Today in London sporting history: riot in Kingston as magistrates try to repress trad feb Shrove Tuesday football match, 1799

Until the 19th century, football in Britain was played by huge numbers of people on vast ‘pitches’ with very few rules. Villages were divided into two sides, often based on where they lived. Games were often linked to special dates in the calendar and some of these traditions have survived today. For instance, on January 1 in Kirkwall, Orkney, street football breaks out at 10.00am each year. There is a Hocktide (first Sunday after Easter) game at Workington, Cumbria, and July sees ‘Reivers Week’ at Duns, Borders, where the ‘ba’ game’ is between the married and single men of the town. But the biggest day of the year for folk football in Britain is Shrove Tuesday. Some 50 such local traditions are recorded, although only six survive today, at Sedgefield, Co Durham, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, Atherstone in Warwickshire, Alnwick in Northumberland, Corfe Castle in Dorset and St. Columb in Cornwall.

In medieval London, open spaces, like the legendary Moorfields, on the old City’s northern borders (near today’s Moorgate station) were where the city’s youth played the earliest football games, first recorded around 1170-83. Football was a great passion of the young, especially apprentices; it grew to be a headache for the authorities, as it often led to trouble: obstruction, damage, fights and sometimes riots. In medieval times it was no enclosed spectator sport, but often played through the streets, or in open spaces; hundreds sometimes took part – not so much silky skills as violence and disorder.

Footballers colonised spaces in the city built for more respectable purposes. London’s Royal Exchange, built in the 1560s so merchants could meet and do deals without the ‘unpleasantness’ and trouble of meeting in the street, had, within ten years, become a dangerous place, “ill lit, used by football players, lewd boys, rogues and whores”, especially at night.

Repeated disorder led to a law making the game illegal; a ban repeated in 1331, 1365, 1388, 1410, 1414, 1477 and so on (in fact it was only really legalised in the 19th century.) The law was repeatedly enforced, though the numerous renewals show that it was eternally defied.

Football was banned both to encourage more wholesome and warlike pursuits (like archery), and because it was often played on Sundays, and was thus considered sacreligious.

Pre-industrial football also had a long association with unrest: the simple fact of playing in big gangs in the street was a worry to authority, as it caused uproar, damage to property, violence and injury, drew people away from work and other orderly pursuits. However, it was also used as a cover for crowds to gather for other purposes – riots, demonstrations, political meetings and to organise workers in trades (banned from legally ‘combining’ to campaign for higher wages or better conditions).  From the 16th to the 18th centuries crowds would use football matches as cover to gather for anti-enclosure riots, especially in East Anglia.

Football also went together with carnival, ‘Shrovetide’ and other festivals; the outbreak of bingeing, feasting, processions and theatre, as well as often disorder, unrestrained sexuality and partying before period of Lent abstinence seems to have gone hand in hand with a rowdy kickabout.

As the reformation took hold in England, as elsewhere in Europe, the political and religious powers tried to close down popular sports, festivals, fairs and holidays. This was not only for ideological reasons of their immorality; more and more, moralists were expressing the need for the rowdy lower orders to be disciplined, trained to more law-abiding and respectable ways, which would not only make them ore productive wage slaves, but also reduce the likelihood of them turning to dangerous radical politics or disturbing the bourgeois peace.

As street football was often associated with holidays like Shrove Tuesday, it became a major target. Over a number of decades, street football was gradually outlawed in many towns.

One area where it took longer to suppress street football was North east Surrey, in what is now South West London. Even though by then it had been reduced to an annual ritual game on Shrove Tuesday, this one day was too much for local authorities who had always resented the gathering of crowds & the risks of disorder….

The most explosive confrontation in this region over street football took place in Kingston; magistrates attempted throughout the 1790s to suppress the Shrove Tuesday street football game, (the powers that be were especially nervous about large gatherings of people at this time of war & widespread political radicalism). Local merchants also resented the ‘loss of business’ the game apparently caused. Which does seem a bit grouchy, given it was only one day.

On 5th February 1799 a mob assembled in Kingston marketplace to defy a magisterial order banning the Shrove Tuesday match. Attempts to suppress the match had begun two years before, as a letter from the Magistrates to the Home Secretary relates (without much regard for punctuation):

“It having been a practice for the populace to kick football in the market Place and Streets of this Town on Shrive Tuesday to the great nuisance of the Inhabitants and of persons travelling through the Town and complaints having been made by several Gentlemen of the County to the Magistrates of the Town they previous to Shrove Tuesday 1797 [old style, so 1798 we would say] gave public Notice by the distribution of hand bills of their determination to suppress the Practice which not having the desired effect several of the offenders were Indicted and at the last Assizes convicted but sentence was respited and has not yet been declared the Judge thinking that after having warn’d them of their situation that they would not attempt to kick again…”

However, the following year they learned the warnings were likely to be ignored:

“We the present Magistrates of the Town having been previously informed it was their intention with others to kick again as on last Shrove Tuesday some days before issued handbills giving Notice of our intention to prosecute any persons who should on that day kick foot ball in the said Town and apprehending that we should find great opposition two days previous thereto addressed a Letter to the officer commanding the Cavalry at Hampton Court informing him of the Circumstance and stating that if we found it necessary we should call on him for the assistance of the Military.”

Some of the most active footballers were nicked, but the crowds refused to disperse. The military based at Hampton Court “failed to turn up” when asked to help in the suppression: they were playing footie themselves on Hampton Court Green…

“On Shrove Tuesday a great number of persons having assembled and begun to kick a ball in the market place we caused three that seemed the most active to be taken into Custody hoping that would induce the others to disperse but not having that effect we then caused the Riot Act to be read and the Mob not then dispersing but increasing in Number and threatening to Use violence in liberating those in Custody we addressed another Letter to the Officer on Command at Hampton Court requiring him to send part of the Cavalry to our assistance but not receiving an answer in a reasonable time one of Us went to Hampton Court in search for the Officer when it was said that major hawker was the Officer on Duty there but was gone from home and not to be seen not could any other by found who could Act and the Men at the same time kicking foot ball on Hampton Court Green.”

The crowds went on to rescue their arrested mates, and the Magistrates letter turns to sour recrimination:

“Nor being able to obtain the assistance required the persons in Custody were rescued by the mob as Constables were conveying them to Prison and the Keeper was violently assaulted and much hurt. If the Military had attended we should have succeeded in abolishing the nuisance without much difficulty but not having met with such support the Game will be carried on to a greater night than it ever has been the mob conceiving they have got the better of Us and that the Military would not attend.”

The long battles over Kingston’s street football didn’t end till 1867, when the corporation forced it into a new playing field – again leading to angry protests & riots.

It’s worth putting the 1799 events in Kingston into the immediate context: the authorities’ usual fear of crowds gathering was especially heightened in this decade, under the shadow of the French Revolution. British support for the French Revolution had fluctuated, but there was constant worry among the wealthy that the lower orders could ally themselves to radical ideas and begin their own Terror. In London and its environs the Gordon Riots would also have been a dark memory…

The long wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France had already led to rising food prices, which had in turn sparked food riots…

Only months after the 1799 football riot, Kingston saw further unrest in 1800, at a time of bread riots. Radicals distributed cards calling for cheap bread in Kingston pubs.

Other areas of Northeast Surrey also hosted annual football shindigs… In Barnes the annual Shrove Tuesday game caused “a great nuisance” in 1829 & 1836, & the vestry (the parish council) urged its suppression. In Richmond a long tradition of street football, especially at Shrovetide, was finally put down by force in 1840; it was also banned in the same year in nearby Twickenham, though a local brewer allowed it to be played in his meadow. In Hampton Wick and East Molesey it was forcibly put down in 1857, and in Hampton repression was also forced through in 1864.

In Wimbledon the local beadle was ordered to ban unlawful games on the Sabbath, such as the street football played here, probably on Easter Monday (Fair time) in Football Close.

Shrovetide street football was also played in Thames Ditton into the 19th century.

Street football now survives largely as ritual games in Derby and Ashbourne… now a grovelly affair of royal patronage, and co-opted as an advert for some pissy lager a few years back…

This is since the Upper classes however decided to appropriate the game in the 19th century, and only after they enforced some changes to alter its social status and change its whole ethos. So they tried to remove it from the street, reduce it to small teams not mass participation, and also made in men only. This colonisation though in turn reverted back to the working class, often mediated through clergymen and factory owners using it to instill discipline and hard work on the plebs.

The ‘Muscular Christians’ of Victorian times not only saw that, properly altered, given a set of rules, the game could be used to impose discipline first of all on the upper classes themselves in their public schools; and from there to help impose discipline, team spirit, physical fitness on unruly workers. So loose customary traditions were replaced by a hard set of rules written at Cambridge University by former public schoolboys.

From factory bosses forming teams of workers, to missionaries introducing the game to the benighted foreigners in Britain’s colonies, to psychotic PE teachers today, the imposition of these rules was part and parcel of internalising bourgeois values on the plebs…

 

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

Check out the Calendar online

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New Publications from Past Tense

OK – first of all, hands up – these aren’t totally new. They came out in October, but we’ve been so busy with one thing and another that we haven’t had much time to publicise them as yet.

SO – Past Tense have published six new pamphlets, five for sale and one FREE.

• BLACK WOMEN ORGANISING
The Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation for Women of African and Asian Descent

£3.00
£1.50 P&P
ISBN: 978-0-9932762-7-9

The Brixton Black Women’s Group, founded in 1973, emerged among women who had been active in the Black Power movement in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This pamphlet reprints two articles
originally published in feminist journals in the 1980s – an interview with three Brixton Black Women’s
Group activists about the development of the group, and an appraisal of the national Organisation
for Women of African and Asian Descent.

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• RENT STRIKE: ST. PANCRAS 1960
Dave Burn

£3.00
£1.50 P&P
ISBN: 978-0-9932762-5-5

In 1960 over 2000 council tenants in the then London borough of St Pancras went on partial rent strike, against a new rent scheme introduced by the Conservative council. This pamphlet recounts the
causes and the history of the rent strike, examining the reasons the rent scheme was brought in, and the history of the tenants’ movement. A comprehensive but also compelling story of a community struggle, as well as a thoughtful analysis of its motives and possibilities.

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• “MENACING LANGUAGE AND THREATS”
The Anti Corn Law Riots of 1815

£1.50
£1 P&P
ISBN: 978-0-9932762-4-8

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, corn prices fell to nearly half their war level, causing panic among British farmers – many of whom were also voters. In response the government introduced the Corn Laws in 1815; banning cheap wheat imports, to ensure the high incomes of farmers
and landowners.
This was class legislation at its most blatant. It made sure aristocrats could continue to benefit from high bread prices, and the high rents that they supported; knowing well enough this law meant penury for the
poor, who relied on bread to stave off starvation.
Riots broke out in the area around Parliament as the Acts were being debated, and spread out around London and Westminster as the London houses of the MPs and lords held most responsible were targeted by crowds…

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• I HAVENT HAD SO MUCH FUN SINCE MY LEG FELL OFF
The North London Civil Servants Strike, 1987/88
Jean Richards

£2.00
£1 P&P
ISBN: 978-0-9932762-2-4

An account of a strike by low-paid civil servants across North London Department of Employment offices in 1988, also involving Job Centre and Department of Health & Social Security staff who came out in solidarity
when they were asked to do the strikers’ work.

By a woman civil servant who worked for 10 years in one of the offices in dispute.

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• THE ESTABLISHMENT VERSUS THE ROTUNDA!
£2.00

ISBN: 978-0-9932762-3-1
£1 P&P

In the early 1830s a building on Blackfriars Road became the most notorious radical political meeting places of its era. For a few short years, the Rotunda was the heart of radical London. The Rotunda entered
its golden age in 1830, when it was taken over by freethinker Richard Carlile, and was transformed into a centre of political and scientific education and theatrical anti-religious performances… It became home
to diverse radical groups and speakers, including the National Union of the Working Classes, Robert Taylor (known as the “Devil’s Chaplain’), and female atheist lecturer Eliza Sharples, the ‘Pythoness of the
Temple’.

The Rotunda was feared and hated by the political establishment, who saw it as influencing all radical and rebellious opinion. The reactionary Duke Of Wellington considered the battle for the future of society as
one of “The Establishment Vs The Rotunda.”

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• WE REMEMBER WAT TYLER
A6 pamphlet

£1.00
£1 P&P

The 1381 Peasants’ Revolt remains one of the most cataclysmic and inspiring events in British history. At its heart stands a figure of whom so littl4 is known… Wat Tyler. A man who appears for two weeks, is elected leader of a peasant rebellion, articulates a demand for the abolition of classes, and is killed… Who was Wat Tyler?

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• TROUBLE DOWN SOUTH
Free
£1 P&P

Some thoughts on gentrification & resistance to gentrification in Brixton, with historical digressions, experiences, and some ranting… By a longtime Brixton resident now living in exile.

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And don’t forget – the 2018 LONDON REBEL HISTORY CALENDAR is still
available, it’s not too late to order your coy for the year… Only £6
plus £3 P&P

All of the above are available from Past Tense

either via our online publications page

here you can pay by card or paypal

Or ooooold style by post from:

Past Tense, c/o 56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton Street, London, SE17 3AE

These publications will also soon be available from radical bookshops in London, and some good local independent bookshops and the odd caff too!

If you’d like a list of bookshops that stock our output, email us and
we’ll let you know.

Get your copy of the 2018 London Rebel History Calendar… the disorderly antidote to Xmas jumpers…

Well, the nights are fair drawing in… The winter sun hangs low in the sky, weak 11 watt energysaving bulb-like… The weary party-circuit jades… 

Oh yes, the season of Gin and Wondering What to Buy for Difficult Family Members is upon us again…

No better time that to purchase your copy of the 2018 London Rebel History Calendar!!!

It does makes a crackin’ stocking filler, a gift for a grumpy old great-aunt,

oh yes, it is now available! hot, rude and riotous.

Rebellious, subversive and campaigning anniversaries from London’s radical history…for every day of next year… handprinted by

It can be bought online on our website, where it can be yours for only £6 plus £3 postage and packing.

It is also on sale in around 30 radical and independent bookshops and other spaces around London. Email us if you would like a list at pasttense@riseup.net

and will be buyable from AK Distribution

and Active Distribution

Why not help distribute the Calendar? If you would like a bundle to sell to friends, stroppy grandparents, fellow churchgoers and workmates, we would happy to supply some at a discount, to make if worth your while… just get in touch with us…

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Apologies for recent silence

If you’ve been missing our blog posts over the last six weeks… so have we.

Apologies. Every year October-November is a very busy time for past tense. We have publishing deadlines that usually  involve a lot of work at this time, and distribution of some of the things we publish which is also time consuming. Admittedly part of the pressure comes from leaving off doing some of the work till the last minute – but that’s how we work best anyway.

This year, for one reason and another, we were running even later than usual, and then got involved in a dispute, and the fallout from it, which took a lot of time and energy in various arenas, so time was even more stretched.

All of this meant that we haven’t had much time to write (or even steal) blog posts for the increasingly occasional London Rebel History Calendar entries here. Sorry. We will gradually get back to it as we have more time.

One of the publications that has taken up our energy is the paper edition of the 2018 London Rebel History Calendar, which is now available (a little bit later than usual). It’s on sale in lots of lovely London radical bookshops and some other places, and from us directly from the publications page on our website, as well as from AK Distribution and Active Distribution.

Plus we have lots of new pamphlets out, also ready to buy here, along with much of our back catalogue.

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A Statement in solidarity with the London Anarchist Bookfair

Below we share a statement regarding events at the London Anarchist Bookfair 2017, written by some supporters of the Bookfair.

Please share as widely as possible.

On Saturday 28th October the 2017 London Anarchist Bookfair took place in North London. As usual several thousand anarchists and fellow travellers from diverse tendencies attended, ran stalls, held meetings and other activities.

The Bookfair is organised by a small voluntary collective of five, with a wider group of supporters who help out with setting up, facilitating areas or aspects of the events on the day, collecting donations to cover costs of this free event, tidying up at the end, and so on. It is a monumental amount of work, that generally falls on this small group of people (with families and lives, like the rest of us), who come together to spend much of the year running up to October facilitating the staging of an event and a space for several thousand others in the movement. The Bookfair Collective have always shown willing to take on board suggestions, follow up ideas, and include people and organisations with a view to broadening the range of ideas encompassed and the diversity of the program. They have always been open to more involvement in running the Bookfair.

Saturday’s events and the Open Letter

There were a series of incidents at the Bookfair this year which included distribution of leaflets about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act being consulted on and an ensuing stand-off. Several people intervened to stop what looked like a developing potentially physically violent incident against a lone woman activist by a group of people. We would hope that most people reading this would do the same.

Some of the people who intervened to do this were members of the Bookfair Collective but they were not doing so as a group in ‘authority’ on the situation, but as individuals and friends supporting a comrade; just as other bookfair-goers in the past have stepped up to stop others being chucked out. We would suggest it is a misinterpretation of events, and the role of the collective, to see this as a ‘Bookfair Collective intervention’ in order to stop the self-organisation of the group involved.

In the wake of the events on Saturday, an Open Letter has been written and circulated online, calling for changes to, and a potential boycott and/or picket of, next year’s Bookfair.

(Other public statements are also being discussed around withdrawal/disaffiliation with the Bookfair for instance here)
The open letter claims

“a pattern of response from Bookfair organisers where incidents of transphobia, anti-semitism, islamophobia, racism and misogyny are ignored” and “organisers have stepped in to defend and support those who use oppressive, violent and dehumanising language to perpetuate racist, colonial and patriarchal systems of oppression.” and the collective “allows racist imperialism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and ableism to ingratiate themselves as part of the culture of the Bookfair”

We would dispute this and would call for specific examples for any of the above, and evidence that we can reasonably judge from, enough to prove a pattern that the Bookfair Collective have refused to deal with them when raised.

What is the Anarchist Bookfair?

More fundamentally, we would ask to whom are the demands in the open letter really directed?
The Bookfair is not set up to be the representative body for anarchists, nor can it be. It is neither a membership organisation, nor are members of the collective Mediation Practitioners, there to settle the sometimes seismic differences and different perspectives that attendees bring to the event.

Come the day of the Bookfair that space the organisers have facilitated is filled with the politics brought into it by the anarchist movement itself, in all its initiatives, vivid colours and traditions. If a chasm of difference exists over issues that flare up, such as last weekend, the Bookfair Collective are not in a position, nor have the physical resources to arbitrate. So we ask: whose responsibility is this and how do disagreements (sometimes leading to threats of violence or actual violence) get dealt with? The existing statement on these issues can be found on the Bookfair’s website

We are left to wonder whether anarchist practice has become so inculcated by ‘customer service’ culture that even the Bookfair is attended by consumers forgetting the fundamental essence of DIY, self-organisation and self-regulation of events.

The Bookfair Collective operates on the principle that it is not for the small collective that organises it to take on defining and enforcing a rigid policy on safety and behaviour; it is for the wider movement that takes part in the Bookfair to do so, along anarchist principles of opposing centralized authority with dispersed and grassroots responsibility.

Points raised in the open letter call for a radically different event, with a much more centralised program, organised or tightly overseen by the collective. If we as a movement, decide that this is what we want, many more of us will need to commit time and energy to organising and supporting this annual event.

Where next?

We reject transphobia and have all actively supported struggles against oppression. We support the right of trans identifying people to live their lives free from harassment and abuse, to organise, campaign and engage in debate with whoever they choose; and to be addressed by the gender pronouns of their choice. We support the rights of all women to be heard. We recognise that both trans activists and gender critical feminists are currently feeling attacked, at times to the level of their very existence and identities. We would hope that everyone participating in London Anarchist Bookfair would treat each other respectfully and continue to believe that dialogue is possible so that we can strengthen our struggle against oppression and build a better world. We reject bullying and intimidation – in physical or written form.

The Bookfair can never be the ‘dreamed of Utopia’ the open letter imagines, despite all our desires and dedication. We agree with the open letter on one thing, that we should all always be challenging ourselves and each other to widen liberation and ensure the Bookfair is a safe and respectful event, drawing in communities, and reflecting them. But we also believe it needs to allow for discussion and dissent, while excluding hatred and oppression.

We are not members of the Bookfair Collective but some of us have been in the past, and some of us have been involved in wider support work for Bookfairs. All of us are long-time attendees of the Bookfair. As such we hope that it continues, we offer our solidarity and practical support to the Bookfair Collective. We urge the Collective to look beyond the signatories of the open letter to the many wider groups and individuals who attend and take part in the event every year, and to realise that they do have a groundswell of support out there.

Rather than calling for a boycott of the Bookfair, we would challenge the writers of the open letter to engage meaningfully with the Collective and others to help create the change they want. In the light of the statement’s refusal to engage with the Collective until their minimum demands are met, the Bookfair Collective would be reasonably entitled to ignore the open letter.

So we stand by the Bookfair Collective, and salute how the Bookfair is organised; recognising the immense work done in making it happen every year. But it remains up to all of us who attend and take part in it to ensure that it measures up to the standards of love, solidarity and empowerment that we all desire. It is not possible for the small collective that currently facilitates the space to police them. Nor is it fundamentally anarchism.

This statement is online at:
https://bookfair248.wordpress.com/

Comments and practical contributions to what is likely to be an ongoing discussion about the future of the London Anarchist Bookfair are welcome on this site.

For a statement by Helen Steel on the events at the bookfair:
https://helensteelbookfairstatement.wordpress.com/

Today in mystic socialist history: the Fellowship of the New Life formally founded, 1882.

The Fellowship of the New Life, was formally founded in 1882. It would go on to produce a much more famous offshoot, the Fabian Society.

Founded by Thomas Davidson ( in 1882-3, as a “society for people interested in religious thought, ethical propaganda and social reform”, the Fellowship was joined by people such as future Labour Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald, the radical sexologist Havelock Ellis and socialist & pioneer gay liberationist Edward Carpenter. Other early members included Frank Podmore, ER Pease, William Clarke, Percival Chubb, Dr Burns Gibson, Hubert Bland.

Davidson, a talented and brilliant scot from poor background, was a terminal wanderer, who founded other similar societies, (eg in New York); but couldn’t settle anywhere. He had difficult relations with people, was inspiring but hard to communicate with him, and seems to have had little time for anyone who disagreed with him…

An interesting character, among other ideas he thought virtue should be evaluated and celebrated; that anyone who hadn’t educated themselves to be a profound thinker “is still a slave to authority and convention, a mere play actor in life, bound to play a traditional, unreal part, without any of the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

He basically believed in the essential divinity of all things, including human life. These ideas seem to echo 17th century ideas more than anything, especially the ranters: Davidson even fixes on the same phrase ‘glorious liberty’ (originally from the Bible, Romans 8:21) as the ranter Jacob Bauthumley: “God … brought me into the glorious liberty of the Sons of God’

The Fellowship was founded in his Chelsea rooms around September/October 1882,

In the original minutes the object of the organisation is expressed thus: members would join together “for the purpose of common living, as far as possible on a communistic basis, realising among themselves the higher life.” On top of this, aims were further clarified:

“Object: The cultivation of a perfect character in each and all.

Principle: The subordination of material things to spiritual things.

Fellowship: The sole and essential condition of fellowship shall be a single-minded, sincere and strenuous devotion to the object and principle.”

Manual labour was to be united with intellectual pursuits; education and improvement would be at the centre of the community’s life, and members would meet regularly for religious communion, lectures and study groups.

From its birth, though, the group was divided by one of the great polarisations of late 19th century liberal intellectuals: what would create a better way of life: would it be practical social reform, or personal moral and spiritual self-development? This led to the ‘split’ that created the Fellowship’s more famous offshoot, the Fabian Society.

Edward Carpenter, author, anti-vivisectionist, vegetarian, teetotaller, and campaigner for homosexual equality, came to be associated with the Fellowship.

From 1888 to 1889 Carpenter lived with Cecil Reddie, a Ruskin-inspired educationalist; they and the Fellowship planned the pioneering and progressive Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire, which opened in 1889.

According to Edward Carpenter: “Those early meetings of the New Fellowship were full of hopeful enthusiasms – life simplified, a humane diet and a rational dress, manual labour, democratic ideals, communal institutions.”
 The Fellowship held weekly lectures, alternately theoretical and practical, on subjects such as ‘Moral and Social Reform’, ‘Christianity and Communism’, and ‘The Moral Basis of the New Order’.

Anarchism over breakfast

The Fellowship of the New Life had a co-operative house at no. 29 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury: ‘Fellowship House’ set up around 1890.

A leading Fellowship member was the founder and mainstay of the Doughty Street commune, Edith Lees; sometime Fellowship secretary, feminist and Lesbian novelist, lecturer, a member of the suffragist Women’s Social & Political Union and the radical feminist Freewoman discussion circle.

One of the most active and vigorous of [the Fellowship]”, she helped to organize and to carry on for some time a joint dwelling or co-operative boarding-house near Mecklenburgh Square, where eight or ten members of the Fellowship dwelt in a kind of communistic Utopia. Naturally the arrangement gave rise to some rather amusing and some almost tragic episodes, which she has recorded for us in a little story entitled Attainment.”

Communal life at Doughty Street was based on Vita Nuova, (New Life), the Fellowship’s proposed manifesto, which asked of members that they live openly, giving up prejudice, gossip, selfishness, and that they introduce discipline and regularity into their lives, critically reviewing each day’s work each evening. Sounds like fun ????!!! Discussions over Vita Nuova had though caused much internal dispute among the New Lifers in 1882-3, to the point that it was not formally adopted as the manifesto.

Besides Lees, other residents here included future Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald, anarchist Agnes Henry (who “irritated everyone by discussing anarchism over breakfast”), a journalist called Lespinasse, and an “elderly and quixotic” Captain p-Foundes; but the house also guested a constant stream of visitors including many Russian anarchists (some of whom were Tolstoyan pacifist types).

According to Lees, Fellowship House promised residents all the advantages and obligations of a family without any of its drawbacks… She “argued that women should reject servitude in the home as she and her comrades did.”  
However many socialist or anarchist communes of the time (and since!) ended up reproducing the same power relations between men and women, with women doing most of the domestic work… Despite Edith’s ideal, did Fellowship House fall into this pattern as well? Author Judy Greenway says it “ran into familiar problems over money, housework, and personal incompatibilities…”

In her story Attainment, Lees portrayed life at Doughty Street in fictional form, as ‘Brotherhood House’. Despite the lofty aims, “Class and gender tensions emerge in the running of the household. Although they all praise the simple life and the delights of manual labour and… disagree with having servants, the housekeeping and bookkeeping eventually fall to Rachel (the main character); Rachel also brings with her a maid, Ann, whose practical experience and common-sense approach mean that she ends up doing much of the housework. Meanwhile, the men discuss the ‘boundless … courage’ they need to clean a doorstep. One says, ‘I literally blush all down my back and look up and down the street as if I meditated burying my grandfather under the step.’ The problem is not just that the men are transgressing gender and class boundaries with this kind of work, they are doing so in public.”

Edith’s Doughty Street experiences dented her enthusiasm for the benefits of communal living. In reply to William Morris’s slogan ‘Fellowship is Heaven’, she afterwards asserted that “Fellowship is Hell: lack of Fellowship is Heaven.” 
In her novel, Rachel eventually leaves the collective household, rejecting both the “merger of domestic and political space”, and the “rule-bound way of life based on narrow idealism” (Greenway)… suggesting that ‘Brotherhood House’

“was frankly mere experiment, and was so involved in spiritual speculations and the grammar of living … that it rarely got to the marrow of me.”

But though Edith Lees rejected communal living, she remained committed to exploring alternative ways that men and women could live and relate. (Similarly Rachel in ‘Attainment’ decides to marry, but does not see this as retreating into conventionality: “I dare now,” she says, “to live out what is real within me.”) Through the Fellowship she had met Havelock Ellis, who she left the commune after 18 months in 1891 to marry, in an open marriage in which she was able to enjoy her relationships with women. (Ellis himself was largely impotent until the age of 60, when he discovered that only the sight of a woman pissing turned him on. Better late than never. )

Ellis also wrote about his wife’s lesbian love life in his writings on ‘Sexual Inversion’. Though their “living up to their principles was to prove difficult for both partners, emotionally and financially” (according to Judy Greenway), their open relationship worked for both, in its own way, until Edith fell ill, leading to her premature death in 1916.

The Doughty Street experiment didn’t long survive Edith Lees resignation… Though Agnes Henry, at least, continued to participate in experimental living situations, as well as remaining committed to radical politics. Ramsay Mac of course went on to lead the Labour Party into government and infamy…

The Fabian Society

The inclination of many early Fellowship members towards immediate political action was a main sticking point from early on, leading in late 1883 to the stirrings that gave birth to the Fabian Society, which also met in houses around Bloomsbury in its early days (for instance Stewart Headlam’s house). As Frank Podmore (a moving force in the ‘secession’) put it, many Fellowship members aspired to a group built “on somewhat broader and more indeterminate lines.” (Its not that often that lefties split demanding a LESS specific program!)

Or as future Fabian leading light George Bernard Shaw (not a Fellowship member, though he had come into contact with Davidson, almost certainly at an early Fellowship meeting, and claimed he had been “bored as he had never been bored before”!) put it: “certain members of [the Fellowship], modestly feeling that the Revolution would have to wait an unreasonably long time if postponed until they personally had attained perfection… established themselves independently as the Fabian Society.”

Shaw’s sarcasm aside, its easy to see that many people would balk at the rigid honesty and commitment demanded by the Fellowship’s program. Their program combined both naivety and elitism, in the idea of a development of a personal perfection that could be the only herald of a new society…

In reply to this the Doughty Street Fellowship members (like others who set up experiments in communal living) might well have countered that they were the practical ones, getting right down to working out on a day to day level how a ‘new life’ could be created.

It would be interesting to know how much the two groups divided, were there crossovers, people who tried to work through both avenues? Did some folk work for ‘practical’ reforms with the Fabians but carry on with the Fellowship on a more personal level? Founder Thomas Davidson himself was critical of the Fabians, dismissing the kind of state socialism they came to stand for; he thought that even if socialists should ‘take over’ the state, “selfishness would find means to exploit and oppress ignorance, simple honesty and unselfishness,, as much as it does today”. Did the Fabians’ more cynically decide that ‘the masses’ would never reform themselves into virtue and would have to have a freer life organised for them?

Non-conformist minister and ILP member Reginald Campbell called the Fabian Society “aristocratic socialists… a highly superior set of people, and they know it thoroughly.” With their pragmatic and gradualist program, the Society was to long outlast and outgrow their parent organisation, eventually joining the Labour Party, and by orthodox accounts becoming a guiding force of reformist state ‘socialist’ ideas in Britain – up until our own times… Their influence in the Labour party culminated in post 1945 Parliament, with Prime Minister, 9 cabinet ministers and a majority of the 394 Labour MPs members of the Society. The Fabians’ own claims would give it a huge influence on social change, especially between the 1880s and 1914, claims widely accepted by historians, although Marxist historian Eric Hosbawm disputes much of the Fabians’ impact, crediting them with excellent Public Relations, helped by the high number of journalists in their ranks, and that the Fabians have created a mythology around themselves and their history which inflates their impact…

The original Fellowship, changing its name to just the New Fellowship, enjoyed a new lease of life around 1889/ 1890. In 1889 they issued a journal, ‘The Sower’, later ‘Seed Time’, printed by a ‘saintly’ Tolstoyan ‘anarchist’ William Frey (Originally Vladimir Geins), a Russian former aristo and general! who later emigrated to New York, becoming a leader of the ‘New Odessa colony’. Frey was a veggie humanist who influenced communal living ideals in New York and possibly founded a Russian commune in Kansas.

According to Seed Time the group was holding lectures weekly, (at Doughty St?) alternately theoretical and practical (still never nailed that dual nature eh?).. examples of the subjects being ‘Moral and Social Reform’. “Christianity and Communism’, ‘The Moral Basis of the New Order’. The Fellowship was still in existence until at least 1896.

Both Seed Time and the groups activities could not have survived if not supported (presumably financially) by William Morris, Ramsay MacDonald, and other luminaries. Morris was a huge influence on the Fellowship, as he was on the early Fabians.

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Central London Squatting History Walk

Thursday 15th June

back by unpopular demand – Come see a slice of Central London squatting history;
• See the square where squatters and tenants half succeeded in fighting off the encroachment of office blocks,
• See the hotel which ex-soldiers and others occupied in 1946,
• See one of the Really Free School buildings from the recent struggles against cuts and the privatization of education and knowledge,
• See places that were homes to hundreds, alternative bookshops, women’s centres, the starting places for wholefood empires ……

meet Tolmers Square,  London, NW1 6 for 6.30, Thursday 15 June 2017.

Today in London’s legal history: Kyd Wake found guilty of heckling the king, 1796.

“In the kings bench came on the trial of Kyd Wake, indicted for a misdemeanor in hissing and booing the king as his majesty was going to the parliament-house, on the first day of the present sessions, and likewise crying “down with George, no war,” &c. Mr Stockdale, the bookseller, and Mr Walford, the linen draper, who acted as constables on the day, were examined, and fully proved the facts charged in the indictment; upon which the jury without hesitation, found a verdict, guilty. A great number of person attended on the part of the prisoner; but as they could only speak to his general character, and not to the case in point, Mr Erskine, the prisoner’s counsel, declined calling upon them, reserving their testimony to be offered in mitigation of the punishment, on the first day of next term, when the prisoner will be brought up to the king’s bench to receive judgment…

Kyd Wake, who was convicted at the sittings… of having… insulted his majesty in hos passage… received the judgment of the court; viz ‘That he be imprisoned, and kept to hard labour in Gloucester gaol, during the tem of five years; that during the first three months of his imprisonment, he do stand for one hour, between the hours of eleven and two, in the pillory, in one of the public streets in Gloucester, on a market-day; and that, at the expiration of his sentence, he do find security for £1000 for his good behaviour for ten years.” (Annual Register, 1796.)

The early days of England’s long wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France coincided with a growing movement for radical political reform in Britain. As the 1790s wore on, the war brought hardship and recession, and resentment from the lower orders mingled with calls for political change. There were riots against the activities of the ‘crimpers’, who kidnapped men for the armed forces; food riots, and general tumults against war, the government and the king. In response, the government engaged in charging leading radicals with treason, and targeted printers who published anything questioning the status quo – and anyone caught expressing opposition…

In October 1795, while riding to Parliament in a glass-enclosed royal carriage, King George III became the target of a crowd protesting the war and demanding bread. “Like Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the U.K. throne, and his consort, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, riding to the theatre in the glass-enclosed Rolls Royce, royalty embodies the sovereignty which led to war and hardship.” Kyd Wake, a bookbinder, hissed and grimaced at the King shouting, “No George, No War,” while the carriage windows became subject to a barrage of pebbles and sticks from a hungry and protesting crowd. Wake was sentenced to five years hard labour – a severe sentence for a moment of angry protest. An example was being set. Wake may have had some background of association with reformers and attending radical meetings.

In prison Wake “had his head shaved, and wore the prison dress, consisting of a blue and yellow jacket and trousers, a woollen cap, and a pair of wooden shoes.”

Kyd Wake’s wife made an engraving to raise money to provide extra food for her husband who was imprisoned in Gloucester Penitentiary. This was captioned with Kyd Wake’s plea against solitary confinement:

Five years’ confinement, even in common gaols must surely be a very severe punishment; but if Judges or Jurors would only reflect seriously on the horrors of solitary imprisonment under penitentiary discipline!! If they would allow their minds to dwell a little on what it is to be locked up, winter after winter.. for 16 hours out of the 24, in a small brick cell -without fire -without light -without employment and scarcely to see a face but those of criminals or turnkeys. No friend to converse with when well; or to consult with or to complain to when indisposed. Above all -to be subjected to a thousand insults and vexations, almost impossible to be described, and therefore scarcely to be remedied; but by which continual torment may be, and often is, inflicted. If they would but consider what an irreparable misfortune it is to have a considerable portion of life so wearisomely wasted; they would surely be more tender of dooming any man, for a long time, to such wretchedness. It is a calamity beyond description, more easily to be conceived than explained.

Wake survived his sentence to become a printer again, but died tragically in 1807, being crushed to death between a post and the wheels of a wagon in St Paul’s churchyard. In his obituary it was suggested that he possibly only served two years. A much more reasonable sentence for heckling, methinks…

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

Today in London’s radical history: Jewish anarchist club opens in Jubilee Street, Whitechapel, 1906.

“The Jubilee Street Club played a great part in East End Jewish life because it was open to everyone. Anyone could use our library and reading room or join the adult education classes without being asked for a membership card…” (Rudolf Rocker)

In the late nineteenth century, a powerful Yiddish speaking working class movements evolved among the East European Jewish immigrants in London’s East End. It can be traced back the establishment of the area’s first Jewish Socialist groupings and unions in the mid 1870s. Jewish migrants escaped persecution in their homelands only to find themselves exploited in the sweatshop conditions of London’s textile industry.

It was against this background that Der Arbeter Fraint (The Worker’s Friend), the Yiddish language anarchist paper, started out in 1885, initially representing all strands of socialist opinion, though it soon became associated with anarchism. More on the history of Arbeter Fraint here

Der Arbeter Fraint was instrumental in the development of an independent Jewish labour movement, one of the largest sections of which took on a strongly anarchist character. The group around Der Arbeter Fraint was associated with a number of meeting places in Whitechapel – the international club in Berners Street (now Henriques Street), the Sugar Loaf pub in Hanbury Street, and most famously the anarchist club in Jubilee Street.

In 1906, the Arbeter Fraint group realised a long time goal by establishing The Workers’ Friend Club at Jubilee Street in Whitechapel (the building has since been demolished – it’s now under Jarman House). In the following years the Workers’ Friend Club, along with the Yiddish anarchist papers, achieved popularity well beyond the Jewish anarchist scene.

“The club had a main hall that could hold 800 people, and a number of smaller rooms and halls. One hall on the ground floor was used as a library and reading room. A smaller building adjoining the club served as the editorial and printing offices of the Arbeter Fraint.” (Rocker)

The opening night, 3rd February 1906, was packed – hundreds attended, and large numbers were locked out as there was no more room. “Almost every Jewish trade union in the country had sent us messages of congratulation. There were also messages from Malatesta, Louise Michel and Tarrida del Marmol. I was reading out the messages when a storm of cheering and clapping cut me short. Peter Kropotkin had arrived. His doctors had warned him not to appear at any more public gatherings, because of his heart. But this was an occasion from which he felt he must not stay away.

I begged him not to speak. He waved me aside. He spoke for over half an hour…” (Rocker)

The club was destined to play a central role in the political, social and intellectual life of the Jewish east End for a decade. It had an educational programme including English classes and lectures in history, literature, and sociology. Rudolf Rocker, the German anarchist who by now was at the heart of the group, spoke regularly. Rocker’s view was that workers who could think for themselves were in a much better position to combat their bosses, and escape the clutches of political parties and religious leaders, which exploited the ignorance and apathy of the masses.

Cultural activities were a major part of the Club’s appeal, “in a world where there was a thirst for modern culture alongside a deep attachment to tradition.”

However, the lack of an official membership, while allowing a freer access to many, did have its drawbacks, as it “made it impossible for us to sell drinks in the club, from which most of the other clubs got the greater part of their revenue. For the law restricted the sale of intoxicants in clubs to club members. We sold only tea and coffee and food. So we had to fins other ways of meeting our running costs.”

Rocker recalled that the groups who met there regularly included trade unions, the Jewish Workers’ Circle (an important workers society), a Russian Social Revolutionary party branch, and English anarchist groups.

Descriptions of the Jubilee Street Club can also be found in police records, this time because suspects and witnesses of the 1911 Sidney Street gunfight frequented the club. Nicolai Tockmacoff was a seam-presser born in Moscow who was interviewed by the police. He played the balalaika at the Workers Friend:.

“I used to go to the [Workers’ Friend] Club for entertainment and theatrical performances… There is a hall there and refreshment room for tea and coffee. Anyone can go in. There are all sorts of people there, English and Russian… There is a library which anyone can go into… There was a Lettish [Lithuanian] Concert on one occasion… Men and women go to the Club to borrow books.”

William Fishman’s oral history interviews provide other glimpses of the Club. Millie Sabel recalled her kitchen duties, preparing gefilte fish, chopped liver and pickled herring, and that Lenin would drink Russian tea when he came by. Rose Robins recalled synagogue-going Jews on days of fasting sneaking into the Club to eat the extra food the Club had to prepare on holy days .

On the one hand the club was very much based in the mass movement of the East End, but it was also frequented by the celebrities of the left. Anarchist guru Kropotkin spoke at its opening night. Among those who hung out at the Club were Tsarist secret agents, future Soviet ministers (such as Chicherin) and terrorists (including the Latvian revolutionaries involved in the Siege of Sidney Street). A non-Jewish anarchist close to Rocker, John Turner, leader of the shop assistants’ trade union, took the young Guy Aldred (then writing for anarcho-syndicalist Voice of Labour paper, which Turner edited) to the Jubilee Street Club, where Rocker asked him to speak one night when Kropotkin couldn’t make it. Ironically Aldred used the occasion to criticize Kropotkin for abandoning revolutionary Bakuninism and becoming a respectable suburban intellectual – which didn’t go down well with the Club regulars.

The Club was also a centre of Yiddish culture: the Yiddishists and cultural nationalists Chaim Zhitlovsky and Ber Borokhov both spoke there; many of the great Yiddish poets read there. Fishman records that there was a great deal of interaction between the Jubilee Streeters and Poale Zionists (labour Zionists) in the years after the 1906 tailors’ strike: people like radical Zionist journalists Kalman Marmor and Dr Wortsman.

The Arbeter Fraint group was throughout its existence very much involved in the struggles of the Jewish tailoring workers, in their strikes, struggles against sweating and other poor working conditions. Wages and working conditions in the East End clothing industry were much lower than in the rest of London. In 1889 and 1906, huge strikes that united 1000s of East End tailors saw mass solidarity; but a 1912 strike in both East and West End tailoring ended with victory on all fronts, largely due to Rocker and the Arbeter Fraint group’s activities. The groups was also central in organising solidarity for dockers’ strikes, especially in 1912, where Jewish workers supported dock families facing starvations and took over 300 dockers children to be looked after in Jewish homes.

The strong Jewish labour and anarchist movements faced immediate repression when World War 1 broke out. The Arbeter Fraint group opposed the war from the start. The Jubilee Street Club was forced to close down. Rudolf Rocker was arrested in December 1914, and spent the war in internment camps.

In the meantime Der Arbeter Fraint continued to publish, maintaining its anti-war stance, until July 1916 when it was finally suppressed by the state. Rocker moved eventually to the USA, where he became influential in the Jewish anarchist movement there.

If you want some seriously inspiring reading, check out:

The London Years, Rudolf Rocker.

East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1914, William Fishman.

Citizenship and Belonging, Ben Gidley

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

Public History Discussion Group: ‘Blind Dates: Compiling & Producing the London Rebel History Calendar

For various reasons past tense has been a bit quiet recently, been concentrating on producing the 2017 London Rebel History Calendar, so for those of you who have missing our blog posts, apologies for the recent radio silence… Soon as our heads are screwed back on we’ll get it back up and running.

Meanwhile, here’s an event next week we are part of… hope some of you can come along:

Public History Discussion Group

Saturday 26 November

11 am tea and coffee, room 609
11:30 talk

Room 209 Institute of Archaeology, UCL 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY

‘Blind Dates: compiling and producing the London Rebel History Calendar’

Alex Hodson from Past Tense, a collective project that explores working class, social, subversive and underground history and geography in London Autumn 2017 sees the publication of the 4th edition of Past Tense’s London Rebel History Calendar, with radical, subversive and inspiring anniversaries for every day of the year from London’s turbulent past… Who produces it? How is it compiled? How is it being extended into ‘new technologies’? Alex Hodson sheds some light on research, production methods, and some of the pitfalls of the Calendar’s format.

The 2017 London Rebel History Calendar is of course available now: buy it online here