Today in London radical history: John Goodwyn Barmby founds the Communist Propaganda Society, 1841

John Goodwyn Barmby was a utopian communist, influenced by the ideas of Robert Owen and the early 19th century French Utopian socialist theorists, who launched propaganda organisations to spread these ideas, as well as founding his own communist community in west London. He is often associated with the growth of socialist and utopian projects during the rise of Chartism.

Barmby was born in Suffolk in 1820. He had no formal school education but read widely, and deciding to not pursue a profession, but to follow a career of social and political radicalism. He was reputedly addressing small audiences of agricultural labourers when aged sixteen.

He founded the East Suffolk and Yarmouth Chartist council in September 1839, and in December was elected delegate to the Chartist convention. He was re-elected in 1840 and 1841, though by this time, he was moving away from political radicalism towards the promotion of a communal organisation of society. He became a correspondent of the Owenites’ New Moral World, where he wrote on language reform and the ideas of French utopian socialist Charles Fourier, and held conversations with some followers of Gracchus Babeuf. In 1840 he visited Paris with a letter of introduction from Owen, to study the French utopian socialists an their ideas; he claimed to have originated the English term ‘communism’ at this time. Barmby became impatient with the imperfectly purist tone of the Owenite movement. He and his wfire Catherine became ardent propagandists for a new society.

On 13th October 1841, Barmby founded the Communist Propaganda Society (also known as the Central Communist Bureau) to spread the idea of communal living and the re-organisation of society along communist lines. The organisation’s HQ was at 77 Norton Street, Portland Place, between 1841 and 1843.

Barmby designated 1841 Year 1 of the new communist calendar. Sadly this penchant for grandiose sounding organisations and self-important declarations was not generally born out in reality…

Barmby also founded the Universal Communitarian Association shortly later – how many members this or the Communist Propaganda Society had is unknown.

He also launched two journals, the monthly Educational Circular and Communist Apostle in 1841, and the monthly Promethean, or, Communitarian Apostle, which promoted rational marriage and universal suffrage. He lectured at a ‘Communist Temple’ at Marylebone Circus, Marylebone.

The Promethean was launched in January, 1842. The name is significant both of Barmby’s debt to the radical poet Shelley, and because of the place occupied by Prometheus in the radical thought of the time. Prometheus was the redeemer of man through knowledge, the hero who braved the wrath of obscurantists and gods to bring man his heritage that was deliberately withheld. Like Owen, Barmby believed that there was no obstacle but ignorance.

The four issues of The Promethean contained articles by Barmby on a quite extraordinary variety of subjects: one series on Communism, another on Industrial Organisation, An Essay Towards Philanthropic Philology, advocating a universal language, The Amelioration of Climature in Communalisation, on the effect of human activity on climate and the prospect of climate control in the future, and Past, Present and Future Chronology. An Historic Introduction to the Communist Calendar. The Promethean was, however,not a great success.

Out of this activity and through his contact with James Pierrepont Greaves, founder of the Ham Common utopian community, Barmby established the Moreville Communitorium at Hanwell in 1842. which featured such excitements as a diet of raw vegetables, daily hot and cold baths and a rigid teetotal regime. `

Greaves and he published the New Age, or, Concordian Gazette.

The following year, Barmby issued a Communist Miscellany, a series of tracts written by himself and his wife, and founded the weekly Communist Chronicle, which also supported the German communist Wilhelm Weitling.

Thomas Frost described Barmby at this time as ‘a young man of gentlemanly manners and soft persuasive voice, wearing his light brown hair parted in the middle after the fashion of the Concordist brethren, and a collar and necktie à la Byron.’

Barmby was also described as “a Christ-like figure, with blonde hair down to his shoulders; together the young couple walked the London streets with a cart from which they dispensed tracts and harangued passers-by.
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The Moreville Communitorium was renamed the Communist Church by 1844. Barmby conducted a propaganda tour in the north and midlands in the winter of 1845–6 and forged links with the Dublin sect of White Quakers. In 1845 he combined with Frost to revive the Communist Chronicle, for which he translated some of Reybaud’s ‘Sketches of French socialists’, and wrote a philosophical romance entitled The Book of Platonopolis, which sought to fuse utopian fiction and modern science. However, Frost soon tired of Barmby’s sectarianism and separated from him in 1846, to establish the Communist Journal.

Frost’s competition with Barmby destroyed both journals but Barmby continued to proselytize in Howitt’s Journal, and contributed to the People’s Journal, Tait’s Magazine, Chambers’s Journal, and other periodicals. In 1847, he lectured at the Farringdon Hall, Poplar, London, and in July he convened a meeting at the John Street Institute in support of the Icarian settlements in Texas. It was probably to his friendship with W. J. Fox MP that Barmby owed his introduction to Unitarianism, following his post-1848 disillusionment with communism. After his return from revolutionary Paris, where he had gone in 1848 as Howitt’s representative and as the envoy of the Communist Church, he was successively minister at Southampton, Topsham, Lympstone, Lancaster, and Wakefield. He was one of the best-known ministers in the West Riding of Yorkshire and held his post in Wakefield for twenty-one years from 1858, leading the Wakefield congregation which included the industrialist Henry Briggs. He was also secretary of the West Riding Unitarian mission.

But Barmby always retained his liberal political convictions, and was closely involved in the Wakefield Liberal Association from 1859: and in 1867, he organised a large public meeting there in support of parliamentary reform and joined the National Association for Women’s Suffrage. Barmby was a member of the council of Mazzini’s International League and also supported Polish, Italian, and Hungarian freedom.

He died in Suffolk on 18th October 1881.

Some of this post was lifted from here

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2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s radical history: Chartists hold mass meeting, John Street, Fitzrovia, 1848.

The John Street Institute was founded by utopian socialist and patron saint of the co-operative movement, Robert Owen in 1840, and became the main centre of Owenite activity in London between 1840 to 1858. It stood in John Street (now renamed Whitfield Street), off Fitzroy Square, in London’s Fitzrovia.

The Institute was nicknamed the Infidel Hall, out of resentment at its anti-religious lectures, by the London City Mission Magazine. It became a meeting place for radical workmen, Chartists, socialists, atheists, deists and other radicals…

A well-known rendezvous for Reformers in the middle years of the century was the John Street Institution, situated near Tottenham Court Road. It had been a chapel, I think, but was then leased by the followers of Robert Owen. Lectures were given there; meetings were held there; classes were conducted there. A more useful centre of social and political activity did not exist in all London. The platform was perfectly free. Chartism, Republicanism, Freethought, Socialism-all sorts and conditions of thought could be expounded in John Street if capable exponents desired to expound them. I had heard Mrs. C. H. Dexter lecture there in 1851 on the Bloomer costume, and in the Bloomer costume. There also, five years later, I heard the venerable Robert Owen, then a patriarch of eighty-four. The subjects discussed were of the widest and most varied character-social, political, religious, literary, scientific, economical, historical. And the lecturers who discussed them were as varied as the subjects-Thomas Cooper, Robert Cooper, Samuel Kydd, Dr. Mill, Dr. Sexton, Iconoclast, Henry Tyrrell, Richard Hart, Joseph Barker, Brewin Grant, George Jacob Holyoake, and many another whose very name is now forgotten. Of all the able men who endeavoured to enlighten the public from the John Street platform not one survives save George Jacob Holyoake. When the lease of the institution expired, a source of real light and ventilation expired also.” (William Edwin Adams)

The Social Institute was opened in February 1840 as the hall of the London branch of the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists, as the Owenite Association of All Classes of All Nations had now become. The branch had formerly met at 69 Great Queen Street. Around the country there were twenty or so of these buildings, more usually known as Halls of Science, which were built in the early 1840s to serve as the focus of propaganda activity of the mainly working class branches. Their function however was largely superfluous after 1842, when the ‘missionary’ aspect of the Owenites had been abandoned.

The exterior of this building was carried out in the plain stucco typical of era, projecting forward was a porch with square columns. Inside was a large hall, fifty feet square, equipped with a church-like organ and galleries. 1,100 people could be accommodated. Its cost was around £3,000.

Congresses of the Owenite Rational Association were held here in the early 1840s… (and Owenites were still holding Congresses here in 1857).

Later the Institution also became a meeting place for the Chartist movement. Chartists were holding regular meetings here by 1848, the year the Chartists held a national convention here, attended by 49 delegates, and including a mass meeting on 21st March, in the lead up to the final mass demo to hand in the third Chartist Petition on 10 April.

A National Assembly of Chartists was also held at John Street from 1 to 13 May, in the aftermath of the failure of the petition.

The Chartist movement was undergoing its last significant crisis, as some leaders bottled the implications of their bluster and rhetoric – but others plotted revolution. The ‘Ulterior Committee’, the secret Chartist group planning an uprising, also met here, as they moved around trying to avoid police spies, on 14 June 1848… 14 were present, with Peter McDouall in the chair… Allegedly, at this meeting, detailed plans were made for an insurrection to start the following weekend: “A map of London was produced, and different plans of attack formed” Barricades were to be erected from the Strand near Temple Bar to Ludgate Hill, from Cheapside up St Martins le Grand and Aldersgate Street to the Barbican, across Saffron Hill to Hatton Garden and St Giles Church, Drury Lane, Russell Street and Covent Garden back to the Strand. Theatres and public buildings to be set fire to. Pawnbrokers and gunshops plundered for arms. Barricades also across Waterloo Bridge to Kent Road. Police station there to be attacked and march by troops on London intercepted. Could rely on 5000 armed Chartists plus 5000 Irish.”

However, that same day the committee dissolved itself, apparently having become aware that had been compromised by spies. Plans were revived in July and August, but the spies were still deep in their midst, and arrests on 16th August curtailed the intended rising…

After use by the Owenites ceased in 1858 the John Street building came into commercial use and mostly seems to have been used for performing arts – the famous small person ‘General Tom Thumb’ was apparently ‘on show’ here at one time. By 1914 the building (since 1867 known as 40 Whitfield Street) was the Albert Rooms dance hall. The old Institute is believed to have been demolished in the 1980s. A smallish office block is on the site.

Thanks to Keith Scholey’s research for this post. 

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Today in London radical history: the legendary Communist Club starts life, Soho, 1840.

The Communist Club was essentially a political social club, primarily for German émigrés, which, under a variety of names, operated out of various central London premises during the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most Left personages of the era had some association with the Club, but the most important was Karl Marx. The Club formed an important institutional link between Chartism, utopian socialism, the First International, early anarchism, the Social-Democratic Federation (the first socialist group in Britain) and the new wave of ‘pure’ Marxist socialism of Edwardian times (the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Labour Party). The Club also formed an important connection between the British and Continental European (German, Russian) socialist movements.

The Communist Club started life as the Deutsche Demokratische Gesellschaft (German Democratic Society) founded on 7th February 1840 by seven members of the Bund der Gerechten (League of the Just) including Karl Schapper, Joseph Moll and Heinrich Bauer.

The League of the Just itself had been formed in Paris in 1836 as a split consisting of the “most extreme, chiefly proletarian, elements of the secret democratic-republican Outlaws’ League, which was founded by German refugees in Paris in 1834” (Engels). Originally democratic-nationalist in ideology, under the influence of Wilhelm Weitling the League of the Just soon became utopian socialist.

Schapper and Bauer had been exiled to London after having been arrested following an insurrectionary action in Paris in May 1839.

According to Schapper “…the founders of this society decided to make education the foundation of their movement and not to let themselves be guided by leaders…” This was a reaction to the defeats of the workers’ movement in the 1830s, which were blamed on the lack of political education of the working class, which had left it open to opportunistic leaders.

The Club was also a front for the secret League of the Just, serving as a recruiting ground and propaganda vehicle.

Until the early 1880s) the Society was known by a rapidly changing variety of different but similar names. However, the most fitting and commonly used name was the Deutsche Arbeiter Bildungs Verein (German Workers Educational Association). The DABV rapidly became the main organisation of the German workers in London, its numbers rapidly grew from not more than 30 members before 1844 to around 500 by February 1847. The Association acted as an educational and social club for German workers, of which there were then many in the capital, many exiled leftwingers. In 1845-46 business meetings were held on a Sunday, political discussions (e.g. reading and commenting on contemporary political and philosophical literature) on a Tuesday night, with Saturdays reserved for cultural activities – such as song and dance – and classes in elementary education (e.g. English lessons). There was also a choir and a library, and leftwing newspapers could be read in the reading room. Literature, mainly socialist and communist, from Switzerland, France and Belgium, was also sold. In the autumn of 1846 the Club acquired a press for printing announcements of meetings and the like, and the following year had the intention to produce a journal provisionally entitled Proletarier.

However, many of the club membership were more interested in the practical benefits than the politics (this dynamic was to increase over the years).

Initially utopian socialist ideas, primarily those of Etienne Cabet and Wilhelm Weitling, predominated. Gradually utopianism was replaced by a more class conscious approach. By December 1844 the Club was pressing atheism, opposing nationalism and had generally grown far more radical.

The Association met in the Red Lion pub in Great Windmill Street from 1840 to 1846. Merging with French exiled groups, the Association became more cosmopolitan; Engels remembered the clientele including “Scandinavians, Dutch, Hungarians, Czechs, Southern Slavs, and also Russians and Alsatians” as well as “a British grenadier of the Guards in uniform”.

After Marx and Engels joined the League of the Just, in the summer of 1847 it was reorganised as a democratic propaganda society and renamed the Communist League. It was for this organisation that the famous Communist Manifesto was issued. The reading and adoption of this probably happened in the upstairs room of the Association premises in Drury Lane (rather than the Red Lion as indicated by Liebknecht and others).

Correspondingly the open social club was renamed the Communistische Arbeiter Bildungs Verein (Communist Workers Educational Association), de-emphasising the Germanic element. Engels noted that its “membership cards bore the inscription all men are brothersin at least twenty languages, even if not without mistakes here and there”. Germans, however, remained the largest section of the Association.

After the 1848 revolution in France many exiles returned to Germany where the League played a significant part in the struggles of that year, but with the defeat of the 1848-9 uprisings, most gradually drifted back to London. Marx and Chartist socialist Ernest Jones lectured to the club at this time.

The German Workers Educational Association is believed to have supplied the choir which sung at the foundation meeting of the International Working Men’s Association (the famous First International) on 28th September 1864 at St Martins Hall, Long Acre. However the DABV did not formally affiliate until 10 January 1865. At this time the DABV was meeting at 2 Nassau Street, Soho (now Gerrard Place off Shaftesbury Avenue), the tavern of Heinrich Bolleter. Members of the Association who were on the General Council of the First International included Schapper, Bolleter, JG Eccarius and Friedrich Lessner (the latter two tailors associated with Marx).

Although clearly the German element was dominant, internationalism was not dead; the DABV taking an active part in commemorations held for the 24th June 1848 massacres in Paris.

On 15th December 1868 the General Council of the IWMA reported that the membership of the DABV was now 1,800.

The next that is heard of the club, once more known as the Communistische Arbeiter Bildungs Verein, is in the late 1870s, when it seems to have been part of what was known as the Social Democratic Club. This ultimately consisted of five sections of various nationalities.

The English section, originally known as the English Revolutionary Society, had been formed on the initiative of Frank Kitz during the summer of 1877. Charles Murray, a longtime acolyte of Chartist Bronterre O’Brien, and Johann Neve were also present. By November the group was known as the Social Democratic Club and was meeting at the Grafton Arms in Fitzroy Square. It had now acquired ‘international’ sections, the German section apparently being the CABV. The emphasis appears to have again been on the Communism rather than the Germanity of the group. Around 1878 the Social Democratic Club took premises in 6 Rose Street, Soho (now Manette Street). The building was demolished for the 1929 extension of Foyle’s bookshop.

Important practical work of the CABV at that time included involvement in a masons’ strike, raising money for the strikers and ensuring that imported German masons understood the situation and left the country. The Rose Street premises was used to house fugitives from the German Anti-Socialist Laws: “The club was crowded with refugees; our hall at times resembled as railway station, with groups of men, women, and children sitting disconsolately amidst piles of luggage”.

The CABV had extensive contacts with the English socialist movement at this time. These include Joseph Lane’s Homerton Socialist Society which was then affiliated to the CABV. This later became part of the Labour Emancipation League, which later merged into the Socialist League. Rose Street holds a particular place in the history of British Marxism, as it was here that the first meeting which was to lead to the formation of the Democratic Federation (later the Social Democratic Federation, the first Marxist organisation in Britain) took place. On 2nd March 1881, Henry Myers Hyndman and HAM Butler, a Conservative MP, called a meeting of Radical MPs and workingmen opposed to coercion in Ireland. This proposed a federation of Radical clubs based on a Chartist-like program of reforms and a committee was formed to make further arrangements, which ultimately led to the formation of the Democratic Federation.

As well as the social democrats the CABV was extensively linked to the anarchist movement at this time, being involved in the ‘Revolutionary Congress’ of 14-19 July 1881; the organising committee of this included Sebastian Trunk representing the CABV. Although designed to unite anarchists and socialists, it essentially became an anarchist affair. More importantly the CABV subsidised Johann Most’s Freiheit, a German language paper issued from 1879 to 1882.

The club split between anarchists and social democrats. The anarchist section associated with Most stayed in Rose Street, while the Social-Democrats moved to 49 Tottenham Street as the Second Section of the Communistische Arbeiter Bildungs Verein. The Second Section prefix was soon dropped, afterwards there being no more name changes (although the short English version – the Communist Club – became used in common parlance.) The anarchists later moved to Stephen’s Mews, Rathbone Place as the International or German Club. The premises here were the scene of a police riot on 9 May 1885.

In its final phase the Communist Club was less of a political body and more of a social club. Frank Kitz disparaged it as a mere West End dining room, but it remained an important focus of Left wing life in the capital. Several aged radicals lived close by, including Lessner at no. 12 Fitzroy Street around 1888, and William Townshend, veteran O’Brienite, who lived at the Club’s premises at no. 49 Tottenham Street. The Club band was particularly noted and performed at many left wing events.

The Club retained its importance as a venue for lectures and events. Friedrich Engels, George Bernard Shaw, Keir Hardie and William Morris all spoke at no. 49. One of the most notable was the Sixth and final Annual Conference of the Socialist League, (William Morris’s semi-anarchist split from the SDF) held at the Club on 25th May 1890. This Conference saw the ousting of William Morris and marked the beginning of the transformation of the League into an anarchist group. 49 Tottenham Street is still standing.

In 1902 the Communist Club moved to 107 Charlotte Street. Shortly thereafter Stalin and Lenin visited. This was probably in connection with the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. This took place at a variety of locations. The first London sitting took place on 29th July 1903 at the “English Club” in Charlotte Street.

After 1900 the SDF renewed its acquaintance with the Communist Club. In 1903 the delegates to the Annual Conference were formally welcomed as guests to the club. This was made a festive occasion with songs and speeches – in effect the Conference’s ‘social’. The Conference had been marred by the expulsion of several leading impossibilists (anti-reformists) and shortly after the Socialist Labour Party was formed.

In April or May 1903 this newly Party held its first meeting in London at the Club; as were future SLP conferences. The SLP is most known because of its contribution to the foundation of the Communist Party. This was far from its roots, which lay in the industrial unionist ideas of Daniel De Leon.

The other Impossibilist party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, also a split from the SDF, was also greatly connected to the Communist Club. The Club was the first headquarters of the SPGB (June 1904 to September 1905) and other meetings were also held here.

The Communist Club would have been severely affected by the First World War, when most German nationals returned to the Fatherland to fight or were interned. Its end came shortly after the war.

In most sources it is stated that the Club was closed down after police raids in 1918. However the SPGB was still holding meetings here in late 1919 (which were recorded in the minutes as taking place in the Communist Club). Weller gives the date of closure as 1920. Secretary of the Communist Club during its last six months of existence was Harold Edwards. Born in 1900, this young anarchist, a friend of Errico Malatesta, dropped out of political activity in the 1920s to become an antiquarian bookseller.

The premises continued to be used as a meeting place until at least 1922. The building was destroyed by bombing during the 1940-41 Blitz.

Finally the existence of the International Socialist Club during the early 1920s should be noted. Based at 28 East Road, off City Road, this was promoted as the successor to the Communist Club and was the venue of a number of important meetings connected with the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain, including the second day of the Unity (Foundation) Congress.

This is an excerpt from The Communist Club, by Keith Scholey, published by past tense. 

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

Today in London’s radical history: Bethnal Green Chartists in court, for assembling, illegally, armed, 1840.

In 1839-40, the Chartist movement reached its first great peak of strength. Building on decades of agitation for constitutional and political reform, emerging from the ruins of earlier political groupings, but adding in the massive experience of the struggle against the stamp tax on the cheap press, the beginnings of large-scale trade unionism, and the birth of the co-operative movement, Chartism was bringing together millions of working class people to demand a voice in the decision making processes – the vote. Monster rallies took place of thousands, mass agitation was drawing in recruit and spreading ideas in the cities and countryside, a huge petitioning effort was underway to show Parliament the strength of the feeling across the country. To many the pressure for change seemed unstoppable.

But in the wake of the rejection of the first Chartist petition by Parliament in July 1839, the outright refusal of the ruling elites to consider further reform, pressure began to build within Chartism for achieving results by other means. Chartism had inherited from earlier reform movements an inherent division, between those who thought campaigning and mass demonstrations, petitions and ‘moral pressure’ from below could bring change – and others who felt their rulers based their control of society of force, and would not give up even a share of it without being forced themselves. The latter, a substantial minority, were strengthened by the refusal of the state to compromise with polite Chartist petitioning, and also by the rhetoric of Chartist leaders who talked a good fight when they really were not prepared to rise in arms…

After the petition was rejected, plans were set in motion for a Sacred Month, the ‘Grand National Holiday’ of William Benbow revived – a General Strike, in effect. Although agreed and even launched, many Chartist leaders were scared by the implications of leading such a movement, and back-pedalled. The strike fizzled out. In the wake of this the ‘physical force’ Chartists began working in earnest to plan for uprisings to overthrow the government that held them down, going beyond demanding a the vote to conceiving of a working class that could take power itself, in its own interests, dispossessing the classes that lived on their backs. This manifested in the Newport Rising of November 1839, when South Wales Chartists launched a revolt, intended to be part of a wider revolutionary attempt. The revolt was put down and its leaders tried for treason.

But even as the trial of John Frost and the other Newport leaders ended with sentences of death and transportation, in early January 1840, plans for uprising were still being hatched in the north of England. Revolts were planned in Sheffield, Dewsbury and Bradford, but were either foiled by the authorities (often with the help of spies) or failed to gather the support needed. And there were spirits abroad in London, too, willing to arm with the aim of overthrowing the hated government:

“In the metropolis, too, the work of disaffection was apparent. Repeated meetings took place, and schemes of the very worst character were devised; and, on Tuesday the 13th of January, the government received private information that an insurrection was to break out on that night or on the following morning, and that the firing of London in various parts was to be the signal for a general rising throughout the country. Orders were in consequence instantly transmitted to the Horse Guards, for the preparation of a sufficient force to repel any treasonable attack which might be made; and here, as well as at all the barracks in the vicinity of the metropolis, and at the Tower, the whole of the men were put under arms. The metropolitan police-force and the city constables received orders to be ready for immediate action, and the London Fire-engine Establishment — a body of most enterprising and active officers — formed into a fire-police, was placed in readiness to employ their exertions to assist the municipal authorities to suppress the supposed intended conflagration.

            The alarm, which was necessarily spread through the metropolis in consequence of these warlike preparations, however, turned out to be without cause; for although on that night a very large meeting of Chartists took place at the Hall of Trades, in Abbey-street, Bethnal-green, there was no attempt at violence. The conduct of the speakers at this assemblage, indeed, sufficiently showed the extremes to which they desired their followers to go; and a subsequent meeting on the following Thursday proved that they were not quite so harmless as their apologists would have had it supposed. At this convention, held, as it was announced, for the purpose of discussing the existing state of the working-classes throughout the country, upwards of seven hundred persons attended, the majority of whom seemed to be individuals of low rank. At nine o’clock the committee came upon the platform, when Mr. Neesom was called to the chair. After the chairman had detailed the objects for which the meeting had been called, Mr. Spurr, who had on a former occasion taken an active part in the discussions, rose to propose the first resolution. After a few preliminary observations, he contended that the only way to preserve the peace was to be prepared to wage war; and in support of such an assertion he thought it would be well deserving the attention of the meeting to bear in mind the words of a celebrated person, “to put their trust in God, and keep their powder dry,” which was received with loud cheering. On silence being restored, the speaker was about to proceed, but a body of police appearing at the door with drawn sabres, caused the greatest possible confusion. The chairman entreated the meeting not to be disturbed, as it was held on constitutional principles, but in order not to give their enemies an opportunity of succeeding, he hoped there would be no breach of the peace committed. The police then, having blocked up every avenue leading to the room, prevented all present from retiring, and proceeded to search their persons. Daggers, knives, sabres, pistols primed and loaded, and other weapons of an offensive character, were taken from many of them, while upon the floor were discovered others of a like description, evidently thrown away by their owners in order to enable them to escape detection. Twenty-one of the persons who were taken into custody on this occasion unarmed, were detained in the Trades Hall, and eleven others, upon whom pistols and daggers had been found, were removed to safe custody, in order to await their examination before the magistrates. Upon subsequent inquiries taking place, several of them were discharged, while, however, others, with new prisoners subsequently secured and identified as parties to the meeting, were tried and convicted at the Old Bailey Sessions, and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.” (The Newgate Calendar).

Chartist would of course continue to agitate, strike and plot revolution for several more years… But if 1848 has often been seen as the highpoint, the moment when radical change could have come, it is possible that in 1839-40 the moment was in reality even closer. Sadly, general strikes, insurrections, plots for uprisings, armed meetings, failed to achieve a working class seizure of power 176 years ago…

But hey, there’s still time…

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

Today in London radical history: Chartists rally on Kennington Common, 1842.

On 22nd August 1842, 40,000 Chartists defied a ban to rally on Kennington Common & fought police who attempted to clear them.

In 1842, a series of wage reductions in factories around North Staffordshire and Manchester sparked a sudden and widespread movement of strikes and demonstrations. The widespread distress and poverty force on thousands of workers enraged a wide swathe of the north in late July and early August. Strikes brought factories to a halt in Staffordshire and Lancashire, Manchester; mass meetings were held on the moors, and huge processions of workers carrying banners and bludgeons to defend themselves. These became flying pickets, spreading the strike from mill to mill and factory to factory (in some places the movement is known as the plug riots or plug plot as sabotaging workers pulled the plugs from boilers to prevent steam pressure being raised). The movement radiated out like wildfire. On August 12th, a meeting of delegates from 358 factories meeting in Manchester, escalated the strike wave to a new level when the vast majority voted to expand the aims of the strikes beyond the purely economic, to stay out until the Charter, the demand of the Chartist movement for political reform, was achieved. The movement spread into Yorkshire. It seemed for a few days as if the abortive Grand National holiday or Sacred Month that had failed to launch almost exactly three years before in 1839 was beginning for real…

As the government began to panic, they started to move contingents of troops north to repress the growing movement. But although the centre of the battle was up north, and Londoners were not joining the strike, they were far from passive. On August 13th columns of soldiers were marching to Euston station to be shipped off to the industrial battlegrounds; they were booed and hissed by gathering crowds in Regent Street. This kicked off a week of Chartist inspired-disturbances in the capital.

On the 14th, more demonstrations were held to boo further troop movements troops. The following day, the angry crowds became so dense around Euston, soldiers were charge ordered to charge and disperse them.

On the 16th, a mass chartist meeting was held in Stepney in solidarity with plug rioters and other northern comrades. On the 18th another mass Chartist meeting held was held on Islington Green, which developed into a march to Clerkenwell where there was fighting with police who tried to disperse them: “this same assemblage of persons… paraded the town in procession till one in the morning, and listened to speeches of the most atrocious and treasonable character.”

On the 19th, the police had been given “positive orders… not to allow any Mob, as Night approached, to enter London”… As Home Secretary Sir James Graham wrote to the Duke of Wellington: “In London the excitement is increasing; and we have been determined not to allow an adjourned meeting to assemble this evening at Islington, in consequence of the proceedings of… last night.” A large Chartist rally, Clerkenwell again ended in tussles with the cops, despite the police guarding all entrances to Clerkenwell Green and two magistrates walking about with copies of the Riot Act; such great numbers gathered that they were able to break through the police lines and remained in possession of the Green till late, though no meeting was held.

Other meetings at Lincolns Inn Fields, and Great Queen Street, saw similar scenes: speeches were delivered at Lincoln’s Inn Fields at 10.00pm, and when police attacked them, the crowd marched to Covent garden and fought police In Bow Street. Several policemen were beaten before the crowd drifted off.

The weekend was quiet, but on Monday August 22nd, two monster Chartist rallies were called, to meet on Kennington Common in South London, and at Paddington in the west of the city. After several days of disturbances, the authorities were intensely nervous. Troops were moved to Kensington Common from the army barracks at Hounslow, and from Woolwich Barracks to Clapham Common, in readiness for use against demonstrators in the event of more disturbances. “Every wall, public building &c. [was] thickly studded with Proclamations, Cautions &c. emanating from the various authorities, strictly prohibiting public meetings, &c… London may be said to be under police, if not under military law.”

By the Monday afternoon, crowds ‘very numerous, very gay’ assembled on Kennington Common. “The whole appearance of the scene was rather of a gay and festive kind, and quite different from that which the gatherings of the fierce democracy at Islington, Clerkenwell and Stepney exhibited.” Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor turned up but decided not to speak as he was bound over to keep the peace, and legged it (his instinct for self-preservation was always keen). 15 minutes later, as the meeting started, police swarmed onto the Common, some mounted, led by the Commissioner Richard Mayne, scattering the demonstrators off the Common. The crowds remained in strong possession of the surrounding streets, and skirmished with the ‘blue lobsters’ for hours, but the meeting had been halted, without calling in the military. At Paddington, police fought a three-hour battle to clear the area around the railway station; a third impromptu rally at Clerkenwell Green broke out into fierce fighting in which the police were overwhelmed.

However, after the 22nd, the Chartist disturbances in London subsided. A large rally on the 23rd at White Conduit House in Islington passed off peacefully. Most significantly perhaps, was that no strike wave had developed in London inspired by the northern outbreak (though it was said that 600 builders working for Cubitts had struck).

The strike wave in the north continued for several days and erupted into fighting in many places, but the question of whether the aim was political reform or immediate wage rises began to divide the movement in places. The army shot several people during riots in Halifax and Preston, and the arrest of a large crop of Chartist and strike leaders eventually drove the workers back to work.

More on the 1842 General Strike:

Catherine Howe, (2014). “Halifax 1842: A Year of Crisis”. Breviary Stuff, London, UK. 

Mick Jenkins (1980). The General Strike of 1842. London: Lawrence and Wishart. 

And on the London disturbances of August 1842: David Goodway, London Chartism 1838-1848.

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

Today in radical history: as the Chartist Convention ends, 1842, the second great petition is carried to Parliament.

The Chartist movement collected three great petitions for reform of the voting system, to be handed into Parliament. The second was presented to Parliament in April 1842.

To some extent, the petitions represented the efforts of the ‘moral force’ wing of Chartism, the side of he movement that concentrated on lobbying, attempting to persuade the ruling elites that the working classes should be admitted to the party. Trouble was, the ruling classes responded with contempt and force. After the initial rebuffs of the first petition, elements among the Chartists who felt they could only achieve their aims by seizing power came briefly to the fore, But the insurrections and mass strikes planned and even launched in 1839-40 came to nothing or were easily defeated. Hundreds of leading Chartists were jailed and some transported.

In the early 1840s the moral force faction, through the National Charter Association, attempted again to divert the energies away from uprisings to putting pressure on Parliament with another petition. From across the country, the Chartists collected an impressive 3,317,752 signatures for the “National Petition of the Industrious Classes” – more than twice the number who had signed in 1839. And this from an adult population of just under 10 million people.

The final preparations for its petition to Parliament, by the radical MP Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, were made at a convention which gathered on 12 April 1842 at the same venue as its 1839 precedessor.

R. G. Gammage (in his History of the Chartist Movement, 1837-54) described the collecton of the signatures:

“Meanwhile the Executive were directing the attention of the country to the subject of another petition for the Charter, and they submitted a draft of the same for adoption. This second Petition did not, however, stop at the Charter; but, as well as stating a host of grievances, prayed for a repeat of the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland. Here again was a bone of contention. A portion of the Scottish Chartists were opposed to the introduction of any other subject into the Petition than the Charter, and a controversy on the subject took place between Dr. M’Douall and John Duncan, one of the best and ablest of the Scottish Chartists. The majority, however, went with the Executive, and the signing of the Petition proceeded very briskly. A Convention was appointed to sit in London for three weeks, for the purpose of superintending its presentation. It consisted of twenty-five members, whose names were as follows:–Abraham Duncan, E. Stallwood, James Leach, J. R. H. Bairstow, C. Doyle, W. P. Roberts, George White, Feargus O’Connor, N. Powell, R. Lowery, James Moir, S. Bartlett, William Beesley, J. M’Pherson, G. Harrison, P. M. M’Douall, Morgan Williams, R. K. Philp, Ruffy Ridley, W. Woodward , J. Mason, William Thomason, Lawrence Pitkeithly, J. Campbell, and J. Bronterre O’Brien. It will be seen that only six out of the twentyfive were members of the first Convention. This body met in London on the 12th of April, 1842, and received the signatures to the National Petition, which in the aggregate were stated to amount to thirty-three thousand.”

“The Petition was presented to the House of Commons by Mr. Duncombe on the 2nd of May, on which occasion there was a large procession, which left the Convention Room and proceeded through several of the principal thoroughfares to the House of Commons. The authorities had strictly ordered that no vehicles should pass along the thoroughfares, so as in any way to interfere with the procession, which order was rigidly enforced. The concourse of people assembled on the occasion was immense; many strangers being present from the country to witness the proceedings. Duncombe presented the Petition, which was wheeled into the House, and stated the purport of its prayer; he then gave notice of a motion that the petitioners be heard at the bar of the House, through their counsel or agents, in support of the allegations which the Petition contained. When Duncombe brought forward his motion there was the usual quantity of speaking. Macaulay was the great opponent of the motion. He stated that he had no objection to any one point of the Charter but universal suffrage, which he described as amounting to nothing short of the confiscation of the property of the rich. He uttered during his speech the most unfounded and abominable calumnies against the working class. Duncombe’s speech was noble and manly, and elicited the warm esteem of men of all parties; but no amount of good speaking was sufficient to draw forth a response from the House of Commons, and only fifty-one members, including tellers, were found to vote in favour of his motion. That House was too cowardly or too callously indifferent to the condition of the people, to consent to meet the veritable representatives of the suffering poor face to face, and listen to an exposure of their wrongs from those who were best qualified to make it. Duncombe declared that so much was he disgusted with the conduct of the House of Commons, that if the people ever got up another petition of the kind, he would not be a party to their degradation by presenting it…”

The rejection of the second petition effectively left the Chartist movement in the doldrums, nationally. However, it is a mistake to see the movement in that way, historically. While the grand spectacular moments of Chartism may have failed to achieve their stated aim, the value of the movement was the part it played in the building of a sense of class interest, in the cultural and social life that ran parallel and reinforced the political activity, the self-education and… The grassroots of Chartism was a vital stage in the evolution of a self-created class identity and awareness. These developments left long legacies in the working class, and particularly among the radicals, which outlasted the movement’s short history, and left hollow the mockery of the parliamentarians who met the Chartist petitions with derision.

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

Today in London’s radical history: sacred socialist James Pierpoint Greaves dies, 1842.

James Pierrepont Greaves, a merchant draper, from Merton, became convinced that he had a spiritual mission in life to share his commitment to the love of God with others. In 1818, he joined Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, the Swiss educational reformer, then established at Yverdon, where he taught English. There he met fellow socialist Robert Owen.

He founded a philosophical society in 1836, the “Aesthetic Society”, which met for some time at a house in Burton Street in Camden. His educational experiences gradually led him to his unconventional philosophical views. “As Being is before knowing and doing, I affirm that education can never repair the defects of Birth”. Hence the necessity of “the divine existence being developed and associated with man and woman prior to marriage”. He was a follower of Jacob Boehme and influenced by German transcendentalism. He was also influenced by Thomas Taylor, William Law and the philosophy of neoplatonism. Greaves worked with Charles and Elizabeth Mayo to found the Home and Colonial School Society in Gray’s Inn Road in 1836. This teaching institution was dedicated to Pestalozzi whose educational ideas ignored the idea of rote-learning. The new organization included a model infant school where these ideas could be developed.

Greaves opened a freethinking school on Ham Common, southwest of London, July 1838. Discovering that Bronson Alcott had already had a similar school in Boston, USA. Greaves was sufficiently impressed to open a correspondence with Alcott and to name his school fafter him. Greaves had adopted the ‘vegetable diet’ in 1817; the school used it from the outset.

In 1841 the school was re-invented as ‘A Concordium, or Industry Harmony College’, still in Alcott House. The earliest confirmed use of ‘vegetarian’ was in the April 1842 issue of their new journal, and used in a way which showed that it was already familiar, at least to readers of that journal.
In July 1842, Bronson Alcott arrived from America to stay for four months, and when he left at the end of September he took two members of the Concordium with him to found a short-lived community near Harvard called Fruitlands. He was joined there by his family, including his 10-year-old daughter, Louisa May Alcott (later a famous author) and they continued to follow a wholly plant-food diet.

The Concordium developed into a sort of utopian community, with gardens, a playground, lawns, walkways, arbours and a summerhouse. Possibly influenced by Cabet and other French Utopian socialists, its residents called themselves followers of ‘sacred socialism’, and lived a spartan life of raw veggie food, celibacy, mesmerism and phrenology. Phew! They set up a proto-vegan society-type organisation. It broke up largely because the members objected to a diet of raw vegetables during the winter months, though I’m sure the ban on sex and constant head-examining played its part! Chartist communist John Goodwyn Barmby lived there for a short time. Alex Campbell, an Owenite socialist, left Ham around 1843 to found Concordium 2, at nearby Hampton Wick.
Socialist guru Robert Owen visited Ham three times; it was a convenient distance from London and socialists appreciated it as “salubrious and picturesque”. The river provided a delightful way of travelling, especially if accompanied by a choir. In 1840, with a coach load of followers, Owen delivered a lecture on Ham Common attacking marriage and proposing easy divorce. Even worse, he seemed to be undermining all social order when he also contended that people were not responsible for their actions anymore than a tumbler could be blamed for being filled with dirty water rather than clean. The Home Secretary, alerted to Owen’s notoriety, had sent spies to report on his lecture and in the House of Lords, Bishop Phillpotts of Exeter, who had already attacked Owen in the House, denounced it as a “most horrible and demoralising discourse”.

James Pierrepont Greaves died on 11th March 1842 at Alcott House. The school survived until 1848.

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

Today in London’s radical history: it’s not madness to think the Tories are persecuting you…

Daniel McNaughton (alternatively spelt McNaughtan or M’Naghten) was the son of a Glasgow wood turner, who tried to assassinate Prime minister Robert Peel, but instead killed Peel’s private secretary Edward Drummond. He was acquitted on grounds of insanity, thus leading to the McNaughtan Rules of Madness, which have dominated insanity defenses in the English-speaking world ever since

Traditionally MacNaughtan has been said to have been mad, harbouring a delusion that there was a conspiracy against him,, orchestrated by the Tories, Catholic priests and the help of Jesuits.

However more recent analysis has led some to conclude he was in fact a dedicated political revolutionary who “aimed not merely to murder Sir Robert Peel but to destroy the very foundation of aristocratic government in England” in favour of a more democratic system.

On 20th January 1843, MacNaughtan shot Drummond, coming out of the Prime Minister’s residence, mistaking him for Peel. McNaughtan was arrested by a constable who had witnessed the incident and was taken to BowStreet police station.

Drummond died five days later.

Under interrogation in Bowstreet police station, McNaughtan is aid to have claimed that “the Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this. They followed me to France, into Scotland and all over to England. In fact, they follow me wherever I go… They have accused me of crimes of which I am not guilty; they do everything in their power to harass and persecute me. In fact they wish to murder me.”

At his trial it was argued by the defence lawyer that McNaughtan was insane, and thus not responsible for his ctions, and therefore not guilty. Various experts on insanity discussed ‘homicidal monomania’ and ‘partial delusion’; when prosecution experts agreed with the defence, the case collapsed. McNaughtan was acquitted of murder; and considering insanity, he was forcibly institutionalized for the rest of his life under Criminal Lunatics Act 1800. He was first remanded to Bethlem Royal Hospital for 20 years; and in 1864 he was transferred to Broadmoor Asylum, and he died on 3rd May 1865 at the age of 52.

The establishment and the press protested the verdict. Queen Victoria was displeased to a greater extent and wrote to Sir Robert Peel for a wider interpretation of the verdict.

On 6th March 1843, there was a discussion in the House of Lords, and Lord Chancellor put five questions to a panel of His Majesty’s judges. The five questions were replied on 19th June 1843, and they were construed as McNaughtan’s rules, which have acted as guidelines in criminal cases ever since: “Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to the law.”

However, some have questioned whether McNaughtan’s background and political beliefs indicate that he was rational, and that while the defence may have saved his life, he has been wrongly cast as a nutter ever since…

McNaughtan had known and worked with well-known Glasgow political activist and lecturer, Chartist Abram Duncan. McNaughtan became known as a political radical, eager to debate the points of the charter with anyone in his shop. It became generally known that he hated the Tories, whom his father supported.

By 1837 the Tories had political control of Glasgow. In 1838 McNaughtan’s shop rent was raised from nine to twelve pounds and he became eligible to vote. In the local election of 1839 he voted against the Tories.

McNaughtan’s suspicions about ‘persecution’ may have also reflected the very real activities of the tories, church, police and allied authorities in general to counter the rise of the Chartists. Networks of paid informers and private spies, including soldiers, old-aged pensioners, superintendents and inspectors of factories and mills reported on political meetings; police infiltrated the movement and speakers at Chartist meetings were prosecuted. The Chartist movement was strong in Glasgow and the government concentrated much of its intelligence gathering efforts there. The Church was also heavily involved in denouncing those uppity plebs involved in agitating for reform.

With the backing of the aristocracy, Peel became prime minister for the second time in 1841; with the country was in financial crisis. Peel blatantly acted in the interests of the aristocracy, while ignoring the suffering of the poor, and stepped up the harassment of the Chartists and other agitators by initiating criminal prosecution of their leaders.

McNaughtan’s act has to be seen in the context of the times: not only had radical Chartists atttempted to organise uprisings in 1839-40, but three attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria also took place in 1842. 18-year old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate her, was tried for high treason, but was acquitted on grounds of insanity. The defense portrayed Oxford as a confused imbecile, but the Queen believed him perfectly sane. Many suggested a Chartist conspiracy. On 29 May, John Francis fired a pistol at her, was convicted of high treason and was sentenced to transportation for life. On 3 July, John Bean attempted to shoot the Queen, even though his gun was loaded only with paper and tobacco. Prince Albert encouraged Parliament to pass the Treason Act of 1842 and Bean was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

There seems to have been a concerted effort to portray McNaughtan as a madman, as there was with Oxford. The information that Peel was the intended victim was suppressed. Scotland Yard told Peel that McNaughtan was in touch with other men. Victoria recorded in her diary:

“Had a letter from Sir Robert Peel, with very curious enclosures, relative to MacNaughten who is clearly not in the least mad. A most mischievous paper was found in his lodgings in Glasgow—quite shocking.”

The document was never made public. A second document that was referred to in a letter to the Queen was said to have contained “information… [which] will prove that MacNaghten is a Chartist, that he attended political meeting sat Glasgow and that he has taken a violent part in politics.”

The claim of insanity was based on the fact that he killed the wrong man and that he thought he was being persecuted by the Tories. But McNaughtan’s mistake was understandable – Peel and Drummond looked similar, traveled together, and there were few public images available for everyone to know what Peel looked like. And what was not dealt with in court is whether or not McNaughtan was in fact being persecuted by the Tories, who had the motive and means to do so. Half the people in the UK today could reasonably claim that the Tories are persecuting them – because the bastards ARE persecuting them.

Some interesting research can be found at:

http://clanmacnaughton.net/docs_articles/Daniel_1b%20rev.%20website.pdf

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

Today in London’s radical history: a meeting celebrates the latest French Revolution, 1848

The February revolution in France sparked a wave of uprisings, revolts, and mass movements all over Europe – some democratic, some nationalist, some briefly successful, some doomed…

Although England saw no uprisings, enthusiasm gripped radicals here, raised with a tremendous respect for the first great French Revolution of 1789… 1848 also saw a revival of the Chartist movement, partly no doubt inspired by the wave of possibilities sweeping the continent.

On the 2nd of March 1848 a tremendous gathering took place at the Circus of the National Baths, Lambeth. Thousands attended; the place was so densely crowded that the Committee could only with great difficulty make their way to the platform. Chartist leaders Fergus O’Connor, Ernest Jones, George Julian Harney, among other speakers, addressed the meeting at great length. A resolution was adopted protesting against any English governmental interference with the French Republic. An address to the French people was read and carried, and Messrs. Jones, McGrath, and Harney were appointed as a deputation, to proceed to Paris and present the same to the Provisional Government.

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

 

Today in London’s radical past: Chartists rally on Blackheath, 1846.

On 28th February 1846, a Chartist mass meeting, attended by around 700 people, was chaired by Mr Ellis, “an opulent tradesman of Deptford”, in the open air on Blackheath, then on the edge of southeast London.

A Chartist organisation was first formed in Greenwich in the 1830s. In the 1840s mass rallies on Blackheath were addressed by Fergus O’Connor and in the 1850s Chartist activities in the area were regularly reported in Deptford man George Harney’s Red Republican. In July 1842, Chartists held mass rallies on the heath, which 1000s attended.

Deptford was a very active centre of Chartism, and had been a radical centre for many years in fact. Partly this was fuelled by the large numbers of poor folk who lived here, and the high number of workers on the docks and in the shipyards, often venues of unionization and class struggles. There was a Chartist Hall in Union Street, now probably part of Creek Road… Chartists in Greenwich formed the Greenwich Workingmen’s Association in 1836. When Bronterre O’Brien came to open a Chartist Hall in Church Fields, Greenwich, the event suffered police interference but at last come to rest in the Globe Tavern.

Deptford Chartists started meeting in May 1841 and in the summer of that year they met together with the Greenwich group.

In 1847 Samuel Kydd, a shoemaker and speaker for O’Connor’s Chartist Land Company, appeared on the hustings at Greenwich as a Chartist candidate.

After some activity, in 1848, the Wat Tyler Brigade of the Chartist Movement again became active in Greenwich. Their ranks included a police informer called George Davis (he wasn’t innocent, ok?), whose evidence helped to convict black activist William Cuffay, who with others was nicked in August 1848, accused of plotting a Chartist uprising. Cuffay was transported to Tasmania.

Leading Chartist George Harney was born in Deptford in 181, the son of a sailor. Harney edited many Chartist Publications including The Red Republican in which the first English translation of The Communist Manifesto was published.

On 15th March 1848, Greenwich & Deptford Chartists held another mass rally on Blackheath: “No sooner did the placards announcing the meeting make their appearance, than the minions in power set to work to destroy the meeting if possible. Hundreds of special constables were sworn in, and the whole of the police from the neighbouring stations were ordered to attend on the day of the meeting likewise the mounted police from London.” Although the magistrates tried every means of intimidation, and the rain poured in torrents during the time of meeting, the people stood firm, and pledged themselves to stand by the Charter.

By 1850 the Chartists were meeting in the Earl Grey pub in Straitsmouth, Greenwich, on Wednesdays. This pub is now gone. Their secretary was A Cooper, a bookseller of Trafalgar Road, Greenwich and their treasurer A Floyd, a baker of Church Street, Deptford. The Greenwich delegate to the Chartist convention of 1851 was GWM Reynolds.

The Greenwich Chartists formed a joint organisation with the Irish Confederated Democrats.

Blackheath of course had many radical associations, especially to those aspiring for a greater say for working people in the affairs of the nation (or aspiring to even more… working class political power…) It was the host to the mass camp of the revolting peasants in 1381, where on June 13th that year, radical preacher John Ball preached to the assembled 1000s; “When Adam delved & Eve span, Where was then the gentleman?” Probably the earliest recorded egalitarian speech in English history.

In 1450: Jack Cade camps here with 1000s of Kentish rebel followers. From here they marched to attack the City of London.

In 1497, 1000s of Cornish rebels, incensed about a new tax brought in to pay for king Henry VII’s war on Scotland, marched on London, arriving at Blackheath on June 16th. They were defeated by the King’s army in a bloody battle (between Deptford Bridge & the heath). 200 are killed, the leaders including An Gof & Flamank, were executed. Many of the dead were buried on or around the heath.

In later centuries, Blackheath was defended from development by radical campaigners; and became a popular place for Suffragette open-air rallies. And as recently as August 2009, Climate Camp took over the heath for a week…

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