Today in London striking history, 1834: huge London tailors strike begins

As we’ve seen in previous posts, the tailors working in London had a long tradition of organisation and struggle in their own interests.

The ‘Knights of the Needle’ had, by the 1820s, an organisation that could be fairly described as ‘all but a military system’. But it was weak due to its division into two classes, called Flints and Dungs – “the Flints have upwards of thirty houses of call, and the Dungs about nine or ten; the Flints work by day, the Dungs by day or piece. Great animosity formerly existed between them, the Dungs generally working for less wages, but of late years there has not been much difference in the wages… and at some of the latest strikes both parties have usually made common cause.” (Francis Place)

In 1824 Place, himself a tailor of long-standing, estimated a proportion of one ‘Dung’ to three ‘Flints’; but the ‘Dungs’ ‘work a great many hours, and their families assist them.’ The upsurge in tailors’ union activity, after the repeal of the Combination Acts, led to the founding of a Grand National Union of Tailors in November 1832. It was a general union, containing skilled & unskilled tailors and tailoresses. It affiliated to Robert Owen’s Grand National Consolidated Trade Union.

By the early 1830s the tide of the cheap and ready-made trade could be held back no longer. In 1834 the ‘Knights’ were finally degraded only after a tremendous conflict, when 20,000 were said to be on strike under the slogan of ‘equalisation’. But the 1834 strike was unsuccessful, which led to the collapse of the Union and reductions in wages.

The following account is a (slightly edited) article derived from the reports of Abel Hall, a spy sent into the Tailors union by John Stafford, Chief Clerk and magistrate at Bow Street Police Station. Stafford had a long history of controlling spies targeting radicals – he had been the man behind sending John Castle to infiltrate the Spenceans planning the Spa Fields demonstration/revolt, and handling George Edwards, who had orchestrated and blown the Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820. Abel Hall had been a radical around the Cato Street Conspiracy, but was either always a spy or turned informer under questioning, becoming another of Stafford’s stooges spying on the radical milieu in the 1820s, at the Rotunda, as well as on the National Union of the Working Classes, and into the 1830s.
Just as in the 1830s, trade unionists were targeted by intelligence gatherers on behalf of the authorities, using the same methods as political groups – often by the same officers – more recent spycops of the Special Demonstration Squad and National Public Order Intelligence Unit have also targeted trade unionists were targeted using the same methods. [for instance, Mark Jenner, Peter Francis and Carlo Neri among others, all spied on trade unionists and left and campaigning groups].

For space reasons we have not included all the authors’ notes, but they can be read in the original article,  here

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THE LONDON TAILORS’ STRIKE OF 1834 AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE GRAND NATIONAL CONSOLIDATED TRADES’ UNION:
A POLICE SPY’S REPORT

by T. M. Parssinen and I. J. Prothero

The tailoring trade was typical of London industry in being unmechanised, organised mainly in small businesses, and characterised by homework. By the end of the eighteenth century there were a number of large employers in the West End producing high-quality, bespoke garments, but even these tended not to have a permanent labour force. Loss of working time was consequently a problem for tailors, both in waiting for work and travelling to get it, and in the seasonal character of the trade, with twice as much work from April to June as from August to October. Even in a prosperous year, a tailor could be out of work for five months. To meet these problems some public houses early in the eighteenth century became “houses of call”, where tailors who wanted work registered their names and waited, and masters applied when they needed men.

The demand for labour in the brisk period of the year kept up earnings and tailors were able to afford benefit clubs. These and the houses of call developed into trade unions. The seasonal nature of the work strengthened the unions’ position and put a premium on unified action. The societies could, and did, make high wage demands in April and then collect funds from their members for relief payments to be made during the later period of under-employment. Unemployment relief was very unusual among London trades, who on the whole tended to rely on “tramping” [wandering the country in search of work, relying on local tailors’ meeting places, often in known pubs], and is a measure of the tailors’ strength. Moreover, many of the top employers, in Westminster, were favourable to the men’s organisation, and granted requests for wage rises to keep a monopoly of the best men.

The shortage of labour created by the wars with France from 1793 further raised the tailors’ wages, to a peak in 1813 of 36/- per week for six twelve-hour days. They enforced the twelve-hour day to share out work. And so by the end of the wars the tailors were in a very strong position, with about twenty-five houses of call that had monopolies of the best workmen; for if any man was complained about three times by masters, he was excluded from the house. But each wartime rise was gained in the face of growing opposition from some masters, especially small ones, and so from the 1790’s the tailors’ organisation grew more secret and military, controlled by the “Town”, the powerful secret executive of five. The tailors had the strongest of all the London combinations, and it took the masters thirty years to break it down.

However, troubles developed even during this prosperity. The men’s insistence on a high standard of work and the heavy fines led to exclusion and bitterness, and the appearance from 1793 of an important number of excluded men, called “dungs” as opposed to the superior “flints”. The former were less skilled, often worked at lower rates and so undercut flints, and above all were often paid by the piece instead of by the day. Under piece-work it was harder to control the rate of work, and the result was often over-work, with the consequent shortage of work for others. The dungs developed some organisation of their own, and the demand for labour during the wars prevented this schism from being too serious, but this changed with the depression at the end of the wars. Thereafter all organisation among the dungs collapsed and they undercut the flints. The latter maintained the 1813 day-rate, but employment and therefore actual earnings were declining.

A more serious threat that developed during the war was the rapid increase in the number of units of production to meet the growing demand. This mainly took the form of small “chambermasters” working at home, but some new large businesses arose as a result of government contracts, and towards the end of the war they began to employ cheaper female labour, a practice long prevented by the men and bitterly resented now. These capitalist developments continued after the war, to the detriment of the men. Firms with contracts for government, army and police work employed cheap female and child labour. By the early 1820’s much of the trade was in the hands of “slop-shops”and “show-shops”, selling inferior and, in the case of the former, readymade articles. If they employed labour directly, it was cheap labour; and as the owners were often not tailors, they employed foremen, who sometimes ruled in a tyrannical way. But usually they did not have large premises and so gave orders to small masters, and because they could place orders they enforced competitive tendering.

The small masters or “sweaters” had to undercut one another. Many of them were chambermasters, working at home and employing no-one but their families. Many others employed women and children, paying them from 3/- to 8/- per week, often for a working day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. And many others acted as middlemen and gave work to journeymen to be done at their own homes at low rates. Homework meant losing more time in travel and bearing the cost of firing for irons, candlelight and sewing trimmings, which in a proper workshop were borne by the employer. Such workmen might earn 3/6d to 4/- in a day, but sometimes 2/- or even 1/- for fourteen to sixteen hours’ labour. They were forced to use their wives’ and children’s labour to help them. Low earnings led workmen to compensate by overwork, which even further increased the competition. These journeymen and chambermasters lived in a state of unrelieved poverty, in which long periods without work alternated with periods of intensive work night and day.

The cheaper, ready-to-wear sector grew rapidly in relation to the bespoke side, and the flints inevitably suffered from competition and loss of work. Periods of unemployment reduced earnings, and even though the old day-rate of 6d per hour remained, this was in fact often only 5d through various devices. The depression of 1826 severely drained the flints’ unemployment funds. A strike in 1827 against female labour was beaten, the first that the tailors had lost in at least sixty years. The power of the flints was broken in the late 1820’s by schism, a further drain on funds, and the growth of show-shops, slop-shops and sweaters. Another unsuccessful strike in 1830 emphasised their loss of power.

In the early 1830’s the tailors’ weakness and the need for regrouping were obvious. Their chance seemed to come with the economic recovery of 1833. Efforts at union began at least as early as September, and in November the Grand Lodge of Operative Tailors of London was founded. The problems of the trade and the remedies were clear enough. Because of the weakness created by the hostility between flints and dungs, and even among the flints themselves, because of preference given to more senior members in obtaining work, all tailors must be united in one unexclusive association. Uniformity was impossible when there was so much home work, and so all work would have to be done on employers’ premises. This would also prevent poor women from doing work cheaply at their homes. Because some tailors had no work while others were working excessively, hours must be limited in order to share work and reduce unemployment. Piece-work led to overwork and lack of uniformity, so should be abolished. Distress should be reduced by raising the day-rate. These were the aims of the new union.

The reduction of hours would mean that earnings would actually be reduced for the top men, those paid at the full rate and working a full twelve-hour day. But the aim of the union was equalisation, and the need to end the great fluctuations in employment seemed far more important than possible maximum earnings. To outsiders, the insistence on day-work instead of piece-work seemed to mean that men would be paid the same however hard they worked. But in most of the old trades there was a well-established traditional rate of work, a “stint” that was well understood, and there was a stigma attached to slacking. The London tailors had their “Log”, the amount of work a skilled man could manage, so day-work did not mean a slower pace but the avoidance of over-work. Some older and inferior workmen would not be able to keep up with the Log, and the union accepted that they should be paid at a lower day-rate provided that a union committee gave its approval in each case.

The events of 1834 mark an important stage in the history and decline of the trade, and it must be emphasised that the character, objectives and actions of the union are wholly explicable in terms of the tailors’ experiences and past history, and need not be attributed to outside influences.

The significance of the strike was far wider than the tailoring trade. The tailors had been instrumental in organising the Consolidated Trades’ Union, which they had conceived as an agency for inter-union aid. Tailors’ delegates had attended the London Co-operative and Trade Union Congress in October 1833. The London Grand Lodge of Tailors called the meeting of delegates from town and country that met from 13 to 19 February and founded the Consolidated Union. Of the thirty delegates, five were London tailors, and one of them, MacDonald, was in the chair. The tailors’ committee submitted preliminary propositions, resolutions based on them, and regulations for the union, all of which were unanimously adopted. The tailor John Browne was made grand secretary of the new union. The bulk of the union’s membership came from London, and the two largest member-groups were the London tailors and cordwainers [shoemakers – another group of workers with a long tradition of fighting their bosses, and often known like tailors, for radical politics]. Tailors like George Petrie were active missionaries for the union, and of the twenty-eight towns that had lodges, eight had lodges of tailors and six of cordwainers.

The Consolidated Union must be related to several factors. First, 1834 was a year of economic recovery, when the position of labour was stronger and hopes of wage-rises were well-founded. Efforts to raise wages in good times were typical of the older artisan trades, from whom its membership was largely drawn. Second, joint action and help among such trades was traditional enough. Third, such action was always increased when a large or spectacular dispute arose and evoked widespread feelings of solidarity; in this case the Derby silk-weavers’ dispute, with the resultant enthusiasm and relief committees, provided an emotional focus for the union. Fourth, ideas of general union were particularly widespread in the early 1830s; and there were examples in the National Association for the Protection of Labour of 1830, and the Operative Builders’ Union of 1833, both of which had a federal structure that the GNCTU copied. Fifth, many of the leaders of the union came from the London United Trades’ Association, a group of producers’ co-operatives in which the tailors had been involved. This contribution helped strengthen the idea of co-operative production. Sixth, the union’s main support in London came from those declining and militant trades of tailors, shoemakers and silk-weavers. The four chief aims of the union are not surprising: mutual support over strikes; benefit payments (sick and superannuation); employment of out-of work members; and co-operative production during strikes.

The union grew rapidly after February. At the end of March the sentence on the six Dorchester labourers threatened the whole trade union movement; but its result was to reinforce trade-union solidarity,

Large demonstration in Islington to call for quashing of sentence on transported Dorchester labourers, April 1834

strengthen the Consolidated Union, and bring it radical support. At the head was the five-member Executive, clearly a copy of the “Town” of the London tailors. Below this were to be the District Committees composed of delegates from all the trades in an area belonging to the union. But in fact only two were formed, at London and Birmingham. Yet from the start the Executive was in a weak position, with the union still immature and the opposition strong from both the public and the employers. The Executive proved unequal to their task, even failed to keep records properly, and virtually abdicated leadership of the whole union to the London District Central Committee. This Committee, with sixty-three delegates from twenty-one trades, including builders’ representatives, was the active body. It organised the great demonstration on 21 April against the Dorchester labourers’ conviction, with help even from country delegates. The Committee was much more familiar and acceptable to the London trades than was the Executive.

The Executive, as well as others, felt a great respect for Robert Owen, a man who had given years and a fortune to efforts to end poverty, had devoted himself to industrial reorganisation in 1833, and in 1834 had supported the GNCTU and come out against the Dorchester labourers’ conviction. By March Browne was in correspondence with him. Owen’s “Institution of the Industrious Classes” in Charlotte Street was always available for use by trade unionists. His lectures were always well-attended, and he identified himself with industrial movements in the North. Moreover, a certain William Neal, an Owenite, helped Browne with letters, accounts, and circulars of the tailors’ union. At the tailors’ request, Neal drew up the documents for the February Congress, with the proviso that they should be approved by Owen, and thereafter wrote the initiation ceremony, general laws, petitions and letters of the Consolidated Union. The various addresses of the Executive suggest Owenite influence in their general tone, plans to open a general bank for the working classes, abolish money and replace great employers by Boards of Labour and Committees of Industry, and their offer to negotiate with the governments of Europe and America in order to establish a terrestrial paradise.

A further characteristic of the Consolidated and other unions was their reliance on Owenite periodicals, the fate of the earlier co-operative movement as well. Late in 1833 the tailors were encouraged and supported by the Man, run by the Owenites Lee and Petrie, and Crisis, originally owned by Owen and now edited by his associate James Smith. To these was added the Pioneer, edited by the Owenite James Morrison, which became the official organ of the Consolidated Union. Morrison and Smith strongly supported the trade-union movement of 1833-34, especially the moves to general union. They were especially aroused by Derby into hostility to employers and government, and advocacy of very far-reaching social changes, in which trade unions were to be the instruments. These “syndicalist” opinions steadily divided them from Owen, and this growing antipathy has been emphasised by most historians who have written about the Consolidated Union.

Robert Owen

While Morrison and Smith propounded an increasingly violent theory of class conflict, and sought to turn the union into the instrument whereby the “producers” would win a general strike against the “non-producers”, Owen refused to abandon his strategy of class reconciliation and non-violence. Yet at the same time, Morrison and Smith’s theories also tended to divide them from trade-union opinion. Few historians have emphasised this even more fundamental split between the Owenite spokesmen and the rank-and-file members. However penetrating the social analyses of Smith and Morrison, however acute their suggestions and blueprints for total social reorganisation, for most trade unionists they were as irrelevant as the utterances of the Executive. While a few leaders saw the union as an agency of social transformation, the ordinary members saw it as a way to broaden their financial base, and thus strengthen their position in individual strikes to improve wages and working conditions.

When the tailors went out on strike they expected, and were promised, financial support from the London Central Committee of the union. They themselves had been among the heaviest contributors to the Derby men.1 Instead they received denunciations from their supposed champions, who saw the tailors’ strike as an irresponsible deviation from their far-reaching plans for the union. Owen specifically advised against using the union as a support for local strikes:
“The attention of the unionists ought now to be withdrawn from all their little petty proceedings about strikes for wages, or, in plain English, at what weekly sum in money, continually varying in value, they shall sell themselves, their birthright, and their happiness, and the birthright and happiness of their posterity, to their masters and the non-producers”.

Smith and Morrison claimed that even if the tailors won, it would only make clothes more expensive and so improve their position unjustly at the expense of their brother unionists. They had in fact totally misunderstood the objectives of the strike, and persisted in seeing it solely as an attempt at higher wages, not realising that the claims resulted from clear understanding of developments in the trade and were really meant to bring about industrial reform. This very comprehensive attempt to remove the distress and abuses of the trade was regarded by Smith as destructive, while Morrison called it “unsocial”. Both condemned “partial strikes”, and Morrison did not believe that the tailors could win. He saw the only solution in a general strike. Even the Executive condemned individual strikes, claiming erroneously that “this association has not been formed to contend with the master producers of wealth and knowledge for some paltry advance in the artificial money-price in exchange for their labour, health, liberty, natural enjoyment, and life”.

In great contrast was the unequivocal support given the tailors by the leading radical periodicals, the True Sun and the Poor Man’s Guardian. They saw trade unions as organisations to defend the poor, and possible bases of support for radicalism. As such, they accepted them as they were, unlike Smith and Morrison, who wished to change them in accordance with their social theories. The real press champions of trade unionism in 1834 were the daily evening True Sun and Sunday Weekly True Sun, not the Crisis or Pioneer.

Abel Hall had ceased sending regular reports to John Stafford in October 1833, when political agitation waned. But in February 1834 Stafford asked him to resume his duties. Acting on these instructions, Hall joined the tailors’ union at No 2 Branch Lodge. The initiation ceremony of the tailors’ union combined ritual forms similar to those used by freemasons with elements of economic analysis and propaganda. The total strength of the London tailors’ union was variously estimated at 9-13,000. By May there were thirty-one lodges, most of which were located in the West End, where the better-paid men worked in bespoke shops. The branch lodges met every Thursday. Each had a president, vice-president, secretary and delegate. The last attended the weekly meeting of the Grand Committee and reported the proceedings to his branch lodge. Every Wednesday was the general meeting of all members, in Grand Lodge. Every Monday was a special meeting of the Grand Lodge for the initiation of new members.

Hall sent several reports in March. Further help for the striking Derby silk-weavers was agreed on, and £200 was sent to help them begin co-operative production. Meanwhile the efforts to strengthen the tailors’ organisation did not progress well. Hall reported: “Our Funds are very ‘Low’ and many are dissatisfied by the calls for so much subscription.” The tailors’ committee took the lead in encouraging the London Central Committee to call a public meeting on 24 March at Owen’s Institution about the Dorchester labourers. The main speakers were Owen and radicals like the parson Arthur Wade, the journalist William Carpenter, John Savage, and also some unionists like Duffey, James Morrison, and the coopers’ leader, Abraham. Twelve thousand packed in and agreed to send a petition to both Houses of Parliament, requesting a select committee of inquiry into the Consolidated Trades’ Union, and an address to the King, praying for mercy for the six Dorchester labourers. Some speakers, including Morrison and Abraham, called for simultaneous meetings, a general strike, and the convening of an anti-parliament. However, nothing came of these plans, and the tailors began to plan their own strike.

In spite of the weakness of the union and the depletion of their funds, the tailors hastily drafted a list of demands for presentation to their masters in April, the beginning of the brisk period in the trade. While Hall claims that the tailors had the full support of the London Central Committee for their strike such a categorical promise seems unlikely. When the strike began, the Consolidated Union was slow to help, while the cordwainers complained bitterly that it had been decided that they would strike first, and the tailors had pre-empted them. During the first two weeks of April the tailors, like unionists in other London trades, were still engaged in raising relief funds for the Derby strikers and petitioning the King on behalf of the Dorchester labourers, as well as planning their own strike. By the end of the month, the rank-and-file were clearly anxious for the strike to begin, whilst the leaders were trying to restrain them.

The London Central Committee seems to have agreed to support the tailors when the strike began with a fund raised by loans from other trade unionists in the Metropolis. In addition, the tailors tried to strengthen themselves during the strike by co-operative production of garments for sale by the union itself. This was a familiar tactic among the London trades, as the sale of goods lessened the drain on funds. But in the early 1830’s the tailors had also found that cooperative production was a partial solution to the problem of unemployment. There had been several tailors’ co-operative societies in these years that employed some of their members, and two had flourished as contributors to Robert Owen’s National Equitable Labour Exchange.

On 25 April, the tailors’ union issued a circular to all masters which set forth their demands. The True Sun of 4 June stated that 1,000 men were able to return to work when their employers agreed to the men’s demands, and that another 1,000 left London to seek work in the country. But most master tailors were adamant. On 29 April, they met at Willis’ Rooms, where they voted to reject the unionists’ demands and to recruit strike-breakers. At the tailors’ houses of call, the strikers were obliged to attend regular “call times” at intervals from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. This was to prevent any men from doing work secretly, as absentees were fined for non-attendance.

Once the strike began, the tailors were denounced by the entire press, with the exception of a few radical journals. The tailors’ action was inevitably seen as part of a general combination, and their leading part in the founding of the Consolidated Trades’ Union underscored this charge. The tailors were accused of tyranny and violence towards non-members and non-strikers, and of seeking equal wages for all, regardless of individual skill. It was alleged that their demands, if conceded, would raise the price of clothing enormously. The Times was particularly hostile to unions in general, and to the tailors especially. It rejoiced in the defeat of the Derby men, and supported the master tailors, urging them to defeat the strike by importing German workers. Brougham, the Lord Chancellor, also castigated unionists at the outset of the tailors’ strike. Rowland Detrosier, the London radical, responded to the tailors’ enemies, and the union issued “An Appeal to the Public on Behalf of the Journeymen Tailors of the Metropolis”, published in the True Sun of 12 May, which attempted to answer its opponents’ charges.

By the end of the first week of the strike, the tailors had acquired premises. They soon opened business there to sell directly to the public, and by the next week several hundred tailors were said to be employed in co-operative production. However, according to some newspaper reports, strike pay on 4 May for the second week was only 7/6d or 8/- instead of 10/-, which produced dissatisfaction. Some tailors went back to work in the City, although the West End remained solid. Perhaps because of this shortage of funds, on 5 May the Executive of the Consolidated Union ordered a levy of l/6d on all of its members to support the striking tailors. This was not, however, well supported.

Meanwhile Hall’s branch lodge moved from the Roebuck to the larger White Magpie, where the delegate was now Freestone instead of Taylor. By the end of the second week of May, the tailors were very much on the defensive. At a meeting of the union at Owen’s Institution they passed resolutions which were meant to answer the continuing attacks on them in the press. The tailors denied that the price of clothes would be much affected if their demands were met, and they were at pains to stress that the 6/- day-rate was only meant to apply to fully competent men; aged and inferior workmen would receive less. Contrary to the strikers’ expectations there was no pay at all for the third week of the strike, beginning 12 May. On Tuesday 13 May Hall’s branch lodge split, with one group, including Hall, joining a branch lodge at the Bell in Smithfield while the other group stayed at the Magpie.

The striking tailors agreed to negotiate with the masters beginning 14 May, presumably because of the weak and deteriorating condition of the union. A stumbling-block was that the masters preferred piecework and felt that under day-work they would not get a satisfactory rate of work. The union attempted to counter this in a circular issued on 16 May, in which they asserted that the union would enforce a fixed rate of work. Meanwhile these negotiations dragged on. The tailors continued to hope for financial support, but received only a pittance from the Central Committee. By 20 May, about a thousand tailors had seceded from the union and gone back to work on the masters’ terms. To add to their miseries, the tailors discovered that their funds had been embezzled, and their co-operative workshop robbed. By the end of the third week of May, the tailors apparently reached an agreement in their negotiations with the masters to return to work on the old terms on Monday 26 May. However, the Masters’ Committee seized the opportunity to crush the tailors’ union. On 27 May they met and voted by 532 to 8 to refuse to re-employ the men until they had signed the “document”, abjuring trade-union membership forever. This was unacceptable to many men. No doubt recourse to the document prolonged the strike, and introduced a new element into it. The document alarmed other trades, for it portended an assault on trade unionism generally. Hence the meetings of the London Central Committee at the Rotunda, beginning on 26 May, and a furious denunciation of the document by the Executive, printed in the Weekly True Sun on 25 May: “Let no man or woman from one end of the Kingdom to the other, sign this document.” In this new crisis, the idea of the general strike reappeared.

From the last week of May to 2 June, the tailors who remained on strike waited and hoped for relief from the Consolidated Union. On 2 June the Central Committee recommended that all trade union members in work contribute one day’s wages per week, and that all tailors in work contribute 1/- per day to the strikers. But this was not widely honoured, and the financial situation of the union continued to deteriorate. By 4 June only 5,000 of the original 9,000 tailors still remained out on strike. At a meeting on 9 June of all the London trades, Owen and the Executive of the Consolidated Union tried to rally support for the tailors, whose strike was now critical in the face of the militant anti-unionism taking hold among the masters in other trades. But this was too little, too late. Most of the original strikers had gone back to work, and those who remained out denounced their leaders for having mismanaged the strike. The strike dragged on, with minimal support from the Consolidated Union. On 22 June, the final blow was struck when the London Builders’ Union refused to assist the tailors, no doubt because the builders were preparing for their own coming struggle. The tailors responded by seceding from the Consolidated Union.

The tailors’ failure and their subsequent withdrawal from the Consolidated Trades’ Union gave it its “mortal wound”. The Operative Cordwainers, the second largest member union, angry with both the tailors and the Executive, withdrew at the end of June to conduct their own unsuccessful strike. The final demise of trade unionism in London came in August and September with the defeat of the builders and the break-up of their union. Although the Consolidated Union lingered on until August 1835, it was no more than a relic. Its power and its promise had been shattered by the tailors’ strike. As the union collapsed, Smith reflected that the tailors’ strike “proved to possess a more dissolving, decomposing virtue than any other chemical ingredient of which the Union is composed”.

After the 1834 strike, the tailoring trade continued to decline, with the spread of piecework, sweating, homework and cheap labour. The tailors played very little part in the trade-union activity of the rest of the decade, though they did play a leading part in Chartism. Some houses of call remained in the West End, and the “honourable” men there earned twice as much as the sweated men. In 1843-44 a final attempt was made to rally the tailors into union, based on the old houses of call. As in 1834 the aims were uniformity of rates, equalisation, and the end of homework. But its impact was limited, and 1843 marked the beginning of a rapid decline in the position of the honourable men in the West End. Though they remained somewhat better off than those further east, all were sinking to the appalling condition revealed by Mayhew and others in 1849-50.

William Cuffay

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One tailor involved in the 1834 tailors’ strike, who was sacked in the aftermath, was William Cuffay, descendant of African slaves, who had been born in St Kitts in the West Indies. Cuffay went on to become an active and leading London Chartist, heavily involved in the preparation for the great Chartist demonstration in April 1848, and then in the plans for an armed uprising that followed. Arrested at a late stage in these plots (again, due to penetration by spies acting for the police), Cuffay was transported to Australia for ‘levying war on the queen’.

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Abel Hall’s reports to his spymaster concerning the 1834 strike follow, reproduced as written, including Hall’s grammatical and spelling errors.

As Prothero and Parssinen comment “The present document is important and very unusual in consisting of a commentary on events at the rank-and-file level. It includes forty three of ninety-one pages of reports made in 1834 by a single police spy that are filed in the Public Record Office, Home Office papers, eighty-one of them in 64/15, six in 52/24, and four in 64/19. The HO 64/15 reports are not only on the tailors but include reports on various radical organisations. From the reports on the tailors we have selected only some which pertain to the strike, and especially to the relationship between the tailors and the Consolidated Trades’ Union. All these but two are from 64/15. The reports are not filed in chronological order, and many are undated, but most can be placed on the basis of internal evidence and the day of the week, which is almost always noted. The author is never given.

Scattered through the Home Office papers in various series, mainly 40, 52 and 64, is a large number of reports for the years 1830-33, forming a continuous series, in the same handwriting and with the same style and type of content. They mostly deal with the National Union of Working Classes, and are a major source for anyone studying that body. They contain a great deal of information, and indicate that the informant was known to and trusted by many of the leading radicals, and was a member of the committee. The reports are perceptive and accurate, and the spy is not an agent provocateur.

Usually the reports are unsigned, and when the name was given it has been erased. There were several spies in the NUWC, including Samuel Dean, Clements and the notorious Popay, who was exposed in 1833. It is often assumed that some of these reports are by Popay. But they cannot all be, as it is known that Popay was not employed at the time of the earlier reports, being appointed a policeman on 3 September 1831. The theory that the reports are not all by the same person is only compatible with the fact that they are in the same handwriting by regarding them not as the originals but as copies all made by the same clerk in the Bow Street Police Station. But this is only speculation, and it is much simpler to accept that they are originals in the informer’s hand, especially as on the back they often bear the name of the recipient, John Stafford, Chief Clerk at the Bow Street office. There is no evidence at all that any of the reports are by Popay, and it was never so alleged at the Select Committee investigation of his case.

There is other evidence to suggest that the reports are all by the same person. All through there is a special familiarity with radical groups in East London. Several times the informant indicates that he is closely acquainted with men, like Thomas Preston, who were members of Arthur Thistlewood’s group. Twice he recalls details of the Cato Street conspiracy, and in one report he says he first got to know Stafford at the time of that affair.3 One of the earliest reports is endorsed on the back “Information of Abel Hall 1£ per week”. In another report the informant says that his name is advertised in the Poor Man’s Guardian with Preston and others to attend a meeting in Islington; the names in the Guardian are Preston and Hall.1

Abel Hall is mentioned several times in reports of informers in Thistlewood’s conspiracy. He was present in the loft at Cato Street the night they assembled, but managed to escape as the soldiers and magistrates closed in. He was soon arrested, along with fourteen others. Stafford interviewed him, and found him disposed to tell all he knew. But Hall was not needed for the trial of Thistlewood and four others, as the prosecution had the testimony of Robert Adams, another conspirator who had a change of heart and was willing to testify against his erstwhile fellow plotters. Hall swore a deposition, outlining his activities on 8 May 1820.2 He, Thomas Preston and three others were later released, and Hall managed to retain the confidence of the London ultra-radicals. He apparently sent regular reports to Stafford throughout the 1820’s, but only a few of these were passed on to the Home Office and survive. Similarly not all his reports in the 1830’s were passed on.

There are reports on the Consolidated Union in 64/15 from two informers. One of these is known to be G. M. Ball, of the Gardeners’ Lodge. The other, from whose reports this document is drawn, is the same as the NUWC spy. The handwriting is the same. He reports on the same groups as before, including the NUWC. He is familiar with Thomas Preston; he is a tailor, as was Hall; and, in one of the reports not included in the document, the informant explains the tailors’ modified initiation procedure. In giving an example of the oath, he uses initials which are probably his own: “The Words ‘In the presence of Almighty God I A— H— Taylor do promise to keep &c’ is substituted as I have before stated.” And so we are confident as to the accuracy of the document, as Abel Hall was a trustworthy reporter.”

I

“Since I last wrote having been desired to attend to the “Trades Union” I found ‘from Neesom who is a Taylor and very active among them as well as from several others who belong to it that in the Taylors Lodges who are the most numerous they are very particular in who they admit in consequence of having discovered that Policemen in disguise and others who are known to be Spies have tried to be “Initiated” into their Lodges and they will not now admit anyone who is not recommended by two “Brothers” who become so after they have been initiated and who know the party to be only of the Trade he professes. [The irony of this note in a report itself written by an informer is both sad and telling.] The Trades Unions have been established for some Months both in London and the Country and have much increased in both by nearly all Trades joining them. There are Carpenters, Bricklayers, Painters, Coopers, Cabinet Makers, Taylors and others in great numbers whose object is to raise a fund to support all Trades who belong to them in a Strike for Wages, to oppose all tyrannical Masters who are insolent to or resist any of their Workmens commands, to form themselves in their separate trade into bodies who will also form their own plans as to not Working for any Master who employs any other but Union Men and to oppose all systems of tyranny. For this purpose they have established Lodges similar to Free Masons and are sworn to maintain their Rights. The Rotunda in Black Friars Road is the principle or Grand Lodge and there also the Delegates from all parts of London and the Country meet.

Monday evening last was and is Weekly the night for Taylors being initiated and I having been much persuaded by Neesom and Dove who proposed me went there w[h]ere there was during the evening at least three thousand Taylors met. On going in there are two persons sitting who take down the name of the person to be admitted and the two who propose him and he is then ordered into a Room adjoining the large theatre which is very closely kept out of view either to wait while others are being made or until about 100 is assembled to be made. 130 was in the number I was among and previous to entering you are given a piece of string to tie your Hat to the upper button hole of your Coat and you are to Blind your eyes with a Handkerchief. At three loud knocks at a door inside which is answered without A Question is asked who it is who is wishing to interrupt our Great Lodge and the Answer is given that 130 good Men and who are without wish to enter to be made Members of their Grand Lodge and we are led Blindfold into the large Theatre where after order is obtained by loud knockings on the Floor the President either reads or rehearses several passages from the Psalms the Creed and the Gospels, all of which are selected as bearing on the Equality of Man and his right to oppose tyranny. Several Verses of a Union Song is then sang by the Brothers previously present and we are addressed as strangers for us to say whether we are willing to solemnly swear on our oaths to keep the Unions Secrets and to maintain them at the risk our lives to which we answer yes, and after a long address is spoken as to the Slavery Working Men have for years endured by the tyranny of Governments of all ages and the Masters employing Workmen by their combining to extract from them and their families their labour and bread we are ordered to kneel down to place our right hand on our naked left breast and our left on a stool before us on which is part of a leaf of the bible, but which we do not see. At this moment by a given motion of the President (which he after we are sworn shows us) all the Brothers present about 1500 loudly clap their hands and stamp their right foot once which is very loud indeed. We are then ordered to untie our handkerchiefs which discovers the Gas nearly extinguished. The President and Vicepresident behind him standing on a table with White Surplices on and Red Sashes round them and each has a Bible in his hand. Just before them is a Black Ground Transparency well light and on which is painted the perfect Skeleton of a Man. The President then takes a Sword in his hand the point of which he directs your attention first to the Skull and then to the heart the Arms, Legs and Body and in a short address goes to prove that when a Man is in work and in full vigour he soon becomes a skeleton by being tyrannized over by his Governors and Masters who employ him who rob him of substance – themselves to live in luxury on his Vitals. Over the head or Skull is inscribed Beware of your latter end, to which he directs your attention by stating that such end will soon by yours if you do not by Uniting prevent it and that if you after you are sworn do anything to injure the Union or be a Traitor to it Death will surely be your reward. There are also 8 Brothers who have naked Swords in their hands and wear red Sashes and several others who carry large Wooden Axes and Battle Axes and who surround this Skeleton and the President with his Sword and Vice with his go round to each person saying and at the same time putting the edge to your neck and taking your left hand in his what are you, the answer is a Taylor, he then says you are willing to swear to protect the Unions to the risk of your life to which you answer I will. The right hand being still on your left breast you then return your left hand to the Paper and being again darkened by the Officers or Tilers who stand close to hear you the President order each to repeat after him the Oath, which is I most solemnly swear that to my life’s end I will protect and act upon and with the Laws and Brothers of the Trades Unions in any what that I will never reveal their Laws or secrets to any one, that I will never write or cause to be written or printed any of their proceedings or secrets, but will do all I can to discover any one who does and to assist in all my power every act they do So help my God. This being done we rise and are told we are now Brothers, that our Monthly Subscriptions would be One Shilling and that as the Union at Derby had been requested by the Masters to sign a Paper to return to their work on grounds derogatory to their principles and had nobly refused it was intended to further assist them by each member giving SI/- as well as getting what they could from non Members. I should state that on entrance to be initiated we pay Seven-pence. We were then told that to know any Member the Universal Sign was by placing the Right hand thumb and finger to the top on the left side of your waistcoat and carry it from thence across the body to the right thigh and if it was not answered by the same signal on the reverse side the Party so asked was no member. That every trade had its own signs to enter their lodges and that ours was on our approaching the door at which the first Tiler stood with a drawn Sword you are to use the right hand Sign and say slowly to him A. On getting to the second you use the same sign and say Z. You then are admitted to the Lodge where an open Bible is laid on the Table on which you are to place your right hand open from thence to your left breast and making an obesiance to the President and Vice you take your seat. He stated also that near 10,000 were already Members of our Union the Grand Lodge of which would meet on Wednesday night at Eight O’Clock and that Branch Lodges were held at most of the Houses of Call at the West End of Town and at the Sun in London in London Wall, the Kings Head in St. Pauls Chain, the Ship in Lime St. and at the Three Lords in the Minories for the City who all corresponded and acted with the Grand Lodge and after two more Union verses of a Song was sung to the tune of God save the King and the President had said The Grace of our Lord &c he stated that the Lodge was dissolved and we separated at Twelve O’Clock.

On Wednesday evening at 8 O’Clock I again attended and having passed the above signs entered the large theatre which at that time had about 1200 Taylors in it. The Floor was not in anyway decorated as above, but there was a table at which the Secretary to deliver Cards and receive Monies for them and Subscriptions. About | past Eight the President who is a Taylor named Woodford, the Vice and Brown the Warden of the Lodge having we proceeded to business the first of which was to place Woodford on the table with his Surplice and Sash has had al the Vice and to read the Minutes of the last Meeting which was done by Gutheridge who has acted as Secretary for sometime, but has resigned and from which it appears that a dispute having arisen sometime ago between him – Gutheridge, Duffey and Petrie it was referred to the General Committee who met on Friday night last to decide what steps to recommend. The Committee of all Trades are chosen from the body of the Union in their own Lodges and meet privately. Ours met on that night at the Blue Posts a house of call for Taylors in Brewer St. Golden Square and there decided that as Duffey had made charges against Gutheridge he should be suspended for three Months, but in Six weeks if he made an Apology he should be reinstated. Duffey, Gutherie and Petrie are the same persons who caused much confusion in the National Union, and this decision caused a very great confusion all the night by each of their partys proposing and reproposing Resolutions condemning each, so much so that no business was done, but I find that on Monday next Six Delegates from our trade upwards of Nine Thousand of whom belong to us are to go through England to Initiate members and Concentrate our Union and that other trades are doing the same. I find also that at several Shops at the West End the Men have struck to their Masters who would either “insult or not agree to our Union Plans” to regulate the work and the Men have thrown themselves on the Protection of the Union who have received them. The Confusion existed up to one O’Clock when the Lodge was dissolved, to meet again next Monday and Wednesday nights. I tried to get a copy of our Private Laws and the Laws of the Trades Unions generally, but the Secretary had none by him they being all sold and as I do not wish to be seen too forward I did not Press my wanting it, but will get them and send them as soon as possible. During the night 2812 Taylors met here and we separated at half past One. Thursday Feby. 27th. 1834.

II

On Wednesday evening I attended the Grand Lodge of the Taylor Trades Union at the Rotunda, at which about 1200 Taylors met. After the usual ceremony of opening the Lodge had been gone through George [sic; John] Brown the Grand Secretary read the minutes of the last Meeting which were confirmed. He then stated that as Lord Melbourne had not written an Answer to the Deputation who waited on him on last Sunday as he had promised to do he had been ordered to write his Lordship to know what the King had done as to the Six Convicts and that he had that day received a letter from Lord Howick which he read and which stated that his Majesty had not yet given any orders on the subject, at which a great deal of disapprobation was expressed, but he stated that the Central Committee of all the trades Unions was then sitting to determine on what we should next do in their case and that that would be made known to us at our Branch Lodges. Six of our Committee attended with Brown and stated that the Central Committee of all the Trades in London had agreed that our trade should from being the largest in number Strike First and that their Funds should assist us if we wanted them. The Plan is that as at this time of year our trade is mostly called into action we should strike about the middle of this Month – April of which notice is to be given to all the Branch Lodges. That all our Work is to be day work, that no man is to work more than 10 Hours p r day for which he is to be paid 8d pr hour, that from the first Monday in April to the last Saturday in July he is to be at his work from 7 in the Morning to 6 in the evening and the remaining 8 Months in the year from 8 to 5 leaving 1 hour for refreshment and not to work in any shop unless well ventilated and comfortable to his health. That no Master be allowed to pick his Men, but to go through the book which is to be one throughout the trade as the names stand1 and no Apprentice to be bound before he is 13 years of Age nor remain so after 18, and this is to extend 4 Miles from Covent Garden Market. The Bye Laws which he read are the same in substance and are in a stage of printing for us. As soon as I can get them I will send them. A Deputation from the Cordwainers waited on us to know what we meant to do as to the Six Convicts and they were told as I above state as to the Central Committee Sitting. Bills were Posted at the Rotunda as to the Second Meeting of the Unions to take place to day in Charlotte S* Rathbone Place on the Six Convicts, but from what we were requested by Brown and from what I learnt from him I shall attend my Branch Lodge – the Roebuck in Aldgate to night and Report to morrow. We are also requested to attend a Brothers Funeral on Sunday next at two O’Clock and to assemble in Finsbury Square. A letter from Bradford in Yorkshire was read wishing us to send a Delegate there to initiate which was referred to the Committee and this being the only business the Lodge was closed about Eleven O’Clock.- Thursday April 3rd 1833 [sic; 1834]

III

On Wednesday evening I attended the Grand Lodge of the Taylors Trades Union at the Rotunda, at which about 1200 Taylors attended and a great deal of anxiety prevailed as to when we should strike. The Lodge having been opened in the usual form about Nine O’Clock Brown the Head Secretary read the Minutes of the last Meeting which were confirmed and a letter which was that day brought to him by a special Delegate from Derby stating that their funds would be quite exhausted this week and that it would be impossible to hold out any longer unless they were further assisted as the Masters were assisted by the Government. The Central Committee had sent him back with £30 and we as well as all the Trades were particularly requested to pay our Derby Levy and to enter into Subscriptions at our Branch Lodges to assist and keep them up as on this their Strike would depend a great deal the fate of the Union. He stated also that the Committee had sent a Delegate with £30 to the Wives and Families of the Six Convicts and had also determined that a Levy of 2d should be immediately made on every Brother throughout all the Unions to place them above the taunts of a Tyrannical Government and that that sum would be quite sufficient. He also stated that the Central Committee of Trades were still deliberating what to do as to Petitioning the King or to get the Men back and all the Petitions left at Branch Lodges of all the Trades for signatures or anywhere else is ordered to be sent to the Hercules Pillars Lincolns Inn Fields by Saturday night as the Central Committee were to determine on Monday what the Unions should do. He read the new Articles 34 in numbers which are to be submitted to the Branch Lodges for inspection or amendments and stated that all the Branch Lodges were to send in the names addresses &c of all their Men by the 14th of April and again of their numbers and how many of the Lodges were houses of Call by the 22nd in order that they may be able to regulate when to Strike. The Articles are nearly the same as I stated of the Bye Laws. A good deal of disappointment and dissatisfaction manifested itself among the Brothers at the delay of the Committee as to the Strike and several expressed themselves largely on this, but they were told by Brown and some of the Committee that we were not yet in a fit state to Strike both for want of Funds and numbers for many had joined who had not paid either their Levy or Subscriptions, at this a desultory conversation and some confusion took place of no particular importance amid which Fisher the President closed the Lodge and we separated about half past Eleven.- Thursday April 10th 1834

Last night was our last at the Rotunda our initiations will be in future at the Union – Union S* Whitechapel, The Blue Po[s]ts Brewer S* Golden Square and the White Hart Windmill S* Haymarket.-

Tuesday Morning [22 April] Sir/ I was yesterday a good deal among the Taylors at the Branch Lodges in the City. The Kings head S* Pauls Church Yard, Bulls Head Jewin Crescent, Sun Londons Wall and the Ship in Lime Street. I found a great many about at these places and they all still seem very sanguine as to the Strike and wish it soon, but as yet from the causes I stated last week The Committee have not decided. Last night the Grand Initiation took place at the Peacock Houghton S* Clare Market at which I attended when 103 were sworn as Brothers. Nothing new was stated nor will the Committees proceedings by known till Wednesday or Thursday. I shall attend to it and report.-

V

Friday Morning [25 April] Sir/1 last night attended the Roebuck and found the Central-Committee have decided that a Special summons should be issued to all the Branch Lodges of the Trades Unions to meet to night, That every trade is to pay as a loan either 2s/6d or as much as he can afford, to be repaid to him again. I being a small Master shall take the lowest rate, and as we are to meet to night I shall not be able to see you. I send this by Brand and will thank you to send me as usual by him. The additional expence is 3s/-. They talk of a Strike on Monday and as I shall attend to night I will report by him to morrow – morning Mr [name cut out]

VI

On Friday evening I attended my Branch Lodge at the Roebuck – Duke S* Aldgate. As I have daily sent notes to Mr [name purposely obscured = Brand] stating that no positive determination was yet come to as to our strike, but when it did I would Report truly. On my attending at the same place on Thursday night, I found that no particular business would be done that night, but that the whole trade were especially summoned for Friday night, to hear the decision of the Committee. On my going there I found the greatest assemblage of Brothers I have ever seen there. Previous to Taylor the Delegate coming Campbell the landlord stated that as it was expected by the Committee that Government would object to Public Houses being either Lodges or Houses of Call1 as well as the Masters it was intended to take Large Buildings, Chapels or upper Parts of Houses for the Men to work in when we strike. About half past Nine Taylor came and stated that the Committee had decided that we should strike this Morning — that every man who had work to finish should go and do so at his shop, but not take another job either cut out or basted up unless on the principle of the Master agreeing to pay the Wages and abide by the Rules and Laws of the Union as to time and Comforts which I have before stated. That every Branch Lodge should meet again at Eight O’Clock on Sunday evening to hear how they got on. That every man should be employed by the General fund two days in the week at 6s/- p r day, and if not so employed liberty to do what work he could get on his own account and be allowed 10s/- pr week, but not to work for any Master struck against. That any Brother may work for another as he can afford to pay him. That all Brothers do pay to their Branch Lodges the most money they can afford as a Loan to be repaid to them in order to assist the funds, by the Work done by those unemployed. That as it was thought Equal Rights for all was our Motto no man would object to do all he could by assisting in this Loan and that no brother do enter his Lodge without giving his Christian [name] surname and place of Residence and his Card payed up to the end of March. He also stated having brought the proof sheet with him that the whole of the General and Bye Laws were in a last stage of being printed and would soon be ready for our use by purchasing and he hoped by Sunday. During the evening I went with a Brother named George Stokes downstairs and in the passage was a Soldier of the First Battalion of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards with his Side Arms on. He came with a Porter and another the first of which is employed two doors from Howards Coffee House in Dukes Place. Stokes shew him his Card when he said I know that well I Glory and so does our Regiment in your proceedings on Monday. If we had been called out we should all have Grounded our Arms. He has a broad Scotch accent and was tipsy. I shall attend to morrow night and Report on Monday.- Saturday April 26th 1834

VII

25, Little Queen-street, April 25, 1834 SIR – By direction of the Friendly Society of Operative Tailors, I have to acquaint you, that in order to stay the ruinous effects which a destructive commercial competition has so long been inflicting upon them, they have resolved to introduce certain new Regulations of Labour into the Trade, which Regulations they intend should commence from Monday next; and I beg herewith to enclose you a copy of them.

As the demands there specified are of so reasonable a nature; and as, moreover, they are unquestionably calculated for the ultimate benefit of employers, as well as employed, the Society confidently hope that you will accede to them, and that henceforward a mutual confidence may be sustained between masters and men, and that their interests may be no longer separated, and opposed to each other.

It only remains for me to add, that your workmen, members of this Society, will cease to be employed by you, should you decline to act upon the new regulations; and further, I think it right to apprize you that, in that case, they will no longer consider it necessary to support your interest; but will immediately enter into the arrangements prepared by the Society for the employment of such Members for the benefit of the Society.

I am, sir, your most obedient humble servant,

JOHN BROWNE. Secretary to the Grand Lodge of Operative Tailors

REGULATION

No Brother shall be allowed to work more than ten hours per day from the third Monday in the month of April to the last Saturday in the month of July; nor more than eight hours per day the remaining eight months of the year; and for such labour the remuneration shall be 6s. per day for the ten hours labour, which is to be performed between the hours of seven o’clock in the morning, and six o’clock in the evening; and 5s. per day for the eight hours labour, to be performed between the hours of eight o’clock in the morning, and five o’clock in the evening, out of which time, in either case, he shall leave his employer’s premises one hour for refreshment. Nor shall any Brother work for an employer any where but on his (the employer’s) premises, which shall be healthy and convenient, or on any other terms than by the day or hour. And no Brother shall be allowed to solicit employment, or to work for less than the regular wages within four miles of Co vent Garden.

VIII

On Tuesday evening I attended my Branch Lodge N° 2 at the Roebuck in Duke S* Aldgate (I have attended there at the Regular Call-times since Monday Morning) and on going found that an order had been sent from the Committee that a special Meeting was to be held there at Six O’Clock but it was again determined that the Lodge Room was not sufficient for all of us and we again adjourned to the White Magpie. The Lodge was opened there about Eight and was filled to nearly suffocation and a long complaint was made by one party against the Secretary – Haynes — his own party supporting him, the result of which was that he wished if any complaint against him existed (none particular was stated) he would wish it to be sent to the Grand Committee and he would abide by their decision. A great deal of confusion and nearly rioting took place throughout this and it was at length agreed as he wished. From all I see or hear of the Complaint against him is that a party exists who wish their friend in his place and say of him that he neglects to mark those who do not answer to their names at call time. About Nine O’Clock Taylor the Delegate from the Committee came with his Report and read it. It was short and in substance stated that the Committee had heard of nearly 100 Masters who had ordered from different Lodges Men on our principles. That a Suggestion had been made a few days ago to the Central Committee of Trades Unions as to every Branch Lodge of all the Trades being made Taylors Clubs to be attended on their Lodge Meetings by one Delegate or more to act as Taylors taking orders and that they all have Clothes from no other persons but us thus keeping us as well employed as possible they subscribing according to what Garments they want, with this being sent to us we buy the Materials – make the Articles and after employing our men at our Wages we strike for the Profits to go to a Consolidated Fund for our support and for the support of any other trade that should strike. This the Central Committee have agreed to and it is to be made a law this week in all the Unions, they say that if our Masters hold out “this will defeat them for ever.” that Mr Detrosier has agreed to lecture at the Rotunda to night on the principles of Unions Gratuitiously for our benefit that one penny each is to be taken for admission, that none but Taylors be admitted and that all the Lodges – Taylors do meet at their Lodges at 7 O’Clock and go from thence to the Rotunda to be there at 8 in procession as near as possible. That as the plan of having Clubs was to be resorted to those men who had not been able to pay up their Loan of 4s/6d need not do so until they had work and then at 6d pr day, that already 1000 thousand [sic] Coal Whippers had stated that to be first they were ready anytime to give us an order for as many Jackets, that if any Master or deputy call at any Branch Lodge to compromise in any way not to answer them, but refer them to a Committee always sitting at the Albion in King S* High Holborn. This being the substance of his Report a Desultory conversation of no importance took place and the Lodge closed to attend to night to hear Rowland Detrosier at the Rotunda and the business of Grand Lodge about 12 O’Clock. Wednesday April 29*h [sic; 30th] 1834

IX

On Wednesday evening I attended at the Rotunda where the Grand Lodge of Taylors was held and at which as I stated yesterday Rowland Detrosier was to lecture on the Principles of Union. About 8 O’Clock the Large Theatre was very full and in about half past Hundreds of Taylors was seen coming from all parts of London in branches but not in procession. Detrosier came about this time and there was not less than 3000 – Taylors present, indeed the place was so full you could not without much pressure obtain a place. The Lodge was then opened in the usual form and he began a Lecture verbally on first the Principles of Union which he took from the reign of Edward the 3rd, and in which he went to prove that from that time it had been the Maxim of Kings first Princes next, Aristocrated Noblemen next, Religion next, Navy and Army next and thus led to Middle men called Masters who all formed one Aristocratic Body to live on the labour which was the Property of the Working Man. His lecture was a very clever illustration (in his way) of producing the most determined hatred towards Masters and in which he justified us in our strike and implored us to keep steady in our plans and we were sure to succeed in obtaining that which was our just rights. He then made a severe attack on the Times Newspaper for having in its leading Article in its Tuesdays Publication on us and designated the Writer as the most willing Prostitute to Power that ever existed. He then made a most furious attack on the Lord Chancellor for his speech as to trades Unions and stated that he had by the Union of the People been raised to his present situation and that since he had been in power had proved himself the most determined Profligate in Principle ever yet known. He strongly impressed on us not to put the least confidence in any professor of Principles, but to look to ourselves. He was listened to with very great attention and is to give Lectures weekly throughout the whole Trades Unions.- Thursday May 1st 1834.-

X

Friday Morning.-

[2 May] Sir/1 was yesterday among a great many Taylors and visited the Bulls Head in Jewin Crescent, I there found that “Nothing New” had been stated after I left the Rotunda. I went last night to the Roebuck to attend my call and all I could learn from Hayes the Secretary was, that the Committee were busy in collecting the different – Reports of the Newspapers as to our Strike in order to contradict them in the True Sun next Week. We are ordered to attend to night and Sunday night at the Roebuck to hear the Delegates Report from Committee, and thus we stand at Present. I shall attend and if anything occurs will Report it. I send this by Brand and will be thankful if you will send the money by him. Not that I immediately want it this morning, but I shall not be able to call on you this evening. I have paid since last Friday 4s/6d as a Loan to the Union and with Pamphlets, Entrance Monies and Subscriptions my charge this week is 8s/-.

XI

To THE GRAND National Consolidated Trades Union: Whereas our Brothers, the United Operative Tailors of the Metropolis, being forced into their present position by the many grevious attacks and encroachments of the Masters, and we being fully aware of the great danger and inconvenience of large masses of Men remaining in Idleness,
We do therefore require that all and every of the members of the Consolidated Trades Union, do forthwith contribute the sum of one Shilling and Sixpence as Levy, in three payments, for the purpose of giving employment to the members of the above Trade. The first payment to be made on or before the 9th day of May; the second payment to be made on or before the 16th of May; and the third payment on or before the 22nd of May, 1834: and further it is desired that all Secretary’s will see the said money transmitted to Mr. E. C. Douglas,1 213, High Holborn.

May 5th , 1834

By Order of the Executive Council

XII

Saturday 12 0’Clock [10 May] Sir/I have been from Nine to this moment at the Magpie, and have had to keep with many who are walking about. I find that No Money has been sent by the Committee except that last night Sixpenny Tickets were given by Freestone by order of the Committee to each Man for refreshments, and Hayes the Secretary has gone to the Committee for the Money. They are all still waiting and expect his arrival, but there is no certainty when they May get it.- Mr. Stafford.

XIII

Wednesday Morning [14 May] Sir/ I attended my Branch Lodge the Magpie last night and found there had been a Meeting of the Taylors at Owens Institution that day and that a Deputation from the Committee was to meet us there at Nine O’Clock, but up to Eleven no one came and though there was a great many waiting for their Money None came. Freestone kept us in suspense until that time and a great deal of discontent was manifested by the people waiting. We were at Length ordered to meet at the Bell in the Pig Market Smithfield at Nine this Morning, and the Hand and Shears-Cloth Fair. No Report was made, but it is expected the Committee will send one to us to morrow. Thus I cannot yet say how we stand, but will do so as soon as I can.

XIV

Thursday Morning.- [15 May] Sir/1 attended at the Bell in Smithfield yesterday Morning at Nine and found that the only Report known from Committee was that every thing was going on well, This did not give any satisfaction and after a long discussion among about 300 Men we deputed Barnsley and Brown to go to Committee to know more and I with several others was walking the Streets all day waiting their Return. I could not get away from them & about Nine last night they returned and stated that all they could learn was that we were still going on well and that the Committee had no doubt but that we should obtain our Strike by Saturday Week, and impressed on us all to particularly attend our Branch Lodges to night to hear their full Report and what has taken place between them and the Masters at their Meeting Yesterday. We then agreed that those Men who had been drawn from the Magpie should join the Bell this Morning and as soon as possible move as a Branch Lodge in a Body to either the White Horse Cripplegate or the White Swan Coleman Street being more Central for the City. We are I assure you in a deplorable state. The only money sent yesterday was that the Secretaries of each Lodge was ordered to give each Man on the funds a ticket by which he could get Sixpennyworth of refreshment at the Bar and Sixpence in Money and the Men expect the same to day, but there is no certainty in that. I must therefore Report to morrow.-

XV

The Committee of Operative Tailors,
25, LITTLE QUEEN STREET, HOLBORN,
Having received requests from various Masters, for a more explicit statement as to what security they would have, that a proper amount of Labour would be performed in the 10 hours, if they were to accede to us; we beg to say that it never was contemplated by us that an idle and inefficient Man should have this rate of wages, and for which purpose we had a regulation which we intended to have submitted to them, the Masters, for their concurrence, but being denied that friendly intercourse which we think should always exist between Master and Man, and in obedience to the above requests, we are now, or at any other time ready to shew a Statement of what Labour we were willing to perform in the 10 hours, to the whole of the Masters as a body or to any individual Master, that may think proper to demand the same, and for which purpose the Committee sit daily at 25, Little Queen-street, Holborn. SIGNED ON BEHALF OF THE COMMITTEE,
Stevenson, A. O’Connell, J. Elliott, May 16, 1834 R. Pryer.

XVI

Friday Morning [16 May] Sir/I attended at the Bell yesterday the whole of the 8 Call Times and was about with many of the Men all day expecting the Delegate to come with the Committee’s Report. He came at 5 O’Clock and stated that the Committee had been sitting all day on the Masters Proposals and was likely to continue so until late last night and that as he had to go to the different Trades Lodges to gather Money he could not attend last night but would come this Morning about Nine. I shall attend and either send you to day or bring what I have with me this evening.-

XVII

Tuesday Morning [20 May] Sir/I should have wrote you yesterday as to our funds and proceedings, but waited and am still without any real information on them. Up to Saturday night One O’Clock though numbers were waiting, No Money was sent and not until 10 on Sunday Morning with a promise that all would be paid on Monday Morning. The Men at the Bell in Smithfield received 3s/6d each — those at the Magpie ls/6d. I have attended since I saw you to my Lodge and up to the last night 11 O’Clock No Money came, but at 4 in the Afternoon Fawne the Delegate came with an order from Committee that each Lodge was to depute three Men to meet at the Rotunda this Morning at Nine to meet a deputation from Committee to hear and know what was to be done with the Men. It is not certain when we shall see them to day but I shall attend to it and send again to morrow. A great many I find has seceded from us and I have no doubt many more will.1 We are I assure you in a very dissatisfied state and until we are in some way settled I cannot send you a Report. Many Projects have been started among us but Nothing is as yet settled.

XVIII

The True Sun of last night has a long Article on our Trade and up to half past Eleven last night No Money was sent to the Lodge I belong, though it was promised at 5 O’Clock and many was waiting. They at last decided to meet again this Morning. As to the Men going to work to Morrow Morning, from all I can learn No real decision has as yet been come to. I expect to hear more to night.- Sunday May 25th 1834.

XIX

Sunday Morning [25 May] Sir/ I had just returned from attending the Bell when I received your Note. At that place as I have before stated a great deal of confusion existed and a Report had been made as to Browne’s resigning and absconding, but it is not true that he has Absconded. He has resigned in consequence of the Investigation Committee having found that he is deficient in the funds he has received and a further investigation is now proceeding in as to it, but from all I can learn No one knows the deficiency. It is said by some that £400. which was to be sent to Derby passed through his hands and has not been accounted for, but that has not been proved yet. He still says it has and it is still under investigation. As to the Robbery and Scramble for the Money the latter is not true. It is true that the Establishment was Robbed on Sunday last of 13 Coats (made) and Goods to the amount of £70. as well, and though the Committee applied to Hatton Garden they have not succeed [sic] in by their Officiers. In obtaining who did Rob the place, but from all I can learn two Men of the Committee named Walford and Stevenson are the only persons Suspected. As to the General Meeting; No such thing was intended last Night, but we are all ordered to attend our Lodges to Night at half past Seven. As to the Men going to work on Monday, it is not true that they have agreed to do so, but many have done so on the principle of 6d pr Hour and it still remains to be decided to night, What is to be done. I shall attend and Report to morrow.-

XX

Monday Morning. Sir/ I attended the Bell yesterday and found that about two O’Clock yesterday the Men received 3s/6d each with a promise of more to day. We met again last night and from all that I can find The Men generally are going back to their Shops at the Old day work system 6d the Hour very fast without the allowance of time, but it is expected that to morrow they will be ordered to Strike again for the time 10 Hours. All this depends on a Meeting of Delegates of all the Trades who are to meet at the Rotunda either to day or to morrow “to consult on our case”. Browne is still at his house N° 25 Great Queen S* and is to be met with at anytime. He says the Finance Committee are the Thieves and he is ready to meet them at any time to prove his Balance Sheet correct. This is still pending and as I shall attend to it I will Report.- Monday May 26th 1834

XXI

During Monday I attended my Branch Lodge, but found Nothing new occurred except that a great many Men had gone to work and a great many seceeded from us. We waited until \ past Nine for our Delegate to Report the Proceedings of the Rotunda Committee when he came and Reported to us that they had broke up in consequence of not agreeing to the plans which the Masters have proposed as to the Men signing a Document not to belong to any Union, and that the other Grand Committee had ordered that at each Lodge on Tuesday night the Lodges were to send One Man each to still form another Investigation Committee. No further Monies came that day as promised, but more was promised on tuesday and I learnt from the Delegate and Secretary that though they last week as well as the others in Committee waited on many trades to get money the whole collected was £70 which was divided among the 31 Lodges. On Tuesday I again attended when Nothing new occurred until evening except that very few attended their Calls and it was well known that a great many had gone to work on the Old System and a great many had signed the document. About Nine the Delegate came from Committee and the Lodge was opened when instead of about 180 there was but 42 present. He had no Money and stated that the Committee had expected some from other trades but it had not come and they had not one farthing even to pay themselves at present, but they expected some to day. He stated also that the Delegates had no Report to make as yet as to Brownes Accounts, but were still sitting and that Browne had tendered his Resignation to the Executive, but it was not received at present until his Accounts were presented by the Investigation Committee and they had appointed – Douglas in his place. That Browne himself was to be examined by Committee to day which he has agreed to and that we were requested to attend a special Lodge to night. He brought a Resolution with him for us to pass which had been passed at a General Meeting of all the Trades of Steel, Iron, farriers, Engineers and others who are in London which had that day sent a Deputation to our Committee stating that they were determined to support us if we kept up the Strike by Striking themselves. There is in their Union about 8400 in Town and the Country who include all the above branches (they have a Lodge at the Bell) and there is but 8 of those Trades in London who are not in Union. They say particularly an Engineer named Reynolds that if we are firm (he is one of the Principles) They shall Strike and in one week or two they will stop “All the Commerce and Trade in London and all the Bloody Towns in the Country for they can see that the Masters and the Government are determined to put down the Rights and Liberties of the People.” We passed the Resolution which was also read in other Lodges and agreed to meet in Lodge again to night.- Wednesday May 28th 1834.

XXII

During Wednesday I attended the Bell in Smithfield and the Sun in London Wall – two Branch Lodges where I found that Nothing had occurred more than fresh Reports of many more of the Men leaving us and going to work on the old system and of many signing the Masters Bond who had gone to work. About 8 in the evening our Delegate came to the Bell where not more than 20 met. He stated that he had no Report from Committee as they had heard of many of the Men having gone to Work they were still sitting on what was to be done and he expected they would be so all the week. He brought No Money, but thought he should be able to do so by Saturday. The Committee requests that all the names and residences of the Men who keep out be sent them in order to know our number by Saturday Morning. The Finance and Investigating Committees are still sitting examining Brownes Books and Papers and he is with them and from all I can find there is several who think he has been Guilty of some Embezzlement and several do not. It is expected they will sit until Saturday at least.- Thursday May 29th 1834

XXII

During Thursday and up to Five O’Clock on Friday evening I attended my Branch Lodge the Bell in Smithfield and several other Lodges – The White Magpie Skinner S* Bishopsgate – The Sun in London Wall – the Pauls Head Pauls S* Finsbury and The Three Tuns Smithfield, at all of which Places I found that a great many Men had gone to Work on the Old System of Working many of whom had signed the Masters Bond and others had got work where no Bond was necessary and have seceeded from us not having been able to get the Promised Money. I find this is the case also at the West end of Town. About the above time The Delagate came from the Committee to the Bell and stated that the disposal of the Funds expected to be received from other Trades to morrow (Saturday) was taken out of our Committees Hands and are to be placed in the Hands of the Executive, or the whole of the Trade Union Committee and that it was fully expected by to morrow night that each Man who still stood out would get the whole Money due to him. He stated also that the Executive had heard the Masters of all the Trades were to hold a Meeting at the London Tavern on Saturday evening that is those Masters who employ Men belonging to the Union “and as many more as they could persuade” to join them in forming a Union for the purpose of not employing any Unionist who would not sign a Bond to seceede from it – and a Security for his not doing so again. They the Executive have therefore ordered a Meeting of all the Delegates and Secretaries of all the Trades on Monday next to determine whether there shall be a General Strike of all the Trades in Union immediately, or what else is to be done, and on their decision depends whether we hold out any Longer.- Friday May 30*h 1834

XXIV

During Saturday and Sunday I attended My Branch Lodge – the Bell in Smithfield. All day on Saturday the Men were waiting for Money from the Committee, but none came. On Sunday Morning at Nine Griffin the Delegate came and stated that all he could get for them was 45 shillings and that he did not (with all the other Delegates from other Lodges) get until near Three O’Clock on Sunday Morning. This was not enough to pay the Landlord for what Beer and Bread and Cheese Knight the Secretary had been answerable for during the week for the Men and Griffin borrowed 8s/2d from the Lodge of Smiths held there. Thus the Men got no money at all, but were promised that as the Delegates of all the Trades were to meet to day at 2 O’Clock at the Rotunda they would have Money either to night or to morrow night. In the evening I was with Griffin Delegate of the Bell. Travers of the Sun London Wall Campion of the Pauls Head Finsbury and Freestone of the White Magpie Skinner Street all Delegates and from them I find that at their Lodges the Men are very dissatisfied at not getting their Money and are determined to day to leave and get Work where they can. They say also that they have no doubt but that the Delegates at their Meeting to day will decide that we must give way to the Masters, but it is not likely their decision will be known until Lodge night to morrow (Tuesday) night. Monday June 2nd 1834

XXV

During Monday I attended My Branch Lodge the Bell in Smithfield and we expected our Delegate Griffin to come to inform us as to the decision of the Trades Delegates, He came about half past Ten last night and stated that at present the Delegates deliberations was in our favour, but they had adjourned to this day and we were to have their Report through All the Branch Lodges to night. I shall attend and Report to morrow.- Tuesday June 3rd 1834

XXVI

On Tuesday evening I attended My Branch Lodge the Bell in Smithfield. (It was Lodge night with all the Lodges in our trade throughout London.) There were present 86 Men to hear the Delegates Report. About half past Nine he Griffin came and stated That the Committee of the Trades Delegates who had met at the Rotunda had decided that rather than we should fail in our Strike for want of funds Every Member of their Trades in the Union who are in Work should give One Days Wages pr week to support us which they calculate would be at least £6000 pr week, and that each Taylor at Work on Honourable terms should pay 1/- p r day to the Funds out of his Wages all of which monies shall be paid to the Executive Council for them to distribute to our Committee for the Men Weekly who still stand out and this they promise to do for Twelve Months. They also examined the Books of Browne the Secretary, the Finance and other Committees of our Trade [met] and passed a Resolution which is in the True Sun of last night which states that there is no truth in the Report so much circulated of Embezzlement of the Funds and that all the books and Papers have been proved to be correct. Our Committee instead of sending their Report to the Lodges last night have ordered a Meeting to be held of all our Trade who are out to day at two O’Clock at Owens Bazaar in Charlotte S* Fitzroy Square to hear the Report and sent a special order through the Lodges last night for our attendance and that No one would be admitted without the New Pass Words. To the first Tiler, “Yet.” To the second- “Firm.” I shall attend and Report to Morrow – Wednesday June 4th 1834

XXVII

On Wednesday at two O’Clock I attended a Meeting of Journeymen Taylors at Owens Bazaar N° 14 Charlotte S* Fitzroy Square. Called by the Taylors Committee to Report the Proceedings of the Delegates of All the Trades in Union in London who met at the Rotunda on Monday and Tuesday last to consider what was to be done in our case. By the above time about 3000 Men met and soon after the Committee with Browne our late Secretary having arrived – Jenkins was called to the Chair. He stated that at the Delegates Meeting on Monday all the other Trades in Union by their Delegates had agreed to propose to their Trades that in order to keep up our Funds and defeat the Masters Bond (knowing as they did that the Masters of all Trades were forming a Union to make all their Men sign a Bond similar to ours and which was to take place on the 10th of June) they proposed that All the other Trades in Union should give One days Wages support Weekly to us. This was for our decision as to accepting the offer to keep us out which was agreed to unanimously by us and they are to Report to our Com mittee on Saturday how such Proposition will be received by the Lodges of their Trades during this Week. A long and confused conversation took place by several of the Committee speaking on this subject some of whom thought it was useless to stand out any longer depending on such promises as this and one – Newby proposed that a special Lodge Meeting be called that night to know the opinions of the Men through the Lodges as to their seceeding at once or waiting the Delegates Report on Saturday, but Stevenson proposed a Resolution of the Committee That No Secession or difference do at present be allowed to exist in the Lodges, but that we do wait the Issue of Saturday, and if not favourable to us we should withdraw from the Consolidated Union – keep our Lodges still and do the best we could as a Body of ourselves and this was carried Unanimously. Another Resolution That we give no concession to Masters from our Original Bond was put and carried also. Another that the Men do still keep attendance on their Lodges particularly this Week, to still keep firm in order that if we fall We will fall Nobly. This was also carried and after a good deal of confusion by the disagreement of the Speakers in their opinions A Vote of thanks was voted to the Chairman and we separated at Five O’Clock. From what I found among the Men there and at several of the Lodges I have attended, Vety Great dissatisfaction and no great expectations exists as to our keeping out after next Saturday. A great many present will not wait longer than that time and many not till then. We have been so bouyed up with promises that it is no longer believed we can exist in longer keeping out. We have and still are decreasing fast in Number by Men going to work daily and from all I can see we cannot keep out but a few days longer having No Funds and scarcely any of the Promised Funds of the other Trades to support us. Browne tried to Vindicate the “Calumny” so much heaped on him, but was not allowed to speak much. He is not now charged with Embezzlement, but with being the cause of our Striking prematurely and saying he had the Sanction of the Consolidated Trades Unions in doing so whereas it had been proved he had not, for this he is much hated and blamed for our failure if we do fail. Thursday June 5th 1834

XXVIII

Since I wrote on Thursday last I have continued to attend to the proceedings of our Strike and should have wrote before, but as I then stated we were to wait until Saturday night or Sunday Morning to know what decision the other trades had come to as to their Delegates plan at the Rotunda Meeting, and what Monies was sent from them for our support. Our Committee (Taylors) sat nearly all day on Saturday and up to near 12 on Saturday night they had received No positive decision as to our being supported and all the Money received was £152. This they sent by the Delegates to their Lodges and which amounted to 2s/- each Man1 with a promise that they would have more on Sunday Morning and that each Lodge was to meet on that Morning at Nine O’Clock. They did meet and about Ten they each received Sixpence. At this the Greatest dissatisfaction prevailed and in all the Lodges the Men declared they would wait no longer and get work w[h]ere they could under any circumstances. They were also told that a General Meeting of the Trade would take place on Monday Morning at Owens Institution in Charlotte S* at 8 O’Clock, but in the evening this Meeting was put off to join the One at 5 O’Clock of all the Trades at the same place as Advertised by order of the Executive in Placards and in the Trades official Gazette which I sent on Friday. During Monday I visited with others many of the Lodges of our Trade and found in all of them that a great many of their Men had left in disgust and had gone to work. About Five O’Clock I attended at Charlotte S4 where about 2000 Members of different Trades met among whom was several Women (the smallest Meeting I have ever seen there and still less of Taylors.) About Six Goldspink one of the late National Union Committee was called to the Chair and Mr Owen read Six Resolutions the Executive had framed for the Meeting the substance of which was that as the Masters of all the Trades had determined to do away with Unions by not employing Men who would not sign their Bond the Unions seeing the distressed state Men with Families were in should pity those who did so and that a Meeting of Delegates of all Trades throuhout the Kingdom should be held in London on the Blank Day of Blank Month to deliberate how to supercede the Signing such Bond. Owen in a long speech proposed these and George Petrie who has just returned from the Country seconded them. Petrie has been several weeks in all parts of the Country Initiating Taylors (I stated when he went) and I find from him that “the Spirit of Union in the Country is very strong, but their Funds are very weak.” A Great deal of confusion existed in the Meeting by several Taylors charging the Executive with Misleading them and long before the Meeting broke up many left in disgust. Savage, Neesom, Stevenson, Lane and others addressed the Meeting on the necessity of still keeping in Union and all I could learn from our Committee was that they are to sit to day to settle what we can now do and as this is Lodge night through all our Trade in London they expect to decide and Report to all the Lodges. From this and from all I see daily I am certain that our Strike may now be called lost and those who propagated and have had the Management of it are blamed, Marked and will never again be depended on on this or any other occasion. Tuesday June 10th 1834

XXIX

On Tuesday evening I attended and was appointed Vice President of my Lodge of Taylors — the Bell in Smithfield. As I stated yesterday all the Lodges were summoned to meet, and in continuance of my Report yesterday as to the secessions of our Men instead of 182 who were Members of this Lodge 21 only attended. About Nine O’Clock Griffin our Delegate came from Committee and all he had to state was that they the Committee had ordered all the Lodges to decide two Motions. The first was “Whether The Taylors should secede from the Consolidated Union and form a Union of themselves,” and the second was whether we should still keep out until next Saturday and wait to see what the Trades would do for us. Both these were carried, but still the Men present were determined not to trust them any longer. Thus we remain depending on the Decision of Committee and from all I can see I shall not have to Report until after Saturday. I however shall attend and amid the confusion we are in I doubt not, but before this week ends our Strike will end.- Wednesday June ll«i 1833 [sic; 1834]

XXX

On Tuesday evening I attended my Lodge of Taylors at the Bell in Smithfield. In my Report yesterday I stated that Our Committee was to Report to our Lodges the Decision of the Executive as to supporting us in our Strike. Up to Ten O’Clock No one came, but at that time Brindley the Delegate of the Sun in London – Wall, Griffin the Delegate and Knight our Secretary came and stated to us that our Committees had not received that support from the Consolidated Union as they expected and advised that the City Lodges should form themselves into Districts of 100 each so as to be prepared to form 1000 to be at the command of the Committee to divide them either to Work in the City or the West end of Town. There was but 18 present and those amid the dissatisfied manner as to not being better supported created great confusion and the consideration of those propositions were adjourned to Thursday Night. Griffin our Delegate who was Foreman to Mr Stafford – the corner of long lane in Smithfield has now left our Strike and gone to work for Mr Solomans in the same Lane and proposed myself to be the Delegate of the Bell and recommended us all to go to work under any circumstances. I expect to have to attend Committee as his motion was agreed to as to me and when I do so I shall then be able to give a more faithful Report of our Proceedings than from the confused manner we are in than I have done.- Wednesday June 17th [sic; 18th] 1834

XXXI

In my Report on Saturday I stated that on Monday I would Report as to the Proceedings of the Union, but I have not since I stated in my Report last week received a Note from Griffin that I then stated I expected. I have not been able to see him to converse with him until last night and I find from him that the Whole Builders Union through their Secretary Wilcox had decided up to One O’Clock on Sunday Morning that they had No Funds to support our Trades Strike (Taylors) and that their Committee had decided that we had better get work in the best way we could. At several other Lodges of our Trade I find this is acted upon and not having One Farthing sent to them from the Executive last Saturday night many of the men at the Lodges are so exasperated that they are determined to revenge themselves on the Committee Men. As to our Trade Committee Griffin our Delegate says he has totally left them and instead of myself put Staples in his place, and that we are to know their as well as the intentions of the Union or Executive to night – Lodge Night. Tuesday June 24th 1834

XXXII

From all I have seen or heard since I wrote on Thursday as to the Consolidated Union and particularly as to our trade (Taylors) I do not see that I have any thing of any importance to state of it. We (Taylors) as I then stated had withdrawn from the Union and our Committee are still trying to form a Union of our own trade, but as yet Nothing has been positively done. There are now a few Men who remain at the Lodges we used to meet at in Union which are considered Houses of Call, but from all I can learn very few calls for Men come to those Houses and I account for it by knowing that five out of every six who struck have got work wherever they could under any circumstances and are determined not to join any Union again. Thus, though my Reports have lately part through illness been not so frequent as usual I am certain that what I now state is the truth and that as I first stated The Union would fall. New projects are in agitation in many places and opinions in the old Members of the Union, but from all I can see and I beg to again repeat it I do not at present see anything of importance to Report.

 

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Today in London insurrectionary history, 1820: Cato Street conspirators arrested, plotting to assassinate the cabinet & launch revolution

Great periods of social unrest which contain a strand of revolutionary politics, when faced with heavy repression, often end in clandestine terror plots or furtive conspiracy… Something to do with the great hopes aroused, dashed and imprisoned…

Witness the remnants of the Leveller movement in the 1650s, conspiring with royalists to assassinate Cromwell… More recently, the civil rights/student/anti-war radical eruptions of the late 1960s/early 70s led in various countries to the development of armed guerrilla groups… Baader Meinhof, the US Weather Underground & Symbionese Liberation Army, the Italian Red Brigades…

Movements which seem to have a potential to make large scale social change, which then are beaten off the streets… the frustration, disappointment, rage can lead to the back street plots, the insurrectionary dreams…

The radical movement in Britain partly inspired by the French revolution, partly by the home grown pressure for political reform (a movement roughly spanning the 1790s to the 1820s?) was pushed into plots for uprisings in three main periods – 1798-99, 1802, and 1819-1820.

The last of these three, culminating in the ‘Cato Street Conspiracy’, saw probably the harshest state response – but was, itself, largely a product of state infiltration.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, there was an upsurge in demands for political reform and the extension of the vote. This was also fuelled by the collapse of the war economy into recession and mass unemployment; thousands of soldiers and sailors were being discharged with little prospect of work, and munitions suppliers laying workers off. The unemployment and deprivation led thousands to begin to listen to movements calling for social reform – a dynamic common to large-scale wars: compare the pressures for social change after World Wars 1 and 2. Many sailors and soldiers were also being demobbed unpaid – it was common for navy and army pay to be owed years in arrears then. On top of this a rampant succession of new laws, abolishing old protections for workers and the poor, in the interests of the factory owners, merchants and employers, had for a decade been introducing unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism, with devastating consequences for the lower classes.

Mass radical agitation – for political reform, but also for improvement in the lives of working people – revived for the first time since the heady days of the London Corresponding Society in the 1790s.

Major movers in organising public meetings and mass rallies were the Society of Spencean Philanthropists, followers of agrarian communist Thomas Spence (died 1814), radicals and revolutionaries who were constantly agitating for an uprising of the poor against their masters. Spence, a schoolteacher born in Newcastle, was strongly influenced by the writings of Thomas Paine. Moving to London in late 1792, he sold Paine’s writings on street corners, for which he was arrested. Later he opened a shop in Chancery Lane, selling radical books and pamphlets.

In 1793 Spence started a periodical, Pigs Meat. He wrote in the first edition: “Awake! Arise! Arm yourselves with truth, justice, reason. Lay siege to corruption. Claim as your inalienable right, universal suffrage and annual parliaments. And whenever you have the gratification to choose a representative, let him be from among the lower orders of men, and he will know how to sympathise with you.”

By the early 1800s Thomas Spence had established himself as a leader among those Radicals who advocated revolution: many of these had been supporters of the London Corresponding Society in the previous decade. Spence encouraged the formation of small groups or discussion groups, which often met in public houses. At the night the men walked the streets and chalked on the walls slogans such as “Spence’s Plan and Full Bellies” and “The Land is the People’s Farm”. In 1800 and 1801 the authorities suspected that Spence and his followers were the instigators of bread riots in London…

Thomas Spence died in September 1814. His disciples founded the Society of Spencean Philanthropists, which met in small groups all over London, discussing the best way of achieving an equal society.

Pubs used by the Spenceans included the Mulberry Tree in Moorfields, the Carlisle in Shoreditch, the Cock in Soho, the Pineapple in Lambeth, the White Lion in Camden, the Horse and Groom in Marylebone and the Nag’s Head in Carnaby Market.

Arthur Thistlewood

The small Spencean scene, mingling with ultra-radicals like the Watsons, father and son, disaffected soldiers and ex-soldiers, and other malcontents, were growing more and more enraged. A leading light of the group was Arthur Thistlewood, a former militia lieutenant, who had come to radical ideas after travelling France and the US. Another notable figure was ex-slave Robert Wedderburn, a fiery blasphemous preacher, former Methodist, angry critic of both slavery in his native West Indies and of the nascent capitalism in England… Wedderburn could be found ‘twice weekly preaching blasphemy and sedition’ in his run-down chapel in a loft on the corner of Hopkins Street and Brewer Street in Soho.

But the Spenceans and the other radical groups were under the eye of the government. A number of spies paid by the Home Secretary were employed join the Spenceans and report on their activities.

The pressure for reform led to cataclysmic events. The Spenceans and ultra-radicals formed an uneasy alliance with more moderate reformers like Henry Hunt, and organized large-scale demonstrations demanding reform; in London this led to the Spa Fields riot; government spy John Castle had been deep in the plans for an uprising, and subsequently gave evidence against several of the radical leaders including James Watson, Arthur Thistlewood, and Thomas Preston, on their charge of high treason – but they were acquitted after their defence discredited Castle in court.

There were other spies among the radicals however…

A few months later, a huge reform rally for political reform in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, addressed by Henry Hunt, was violently attacked by armed yeoman cavalry. The ‘Peterloo Massacre’, in which at least 15 people were killed and hundreds injured, infuriated reformers, radicals and much of the population. In London, the ultra-radicals began planning an uprising. At one meeting a spy reported that Arthur Thistlewood said: “High Treason was committed against the people at Manchester. I resolved that the lives of the instigators of massacre should atone for the souls of murdered innocents.”

Before Peterloo, Thistlewood, Wedderburn and Watson had already began to build a revolutionary organisation, with ‘divisions’ at Seven Dials, Cripplegate, St James, Shoreditch, Clerkenwell, Lambeth and Soho. The last of these, based at Wedderburn’s Hopkins Street Chapel, was the most insistent on immediate revolt, angrily calling for revolution at meetings, so openly that Wedderburn was in prison at the time of Peterloo, on a charge of seditious libel.

Peterloo galvanised the ultra-radicals. They began making pikes, buying ammunition, and secretly drilling with arms at night. The Soho branch attended a radical rally on 25th August 1819 in Smithfield armed… Radicals from Manchester came to London to assure the Londoners that there was much support in the north. Thistlewood was corresponding with sympathisers in Derby, Nottingham, and visited Leicester to collect money for arms. But despite plans being drawn up to persuade or bribe soldiers to join them, numbers were just too small; a planned date for possible uprising, 1st November, when simultaneous protest meetings were to be held, passed off without violence… Several groups who had intended to hold meetings in other towns backed out. The chance of Insurrection began to fade.

In the meantime, the government, alarmed by the fierce reaction to Peterloo and the clear intention of some of the radicals to attempt rebellion, quickly passed the ‘Six Acts’, whose main objective was the “curbing radical journals and meeting as well as the danger of armed insurrection”: these were

(i) Training Prevention Act: A measure which made any person attending a gathering for the purpose of training or drilling liable to arrest. People found guilty of this offence could be transported for seven years.

(ii) Seizure of Arms Act: A measure that gave power to local magistrates to search any property or person for arms.

(iii) Seditious Meetings Prevention Act: A measure which prohibited the holding of public meetings of more than fifty people without the consent of a sheriff or magistrate.

(iv) The Misdemeanours Act: A measure that attempted to reduce the delay in the administration of justice.

(v) The Basphemous and Seditious Libels Act: A measure which provided much stronger punishments, including banishment for publications judged to be blasphemous or seditious.

(vi) Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act: A measure which subjected certain radical publications which had previously avoided stamp duty by publishing opinion and not news, to such duty.

Many of the country’s radical leaders-Henry Hunt, James Wroe, Samuel Bamford, John Saxton, Sir Francis Burdett, Richard Carlile, and Major John Cartwright-found themselves either on trial or in prison in the aftermath of Peterloo and the passing of the Six Acts.

Robert Wedderburn was among the first victims. He was arrested in December and charged with blasphemous libel; he would later be convicted and imprisoned for two years. Ironically, however, this arrest may have unintentionally saved his life, as, if left free, he would undoubtedly have been heavily involved in the plot of February 1820 that was developed by the group around Thistlewood. They had determined that if a mass uprising wasn’t on the cards, they would have to assassinate the cabinet and seize power…

Still worried that the Spenceans and their allies, John Stafford, who supervised various spies at the Home Office, recruited George Edwards, George Ruthven, John Williamson, John Shegoe, James Hanley and Thomas Dwyer to spy on them.

Of these, Edwards was to become the most notorious. Born in Clerkenwell in 1788, he became a statue maker in Smithfield. According to people who knew him from this period, Edwards was very poor and often went about barefoot. In the 1790s, Edwards was making plaster of Paris busts of famous people and selling them on street-corners. Briefly moving to Windsor where he rented a small shop in Eton High Street, Edwards made the acquaintance of Major-General Sir Herbert Taylor, who recruited him as a Home Office spy.

Edwards moved back to London, establishing himself in radical journalist William Hone’s former premises in Fleet Street. Here, from January 1819, the radical journalist and publisher Richard Carlile was his next-door neighbour. Carlile commissioned Edwards to make a full-length figure of Thomas Paine and also a likeness of Carlile himself, which Edwards completed while Carlile was incarcerated in the king’s bench prison. Edwards may have been tasked with spying on the radical booksellers who thronged Fleet Street, and to see how they linked to the more active agitators, among them the Spenceans.

In 1818 Edwards met John Brunt, a member of the Spencean Philanthropists. Edwards apparent radical political views and talk, including wanting to kill members of the government, led Brunt to introduce Edwards to other friends – he was soon attending Spencean meetings. But Edwards reported everything he heard to the authorities. His accounts of the meetings, preserved in the Public Record Office, were written on narrow strips of paper that were then folded into a small square and passed to John Stafford, Chief Clerk at Bow Street Police Station.

Some among the Spencean scene, however, were suspicious of Edwards, and suggested he might be a spy. On one occasion Edwards tried to give one member, William Tunbridge, a pistol that he could use against the government, but Tunbridge refused replying: “Mr. Edwards, you may tell your employers that they will not catch me in their trap.” However, Arthur Thistlewood liked Edwards, and was convinced he was genuine. In December 1819, he made him his aide-de-camp.

At meetings Edwards constantly called for an armed uprising to overthrow the government. It was Edwards’ idea to start the revolution by assassinating Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth. The plot that followed was cooked up by Edwards from the start, though the desperate naivety of Thistlewood and his fellows played directly into the hands of Edwards and his masters.

Thistlewood’s group convinced themselves the country was on the verge of revolution and that all it needed was one strong leader to rise up to guide them. The time for action came when they received news of death of King George III, who died on January 29, 1820. Thistlewood believed that all of the troops would be at Windsor for the funeral of the king and would be unable to return to London to stop any attack on the city, and reckoned he and his colleagues could further disable the troops by destroying their barracks with grenades; this would keep the troops busy putting out fires rather than attending to the insurgents…

On Tuesday 22nd February 1820, Thistlewood’s group met John Brunt’s home; it was here, that Edwards pointed out to Arthur Thistlewood an item in a newspaper that said several members of the British government were going to have dinner at Lord Harrowby’s house at 39 Grosvenor Square the following night. This story had, in fact, been planted by the home office, in order to draw out the plotters, after Edwards had alerted his bosses to their intentions. Thistlewood argued that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. The Spenceans decided to attack Harrowby’s house, kill all the government ministers, place the heads of Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth on poles and then march around the slums of the capital. Thistlewood was convinced that this would incite an armed uprising that would overthrow the government. This would be followed by the creation of a new government committed to creating a society based on the ideas of Spence. By this time the group, especially Thistlewood, were clearly somewhat deluded as to what effect their actions would likely have; despite the widespread unpopularity of the government, their attentat, even if it had succeeded, would probably not have led to a general revolution… Driven to rebellion by desperation and rage, the conspirators were east to manipulate by the government spies among them.

Over the next few hours Thistlewood attempted to recruit as many people as possible to take part in the plot. Unsurprisingly, given the slightly fantastic plan, and the widespread suspicion of police spies, a number of the ultra-radicals declined to join the attack. According to Edwards, only twenty-seven people agreed to participate. This included William Davidson, John Brunt, Richard Tidd, James Ings, John Harrison, James Wilson, Richard Bradburn, John Strange, Charles Copper, Robert Adams and John Monument.

Many of the conspirators were poor working men, living in some of London’s skintest and most rebellious corners…

Richard Tidd

Richard Tidd, a shoemaker, lived at 4 Hole-in-the-wall Passage, Brooks-market (off Brooke Street in Holborn. Like Thistlewood a native of Lincolnshire, he had been involved in the 1802 insurgent plot for which Colonel Despard and others were executed; though he had dodged being arrested. During the Napoleonic war he made a living by enlisting into more than half the regiments of the crown, then deserting immediately after being given his ‘bounty’ for signing on (this was a widespread scam at this time!).

John Brunt

John Thomas Brunt was born off Oxford-street; where his father carried on business as a tailor. Like Tidd, he became a shoemaker. Brunt lived with his son and apprentice in 4 Fox Court, Grays Inn Lane. So both Tidd and Brunt resided on the edge of the notorious Baldwin’s Gardens Rookery.

James Ings

James Ings, originally a butcher in Portsmouth, came to London when his business failed, and opened a coffee-house in Whitechapel, where he sold, besides coffee, political pamphlets; and having read the different Deistical publications, from being a churchman he became a confirmed Deist.

Ings’ coffee shop became a meeting point for the radical group that eventually hatched the Cato Street plot. Edwards, Adams, Thistlewood, and Brunt, visited the shop regularly. Edwards in fact supplied money to Ings in the months before the assassination plot was developed, as Ings was nearly out of funds… Later Edwards paid for Ings to hire a room, where Ings lived, but which was large enough to contain some of the arms and ammunition amassed by the plotters.

William Davidson

William Davidson was mixed race, the son of West Indies Attorney-General Davidson, and a woman of colour. Sent to England when very young, he rebelled against the life mapped out for him, went to sea, and became a cabinet-maker in Liverpool.

Davidson had worked for Lord Harrowby in the past and knew some of the latter’s staff at Grosvenor Square. He was instructed to find out more details about the cabinet meeting – but when he spoke to one of the servants he was told that the Earl of Harrowby was not in London. This could have put a kybosh on the plot, but when Davidson reported this news back to the group, Thistlewood insisted that the servant was lying and that the assassinations should proceed as planned.

The groups rented a small two-story building in Cato Street, round the corner from their target in Grosvenor Square: the building consisted of a stable with a hayloft above. Arms were brought here by Brunt, including sabres, swords, guns, pistols, and – allegedly – a kind of hand grenade.

On the evening of the 22nd February, the conspirators held another  meeting at Brunt’ lodging, finalising plans for the assassination of the cabinet ministers, and the subsequent steps they would take – including storming or setting fire to the principal barracks and various public buildings.

At this point, Thistlewood wrote two proclamations for distribution after the initial attack. The first was an address intended for public dissemination: “Your tyrants are destroyed – the friends of liberty are called upon to come forward – the Provisional Government is now sitting.”

The second was a proclamation to the soldiers, calling upon them to join their friends in liberty, and promising that they should be rewarded with full pay and a pension for life.

Edwards had kept his handler John Stafford informed at every stage of the plan. Richard Birnie, a Bow Street magistrate, was put in charge of arresting the plotters. Lord Sidmouth instructed Birnie to use men from the Second Battalion Coldstream Guards as well as police officers from Bow Street in the operation. George Ruthven, a police officer and a former spy, who knew most of the Spenceans, was ordered to the Horse and Groom, a pub opposite the stable in Cato Street; twelve constables were also stationed here.

On 23rd February, as the conspirators gathered in the stable, Birnie decided he had enough men to capture them, although no Coldstream Guards had arrived. Birnie ordered Ruthven to storm the building

Inside the stable the police found James Ings on guard, but he was quickly overpowered, and George Ruthven led his men up the ladder into the hayloft:

“On the officers going up the steps they demanded entrance, which they were refused. Wescot [Westcott], one of the officers, went up first, and was followed by several others, on which the persons assembled made a most desperate resistance, and the officers were fired on. Wescot received three shots through his hat, and Smithers, an active officer, received a stab in his right side, and he was carried away quite dead. A desperate affray took place, in which several of the officers were wounded, some most seriously. Gill, one of the officers [Ellis], upon going up the steps was met by a man of colour, named Davison, who was armed with a loaded gun, which after threatening the officer he fired off, but fortunately missed his object, on which Gill took out his staff and belaboured him over the wrists until he let go. Davison then seized a sword, which he was prevented using. In consequence of this resistance most of the officers were prevented from entering the loft in which these persons were, but were obliged to remain below while some of the party escaped by means of a ropeladder, [actually, it did not exist] which they (it appeared) had cautiously placed out of a back window in case (it is supposed) they were detected. As they escaped the resistance became less, and the whole of the officers, except those injured, endeavoured to enter the place, and to secure nine of the offenders, who had received much injury…”

Thistlewood was identified as the one who had stabbed constable Smithers, who died soon afterwards. Several of the gang attempted to fight but were quickly seized; Thistlewood, John Brunt, Robert Adams and John Harrison escaped out of a back window, but were arrested within a few hours due to Edwards’ detailed information.

According to Ruthven, in the loft at Cato Street, they found a large cache of bayonets, pistols, boxes of ammunition, and other items. Searching John Brunt’s lodgings, the constables also uncovered

“Nine papers with rope yarn and tar in different papers, and some steel filings; in another basket there were four grenades, three papers of rope yarn and tar, two flannel bags of powder, one pound each, five flannel bags, empty, one paper with powder in it, and one leather bag with sixty-three balls in it – this was all that was in the basket; an iron pot and pike handle…  a box about two feet and a half long, full of ball cartridges. I counted them – there were 965. I also found ten grenades, and a great quantity of gunpowder. I also found in a haversack 434 balls, 171 ball cartridges, 69 ball cartridges without powder, about three pounds of gunpowder in a paper, the ten grenades which I spoke of before, they were in a brown wrapper, tied up, eleven bags of gunpowder, each containing one pound, which were in flannel bags, and ten flannel bags, empty; a small bag with a powder flask, sixty-eight musket balls, four flints, and twenty-seven pikehandles…”

Ten men were eventually charged with being involved in the Cato Street Conspiracy; their trial was held on 28th April 1820.

Having been burned once trying to use the evidence of spies in court against the Spenceans (after the Spa Fields riot), Sidmouth decided not to produce Edwards in court as a witness. Instead, two of the conspirators, Robert Adams and John Monument, were persuaded to turns king’s evidence and implicate the others, in return for charges being dropped against them. Their evidence was enough to convict the rest.

The plotters were charged with
1. Conspiring to devise plans to subvert the Constitution. 2. Conspiring to levy war, and subvert the Constitution. 3. Conspiring to murder divers of the Privy Council. 4. Providing arms to murder divers of the Privy Council. 5. Providing arms and ammunition to levy war and subvert the Constitution. 6. Conspiring to seize cannon, arms and ammunition to arm themselves, and to levy war and subvert the Constitution. 7. Conspiring to burn houses and barracks, and to provide combustibles for that purpose. 8. Preparing addresses, & c. containing incitements to the King’s subjects to assist in levying war and subverting the Constitution. 82 9. Preparing an address to the King’s subjects, containing therein that their tyrants were destroyed, &c., to incite them to assist in levying war, and in subverting the Constitution. 10. Assembling themselves with arms, with intent to murder divers of the Privy Council, and to levy war, and subvert the Constitution. 11. Levying war.

…among other charges…

In court, however, the defendants claimed that Edwards had been an agent provocateur, the initiator of the plot. According to Ings:

“The Attorney-General knows Edwards. He knew all the plans for two months before I was acquainted with it. When I was before Lord Sidmouth, a gentleman said Lord Sidmouth knew all about this for two months. I consider myself murdered if Edwards is not brought forward. I am willing to die on the scaffold with him.

I conspired to put Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth out of this world, but I did not intend to commit High Treason. I did not expect to save my own life, but I was determined to die a martyr in my country’s cause.”

Davidson wavered between claiming innocence and defending the group’s actions, stating: “It is an ancient custom to resist tyranny… And our history goes on further to say, that when another of their Majesties the Kings of England tried to infringe upon those rights, the people armed, and told him that if he did not give them the privileges of Englishmen, they would compel him by the point of the sword… Would you not rather govern a country of spirited men, than cowards?”

Thistlewood tried to justify his assassination attempt against the Privy Council but the Lord Chief Justice would not let him finish, interrupting that such “incendiary treason was not allowed in the courtroom.”

John Brunt declared in court before sentence was passed, that he had, “by his industry, been able to earn about £3 or £4 a-week, and while this was the case, he never meddled with politics; but when he found his income reduced to 10s. a-week, he began to look about him. And what did he find? Why, men in power, who met to deliberate how they might starve and plunder the country. He looked on the Manchester transactions as most dreadful. … He had joined the conspiracy for the public good. He was not the man who would have stopt. 0 no: he would have gone on”

On 28th April 1820, Arthur Thistlewood, William Davidson, James Ings, Richard Tidd, and John Brunt were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. John Harrison, James Wilson, Richard Bradburn, John Strange and Charles Copper were also found guilty but their original sentence of execution was subsequently commuted to transportation for life.

More than one of the prisoners composed defiant verses while awaiting sentence, including a poem with the lines:

Tyrants. Ye fill the poor with dread
And take way his right
And raise the price of meat and bread
            And thus his labour blight

You never labour, never toil,
But you can can and drink;
You never cultivate the soil,
            Nor of the poor man think …

Facing death, James Ings wrote to his wife: “My dear Celia… I must die according to law, and leave you in a land full of corruption, where justice and liberty has taken their flight from, to other distant shores. . . – Now, my dear, I hope you will bear in mind that the cause of my being consigned to the scaffold was a pure motive. I thought I should have rendered my starving fellow-men, women, and children, a service…”

On May 1st, 1820, Thistlewood, Davidson, Ings, Tidd, and Brunt were taken to Newgate Prison, where they were publicly hanged. Soldiers were stationed nearby, out of sight of the crowd, and large banners had been prepared with a painted order to disperse, to be displayed to the crowd if trouble caused the authorities to invoke the Riot Act. In the event there was no trouble.

John Hobhouse attended the execution, and later wrote: “The men died like heroes. Ings, perhaps, was too obstreperous in singing Death or Liberty” and records Thistlewood as saying, “Be quiet, Ings; we can die without all this noise.”

After their hanging, the men were decapitated. After the bodies had hung for half an hour, they were lowered one at a time and an unidentified individual in a black mask decapitated them against an angled block with a small knife. Each beheading was accompanied by shouts, booing and hissing from the crowd and each head was displayed to the assembled spectators, declaring it to be the head of a traitor, before placing it in the coffin with the remainder of the body.

The remaining defendants, James Wilson, John Harrison, Richard Bradburn, John Shaw Strange, and Charles Cooper were forced to witness the executions of their comrades, then quickly taken to Portsmouth and put on board the transport ship, the Guildford, which sailed on May 2nd, arriving in New South Wales, Australia on September 20, 1820. A letter from Under-Secretary for War and the Colonies, Henry Goulburn, was sent to the Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, warning him to keep watch over the men because of their involvement with revolutionary activities. The men were sent to work at the Jail Gang at Newcastle but there is no record of the five men continuing with radical activities; in fact Strange eventually became the chief constable at Bathurst.

During the trial, Edwards was concealed by the government on the island of Guernsey. However, questions were soon being asked about his role in the affair. The day after the execution, Matthew Wood stated in the House of Commons that he had information that revealed that Edwards was an agent provocateur who had organised the conspiracy himself and then betrayed it for ‘Blood Money’. Joseph Hume complained that Edwards was one of several spies that the government had used to incite rebellion in an effort to smear the campaign for parliamentary reform.

The government decided Edwards needed to be removed from the scene permanently and arranged for him to obtain a new identity, and to be resettled in South Africa (a favourite place for rehousing UK government spies for many years). Edwards died there in 1843.

The atmosphere of suspicion and bitterness among the London radicals is illustrated in the sad letter of Richard Carlile to William Davidson’s wife Sarah, after the execution. Carlile had suspected Davidson of being a police spy, after the latter had offered to spring Carlile from Dorchester Jail, where he was imprisoned. Carlile had even accused Davidson of being a nark in his journal, The Republican, shortly after the arrests at Cato Street… In May he apologised to Sarah:
“Little did I think that villain Edwards was the spy, agent, and instigator of the government, and Mr. Davidson his victim. I now regret my error, and hope that you will pardon it as an error of the head, without any bad motive. Be assured that the heroic manner in which your husband and his companions met their fate, will in a few years, perhaps in a few months, stamp their names as patriots, and men who had nothing but their country’s weal at heart. I flatter myself as your children grow up, they will find that the fate of their father will rather procure them respect and admiration than its reverse.”

That the Cato Street Conspiracy was linked to some kind of national plan for an uprising seems likely, though the 23rd February plot was possibly entered into earlier than some previously discussed date – possibly 1st April.

There were several attempted risings in the weeks following the arrest of the conspirators – in Scotland, and Yorkshire. All were small, confused and easily defeated, as they had also been heavily penetrated by spies – in fact, like the Cato Street plot, spies had largely orchestrated the events to entrap the ultra-radicals. To be fair, the radicals walked right into it, as they were up for revolt anyway…

[There’s a good account of the Scottish insurrection in The Radical Rising: the Scottish Insurrection of 1820, by Peter Beresford Ellis & Seumas Mac a’ Ghobhainn
and this article discusses the way the various attempts at revolt in 1820 were viewed and portrayed in writing at the time.

The abortive attempt to organise revolution in 1820 was almost certainly doomed from its inception; even without the actions of informers, such coup attempts are hard to pull off, and no substitute for mass movements. Whatever the links of the Spenceans to groups in Scotland, Yorkshire and elsewhere, there were just not enough in terms of numbers to succeed. As in the late 1790s, 1802 and the later Chartist uprising attempts in 1839 and 1848, it was desperation in the face of a wider movement that had disappointed, that led to conspiracy.

 

Ministers and others, holding hands, caper in a ring round a pole to which are symmetrically attached the decollated heads of the Cato Street conspirators executed on 1 May, see No. 13707, &c. Between Sidmouth and the smiling Castlereagh is a man wearing a black mask, and with a blood-stained knife in his mouth, perhaps one of the two who turned King’s evidence. On the right, taking Castlereagh’s left hand, is the Attorney-General, Gifford, grinning diabolically. Holding Sidmouth’s left hand is Vansittart (in his gown). Facing these two are Canning and Chief Justice Abbott in his robes. Four others are poorly characterized. They dance to a fiddle played by Edwards who sits on a grassy mound (right), with an empty gibbet behind his head. He says: “Dance away my Friends, I have been the cause of all this fun by your Help and Money. “Edwards the Instigator!!!”

 

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An entry in the
2014 London Rebel History Calendar – Check it out online

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Today in anti-war history, 1917: spycops’ fit-up! Alice Wheeldon & her daughters go on trial for ‘plot to murder’ Prime Minister Lloyd George.

“Alice Wheeldon and her family were commie scum
Denounced World War 1, sheltered deserters on the run
Fitted up by MI5, died from the prison damp –
You won’t see Alice’s head on a stamp!”
(‘Spycop Song’, Dr Feelshite)

If you thought that revelations of the last few years about undercover police officers infiltrating campaigning and political groups, trade unions, families of people killed by racist and the police (just a few examples), and in some cases acting as agent provocateurs, had been going on for just 50 years, since the founding of the Special Demonstration Squad, and was some kind of aberration from our democratic traditions – think again. In one form or another, this practice has been an integral part of policing dissent and controlling or disrupting movements for social change – for hundreds of years. It is literally the norm, not a deviation.

101 years ago today, Derby socialists and war resisters Alice Wheeldon, her daughters Hettie, Winnie and Winnie’s husband, Alfred Mason, went on trial at the Old Bailey, all charged with conspiracy to murder the Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George and Labour Party cabinet minister Arthur Henderson.

In fact the supposed ‘plot’ was a fit up, set up by a spy working for the intelligence unit of the Ministry of Munitions.

Alice Wheeldon lived in Derby, with her four children Nell, Winnie, Hettie and Will; the family were all active campaigners for many social issues of the time, notably women’s rights, pacifism and opposition to conscription. Alice and Hettie were activists for women’s suffrage, members of the Women’s Social & Political Union before World War 1, as well being involved in socialist propaganda. To make a living she sold second hand clothes in the market and later from a shop.

If enthusiastic support for the pointless carnage of the First World War was still by far the view of the majority of the population, opposition had grown over the previous two and a half years. The mass deaths, privations, hunger and hardships at home, forced conscription into the armed forces, as well as mass government repression, had sparked hatred and demoralisation, resentment, and resistance. Soldiers were passively and actively avoiding combat and would soon by mutinying; strikes were multiplying, organised by grassroots shop stewards movements, (as the trade union leaders mostly supported the ban on workplace struggles during wartime); food riots and rent strikes had broken out in 1915 and 1916. And refusal to be conscripted, resistance and draft-dodging, had given birth to underground networks of war resisters, mostly young men on the run from the authorities, often sheltered by sympathetic pacifists, socialists and anarchists. A plethora of organisations – the No Conscription Fellowship, the Socialist Labour Party, British Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World, parts of the Union of Democratic Control, the North London Herald League, Sylvia Pankhurst’s Women’s Socialist Federation in East London; parts of the Independent Labour Party, the Women’s Freedom League, the shop stewards networks, anarchist groups and christian pacifists… and so many more…  

The government feared all these movements were linked, and to some extent there were rebel networks, with loose origins in the workers’ movements that had erupted before the war, the militant suffragettes who had rejected jingoism when war broke out, and the leftwing political groups who denounced the war on internationalist grounds. From the outside it could also appear that this opposition could link up to wider discontent among the ‘general population’, and that a serious rebellious threat could arise to the war effort and even to the state and the vast capitalist interests that had needed the war.

The government was determined to disrupt and discredit the growing opponents of the war, and pretty much allowed the secret state to operate freely, with carte blanche to use whatever methods seemed necessary. The press was already happy to trumpet that strikers, pacifists, etc were passively doing ‘the Kaiser’s work’, if not actually being paid by Germany; the more evidence could be drummed up that honest and peaceful opposition to the conflict was in fact a cover for more sinister, treasonous and violent intent, the more potential support for opposition they thought could be warded off.

The Ministry of Munitions Intelligence Unit, a branch of an organisation that was to partly evolve into MI5, faced with an immediate threat of being dismantled, conceived a strategy of discovering a treasonable plot in Derby, which with its munitions factories, was a heartland of Britain’s war effort. 

The Wheeldons were on the one hand a typical anti-war family with William Wheeldon and Alf Mason (Winnie’s husband) both facing conscription, (William was an anarchist ‘absolutist’ conscientious objector), and all of the family including Alice’s sons-in-law were heavily involved in both overt and underground resistance: in the above ground activities of the No Conscription Fellowship, but also in hiding men on the run, helping them escape the country in some cases. They sat also in the middle of the networks the authorities and military intelligence an Special Branch had in their sights: Arthur MacManus, (then ‘courting’ Alice’s daughter Hettie, and a friend of her son William), was heavily involved in the shop stewards meetings and planning class struggle in the factories, particularly in nearby Sheffield, the stronghold of the shop stewards committees since the pioneering Glasgow stewards had been largely broken up by arrest and repression in 1916. Their friends and comrades spread across the midlands and the north of England. 

An MI5 agent, using the name Alex Gordon, and posing as a conscientious objector on the run from the authorities. He had turned up in Sheffield, just as 10-12,000 skilled engineers and other workers came out on strike against the conscription of a fitter, Leonard Hargreaves, at Vickers plant there, in what appeared to be a case of the employers breaking agreements with the unions to not force certain grades into the army. the strike terrified the government, who backed down and released Hargreaves. (It’s worth noting that bitter divisions were opening up in the working class, as unions representing skilled workers were prepared to strike over such actions, but less skilled workers were often not supported.) ‘Gordon’ was not the only spy around – several other ministry of munitions agents were reporting on the strike, the socialists and other workers opposing the war in Sheffield and nearby towns. The reports of the spies tended to focus on prominent individuals like the Sheffield shop stewards activist and later communist theorist, J. T. Murphy, Arthur MacManus, and others, as being largely responsible for anti-war and workers agitation – missing the point that both movements were made up of grassroots networks based on daily grievances and built horizontally, not hierarchically. But the spies fed into their handlers view that taking out some of the prominent faces would crush the movements entirely. 

Alex Gordon was really Francis Vivian, who had been involved in the British Socialist Party before the war, so may have been known (if only by repute) to some of his targets, building trust. He moved across to Derby, in late 1916, supervised by another spy, known as Herbert Booth, who reported to Major Melville Lee at the Ministry of Munitions. Booth and Gordon seem to have played on the Wheeldon family’s angry desire to strike back at the warmongering government they hated, and a plot was hatched, according to the Wheeldons later, to poison dogs guarding prison camps where arrested ‘conchies’ and war resisters were being held, so they could be helped to escape. However, Gordon and Booth presented the poison, which was ordered, as evidence of a plot to poison the new Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. They reported a succession of conversations, a mix of invented and real talk, no doubt, of threats and plans to off the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleague, Labour’s Arthur Henderson, who was widely vilified by anti-war socialists; as well as unnamed others.

Alice Wheeldon, Hettie Wheeldon, her daughter Win Mason and Win’s husband Alf Mason were all arrested at the end of January 1917. William Wheeldon was picked up but managed to escape and disappeared. 

The four were tried at the Old Bailey with the Attorney General, the trial beginning on March 6th 1017; future Lord Chancellor, the rightwing politician F.E. Smith leading the prosecution. The legal profession was apparently leant on heavily not to defend them, and the lawyers who did were not very effective. The accused were brow-beaten and their case was not really presented; the dice were loaded against them. The government were determined to use them as a example. Whether or not the spies’ superiors believed the plot was real, or their political bosses really feared for their lives, the trial was a useful weapon to beat the anti-war movement with, at least to split moderate critics of the war from the more radical elements.

Gordon was not present to testify in the trial so the defence could not cross-examine him on his evidence.  The court proceedings show that the evidence was flimsy and that the intention of the prosecution was to publicly destroy the reputations of the accused and then to convict them on that basis.

Hettie Wheeldon was acquitted but the others were sentenced to varying prison terms and their application to appeal was refused. Alice received ten years imprisonment, Alf Mason seven years, Winnie five years. 

Alice went on hunger strikes in Aylesbury Prison, which severely affected her health. Conditions inside were harsh and she was over fifty. Given her failing health and officialdom’s fear that she might die in prison, which could rebound badly on them, she served less than one year of her 10-year sentence. Doubts had also started to arise about the trial and the authorities may have thought they would settle if she was quietly released. From Holloway Prison she was released on licence at the instigation of the Prime Minister – the same Prime Minister she was accused of conspiracy to murder. Her daughters Nellie and Hettie accompanied her back to Derby but her life was made impossibly hard. She was ostracised by many neighbours, and her clothes business was ruined. She and Hettie (who had lost her job as a teacher despite her acquittal) tried to grow and sell veg to survive. They tried to pick up their political activism, re-establishing links with some of the comrades. But both Hettie and Alice caught the flu in the terrible 1918-19 epidemic that struck at a weakened Europe after the war, and for Alice, worn out by prison, it was fatal. She died in February 1919. 

Win and Alf Mason were released unexpectedly at the end of the war, having also gone on hunger strike. After their release, in 1919, Winnie and Alf moved to London where they lived for a number of years with Winnie’s other siblings. Eventually they moved to Hampshire where Winnie was noted for raising awareness of the rise of Fascism. In 1949, shifted to Welwyn Garden City where Alf had built a modern house in the new town. Win was diagnosed with lung cancer and died there in 1953; Alf died in 1963.

Hettie married Arthur MacManus, in 1920 and they had a stillborn child, but she died from peritonitis following on from appendicitis the same year. Arthur became a leading member of the new Communist Party of Great Britain (Alice’s other daughter Nellie also became a CPGB activist). William Wheeldon’s story is perhaps the most poignant in the story of the anti-war movement, in Britain and internationally, and where it ended; he became a communist, moved to the Soviet Union and made there, believing in and working for the Soviet project for many years, Until Stalin had him arrested and shot in the purges in 1937, where he was forced to confess to being a longtime British spy.

A hundred years after the frame-up of Alice and her family, after the profit-ridden carcass-fest of World War I, there is a campaign growing to remember the Wheeldons and the Masons. Derby people and the family have long been convinced that the impact of these outrageous charges has reverberated down the generations. Now Deirdre and Chloë Mason, great grand-daughters of Alice Wheeldon and the grand-daughters of Alf and Win Mason, are seeking to clear their ancestors names so history will record that this was a miscarriage of justice… 

Check out the website of this campaign

A plaque was placed on Alice’s shop in Derby a couple of years ago to mark the plot.

Sheila Bowbotham’s excellent history/drama crossover, ‘Friends of Alice Wheeldon’ is a great book, and worth reading if you can get hold of it.

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The machinations of the secret state that backed the fit-up of the Wheeldon family is complex and we would like to write about it, especially given the relevance of spies infiltrating movements for social change to our own time. This will have to wait for another time; but sufficient to say, spies sponsored by both Special Branch and the Ministry of Munitions Intelligence Unit were both operating against socialists, strikers, anti-war activists. But they were also competing against each other for influence, and reported to rival power centres in government. The spies themselves were part fantasists, part telling their handler what they wanted to hear, and part freelance self-interested opportunists. Some of them experienced half-regret for their actions: ‘Alex Gordon aka Francis Vivian attempted in some bizarre way to re-ingratiate himself with socialists after the trial, part-justifying and part apologising for his part in it. This dynamic is familiar to those of us targetted by modern spycops, some of who have publicly blown the whistle on their former bosses, some of who have returned to friends and lovers after their deployment ended, torn between their ‘job’ and the attraction of the life of rebellion and love that our movements at their best are capable of… But many more hide behind the walls built by the police and secret state, fearing exposure, claiming they are afraid of our revenge, or more honestly, the embarrassment of people they now finding out the glorious war they fought against environmentalists and families of racist murder victims, while deceiving women into sex.

As a heavily restrictive Inquiry into Undercover Policing attempts to cover up most of the history of political spying of the last half century, under the guise of pretending to uncover it, some of those spied on are attempting to push for as much information on those who spied on us and those who controlled them as we can get. Results so far are not encouraging; most of the names revealed so far have been brought into the open by us.

For more information about current campaigning vs undercover policing, check out:

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

Undercover Research Group

Police Spies Out of Lives

The Network for Police Monitoring

http://spycops.info/

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The massive potential of the rising anti-war movement, the rebel networks of which Alice and all her family and friends were part of, was in the end broken, partly by the repression of the state, both open and secret, But also by the divisions of he movements themselves. The shop stewards movement launched strikes in 1917, but they were crippled by the splits between skilled and unskilled workers. The coagulating brilliant links that the conchies, suffragists, socialists and the class-conscious workers were forging did produce the Leeds Convention in June 1917, influenced and cheered by the Russian Revolution, attempting to unite trade unions and protest against the war. But it allowed itself to be dominated by the Labour Party and union leaders, who helped to derail its revolutionary potential. The powerful links developing through the war did continue to grow, and produced massive strikes in 1919, which in parallel with mutinies in the army could have led to a more fundamental social change – but was sold out by unions leaders, and hamstrung by people’s own doubts and lack of desire to push forward.

This post could have covered much more of this interesting period and the fascinating people and groups evolving at this time, and resisting the capitalist war machine with heroic but grounded love for each other, as well as clear-sighted hatred for the classes that profited from the slaughter.

Across the years we salute Alice, William and Hettie Wheeldon, Win and Alf Mason, their friends and comrades, and the movements they played a part in. If the world they hoped to build has not yet come about – tremble on your thrones, powers of the earth! Just you wait, you bankers!

 

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

Check out the Calendar online

Follow past tense on twitter

Today in London legal history: a jury finds the killing of a copper to be ‘Justifiable Homicide’, 1833.

On the repression of a radical rally, the killing of a policeman, and the inquest verdict… with a digression to take in recently exposed former spycop Andy Coles. Oh yes, there’s a link. 

In May 1833, the National Union of the Working Classes called a mass open air meeting, to be held on Monday 13th May to take place on Coldbath Fields, now the site of Mount Pleasant sorting office, at the junction of Rosebery Avenue and Farringdon Road. The meeting would end in a police attack on the crowd, the stabbing of a policeman, and a controversial inquest verdict…

When the Metropolitan Police were first formed, and first took to the streets in 1829, they were widely reviled. It was a time of rising working class protest and organisation. For 60 years movements had been building for reform of the class-biased political system years, and were reaching a peak; both middle class and working class organisations were pressing for reform. However, for decades a strand of radical and insurgent thinking had run through working class politics – a large minority of activists not only felt they had the right to political representation, but that the working class would not achieve it through peaceful lobbying or petitioning. Violent repression of rallies like Peterloo in 1819; government crackdowns and laws to band protest, radical papers and speeches; a network of police spies and agent provocateur/saboteurs burrowing into reforming groups to destroy and divide them…

Many thought opposition such as this could only be overcome by an armed seizure of power. A much wider group of radicals thought armed self-defence against attacks by the militia or constables was justified.

Regularly targeted by the authorities, radical activists were from the start suspicious the ‘New Police’ would be another weapon used against them. And were to be proved right.

But even beyond radical movements, the majority of working class people in many of the rapidly growing cities, especially London, saw the police as a threat; knowing, that the police were being set up to control them in the defence of property, and hating them for it. From the start the Constabulary’s were abused and attacked in the street, labelled with such fun nicknames as ‘Raw Lobsters’, ‘Blue Devils’ and ‘Peel’s Bloody Gang’. Early officers were physically assaulted, others impaled, blinded, and on one occasion one was held down while a vehicle was driven over him.

While the Police had a wider brief to get the teeming industrialised masses under control, radicals and political reformers WERE specifically on their radar. And in particular, the insurgent wing, and its potential to attract support from the very poor, and the shifting hydra that was labeled the ‘London Mob’.

In 1833 the National Union of the Working Classes (NUWC) was close to the top of the New Police’s list of concerns. The NUWC had arisen as an alliance of groups of London trade unionists, many of whom were also sympathetic to the ideas of the co-operator Robert Owen. However they largely rejected Owen’s belief that political reform was irrelevant, that the working class should organise only on the economic level. The NUWC instead maintained that political action was vital, that universal male suffrage, winning the vote for working men, would in the end bring about economic equality. They saw class relations as fundamental to society, and that in order to win their rights workers had to get together and do things for themselves: some in the NUWC said the workers should organise themselves separately, in their own movements and unions. In London their support was mainly among artisans, who had formed the backbone of the capital’s reforming and radical movements, with a strong tradition of self-education, self-employment, apprenticeship and independence.

Membership of the National Union of the Working Classes totalled about 3,000 in London, they were divided into local ‘classes’ of 80 to 130 people, mostly in then solidly working class areas like Lambeth, Bethnal Green, Hammersmith and Islington. But their influence was greater than membership numbers suggest: especially through papers like the Poor Man’s Guardian, which were read widely among artisans and the emerging working class. In government and official circles, fear of the power and influence of the NUWC was, however, probably wildly out of proportion to its real power.

The NUWC in many ways was a sort of proto-Chartism, though strong in London, where Chartism’s greatest strengths were in the new industrial cities of the north and midlands.

From 1831 to 1833, weekly NUWC meetings and debates were held at the Rotunda; on and off; during this time there was an intense agitation nationally for reform, and many of these were heated discussions, as the Union was from the start to its end divided. There were arguments over definitions of class, over strategy and tactics, over the uses of violence, over whether to ally with the (then stronger) middle class political reform movement, or the more progressive wing of the Whig party.

Especially after the 1832 Reform Act gave voting rights to middle class men, but not the working class, some elements of the Union came to the conclusion that the lower classes would have to rebel to obtain their ‘rights’. There was a strong sense that the middle class reformers had used the threat of working class uprising as a stick to force the aristocracy to share power with them, then shafted their proletarian allies. NUWC stalwart William Benbow made a speech celebrating the great reform riot in Bristol in 1831, but was opposed by other members of the NUWC Committee… Some NUWC members made plans to arm themselves in self-defence against police attacks on rallies, which jacked up the government and bourgeoisie’s fear of the Union. By 1833, the moderates were beginning to desert the NUWC and the more radical elements came to the fore, launching a plan to launch a Convention of the People (a scary notion for the upper classes, coming straight from the most radical phase of the French Revolution).

By May 1833 there had been three years of intense campaigning, riots, the Reform Bill, with the sense of betrayal of working people that it brought; there had been abortive plots to gather and launch armed revolt. The splits over the use of force and what kind of society was envisaged had weakened the NUWC; many of the ‘moderates’ had left. But the remaining elements of the organisation were determined to keep up the pressure… Some were arming, and drilling in preparation for an uprising.

A NUWC rally was announced for May 13th on Coldbath Fields in Clerkenwell, and was seen by some as a first step towards a revolutionary seizure of power. Resolutions for the rally included proposals for seizing the bank of England and the Tower of London… This was naïve; but the overconfidence on the radical side was mirrored by a fear in government circles. There was a determination to put down the radicals. The upcoming rally on Coldbath Fields was seen as a ripe chance, and the police were prepared to smash the rally by force. The meeting was banned, which led many not already distancing themselves from the NUWC to withdraw.

However on the day itself, several thousand still attended the demo. While the NUWC committee sat in the Union Tavern [still a pub today on King’s Cross Road], people began assembling outside in Coldbath fields, including a body from the NUWC with a banner reading ‘Death or Liberty’. Meanwhile large numbers of police were assembling in Grays Inn Road from where they were deployed in stableyards around Coldbath Fields. At around 3pm the committee left the tavern to address the assembly, by now between one and two thousand strong. The chairman had barely started speaking when the cry of ‘Police’ went up from the crowd. The police, between 1700 and 3000 in number, had formed up across Calthorpe Street before advancing on the meeting, while others came up another side street. In the words of the Gentleman’s Magazine the police having ‘completely surrounded the actors and spectators of the scene…commenced a general and indiscriminate attack on the populace inflicting broken heads alike on those who stood and parleyed and those who endeavoured to retreat’. New Bell’s Weekly Messenger also writes of the police attacking those assembled: ‘The Police came on and used their staves pretty freely…many heads were broken.’

During the assault three policeman were stabbed; PC Culley ‘ran about thirty yards and upon reaching the Calthorpe Arms [still a pub today on Gray’s Inn Rd] he seized the barmaid by the wrist and exclaimed “Oh, I am very ill”’. These were his dying words. One man, George Fursey, was sent for trial on the charge of murdering PC Culley and wounding PC Brooks. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

There then followed a local inquest on the death of PC Culley; it was convened in an upstairs room of the same Calthorpe Arms, close to the site of the demonstration. The inquest jury of seventeen men consisted largely of bakers from the Grays Inn neighbourhood. Summing up, the coroner called upon the jury to return a verdict of wilful murder. The jury retired and after half an hour sent a message to the coroner saying that sixteen of them were agreed on a verdict condemnatory of the police. The coroner protested and urged them to reconsider. A short while later their final verdict was delivered:

‘We find a verdict of justifiable homicide on these grounds; that no riot act was read, nor any proclamation advising the people to disperse, that the Government did not take the proper precautions to prevent the meeting from assembling; and we moreover express our anxious hope that the Government will in future take better precautions to prevent the recurrence of such disgraceful transactions in the metropolis.’

Reading between the lines, it appears that the jury’s view was that the demonstrators were deliberately penned in and ambushed by the police.

Again the coroner protested, locking them in the juryroom to try to change their minds, but the jury remained firm and insisted on their verdict; he could dismiss them and appoint another jury but their verdict would stand. They said that they were neither in favour of the meeting nor against the police, just the way the police behaved. As the foreman put it: ‘Mr Coroner we are firmly of the opinion that if they had acted with moderation the deceased would not have been stabbed.’

Local people evidently thought no expense should be spared in celebrating this popular victory; “When the inquest ended small impromptu torchlit processions carried the jurors to their respective homes. The Milton Street Committee arranged a free trip up the Thames to Twickenham for them. In July it was a free trip to the London Bridge Theatre to see A Rowland for Oliver. Each member of the jury was presented with a pewter medallion which bore the inscription ‘In honour of men who nobly withstood the dictation of a coroner; and by the judicious, independent and conscientious discharge of their duty promoted a continued reliance upon the laws under the protection of a British jury’. Funds were raised for a memorial. On the first anniversary of the verdict a procession took place from the Calthorpe Arms to St Katherine’s Dock. It was led by a specially commissioned banner, the funds for which had been raised by a Mr Ritchie, the landlord of the Marquess of Wellesley in Cromer Street, Grays Inn Lane. After reaching St Katherine’s Dock the procession boarded the Royal Sovereign for a return trip to Rochester, complete with free food and drink. A pewter cup was presented to the foreman of the jury with the inscription ‘…as a perpetual memorial of their glorious verdict of justifiable homicide on the body of Robert Culley, a policeman, who was slain while brutally attacking the people when peacefully assembled in Calthorpe Street on 13th May 1833’.”

Despite the wave of support for the jurors, the attack spelled the end for the NUWC, which began to fall apart. However, its influence helped give birth to Chartism. Both the London Working Man’s Association and the London Democratic Association emerged from same groups, neighbourhoods and individuals in London as the Union, and they were crucial in kickstarting Chartism in the late 1830s. But the NUWC’s inherent divisions over class, whether workers could co-operate with the middle class, over the use of persuasion and campaigning, or force, over the ultimate aim (just equality? or power for the workers as a class?), were inherited by the larger later movement, and continued to divide Chartism throughout its existence… And are indeed questions alive and kicking in our own movements and struggles today…

Postscript 1: Both the the Union Tavern, where the NUWC Committee met, and the Calthorpe Arms, where the inquest was held, are not only still a pub today, but has had more recent radical associations. London Class War used to meet in the Union Tavern in the 1990s, and a number of anarchist and anti-capitalist events and actions were planned upstairs at the Calthorpe in the 2000s, in the same room the jury held out in.

Postscript 2: (Bear with me. It makes sense in the end )

The government of the day, and the police acting to destroy the NUWC rally, had been greatly aided by the spies they sent in to infiltrate, report on and if possible disrupt the movement, and other radical groupings. This was a huge industry, even then, though many were informers, not specifically policemen. In our own time, we are still facing the issue of police penetration of community and activist groups, political movements and campaigns for justice and accountability (most notably for people killed by racists, and in police custody). However, long years of investigations by activists have uncovered the highly trained undercover police officers who have spied on us, lived with us for several years, and in many cases preyed on activists sexually, some fathering children. Police units like the Special Demonstration Squad, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit have spent billions gathering info on activists, attempting to provoke actions that can then lead to arrests, and encouraging abuse of women and miscarriages of justice. Now they are spending millions more obstructing any substantial process in the Undercover Policing Inquiry set up after public outrage became too angry to ignore.

But if they won’t tell activists who spied on us and release our Special Branch files to us, we will continue to uncover the undercovers ourselves. And here is where another strange echo of the early 1830s crops up. Just four days ago another ex-spycops was exposed – Andy Coles, once known as Andy Davey, when he infiltrated the animal rights movement in the 1990s. A man known to this writer.

Coles sexually exploited at least one woman, then aged 19, leading to a relationship; though he also launched unwanted advances on others. But since vanishing from South London animal rights circles in 1994, he had risen, oh he’s risen. He has become a Conservative councillor in Peterborough. A school governor. An expert on child protection and best of all, Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire. Well the last until today, when he was forced to resign after the outrage at his grooming of a teenager into a sexual relationship forced him out. ‘Jessica’, the woman he abused, is now to sue the Metropolitan Police for colluding in her being groomed.

However, bizarrely, Coles fancies himself as a writer. He pens meaningful political poetry – of a quality that only be described as ‘McGonagallite‘. And he did have plans to write a novel, provisionally titled However Roguish a Man, though this may have been shelved. The subject: undercover policing as used against the radicals of early 1830s London! Strange that this should surface on this anniversary of the practical commonsense of a London jury recognising police provocation for what it was, eh, Mr Coles?

The plot summary is masterful, and so apt, drawn from Andy’s own exciting past:

“The working title for my novel about political unrest and policing in the era of the Reform Act 1832, when revolution was on the air and the great stink of London was just discovering the necessary inconvenience of being policed by an organised group of “Raw Lobsters”.

Beginning in the 1820’s, rural poverty was driving agricultural labourers to violence, burning hayricks and threatening the landowners and farmers who were turning to the new threshing machines instead of manual labour. Captain Swing letters abound and the wealthy are in fear of their lives.

At the same time a coal meter in Yarmouth finds his income is halved and the job he bought for 70 guineas no longer provides the annual income he needs to keep his wife and children. Looking for a new start he travels to London and is recruited into the Metropolitan Police.

The government needs to know what is going on in the new poor areas of London. Is riot and insurrection coming to the shores of Great Britain from the stews of Paris? Will the new King be deposed through bloody revolt? Fearful for the monarchy and the rule of the privileged classes in power, reform of the political system is contemplated by radicals and reformers, but bitterly resisted by traditionalists and those in rotten boroughs who will lose their seats in Parliament.

The Home Secretary demands that the New Police provide information on the new political unions that are springing up, and the Commissioners, Rowan and Mayne, depute divisional Superintendents to send men to the meetings to find out what is going on.

This is the story of one of these officers who penetrated a radical organisation, and what happened to him as a result.”

Whether Andy Coles has managed to work on what promises to be a fine historical epic recently, we aren’t sure – however, with the storm breaking about him, one post gone, and others surely soon to follow, he may get more free time to work on it. Since we are also very interested in the subject of police infiltration of radical movements, both down to our personal experience, and our studies of history, we await the appearance of However Roguish a Man. With baited breath.

PPS: Later the same evening I published this, Andy Coles took his writing blog down. Possibly misinterpreting our literary criticism. Mysteriously, the Peterborough Writers Circle, where Andy claimed to have first read his fine poem Aleppo, has also had its blog taken down simultaneously! Wasn’t a one-man band was it?

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

Follow past tense on twitter

Today in policing history: #spycop Bob Lambert sets fire to Debenhams Store, Harrow, 1987.

A few short years ago, Bob Lambert’s star was rising high. Having retired from the Metropolitan Police in 2008, he had built on his reputation as a Special Branch Detective Inspector, an expert on terrorism and how to combat it. He had moved effortlessly into academia and was a hit on the conference circuit, lauded as a mover and shaker in a number of projects both state-funded and grassroots-based, aimed at opposing Islamic jihadism. A darling of liberal opinion.

How the mighty have fallen.

Since 2011, Bob’s reputation has been somewhat on the slide: exposed as a former police spy, an agent provocateur, who had used relationships with several women he met while undercover to beef up his cover story… Later, a head of the same undercover police unit he had served, supervising other spies infiltrating social movements and grieving families. His liberal aura has lost its gloss; he has had to give up some lucrative and prestigious academic positions; he faces serious questions about his past.

Lambert is described as having joined the Metropolitan Police in 1977. He is said to have joined Metropolitan Police Special Branch in 1980, before being recruited to its secretive Special Demonstration Squad sometime between then and 1983.

Set up in 1968 in response to mass protests against the Vietnam War, and funded directly by the Home Office, the purpose of the SDS was to place long term spies in political movements in the UK, to gather ‘intelligence’ which was used to undermine those movements. The SDS spied on several hundred anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-war, environmental and social justice groups, and many more, over 40 years. The work of uncovering the more than 140 former police spies is ongoing.

As part of these undercover operations, agents, including Bob Lambert, had long term intimate and sexual relationships with campaigners and their friends, in the most abusive breach of trust imaginable. This abuse has had a severe and lasting emotional impact on those affected. Lambert has admitted he had four sexual relationships while undercover and even fathered a child before disappearing without trace from their lives.

Bob Lambert was deployed undercover using the alias ‘Bob Robinson’ from at least early 1984 until late 1988. For about 5 years up to 1988, Bob infiltrated meetings and events of London Greenpeace, an organisation which campaigned against nuclear power and war, and on other environmental and social justice issues. He was also actively involved with peace campaigns and animal rights activities and was even prosecuted for distributing ‘insulting’ leaflets outside a butchers shop. ‘Bob Robinson’ first appeared in the animal rights and environmental milieu in north London late 1983 or early 1984. His deployment followed that of the first known SDS officer sent to live amongst animal rights activists, Mike Chitty, who appeared in South London in early 1983.

His infiltration into animal rights circles began with regular attendance at demonstrations, where he made the acquaintance of genuine activists. He soon became a familiar face at protests, and offered to drive people to and from events. He took part in hunt sabotage, protests against businesses associated with animal products, and joined London Greenpeace, an anarchist-leaning group involved in environmental and social issues.

Having established himself on the scene, he took on more responsibilities and a more active role in various campaigns and groups, and “set about befriending campaigners suspected of being in the ALF” [Animal Liberation Front]. He wrote or co-wrote a number of activist documents, including London Greenpeace’s What’s Wrong With McDonald’s? factsheet – which was later subject to a notorious libel suit issued by McDonald’s. Throughout his undercover tour as ‘Robinson’, Lambert implied to activists that he was interested in or already involved in more clandestine forms of political activity, such as that associated with the cells of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

As an activist in an ALF cell, he took part in a co-ordinated clandestine action on the night of 12th July 1987, which saw the burning down of the Harrow branch of the Debenhams department store, using an incendiary device designed to set off sprinklers and destroy fur stocks. Two more branches of Debenhams, in Luton and Romford, were targeted at the same time on the same night. The 1987 attacks, which caused an estimated £340,000 worth of damage on the Harrow branch alone, with £4 million in fire damage and £4.5 million in trading losses across all three, was credited with precipitating the ending of Debenhams’ involvement in the fur trade.

In fact, Bob was acting as an agent-provocateur, encouraging and taking part in the action to ensure the arrests of ALF activists. The other two members of ‘Robinson’’s cell, Geoff Sheppard and Andrew Clarke, were both arrested and subsequently imprisoned. A 2015 “forensic external examination” of SDS-related documents undertaken by Stephen Taylor for the Home Office obliquely references Lambert’s involvement in securing the arrests of Sheppard and Clarke, and indicates that the then-Home Secretary Douglas Hurd complimented the unit on its operation.

Lambert remained deployed in the field as ‘Robinson’ until late 1988. Using the pretext of being under investigation by police for his involvement in the 1987 Harrow Debenhams’ arson – which included a Special Branch raid on the home of his then ‘partner’ Belinda Harvey “to add credibility to Lambert’s cover story” – ‘Robinson’ told Harvey and other friends, including his son’s mother, Jacqui, that he needed to go ‘on the run’ to avoid capture; to some he said that he planned to move to Spain until things quietened down. He then “abandoned his flat and stayed for a couple of weeks in what he called a ‘safe house’”, before spending a farewell week with Belinda at a friend’s house in Dorset in December 1988. With this, he disappeared out of their lives, with a few postcards postmarked Spain and sent in January 1989 the only indication that he still existed.

In reality, he continued to work within the police, rising to become a Detective Inspector in Special Branch, and to head the Special Demonstration Squad. He supervised other SDS agents who spied and lied while infiltrating groups such as London Greenpeace, Reclaim the Streets, anti fascist groups and campaigners against genetically modified crops. His experience in penetrating London Greenpeace and the ALF was used as a model for other agents. He is also directly implicated in police attempts to spy on, smear and discredit Stephen Lawrence’s family’s campaign against the police failures to investigate Stephen’s racist murder in 1993; and implicated in the scandal of SDS surveillance-derived intelligence being passed to private firms organizing blacklist against trade unionists.

After Lambert’s SDS past was exposed publicly by former activists in London Greenpeace in 2011, Lambert eventually ‘apologised’ for his sexual exploitation of women while undercover; but his is not an isolated case. Of some 15 other undercover police agents now identified as spying on activist groups in the last 20 years have, almost all have had deceitful and exploitative relationships with women. Top cops claim these spies were ordered not to form sexual relationships; but in reality supervisors turned a blind eye to what comes very close to rape. Ten women used in this way by police spies have won damages and an apology from the Metropolitan Police as the institution ultimately responsible for this; one is still suing the Met. More cases will surely result as further individual police spies are exposed.

Lambert continues to deny setting fire to the Debenhams Store in Harrow in July 1987. However Andrew Clarke and Geoff Shepherd have launched an appeal against their convictions, on the grounds that the failure to reveal the involvement of a police agent provocateur as central to the ‘plot’ constitutes a miscarriage of justice. Look forward to seeing Bob have his day in court THIS time around. And now the Met’s Professional Standards Department is investigating the 1987 attack. It’s fair to say that while the police top brass will enable some very dodgy practices and cover for you, it will only go so far – if you start looking like a liability, they will hang you out to dry. Sorry Bob. 

These undercover police were not involved in ‘anti terrorist’ operations, they were spying to disrupt and weaken the growing opposition to the domination of our society by the interests of multinational corporations, and attacking community campaigns dealing with police corruption, racist or state violence. Several official inquiries and investigations have been launched into undercover policing, because of the huge public outcry the exposures have created. But its worth stressing that Lambert’s activities – both in terms of spying and of exploiting women for cover and for sex – fit into a pattern, sponsored by the highest levels of the police and the state behind it. He was not a bad apple – the whole barrel stinks.

However, Bob’s exposure has dimmed his post-police career. His part-time posts at London Metropolitan and St Andrews Universities were called into question in the light of his past being brought to light, and in late 2015 he resigned both positions after protests inside and outside both institutions. Tragic.

The upcoming Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing may well also lift some lids off many practices top cops would rather stay hidden…

Much more on Bob’s career can be found here

(from which some of this post was brazenly lifted).

And for more on the fight to expose undercover police in the UK (and beyond):

The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

Spies Out Of Lives: The campaign supporting women exploited and deceived by spycops

The Undercover Research Group: uncovering undercover police agents, the units they worked for, and the police structures that backed them.

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

Today in London radical history: Police raid Fitzrovia house looking for ‘French anarchist bombers’, 1892.

As we have already noted on this blog, late 19th century London was home to large numbers of exiled socialists, radicals, and anarchists.

In the early 1890s, French anarchists, very much inflamed against social injustice and repression, became obsessed with the idea of revenge and individual acts of terror against representatives of the bourgeois society that they hated.

Heavy repression against workers organising to improve conditions in 1891, including police shootins on demonstrations, resulting in nine deaths, and arrests, beatings and jailings of anarchists, sparked a campaign of bombings against members of the judiciary by the anarchist Ravachol. Ravachol’s arrest in turn led to further bomb attacks by other French anarchists.

Several of those involved were suspected of having fled to or have been based in London. Two French anarchist exiles, Theodule Meunier and Jean-Pierre Francois, were wanted for alleged involvement for a bomb attack on the Café Very, in revenge for the part a waiter there had played in informing against Ravachol.

A cabinet maker by trade, Meunier had joined the French anarchist movement during the early 1890s. It was said of Meunier that he was “…the most remarkable type of revolutionary illuminist, an ascetic and a visionary, as passionate for the search for the ideal society as Saint-Just, and as merciless as seeking his way towards it.”

On June 27th 1892, Inspector Melville of (Special Branch) and 30 officers raided the houses of Delbacque, a French exile who lived in 30 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, an area teeming with French political refugees and their projects. They smashed open doors and wrecked the place, but failed to find either Francois or Meunier. Further raids in July also netted no bombers… There were rumoured appearances by Francois (to the adulation of the faction that enthusiastically supported ‘propaganda by the deed’) at the anarchist Autonomie Club, though it was was supposed to be awash with police informers. This may or may not have resulted in the tip-off that led Melville to be seeking Francois in Poplar, where he was living in the name of Johnson. Unluckily he came across him in the street in October (it took Melville and four cops to arrest him; his wife grabbed for a gun when their lodging was raided in turn).

In fact there was little concrete evidence against Francois, although he was extradited to France.

Meunier was not nicked until 1894, when Melville grabbed him in Victoria Station. He was also extradited and sentenced to 25 years penal servitude. He died in penal colony in Cayenne in 1907, stating “I only did what I had to do. If I could start over again, I would do the same thing.”

I am not sure what happened to Francois…

Interestingly, in order to extradite Meunier to France, the British courts re-defined the idea of a political crime. To a certain extent Britain tolerated ‘political’ refugees, nationalists, socialists, so long as they fitted into certain ‘acceptable’ parameters – only operating against their own government, fighting for democratic reforms, only organizing military conflict against soldiers- broadly aiming to replace one group in power with another. Political refugees fitting in with this could often expect a reasonable hearing in the liberal British courts, and requests for extradition from abroad might well be refused.

Many anarchists however refused to abide by the ‘rules’ that liberal governments were prepared to accept: they considered all authority as an enemy, aimed at the abolition of all governments; also, increasingly in the 1880s and 90s, some active in those sections of anarchism which believe ‘propaganda by the deed’ would inspire the overthrow of hierarchical society, felt that targeting politicians for assassination was OK, and even bourgeois civilians generally were the source of oppression of the working class, so they were also fair game.

Governments could all get behind the idea that this was just not cricket. The extradition court in Meunier’s case saw the idea of a political offence re-drawn to except anarchists, who be rejecting politics, refusing to aim at the replacement of one form of domination by another, thus excluded themselves from being ruled political. And could thus be extradited without anyone’s sense of their own liberal fairness being bruised. QED.

Special Branch’s Inspector Melville was to become a leading thorn in the side of the anarchist scene in late 19th/early 20th century London. Apart from rounding up exiles where he could, he built a formidable spying apparatus which not only collected information on anarchists of various nationalities, but also sponsored fake bomb plots to get as much publicity and put away as many comrades as he could. The notorious Walsall anarchist bomb plot was thought up in his fertile mind. He later rose to head Special Branch, and then became the secret chief of what later became MI5.

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

Today in London radical history: Anarchist Malatesta jailed for ‘libelling’ police spy Belleli, 1912

As mentioned on before on this blog, late-19th and early 20th century London was home to a bustling community of exiles from various European countries, a fair proportion of who were radical activists of one stripe or another, driven from their homes for their political involvement. For many socialists and anarchists living in London, however, fleeing this repression to what was on the face of it a more liberal and tolerant regime in Britain didn’t necessarily mean they escaped surveillance by the police back home.

The active involvement of the exiles in supporting radical and revolutionary struggles from London inevitably meant that the secret services, the political police, of several major European powers had an interest in knowing what was going on in London’s radical circles, and in disrupting and dividing it if possible. Most of the socialist and anarchist groups, clubs, and meeting places were heavily infiltrated by spies of all nationalities. British Special Branch also got in on the act. Since many of the activists were expecting police infiltration, and some of the spying was less than competent, suspicion, paranoia and general distrust quickly became second nature among the exiled left scenes. This is in itself, is of course almost as good as spying on people, to make them think that everyone they know is a spy, especially if they aren’t. Anarchists were particularly targeted by the secret services, especially after some elements of anarchism took a shine to bombings and assassination in the 1880s-90s. The attraction of anarchism to loud-mouthed bombastic nutters, very hard to distinguish from agent-provocateurs, lent itself nicely to a climate of denunciations, accusations and back-stabbing. Which does the police’s job in itself – sabotaging as much effective action as possible.

In the early years of the 20th century, the Italian police had a number of spies among the exile anarchist community in London. (See our entry for May 9th.)

In 1912, in a leaflet distributed to the Italian anarchist community in London, longtime Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta accused Enrico Belelli of being an informer of the Italian government, and challenged him to openly disclose the nature of his means of maintenance.

In April 1912, the Italian anarchists in London published a single issue to protest against Italy’s invasion of Libya: La Guerra Tripolina. Malatesta wrote the editorial for the one-off publication. Shortly after the appearance of this single issue, Enrico Ennio Belelli, a member of the anarchist colony, spread rumours that Malatesta was a Turkish spy. In reply, Malatesta issued a leaflet entitled Alla Colonia italiana di Londra (Per un fatto personale) and circulated it in the Italian colony. In that leaflet, Malatesta explained the reasons why he had ended all relations with Belelli, namely Belelli’s support of the Italian military invasion.

Malatesta challenged Belelli to attend a public meeting to explain where his funds came from and prove that he was not an agent of the Italian police. The publication of this leaflet represented the starting point of one of the most dangerous event that threatened Malatesta’s safety during the years of his long exile in London.

Initially Belelli issued a rebuttal to be printed by Giuseppe Pesci, who provided Malatesta with a copy of it. However, Belelli decided to withdraw the publication and not to distribute the leaflet in which he explicitly accused Malatesta to have taken part in the Houndsditch robbery. Instead, Belelli took proceedings against Malatesta for criminal libel. According to La Gogna, the single issue that exposed Belelli as a spy, Belelli reached that decision after consultation with Inspector Francis Powell of Scotland Yard.

Malatesta’s trial took place on 20 of May 1912 at the Old Bailey, in front of the Common Serjeant. Belelli’s interpreter was Enrico Bojada, the former informer of Inspector Prina. Belelli declared he was a bookseller and to have repudiated anarchist ideas a long time before the trial:

“…I am an Italian and have been trading in England about 10 years. Have known prisoner about 30 years, and have seen him many times since I have been in England… I was a personal friend of prisoner up to about six months ago, when the Italian-Turkish War started. I have sold a lot of books, some very ancient ones. I do not keep books of accounts as I pay in cash. I have no invoices or documents to show that I have sold any books, but I have sold many to various ladies and gentlemen. I make a profit of L250 to L300 a year. I have not banking account. I have not plate on my door showing I am a bookseller. I have two rooms and a Kitchen at my flat, and live there with my wife and six children, and carry on my business from there. I sell my books outside. I keep all my books in my flat. I have at present 700 or 800 francs worth. I may not have a large numbers of books as perhaps only one is a very valuable book…I did profess anarchy at one time, but after I saw that anarchist ideas were not fit for myself or others I gave up anarchy. That is … more than eight years ago, and I very seldom went to any other meetings. I did go to the International Anarchist Congress at Amsterdam in 1907 with prisoner’s brother, who is not an Anarchist, but only as a matter of curiosity… I have never been an Italian police spy, and have never received any money from the Minister of the Interior in Italy. I never sent money to the Anarchist Congress, and have only bought their newspapers; 15s. or 20s. is all I have ever paid towards anarchism in my life… I have never asserted that the defendant had sold himself to the Turkish Government as a Turkish spy. I did not write an article in reply to the challenge of defendant, and never gave such a thing to anyone to print for me… It may be that defendant and I have fallen out in consequence of the war, but my wife broke the friendship off at the time of the Houndsditch affair because the police were calling at my house asking me if I knew persons who participated in the murders… I take defendant’s circular to be an act of vengeance because I put him out of my house…six months ago because he said that whoever killed an Italian was his friend, and my wife would have given him some kicks if he had not gone…

Malatesta confirmed to have been close to Belelli; in fact, Malatesta used to visit him to give arithmetic lessons to his children. Malatesta added that Belelli posed as a bookseller, that in the previous five or six years he never saw him supply books and that Belelli owned only a few books for private use. In the cross-examination, Malatesta stated:

“When I published the circular I said that many people might think Bellili [sic] was an Italian police spy. When I say that he is not doing an honest trade as bookseller I mean to imply that he is getting his money as an Italian police spy. When I say he is a liar, I mean it. When I said I could show how I get every 6d. of my income I meant I was getting my living honestly. I challenged Bellili [sic] to do the same. I have been sentenced in Italy, but always for political offences – never to 30 years’ imprisonment or anything of the kind. I did not go to Bellili’s [sic] house on purpose to say that I disagreed with the Italian over the war. I did not say I was against all the Italians – I am an Italian myself. Bellili [sic] said at the Italian Colony that I wished all the Italian would get killed – or something of the kind – to influence the Italian Colony; but he has failed. Mrs. Bellili [sic] told me that she had a brother, who was a lieutenant in the Italian Army. I used no violent language, but Bellili [sic] was not ashamed to put his wife in the question. I do not like to quarrel with ladies. I did not say that everybody who murdered an Italian was a friend of mine, or that they should be crucified. I was a frequent visitor at Bellili’s [sic] house until his wife insulted me and then I went away. Afterwards I met Bellili [sic] at a shop kept by a friend of mine. I have seen Bellili [sic] on several occasions, but have had no conversation with him. It was in April I issued the circular and had it printed. It was printed in Paris. I had about 500 copies distributed.

Giuseppe Pesci, Giulio Rossi, Alfonso Spizzuoco, Pietro Gualducci, Romeo Tombolesi, Giorgio Antibando, and Enrico Defendi stood as witnesses in Malatesta’s favour, confuting Belelli’s statements. The Common Serjeant refused to accept as evidence a copy of Belelli’s reply to Malatesta. Pesci, nicknamed Bologna, the printer of many anarchist publications in London, stated that he had printed three proofs of the reply to Malatesta that Belelli had handed to him. Spizzuoco and Antibando testified to have been told by Belelli that Malatesta was a spy of the Turkish government. Defendi, Gualducci, Tombolesi, and Rossi denied that Belelli was a bookseller. All of them admitted to have been Belelli’s friends. Ludovico Brida and Giovanni Moroni, to whom Belelli declared to have sold books for a large amount of money, rectified the figure of the purchase to the value of few shillings. The Russian anarchist Chaikovsky testified in Malatesta’s favour as well.

The jury held Malatesta’s allegation against Belelli not substantiated by the evidence available. Therefore, they found Malatesta guilty of criminal libel.

In a contentious decision, the Common Serjeant allowed Inspector Powell of the Special Branch to give evidence after the delivery of the verdict.

“…Prisoner has been known to the police as an Anarchist of a very dangerous type for a great number of years. He has been imprisoned in his own country and has been expelled from France. He has visited Egypt, Spain, France, Portugal, and, I believe, America, in the interests of Anarchy, and wherever he went there was a great deal of trouble. He is known as the leader of militant Anarchists in this country – in fact, in the world. Many of his formers colleagues have passed through this court and had penal servitude for coining. Gardstein, one of the Houndsditch …had been using prisoner’s workshop, or working with him for 12 months. A tube of oxygen that was used on that occasion was traced to prisoner, who stated that he had sold it to Gardstein. That is all that was known. He has never been in the hands of the police in this country, but on one occasion was fined for assaulting a school teacher who chastised his son at school… I do not know much in his favour…”

Clearly opinion in the courtroom was swayed by Powell’s description of Malatesta as ‘an anarchist of a very dangerous type’, who had links with forgers and the police murderers of Houndsditch: his pronouncements also prejudiced the sentence issued to Malatesta by the Common Serjeant.

Three months’ imprisonment; recommended for expulsion under the Aliens Act; ordered to pay costs of prosecutions.

The Common Serjeant’s decision of considering Malatesta as an undesirable alien and to recommend him for expulsion at the expiration of his sentence aroused broad indignation. Articles against the punishment appeared in several newspapers: the Manchester Guardian, The Nation, the Daily Herald, the Star, the Daily News, and the Leader, as well as in Conservative newspapers. Malatesta’s sentence was seen as an attack against the tradition of political asylum, an attempt ‘to repudiate a principle to which all Liberals and most Conservatives are sincerely devoted’.

“An even greater scandal has arisen by the appearance in the court of a detective from the Political Department of Scotland Yard. This man was allowed to enter the witness box after the jury had given their verdict and make an attack upon Malatesta…Malatesta is the victim of the despicable international secret police who wish to destroy the RIGHT OF ASYLUM for political refugees which has hitherto been the glory of Britain. Their victory would be our dishonour. If this plot to deliver Malatesta into the hands of the Italian Government were successful, it would also strenghten [sic] the hands of the enemies of freedom in this country.”

Prince Kropotkin defended Malatesta in a long letter published in The Nation. Kropotkin argued that Malatesta’s case had to be considered in its political aspect. The challenge, an appeal to the judgement of comrades, as the one addressed by Malatesta to Belelli, was a defence against the system of agents-provocateurs that had ‘lately taken an immense development’. Malatesta’s condemnation for libel was dangerous because it rendered impossible any appeal to a jury of honour.

A Malatesta Release Committee was immediately established to launch a protest campaign against the sentence and to stop the deportation order. Initially, the secretary and treasurer was Jack Tanner, but was quickly replaced by Guy Aldred. The official address of the committee was Recchioni’s shop, in 37 Old Compton Street.

In the following weeks the Committee distributed 120,000 leaflets and 100,000 postcards to be sent to the Home Secretary. Rallies were held in Finsbury Park, Peckham Rye, and Regent’s Park ‘for arousing public interest in the dark and low–down tricks of continental political police agents’. A massive meeting was held on the 9 June, the day before the hearing of Malatesta’s appeal. According to The Anarchist at least 15,000 people joined the demonstration. Four processions with bands and banners convened on Trafalgar Square from Highbury, Mile End, Hammersmith and Harlesden. A large number of trade unions and labour organisations participated: dockers, tailors, gas workers, railwaymen, shop assistants, iron and tin-plate workers, etc. Banners of the Independent Labour Party and the British Socialist Party mixed with those of the anarchist groups. Many speeches were given from three platforms, among others by the secretary of the London Trades Council, James MacDonald, the editor of The Syndicalist, Guy Bowman, the Italo-Scottish anarchist James Tochatti, Guy Aldred, Mrs. Tom Mann, and Mrs. Agnes Henry.

The mobilisation demonstrated the deep esteem that Malatesta enjoyed, especially among the people of Islington, the area where he lived. Thousands signed the petition in Malatesta’s favour:

“Islington knows little and cares less about Malatesta’s “philosophical anarchism”. It only knows him as one who will give his last copper to the man who needs it, and who for more than twenty years has worked there, teaching useful trade to boys who would have drifted into hooliganism.”

Rudolf Rocker’s son, Fermin, retained a vivid memory of Malatesta in those years:

“Malatesta was one of the heroes of the movement, a veteran of many struggles on two continents, and his prestige, particularly among his countrymen, was equalled by very few. Oddly enough, there was little in his appearance and demeanour to suggest his exploits as a leader of strikes and insurrections, and to children in particular he seemed the very essence of benevolence… Despite his prominence in the movement, Malatesta lived a life of the utmost frugality, supporting himself as a machinist and metalworker, a calling he pursued in his own little workshop in Islington. Poor as he was, he invariably had a little gift for me whenever he would see me, either a little bag of sweets, a coin or a toy. In this regard he was not playing any favourites, for he had a way with children and was known and loved by all the youngsters in his neighbourhood.”

The Malatesta release campaign was a real tonic for the anarchist movement in London. Demonstrations were held in France as well. The anarchist newspaper, Les Temps Nouveaux, organised a successful meeting in Paris where ‘there was an overflow that would have filled the hall twice over’.The principal speakers were Charles Malato, M.Yvetot, and Dr. Pierro. Two hundred pounds were collected for the fund raised for the benefit of Malatesta. A large open-air meeting took place in Glasgow on Sunday 16 June.

On 10 of June, the appeal of Errico Malatesta against the sentence was heard before the Lord Chief Justice, Mr Justice Darling, and Mr Justice Avory. During the proceeding Malatesta ‘lent his bushy iron grey beard upon his white arm and gazed about the court with keen, penetrating eyes. Throughout the hearing he took apparently a deep interest in the proceeding’. Malatesta’s appeal was refused. The motivations for refusing the appeal, apart from the legal questions, demonstrated the judges’ particular perception of the Italian colony:

“He wrote and published in Italian, the native language of a number of people living together as a colony in this country, among them many anarchists… it held up Bellilli [sic] to the hatred of this society, a society of a very peculiar character. If a man in such a society was to be convicted of being a police spy… it followed that that man would be, in a society like that, in a very dangerous position… The Common Serjeant had made perfectly plain that he did not recommended that Malatesta should be deported as an undesirable alien simply because he was an Anarchist… His deportation was recommended on the ground that Bel[elli] being an anarchist, and being accused by Malatesta of being an Italian spy, the accusation was a danger to Bel[elli]. It was probable that in consequence of the libel some crime would be committed, and it was not going too far to say that some assassination might take place and that crime would be produced in this country. The Court, having taken in consideration all the circumstances, could therefore see no reason for revoking that part of the sentence relating to the deportation of Malatesta.

The Manchester Guardian underlined the judges’ contradictions at the Court of Appeal and rested its hopes in the Home Secretary.

On 18 June, the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, announced to the House of Commons that he: ‘had decided not to make an expulsion order against Malatesta but he saw no reasons to advise the remission of the sentence of imprisonment’.

Thanks to those mass demonstrations, Malatesta was therefore able to stay in England.

The trial put an end to Belelli’s career as a spy – he had for a while been suspected of being an infiltrator code-named Virgilio. Indeed, Malatesta’s allegations were sound. Belelli was born in the village of Novellara, near Reggio Emilia, on the 15 May 1860. The inaccessibility of prefettura and questura records held at the Archivio di Stato in Bologna, closed for building works for the last two years, made it impossible to consult further documents to determine when Belelli was recruited as an informer by Giolitti. The go-between Giolitti and Belelli was the police superintendent (questore), Vincenzo Neri. Neri had much experience in dealing with spies. It was in fact Neri, at that time a police inspector, who approached Domanico – a noted police spy among the anarchists – in Florence and put him in contact with the Ministry of Interior in 1892. Neri was appointed questore of Bologna in April 1896, but he took office only in the September of the following year. Belelli, after being a socialist, from 1892 became one of the leaders of the anarchist movement in Bologna. Although Belelli could have been a secret agent before Neri’s arrival in Bologna, it is possible to surmise that Belelli’s career as a spy began with Neri’s appointment in that city. Belelli was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for libel in September 1897. In May 1898, Belelli was suddenly released, a decision that completely surprised the prefect of Bologna. Belelli was granted pardon thanks to the good offices of a senator. It is therefore possible to make a conjecture that Neri contacted Belelli while in prison and released him in exchange for his services. In the middle of 1900, Belelli moved to Paris. He was expelled in September 1901, when the Tsar visited France.

Apparently, serious suspicions against Belelli were aroused by the solicitations of the anarchist Siegfried Nacht. Nacht had applied for a position at the International Institute of Agriculture in Rome; the position had been offered to him on condition of interrupting all his contacts with the anarchists. From Rome, Nacht sent 45 lire to Giovanni Spizzuoco, Alfonso’s brother, to clear a debt that he had previously contracted with him. Some time later, Nacht was questioned at the Ministry of Interior about this transfer of funds and was rebuked for continuing to maintain contacts with the anarchists. In consequence Nacht urged his comrades in London to investigate the leak. Spizzuoco claimed that the only person acquainted with the transaction was Belelli, who had changed the lire into pound sterlings. Moreover, Felice Vezzani, from Paris, reported that, according to Belelli’s sister-in-law, Belelli received registered letters from the Ministry of Interior monthly. In any case after Malatesta’s trial, Belelli went back to Reggio Emilia where he died in 1926.

With Belelli’s departure, Virgilio disappeared as well. In fact Belelli was the person who for twelve years signed his reports with that cover name. But although Belelli was in direct contact with the Ministry of Interior he left no traces of Virgilio’s real identity in his correspondence between the Ministry and the embassy or the consulate, which was different from what happened with other spies. However, evidence has since emerged to verify that Belelli and Virgilio were one and the same person.

Today in London’s radical history: Police spy Theodore Reuss expelled from Socialist League, 1889

Theodore Reuss was the son of an innkeeper from Augsburg, Germany. A professional singer in his youth, Reuss later became a newspaper correspondent, and travelled frequently as such to England, where he became a freemason in 1876. He also spent some time there as a journalist and as a music-hall singer under the stage name “Charles Theodore.”

Reuss also became involved in the socialist movement in England. However, this may have been with ulterior motives…

IN May 1886, Theodor Reuss was expelled from the small leftwing organisation, the Socialist League, (where he had been quite involved as a librarian and labour secretary) after he was accused of being a police spy. At this point (and, er, much of the time since), the very genuine penetration of anarchist scenes (as with many other movements) was leading to constant paranoia and accusation/counter-accusation.

The accusation against Reuss had come from socialists in Belgium. But feuding anarchist factions used the accusation to fling abuse at each other. One group around Josef Peukert, based at the Club Autonomie, backed Reuss to the hilt; Victor Dave and his allies denounced both Reuss and Peukert. In the swirl of suspicion, the truth easily got lost.

However, the rumours about Reuss proved to be true: in 1887, Peukert went with Reuss to Belgium, where Reuss passed information to the police leading to the arrest of Johann Neve, a major organiser for the smuggling of Freiheit and other anarchist propaganda into Germany. Neve was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he died, or was killed.

However, Reuss is generally celebrated to this day as a major figure in occultist and masonic circles. Check out wikipedia on the subject.

In 1880, in Munich he had participated in an attempt to revive Adam Weishaupt’s Bavarian Order of Illuminati. In England he got mixed up in the Rosicrucian sects and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Basically pseudo-magickal conspiratorial mumbo-jumbo. Hung out with Aleister Crowley, founded and was ordained as Supreme Grand-Daftness of this tiny spiritualist order or that. That’s how he is generally remembered today. Not for spying for the Prussian police. Or maybe he was spying on the illoonimati too. Who knows. Read some Umberto Eco books, it’s all in there.

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

Today in London’s undercover history: police spy Rubino exposed, 1902.

As we have remarked on before on this blog, late-19th century London was home to a bustling community of exiles from various European countries, a fair proportion of who were radical activists of one stripe or another, driven from their homes for their political involvement. In Germany, Italy, Russia, Austria, active participation in leftwing politics could often be the key to harassment, arrest, beatings, eviction and the sack…

For many socialists and anarchists living in London, however, fleeing this repression to what was on the face of it a more liberal and tolerant regime in Britain didn’t necessarily mean they escaped surveillance by the police back home. The fact that it was easier to live in London meant it became a base for printing propaganda to be shipped back to the exiles’ country of origin – and increasingly in the 1880s and 90s, to organise plots, provide arms for uprisings and assassinations.

The active involvement of the exiles in supporting radial and revolutionary struggles from London inevitably meant that the secret services, the political police, of several major European powers had an interest in knowing what was going on in London’s radical circles, and in disrupting and dividing it if possible. Most of the socialist and anarchist groups, clubs, and meeting places were heavily infiltrated by spies of all nationalities. British Special Branch also got in on the act. Since many of the activists were expecting police infiltration, and some of the spying was less than competent, suspicion, paranoia and general distrust quickly became second nature among the exiled left scenes. This is in itself, is of course almost as good as spying on people, to make them think that everyone they know is a spy, especially if they aren’t.

Anarchists were particularly targeted by the secret services, especially after some elements of anarchism took a shine to bombings and assassination in the 1880s-90s. The attraction of anarchism to loud-mouthed bombastic nutters, very hard to distinguish from agent-provocateurs, lent itself nicely to a climate of denunciations, accusations and back-stabbing. Which can do the police’s job in itself – sabotaging as much effective action as possible. Yes, we’ve been there – and you know who you are.

In the early years of the 20th century, the Italian police had a number of spies among the exile anarchist community in London. In 1902, the Italian anarchists unearthed a plot organised by the Italian inspector Ettore Prina, using Gennaro Rubino as a spy. The Italian anarchist community in London already had a history of being spied on, arguing among themselves and accusing each other…

Prina enrolled at least two informers: Gennaro Rubino and Enrico Boiada. Rubino provided him with lots of photographs of anarchists, and opened a printing company could both provide a cover for Rubino and follow anarchists’ plans step by step by actually publishing their newspapers and pamphlets. And even more conveniently the anarchists could use the premises of Rubino’s press to organise conferences and meetings and to give temporary shelter to comrades who were unemployed or passing through London. According to Prina, Rubino’s project obtained the approval of leading anarchos, Errico Malatesta, Louise Michel and Peter Kropotkin. But little did the anarchists know that the Italian Ministry of Interior funded it completely to the tune of fifty pounds.

However, in May 1902, the anarchists came into possession of documents revealing Rubino’s collaboration with the Italian police. On 9 May, Malatesta summoned him in front of a court of honour, in the anarchists’ club at 55 Charlotte Street. Rubino did not attend the meeting, at which about thirty people were present. Instead, he sent a long letter to Malatesta claiming that his real intention was to double-cross the consul and the police inspectors by taking the money without providing them with any useful information. Rubino included three letters received by Inspector Prina to support that version; in these letters, the inspector complained about the unsatisfactory nature of Rubino’s spying. Moreover, Rubino added that he had assisted several comrades with the money obtained from the consulate. Finally, he insisted he accepted Prina’s proposal in order to carry out ad hoc counter espionage and discover the identity of other spies of the Italian police.

Rubino accused other anarchists of being linked with the Italian police. And confusion, and some deception (to cover their sources?), about how the anarchist had obtained their proof led to suspicions and counter-accusations.

The day after the meeting, the anarchists sought to obtain more information and documents from Rubino regarding his allegations, but without any appreciable results. They also attempted to ambush Inspector Prina, but he got wind of the plot and avoided any physical harm. As usual when a spy was unmasked, the Italian anarchists issued a leaflet of denunciation, a diffida, against Rubino. In the leaflet, after Rubino’s exposure, they publicised Prina’s address and the name he used as a cover: Piero Marelli. In addition, they published a note in Lo Sciopero Generale and other anarchist newspapers in Europe.

The Rubino affair created a climate of suspicion. Rumours began to circulate; mutual accusations, grudges, and uncontrolled suspicions swirled through the anarchist community. Some anarchists began to raise doubts about the authenticity of the papers implicating Rubino. Moreover, they criticised the fact that the documents were controlled by a small group that, basically, formed judge and jury on the case. They argued that the police could have orchestrated the entire affair and they requested Malatesta and the others to reveal who had provided the documents. A maelstrom of accusations followed, some meetings organised to try to resolve matters ending in fist-fights.

In November 1902, in Brussels, Rubino shot at the King of Belgium, Leopold I, but missed his target. Rubino, who was about to be lynched, was immediately arrested. At the trial, he proclaimed to have acted on his own initiative and to consider himself an anarchist, and that the attempt was an act of revenge for the Belgian authorities’ recent murderous crackdown on a strike in Louvain. He received a life sentence. The police in London felt Rubino may have made an attempt on the life of the King of Belgium in order to prove his bona fides. Rubino had a troubled history of debt, fraud and had clearly been picked to be a spy as he was an easily influenced character – sadly it seem quite possible that he genuinely thought he was still part of the anarchist movement. Maybe he even thought he was playing the police when acting as an informant (not a unique case – the WW1 syndicalist Billy Watson go caught up in this sort of double-dealing in 1918.) Murky and orrible shit. Rubino died in prison in 1918.

The fallout from the affair left scars on the Italian anarchists, causing splits that didn’t heal, and the collapse of at least one newspaper, among other repercussions.

More than a hundred years later, and we can recognise some of the trademarks. A public inquiry into undercover police infiltration of activist movements in the UK carried out in the last 5 decades is about to begin, and hard work by a number of those targeted by police spies is continually turning up evidence… But paranoia and suspicion, the division caused by knowing the agents of the state are amongst you, can be as paralysing as the actual work these fuckers carry out.

It’s well worth a proper read of an account of the Italian anarchist scene in London at the time, which gives much more of the background on this and other such cases at the time. Your humble blog-typist is struck by the similarity of some of the arguments raging in 1902 and some of the reactions to exposures of police spies within activist scenes in the last 5 years. While some of the tactics and techniques the filth use have changed, some have not – but what remains constant is our ability to be fucked over by both their penetration of us and the revelation of it.

Carefully tread we must, as Yoda would say.

If you have been personally affected by issues raised in this blog, it might be worth contacting

http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/

https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/

http://undercoverresearch.net/

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