yet great and glorious good things to come.

Behold, behold, behold, I the eternall God the Lord of Hosts, who am that mighty Leveller am coming (yea even at the doores) to Levell in good earnest, to Levell to some purpose, to Levell with a witnesse, to Levell the Hills with the Valleyes, and to lay the Mountaines low….

For’ lo I come (saith the Lord) with a vengeance, to levell also your Honour, Riches etc. to staine the pride of all your Glory, and to bring into contempt all the Honourable (both persons and things) upon the earth, 1sa. 23. 9.

For this Honour, Nobility, Gentility, Propriety, Superfluity etc hath (without contradiction) been the Father of hellish horrid pride, arrogance, haughtinesse, loftinesse, murder, malice, of all manner of wickedness and impiety, yea, the cause of all the blood that ever hath been shed, from the blood of the righteous Abell, to the blood of the last Levellers that were shot to death. And now as I live (saith the Lord) 1 am come to make inquisition for blood…

And maugre the subtilty, and sedulity, the craft and cruelty of hell and earth: this Levelling shall up; Not by sword; we (holily) scorne to fight for anything; we had as live be dead drunk every day of the weeke, and lye with whores i’th market place; and account these as, good actions as taking the poor abused, enslaved ploughmans money from him… we had rather starve, I say, than take away his money from him, for killing of men.”

This is not only a critique of the Civil Wars that had rocked the nation, but overtly disses the Leveller attempt to push their programme through mutiny and rebellion. The revulsion to the slaughter of the past eight year is understandable; the sense of futility of achieving change by violence is coloured by the actuality of the defeat the Levellers and their allies were living through.

AL Morton saw Coppe’s ideas as positing a far greater social upheaval than the political changes advocated by John Lilburne and his party, or even Gerard Winstanley’s proposals for joint cultivation on the commons and waste land. Coppe’s writings and sermons melded a passionate attack on the rich and their wealth, looking forward to a primitive Communism which echoed early Christianity and channelled the teachings of the theorist of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, John Ball.

Coppe tried to address himself to the poorest and most depressed strata of society, at a time when the slum population of London was suffering terrible hardships as a result of the wartime dislocation of trade and industry; he declares that God, in whose name he writes, will come upon the rich like a highwayman, saying:

“Thou hast many baggs of money, and behold I [the Lord] come as a thief in the right, with my sword drawn in my hand, and like a thief as I am – I say deliver your purse, deliver sirrah! deliver or I’l cut thy throat!

I say (once more) deliver, deliver my money which thou hast to him, and to poor creeples, lazars, yea to rogues, thieves, whores, and cut purses, who are flesh of thy flesh, and every whit as good as thy self in mine eye, who are ready to starve in plaguy Gaols, and nasty dungeons….

The plague of God is in your purses, barns, houses, horses, murrain will take your hogs (0 ye fat swine of the earth) who shall shortly go to the knife, and be hung up i’th roof, except – blasting, mill-dew, locusts, caterpillars, yea, fire your houses and goods, take your corn and fruit, the moth your garments, and the rot your sheep, did you not see my hand, this last year, stretched out?

You did not see.

My hand is stretched out still.

Your gold and silver, though you can’t see it, is cankered, the rust of them is a witnesse against you, and suddainly, suddainly, suddainly, because of the Eternal God, myself, its the dreadful day of Judgement, saith the Lord, shall eat your flesh as it were fire

James 5.I-7.

The rust of your silver, I say, shall cat your flesh as it were fire.”

Like many ranters, and members of the millenarian sects going back to the Brethren of the Free Spirit and beyond, Coppe felt himself one with God, to the extent that in his writing it is sometimes impossible to say whether his ‘I’ is God or Abiezer Coppe. But he was also one with all men, and especially with the poor and miserable.

Coppe had either left London shortly after the publication of A Roll, or been arrested, as he was soon in prison in Coventry. On February 1st 1650, Parliament issued an Order declaring that passages from A Roll had been read before it and contained “many horrid Blasphemies, and damnable and detestable opinions, to be abhorred by all good and godly people”. It was ordered that copies be publicly burnt “by the hand of the Hangman, at New-Pallace-Yard at Westminster, the Exchange, in Cheapside and at the Market-place in Southwark”. Search was to be made and all copies that could be found were to be destroyed.

Image from ‘The Routing of the Ranters’, a pamphlet which attacked ranterism, 1650

In June Parliament set up a Committee to enquire into the Ranters and other heretical groups. On June 21st it reported “on the several abominable Practices of a Sect called Ranters”, and a Bill was prepared which was debated on several days during June and July. On August 9th Parliament passed its Act for the Punishment of Atheistical, Blasphemous and Execrable Opinions. This Act declared a number of heresies to be punishable by six months’ imprisonment, with banishment for a second offence. These included maintaining that God “dwells in the creature and nowhere else”, that “the acts of uncleannes, Prophane Swearing, Drunkenness, and the like Filthiness and Brutishness, are not unholy and forbidden in the Word of God”, that such actions and “the like open wickedness, are in their nature as Holy and Righteous as the Duties of Prayer, Preaching or giving of Thanks to God”, “that such men and women are most perfect, or like to God or Eternity, which do commit the greatest Sins with least remorse or sense”, and that “there is no such thing really and truly as Unrighteousness, Unholiness or Sin, but as a man or woman judgeth thereof; or that there is neither Heaven nor Hell, neither Salvation nor Damnation, or that those are one and the same thing”.

This Act opened the gates for repression against ranters and their ideas. Some, like Coppe and Joseph Salmon, had already been imprisoned: systematic raids followed, often made on evidence provided by informers. The Ranters, however, were by no means silenced or quickly defeated. A Single Eye by Clarkson appeared in September 1650 and Joseph Bauthumley’s The Light and Dark sides of God in November. Opposition to the Act was also shown by William Larner’s publication in 1651 of The Petition of Divers gathered Churches, and others wel affected, in and about London, for declaring the Ordinance of the Lords and Commons for punishing Blasphemies and Heresies, null and void. This Petition was reprinted in 1655.

Soon after the passing of the Act, Coppe was brought from Coventry to London and examined by a Parliamentary Committee, as were two other prominent ramters, Laurence Clarkson and William Rainborough (an ex-New Model Army officer, brother of the more famous ‘Leveller” Colonel Thomas). Clarkson, like Lilburne and Overton before him, stood on his rights as a free citizen, refusing to answer any questions that might incriminate him. Coppe adopted different tactics. The Weekly Intelligencer for October 1st-8th mentioned “the arrogant and wild deportment of Mr Copp the great Ranter, who made the Fiery Roll, who being brought before the Committee of Examinations, refused to be uncovered, and disguised himself into a madness, flinging Apples and Pears about the roome, whereupon the Committee returned him to Newgate whence he came”.

Coppe remained in prison, and in January 1651 issued a partial recantation – A Remonstrance of the sincere and zealous Protestations of Abiezer Coppe Against the Blasphemous and Execrable Opinions recited in the Act of Aug to 1650. Apart from complaints that he had been slandered, this consisted mainly of denials that he had ever held the views attributed to him. This evidently did not satisfy the authorities and he was kept in prison for another five months till he wrote a second and fuller recantation.

How far Coppe’s enforced recantation was sincere it is difficult to say. He did not convince everyone. In September he preached a recantation sermon at Burford which was attacked by John Tickell in an appendix to The Bottomles Pit Smoking in Familisme. Tickell accused Coppe of deceit and equivocation. The Ranters “use to speak one thing and mean another…. Before the late Act they spake boldly, now they dare not.”

But Coppe seems, as far as possible, to have held to the essence of his beliefs. Thus, in his recantation, while denying that there was no sin, he expressed the view that all men are equally sinful in the eyes of God: “Thieves, little thieves, and great thieves, drunkards, adulterers, and adultresses. Murtherers, little murtherers, and great murtherers. All are sinners. Sinners All. What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise.”

Most significant of all, far from denying any of the social views advanced in A Fiery Flying Roll he reaffirmed them almost defiantly: “As for community, I own none but that Apostolical, saint-like Community, spoken of in the Scriptures. So far as I either do, or should own community, that if flesh of my flesh, be ready to perish; I either will, or should call nothing that I have, mine own. If I have bread it shall, or should be his, else all my religion is in vain. I am for dealing bread to the hungry, for cloathing the naked, for the breaking of every yoak, for the letting of the oppressed go free…. Yet, Know all men by these presents, that I am utterly against the community which is sinful, or destructive to soul or body, or the well being of a Common-wealth…. I own none other, long for none other, but that glorious (Rom. 8) liberty of the sons of God. Which God will hasten in its time.”

After his release Coppe remained in London, but it’s not clear if and how far he resumed his Ranting activities. Quaker George Fox reported a meeting with him in 1655 which suggests that there had been no great change: “During the time I was prisoner at Charing Cross abundance of professors, priests, and officers, and all sorts of people came to see me … and there came one Cobbe, and a great company of Ranters came in that time also, and they began to call for drink and tobacco…”

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Coppe tried to keep his head down: “the name of Coppe odious, he did at the Kings restauration change it to Higham, and practising Physick at Barnelms [Barnes] in Surrey, and sometimes preaching, went for divers years under the name of Dr Higham”. He died in August 1672 and was buried “on the south side of the church there, under the seats”.

Read a chapter on Coppe and other ranters, from A.L. Morton’s ‘The World of the Ranters, (to which this post owes pretty much everything)

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A Fiery Flying Roll

A
Word from the Lord to all the Great Ones of the Earth, whom this may concern: Being the last WARNING PIECE of the dreadful day of JUDGMENT.

For now the Lord is come

To
1. Inform
2. Advise and warn.
3. Charge
4. Judge and sentence
The great ones

As also most compassionately informing, and most lovingly and pathetically advising and warning London.

With a terrible word, and fatal blow from the Lord, upon the gathered CHURCHES.

And all by his most excellent MAJESTY, dwelling in, and shining through auxilium patris, alias Coppe.

With another FLYING ROLL ensuing (to all the inhabitants of the earth). The contents of both following.

Isa. 23.9, The Lord of hosts (is) staining the pride of all glory, and bringing into contempt all the honourable (persons and things) of the Earth. O London, London, how would I gather thee, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, &c.
Know then (in this thy day) the things that belong to thy peace——
I knew the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but of the synagogue of Satan,
 Rev.2.9.

Imprinted at London, in the beginning of that notable day, wherein the secrets of all hearts are laid open; and wherein the worst and foulest of villainies, are discovered, under the best and fairest outsides.1649.

THE PREFACE

An inlet into the Land of Promise, the new Jerusalem, and a gate into the ensuing Discourse, worthy of serious consideration.

 My Dear One.
All or none.
Everyone under the Sun.
Mine own.
My most excellent Majesty (in me) hath strangely and variously transformed this form.
And behold, by mine own Almightiness (in me) I have been changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trump.
And now the Lord is descended from Heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God.
And the sea, the earth, yea, all things are now giving up their dead. And all things that ever were, are, or shall be visible―are the grave wherein the King of glory (the eternal, invisible Almightiness) hath lain as it were dead and buried.
But behold, behold, he is now risen with a witness, to save Zion with vengeance, or to confound and plague all things into himself; who by his mighty angel is proclaiming (with a loud voice) that sin and transgression is finished and ended, and everlasting righteousness be brought in with most terrible earth-quakes and heaven-quakes, and with signs and wonders following.
Amen.
And it hath pleased my most excellent Majesty (who is universal love, and whose service is perfect freedom) to set this form (the writer of this Roll) as no small sign and wonder in fleshly Israel; as you may partly see in the ensuing Discourse.
And now (my dear ones!) every one under the Sun, I will only point at the gate; through which I was led into that new City, new Jerusalem, and to the spirits of just men, made perfect, and to God the Judge of all.
First, all my strength, my forces were utterly routed, my house I dwelt in fired; my father and mother forsook me, the wife of my bosom loathed me; mine old name was rotted, perished; and I was utterly plagued, consumed, damned, rammed, and sunk into nothing, into the bowels of the still eternity (my mother’s womb) out of which I came naked, and where hereto I returned again naked. And lying a while there, rapt up in silence, at length (the body or outward form being awake all this while) I heard with my outward ear (to my apprehension) a most terrible thunderclap, and after that a second. And upon the second thunderclap, which was exceeding terrible, I saw a great body of light, like the light of the Sun, and red as fire, in the form of a drum (as it were) whereupon with exceeding trembling and amazement on the flesh, and with joy unspeakable in the spirit, I clapped my hands, and cried out, Amen, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Amen. And so lay trembling, sweating, and smoking (for the space of half an hour) at length with a loud voice (I inwardly) cried out, Lord, what wilt thou do with me? My most excellent majesty and eternal glory (in me) answered & said, Fear Not, I will take thee up into mine everlasting Kingdom. But thou shalt (first) drink a bitter cup, a bitter cup, a bitter cup. Whereupon (being filled with exceeding amazement) I was thrown into the belly of hell (and take what you can of it in these expressions, though the matter is beyond expression) I was among all the devils in hell, even in their most hideous hue.
And under all this terror, and amazement, there was a little spark of transcendent, transplendent, unspeakable glory, which survived, and sustained itself, triumphing, exulting, and exalting itself above all the fiends. And, confounding all the blackness of darkness (you must take it in these terms, for it is infinitely beyond expression.) Upon this the life was taken out of the body (for a season) and it was thus resembled, as if a man with a great brush dipped in whiting, should with one stroke wipe out, or sweep off a picture upon a wall, &c. After a while, breath and life was returned into the form again. Whereupon I saw various streams of light (in the night) which appeared to the outward eye, and immediately I saw three hearts (or three appearances) in the form of hearts, of exceeding brightness; and immediately an innumerable company of hearts, filling each corner of the room where I was. And methought there was variety and distinction, as if there had been several hearts, and yet most strangely unexpressably complicated or folded up in unity. I clearly saw distinction, diversity, variety, and as clearly saw all swallowed up into unity. And it hath been my song many times since, within and without, unity, universality, universality, unity, Eternal Majesty, &c. And at this vision, a most strong, glorious voice uttered these words: The spirits of just men made perfect. The spirits, &c. with whom I had as absolute, clear, full communion, and in a twofold more familiar way, than ever I had outwardly with my dearest friends and nearest relations. The visions and revelations of God and the strong hand of eternal invisible almightiness was stretched out upon me, within me, for the space of four days and nights without intermission.
The time would fail if I would tell you all, but it is not the good will and pleasure of my most excellent Majesty in me, to declare any more (as yet) than thus much further: That amongst those various voices that were then uttered within, these were some: Blood, blood, Where, where? upon the hypocritical holy heart &c. Another thus: Vengeance, vengeance, vengeance, Plagues, plagues, upon the inhabitants of the Earth; Fire, fire, fire, Sword, sword &c. upon all that bow not down to eternal Majesty, universal love; I’ll recover, recover, my wool, my flax, my money. Declare, declare, fear thou not the faces of any; I am (in thee) ammunition of rocks &c.
Go up to London,<Note: It’s not being shown to me, what I should do, more than preach and print something, &c. Very little expecting I should be so strangely acted, as to my exceeding joy and delight, I have been, though to the utter cracking of my credit, and to the rotting of my old name of which it damned, and cut out (as a toad to the dunghill) that I might have a new name, with me, upon me, within me, which is, I am——Auxilium Patris> to London, that great City, write, write, write. And behold I writ, and lo a hand was sent to me, and a roll of a book was within, which this fleshly hand would have put wings to, before the time. Whereupon it was snatched out of my hand, & the Roll thrust into my mouth, and I eat it up, and filled my bowels with it, (Ezekiel 2:8, &. ch. 3:1,2,3) where it was bitter as wormwood; and it lay broiling, and burning in my stomach, till I brought it forth in this form.
And now I send it flying to thee, with my heart,
And all,

 per AUXILIUM PATRIS

THE CONTENTS

CHAP. 1. Several strange, yet true and seasonable informations to the great ones. As also an apologetical hint of the author’s principle, &c.

CHAP. 2. Several new, strange, yet seasonable and good advice, and wholesome admonitions, and the last warning to the great ones, as from the Lord.

CHAP. 3. Several dismal, doleful cries, & outcries, which Pierce the ears and heart of his excellent Majesty, and how the King of Kings, the King of Heaven charges the great ones of the Earth.

CHAP. 4. How the judge of heaven and earth, who judgeth righteous judgment, passeth sentence against all those great ones, who like sturdy Oaks & tall Cedars will not bow, and how he intends to break them, and blow them up by the roots.

CHAP. 5. A most compassionate information, and a most loving and pathetical warning and advice to London.

CHAP. 6. A terrible word and fatal blow from the Lord upon the gathered Churches, who pretend most for God, yet defy the Almighty more than the vilest.

The Second Flying Roll.

CHAP.1. The author’s commission to write. A terrible woe denounced against those that slight the roll. The Lord’s claim to all things; together with a hint of a twofold recovery, where through the most hypocritical heart shall be ripped up, &c.

CHAP. 2. How the Lord will recover his outward things (things of this life) as money, corn, wool, flax, &c., and for whom: and how they shall be plagued that detain them as their own. Wherein also are some mystical hints concerning Saint Michael’s day, and the Lord’s day following it this year; as also of the Dominical letter D, &c.

CHAP. 3. A strange, yet most true story, under which is couched that lion, whose a roaring shall make all the beasts of the field tremble, and all the kingdoms of the world quake.
Wherein also (in part) the subtlety of the well-favoured Harlot is discovered, and her flesh burnt with that fire which shall burn down all churches, except that of the firstborn, &c.

CHAP. 4. That the author hath been set as a sign and wonder, &c. as well as most of the Prophets formerly; as also what strange postures that divine majesty (that dwells in his form) hath set the form in; which is the most strange and various effects thereof upon the spectators. His communion with the spirits of just men made perfect. And with God the judge of all hinted at.

CHAP. 5. The author’s strange and lofty carriage towards great ones, and his most lowly carriage towards beggars, rogues, prisoners, gypsies, &c. Together with a large declaration what glory shall arise up from under all these ashes. The most strange and most secret and terrible, yet most glorious design of God, in choosing base things, to confound things that are: and how, a most terrible vial poured out upon the well-favoured Harlot; and how the Lord is bringing into contempt not only honourable persons (with a vengeance) but all honourable holy things also.
Wholesome advice, with a terrible threat to the Formalists: and how BASE things have confounded base things: and how base things have been a fiery chariot to mount the author up into divine glory and unspeakable Majesty: and how his wife is, & his life is in that beauty, which maketh visible beauty seem mere deformity.

CHAP. 6. Great ones must bow to the poorest peasants, or else they shall rue for it; no material sword or human power (whatsoever) but the pure spirit of universal love, who is the eternal God, can break the neck of tyranny, oppression, and abominable pride and cruel murder, &c. A catalogue of several judgments recited, as so many warring-pieces to appropriators, impropriators, and anti-free communicants.

CHAP. 7. A further discovery of the subtlety of the well-favoured Harlot, with a parley between her and the spirit. As also the horrid villainy that be hid under her smooth words, and sweet tongue (in pleading against the letter and history, and for the spirit and Mystery, and all for her own ends) detected. Also upon what account the spirit is put, and upon what account the letter, &c. And what true communion, and what the true breaking of bread is.

CHAP. 8. The well-favoured Harlots clothes stripped off, her nakedness discovered, her nose slit. Her lusting after the young man void of understanding, from corner to corner, from religion to religion: and the spirit pursuing, overtaking, and destroying her, &c.
With a terrible thunderclap in the close.

A word from the Lord to all the great ones
of the Earth (whom this may concern) being the
last warning piece, &c.

  1. The word of the Lord came expressly to me, saying, son of man write a roll, and these words, from my mouth, to the great ones, saying, thus saith the Lord:
    Slight not this roll, neither laugh at it, lest I slight you, and cause all men to slight and scorn you; lest I destroy you, and laugh at your destruction, &c.
  2. This is, (and with a witness, some of you shall find it, to be) an edged tool; and there is no jesting with it, or laughing at it.

 It’s a sharp sword, sharpened, and also furbished–
No sleepy dormouse shall dare to creep up the edge of it.
Thus saith the Lord, you shall find with the witness, that I am now coming
To
1. Inform
2. Advise and warn.
3. Charge
4. Judge and sentence
The great ones

CHAP. 1.

Containing several strange, yet true and seasonable informations to the great ones. As also an apologetical hint of the author’s principle, standing in the front.–

  1. Thus saith the Lord, I inform you, that I overturn, overturn, overturn. And as the bishops, Charles and the Lords have had their turn, overturn, so your turn shall be next (ye surviving great ones) by what name or title soever dignified or distinguished whoever you are that oppose me, the eternal God who am UNIVERSAL LOVE and whose service is perfect freedom and pure libertinism.
  2. <Side Note: An apologetical hint concerning the author’s principle, the result—is negative; he speaks little in the affirmative because not one in a hundred, yea even of his former acquaintance, now know him, neither must they yet.>
    But afore I proceed any further, be it known unto you, that although that excellent majesty which dwells in the writer of this Roll hath reconciled ALL THINGS to himself, yet this hand which now writes never drew sword or shed one drop of any man’s blood. I am free from the blood of all men, though (I say) all things are reconciled to me , the eternal God (IN HIM) yet sword-levelling or digging-levelling are neither of them his principle.
    Both are as far from his principle as the East is from the West or the Heavens from the Earth (though, I say, reconciled to both as to all things else). And though he hath more justice, righteousness, truth and sincerity shining in those low dung-holes (as they are esteemed) than in the Sun, Moon and all the stars.
  3. I come not forth (in him) either with material sword or mattock, but now (in this my day―) I make him my sword bearer, to brandish the sword of the Spirit, as he hath done several days and nights together through the streets of the great City.
  4. And now thus saith the Lord:
    Though you as little endure the word LEVELLING as you could the late slain or dead Charles(your forerunner, who is gone before you―) and had as lief hear the Devil named as hear of the Levellers (men-levellers) which is and who (indeed) are but shadows of most terrible, yet great and glorious good things to come.
  5. Behold, behold, behold, I the eternal God, the Lord of Hosts who am that mighty leveller and coming (yea, even at the doors) to level in good earnest , to level to some purpose, to level with a witness, to level the hills with the valleys and to lay the mountains low.
  6. High Mountains! Lofty Cedars! It’s high time for you to enter into the rocks, and to hide you in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his Majesty. For the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord ALONE shall be exalted in that day; for the day of the Lord of hosts, shall be upon everyone that is proud, and lofty, and upon everyone that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low. And upon all the Cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the Oaks of Bashan; and upon all the high mountains; and upon all the hills that are lifted up, and upon every High tower; and upon every fenced wall; and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
    And the LOFTINESS of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be laid low. And the Lord ALONE shall be exalted in that day, and the idols he shall utterly abolish.
    And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the Earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his Majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the Earth.
    In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and idols of gold——to the bats, and to the moles. To go into the clefts of the rocks and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his Majesty. For the Lord is now RISEN to shake terribly the Earth, Isa. 2. 10. to the end of the chapter.
  7. Hills! Mountains! Cedars! Mighty men! Your breath is in your nostrils.
    Those that have admired, adored, idolized, magnified, set you up, fought for you, ventured goods and good name, limb and life for you, shall cease from you.
    You shall not at all be accounted of (not one of you) ye sturdy Oak, who bow not down before eternal majesty, universal love, whose service is perfect freedom, and who hath put down the mighty (remember, remember your forerunner) and who is putting down the mighty from their seats and exalting them of low degree.
  8. O let not (for your own sakes) let not the mother of Harlots in you who is very subtle of heart
    Nor the beast (without you) what do you call ’em? The ministers, fat parsons, vicars, lecturers &c. (who for their own base ends, to maintain their pride and pomp, and to fill their own paunches and purses) have been the chief instruments of all those horrid abominations, hellish, cruel, devilish persecutions in this Nation, which cry for vengeance. For your own sakes (I say) let neither the one nor the other bewitch you or charm your ears, to hear them say, these things shall not befall you, these Scriptures shall not be fulfilled upon you, but upon the Pope, Turk and heathen princes &c.
  9. Or if any of them should (through subtlety for their own base ends) creep into that Mystery of that forementioned Scripture (Isa2.10)
    And tell you, Those words are to be taken in the Mystery only, and they only point out a spiritual inward levelling. Once more for your own sakes, I say, believe them not.
  10. ‘Tis true, the history, or letter, (I speak comparatively) is but as it were hair cloth; the Mystery is fine flax. My flax, saith the Lord, and the thief and the robber will steal from me my flax, to cover his nakedness, that his filthiness may not appear.
    But the hold, I am (now) recovering my flax out of his hand, and discovering his lewdness——verbum sat——
  11. ‘Tis true, the Mystery is my joy, my delight and my life.
    And the prime levelling, is laying low the mountains, and levelling the hills in man.
    But this is not all.
    For lo I come (saith the Lord) with a vengeance, to level also your honour, riches, &c. To stain the pride of all your glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable (both persons and things) upon the earth.Isa. 23. 9
  12. For this honour, nobility, gentility, propriety, superfluity, &c. hath (without contradiction) been the father of hellish horrid pride, arrogance, haughtiness, loftiness, murder, malice, of all manner of wickedness and impiety. Yea, the cause of all the blood that ever hath been shed——from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of the last Levellers that were shot to death. And now (as I livesaith the Lord)I am come to make inquisition for blood, for murder and pride, &c.
  13. I see the root of it all. The axe is laid to the root of the tree(by the eternal God, Myself, saith the Lord). I will hew it down. And as I live, I will plague your Honour, Pomp, Greatness, Superfluity, and confound it into parity, equality, community; that the neck of horrid pride, murder, malice, and tyranny, &c. may be chopped off at one blow. And that myself, the Eternal God, who am Universal Love, may soon the Earth with universal Love, universal peace, and perfect freedom; which can never be by human sword or strength accomplished.
  14. Wherefore bow down, bow down, you sturdy Oaks, and tall Cedars; bow, or by myself I’ll break you.
    He cause some of you (on whom I have compassion) to bow &c. and will terribly plague the rest.
    My little finger shall be heavier on them, than my whole loins were on Pharaoh of old.
  15. And maugre the subtlety and sedulity, the craft and cruelty of hell and earth, this levelling shall up.
    Not by sword; we (holily) scorn to fight for anything. We had as lief be dead drunk every day of the week, and lie with whores in the market place, and account these as good actions as taking the poor, abused, enslaved ploughman’s money from him (who is almost everywhere undone and squeezed to death, and not so much as that plaguy, unsupportable, hellish burden and oppression of tithes taken off his shoulders, notwithstanding all his honesty, fidelity, taxes, free quarter, petitioning &c. for the same,) we had rather starve, I say, than take away his money from him for killing of men.
    Nay, if we might have Captain’s pay and a good fat parsonage or two besides, we would scorn to be swordsmen or fight with those mostly carnal weapons for anything or against anyone or for our livings.
  16. No, no, we’ll live in despite of our foes; and this levelling (to thy torment, O mighty man) shall up, not by sword, not by might, &c. but by my spirit, saith the Lord.
    For I am risen, for I am risen, for I am risen, shake terribly the Earth, and not the Earth only, but heavens also, &c.
    But here I shall cease informing you. You may for your further information (if you please) read my roll to all the rich inhabitants of the earth.
    Read it if you be wise, I shall now advise you.

CHAP. II

Containing several new, strange, yet seasonable admonitions and good advice, as the last warning to the Great Ones of the Earth, as from the Lord.

  1. First Admonition to great ones.Sero sapiunt Phryges, sed nunquam sera est ad bonos mores via. (“The Phrygians became wise too late, but it is never too late to live morally.”)

 Thus saith the Lord: be wise now therefore, O ye rulers, &c. Be instructed, &c. Kiss the sun, &c. Yea kiss beggars, prisoners, warm them, feed them, clothe them, money them, relieve them, release them, take them into your houses, don’t serve them as dogs, without door, &c.
Own them, they are flesh of your flesh, your own brethren, your own sisters, every whit as good (and if I should stand in competition with you) in some degrees better than yourselves.

  1. Once more I say, own them; they are yourself, make someone with you, or else go howling into hell; howl for the miseries that are coming upon you, howl.
    The very shadow of levelling, sword-levelling, man-levelling, frighted you, (and who, like yourselves, can blame you, because it shook your kingdom?) But now the substantiality of levelling is coming.
    The eternal God, the mighty Leveller is coming, yea come, even at the door; and what will you do in that day.
    Repent, repent, repent, bow down, bow down, bow, or howl, resign, or be damned; bow down, bow down, you sturdy Oaks, and Cedars, bow down.
    Veil too, and kiss the meaner shrubs. Bow, or else (by myself saith the Lord) he break you in pieces (some of you) others I will tear up by the roots; I will suddenly deal with you all, some in one way; some in another. Wherefore

Each beggar that you meet
Fall down before him, kiss him in the street.

 Once more, he is thy brother, thy fellow, flesh of thy flesh.
Turn not away thine eyes from thine own FLESH, lest I pull out thine eyes and throw thee headlong into hell.

  1. Mine ears are filled brimful with cries of poor prisoners, Newgate, Ludgate cries (of late) are seldom out of mine ears. Those doleful cries, bread, bread, bread for the Lord’s sake, pierce mine ears, and heart, I can no longer forbear.
    Wherefore hye you apace to all prisons in the kingdom.
  2. Second Admonition to great ones. Bow before those poor, nasty, lousy, ragged wretches, say to them, your humble servants, Sirs, (without a compliment) we let you go free, and serve you, &c.

 Do this, (or as I live saith the Lord) thine eyes (at least) shall be bored out, and thou carried captive into a strange land.

  1. Third admonition to great ones.Give over, give over, thy odious, nasty, abominable fasting, for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness. And instead thereof, loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. Deal of thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out (both of houses and synagogues) to thy house. Cover the naked: hide not thyself from thine own flesh, from a cripple, a rogue, a beggar, he’s thine own flesh. From a whoremonger, a thief, &c. He’s flesh of thy flesh, and his theft, and whoredom is flesh of thy flesh also, thine own flesh. Thou mayest have ten times more of each within thee, than he that acts outwardly in either. Remember, turn not away thine eyes from thine OWN FLESH.
  2. Fourth admonition to great ones.Give over, give over thy midnight mischief.
    Let branding with the letter B alone.
    Be no longer so horridly, hellishly, imprudently, arrogantly, wicked, as to judge what is seen, what not, what evil, and what not, what blasphemy, and what not.
    For thou and all thy Reverend Divines, so-called (who divine for Tithes, hire, and money, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ for their own bellies) are ignorant of this one thing.
  3. That sin and transgression is finished; it’s a mere riddle that they with all their human learning can never read.
    Neither can they understand what pure honour is wrapped up in the King’s motto Honi soit qui mal y pense. Evil to him that evil thinks.
    Some there are (who are accounted the off-scouring of all things) who are noble knights of the Garter. Since which——they could see no evil, think no evil, do no evil, know no evil.
    ALL is religion that they speak and honour that they do.
    But all you that eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and have not your evil eye picked out, you call good evil, and evil good; light darkness, and darkness light; truth blasphemy, and blasphemy truth.
    And you are at this time of your father the Devil, and of your brother the Pharisee, who still say of Christ (who is now alive) say we not well that he hath a Devil.
  4. Take heed, take heed, take heed.
    Filthy blind Sodomites called Angels men, they seeing no further than the forms of men.
  5. There are Angels (now) come down from heaven, in the shapes and forms of men, who are full of the vengeance of the Lord; and are to pour out the plagues of God upon the earth, and to torment the inhabitants thereof.
    Some of these angels I have been acquainted withal.
    And I have looked upon them as Devils, accounting them Devils incarnate, and have run from place to place, to hide myself from them, shunning their company; and have been utterly ashamed when I have been seen with them.
    But for my labour, I have been plagued and tormented beyond expression. So that now I had rather behold one of these angels pouring out the plagues of God, cursing and teaching others to curse bitterly (Rev. 15, Judges 5, Revel. 10, Neh. 13.25)
    And had rather hear a mighty angel (in man) swearing a full-mouthed oath, and see the spirit of Nehemiah(in any form of man, or woman) running upon an unclean Jew (a pretended Saint) and tearing the hair of his head like a mad man, cursing and making others fall a-swearing, than hear a zealous Presbyterian, Independent or spiritual Notionist pray, preach or exercise. (This will come in request with you next; you may remember that Independency, which is now so hugged, was counted blasphemy, and banishment was too good for it.)
  6. Well! To the pure all things are pure. God hath so cleared cursing, swearing, in some, that that which goes for swearing and cursing in them, is more glorious than praying and preaching in others.
    And what God hath cleansed, call not thou unclean.
    And if Peterprove a great transgressor of the law, by doing that which was odious as killing a man; if he at length (though he be loath at first) eaten that which was common and unclean &c. (I give but a hint) blame him not, much less lift up a finger against or plant a hellish ordinance–against him, lest thou be plagued, and damned to, for thy zeal, blind religion, and fleshly holiness, which now stinks above ground, though formerly it had a good savour.
  7. But O thou holy, zealous, devout, righteous, religious one (whoever thou art) that seest evil, or any thing unclean; do thou swear, if thou darest, if it be but (i’ faith) I’ll throw thee to hell for it (saith the Lord) and laugh at thy destruction.
    While Angels (in the form of men) shall swear, Heart, Blood, Wounds, and by the eternal God, &c. in profound purity, and in high honour, and Majesty.
  8. Well! one hint more; there’s swearing ignorantly, i’th dark, vainly, and there is swearing i’th light, gloriously.
    Well! Man of the Earth! Lord Esau! What hast thou to do with those who swear upon the former account?
    Vengeance is mine, judgment, help, wrath, &c. All is mine (saith the Lord) dare not thou to set thy foot so impudently and arrogantly upon one step of my throne: I am judge myself——be wise, give over, have done——
  9. And as for the latter sort of swearing, thou knowest it not when thou hearest it. It’s no new thing for thee to call Christ Beelzebub and Beelzebub Christ; to call a holy angel a Devil, and a Devil an Angel.
  10. I charge thee (in the name of the eternal God) meddle not with either, let the tares alone, lest thou pull up the wheat also, woe be to thee if thou dost. Let both alone (I say) lest thou shouldst happen of a holy swearing angel, and take a lion by the paw to thine own destruction.
    Never was there such a time since the words stood, as now is.
    Thou knowest not the strange appearances of the Lord, nowadays. Take heed, know thou hast been warned.
  11. Fifth Admonition to great ones.And whatever thou dost, dip not thy little finger in blood any more, thou art up to the elbows already: much soap, yea much nitre cannot cleanse thee, &c.
    Much more have I to say to thee (saith the Lord) but I will do it secretly; and dart a quiver full of arrows into thy heart; and I will now charge thee.

CHAP III.

Containing several dismal, doleful cries, and outcries, which pierce the ears and heart of his Excellent Majesty, the King of Kings, and how the King of Heaven chargeth the great ones of the Earth.

  1. Thus saith the Lord, be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord; be silent; O lofty, haughty, great ones of the Earth.
    There are so many Bills of Indictment preferred against thee, that both heaven and earth blush thereat.
    How long shall I hear the sighs and groans, and see the tears of poor widows; and hear curses in every corner; and all sorts of people crying out oppression, oppression, tyranny, tyranny the worst of tyranny, unheard-of, unnatural tyranny.
    ——O my back, my shoulders. O tithes, excise, taxes, pollings, &c. O Lord! O Lord God Almighty!
    What, a little finger heavier than former loins?
    What are they engaged my goods, my life, &c., Forsook my dearest relations, and all for liberty and true freedom, for freedom from oppression, and more laid on my back, &c.
  2. Mine ears are filled brimful with confused noise, cries, and outcries; O the innumerable complaints and groans that pierce my heart (through and through) O astonishing complaints.
    Was ever the like ingratitude heard of since the world stood? What! Best friends, surest friends, slighted, scorned, and that which cometh from them (in the basest manner) contemned, and some rewarded with prisons, some with death?
    O the abominable perfidiousness, false heartedness; self-seeking, self-enriching, and kingdom-depopulating, and devastating, &c.
    These, and divers of the same nature, but the cries of England.
    And can I any longer forbear?
    I have heard, I have heard, the groaning of my people. And now I come to deliver them saith the Lord.
    Woe be to Pharaoh King of Egypt.
    You Great Ones that are not tacked nor tainted, you may laugh and sing, whom this hitteth it hitteth. And it shall hit home.
    And this which followeth, all whom are concerned with, by what name or title soever dignified or distinguished.
  3. You mostly hate those (called Levellers) who (for aught you know) acted as they did, out of the sincerity, simplicity, and fidelity of their hearts; fearing lest they should come under the notion of Covenant-breakers, if they did not so act.
    Which is so, then were they most barbarously, unnaturally, hellishly murdered; and they died martyrs for God and their country.
    And their blood cries vengeance, vengeance, in mine ears, saith the Lord.
  4. Well! Let it be how it will. These Levellers (so called) you mostly hated, though in outward declarations you owned their tenets as your own principle. (Once more, know that sword——levelling is not my principle. I only pronounce the righteous judgments of the Lord upon the Earth as I durst.)
    So you mostly hate me, saith the Lord (though in outward declarations you profess me and seem to own me) more than a thousand whom you despise, who are nearer the kingdom of heaven than yourselves.
    You have killed Levellers (so-called) you also (with wicked hands) have slain me the Lord of life, who am now risen, and risen indeed, (and you shall know, and feel it with a witness) to level you in good earnest. And to lay low all high hills, and every mountain that is high, and lifted up, &c.
  5. Well! Once more, read Jam5. 1 to 7——ye have killed the just——ye have killed, ye have killed, ye have killed the just.
    The blood crieth in mine ears, vengeance, vengeance, vengeance, vengeance is mine, I will recompense.
    Well! What will you do with Bray, and the poor prisoners elsewhere? You know not what you do.
    You little know what will become of you.
    One of you had best remember your dream about your father’s Moule——
  6. Neither do I forget the one hundred spent in superfluous dishes (at your late Greater London feast, for I know what——) when hundreds of poor wretches died with hunger.
    I have heard a sound in mine ears, that no less than a hundred died in one week, pined, and starved with hunger.
    How will you great ones, for all that feast-day’s dole, &c. hear your doom.

CHAP IV.

How the judge of heaven and earth, who judgeth righteous judgment, passeth sentence against all those great ones, who (like Oaks and tall Cedars) will not bow. And how he intends to blow them up by the roots.

  1. Thus saith the Lord: all you tall Cedars, and sturdy Oaks, who bow not down, who bow not down——this sentence is gone out of my mouth against you, MENE, MENE, TEKEL.
    Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
    God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
    And thou, and all the join with thee, or are (in the least degree) accessory to thy former, or like intended pranks, shall most terribly and most strangely be plagued.
  2. There is a little spark lies under (that huge heap of ashes) all thine honour, pomp, pride, wealth, and riches, which shall utterly consume all that is uppermost, as it is written.
    The Lord, the Lord of hosts, shall send among his fat ones, leanness; and under his glory he should kindle a burning, like the burning of the fire, and the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his holy one for flame, and shall burn and devour his thorns, and his briars in one day.
    And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body (i.e. this shall be done inwardly and outwardly, and shall be fulfilled both in the history and mystery) and the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.
    And the Lord, the Lord of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror, and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled. And you shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one, Isa. 10.
  3. Behold, behold, I have told you.
    Take it to heart, else you’ll repent of every vein of your heart.
    For your own sakes take heed.
    It’s my last warning.
    For the cries of the poor, for the oppression of the needy.
    For the horrid insolency of proud man, who will dare to sit in my throne, and judge unrighteous judgment.
    Who will dare to touch mine anointed, and do my prophets harm.
    For these things sake (now) I am arisen, saith the Lord
    In Auxilium Patris

CHAP V

  1. London, London, my bowels are rolled together (in me) for thee, and my compassions within me are kindled towards thee.
    And now I only tell thee that it was not in vain that this form hath been brought so far to thee, to proclaim the day of the Lord throughout thy streets, day and night, for twelve or thirteen days together.
    And that I have made such a sign and a wonder before many of thine inhabitants’ faces.
  2. Many of them, (among other strange exploits,) beholding me fall down flat at the feet of cripples, beggars, lazars , kissing their feet, and resigning up my money to them; being several times over-emptied of money that I have not had one penny left, and yet have recruited again―
  3. And now my heart! You have been forwardly in all the appearances of God,
    There is a strange one (now on foot) judge it not, lest you be judged with a vengeance.
  4. Turn not away your eyes from it, lest you (to your torment) hear this voice——I was a stranger, and you took me not in.
    Well! Bow down before eternal Majesty, who is universal love, bow down to equality, or free community, that no more of your blood be spilt; that pride, arrogance, covetousness, malice, hypocrisy, self-seeking, &c. may live no longer. Else I tremble at what’s coming upon you.
    Remember you have been warned with a witness.
    Dear hearts farewell.

CHAP VI

  1. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the spirit saith against the churches.
    Thus saith the Lord: woe be to thee Bethaven (The house of vanity) who call us thyself by the name Bethel (the house of God.), it shall be more tolerable (now in the day of judgment,) for Tyre and Sidon, for those whom thou accountest, and callest heathens, than from thee.
  2. And thou proud Lucifer, who exaltest thyself above all the stars of God in Heaven, shalt be brought down into hell; it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, for drunkards and whoremongers, than for thee. Publicans and Harlots shall, publicans and Harlots do sooner enter into the kingdom of heaven, than you.
    I’ll give thee this fatal blow, and leave thee.
  3. Thou hast affronted, and defied the Almighty, more than the vilest of men (upon the face of the earth) and that so much the more, by how much the more thou takest upon thee the name of Saint, and assumest it to thyself only, damning all those that are not of thy Sect.
  4. Wherefore be it known to all tongues, kindred, nations and languages upon Earth, That my most excellent majesty, the King of glory, the eternal God, who dwelleth in the form of the writer of this Roll (among many other strange and great exploits) hath in the open streets, with his hand fiercely stretched out, his hat cocked up, his eyes set as if they would sparkle out, and with a mighty loud voice, charged 100 of coaches, 100 of men and women of the greatest rank, and many notorious, deboist, swearing, roistering, roaring Cavaliers (so called) and other wild sparks of the gentry, and have proclaimed the notable day of the Lord to them. And that through the streets of the great City and in Southwark. Many times great multitudes following him up and down, and this for the space of 12 or 13 days: And yet (all this while,) not one of them lifting up one finger, not touching one hair of his head or laying one hand on his raiment.
    But many, yea, many notorious vile ones in the esteem of men (yea, of great quality among men) trembling and bowing to the God of Heaven, &c.

 But when I came to proclaim (also) the great day of the Lord (among you) O ye carnal Gospellers.
The Devil (in you) roared out who was tormented to some purpose, though not before his time.
He there showed both his fangs and paws and would have torn me to pieces and have eaten me up. Thy pride, envy, malice, arrogance &c. was poured out like a river of brimstone, crying out, a blasphemer, a blasphemer, away with him: At length threatening me, and being at last raving mad, some took hold of my coat on one side, some on another, endeavouring to throw me from the place where I stood (to proclaim his Majesty’s message) making a great uproar in a great congregation of people: Till at length I wrapped up myself in silence (for a season) for the well-favoured Harlot’s confusion &c.
And to thine eternal shame and damnation (O mother of witchcraft who dwelleth in gathered churches) let this be told abroad. And let her FLESH be burnt with FIRE.
Amen, Hallelujah.

FINIS

*****

A SECOND
Fiery Flying Roll

TO

All the inhabitants of the earth; specially to the rich ones.

OR,
A sharp sickle, thrust in, to gather the clusters of the vines of the Earth, because her grapes are (now) fully ripe. And the great, notable, terrible, (yet glorious and joyful) day of the LORD is come; even the Day of the Lord’s recovery and discovery. Wherein the secrets of all hearts are ripped up; and the secret of little unease of the holy whore, the well-favoured Harlot (who scorns carnal ordinances, and is mounted up into the notion of spirituals) is discovered: and even her flesh burning with unquenchable fire. And the pride of all glory staining.

Together with the narration of various, strange, yet true stories: and several secret mysteries, and mysterious secrets, which never were afore written or printed.

As also, that most strange appearance of eternal wisdom, and unlimited Almightiness, in choosing base things: and why, and how he chooseth them. And how (most miraculously) they (even base things) have been, are, and shall be made fiery chariots, to mount up some into divine glory, and unspotted beauty and majesty. And the glory that ariseth up from under them is confounding both heaven and earth. With the word (by way of preface) dropping in as an inlet to the new Jerusalem.

These being some things of what are experimented.

Per AUXILIUM PATRIS

Howl, rich men, for the miseries that are (just now) coming upon you, the rust of your silver is rising up in judgment against you, burning your flesh like fire, &c.

And now I am come to recover my corn, my wool, and my flax, which thou hast (thievishly and hoggishly) detained from me, the Lord God Almighty, in the poor and needy.

Also howl thou holy whore, thou well-favoured Harlot: for God, and I, have chosen base things to confound thee, and things that are.

And the secrets of all hearts are now revealing by my gospel, who am a stranger, and besides myself, to God, for your sakes. Wherefore receive me, &c. Else expect that dismal doom, depart from me ye cursed, I was a stranger, and ye took me not in.

Printed in the year 1649

CHAP 1.

The author’s commission to write, a terrible woe denounced against those that slight the roll. The Lord’s claim to all things; together with a hint of a two-fold recovery, wherethrough the most hypocritical heart shall be ripped up, &c.

  1. The word of the Lord came expressly to me, saying, write, write, write.
  2. And ONE stood by me, and pronounced all these words to me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in this paper.
  3. Wherefore in the name and power of the eternal God, I charge thee burn it not, tear it not, for if thou dost, I would tear thee to pieces (saith the Lord) and none shall be able to deliver thee; for (as I live) it is the day of my vengeance.
  4. Read it through, and laugh not at it, if thou dost I’ll destroy thee, and laugh at thy destruction.
  5. Thus saith the Lord, though I have been a great while in coming, yet I am now come to recover my corn, and I will, and my flax, &c. And to discover thy lewdness, Hos. 2.
    Thou art cursed with a curse, for thou hast robbed me (saith the Lord) of my corn, my wool, my flax, &c. Thou hast robbed me of my tithes, for the tithes are mine, Mal. 3. And the beasts on a thousand hills, yea all thy bags of money, hay-ricks, horses, yea all that thou callest thine own are mine.
  6. And now I am come to recover them all at my hands, saith the Lord, for it is the day of my recovery, and the day of my discovery, &c. And there is a twofold recovery of 2 sorts of things, inward, and outward, or civil, and religious, and through both, and grand discovery of the secrets of the most hypocritical heart, and ripping up of the bowels of the well-favoured Harlot, the holy whore, who scorns that which is called profaneness, wickedness, looseness, or libertinism, and yet herself is the mother of witchcraft, and of all the abominations of the Earth.
    But more of this hereafter.
  7. For the present, I say, thus saith the Lord, I am come to recover all my outward, or civil rights, or goods, which thou callest thine own.

CHAP 2.

How the Lord will recover his outward things (things of this life) as money, corn, &c., and for whom: and how they shall be plagued that detain them as their own. Wherein also are some mystical hints concerning Michaelmas day, and the Lord’s day following it this year; as also of the Dominical letter D, this year.

  1. And the way that I will walk in (in this great notable and terrible day of the Lord) shall be thus. I will either (strangely, & terribly, to thy torment) inwardly, or else (in a way that I will not acquaint thee with) outwardly, demand all mine, and will say on this wise.
  2. Thou hast many bags of money, and behold now I come as a thief in the night, with my sword drawn in my hand, and like a thief as I am,——I say deliver your purse, deliver sirrah! Deliver or I’ll cut thy throat!
  3. Deliver MY money to such as poor despised Maule of Dedington in Oxonshire Whom some Devils incarnate (insolently and proudly, in way of disdain) cry up for a fool, some for a knave, and madman, some for an idle fellow, and base rogue, and some (trulier than they are aware of) for a prophet, and some arrogant fools (though exceeding wise) cry up for more knave than fool, &c. when as indeed, there is pure royal blood runs through his veins, and he’s no less than a King’s son, though not one of you who are Devils incarnate; & have your eyes blinded with the God of this world, know it.
  4. I say (once more) deliver, deliver, my money which thou hast to him, and to poor cripples, lazars, yea to rogues, thieves, whores, and cut-purses, who are flesh of thy flesh, and every whit as good as thyself in mine eye, who are ready to starve in plaguy gaols, and nasty dungeons, or else for myself, saith the Lord, I would torment thee day and night, inwardly, or outwardly, or both ways, my little finger shall shortly be heavier on thee, especially on thee thou holy, righteous, religious Appropriator, than my loins were on Pharaoh and the Egyptians in time of old; you shall weep and howl for the miseries that suddenly coming upon you; for your riches are corrupted, &c. and whilst impropriated, appropriated the plague of God is in them.
  5. The plague of God is in your purses, barns, houses, horses, murrain will take your hogs, O (ye fat swine of the Earth) who shall shortly go to the knife, and be hung up i’th roof, except——blasting, mildew, locusts, caterpillars, yea fire your houses and goods, take your corn and fruit, the moth your garments, and the rots your sheep, did you not see my hand, this last year stretched out?
    You did not see.
    My hand is stretched out still.
    Your gold and silver, though you can’t see it, is cankered, the rust of them is a witness against you, and suddenly, suddenly, suddenly, because by the eternal God, myself, it’s the dreadful day of judgment, saith the Lord, shall eat your flesh as it were fire, Jam. 5. 1. to 7.
    The rust of your silver, I say, should eat your flesh as it were fire.
  6. As sure as it did mine the very next day after Michael the Archangel’s, that mighty angel, who just now fights that terrible battle in heaven with the great Dragon.
    And is come upon the Earth also, to rip up the hearts of all bag-bearing Judases. On this day purses shall be caught, goats led out, men stabbed to the heart, women’s bellies ripped up, specially gammer Demase’s, who have forsaken us, and embraced this wicked world, and married Alexander the coppersmith, who have done me much evil. The Lord reward him, I wish him hugely well, as he did me, on the next day after Michael the Archangel.
    Which was the Lord’s day I am sure on’t, look in your Almanacs, you shall find it was the Lord’s day, or else I would you could; when you must, when you see it, you will find the dominical letter to be G. and there are many words that begin with G. at this time (GIVE) begins with G. Give, give, give, give up, give up your houses, horses, goods, gold, lands, give up, account nothing your own, have ALL THINGS in common, or else the plague of God will rot and consume all that you have.
    By God, by myself, saith the Lord, it’s true.
    Come! Give all to the poor and follow me, and you shall have treasure in heaven. Follow me, who was numbered among transgressors, and whose village was more marred than any man’s, follow me.

CHAP III.

A strange, yet most true story: under which is couched that lion, whose roaring shall make all the beasts of the field tremble, and all the kingdoms of the world quake. Wherein also (in part) the subtlety of the well-favoured Harlot is discovered, and her flesh burnt with that fire, which shall burn down all churches, except that of the first born, &c.

  1. Follow me, who, last Lord’s day Septem. 30. 1649 met him in open field, a most strange deformed man, clad with patched clouts: who looking wishly on me, mine eye pitied him; and my heart, or the day of the Lord, which burned as an oven in me, set my tongue on flame to speak to him, as followeth.
  2. How now friend, art thou poor?
    He answered, yea master very poor.
    Whereupon my bowels trembled within me, and quivering fell upon the worm eaten chest, (my corps I mean) that I could not hold a joint still.
    And my great love within me, (who is the great God within that chest, or corps) was burning hot toward him; and made of the lock all of the chest, to which the mouth of the corps, again to open: thus.
    Art poor?
    Yea, very poor, said he.
    Whereupon the strange woman who, flatterers with her lips, and is subtle of heart, said within me,
    It’s a poor wretch, give him two-pence.
    But my EXCELLENCY and MAJESTY (in me) scorned her words, confounded her language; and kicked her out of his presence.
  3. But immediately the WELL-FAVOURED HARLOT (whom I carried a not upon my horse behind me) but who rose up on me, said:
    It’s a poor wretch give him 6d. and that’s enough for a squire or knight, to give to one poor body.
    Besides (saith the holy Scripturian whore) he is worse than an infidel that provides not for his own family.
    True love begins at home, &c.
    Thou, and my family are fed, as the young ravens strangely, though thou hast been a constant preacher, yet thou hast abhorred both tithes and hire; and thou know us not aforehand who will give you the worth of a penny.
    Have a care of the main chance.
  4. And thus she flattereth with her lips, and her words being smoother than oil; and her lips dropping as the honeycomb, I was fired to hasten my hand into my pocket; and pulling out a shilling, said to the poor wretch here give me sixpence, here’s a shilling for thee.
    He answered, I cannot, I have never a penny.
    Whereupon I said, I would fain have given thee something if thou couldest have changed my money.
    Then saith he, God bless you.
    Whereupon with much reluctancy, with much love, and with amazement (of the right stamp) I turned my horse head from him, riding away. But a while after I was turned back (being advised by my Demilance) to wish him called for sixpence, which I would leave at the next town at one’s house, which I thought he might know (Saphira-like) keeping back part.
    But (as God judged me) I, as she, was struck down dead.
    And behold the plague of God fell into my pocket; and the rust of my silver rose up in judgment against me, and consumed my flesh as with fire: so that I, and my money perished with me, I being cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.
    And all the money I had about me to a penny (though I thought through the instigation of my quondam mistress to have reserved some, having rode about 8 miles, not eating one mouthful of bread that day, and had drunk but one small draught of drink; and had between 8 or 9 miles more to ride, ere I came to my journey’s end: my horse being lame, the ways dirty, it raining all the way, and I not knowing what extraordinary occasion I might have for money.) Yet (I say) the rust of my silver did so rise up in judgment against me, and burnt my flesh like fire: and the 5 of James thundered such an alarm in mine ears, that I was fain to cast all I had into the hands of him, whose visage was more marred than any man’s that ever I saw.
    This is a true story, most true in the history.
    It’s also true in the mystery.
    And there are deep ones couched under it, for it’s a shadow of various, glorious, (though strange) good things to come.
  5. Well! To return——after I had thrown my rusty cankered money into the poor wretch’s hands, I rode away from him, being filled with trembling joy, and amazement, feeling the sparkles of a great glory rising up from under these ashes.
    After this, I was made (by that divine power which dwellest in this Ark, or chest) to turn my horse head——whereupon I beheld this poor deformed wretch, looking earnestly after me: and upon that, was made to put off my hat, and bow to him seven times, and was (as that strange posture) filled with trembling and amazement, some sparkles of glory arising up also from under this; as also from under these ashes, yet I rode back once more to the poor wretch, saying, because I am a King, I have done this, which you need not tell any one.

The day’s our own.

This was done on the last LORD’S DAY, Septem. 30. in the year 1649, which is the year of the Lord’s recompenses for Zion, and the day of his vengeance, the dreadful day of judgment. But I have done (for the present) with this story, for it is the latter end of the year 1649.

CHAP. IV.

How the author hath been set as a sign and wonder, as well as most of the Prophets formerly. As also what strange postures that divine majesty that dwells in his form, hath set the form in; which is the most strange and various effects thereof upon the spectators. His communion with the spirits of just men made perfect, and with God the judge of all, hinted at.

  1. It is written in your Bibles, Behold I and the children whom the Lord hath given me, or for signs and for wonders in Israel, from the Lord of Hosts, which dwellest in Mount Sion, Isa. 8. 18.
    And amongst those who are set thus, Ezekiel seems to be higher than the rest by the shoulders upwards, and was more seraphical than his predecessors, yet he was the son of Buzi (Ezek. 1.) Which being interpreted is the son of contempt; it pleases me (right well) that I am his brother, a son of Buzi.
  2. He saw (and I in him see) various strange visions; and he was, and I am set in several strange pastures.
    Amongst many of his pranks——this was one, he shaves all the hair off his head: and of his beard, then weighs them in a pair of scales; burns one part of them in the fire, another part he smites about with a knife, another part thereof he scatters in the wind, and a few he binds up in his skirts, &c. And this not in a corner, or in a chamber, but in the midst of the streets of the great city Jerusalem, and the man all this while neither mad nor drunk, &c. Ezek.5. 1.2.3,4 &c. As also in several other chapters among the rest, Chap. 12. 3. &c. Chap. 4. 3. Chap. 24. 3. to the end. This Ezekiel(to whose spirit I am come, and to an innumerable company of Angels, and to God the judge of all.)
  3. (I say) this great courtier in the High Court of the highest heavens, is the son of Buzi, a child of contempt on Earth, and set as a sign and wonder (as was Hosea, who went into a whore, &c.) Hos. 2. When he (I say) was playing some of his pranks, the people said to him, which though not tell us what these things are to us, but thou dost do, Ezek. 24. 19. with the 3. Verse and so forwards, when he was strangely acted by that omnipotentcy dwelling in him; and my that eternal, immortal, INVISIBLE (indeed) Majesty, the only wise God, who dwells in this invisible form, the writer of this roll, (who to his joy) is numbered among transgressors.
  4. The same most excellent Majesty (in this form) had set the form in many strange postures lately, to the joy and refreshment of some, both acquaintances and strangers, to the wonderment and amazement of others; and to the great torment of the chiefest of the sects of professors; who have gone about to shake off their plagues and if they could, some by crying out he’s mad, he’s drunk, he’s fallen from grace, and some by scandalising, &c. And only one, whom I was told of, by threats of caning or cudgelling, who meeting me full with face, was ashamed and afraid to look on me, &c.
  5. But to waive all this.
    Because the Sun begins to peep out, and it’s a good while past daybreak, I’ll creep forth (a little) into the mystery of the former history, and into the inside of that strange outside business.

CHAP. V.

The author’s strange and lofty carriage towards great ones, and his most lowly carriage towards beggars, rogues, and gypsies: together with a large declaration what glory shall arise up from under all this ashes. The most strange and most secret and terrible, yet most glorious design of God, in choosing base things, to confound things that are. And how. A most terrible vial poured out upon the well-favoured Harlot; and how the Lord is bringing into contempt not only honourable persons, with a vengeance, but all honourable, holy things also. Wholesome advice, with a terrible threat to the formalists. How base things have confounded base things: and how base things have been a fiery chariot to mount the author up into divine glory &c. And how his wife is, and his life is in, that beauty, which makes all visible beauty seem mere deformity.

  1. And because I am found of those that sought me not. And because some say, wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us, that thou dost so?
    Wherefore waiving my charging so many coaches, so many hundreds of men and women of the greater rank, in the open streets, with my hand stretched out, my hat cocked up, staring on them as if I would look through them, gnashing with my teeth at some of them, and day and night with a huge loud voice proclaiming the day of the Lord throughout London and Southwark, and leaving divers other exploits, &c. It is my goodwill and pleasure (only) to single out the former story with its parallels.
  2. (Viz.) In clipping, hugging, embracing, kissing a poor deformed wretch in London, who had no more knows on his face, than I have on the back of my hand, (but only two little holes in the place where the nose uses to stand.)
    And no more eyes to be seen than on the back of my hand, and afterwards running back to him in a strange manner, with my money give yet to him, to the joy of some, to the affrightment and wonderment of other spectators.
  3. As also in falling down flat upon the ground before rogues, beggars, cripples, halt, maimed, blind, &c. kissing the feet of many, rising up again and giving them money, &c. Besides that notorious business with the gypsies and gaolbirds (mine own brethren and sisters, flesh of my flesh, and as good as the greatest Lord in England) at the prison in Southwark near St George’s Church.
    Now that which arises up from under all this heap of ashes, will fire both heaven and earth; the one’s ashamed, and blushes already, the other reels to and fro, like a drunken man.
  4. Wherefore thus saith the Lord, Hear O heavens, and Harken O Earth, I’ll overturn, overturn, overturn, I am now astining the pride of all glory, and blinking into contempt all the honourable of the Earth, Esa. 23. 9. Not only honourable persons, (who shall come down with a vengeance, if they bow not to universal love the eternal God, whose service is perfect freedom) but honourable things, as Elderships, Pastorships, Fellowships, Churches, Ordinances, Prayers, &c. Holinesses, Righteousnesses, religions of all sorts, of the highest strains; yea, Mysterians, and Spiritualists, who scorn carnal Ordinances, &c.
    I am about my act, my strange act, my work, my strange work, that whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle.
  5. I am confounding, plaguing, tormenting nice, demure, barren Mical, with David’s unseemly carriage, by skipping, leaping, dancing, like one of the fools; violent, base fellows, shamelessly, basely, and uncovered too, before handmaids,——
    Which thing was S. Paul’s tutor, or else it prompted him to write, God has chosen BASE things, and things that are despised, to confound——the things are.——
    Well! Family duties are no base things, they are things that ARE: Churches, Ordinances, &c. Are no BASE things,though indeed Presbyterian Churches begin to live i’th womb, but died there, and rotten stink there to the death of the mother and child. Amen. Not by the Devil, but (by God that’s a base thing) it’s true.
    Grace before meat and after meat, are no BASE things; these are things that ARE. But how long Lord, holy and true, &c.
    Fasting for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness,——(and not for taking off heavy burdens, breaking every yoke, Esa. 58.) And thanksgiving days for killing of men for money, I know BASE things, these are things that ARE.
    Starting up into the notion of spirituals, scorning history, speaking nothing but Mystery, crying down Carnal ordinances &c. is a fine thing among many, it’s no base thing (nowadays) though it be a cloak for covetousness, yea, though it be to maintain pride and pomp; these are no base things.
  6. These are things that ARE, and must be confounded by BASE things, which S. Paul said, not God has connived at, winked at, permitted, tolerated, but God hath CHOSEN &c. BASE things.
    What base things? Why Mical took David for a base fellow, and thought he had chosen BASE things, in dancing shamelessly uncovered before handmaids.
    And a barren, demure Mical thinks (for I know her heart saith the Lord) that I chose base things when I sat down, and eat and drank around on the ground with gypsies, and clipped, hugged and kissed them, putting my hand in their bosoms, loving the gypsies dearly. O base! Saith mincing Mical, the least spark of modesty would be as red as crimson or scarlet, to hear this.
    I warrant me, Mical could better have borne this if I had done it to ladies: so I can for a need, if it be my will, and that in the height of honour and Majesty, without sin. But at that time when I was hugging the gypsies, I abhorred the thoughts of ladies, their beauty could not bewitch mine eyes, or snare my lips, or entangle my hands in their bosoms; yet I can if it be my will, kiss and hug ladies, and love my neighbour’s wife as myself, without sin.
  7. But thou Precisian, by what name or title soever dignified, or distinguished, who would blow a kiss to thy neighbour’s wife, or dare to think of darting one glance of one of thy eyes towards her if thou darest.
    It’s meat and drink to an Angel (who knows none evil, no sin) to swear a full mouthed oath, Rev.10. 6. It’s joy to Nehemiah to come in like a madman, and pluck folks’ hair off their heads, and curse like a Devil——and make them swear by God,——Nehem.13. Do thou O holy man (who knowest evil) lift up thy finger against a Jew, a church-member, call thy brother fool, and with a peasecod on him; or swear i’faith if thou darest, if thou dost, thou shalt howl in hell for it, and I will laugh at thy calamity, &c.
  8. But once more hear O heavens, hearken O Earth, thus saith the Lord, I have chosen such base things, to confound things that are, that the ears of those (who scorn to be below independence, yea the ears of many who scorn to be so low as Carnal Ordinances, &c.) that hear thereof shall tingle.
  9. Hear one word more (whom it hitteth it hitteth) give over thy base nasty thinking, formal grace before meat, and after meat (I call it so, though thou hast re-baptised it——) give over thy stinking family duties, and by Gospel Ordinances as thou callest them; for under them all there lies snapping, snarling, biting, besides covetousness, horrid hypocrisy, envy, malice, evil surmising.
  10. Give over, give over, or if nothing else will do it, I’ll at a time, when thou least of all thinkest of it, make thine own child the fruit of thy loins, in whom thy soul delighted, lie with a whore——before thine eyes: that that plaguy holiness and righteousness of thine might be confounded by that base thing. And thou be plagued back again into thy mother’s womb, the womb of eternity: but thou mayest become a little child, and let the mother Eternity, Almightiness, who is universal love, and whose service is perfect freedom, dress thee, and undress thee, swaddle, unswaddle, bind, loose, lay thee down, take thee up, &c.
    ——And to such a little child, undressing is as good as dressing, foul clothes, as good as fair clothes——he knows none evil, &c.——And shall see evil no more,——but he must first lose all his righteousness, every bit of his holiness, and every crumb of his religion, and be plagued, and confounded (by base things) into nothing.

By base things which God and I have chosen.

  1. And yet I show you a more excellent way, when you have passed this.——In a word, my plaguy, filthy, nasty holiness hath been confounded by base things. And then (behold I assure you a Mystery, and put forth a riddle to you) by base things, base things so-called have been confounded also; and thereby have I been confounded into eternal Majesty, unspeakable glory, my life, myself.
  2. There’s my riddle, but because neither all the Lords of the Philistines no nor my Delilah herself can read it,
    I’ll read it myself, I’ll (only) hint it thus.
    Kisses are numbered amongst transgressors——base things——well! By base hellish swearing, and cursing (as I have accounted it in the time of my fleshly holiness) and by base impudent kisses (as I then accounted them) my plaguy holiness hath been confounded, and thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone.
    And then again, by wanton kisses, kissing hath been confounded; and eternal kisses, have been made fiery chariots, to mount me swiftly into the bosom of him whom my soul loves, (his excellent Majesty, the King of glory.)
    Where I have been, where I have been, where I have been, hugged, embraced, and kissed with the kisses of his mouth, whose loves are better than wine, and have been utterly overcome therewith, beyond expression, beyond admiration.
  3. Again, lust is numbered amongst transgressors——a base thing.——
    Now fair objects attract spectator’ s eyes.
    And beauty is the father of lust or love.
    Well! I have gone along the streets impregnant with that child (lust) which a particular beauty had begot: but coming to the place, where I expected to have been delivered, I have providentially met there a company of Devils in appearance, though Angels with golden vials, in reality, powering out full vials, of such odious abominable words, that are not lawful to be uttered.
    Words enough to deafen the ears of plaguy holiness.
    And such horrid abominable actions, the sight whereof were enough to put out holy man’s eyes, and strike him stark dead, &c.
    These base things (I say) words and actions, have confounded and plagued to death, the child in the womb that I was so big of.

14 And by, and through these BASE things (as upon the wings of the wind) have I been carried up into the arms of my love, which is invisible glory, eternal Majesty, purity itself, and unspotted beauty, even that beauty which maketh all other beauty but mere ugliness, when set against it, &c.
Yea, could you imagine that the quintessence of all visible beauty, should be extracted and made up into one huge beauty, it would appear to be mere deformity to that beauty, which through BASE things I have been lifted up into.
Which transcendent, unspeakable, unspotted beauty, is my crowning joy, my life and love: and though I have chosen, and cannot be without BASE things to confound some in mercy, some in judgment, though also I have concubines without number, which I cannot be without, yet this is my spouse, my love, my dove, my fair one. Now I proceed to that which follows.

CHAP. VI.

Great ones must bow to the poorest peasants, or else they must rue for it.
No material sword or human power whatsoever, but the pure spirit of universal love, which is the eternal God, can break the neck of tyranny, oppression, abominable pride and cruel murder, &c. A catalogue of several judgments recited——as so many warning-pieces to appropriators, impropriators, and anti-free-communicants, &c. The strongest, yea purest propriety that may plead most privilege shall suddenly be confounded.

  1. Again, thus saith the Lord, I in thee, who am eternal Majesty, bowed down thy form, to deformity.
    And I in thee, who am durable riches, commanded thy perishable silver to the poor, &c.
    Thus saith the Lord.
    Kings, Princes, Lords, great ones, must bow to the poorest Peasants; which men must look to pull rogues, or else they’ll rue for it.
    This must be done two ways.
    You shall have one short dark hint.
    Wil. Sedgewick(in me) bowed to that poor deformed ragged wretch, that he might enrich him, in impoverishing himself.
    He shall gain him, and be no great loser himself, &c.
  2. Well! We must all bow, and bow, &c. And MEUM must be converted.——It is but yet very little while; and you shall not say that aught that you possess is your own, &c. Read Acts. 2. towards the end, CHAP. 4. 31. to the end, with CHAP. 5. 1. 2. to the 12.
    It’s but yet a little while, and the strongest, yea the seemingly purest propriety, which may mostly plead privilege and prerogative from Scripture, and carnal reason; shall be confounded and plagued into community and universality. And there’s a most glorious design in it: and equality, community, and universal love; shall be in request to the utter confounding of abominable pride, murder, hypocrisy, tyranny and oppression, &c. The necks whereof can never be chopped off, or these villains ever hanged up, cut off by material sword, by human might, power, or strength, but by the pure spirit of universal love, who is the God whom all the world (of Papists, Protestants, Presbyterians, Independents, Spiritual Notionists, &c.) ignorantly worship.
  3. The time is coming, yea now is, that you shall not dare to say, your silver or gold is your own.
    It’s the Lord’s.
    You shall not say it is your own, lest the rust thereof rise up in judgment against you, and burn your flesh as it were fire.
    Neither shall you dare to say, your ox, or your ass is your own.
    It’s the Lord’s.
    And if the Lord have a need of an ass he shall have him.
    Or if 2 of his disciples should come to unloose him, I will not (for a 1000 worlds) call them thieves, lest the ass should beat my brains out, my bread is not mine own, it’s the Lord’s.
    And if a poor rogue should ask for it——the Lord has need of it——he should have it, lest it should stick in my throat and choke me one way or other.
  4. Once more, Impropriators! Appropriators! Go to, weep and howl, &c. Jam. 5. 1. to the 7. The rust of your silver shall rise (is rising up) against you, burning your flesh as it were fire, &c.
    That is (in a word) a secret, yet sharp, terrible, unexpected, and unsupportable plague, is rising up from under all, that you call your own, when you go to count your money, you shall verily think the Devil stands behind you, to tear you in pieces: you shall not put bread in your mouths, but the curse shall come along with it, and choke you one way or other. All your former sweets shall be mingled with gall and wormwood: I give you but a hint.
    It’s the last days.
  5. Well! Do what you will or can, know you have been warned. It is not for nothing that the Lord with the strong wind cut off (as with a sickle) the fullest, fairest ears of corn this harvest, and droppeds them on purpose for the poor, who had as much right to them, as those that (impudently and wickedly, thievishly and hoggishly) style themselves the owners of the land.
  6. It’s not for nothing that such various strange kinds of worms, grubs, and caterpillars (my strong host, saith the Lord of Hosts) have been sent into some grain: neither is in vain, that I the Lord sent the rot among so many sheep this last year; if they had been resigned to me, and you had kept a true communion, they had not been given up to that plague.
  7. It’s not in vain that so many towns and houses have been lately fired over the heads of the inhabitants: neither is it in vain, that I the Lord fired the barning and ricks of a miser in Worcestershire (this year) the very same day that he brought in his own, as he accounted it.
    On the very same day (I say) his barning and ricks were fired down to the very ground, though multitudes of very expert men in the employment came to quench it.
    Of this the writer of this Scroll was an eye-witness.
  8. Impropriators! Appropriators! Misers! A fair warning. More of you shall be served with the same sauce.
    Others of you I’ll deal withal in another way more terrible than this, saith the Lord till you resign.——
    Misers! ‘Specially you holy Scripturian Misers, when you would say grace before and after meat, read James5. 1. to 7. & Hosea 2. 8, 9, 10.

CHAP. VII.

A further discovery of the subtlety of the well-favoured Harlot, with a parley between her and the spirit: As also the horrid villainy (that lies hid under her smooth words, and sweet tongue in pleading against the Letter and History, and for the Spirit and Mystery, and all for her own ends) detected. Also upon what account the spirit is put, and upon what account the letter. Also what the true communion, and what the true breaking of bread is.

  1. But now me thinks (by this time) I see a brisk, spruce, neat, self-seeking, finicking fellow, (who scorns to be either Papist, Protestant, Presbyterian, Independent, or Anabaptist) I mean the Man of Sin, who worketh with all deceiveableness of unrighteousness, 2. Thess. 2.
    Crying down carnal ordinances, (Note: Down they must, but no thanks to him.) And crying up the spirit: (Note: up it must, but no thanks to him.) Cunningly seeking and setting up himself thereby.
    I say, I see him, and have ripped up the very secrets of his heart (saith the Lord) as also of that mother of mischief, that well-favoured Harlot, who both agree in one, and say on this wise to me.
  2. ‘Ah! Poor deluded man, thou hast spoken of the wisdom of God in a mystery, and thou hast seen all the history of the Bible mysterized.
    ‘O fool! Who hath bewitched thee, Art thou so foolish as to begin in the spirit, and wilt thou now be made perfect in the flesh? Keep thee to the spirit, go not back to the letter, keep thee to the Mystery, go not back to the history.
    ‘What? Why dost talk so much of James 5. and Hosea 2. Those words are to be taken in the Mystery, not the History: they are to be taken in the spirit, not as they lie in the letter.’
    Thus you have a hint of the neat young man’s, and of the well-favoured Harlot’s language.
  3. But now behold I am filled with the Holy Ghost, and resolved (Acts 13. 8, 9, &c.) to set mine eyes on her and him, (who are no more twain, but one) and say:
    ‘O full of all subtlety and mischief, thou child of the Devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
    ‘Be it known to thee, O thou deceitful tongue, that I have begun on the spirit, and will end in the spirit: I’m joined to the Lord, and am one spirit. The Spirit’s my joy, my life, my strength; I will not let it go, it’s my delight.
    ‘The Mystery is mine, (mostly) that which I most delight in, that’s the jewel. The history is mine also, that’s the Cabinet. For the jewel’s sake I will not leave the Cabinet, though indeed it’s nothing to me, but when thou for thine own ends, standest in competition with me for it.
    ‘Strength is mine, so is weakness also.’
  4. I came by water and blood, not by blood only, but by blood and water also.
    The inwardness is mostly mine, my prime delight is there; the outwardness is mine also, when thou for thine own ends, standest in competition with me about it, or when I would confound thee by it.
  5. I know there’s no Communion to the Communion of Saints, to the inward Communion, to communion with the spirits of just men made perfect, and with God the judge of all.
    No other communion of saints do I know.
    And this is blood-life-spirit-Communion.
  6. But another Communion also I do know, which is water, and but water, which I will not be without: my spirit dwells with God, the judge of all, dwells on him, sups with him, in him, feeds on him, with him, in him. My humanity shall dwell with, sup with, eat with humanity; and why not (for a need) with Publicans and Harlots? Why should I turn away mine eyes from mine own flesh? Why should I not break my bread to the hungry, whoever they be? It is written, the Lord takes care of oxen.
    And when I am at home, I take great care of my horse, to feed him, dress him, water him and provide for him.
    And is not poor Maul of Deddington, and the worst rogue in Newgate, or the arrantest thief or cut-purse far better, than 100 oxen, or 1000 such horses as mine?
  7. Do I take care of my horse, and doth the Lord take care of oxen?
    And shall I hear poor rogues in Newgate, Ludgate, cry bread, bread, bread, for the Lord’s sake; and shall I not pity them, and relieve them?
    Howl, howl, ye nobles, howl honourable, howl ye rich men for the miseries that are coming upon you.
    For our part, we that hear the APOSTLE preach, will also have all things common; neither will we call any thing that we have our own.
    Do you (if you please) till the plague of God rot and consume what you have.
    We will not, we’ll eat our bread together in singleness of heart, we’ll break bread from house to house.

CHAPTER VIII.

The well-favoured Harlot’s clothes stripped off, her nakedness discovered, her nose slit, her lusting after the young man, void of understanding, from corner to corner, from religion to religion, and the spirit pursuing, overtaking, and destroying her, with a terrible thunderclap in the close, &c.

  1. And we will strip off thy clothes, who hast bewitched us, and slit thy nose thou well-favoured Harlot, who hast (as in many things, so in this) made the nations of the earth drunk, with the cup of thy fornications: as thus.
    Thou hast come to a poor irreligious wretch, and told him he must be of the same religion as his neighbours, he must go to church, hear the Minister, &c. and at least once a year put on his best clothes, and receive the Communion——he must eat a bit of bread, and drink a sip of wine——and then he has received, &c. And then he hath been at the Communion.
  2. But when he finds this religion too coarse for him, and he would fain make after another, then immediately thou huntest after him, following him from street to street, from corner to corner, from gross Protestantism to puritanism, &c. At length from cross in baptism, and common-prayer-book to Presbyterianism, where thou tellest him he may break bread, with all such believers, who believe their horses and their cows are their own; and with such believers, who have received different light from, or greater light than themselves; branded with the letter B, banished, or imprisoned 14 weeks together, without bail or main prize.
  3. And I could tell a large story, that would reach as far as between Oxonshire and Coventry.
    But though it be in the original copy, yet it is my goodwill and pleasure, out of my great wisdom, to waive the printing of it, and I will send the contents thereof, as a charge and secret plague, secretly into their breasts, who must be plagued with a vengeance, for their villainy against the Lord.
    Well! To return from this more than needful digression, to the discovery, and uncovering of the well-favoured Harlot.
    Thou hast hunted the young man void of understanding, from corner to corner, from religion to religion.
    We left him at the Presbyterians——where such a believer, who believes his horses and his cows are his own, may have his child christened, and may himself be admitted to the sacrament——and come to the communion.
    And what’s that?
    Why after a consecration in a new form, eating a bit of bread, and drinking a sip of wine perhaps once a month, why mother of mischief is this Communion?
    O thou flattering and deceitful tongue, God shall root thee out of the land of the living, is this Communion? No, no, mother of witchcrafts!
  4. The true Communion amongst men, is to have all things common, and to call nothing one hath, one’s own.
    And the true external breaking of bread, is to eat bread together in singleness of heart, and to break thy bread to the hungry, and tell them it’s their own bread &c. Else your religion is in vain.
  5. And by this time indeed thou seest this religion is in vain. And wilt therefore hie thee to another, to wit, to Independency, and from thence perhaps to Anabaptism so-called.
    And these are the well-favoured Harlot will follow thee, and say thou must be very holy, very righteous, very religious.
    All other religions are vain.
    And all in the parish, or in the country, yea all in the kingdom, and all in the world (who are not of thine opinion) are without, are of the world.
    Thou, and thy comrades are saints.
    (O proud Devil! O Devil of devils! O Beelzebub!)
    Well! (saith she) thou being a saint must be very holy, and walk in Gospel-ordinances (saith the well-favoured Harlot) aye and in envy, malice, pride, covetousness, evil surmising, censoriousness, &c. also.
    And on the first day of the week, when the Saints meet together, to break bread, do not thou omit it upon pain of damnation.
    By no means omitted, because thou hast Gospel Ordinances in the purity of them.
    ——Papists——they give wafers.——
    Protestants——give——to all i’th’ parish ragg ragg, and his fellow if they come.
    But we are called out of the world, none shall break bread with us, but ourselves, (the Saints together, who are in Gospel Order)
    Besides the priests of England cut their bread into little square bits, but we break our bread (according to the apostolical practice) and this is the right breaking of bread (saith the well-favoured Harlot.)
    Who hath stepped into this holy, righteous Gospel, religious way, (Gospel-Ordinances so-called) on purpose to dash to pieces the right breaking of bread and in the room thereof thrusting in this vain religion.
  6. A religion wherein Lucifer reigns, more than in any.
    And next to this in the Independents (so-called) both which damn to the pit of hell, those that are 100 times nearer the kingdom of heaven than themselves: flattering themselves up in this their vain religion.
    But take his hint before I leave thee.

[8.] He that hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother in want, and shutteth up the bowels of his compassion from him, the love of God dwelleth not in him; this man’s religion is in vain.
His religion is in vain, that seeth his brother in want, &c.
His brother——a beggar, a lazar, a cripple, yea a cut-purse, a thief i’th’ jail, &c.
He that seeth such a brother, flesh of his flesh (in want) and shutteth up the bowels of his compassion from him, the love of God dwelleth not in him; his religion is in vain: and he never yet broke bread——that hath not forgot his (meum.)

  1. The true breaking of bread——is from house to house, &c. Neighbours (in singleness of heart) saying if I have any bread, &c. It’s thine, I will not call it mine own, it’s common.
    These are true communicants, and this is the true breaking of bread among men.
  2. And what the Lord’s supper is, none know, but those that are continually (not weekly) but daily at it.
    And what the true Communion is, those and those only know, who are come to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to God the judge of all; all other religion is vain.
    Aye, saith the well-favoured Harlot (in the young man void of understanding) I see Protestantism, Presbytery, Independency, Anabaptism, are all vain. These coverings are too short, too narrow, too coarse for me; the finest of these are but hardened sheets, and very narrow ones also.
    I’ll get me some flax, and make me both fine and larger sheets, &c. I’ll scorn carnal Ordinances, and walk in the Spirit.
    Aye, do (saith the well-favoured Harlot) speak nothing but Mystery, drink nothing but wine, but blood, thou needest not eat flesh, &c.
  3. And so my young man starts up into the notion of spirituals, and wraps up a deal of hypocrisy, malice, envy, deceit, dissimulation, covetousness, self-seeking in this fine linen.
    Being a hundredfold worse devils than before.
    But now thy villainy, hypocrisy, and self-seeking is discovering, yea discovered to many with a witness.
    And though the true and pure levelling, is the eternal God’s levelling the mountains, &c. In man. Which is the

Blood-Life-Spirit levelling.

 Yet the water, or weak levelling, which is base and foolish, shall confound thee.
And hereby, as also by several other strange ways, which thou art least of all acquainted withal. I’ll discover thy lewdness, and show the rottenness of thy heart.
I’ll call for all to a mite, to be cast into the outward treasury.
And will bid thee lay down all at my feet, the Apostle, the Lord, and this is a way that I am now again setting up to try, judge, and damn the well-favoured Harlot by.
Cast all into the Treasury, &c. Account nothing thine own, have all things in common.
The young man goes away sorrowful,——&c.
The well-favoured Harlot shrugs at this.——

  1. When this cometh to pass, a poor wretch whose very bones are gnawn with hunger, shall not go about 13 or 14 miles about thy business, and thou for a reward, when thou hast hundreds lying by thee.
    I will give day but one hint more, and so will leave thee.
    The dreadful day of judgment is stealing on thee, within these few hours. Thou hast secretly and cunningly lain in wait, thou hast craftily numbered me amongst transgressors, who to thy exceeding torment, and indeed a friend of Publicans and Harlots.
    Thou hast accounted me a Devil, saith the Lord.
    And I will rot thy name, and make it stink above ground, and make thy folly manifest to all men.
    And because thou hast adjudged me, I will judge thee (with a witness) expect it suddenly, saith the Lord.

per AUXILIUM PATRIS

 

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

Check out the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar online

Today in London anti-fascist history, 1949: 43 Group disrupt Oswald Mosley rally, Kensington

Snapshots in London’s anti-fascist history, continued… 

After the second world war, Britain’s pre-war fascist leader Oswald Mosley, freed from wartime imprisonment, tried to rebuild the fascist movement he had led in the 1930s. A core of Mosley’s former comrades in the former British Union of Fascists, joined by a number of younger men, took up the largely anti-semitic agitation they had revelled in before the war. Jewish areas of London, or areas where a mix of Jews and other communities mixed, were seen as fruitful areas for street meetings and rallies – partly to pick up support from and to foster, local xenophobic sentiment, and partly to provoke and intimidate.

But opposition was strong: London’s Jews refused to be intimidated and a substantial minority took up active – and physical – resistance to the fascist revival. In 1947, a group of Jewish ex-army servicemen formed the 43 Group, with the intention of responding to the fascist attempt to reform. Growing rapidly, they resolved to resist the violent rhetoric and physical attacks with a determination to break up fascist meetings, attack the fash wherever possible, and disrupt them in all ways they could. They developed a strong physical and intelligence-led operation that would eventually put the fascist on the back foot.

Constant disruption of fascist meetings forced Mosley and his cohorts onto the back foot…

Although in 1948 Mosley and the fledgling fascist groups combined to form the Union Movement, the constant battering they took from the 43 Group, with weekly fights all over town, took its toll on them.

The more moderate Jewish Establishment, manifested through the Jewish Board of Deputies, was severely critical of the actions of the 43 Group. While happy to complain about the fascist resurgence, they were un-nerved by the physical resistance of the 43ers, by the suggestion of any anti-fascist links to socialism or the Communist Party, law-breaking, unrespectable violence in general… Various attempts were made to control or marginalise the Group’s activities by the Board and their associated organisations, but the Group’s direct action against the fascist threat was undoubtedly hugely effective (although other, less agro-heavy, anti-fascist activities from other Jewish groups also impacted on the fash).

By the end of 1948, though, the 43 Group was having trouble attracting audiences to their street meetings – happily, this was partly because the fascists, now grouped together in the Union Movement, had themselves lost much support and impetus. In an attempt to revive the fortunes of his would-be third reich, Mosley planned to stand candidates in the upcoming municipal elections, and booked Kensington Town Hall for a mass meeting. The Town Hall had a capacity of 700, and it looked like the UM could fill it. Mosley had already gambled on his grandiose nazi dreams, leasing large new HQ on Vauxhall bridge Road (much bigger than his dwindling party could use).

By now accustomed to the 43 Group’s tactics – infiltrating fascist meetings with forged tickets then disrupting them – the Kensington meeting’s organisers pulled out all the stops to prevent them breaking this one up. But in fact, the Group had decoded that they would get better publicity by holding a mass protest and wreath laying ceremony at the War memorial next to the hall, rather than attempt to disrupt the meeting, which was to be heavily protected by police. They hoped for a larger turnout than usual, including people who would not normally turn up for the Group’s more hands-on attacks on fascist rallies…

On the 31st January, more than 3000 joined the 43 Group at the memorial, holding anti-fascist banners, holding a minute’s silence for the laying of wreath, and listening to a variety of speakers. The turnout was described by ‘On Guard’ as representing the biggest and most dramatic anti-fascist demo since the 1930s.

Meanwhile at least 700 fascist sympathisers turned up to fill in Kensington Town Hall and listen to Mosley spouting the usual froth about international Jewish financiers; with – initially – no disruption from the nasty 43ers, thanks to the huge police guard.

The 43 Group’s plans aside, some elements associated with the Group were not prepared to let the fascist rally go by un-disrupted. After Mosley had been ranting for 15 minutes, however, someone let off a tear gas canister near the back of the audience, causing near panic inside, and a stampede as 100 people ran out of the hall; despite the crap fuhrer appealing for everyone to stand firm (well, he was far enough away from the gas, on the platform). Shortly after, part of the anti-fascist crowd attempted to storm the hall, and fought with mounted police determined to prevent them, riding into the crowd. As Mosley was driven away, fascists tried to attack the crowds, leading to some fighting. There were seven arrests, several of whom were 43 Group members.

The moderate Jewish establishment was – as usual – critical of the actions of the anti-fascists and Kensington, claiming that Mosley’s meeting would have received no publicity if it had not been violently opposed. However, the hype around the event in fact helped revive a wide opposition to the Union Movement among the Jewish community and further afield. A UM march from Ridley Road in Dalston to Tottenham a couple of months later was oppose by 5000 people, including groups who had shied away from anti-fascism in recent years for fear of being associated with the 43 Group’s actions…

After several years the Mosleyite agitation had largely faded out by 1952. Frustrated once again, the shitest little fuhrer, Oswald Mosley, fucked off out of the country in a huff that Britain wasn’t ready for his message of hate. This was pretty much the end for Mosley’s serious political challenge, though he would return periodically to haunt the scene… But newer, madder Nazis would soon be springing up to sewage up the streets…

Today in radical publishing history, 1817: first issue of the Black Dwarf newspaper

On 29th January 1817, the first issue of the radical Black Dwarf paper was published.

“Prospectus for the Black Dwarf

It may be required of us to declare whether the Black dwarf emanates from the celestial regions, or from the shades of evil – whether he be an European sage or an Indian savage – whether he is subject to the vicissitudes of mortality, or a phantom of the imagination – in what shape he appears, by what authority he presumes to write – what object he has in view, and whether his designs are wicked or charitable. In answer to all these probable topics of enquiry, our simple reply is, that we are not at liberty to unfold all the secrets of his prison house, to ears of flesh and blood. We have, besides, no wish to perplex the mind, or draw to largely upon the faith of the enquirer. Were we to state what he is, the infallibility of the pope, the miracles of Mahomet, and all the wonders that wanton fancy ever drew, would appear probable and consistent to the story we should unfold. But these disclosures we must reserve, until better times ensure the civil treatment of so singular a stranger.

In the interim, however, the Black Dwarf will not be idle. He intends to expose every species of vice and folly, with which this virtuous age, and enlightened metropolis abounds. To political delinquency he will give no quarter, even if royalty were to sanction it by private favors and reward it with public honors. He will shew no mercy to spiritual imposition, even though decorated with lawn. Neither the throne, nor the altar, will be sanctuary against his intrusion. Secure from his invisibility, and dangerous from his power of division, (for like the polypus, he can divide and redivide himself, and each division remain a perfect animal) he will be engaged at the same instant, in listening for evil at the portals of the temple, under the canopy of the throne, and in the gallery of the lower house; in weighing the patriotism of our patriots; in comparing the disinterested independence of our journalists; besides the stranger occupation of seeking for honesty in the mazes of the law, and humility on the bench of bishops.

The lighter and ore agreeable business of the Black Dwarf, will be a survey of the DRAMA, and the literary world in general; to foster genius, and chastise impudence; to encourage the modest, and prune the luxuriance of the redundant fancy; in short to exhibit, unbiassed by the spirit of any party, a correct reflection of merit in the mirror of impartial criticism.

To fools, and to men of sense, the Black Dwarf hopes to be equally agreeable; the former will imagine they understand him when they do not; and the latter will be able to comprehend him more than he means to utter. To the ministry and the opposition he may be equally serviceable, by teaching the latter to begin, where they leave off, and the former how dangerous it is to oppose the progress of a deluge. A well-wisher to all, but an uncourtly friend, the Black Dwarf will steadily hold up a glass, in which no honest man need be ashamed to look, and every fool and knave may readily trace his resemblance.

Dedication

TO THE PREINCE REGENT
HOPING that he will awake to full knowledge of Himself, his MINISTERS, and his People, before it be too late: –

TO THE MINISTRY,
TRUSTING that a grateful people may ultimately appreciate, and properly reward the merits of all who compose it: –

TO THE JUDGES,
AS a proof that even judges may be mistaken; –

TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL,
AS a record of his benevolent intentions, and the advantage of his persecution: –

AND TO WILLIAM COBBETT, ESQ.
AS a warning against precipitate conduct, and rash prediction; and in evidence that the Liberty of the Press is not entirely destroyed in England: –

THESE PAPERS ARE DEDICATED,

BY T.J.WOOLER”

In January 1817, Thomas Jonathan Wooler, a journalist, established a new radical unstamped journal, the Black Dwarf. Wooler, from Yorkshire, was a printer, who had served his apprenticeship in Shoreditch and become politically active in the numerous political debating clubs (eg the Socratic Club, which met in the Mermaid Tavern, Hackney), and had been involved in helping to produce reformist publications in the years of the Napoleonic Wars. He worked for the radical journal The Reasoner, then became editor of The Statesman. Wooler’s interest in legal matters led him to write and publish the pamphlet An Appeal to the Citizens of London against the Packing of Special Juries in 1817.

Wooler had previously founded The Stage in 1815, a paper featuring a mix of heavy satire and libertarian rhetoric, which foreshadowed the Black Dwarf’s general approach to politics.

The Black Dwarf first appeared in January 1817 as an eight page newspaper; it later became a 32 page pamphlet costing 4d. At this time it was possible to make a living from being a radical publisher. “The means of production of the printed page were sufficiently cheap to mean that neither capital nor advertising revenue gave much advantage; while the successful Radicalism, for the first time, a profession which could maintain its own full-time agitators.” Radical journalists like William Cobbett, Wooler and Richard Carlile became beacons of the reform movement, hugely influential, but also exposing themselves to repression, censorship and arrest, in an era when the government tried every method of closing down dissenting voices.

Within a few months the Dwarf reached a circulation of 12,000 and received the backing of the reform movement’s senior politician, Major John Cartwright.

The newspaper gave its support politically to Cartwright’s network of Hampden Clubs. Cartwright’s main objective was to unite middle class moderates with radical members of the working class to build a movement that could successfully press for reform of the corrupt, class-based British political system. Through his links to Cartwright Wooler became for a while one of the main leaders of the movement for political reform in Britain.

Wooler composed regular letters from the character named the Black Dwarf to various fictional correspondents. The Dwarf’s content consisted of satire, parodies and humour, attacking the political establishment and promoting Reform and working class interests. The paper drew on the emerging and evolving popular working class culture of poetry, ballads and songs, and reported speeches and quotations, questions, answers and parodies. At the heart of its method was to undermine lower class deference to the political classes, to encourage plebeian literary sophistication.
Its satire and parody also reflected the – then shocking and cutting edge – radical form of pisstaking of religious liturgy. For instance, an 1817 biblical parody attacked the House of Lords: “The LORD giveth, and the LORDS taketh away. Blessed be the way of the Lords”.

When the radical William Hone was tried for publishing a parody of parts of the Book of Common Prayer and acquitted in January 1818, Wooler based his response on “This Is the House That Jack Built“:

“This is the verdict recorded and found,
By the Jury unbiass’d, unpack’d and unfrowned
That frighten’d the Judge so choleric and old,
Who swore “by the oath of his office” so bold, ‘
Twas an impious, blasphemous libel, and so,
The man should be ruined ex-oficio,
By the servant of servants who blustered so big,
With his ears in his hand and his wits in his wig;
To please the Ministers
Who hated the truth
That was told by the man
Who published the parodies.”

“Did the title refer to the European sage or the Indian savage? Wooler teased, “We are not at liberty to unfold all the secrets of his prison‑house.” Here was the motley in both its forms, rags and fooling. The black dwarf was a trickster against throne and altar, secure from his invisibility, and dangerous from his power of division”Wooler might be describing the hydra‑”for like the polypus, he can divide and redivide himself, and each division remains a perfect animal.” (Linnaeus had given the name Hydra to a genus of freshwater polyps in 1756).
The Black Dwarf was international and multiethnic, featuring reviews of Oroonoko, news of the wild abolitionist dances of Barbados, the latest on struggles in South America. The dwarf of the frontispiece had his right hand raised in a fist of victory, and his left firmly on his hip in a further gesture of determination. A barrel‑chested Pan clasped the dwarf’s arm in comradely alliance and pointed to the symbols of vanquished Powers‑a royal scepter, a stack of money…’ ” (Peter Linebaugh)

For a few years, Wooler and the Black Dwarf commanded the largest radical audience, (particularly after William Cobbett fled to the US, after the passage of the 1817 Coercion Act and fearing arrest for his arguably seditious writings). The ruling class, petrified that the reform movement would become powerful enough to overthrow their power, saw in the Dwarf and other radical papers the inspiration that might bring that terrible time about. In 1819 Viscount Castlereagh, England’s Foreign Secretary and perhaps the most hated member of the Government, complained in parliament that T. J. Wooler had become “the bugleman of the Radicals”, and that The Black Dwarf was circulating from radical Westminster to northern colliery districts, where it could be found “in the hatcrown of almost every pitman you meet.”

Wooler was a capable orator and writer; when putting together articles, he worked directly from thought to press, composing directly as he typeset, rather than writing a draft first. This was cutting edge stuff – the words flowing from his mind to the hot type to the press.

Politically Wooler backed constitutionalist radical organisation, through local clubs. And education classes of not more than 20, a weekly penny subscription, meeting to sell and discuss radical papers and pamphlets. He thought large meetings didn’t work well for discussion; he was against secret actions and proclaimed open organization would defeat the workings of government spies.
In many of the clubs that were beginning to spring up, men would meet to listen to someone read out news and views from the Black Dwarf, Cobbett’s Political Register, and other papers, and discuss what they heard.

Wooler argued in the first issue of the Dwarf that the real freedom of Englishmen lay in their power and their will to uphold their liberties, not through the Constitution which was simply the “recorded merits of our ancestors”, but by deeds. He warned “the higher orders think the best mode is to destroy the Constitution altogether and then their cause can run no further risk.”

Cartoon attacking the radicals demanding parliamentary reform. It shows Henry Orator Hunt in the centre, next to him is the Black Dwarf (Thomas Wooler) and a pig dressed as Napoleon (Thomas Spence)

Wooler compared working class political clubs to the work of the Quakers: “Those who condemn clubs either do not understand what they can accomplish, or they wish nothing to be done… Let us look at, and emulate the patient resolution of the Quakers. They have conquered without arms – without violence – without threats. They conquered by union.” He attacked the erstwhile hero of the radical press, Cobbett, who had denounced the clubs: in contrast, Wooler asserted that people needed to organise themselves, and that the clubs were thus a necessity: “good men should associate when the bad combine to injure them. Our enemies are clubbed in every direction around us. Do military clubs and naval clubs and clubs of boroughmongers do no good to the cause of corruption? Are not all associations clubs; and is it not quite evident that the associated powers of a number are more likely to produce an effect than the individual exertions of twice or three times the number?”

Like Robert Wedderburn, Wooler took a dim view of Robert Owen’s attempt to create a model community in New Lanark. In August 1817, Wooler wrote: “It is very amusing to hear Mr Owen talk of re-moralizing the poor. Does he not think that the rich are a little more in want of re-moralizing; and particularly that class of them that has contributed to demoralize the poor, if they are demoralized, by supporting measures which have made them poor, and which now continue them poor and wretched? Talk of the poor being demoralized! It is their would-be masters that create all the evils that afflict the poor, and all the depravity that pretended philanthropists pretend to regret.”

Wooler was critical of capitalism: “Let him abandon the labourer to his own protection; cease to oppress him, and the poor man would scorn to hold any fictitious dependence upon the rich. Give him a fair price for his labour, and do not take two-thirds of a depreciated remuneration back from him again in the shape of taxes. Lower the extravagance of the great. Tax those real luxuries, enormous fortunes obtained without merit. Reduce the herd of locusts that prey upon the honey of the hive, and think they do the bees a most essential service by robbing them. The working bee can always find a hive. Do not take from them what they can earn, to supply the wants of those who will earn nothing. Do this; and the poor will not want your splendid erections for the cultivation of misery and the subjugation of the mind.”

George Cruikshank, Funeral Pile, published in 1820. Thomas Jonathan Wooler is the one with the bellows.

The development and growth in circulation of the Black Dwarf reflected the turbulent times it operated in. the post-Napoleonic War economic slump and resulting upsurge in demands for political and social reform, provoked only refusal and repression from the political establishment, which in turn led to increased agitation. State violence, police infiltration, legislative crackdowns, arrests and prosecutions were all used to try to beat down the pressure for change. In turn this pushed a minority into plans for uprisings and plots for revolution, though these proved abortive. Wooler himself argued in favour of the more constitutional wing of the movement and against taking up arms.

Tumultous events abounded. In December 1816 the third mass reform rally in a few months in Clerkenwell’s Spa Fields ended in a riotous attempt at insurrection. A month later the Prince Regent’s coach was attacked as he rode to open Parliament. In response to the agitation, the government passed the repressive Six Acts, banned large meeting and suspended the law of Habeus Corpus. William Cobbett fled to America to escape arrest. Thomas Wooler was arrested in early May 1817 and faced two trials for seditious libel for two articles published in the third and tenth numbers of the Black Dwarf. He was tried at the London Guildhall before Justice Charles Abbott and two special juries on 5th June that year. Read his Trial statement
The attorney-general, Samuel Shepherd, led the prosecution; however, Wooler defended himself brilliantly, advised by Charles Pearson, a young City radical, and was eventually acquitted of the charges.

The government repression inspired rebellion in Derbyshire in 1817; and continued, to culminate in the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in August 1819. At least 18 people were killed and about 500 were wounded during a meeting calling for parliamentary reform. This event in itself sparked rage and riotous rallies across the country, but abortive plots for revolution ended with failed uprisings in Scotland and Yorkshire and arrests in Cato Street in London. Spies had been at he heart of all the plans and ensured that they went ahead to gather in the radicals but had no chance of succeeding.

Wooler himself was arrested for taking part in the campaign to elect Sir Charles Wolseley to represent Birmingham in the House of Commons. As Birmingham had not been given permission to have an election, Wooler and his fellow campaigners were charged with “forming a seditious conspiracy to elect a representative to Parliament without lawful authority”. Wooler was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.

On his release from prison Wooler modified the tone of the Black Dwarf in an effort to comply with the terms of the Six Acts. This lost him some support from other radicals, including Richard Carlile, the editor of The Republican, who refused to reduce his radicalism.

To survive, Wooler had to rely on financial help from Major John Cartwright. However, on Cartwright’s death on 23rd September 1824, he was forced to close the newspaper down. The movements had not subsided, but the ferment of a few years before had dwindled, and Wooler was despondent. “In ceasing his political labours, the Black Dwarf has to regret one mistake, and that a serious one. He commenced writing under the idea that there was a PUBLIC in Britain, and that public devotedly attached to the cause of parliamentary reform. This, it is but candid to admit, was an error… Whereas in the past they had demanded reform, now they only “clamoured for bread”.

For a while, Wooler edited the British Gazette, but, after the Reform Act 1832 was passed, he gave up politics to become a lawyer. Wooler went on to write books and pamphlets on the British legal system, including Every Man his Own Lawyer in 1845.

Read some articles from the Black Dwarf 

There’s a partial archive of Black Dwarf

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

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Today and tomorrow, in London’s shopping history: bread riots in Whitechapel, 1861

The winter of 1860-61 was grim: freezing weather and lack of work, leading to mass poverty among working people in London. ‘The district of Old Street, Goswell Street, Barbican, and Whitecross Street’, wrote a correspondent of the Morning Post on January 20, 1861, ‘are the boundaries, in a maze of courts swarming with people in a state of starvation.’

The low temperatures led to a lack of work: “Owing to the continuance of the frost, and all out door labour being stopped, the distress and suffering that prevail in the metropolis, particularly among the dock labourers, bricklayers, masons, and labouring classes at the East End, are truly horrible. Throughout the day thousands congregate round the approaches of the different workhouses and unions, seeking relief, but it has been impossible for the officers to supply one-third that applied. This led to consider able dissatisfaction, and hundreds have perambulated the different streets seeking alms of the inhabitants and of the passers-by.” (Morning Star, January 18, 1861)

“THE one domestic question at present uppermost in the public mind is the social condition of the humbler classes. It has been forced upon us by a winter of unexampled severity; by an amount of national distress, not at all exceptional in the cold season, which has gone to the very verge of bread riots; and by agitations in the press and on the platform for an immediate improvement in labourers’ cottages. The chief streets of the metropolis have been haunted for weeks by gaunt labourers, who have moaned out a song of want that has penetrated the thickest walls. The workhouses have been daily besieged by noisy and half-famished crowds; the clumsy poor-law system, with its twenty-three thousand officers, its boards, and its twelve thousand annual reports, has notoriously broken down; the working clergy, and the London magistrates, worn out and exhausted, have been the willing almoners of stray benevolence; Dorcas societies, soup-kitchens, ragged-schools, asylums, refuges, and all the varied machinery of British charity, have been strained to the utmost; and now we may sit down and congratulate ourselves that only a few of our fellow-creatures have been starved to death. The storm to all appearance has passed, but the really poor will feel the effects of those two bitter months -December, 1860, and January, 1861 – for years.” (Ragged London in 1861, John Hollingshead, 1861.)

The extreme poverty provoked collective action – proletarian shopping – taking the necessities of life by force without the politeness of paying. Over the nights of 15/16 January 1861, there were bread riots in Whitechapel.
Several bakers’ shops in the East End of London were emptied by a mob of 30 to 40 people on the evening of the 15th. The next day, things escalated: on the 16th, between seven and nine o’clock at night, thousands gathered, many of them dockers and their families, and cleared bakers’ shops and eating-houses. Outnumbered, the mounted police were powerless to stop the desperate spectacle.

“On Tuesday night much alarm was produced by an attack made on a large number of bakers’ shops in the vicinity of the Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road East. They were surrounded by a mob of about thirty or forty in number, who cleared the shops of the bread they contained, and then decamped. On Wednesday night, however, affairs assumed a more threatening character, and acts of violence were committed. By sonic means it became known, in the course of the afternoon, that the dock labourers intended to visit Whitechapel in a mass, as soon as dusk set in, and that an attack would be made on all the provision shops in that locality. This led to a general shutting up of the shops almost through out the East End – a precaution highly necessary, for between seven and nine o’clock thousands congregated in the principal streets and proceeded in a body from street to street. An attack was made upon many of the bakers’ shops and eating-houses, and every morsel of food was carried away. A great many thieves and dissipated characters mingled with the mob, and many serious acts of violence were committed. The mounted police of the district were present, but it was impossible for them to act against so large a number of people. Yesterday, the streets were thronged with groups of the unemployed, seeking relief of the passers-by. In the outskirts similar scenes were observed, and in some instances acts approaching intimidation were resorted to to obtain alms.” (Morning Star, January 18, 1861)

The bread riot was a not irregular feature of life both before and after industrialisation in England, with bread prices at the mercy of many factors including bad harvests, greedy price-raising by hoarders and artificial price-hiking in the interests of landowners by use of legislation like the Corn Laws. Although these laws had been repealed in 1846, economic slump or seasonal conditions could reduce whole areas to near-destitution. There had been bread riots across London in 1855, including in Whitechapel…

In the January 1861 riots, East End dockers were prominent: dock work was precarious and unstable at the best of times, with men engaged day to day at the whim of the gangmasters; frozen weather caused ships not to be able to be unloaded and work to slacken.

The grim conditions continued into February and March: “It is doubtful if there was not more real privation in February than in January of the present year; and the registrar-general’s return of deaths from starvation – the most awful of all deaths – for the mild week ending February 16, had certainly increased. There has been no lack of generosity on the part of those who have been able to give. The full purse has been everywhere found open, and thousands have asked to be shown real suffering, and the best mode of relieving it. A local taxation, cheerfully and regularly paid, of 18,000,000l. per annum, beyond the Government burden, is either inadequate for the purposes to which it is applied, or applied in the most wasteful and unskilful manner. The sum, or its administration, is unable to do its work. The metropolis, not to speak of other towns, is not “managed,” not cleansed, not relieved from the spectre of starvation which dances before us at our doors.”

(Ragged London in 1861, John Hollingshead, 1861)

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

Check out the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar online

Today in London religious history, 1819: Followers of millenarian prophetess Joanna Southcott ’cause a riot’ in Cannon Street

The Woman Clothed with the Sun

Joanna Southcott  (April 1750 – 27 December 1814), was a self-described religious prophetess. She was born in the hamlet of Taleford, baptised at Ottery St Mary, and raised in the village of Gittisham, all in Devon, England.

Originally in the Church of England, in about 1792 she joined the Methodist Church in Exeter, becoming persuaded that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme, and then announced herself as the Woman of the Apocalypse spoken of in a prophetic passage of the Revelation (12:1–6). An apocalypse was coming, she announced, where the ‘satanic powers’ would be overthrown, and a messiah would return, to launch a Millennium of peace.

Moving to London, Southcott began selling paper “seals of the Lord” (at prices varying from twelve shillings to a guinea) – basically ‘Get Out of the Apocalypse Free’ Cards which supposedly ensured the holders’ places among the 144,000 people who would be elected to eternal life. She spent the 1790s recording a series of prophecies communicated to her, she maintained, by a ‘Spirit of Truth’; worldly events (war, famine, etc) signalling the impending end of days. The theology she developed set out a role for herself, partly identifying her with ‘The Woman Clothed with the Sun’ described in the Book of Revelation (which features in a famous engraving by William Blake); empowered with the redemptive power of God, who would tale part in a war on heaven; she also foretold that a ‘Shiloh’ or prophet would appear immediately before Jesus’ return (again derived from Biblical writings)

The World Turned Upside Down

Southcott’s prophecies began to gain her followers, as her writings became wider known across the country. By 1814 she had gathered at least 12,000 adherents, although the movement was estimated as influencing many more; accurate figures are hard to nail down. Many of her followers had previously cleaved to Methodism, like herself, to other fringe Christian churches and to prophets like her near-contemporary Richard Brothers, The millenarian ferment could take wildly divergent forms: on one hand millenarians could by politically quietist, avoiding action for reform or social change in the immediate because they viewed the Second Coming of Jesus as imminent and that would sweep worldly structures away, but just as easily, millenarianism could evolve into the urgent compulsion to bring the Second Coming about by collective action. As Southcott was beginning her career this dangerous dichotomy had already landed Richard Brothers in prison, Brothers having spooked the authorities after predicting the downfall of Parliament and king George III in apocalyptic language so violent that it came close to echoing the revolutionary agitation of France. As during the years of the English Revolution, religious fervour and dreams of the apocalypse and everyday social change went to some extent hand in hand. Millenarians hanging out in London taverns rubbed shoulders with very earthly radicals, with ideas mingling at the fringes, producing individuals like James Hadfield, who tried to shoot king George III in 1800, convinced it would help bring about the Millennium. Figures like William Blake, who mixed religious millenarianism with radical desires for social justice, are not unusual in this evolving, fertile brew of milieu.

Many of Southcott’s followers (in common with the adherents of other prophets, Methodists and other sects) were of plebeian origins; the dream of overturning society appealing most obviously to those whose lives were often bitterly hard, faced with oppression, poverty and arbitrary powers above them. The massive social upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, the dislocation caused by enclosure, the political cataclysm represented by the French Revolution, were all combining to give birth of a varied, shifting, many-faceted sense of a world changing being turned on its head. Southcott herself, however, specifically opposed radical politics and warned her readers against following the reform-minded and republican paths. ‘Rebellion is as iniquity and Idolatry’, she wrote, urging her followers to ‘not trouble themselves about politics or parties and have no connection with desperate Men… avoid contention or strife’. She wrote a book in reply and opposition to Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, and declared her support for the English monarchy.
Nevertheless among her following were a number of former radicals of the 1790s; on the other hand, after her death, a portion of the Southcottian scene did take part on reformist or radical politics.

Her followers created a network of Southcottian chapels (taking advantage of new easings on the opening of dissenting meeting houses), to hear sermons and sing hymns on the subject of the Millennium.

At the age of 64 Southcott let it be known that she was pregnant and would give birth to the new Messiah, the Shiloh mentioned in the book of of Genesis (49:10). The date of 19 October 1814 was that fixed for the birth, but Shiloh failed to appear, and it was announced that Southcott was in a trance.

She died not long after. The official date of death was given as 27 December 1814, but it seems that she died the previous day, but her followers retained her body for a day or two, believing that she would soon be raised from the dead. They agreed to her burial only after the corpse began to decay.

Her death, without giving birth to the Messiah, didn’t completely disillusion her following, though the movement splintered into sects with diverging explanations for what had ‘happened’ at her death (had the Shiloh in fact been born but was taken up to God etc). The kind of rationalisation that generally takes place in cults when Millennial dates pass without visible sign of Apocalypse or Rapture… Elements of the Southcottian tradition continue to exit today, though much declined in number. Successor prophets including George Turner, John Wroe, and John ‘Zion’ Ward held sway in some parts of the Southcottian movement; other factions felt she could have no earthly successor.

‘A MOST lamentable instance of the effects of infatuation and religious enthusiasm’

Engaged with radicalism or not, the movement attracted both the distrust of the authorities and something of the more general contempt and mockery that dissenting religious sects aroused among a section of the populace. Southcottians became occasional targets for mobs and general abuse.
At least once this led to a mini-riot. In January 2019 a family of Southcottians were arrested in the City of London after triggering a barney in the street. An account of their trial exists in the Newgate Calendar:

“SAMUEL SIBLEY; MARIA CATHERINE SIBLEY; SAMUEL JONES; his son; THOMAS JONES; JOHN ANGEL; THOMAS SMITH; JAMES DODD and EDWARD SLATER

Deluded followers of Joanna Southcott, the sham prophetess, tried for rioting, 13th of January, 1819

   A MOST lamentable instance of the effects of infatuation and religious enthusiasm was exhibited before the sitting magistrate, at Guildhall, London, on the 13th of January, 1819, when Samuel Sibley, and Maria Catherine Sibley, his wife; Samuel Jones; his son, a boy of ten years’ old; Thomas Jones, John Angel, Thomas Smith, James Dodd, and Edward Slater, a boy of twelve years’ of age; were brought up from the Compter, by two officers of the Cordwainers’ Ward, who had with great difficulty, and at the hazard of their own lives, rescued the prisoners from the fury of an immense mob, in Budge-row, Cannon-street, about ten o’clock on the previous morning.

   These deluded people, it was ascertained, were disciples of the lately famous Joanna Southcott, of whom the public have heard so much, and conceived themselves directed by God to proclaim the Coming of Shiloh on Earth: for this purpose they assembled at the west end of the town, in order to enter the only gate of the great city (Temple-bar), through which they marched in procession about nine o’clock in the morning, They were each decorated with a white cockade, and wore a small star of yellow riband on the left breast; Sibley, who led the procession, bearing a brazen trumpet adorned with light blue ribands, and the boys carried each a small flag of blue silk.

   In this manner they had proceeded through Fleet-street, up Ludgate-hill, and along St Paul’s Church-yard, to Budge-row, a great crowd following them, increasing continually as they proceeded. Having arrived, as they supposed, in the middle of the great city, they halted, and began to perform their ceremonies. Sibley sounded the trumpet, and proclaimed the second coming of the Shiloh, the Prince of Peace, on earth; and his wife cried aloud, “Wo! wo! to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the coming of the Shiioh!” This cry was repeated several times, and joined in with a loud voice by the others of the company.

   The crowd was by this time immense, every avenue was stopped up, and the passage of carts and carriages rendered impossible. The mob began with laughing and shouting at these miserably deluded people, and at length proceeded to pelting them with mud and every sort of missile they could procure; they, on their part, being most of them stout young men, resisted; the fight became general and tremendous, the flags were torn down, and Sibley and his associates with great difficulty preserved, by the exertions of the officers, from falling victims to the infuriated rage of the mob, and conveyed to the Compter. Their appearance, when put to the bar, bespoke the danger they had gone through; the men had been all rolled in the mud, and Sibley bore evident marks of violence in his face. The tattered remnants of the paraphernalia used on this singular occasion were also produced, and excited in the minds of all present a mixed sensation of pity and disgust at the assumption of holy functions and heavenly agencies in which the deluded fanatics had so impiously indulged.

   On being called upon by the magistrate, Mr. Alderman Bridges, to give an account of their conduct, in thus disturbing the public peace, Sibley, with an air of authority, directed the others to be silent, and, addressing the alderman, said, he regretted there was no time for him to enter into the particulars of the mission of God to him. He had been commanded by a voice, through the boy Slater, to announce that the Prince of Peace was come upon earth. He was commanded to proclaim the Second Coming of Shiloh, in the same manner, and with the same authority as John the Baptist had proclaimed his first coming. This proclamation he was to make three times in the midst of the great city, by the sound of the trumpet. He and his companions were obeying the commands of God, and in so doing had conducted themselves peaceably, and interfered with no one, when they were attacked by the mob.

   He was proceeding to explain the nature of the visions with which the boy had been favoured, and his wife was raising her voice to bear testimony to the fact of the Shiloh being on earth, whom she said she had had in her arms four times, when the magistrate interrupted them, and observed, that it was evident, if they were not insane, that they were acting under a strong delusion, and pointed out to them how much better they would have been employed in pursuing their regular avocations, than in being the cause of public riot, and endangering their own persons; recommending them to desist from any repetitions of their gross absurdities and delusions.

   The men in reply said, it was right they should obey God; but they would do whatever the magistrate directed, and desist from any further proclamation, assuring him at the same time that nevertheless the Shiloh was come.

   The Alderman said he would not rely on their promise, and should detain them all in custody till they could procure him some better assurance than their own words for their peaceable demeanour in future. They were accordingly conveyed back to the Compter in two coaches to protect them from the mob: one of the men on stepping into the coach, unbuttoned his coat, displayed his yellow star, and placing his hand on it, proclaimed that it was God’s colour.

   On the following morning, the whole party of these self-created heralds of heavenly news were again brought up before the sitting magistrate, Alderman Christopher Smith.

   Sibley was again the spokesman, and, in reply to the magistrate, who inquired if he had ever been in Bedlam, said, the gentlemen might laugh, but he was not mad, but had investigated the business thoroughly before he was convinced. He believed the Bible from cover to cover, and could point out the prophecies which were now fulfilling. He then went into a long rhapsody of nonsense respecting the visions with which the boy had been favoured by God, and declared he had witnessed miracles performed by him. In the course of his long address, he quoted the Scriptures very fluently, and concluded by referring, in justification of his belief, to the passage in which it is said, “in the latter days your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions.” Being asked what place of worship he attended, he replied, his church was his own house, No. 3, Gooch-yard, Upper Whitecross-street; there were about thirty of them who met there frequently, to read the Bible and receive commands of the Lord. He had now received command from God to desist from any further proclamation; and if the Prince Regent were to collect all the money in the world, and lay it at his feet, he dared not do it; the magistrate might therefore rely there would be no repetition of their previous conduct.

   In this declaration he was joined by his wife and the rest of his associates, who all declared aloud, that they dared not now proceed any further in this business. On this assurance on their parts, they were discharged with a suitable admonition from the worthy Alderman, and thus terminated this very singular mission.

   The leader of this redoubtable troop, Sibley, held the dignified station of watchman, in the neighbourhood of St. George’s Fields; and the rest of the maniac band was composed of journeymen mechanics and labourers, with their wives. The whole were grossly ignorant and stupid, but most inveterate1y conceited, and evidently acted under a full impression of the divine nature of the cause in which they were embarked.”

As noted above, the popular millenarian movement founded by Joanna Southcott enjoyed a complex relationship with political radicalism in early nineteenth-century Britain. Southcott opposed radicalism during her lifetime, encouraging her followers to await a messianic agent of the millennium. But within two decades of the prophet’s death, some surviving Southcottians became political radicals, most notably, John ‘Zion’ Ward (1781-1837) and James Elishama Smith (1801-57). Ward was a popular preacher during the agitations around the Reform Bill, speaking regularly at Carlile’s Rotunda; Smith was a utopian socialist lecturer, editor of Robert Owen’s journal Crisis, active in the co-operative movement’s attempt to create a ‘general trades union’ in 1833-34. The influence of Ward and Smith drew several hundred Southcottians into engagement with politics.

Historians have differed widely on the relationship of Southcottianism and religious millenarianism more widely to political radicalism. ‘Visionary Religion and Radicalism in Early Industrial England: From Southcott to Socialism’ by Philip Lockley (published 2013) look like an interesting recent discussion of this interaction.

What’s In the Box? What’s In the Baaax?

The most intriguing myth of the Southcottian tradition centres around ‘Joanna Southcott’s Box. On her death, she left a sealed wooden box of prophecies, with the instruction that it be opened only at a time of national crisis, and then only in the presence of all 24 bishops of the Church of England (who were to spend time beforehand studying Southcott’s prophecies). Attempts were made to persuade the episcopate to open it during the Crimean War and again during the First World War. In 1927, the psychic researcher Harry Price claimed that he had come into possession of the box and arranged to have it opened in the presence of the reluctant suffragan Bishop of Grantham, but this box was found to contain only a few oddments and unimportant papers, among them a lottery ticket and a horse-pistol. However, historians and followers of Southcott disputed Price’s claims to have had the true box; modern Southcottians the Panacea Society claim THEY have the real box, and ran an advertising campaign on billboards and in British newspapers in the 1960s and 1970s, to try to persuade the twenty-four bishops to have the box opened, on the grounds that “War, disease, crime and banditry, distress of nations and perplexity will increase until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott’s box.”

However, Southcott’s prophesy that the Day of Judgement would come in the year 2004 appears not to have come to pass, and her followers’ campaign for the contents of the box to be been studied beforehand (so that the world would have had to meet the Second Coming unprepared) fell on largely deaf ears…

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

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Today in London history, 1987: Michael Delaney killed by scab TNT truck, Wapping.

The 1986-7 Wapping Dispute claimed many jobs – and Michael Delaney’s life.

Traditionally newspaper printers on Fleet Street newspapers were well-organised, with a long history of militancy and support for other workers (dating back to the 1926 General Strike and beyond). Not a history calculated to endear them to their bosses…

In 1986 Rupert Murdoch’s News International, producers of the Sun, Times, News of the World etc, in a well-prepared move, provoked a printers strike by demanding drastic changes in working conditions and promptly moved production from Fleet Street to a fortified plant in Wapping, sacking 500 printers & introducing new technology – all with the carefully laid plan to break the printers’ power over the presses.

Cue a year-long battle, fought out on the streets of Wapping, with daily mass pickets, blockades and attempts to stop the lorries leaving with papers, and battles with police round Wapping & the Highway, as well as mass sabotage, solidarity actions and occasional arson against News International, their papers (and the scab TNT lorries carrying them) all round the country…

A high-tech plant was built in Wapping, the union-busting plan disguised with false claims that a new title, The London Post, would be printed there. Secret deals were then drawn up to bus in electricians from outside London to run the machinery; members of the EEPTU (electricians) union were quite happy to shit on the printers and line their own pockets doing this work.

News International blue collar staff were issued with an ultimatum – work to new inferior contracts or face the sack. Then journalists were offered £2,000 to cross picket lines and work behind the razor wire and security cameras that surrounded the new East London headquarters.

When this provoked strike action and mass sackings among printers, Murdoch hired the transport company TNT to deliver his titles direct to retailers, breaking up the nationwide distribution system shared by other publications and doing away with many more jobs.

Picketing repeatedly erupted into riots, barricades were built several times (on occasions holding up paper delivery for hours). Spoof versions of the Sun and an independent satirical Wapping Times paper were brought out by strikers and their supporters.  The printers were well supported, especially locally, with police tactics  – such as towing locals’ cars away to allow lorries movement, raiding local pubs and blocking people off from their homes – alienating residents. Many of who were never big fans of the Met; alot had trade union backgrounds, and general anger at LDDC/Council-sponsored yuppification in the area was held to be linked to the dispute. TNT vans and distribution points became targets for strikers and their supporters.

The leaderships of the then-existing two printers unions, Sogat and the NGA, constantly tried to control and limit the struggle, especially when it (necessarily) turned violent – union officials went to the lengths of identifying and grassing up rioters.

Have a read of issues of Picket, the unofficial bulletin of the Wapping strikers.

Eventually despite widespread support and mass action, the print unions gave up the fight, leaving sacked workers high & dry and encouraging similar moves by other newspapers. The printers were the latest in a long line of workers with strong traditions of solidarity & standing up for themselves to be battered by the capitalist class in the ‘80s.

The dispute would also claim the life of one local teenager.

On the evening of 10 January 1987, 19-year old Michael Delaney was on his way home after drinking with friends to celebrate his birthday of the previous week.

At the junction of Butcher Row and Commercial Road in Stepney, one of the preferred routes for Murdoch’s delivery boys, the lads spotted a TNT lorry used by News International to distribute papers during the bitter Wapping dispute that had been going on for a year.

There was a red light at the junction and Michael Delaney tried to remonstrate with the lorry driver, Delaney got close enough to slap the door but, as the lorry moved off, he was dragged underneath and crushed by the wheels.

The lorry did not stop again until it reached the Heston Services on the M4. Michael’s body was left lying in the road, until an ambulance took him to the London Hospital, where he died in the early hours of 11 January. Meanwhile his companions had been taken off to Leman Street Police station.

At Delaney’s inquest in Snaresbrook, Essex, in April 1987, the driver, Robert Higgins, was not called to give evidence, but was seen by Michael’s distraught family during the lunch break, laughing and drinking in a nearby pub – in the company of one Inspector Pickard of Leman Street Police Station. Was there collusion with police to prevent any evidence coming out that would lead to a prosecution of the driver – embarrassing for News International?

The inquest coroner advised the jury to return a verdict of accidental death. Instead, they decided it was a case of unlawful killing. Afterwards, the director of public prosecutions ruled against launching a prosecution on the grounds of insufficient evidence. A year later the inquest verdict itself was quashed in the high court. (The first the family heard about this was on the TV news).

As then Wapping resident Mike Jempson (who knew Michael from his youth), later pointed out, (in the run up to the Leveson Inquiry into tabloid phone hacking):

“Given what is now known about the unhealthily close relationships between News International and the Metropolitan Police over the years, the whole sad saga deserves a full investigation.

Sir Paul Stephenson, who resigned as head of the Met under a cloud last summer, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that almost 25% of the Met’s public affairs unit had previously worked for Murdoch papers. Former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, who resigned after allegations of impropriety, became a columnist for The Times, and a former News of the World editor Neil Wallis was hired by the Met as a communications consultant, at a time when questions were being asked about the full extent of phone hacking by his old paper.

Another of Stephenson’s colleagues, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, also resigned over the phone hacking scandal in July 2011. All three senior officers are still under investigation, along with about three dozen Murdoch employees, police officers and civil servants arrested as part of police investigations into aspects of the hacking scandal.

These sensational facts may never merit attention in Murdoch’s Sun but they deserve to be recalled at the Leveson Inquiry. Will Michael Delaney’s fate get a mention? Perhaps those scandalised by the cover-up over his death will ensure that Murdoch never forgets the young man who died so The Sun could hit the streets.

The big question still to be answered is whether law officers and Murdoch’s News International conspired to avoid a prosecution that might have revealed how and why Michael Delaney died.”

Heartbreakingly for Michael’s family – we will probably never know.

Policing of the Wapping dispute became a day to day issue – with 100s of police drafted in to bash pickets and defend Fortress Wapping. But policing was also going on behind the scenes – Special Branch were keeping a keen eye on those organising picketing, and their Special Demonstration Squad department – consisting of undercover officers infiltrating protest can campaign groups – were there on the picket line, pretending to support the dispute. At least one SDS spycop – Bob Lambert – regularly attended Wapping demos. Now well known as having acted as an agent provocateur in animal rights groups and initiated the plot to fire bomb Debenhams stores in July 1987. Wonder if he also acted an agent provocateur down Wapping too?

Check out the Special Branch files revelations on their surveillance of the Wapping strike

In memory of Michael Delaney

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

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Today in London’s anarchist history, 1993: Leah Feldman, veteran of the Russian Revolution, cremated

A Rebel Spirit (obituary of Leah Feldman)

Albert Meltzer

Leah (Leila) Feldman, who was cremated at East London in the presence of some fifty comrades from DAM, ABC, Black Flag and the feminist movement, on January 7th 1993, was a history lesson in herself. She merits more than an obituary.

She was born (she always said) in Warsaw around 1899. Her British passport says she was born in Odessa, but in view of her problems through life, she must have had many occasions to “change” birthdays, names, birthplaces and nationalities. The problems faced by a woman just in travelling independently in the old days were immense, apart from her anarchist activities. While she was still a schoolgirl she become interested in anarchism (her mother used to hide her shoes so that she could not attend meetings, then illegal). Finally she ran away to her sister in London to earn her own living at the sewing machine.

Working in the sweatshops of the East End, she become active in the Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement that flourished at the time and vanished. She was possibly the last survivor of that Jewish workers’ movement. When the Russian Revolution was thought to have come about and the army was in rebellion the overwhelming majority of Russian Jewish male anarchists, who had resisted conscription up to then, joined up to return to Russia. The women Anarchists had a more difficult problem – many with husbands or companions who were able to go back, arranged to follow later but that was the last they heard of their menfolk, overtaken by the triumph of Bolshevism. This Jewish (in the sense they used, neither racial nor religious but language) anarchist movement, gradually dwindled away over the years. A few remaining males survived until the early fifties, and the women, often married into English dockers’ families, ended with Leah so far as this country is concerned.

Leah, however, independently made her own way back, a tremendous task. Viewing Russia from the train, a comrade jestingly remarked she was like Madame Butterfly watching for her lover (we played “One Fine Day” at her funeral, and also Paul Robeson singing the equally appropriate “Joe Hill”). Unfortunately it was no fine day and Leah, as a working woman, was one of the first to see what would be the effects of Bolshevism, something one [none] of the intellectuals who visited could see.

She attended Kropotkin’s funeral, the last permitted anarchist demonstration before the long dark night (they stole the flowers from Lenin’s tribute in the House of the People, but all those paroled from prison for the day returned to jail).

Leah left Moscow to join Makhno’s army in the Ukraine (perhaps that was when she decided she was born in Odessa), which fought into the last against Tsarism, Bolshevism, the Social Democratic oppression and foreign intervention. She was one of a number of Jewish Anarchists who were living testimony to the lie started by the Soviet historian Yaroslavsky and accepted by academics universally (including many encyclopaedists copying each other) about Makhno’s pogroms. Though she did not actually fight, as a few women (who could ride horseback) did, she joined the train that followed the army and prepared clothes and food for the orphans and strays they picked up everywhere. For the rest of her life she was to follow the pattern of behind-the-lines support for revolutionary action.

When the army was defeated, Leah took advantage of one ‘privilege’ offered to women – she changed nationality by a formal marriage to a German anarchist, and left the country. They did not meet again. She made her way to Paris and then back to London. She still wanted to travel and was involved with the Anarchist movement in many countries. She was however tied by her German “marriage” once she had left Russia, but was later free to contract another formal marriage to a British ex-serviceman, named Downes. In a deprecating obituary in ‘Freedom’, which takes into account only her selling of ‘Freedom’ during and a few years after the war, it is said he was her lover. This is rubbish. He was a derelict, like many wounded old soldiers after 1918, found for her by Charles Lahr and paid £10 for his services, lent by the Workers’ Friend group and repaid by Leah over a period. (Typically, Charlie joked that to find a real husband would cost a lot more). They never met again until Leah found by official communication her ‘husband” was in a geriatric hospital and she used to visit with presents of tobacco. When she was abroad, Polly Witcop (sister of Milly Rocker and Rose Witcop) undertook the visits for her.

Leah visited both Poland and mandated Palestine once she was a British citizen, working her way to both places. In Palestine she organised a federation of Anarchists, mostly old friends from the old country. One surprise was her old friend Paula Green, who had been pressurised into marriage in Russia, so had decided on an atheistic Socialist-Zionist with whom she was in love. Forced into exile he had obviously chosen (Ottoman) Palestine. Paula knew he was into active Socialist politics but thought it as impossible he would ever be in government as he thought her ideas impossible. Green changed his name to Ben Gurion, and after 1945 become Prime Minster. His wife did not leave him but did not take part in any public activities, and the whisper in Socialist-Zionist circles was that she was mad and could not be taken on an official platform. (‘Because he becomes the baker do you have to be the baker’s wife?” Leah asked her back in 1935, ten years before Paula faced the final humiliation as Premier’s wife though a still believing if passive anarchist, getting the reply, with a shrug, “So what do I get but the smell of the bakery?”).

Eventually Leah decided there was nothing she could do in Palestine and returned to London at the end of 1935 when I met her for the first time. She helped raise finance for the German sailors who organised a resistance group in the thirties, and took a tremendous part in activities for the Spanish movement when the civil war broke out. I used to go to her flat in Lordship Park (Stoke Newington) and hump great parcels of food and clothing which she had collected from her fellow fur machinists. She could never understand why I could “only raise pennies among my friends when she raised pounds” and never appreciated I was still at school, which for some obscure reason I was somewhat abashed at mentioning in then mostly ageing anarchist circles.

She took part in the selling of “Freedom” after the war and still thought of it as Kropotkin’s paper until her death, but a lot of people made that mistake. She could never understand in later years why they persistently ignored her except when she gave them money, and never visited her when she was ill, but the truth was they resented her criticism that Kropotkin intended it for the Anarchist movement not for a few cronies of one man who had seized control. When “Black Flag” come along she supported it equally always saying to me, “How is it that the people in this group are so different from the Freedom Group?” – I always answered “Because they’re Anarchists” but I fear she didn’t want to hear that.

Leah was associated with Spanish women anarchists in a joint working collective of different Anarchist women in Holborn (London) with Marie Goldberg, Suceso Portales and others, ever since 1939. How, with the confusion of tongues, broken English, Yiddish, Polish, bits of French, Spanish and Catalan, Indian-English of one and broad Scots of another, plus the total lack of verbal communication of two Cypriot women, one Greek and the other Turkish, they could ever have understood each other was a mystery to many, but they made up for it in volume, and maybe that’s how new languages are born. (The postman once said to me on the stairs, ‘I can never work out what nationality those ladies are – they told me they come from somewhere in Anarchy but Christ knows where that is.”) Leah had to give up work when her eyesight went after an operation (she was blind in one eye thereafter and increasingly so in the other),

She wanted to give aid to the Spanish Resistance in spite of all, and during the turbulent sixties, with the International First of May Movement, helped in taking care of the armoury, even taking it with her luggage into Spain. She was known affectionately by Catalans, always prone to giving nicknames, as “la yaya (granny) Makhnowista”.

In her seventies she revisited Warsaw in a vain attempt to find her relatives. A Polish journalist took her round as she refused to believe everything and everybody in the ghetto had vanished. “Maybe the neighbours know something,” she said and they had to show her visual proof that the neighbourhood had been flattened, the Polish inhabitants dispersed and scarcely one of the Jewish residents remaining anywhere in Poland other than those who had come in after the war. Presumably this episode appeared on local TV or radio as the journalist took enormous trouble in convincing her of the reality.

Her last years were sad. Not only were all her family and early friends dead, there was nobody left to whom she could even talk in her own language. She still supported anarchist meetings and went on holiday independently but in the last years of her life accompanied by Margaret, Jessica, Peter, Terry from Black Flag. One of us used to take her to the annual Anarchist Book Fair whenever her health permitted – she always sat at the Freedom Press stall in the hope of meeting some of the people she knew in Freedom who only appeared on the scene that day of the year, if at all, stubbornly refusing to admit it was now quite a different ball game.

As she got increasingly deaf and almost totally blind, she had to surrender some of her cherished independence and allow people to do things for her. She became paranoiac, argumentative and even aggressive in her nineties, after a series of horrendous street accidents, feeling her best friends were trying to kill her by driving cars or motorbikes straight at her, The fact that these dedicated young people still persevered week after week looking after her, being fond of her, and remembering all she had done in the past, says a lot for them especially, in addition to those already named, the feminists Ann and Cathy, and DAM people like Ken and Helen.

George Cores said that “most of the work that was done (in building the Anarchist movement) was due to the activities of working men and women, most of whom did not appear as orators or writers in printed papers”. Cathy and Margaret, and our late comrade Leo Rosser, obtained in a series of interviews, and a video, notes of her life which have been transcribed but are voluminous though chronologically jumbled. We hope that these can be edited into a coherent volume, which will be well worth publishing, far more so than the oft-repeated hagiographies of the ‘secular saints’ of the movement in the past. [Not sure is this ever got done? -Past Tense ed.]

Nicked from KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 4, 1993.

There’s a short interview from 1985 with Leah here (conducted by Black Flag’s Leo Rosser, another we’ve lost…)

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An entry in the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar – buy a paper copy here

Check out the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar online

 

Today in London Black history, 1787: anti-slave abolitionists, the Sons of Africa, write to Granville Sharp

Britain’s central role in the global slave trade is well known. For over 300 years, the abduction of millions of Africans to be used as forced labour, largely in America and the Caribbean, formed a major element of the British economy and was integral to the spread of the British Empire.

The end of Britain’s historical role in the slave trade is usually portrayed as a glorious moral campaign, of heroic upper class white philanthropists like William Wilberforce, gently and nobly persuading the authorities to abolish first the kidnapping and buying and selling of Africans (in 1807) and then, 30 years later, to abolish the slave plantations themselves and ‘grant’ slaves their freedom. Their charitable and altruistic motives are held up as another example of the civilising and beneficial influence of the Great British Empire…

Only in recent years has a counter-narrative been gaining voice, uncovering the vast history of slavery and of the slaves’ resistance to it, a resistance that took many forms, from physical rebellion and mutiny, armed warfare, through to an involvement in the campaign for abolition from below.

The constant resistance of slaves helped to slavery increasingly uneconomic as a way of guaranteeing labour in the West Indies, which was a major factor in the eventual acceptance of the slave-owning classes that slavery needed to go (the huge wodges of compensation paid to those who lost their ‘property’ also helped).

The usually accepted narrative also neglects the contribution of black abolitionists as activists in the movement to end the slave trade and abolish slavery itself. London itself was a centre of organised black abolitionism, emerging from the communities of black people that had grown up in London. The latter is achieving more recognition in recent years, though much still lies buried.

There had been significant numbers of Africans in London since Elizabethan times (when good Queen Bess famously attempted to get a law passed to throw all black people out of the country). By the 18th century London had a sizable black population, although it was hard to put a number on, being variously estimated; the Gentleman’s Magazine reckoned the capital’s black population at 20,000 in 1764, while other sources reckon it at only half that for the whole country… Disease, poverty, the hard conditions they had lived in and continued to live in took a regular toll, and so the numbers are likely to have varied wildly…

The vast majority of London’s black residents were ex-slaves, or sailors and former sailors. Some sailors would themselves have been runaway or freed slaves, who had worked their passage on ships from the West Indies (see for instance Olaudah Equiano, below). There were also musicians – many serving in English military and domestic orchestras and bands.

The work the black population could do was restricted, especially after 1731 when the lord mayor of London issued a proclamation banning them from being taken on as apprentices – the first known, though not the last, colour bar in the history of employment in Britain.

Many Africans of both sexes worked as domestic servants. This left them still in a difficult legal position, at the mercy of their employers, as even after 1772 (when transporting slaves was outlawed in England and they could not legally be deported by their owners) they were not really protected from being kidnapped and shipped abroad. Others worked as city porters, watermen, hawkers, and chairmen (carrying the rich from place to place, some employed directly, others touting for business in the days before cabs).

Black women also worked as nurses, or became basket women selling small items round the streets. But many were forced by poverty to turn to prostitution.

And a huge number ended without work at all, begging on the street for enough to keep them alive. The Poor Relief system, consisting then of a pittance of financial support from the parish you were born in, did not offer much support for incomers into parishes, which included most black folk. Many of course would arrive in London with nothing, whether slave, runaway or servant; many were reduced to extreme poverty. Black people forced into beggary became conspicuous in London in the later 17th century, many crowded into poor areas, ‘rookeries’ like St. Giles or Seven Dials, Limehouse and Ratcliff down by the river in the East End – all areas of poverty, refuges for the desperate, the rebellious and ‘criminal classes’. The black community was overwhelmingly male; many black men married local women and merged into the pre-existing plebeian world.

Rookeries were over-crowded, often a mass of sub-divided and sublet rooms, dangerous and unhealthy places to live. But being refuges to those on the run from the law, they were often no-go areas to the law, with a rudimentary solidarity against justices, constables and creditors… this of course made them useful to runaway slaves or black servants.

Despite being from many countries and backgrounds, divided in many ways, the London black community created not only social links but organised itself. This manifested on the various social levels which black people inhabited. Black servants certainly gathered together informally, partly to discuss information and common problems. Dr Johnson’s black servant Francis Barber was among them. A friend of Samuel Johnson’s was startled when, in the doctor’s absence, he discovered Francis Barber with ‘a group of his African countrymen . . . sitting around a fire in the gloomy anti-room; and on their all turning their sooty faces at once to stare at me, they presented a curious spectacle.’

A late 18th century skit on uppity servants, including a black servant satirised for ‘getting above his station’

Larger social gatherings with dances and music in taverns were also organised. About 57 ‘Black domestics’ of both sexes, for instance, “supped, drank and entertained themselves with dancing and music… at a public house in Fleet St” in 1764…”No whites were allowed to be present…”

But the plebeian black community also showed solidarity for its number – for example in 1773, two black men imprisoned in the Bridewell House of Correction for begging were supported financially and visited by 300 others. According to Philip Thicknesse, in 1778, “these black men have clubs to support those who are out of place”… Out of place means on the face of it ‘out of work’, but also has a wider sense, of those inhabiting spaces they didn’t quite feel at home in… This solidarity also took the form of support for runaways and ex-slaves living under cover, and encouragement for slaves who wanted to escape bondage. A common complaint among the slave-owning classes was that longer established escapees were influencing newer arrivals to leg it. Edward Long, a virulently racist ideologue, raged that “Upon arriving in London, these servants soon grow acquainted with a knot of blacks, who, having eloped from their respective owners at different times, repose here in ease and indolence, and endeavour to strengthen their party, by seducing as many of these strangers into the association as they can work to their purpose.”

The Bow Street magistrate John Fielding referred to these subversive ex-slaves as “intoxicated with liberty… the Sweets of Liberty and the conversations with free men and Christians enlarge their minds…” and even worse, alleged they had succeeded in allying themselves with “the London Mob”, the teeming, contradictory armed wing of the rebellious working people of London. This alliance bore angry fruit: ex-slaves were involved in the 1780 Gordon Riots, some coming to fore as rabble rousers and temporary leaders. Benjamin Bowsey and John Glover were among the leaders of the climatic moment of the Riots, the successful attack on Newgate; Black woman Charlotte Gardiner was sentenced to be hung for leading a crowd in the Riots.

The support of ‘native’ poor and working people for fugitive slaves came not from simple sentimental or abstract humanitarian feelings, as it did with the middle class anti-slavery abolitionists – though these feelings existed. Black people were suffering from treatment meted out by a class many in the slums saw as also being their own enemies; alliances were a matter of class solidarity. Long-established and strong traditions of resistance to the authorities were part of the culture in London slums and rookeries – fighting off the press gang or the army recruiters, or posses sent in to areas to seize fugitive criminals or debtors, were long established and instinctive, matters of self-defence and extended to support for runaway slaves.

There was also contact between fugitives in Britain and those still in chains in the Carribbean. Ex-slave rebels from Belize and Jamaica; and involvees in the American Revolution, also brought the spirit of freedom to England. Numbers of black people in London were swollen by an influx after 1784 of ‘loyal’ ex-slaves, who had been persuaded or forced to fight for the crown against the colonists during the war of independence… Many were poor and embittered, at the meagre reward for their loyalty; others who ended up in London had been involved in the rough and tumble of the American Revolution and taken on many ideas about liberty and equality… The authorities became so concerned at the ‘problem’ of black London they supported the plan to ‘re-patriate’ them to Africa in the Sierra Leone scheme.

The environment that sparked blacks involvement in the abolition movement, was thus twofold: a proletarian class in the slums, beggars, ex sailors, and a more elevated level of servants, more educated and literate… We know more about the latter, but there were clearly crossovers between these strata, and links between both may well have existed. Interestingly, there prominent individuals we know about do in some ways cross over both milieu, especially Robert Wedderburn.

These embryonic Black communities were sharply conscious of legal and social developments – they followed Mansfield’s judgement in the Somerset case in 1772, (which ruled that transporting  slaves in and out of England was illegal, the first legal advance in the slow progress towards abolition). They sent representatives to follow the hearings, who clapped and hugged each other when the judgement was given… And a few days later this victory was celebrated by a gathering of several hundred black men and women in a Westminster pub… Seemingly better off servants as tickets cost 5 shillings!

Another complaint of white upper class commentators of the time was that slaves were struggling to be paid wages! Pay not only helped black people gain economic independence – wages conferred status, also the right of residence within a parish, which could prevent deportation. The social and political self-confidence of working for a wage also fed into political organising; Individual and collective resistance thus sparked off campaigning for the abolition of slavery from within black communities themselves.

One group who took part in the campaign to abolish the slave trade from the heart of the beast itself were the Sons of Africa.

The Sons of Africa were what was clearly an organised group, at the centre of which appeared to be ex-slave activists Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano.

Olaudah Equiano is best known for his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or, Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, published in 1789, which told the story of his life, from the time he was taken as a slave as a child, through his years in slavery, on sailing ships and in the plantations. He later gained his freedom, buying himself out, and served various ships, eventually settling in London.

Olaudah Equiano

Equiano became involved in the rescue of slaves; a turning point in his life in London was his attempt in 1774 to save ex- slave john Annis, who he had recruited as a cook on a ship, from being seized by his former master. Equiano got in touch with famous abolitionist Granville Sharp, who took legal cases for slaves fighting seizure by old masters to court. Equiano had had to whiten up his face to swear a writ of habeus corpus. However, the case failed, and Annis was shipped off to the West Indies and flogged to death.

Equiano also wrote on slavery for various sympathetic newspapers, on several occasions reviewing pro-slavery tracts by plantation owners and their apologists… Later he published his life story, which was republished several times and had a huge influence on public opinion… ‘The Interesting narrative’ has been called the single most important document in abolition of the salve trade. Equiano built on his writings with public speaking, setting off round the country to talk at public meetings on slavery, which had a powerful affect, especially on the emerging radical and working class movement. Equiano not only worked with (and influenced) Granville Sharp and more mainstream abolitionists, but met many of the activists in the nascent radical scenes, including the reformist Constitutional Societies; he became friends with, and stayed with Thomas Hardy, founder of the London Corresponding Society, and joined the LCS himself. He served as a pivotal figure in many ways, linking self-organised black movement, radical societies and more liberal lobbyists.

Ottobah Cugoano was originally from Ghana, had been abducted from Africa aged 13, transported to Grenada; but had then been brought to Britain and freed, aged 15.

Cugoano got himself baptised to prevent being seized and resold (based on the belief that adopting Christianity prevented you from being enslaved – more of a superstition than actual defence…!) He became a preacher, and then servant to Richard Conway, and became involved in abolition campaigns.

Like Equiano, Cugano went on speaking tours around country; and like him, played his part in direct support of slaves and ex-slaves. In 1786 he was involved in the rescue of Henry Demane, a black man who had been kidnapped and was due to be shipped to the West Indies. Cugoano got Granville Sharpe involved, who managed to get Demane released.

In 1787, Cugoano wrote “Thoughts and Sentiments On the Evil and wicked traffic of the slavery and commerce of the human species” – possibly the earliest published black counterblast against slavery, based on the “Natural rights and liberties of men”.

A drawing of Ottobah Cugoano

This text demolished pro-slavery arguments about divine sanction for slavery, of justifications for it based on the fact that Africans also took slaves, that Africans were inferior and only fit to serve whites, or that slaves ‘lived better off lives than many among the European poor’.

The book not only advocated the total abolition of slavery, not just the slave trade, but disputed the emerging racist theories that justified slavery, dismissing talk of separate races, talking in terms of “many shades of the rainbow: All of us are fellow creatures, Africans free born…” He linked slavery to private property, and echoing the radicals of the English Revolution, spoke of a desire to “turn the world upside down”. Cugoano also asserted that slaves had a moral duty to resist slavery, and also posited the idea of it being a ‘crime against humanity’, and that all Britons were responsible for its continuation unless they opposed it.

Cugoano and Equiano together formed the Sons of Africa, a black abolitionist group, based in London. Besides these better known activists, several other black men signed Sons of Africa letters and public statements in late 1780s – including Yahne Aelane (who also used the anglicised name Joseph Sanders), Broughwa Jugensmel, William Green, George Robert Mandeville, Cojoh Ammere (aka George Williams), Thomas Cooper, Bernard Elliot Griffiths, Daniel Christopher, John Christopher, James Forster, John Scot, Jorge Dent, Thomas Oxford, James Bailey, James Frazer, Thomas Carlisle, William Stevens, Joseph Almaze, John Adams, George Wallace and Thomas Jones. Sons of Africa letters, statements and letters appeared in print around 1787-89, notably in the Diary newspaper.

Equiano and others of the Sons of Africa went to Westminster to listen to parliamentary debates on slavery. Like the white Abolition Committee, they too embarked on letter-writing and public-speaking campaigns, and made public appeals. Writing to the MP Sir William Dolben in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, they discussed their position in England and elsewhere:

“Our simple testimony is not much, yet you will not be displeased to learn, that a few persons of colour, existing here, providentially released from the common calamity, and feeling for their kind, are daily pouring forth their prayers for you, Sir, and other noble and generous persons who will not (as we understand) longer suffer the rights of humanity to be confounded with ordinary commodities, and passed from hand to hand, as an article of trade.

We are not ignorant, however, Sir, that the best return we can make, is, to behave with sobriety, fidelity, and diligence in our different stations whether remaining here under the protection of the laws, or colonizing our native soil, as most of us wish to do, under the dominion of this country; or as free labourers and artizans in the West India islands, which, under equal laws, might become to men of colour places of voluntary and very general resort.

But in whatever station, Sir, having lived here, as we hope, without reproach, so we trust that we and our whole race shall endeavour to merit, by dutiful behaviour, those mercies, which, humane and benevolent minds seem to be preparing for us.”

Dolben thanked them and hoped their behaviour would recommend them to the British government, but ‘he must earnestly desire to decline any particular address upon the occasion’. (Though he had been so upset by what he saw on a slave ship anchored in the Thames in 1788 that he immediately proposed a bill limiting the horrifically cramped shelving of slaves being transported.)

They were always immensely grateful to Sharp and others in the Society for the Abolition of Slavery for their unflagging energy in the battle, calling Sharp ‘our constant and generous friend’, they wrote to him, in a public letter published on 15 December 1787, that ‘[w]e are those who were considered as slaves, even in England itself, till your aid and exertion set us free’. They requested him to collect his writings ‘for the benefit and good of all men, and for an enduring memorial of the great learning, piety, and vigilance of our good friend’.

There’s clearly more to be discovered about the Sons of Africa – and many questions that their existence throws up. What happened to the group? Equiano died in London in 1797; nothing is known of Cugoano after 1791. Was the group already defunct or did it survive them? Given the turbulent nature of the times they emerged in, with revolution, rebellion against slavery, theories of universal human rights coming to the fore – were there any black women active in London around this time on this issue? What relations did these figures have to the burgeoning reform and radical movements (as noted above, Olaudah Equiano bridged both scenes)…?

And did the ideas and thoughts the Sons of Africa were developing pass on to later generations? In London or wider afield? Certainly, there were later figures associated with radical movements that contained former members of the London Corresponding Society, who may have known Equiano and possibly others of the Sons, who later emerged to prominence – most notably Robert Wedderburn. Wedderburn blended English radicalism with an apocalyptic abolitionism, fired by his background, having been born a slave in the West Indies, and served as a sailor, before becoming a disciple of Thomas Spence. He mingled with the post-Napoleonic underground that launched the abortive Cato Street Conspiracy, besides lecturing and preaching blasphemy and egalitarianism. Others in the same radical scene included Cato Street Conspirator William Davidson.

Much more historical digging is needed here, as there’s almost certainly more fascinating evidence out there on these black abolitionists… Africans who refused to be passive pawns either for slavery and who give the lie to the idea that it was nice white posh people alone who generously ‘freed the slaves.’