Today in London anti-racist history: demo protesting police raids on Notting Hill’s Mangrove Restaurant, 1970.

“Mangrove, smell of hashish, swirling clouds of ashen smoke, weave in, around, away, palms like giant fingers, sounds of laughing, belly deep and penetrating, wise words and indiscretions, deep canary yellows, matted reds and browns, a tropical tapestry of colour, light and sounds.” ‘All Saints and Sinners’, Jenneba Sie Jalloh,

On August 9, 1970, a group of 150 (or 500, depending on your sources) protestors marched through the community toward Notting Hill, Notting Dale, and Harrow Road police stations to “expose the racist brutality that black people experience at the hands of the police.”

In this case, focused on the aggressive policing of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, a popular meeting place for black radicals. Police and protestors clashed during the march, and police arrested nineteen black protestors, charging them with assault, possession of an offensive weapon, and incitement to riot. The trial of those nicked was to become a celebrated victory against police racism and play an important part in the growth of black power movement in Britain.

One of the most important early centres of London’s West Indian Community was around Notting Hill. From the first days of afro-caribbean migration, the area had seen small numbers of migrants grow into a burgeoning community, despite hostility from some white locals, vigorously stirred up by fascist groups, which had climaxed in the white riots of August 1958 – which saw white crowds attack any black people they could get at – and the racist murder of Kelso Cochrane the following year.

Resistance to the racist violence from the embryonic community had been present from the first – collective self-defence had been organised against in 1958. This spirit was to grow and spread, as the main enemy of the Noting Hill black community became a racist police force.

Frank Crichlow’s restaurant The Mangrove, located at 8 All saints Road, Notting Hill, became a centre of this resistance. Crichlow had previously ran El Rio cafe at 127 Westbourne Park Road (where Christine Keeler met Lucky Gordon in the Profumo affair):

“A lot of West Indians came to the Rio and it got very popular. We opened all night. It was a coffee bar and it was kind of bohemian. We had people like Colin MacInnes, the famous writer. The Christine Keeler and Profumo affair came out of that scene.

Local whites used it and a lot of musicians used to be there as well. When the West End clubs finished they used to come and have a coffee and a meal at the Rio. It was a West Indian scene but it had a lot of mixture. It created a tremendous atmosphere until we found we were getting a lot of attention from the police.

Notting Hill police started to get a bit “busy” – framing people. You could tell it was happening. People started to come in to the cafe and tell their experiences.

One chap said he was in a nearby road and two police rushed up to him and said, “We just saw you trying car doors”. “You must be joking,” he said. “No,” they said, “We saw you trying car doors”. They arrested him and he went to court and was found guilty. He still laughs when he talks about it. He still can’t believe it. It didn’t ruin him. But some people were freaked out by that and couldn’t handle getting a conviction.

The police used the sus laws like that. It was quite common. You would be walking down the street and the next thing you would be in the police station being charged. A lot of black people got convictions that way. Some of them freaked out and they went back to the West Indies because of that.

What started to give the black community strength was places like the Rio. The Rio was a meeting place. People would work all week and at the weekend they would go to the cafes and meet and talk. It gave us the strength to keep going. But of course the Rio began to get attention from more and more police.

The basic reason was racism. A lot of officers in West London were fired up by people like [fascist leader] Oswald Mosley – the same thing is happening with the BNP now. White people who were in the race riots in 1958 and in their teens would then go and join the force and end up as police officers. There is no doubt in my mind about that. That is why I think Notting Hill has a heavy history between the black community and the police in the early days.” (Frank Crichlow)

Crichlow opened the Mangrove restaurant in March 1968, and it rapidly became a centre for the black community, attracting intellectuals, creatives and campaigners. Sammy Davis Junior, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Four Tops, CLR James, Vanessa Redgrave, Jimmy Hill and the cast of ‘The Avengers’ all visited…

“People would be waiting outside in cars until tables were free. The place was out of this world – in just a couple of months it was pop-u-lar. The place would be packed and we’d see the police peeping through the windows…” (Crichlow)

These peeping police, though, took a dim view of this hive of activity, as always treating any fomenting alternative culture with suspicion. Any space where black people gathered at that time could expect special attention from the boys in blue. A concerted campaign of harassment at the Mangrove followed. Between January 1969 and July 1970, police raided the restaurant on 12 occasions, claiming the venue was a haven of drug use… though drugs were never found, and Frank Crichlow vocally discouraged drug consumption there.

“What started the demonstration were the raids on the Mangrove restaurant that I opened in 1969. In the first year we had seven raids. The police used to say they had information that there was cannabis in the club. We would say, “Where did you get that information from?” and they would say they didn’t have to disclose their source – end of story.

The significant thing about this was that they never found any drugs, because there was none. They used to raid the restaurant at half past ten or eleven – always on a Friday night when it was packed. They would search and everybody would leave their food, we couldn’t ask them to pay. So what the police were doing was destroying the restaurant. They didn’t want us to have too much respectability.” (Frank Critchlow)

The growing hassle of the Mangrove was a concentrated sample of the violence and repression police were visiting on west Indian community in Notting Hill and elsewhere. In response the community and allies took to the streets to protest on 9 August 1970. A demonstration was organised by a small group from The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove. This included Frank Crichlow and barrister Anthony Mohipp, secretary of the Black Improvement Organisation, and several leading members of the UK’s newly-born Black Panther Party.

“It was sparked by all these raids. We called a demonstration and 500 people came out. We made speeches and marched off to the police station that was carrying out the raids.

We went to Notting Hill. R S Webb was outside the police station shouting. Then we said we were going over to Harrow Road police station. The police went in very heavy and about 26 people got arrested on small charges. Reggie Maudling was the home secretary at the time and he made a mistake. After the demonstration he said he wanted an enquiry into who had organised it. After he got the results he said “arrest the organisers” and nine of us were arrested.

That day we nearly had a race riot. I was charged with affray, carrying an offensive weapon, threatening behaviour and inciting members of the public to riot. We were looking at a lot of jail.” (Critchlow)

Nineteen people were arrested. Ten defendants’ charges were soon dropped, but support swelled for the other nine accused: Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Critchlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe (who worked at the Mangrove), Anthony Innis, Althea Lecointe Jones, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett. The charges ranged from making an affray, incitement to riot, assaulting a policeman, to having an offensive weapon. C. L. R. James summoned the remaining protestors the day after the arrest and urged them to continue their fight, emphasising the seriousness of the charges against their comrades.

The Mangrove Nine trial began in October 1971. It became a political struggle. Pickets were organised outside the trail at the Old Bailey, and literature handed out to raise public awareness of the case.

Arguments focused on the ongoing police persecution experienced by the black community in Notting Hill. Police witnesses who justified their targeting of the Mangrove with descriptions of it as a “haunt of criminals, prostitutes and ponces” only corroborated the Nine’s detailing of police prejudice.

Darcus Howe and Althea Jones-Lecointe defended themselves. The other seven employed a radical civil rights lawyer to ensure there would be no friction between Jones-LeCointe and Howe’s defense and their own. Jones-LeCointe and Howe argued for an all black jury under the Magna Carta’s ‘jury of my peers’ clause. They cited trial precedents in which, for example, Welsh miners faced an all-Welsh jury. This demand also echoed calls by the Black Panthers in the United States, under an interpretation of the 14th Amendment, for all-black juries. Judge Edward Clarke, known for his distaste for political radicalism, dismissed the possibility of an all-black jury out of hand, but the Nine had already succeeded in elevating the trial to a national spectacle.

The defendants were prepared for the judge’s rejection of this demand. Howe and Lecointe-Jones’s next tactic was to vet potential jurors politically, asking them what they understood by terms “black power” and which newspapers they read. Again the judge intervened to stop this line of questioning. Nonetheless, the defence dismissed a total of 63 jurors, each defendant using their right to dismiss seven potential jurors. In so doing they ensured that two of the 12 jurors were black and, perhaps more importantly, stamped their authority on the proceedings.

Police witnesses justified their actions by labelling the Mangrove restaurant “a haunt of criminals, prostitutes and ponces”. The turning point came as Howe exposed problems with the police testimony and a police officer was ordered to leave the courtroom when he was seen signalling to other prosecution witnesses as they gave evidence.

In Jones-Lecointe’s closing speech she referred in detail to the police persecution experienced by the black community in Notting Hill.

On the last day of trial testimony, police turned over a leaflet called “Battle for Freedom at Old Bailey” to the judge, who believed the leaflet might be in contempt of the court. Constable Roger Buckley had apprehended the leaflet while on duty in the Notting Dale neighborhood on December 11, 1971. The leaflet charged that a biased judge and jury had colluded to skew the proceedings of the case against the Mangrove Nine, claiming that “the case has been a systematic exposure of police lies, the way in which the prosecution, having no evidence, tries to play on the prejudices of the jury, of the way in which the judge plays the part of chief prosecutor, attacking and obstructing the defence.” After a four-month investigation, the officer P. J. Palmes concluded that the police lacked sufficient evidence to identify the authors of the leaflet, “which in any event might be ill-advised at this stage as likely to exacerbate racial feelings.” This led Judge Clarke to drop the contempt of court charge.

A majority of the Mangrove jury were workers, and though only two of the 11 were black, it is known that the jury divided along class lines, with the middle class members inclined to believe the police and favouring conviction. It seems that some of the workers knew better and simply decided the police were liars. Eventually they compromised on the basis of agreement on acquittal on the most serious charges.

Five were acquitted of all charges. All the serious charges resulted in acquittal, and only some minor charges were upheld.

The Mangrove Trial caused a sensation at the time. Even the judge had come out and acknowledged in his summing up racism as a motive of police actions – though he tried to mitigate this by accusing the protestors as also being racist. This outraged the government and legal establishment who tried to get this comment struck out of the record…

The trial also helped to coalesce the emerging black power movement in the UK. The recently formed Black Panther Party was involved in the Mangrove protests (Notting Hill being one of its activist  centres), several of the Party’s leading lights were among the defendants, and the publicity and sense of possibilities that the trial threw up helped attract attention to the movement… Something on which here.

The Mangrove thrived despite continued harassment for two decades, until Notting Hill’s gentrification got seriously underway:
“Through the 1980s the premises were regularly raided, as All Saints became known as the frontline. In the 1987 police ‘swamp’ of the area, as part of the inner-city crime crackdown Operation Trident, the Mangrove was raided again and this time Frank Crichlow was charged with possession of heroin. To the Wise brothers, the accompanying installation of surveillance cameras and the closure of squatted ‘abandoned commercial property’ marked the start of Notting Hill gentrification: “Within days a house in McGregor Road was to fetch £300,000. The very centre of Carnival revolt in the 80s had finally fallen and the light had gone out on the last remaining shambles of an urban trouble spot.”

Lee Jasper recalls dealing with a mas band sequin crisis as the 1987 riot began: “The police were attempting to close down, fit up and destroy Mangrove and indeed the whole of Carnival. We’re on the verge of a major civil disturbance and people would be coming in and saying I don’t have any red sequins.”

In the last Mangrove trial Frank Crichlow was once more cleared of trumped up drugs charges. After that the police raided the Mangrove some more, causing further clashes on All Saints and the last big Carnival riot in 1989.

According to the Evening Standard: ‘5,000 police, almost 600 in full riot gear with shields, and some police on horseback, fought running battles with pockets of revellers after trouble was sparked in the All Saints Road area. Within seconds they had to retreat under a hail of bottles and flower pots. Uniformed officers battled in vain to contain the trouble, drafting in riot police who sealed off a section of Lancaster Road. But they came under attack from two directions as youths in All Saints Road and Westbourne Park Road began hurling missiles.’

As ‘The Mangrove: 21 Years of Resistance’ banner came down in 1991, 6-8 All Saints Road reopened as the Portobello Dining Rooms. Rastafarians were succeeded by trustafarians and the street name started to appear in more restaurant reviews than crime reports. However, then came the mid 90s crack cocaine drug crime revival. Frank Crichlow was subsequently awarded £50,000 damages.

In the run-up to the 1995 Carnival, Ma’s Café at 6-8 All Saints Road (formerly the Mangrove, the Portobello Dining Rooms and Nice, since Manor, Ruby & Sequoia, the Hurlingham and Rum Kitchen) was the scene of a scuffle involving Hugh Grant, in which the actor was ridiculed over the Divine Brown affair. An onlooker said: “He was okay but he had a bit of blood on him. I don’t think he’ll be back.”

After the demise of the Mangrove restaurant, the frontline spirit was maintained by the Mangrove Community Association office over the road until 2002, Daddy Vigo’s People’s Sound reggae record shop at number 11, the Portobello Music Shop at 13, Nation Records and the Carnival sound-systems. Following a series of Rolex robberies and ‘aristocrats on crack’ reports, Annabel Heseltine wrote in the Standard of ‘Crack, Guns and Fear’ Notting Hell juxtaposed with trustafarian Heaven W11 ‘Cool Britannia’ on All Saints: “Opposite Philsen’s Phil-Inn Station – a café frequented by local hip-swinging Rastas – young media types are strolling into Mas Café… A bakery selling walnut loaves and bagels generates a warm aroma in the direction of Tom Dixon’s gallery…” (nicked from the Underground Map)

There are some great pix of the Mangrove demo and trial here

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London legal history, 1780: Charles Kent, Laetitia Holland and John Gray tried for the burning and looting of Lord Chief Justice Mansfield’s House.

In second half of the eighteenth century, nos 28-29 Bloomsbury Square was the residence of Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench: William Murray, Lord Mansfield. Mansfield was widely feared & hated at the time (the spikes on Kings Bench Prison walls were known as Lord Mansfield’s teeth); he was an innovative lawyer who helped to adapt English law to the needs of a growing commercial empire, in alliance with powerful men of business. In return he grew very rich. “He invented legal fictions that enabled English courts to have jurisdiction in places where English law had not yet been introduced…he took the usages of commerce…and …made them into law…The attack on his house was …an attack upon the leading exponent of British imperialism.” (Peter Linebaugh).

More immediately, as Linebaugh points out, Mansfield had served at the Old Bailey for 11 years, being known for his severe judgments, sending 102 people to the gallows, 448 to be transported and 29 to be branded. He was known by the poor as one of their greatest enemies.

On the night of 6 -7th June 1780 his house was attacked & burnt out by the Gordon Rioters. The riots started out on June 2nd as a protest against a proposed Parliamentary Bill to give more freedom to Catholics, but rapidly outgrew their sectarian origins to become a general insurrection of the poor against the rich and powerful.

The Judge had already been beaten up outside Parliament on June 2nd, and because of his reputation, the rioters were widely threatening to attack his house. On June 6th a magistrate and a detachment of guards came to protect him. Mansfield suggested they hid out of sight so as not to wind up the rioters. Soon after a crowd several hundred strong marched here from Holborn, carrying torches and combustible materials. They battered in his door, and he legged it out the back with his wife. The crowd tore down the railings surrounding the building, threw down all his furniture, curtains, hangings, pictures, books, papers and chucked them all on a huge bonfire. They then burned his house.

His whole library including many legal papers was destroyed. Interestingly, just as at the burning of the Duke of Lancaster’s Palace in the 1381 Peasants Revolt, the crowd declared nothing was to be stolen, they were not thieves… A survival of a strand of rebellious moral highmindedness, although unsurprisingly, while silver and gold plate was certainly burned, several of the poor folk present were later found guilty of helping themselves to some of the Judge’s possessions. And why not.

The troops arrived (a bit late!), the Riot Act was read, and as the crowd refused to disperse, they shot and killed at least seven people and wounded many more. When the soldiers had gone, some of the rioters returned, picked up the bodies, and marched off, carrying the corpses in a bizarre procession, allegedly fixing weapons in the hands of the dead, with a man at the front tolling Lord’s Mansfield’s stolen dinner bell in a death march rhythm!

Gordon Rioters also marched to Hampstead to burn Mansfield’s other house, Ken Wood House on Hampstead Heath. They were allegedly delayed by the landlord of the Spaniards Inn, (on Spaniards Road), who plied them with free beer to give the militia time to arrive and save the house.

Three rioters, Laetitia Holland, John Gray and Charles Kent, were tried on June 28th for involvement in the attack on Mansfield’s house. Gray, a 32 year old woolcomber, who walked with a crutch, was seen demolishing a wall in the house with an iron bar, and later making off with a bottle of Mansfield’s booze. One-legged Kent was also seen by a witness  “bringing out some bottles, whether empty or full I do not know.” Laetitia Holland was sentenced to death for being found in possession of two of lady Mansfield’s petticoats:

“June 28th, Old Bailey: CHARLES KENT and LETITIA HOLLAND were indicted for that they together with an hundred other persons and more, did, unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assemble, on the 6th of June , to the disturbance of the publick peace, and did begin to demolish and pull down the dwelling-house of the Right Honourable William Earl of Mansfield , against the form of the statute, &c.

– GREENLY sworn.

I am a baker, in Tottenham-court-road.

Are you a housekeeper there? – I am.

Do you remember being present on Tuesday night when Lord Mansfield’s house was destroyed? – I believe it was half after twelve on Wednesday morning before I went there. Some of the mob were then in the one-pair-of-stairs rooms, pulling down the wainscoting and throwing the goods out at the window. I observed Letitia Holland there throwing part of a desk and some small trunks and other goods out at the one-pair-of-stairs window.

Did she say any thing at the time she threw them out? – I did not hear her say any thing. I saw her remove from the one-pair-of-stairs floor to the two-pair-of-stairs floor, and throw out some more goods.

Did you hear her make use of any expressions? – I did not hear her speak at all. I saw Kent at the same time bringing out some bottles, whether empty or full I do not know.

How long was it afterwards before they went away? – In less than half an hour. Upon their going away I walked close behind them up Russel-street, through Tottenham-court-road. I heard her declare to Kent, who was with her, that she had loaded herself well. Kent has a wooden leg.

Was the man who carried out the bottles the man with the wooden leg? – Yes; he was with her.

Did you afterwards do any thing to either of them? – Yes, I watched them to the end of Bambridge-street, turning out of Russel-street. I went down the left-hand side; the prisoners were on the right-hand; they seemed rather to suspect me; they both turned round and set their backs to the house, and faced me. I went across the street and seised the woman by both her hands, and I took her to the watch-house. She asked what I wanted with her? I said, you know you have destroyed a great deal of Lord Mansfield’s property, and have some about you. She answered, She would give me the property if I would let her go. I said no, she should go to the watch-house. She said what she had got was given her in the house, and she had not taken it. Before I took her to the

watch-house she threw a small picture behind her, which I believe was the property of Lord Mansfield; this is it (producing a small oval picture). When I took her to the watch-house, the watch-house-keeper would not take charge of her. She had a great deal of bundling round her. I wanted her to be searched; the watchman said he would not run the risque of losing his life for me. She delivered this book in the watch-house (producing it). I left her there in care of the watch-house-keeper.

What became of the man? – The man went off directly as I seized her.

Are you positive that the prisoners are the persons you saw at Lord Mansfield’s house doing what you have described? – They are. I called upon Mr. Platt, Lord Mansfield’s clerk, the next day, to inform him that these things were in the watch-house. The watch-house-keeper said he knew her very well, and where she lived.

JAMES HYDE sworn.

I am house-keeper at the Rotation-office, in Litchfield-street. I was employed all night at the office. I did not go away from the office, till about three o’clock or a little before, on the Wednesday morning. I went with Mr. Parker, who is a magistrate, and a party of soldiers to Lord Mansfield’s, just before three o’clock. A little before four o’clock I was sent for an engine. When I got half way down Dyot-street I saw the prisoners, they crossed into another street; I crossed after them, and went to them; I perceived the woman had something under her arm, which caused me to follow her; it turned out to be this petticoat (producing it) it was wrapped up in a napkin. I asked her whose that was; she said she got it from Lord Mansfield’s, but it was given her by the mob. She had this apron on (producing it). I did not say any thing to her about that till I got her into the round-house, then I searched her, and took from her this petticoat (producing it) she had it under her black one.

ELISABETH KENDALL sworn.

I live at Lord Mansfield’s.

Look at these petticoats and aprons? – They came out of Lord Mansfield house; they were in the two-pair-of-stairs floor at the time the house was broke open. They are the property of Miss Mary Murray , Lord Mansfield’s niece.

HOLLAND’s DEFENCE.

I was at the fire but I was never near the house. I do not know of which side the house the door is. I picked these things up, except the green petticoat which the mob gave me. I thought I might as well take it as let the flames consume it. Coming away I met this young man; he was not near the house, nor was I; I was not near the fire myself; I was by the Duke of Bedford’s wall.

KENT’s DEFENCE.

I never was near the house; I stood at a distance off, with other people looking at the fire; there were several other people there whom I knew myself; and one or two, I knew myself in the house. I have but one leg, and so he took notice of me.

Court to Greenly. Did you see him bring the bottles out or throw them out? – I saw him do nothing else but bring out the bottles.

At that time were the mob destroying any part of the house? – Yes; they were then in the lower rooms of the house destroying every thing.

BOTH GUILTY ( Death .)

Tried by the Second Middlesex Jury before Mr. Justice ASHHURST.”

… JOHN GRAY was indicted for that he together with five hundred other persons and more, did unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assemble, on the 7th of June , to the disturbance of the publick peace, and did begin to demolish and pull down the dwelling-house of the Right Honourable William Earl of Mansfield .

2d Count. For beginning to pull down a certain out-house belonging to the dwelling-house of William Earl of Mansfield.

THOMAS LEARING sworn.

I am a constable of the parish of St. Giles’s I keep a shoe-warehouse in Holbourn.

Was you in Bloomsbury-square on Wednesday morning, the 7th of June? – Yes. The high constable and I had been all night at the Rotation-office, to defend it. We were in Bloomsbury-square about eight o’clock, I saw the prisoner at Lord Mansfield’s; I knew his person well before; he had a large bar of iron, and was sitting upon the cell of the window, and breaking down a wall of a building which was separate from Lord Mansfield’s house; there was a vast concourse of people there. I suppose near two thousand; I durst not apprehend the prisoner on account of the concourse of people. I saw him three days after at the Rotation-office, on another charge.

HENRY RICHARDS sworn.

I am under-cook to Lord Mansfield.

Do you remember, in the morning after Lord Mansfield’s house was destroyed, seeing any thing of the prisoner? – Yes, I saw him about five o’clock in the morning with an iron bar on his shoulder; I did not see him break any thing belonging to my lord. I know him particularly by his crutch. I saw him at five, and again at eight o’clock.

Is the building the last witness describes detached from the house? – Yes, it is the room where I lay, it is over the kitchen and under the laundry.

You are sure the prisoner is the person? – Yes.

Was that building, the kitchen, and the rest destroyed in the course of the morning? – They were totally down, I believe by ten o’clock.

WILLIAM POOLE sworn.

I saw the building destroyed.

WILLIAM DAWKINS sworn.

I am under-butler to Lord Mansfield. I was at my lord’s house on the 6th of June, when the mob first came. I saw the prisoner about four in the morning. I passed him several times in the house with my Lord’s liquor in his hand coming out of the house; I saw him in the street afterwards near the place that was pulled down; but I did not observe him doing any thing. He had nothing in his hand but his crutch then. I saw him carrying out the bottles before.

PRISONER’s DEFENCE.

I got up about a quarter before four o’clock, I was dry; the people said there was a shocking murder done in Bloomsbury-square. I went there and saw a soldier wallowing in his blood. On the 11th of June I was taken up by a constable on suspicion of picking a gentleman’s pocket. After I was fully committed, the constable came and said as I was committed he would charge me with pulling down my Lord Mansfield’s house.

GUILTY ( Death .)

Tried by the Second Middlesex Jury before Mr. RECORDER.” (Old Bailey Records)

Others charged after the attack included Sarah Collogan, who got a year after being found wearing a gown previously owned by the judge’s neice; Elizabeth Timmings, tried for possessing five china dishes from his lordship’s tableware, and Elizabeth Grant, found in possession of a copper pot and plate-warmer (these two were acquitted).

Kent, and Gray were hanged in Bloomsbury Square, on July 22nd in sight of the ruins of the house. Holland was ‘respited’ on 21st July, and her sentience was reduced to two years imprisonment in 1781.

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London literary history, 1962: Joe Orton & Ken Halliwell nicked for defacing library books, Islington.

‘I used to stand in the corners after I’d smuggled the doctored books back into the library and then watch people read them. It was very fun, very interesting.’

Before Joe Orton became famous as a writer, he and boyfriend Ken Halliwell had already gained public notoriety together. In 1962 they were jailed for six months and fined for theft and malicious damage, having been convicted of stealing books from Islington’s Central and Essex Road Libraries.

Orton later hinted they had been sparked off by the poor choice of books available at the Library. “I was enraged that there were so many rubbishy novels and rubbishy books. … Libraries might as well not exist.” An early novel co-written by Orton and Halliwell suggests another alternative. In The Boy Hairdresser, one character describes his own library transgressions: “We’re public benefactors in a way. We steal—the shops order more—the publishers are pleased—everyone is happy. We finance literature.”

Over three years they had been altering book covers, adding lewd new blurbs to dust jackets, swapping heads and pasting in surreal and satirical collage – then replacing books secretly on the shelves. They also used torn out illustrations to decorate the walls of their Noel Road flat with a growing collage.

These acts of guerrilla artwork were an early indication of Orton’s desire to shock and provoke. His targets were the genteel middle classes, authority and defenders of ‘morality’, against whom much of Orton’s later written work would rail against.

“The two spent every moment together, reading, writing, and living cheaply off brown bread and baked beans. Halliwell was older, middle-class and better educated; Orton his handsome young protégé, given the foundations of a classical education from the confines of their apartment, with its yellow-and-pink checkered ceiling. They shunned electric light to save money, sometimes going to bed at 9:30pm, and lived a puritanical, even hermetic, life.

They had been lovers, friends and co-conspirators for over a decade when they began doctoring the library books, using stolen pictures and their Adler Tippa typewriter.”

For over two years, Orton and Halliwell smuggled books out of their local libraries, and then returning them, er, slightly edited…

Orton hid books in a satchel; Halliwell used a gas mask case. They would take them home, redo their covers and dust-jackets, and then slip them back onto the shelves.

The couple added collages and new text ranged from the obscene – a Dorothy Sayers whodunit acquired blurb about some missing knickers and a seven-inch phallus, with the warning “READ THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS! And have a good shit while you are reading!” – to the bizarre or merely mundane…

To a collection of plays of Welsh dramatist, Emlyn Williams, new and exciting apocryphal titles were added: “Knickers Must Fall,” “Olivia Prude,” “Up The Front,” and “Up The Back.”

“The collages on the covers were no less subdued, and often overtly queer. On the cover of a book of John Betjeman poetry, a middle-aged man glowers in scanty black briefs. His body is covered entirely in tattoos. A now mostly forgotten romance novel, Queen’s Favourite, was redone with two men wrestling, naked to their navels.”

The walls of their one-bedroom apartment, were adorned by a collage Halliwell had made from thousands of stolen pictures; while another 1,650-odd pictures were stashed around the apartment.

Mythical beasts jostled for space with tabloid headlines and Renaissance high art: a grotesque ape-horse hybrid wore a map of Australia as its tutu.

Other covers showed a monkey, gazing astonishedly from the middle of a flower, on the Collins Guide to Roses, and giant cats on an Agatha Christie novel.

Possibly the sharpest comment though, in “an act of queer as well as class protest” (Emma Parker) can be seen on their detourned cover of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII – the king, who introduced a law in England making sodomy a criminal offence, punishable by death. The old mad bastard gets the full Orton-Halliwell treatment – he has had his arms cut off at the elbow, while his army swarms away from him.

Many other of the improved book covers celebrated queer love, one way or another: On the cover of Othello, Othello looks past the naked Desdemona, whose hand hovers suggestively above her crotch. Behind him a man points an arrow at his backside.

But the subversive and groundbreaking artform Orton and Halliwell were creating was not to everyone’s taste… Other readers of Islington’s library books had begun to come across the altered books and complain to the library. As the pair gleefully retouched book after book, the librarians at Essex Road library, began to observe regular users in an attempt to expose the culprits.

As a librarian later wrote in the Library Association Record, “it was possible to observe individual readers more closely and to notice which possible culprits had been in the library before ‘finds’ were made.” The head librarian’s suspicion settled on Orton and Halliwell, who were generally seen together in the library, and whose shared address was easily discovered.

Once they were under suspicion, the investigation expanded – the library staff called in the cops, who suggested staff from other library departments keep Halliwell and Orton under observation at Essex Road, to try to catch them red-handed replacing books on the shelves. However, this proved unproductive. “After several weeks of unproductive observation,” chief librarian Alexander Connell wrote, “we contrived to obtain a sample of typewritten matter.”

This was the work of Sidney Porrett, the Islington Borough Council legal clerk, who made this something of a personal vendetta. “I had to catch those two monkeys,” he later said. “I had to get results.” Porrett seems to have sussed the ‘queerness’ in the case, not hard from the obscenities on the covers; he observed after the trial, “They were a couple of darlings, make no mistake.”

Porrett composed a scam letter, addressed to Halliwell, urging him to reclaim a car parked in the street, apparently registered in his name. As intended, this provoked Halliwell into a stroppy reply: “Dear sir, I should like to know who provided you with this mysterious information? Whoever they are, they must be a liar or a moron: probably both.” The letter was signed, triumphantly, beneath the salutation: “Yours contemptuously.”

But examining the typeface and idiosyncrasies in Halliwell’s reply, police were able to , match it to the transformed book covers… Suspicion became certainty…

Police came to the door of Orton and Halliwell’s flat at 9 a.m. on 28 April, 1962.

“We are police officers,” one said, “and I have a warrant to search your flat as I have reason to believe you have a number of stolen library books.” Orton replied: “Oh dear.”

The Metropolitan Borough of Islington sued Orton and Halliwell for damages: 72 books stolen and many more “mutilated.” The total damage was estimated to be £450—over $12,000 today.

Halliwell and Orton were sentenced initially to six months in prison, an unusually savage sentence that reflected the apparent shock of the magistrate, Harold Surge. “Those who think they may be clever enough to write criticisms in other people’s books, public library books, or to deface them or ruin them in this way,” should understand it was “disastrous,” he said in court, denouncing their actions as “sheer malice” toward other library-users. Orton later commented that the court had realised they were gay and that the severity of the sentence was ‘because we were queers’.

Orton’s family were not told he had been arrested and found out from a story in the Daily Mirror. Titled The Gorilla in the Roses, it was illustrated with the altered Collins Guide to Roses. William Orton had stayed up to read the paper and on reading the story ran upstairs to his wife with the exclamation ‘Our John’s been nicked!’.

Porrett didn’t think six months in prison was a sufficient punishment for the men’s crimes. On their release in September, he threatened them with a charging order for the remaining £62 of damages they’d not yet paid. This would have given him power of sale over their mortgaged apartment to meet the unsettled debt.

The £6 a month Orton and Halliwell paid to this came out of their benefits—around a quarter of their income. For a comparatively mild crime, they had lost their jobs, gone on benefits, spent six months in prison, and “paid practically all our pathetically small bank accounts.”

Within a year, Halliwell tried to slit his wrists.

“Orton, on the other hand, channeled his rage into his art, and began pumping out plays. “[Prison] affected my attitude towards society,” he said, later. “Before I had been vaguely conscious of something rotten somewhere, prison crystallised this.” First, a radio play for the BBC—then plays performed around London, which attracted the attention and praise of British dramatist Terence Rattigan. Rapidly, he became well known and then quite famous, mingling with celebrities and asked to write a script for a Beatles film.”

In the way that acts of rebellion that in one decade get you sent down, but a few years pass and it becomes a fond memory… The book covers that Orton and Halliwell vandalised have since become a valued part of the Islington Local History Centre collection. Some are exhibited in the Islington Museum. The same local authority that prosecuted them now lionises them… A cynic might say that of course, Joe Orton later went on to become famous, and died, so he can be used to sell Islington a little as a tourist attraction, while if someone did the same as Ken and Joe today they’d still get prosecuted. Rebellious acts of any stripe can be acceptable – as long as they’re safely in the past.

It has been suggested that the two different prison experiences of Halliwell and Orton mark the beginning of the diverging of their fortunes that would end in Ken bludgeoning Joe to death in a depressive jealous rage, five years later. Orton found prison useful in pulling together his view of the world, and the lesson seems to have set him on his way to his onslaught on social mores. Ken’s already depressive nature only grew more marked and more morose; Orton’s increasing success as the ’60s went on highlighted to him both how he was not making something of himself, but also how Joe was drifting away from the relationship. Although the murder and suicide of August 1967 casts a long shadow backward… I always think of them both when I visit Essex Road library…

There’s a good website on Joe Orton’s life and death: http://www.joeorton.org/

Some of this post was sourced from here

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

Check out the Calendar online

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Today in London rebel history: ranter Jacob Bothumley has his tongue bored through, for blasphemy, 1650.

The Ranters formed the extreme left wing of the sects which came into prominence during the English Revolution, both theologically and politically. Theologically these sects lay between the poles of orthodox Calvinism, with its emphasis on the power and justice of God as illustrated in the grand scheme of election and reprobation, with its insistence upon the reality of Hell in all its most literal horrors and upon the most verbal and dogmatic acceptance of the Scriptures, and of antinomianism with its emphasis upon God’s mercy and universality, its rejection of the moral law, and with it, of Hell in any but the most figurative sense, and its replacement of the authority of the Scriptures by that of the inner light. The Ranters pushed all these beliefs to, and sometimes even a little beyond, their furthest logical conclusions, which, when acted upon, soon brought them into conflict with law and authority. The conviction that God existed in, and only in, material objects and men led them at once to a pantheistic mysticism and a crudely plebeian materialism, often incongruously combined in the same person. Their rejection of scripture literalism led sometimes to an entirely symbolic interpretation of the Bible and at others to a blunt and contemptuous rejection. Their belief that the moral law no longer had authority for the people of a new age enjoying the liberty of the sons of God led to a conviction that for them no act was sinful, a conviction that some hastened to put into practice.

The political views of the Ranters were the outcome of this theology. God existed in all things.

But man alone could be conscious of his Godhead and this gave to all a new and equal dignity. The poorest beggars, even “rogues, thieves, whores, and cut purses” are “every whit as good” as the great ones of the earth. The Ranters, and they alone at this date, spoke for and to the most wretched and submerged elements of the population, slum dwellers of London and other cities, though to what extent their message reached these depths it is now hardly possible to say. In Coppe and Clarkson, in Foster and Coppin there is, in different degrees and forms, a deep concern for the poor, a denunciation of the rich and a primitive biblical communism that is more menacing and urban than that of Winstanley and the Diggers. Like the Diggers, and unlike Lilburne and his followers, they were ready to accept the name of Leveller in its most radical implications, but with the difference that for them God himself was the great Leveller, who was to come shortly “to Levell with a witnesse, to Levell the Hills with the Valleyes, to lay the Mountaines low”.  It is hardly accidental that the Ranters began to come into prominence soon after the Leveller defeat at Burford and would seem to have attracted a number of embittered and disappointed former Levellers. Where Levelling by sword and by spade had both failed what seemed called for was a Levelling by miracle, in which God himself would confound the mighty by means of the poorest, lowest and most despised of the earth.

The ideas of the Ranters were not new. They may be traced across Europe and across the centuries from the time, to go back no further, of Joachim of Fiore in the twelfth century, with his doctrine of the three ages, in the last of which, shortly to be expected, the sons of God would enjoy perfect spiritual liberty. To trace the course of these ideas in any detail would take me far beyond my present scope – a few salient points only may be noted. A generation or so after Joachim, the Amurians in France added to his doctrine of the three ages a neo-platonic pantheism which declared that “all things are one because whatever is, is God”. Later, in Germany, the loosely connected groups which are known under the general name of the Brethren of the Free Spirit turned this idea into a way of living. While Joachim had expected the age of the spirit in the near future, the Brethren claimed that it was already here and exercised themselves the promised liberty of the sons of God. Sharing the perfection of God all that they did must of necessity be good: sin for them ceased to have a meaning. In the sixteenth century these beliefs received a new social dimension from Thomas Munzer, the leader of the great peasant insurrection of 1525, and among the Anabaptists of Munster. Through various channels they began to reach England, especially the artisans of London and East Anglia. As early as 1646 Thomas Edwards was denouncing those who declared,
That by Christs death, all the sins of all men in the world, Turks, Pagans, as well as Christians committed against the moral Law and the first covenant, are actually pardoned and forgiven, and this is the everlasting gospel; and thatthere is a salvation that shall be revealed in the last time which was not known to the Apostles themselves.

But it was among the Ranters above all that such beliefs and others related to them are found in the fullest and most uncompromising forms. What made them different in kind from their medieval predecessors was the fact that they were the heirs of a successful revolution which they still hoped to see carried to a victorious end. This is why Laurence Clarkson wrote on the title-page of A Single Eye that it was printed “in the Year that the Powers of Heaven and Earth Was, Is and Shall be, Shaken, yea Damned, till they be no more for Ever” and Abiezer Coppe that his Fiery Flying Roll was a “word from the Lord to, all the Great Ones of the Earth” printed “in the beginning of that notable day when the secrets of all hearts are laid open”. Many Ranters and their hearers had been in the forefront of the revolution and their sense of participation gave their message a force and universal applicability previously absent.

The central Ranter doctrine, from which all else logically flows, concerns the nature of God and man and their relationship. John Holland, whose book, The Smoke of the Bottomlesse Pit, though hostile, contains perhaps the clearest and most objective account of Ranter doctrine, writes:
They maintain that God is essentially in every creature, and that there is as much of God in one creature, as in another, though he doth not manifest himself so much in one as in another: I saw this expression in a Book of theirs, that the essence of God was as much in the Ivie leaf as in the most glorious Angel. . . . They say there is no other God but what is in them, and also in the whole Creation, and that men ought to pray and seek to no other God but what was in them.
The titles they give God are these: They call him The Being, the Fulnesse, the Great Motion, Reason, the Immensity.

But the groups and individuals labelled ranters were quickly and heavily repressed by Cromwell’s more orthodox, if puritan regime.

As an example: On Monday, 11 March 1650 Jacob Bothumley, a Leicester shoemaker who had risen to the rank of Quartermaster in the parliamentary army, was tried by a court martial at Whitehall upon several articles of blasphemy contained in his book The Light and Dark sides of God (printed for the pro-Leveller printer William Larner at the Black-more in Bishopsgate-street, 1650).

Bothumley was reported to have taken part in possibly heretical services in Leicester earlier in the deacde, along with his family: At one Bury’s house 2 ministers Mr. Higginson and Mr. Burdin stood by while Bottomley the shoemaker of Leicester prayed.” Bury may be the same person as Jeremiah Burroughs’ who was a noted puritan preacher, an opponent of the civl war presbyterian parliament; Bothumley’s family were said to have been ostracised for hosting Burroughs’ preaching in their house. He was also in trouble for causing a disturbance in All Saints Church. Like many civil war radicals, he served in the Army, which is where he wrote his book. Bothumley is generally lumped in the doctrines of the group called ‘ranters’ by their detractors of the time, and he was treated by the authorities as many other ‘ranters’ were – his books condemned and burned, and he physically punished.

The town authorities of Leicester were sufficiently alarmed by The Dark and Light Sides of God to send it to London for advice, since it seemed to them to be “of a very dangerous consequence and lets open a very wide dore to Atheisme and profanes”.

If there was a central Ranter doctrine, it concerned the nature of God and man and their relationship. As Bothumley wrote:
I see that God is in all Creatures, Man and Beast, Fish and Fowle, and every green thing, from the highest Cedar to the Ivey on the wall; and that God is the life and being of them all, and that God doth really dwell, and if you will personally; if he may admit so low an expression in them all, and hath his Being no where else out of the Creatures.

Bothumley’s book hints at a spiritual struggle, a process which features in many ranter literature of the time; though he describes it in in much less detail than Salmon or Coppe:

I was continually suffering the torment of Hell, and tossed up and down, being condemned of my self … And this is that I found til God appeared spiritually, and shewed me that he was all glory and happiness himself and that flesh was nothing … God … brought me into the glorious liberty of the

Sons of God, whereas I was before in bondage to sin, law, an accusing Conscience which is Hell.

As a result of Leicester alerting the government, Bothumley was tried in London, and condemned to have his tongue bored through with a red hot iron and his sword broken over his head, to be cashiered from the army and to have his book burned before his face in the Palace Yard, Westminster and at the Exchange, London. Sentence was executed on Thursday, 14 March 1650. Copies of his book were also sent to Leicester and Hertford – where he had probably preached – to be burned. This attempt by military authorities to prevent Bothumley from spreading his opinions through the spoken and written word was partially successful, but he continued as an active Ranter in Leicester, to which he returned after his Army service, and Quaker George Fox met him at nearby Swannington in 1655:

“And the next day Jacob Bottomley came from Leicester, a great Ranter, but the Lord’s power stopped him and came over them all….
And we sent to the Ranters to come forth and try their God, and there came abundance who were rude, as aforesaid, and sung and whistled and danced, but the Lord’s power so confounded them that many of them came to be convinced.”

By about 1660, however, he appears to have become sufficiently respectable to be appointed library keeper and sergeant-at-mace in Leicester. He did dispute with Quakers at some point, but his only other publication apart from The Light and Dark Sides of God, his only other publication was A brief Historical Relation of the most Material Passages and Persecutions of the Church of Christ (printed for William Redmayne at the Crown upon Addle Hill, 1676). Dedicated to the Mayor and Aldermen of Leicester, this ‘little Treatise’ compiled from the first, second and third books of John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments was intended to show the sufferings of those in former ages ‘whom God hath called out and made eminent, in the witnessing of his truth’.

Read The Dark and Light Sides of God

More on the ideas and fate of the ranters can be read here

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

Check out the Calendar 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

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Today in London secular history: GW Foote, WJ Ramsay and Henry Kempe tried for blasphemy, 1883.

George William Foote was born in Plymouth, England on 11 January 1850. In his youth he became a freethinker through reading and independent thought. When he came to London in 1868 he joined the freethought organisations that were flourishing at the time.

In his Reminiscences of Charles Bradlaugh he recalls coming to London in January 1868 with “plenty of health and very little religion”. He was taken to Cleveland Hall by a friend, and “heard Mrs. [Harriet] Law knock the Bible about delightfully. She was not what would be called a woman of culture, but she had what some devotees of ‘culchaw’ do not posses—a great deal of natural ability…” A few weeks later Foote heard Charles Bradlaugh speaking at the hall, and joined the secularist movement.

Foote was soon lecturing at freethought meetings. Charles Bradlaugh, then the leader of the secularist movement, soon recognised Foote’s abilities and allowed him to play an increasingly important role in the British freeethought movement. Foote contributed many articles to Bradlaugh’s National Reformer and in 1876 founded his own magazine, The Secularist.

In 1877 Foote joined the anti-Bradlaughites in the breakaway British Secular Union. The split was caused by several factors: Bradlaugh’s alleged autocratic style; Bradlaugh’s association with Annie Besant; and Bradlaugh and Besant’s involvement in promoting birth control and Neo-Malthusianism. The BSU was however relatively short-lived, and Foote himself was reconciled to Bradlaugh within a few years, becoming an NSS vice-president from 1882.

The Secularist: A Liberal Weekly Review (1876-1877), Foote’s first attempt to launch his own publication, in collaboration with George Jacob Holyoake, did not last long. In May, 1881, Foote started a serial publication called The Freethinker, which is still published today.

He set out his stall in the first issue: “The Freethinker is an anti-Christian organ, and must therefore be chiefly aggressive. It will wage relentless war against Superstition in general, and against Christian Superstition in particular”.

His primary weapons were parody and satire. From an early stage he introduced a weekly Bible cartoon which was particularly hard-hitting and incensed the religious. Such tactics seemed popular because although The Freethinker was launched as a monthly it was soon being printed each week.

In 1882 Foote was charged with blasphemy for having published a number of biblical cartoons in The Freethinker. These had been modelled after a series of French cartoons that had appeared earlier.

Two blasphemy prosecutions were brought, against the issues of 28 May 1882 (in which a cartoon of The Martyrdom of St. Labre and had proved particularly controversial) and the special Christmas number that year.

After a series of trials, beginning on February 26th 1883, (which continued for several hearings over a number of weeks) Foote was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment by Justice North, a Catholic judge. (“The sentence is worthy of your creed,” Foote responded.)  The Freethinker carried the banner headline “Prosecuted for Blasphemy” during this period, probably increasing its sales.

As a result of contents of this journal, Foote was charged with blasphemy, and eventually imprisoned for one year with hard labour. On receiving his sentence from Mr Justice North (a devout Catholic), Foote said “with great deliberation” to the Judge “My Lord, I thank you; it is worthy of your creed”
His description of this experience was published in 1886 as Prisoner for Blasphemy.

Here’s an account of the initial blasphemy trial on February 26th, from the Old Bailey Ordinary’s Account:

“GEORGE WILLIAM FOOTE, WILLIAM JAMES RAMSAY , and HENRY ARTHUR KEMP, Unlawfully printing and publishing certain blasphemous libels. (See page 557.)

SIR HARDINGE S. GIFFARD, Q. C., with MESSRS. POLAND and LITTLETON Prosecuted; MR. CLUER appeared for Foote and Ramsay (only to argue any legal points); MR. HORACE AVORY for Kemp.

Before the defendants were given in charge MR. CLUER applied that the indictment might be quashed, on the ground that it was bad, in charging the three defendants together with committing one offence, whereas in fact the offence alleged was distinct in each; that it was contrary to the usual course, and that it prevented each from being a witness for the others. He relied principally on the case of Reg. v. Bolton and Parke, 12 Cox, p. 87, and also on Reg. v. Tucker, 4 Burrows, 2046, reported in Archbold, p. 47.

  1. JUSTICE NORTH could not accede to the application; the present offence was one in respect of which the defendants might very properly be jointly charged, without being prejudiced by being so charged.

FREDERICK GEORGE FRAYLING . I am a clerk in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions—I produce his allowance for this prosecution, under the Statute, signed by him (read).

ROBERT SAGAR . I am an officer in the Detective Department of the City Police—on 16th December last I went to the shop, 28, Stonecutter Street, Farringdon Street, City—it is an ordinary bookseller’s shop—

“The Freethinker” was over the shop facia—I went in and purchased two copies of the Christmas number of the Freethinker—the defendant Kemp was serving—I paid him 6d. for the two numbers—these produced (marked A and B) are the numbers—I went to the shop again on 20th January and purchased two more numbers of Kemp, for which I paid him 6d.—on 31st January I went again to the shop and saw him behind the counter serving—I produce two certificates of the registration of the Freethinker. (The first was dated 2nd August, 1882, presented for registration by H.A. Kemp, 15, Harp Alley, Farringdon Street, proprietor; W. J. Ramsay, publisher, 20, Brownlow Street, Dalston; printer and publisher, H.A. Kemp. The second was dated 7th February, 1883; proprietor, G.W. Foote, 28, Stonecutter Street, journalist, residing at 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square, The Christmas number of the Freethinker (A) was put in, on the front page of which the name “G. W. Foote” appeared as editor; at the back, “Printed and published by H A. Kemp, 28, Stonecutter Street,” &c. &c. Among a list of Foote’s publications appeared “Blasphemy no Crime: the whole question fully treated, with special reference to the prosecution of the Freethinker.”

Cross-examined by MR. AVORY. 28, Stonecutter Street is an ordinary bookseller’s shop—there were many other publications of different kinds there—I did not give any idea of what purpose I wanted these things for either on the first or subsequent occasions.

Cross-examined by Foote. I had instructions from my superior, Detective Inspector McWilliam, to purchase the two numbers on the 16th December—I paid for them out of my own pocket—no one has repaid me yet; I expect to be repaid—the same gentleman sent me to make the second purchase—he did not give me the money—I had not been paid for them—I have had money for travelling expenses and serving subpoenas—I expect to be refunded for those two copies—I suppose the money will come from the City Solicitor, Sir Thomas Nelson, who is now in Court—I did not see you in the shop when I purchased the first two copies; I saw you in the shop after I purchased the second two copies, but not when I purchased them.

Cross-examined by Ramsay. You spoke to me about this case once or twice when I have seen you—I remember your remarking that the City were expending plenty of money in engaging Sir Hardinge Giffard, who would not come without a heavy fee—I don’t remember saying that the City had plenty of money and would not spare it; I don’t recollect it, I might have said so.

Re-examined. I was acting in this matter under Mr. McWilliam’s instructions—I saw a pile of these things in the shop—it was on 20th January, after I had purchased the second copies, that I saw Mr. Foote in the shop.

JOHN LOWE . I am collector of rates for the parish of St. Bride—28, Stonecutter Street is in that parish—I produce my rate-book, showing a rate dated 5th October last year—on 7th November last year I received this cheque for 2l. 1s. 3d. in respect of that rated house; it purports to be signed W.J. Ramsay—I paid it into my bankers and it has been credited to my account.

Cross-examined by MR. AVORY. The names on the rate-book were Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant—the same names are still there.

Re-examined. The persons rated are the occupiers—I received this cheque for that particular October rate; it was made for six months—the usual demand note was sent in—the 2l. 1s. 3d. was for the rate up to the end of March—when I get notice of a change of occupation I alter the rate-book.

WILLIAM JOHN NORRISH . I live at 20, Fowler Street, Camberwell Grove—I formerly lived at 28, Stonecutter Street, Farringdon Street, for about five years; it was the shop of the Freethought Publishing Company—at the commencement of October last that company was removed to Fleet Street—they vacated at the Michaelmas quarter—I was in the service of Mr. Bradlaugh and Mrs. Annie Besant; they represented the Freethought Publishing Company—up to that time Mr. Ramsay had been the manager of that company, and he was from day to day at the shop 28, Stonecutter Street—the Freethinker was sold there, but not by the Freethought Publishing Company—I decline to answer whether I used to sell it, or whether I have seen it sold in the shop, in case it might lead to a criminal information against me—I was not employed at all by Mr. Ramsay—I ceased to live at 28, Stonecutter Street when the Freethought Publishing Company removed to Fleet Street—I know Mr. Foote, he called in occasionally at Stonecutter Street when I was living there—if Mr. Ramsay and I were there he has seen us—Mr. Ramsay would be there at times attending to the business—I did not know where Mr. Foote lived—I know Mr. Kemp slightly—I don’t know what he is by trade—I believe this cheque to be in the handwriting of Mr. Ramsay; I have no doubt of it—I should say this was his writing. (The name and address in the bank-book.) I should say the filling up of these registration forms are his writing—I am not sufficiently acquainted with Mr. Kemp’s handwriting to speak to it—I have known him eighteen months or two years—I meet him occasionally—this “H. A. Kemp, 15, Harp Alley, Farringdon Street,” on this second registration form may be his, I can’t say for certain, to the best of my belief it is.

Cross-examined by MR. AVORY. I was at Stonecutter Street as a weekly servant to the Freethought Publishing Company at a weekly salary—I simply acted as shopman, under orders in everything I did—there was no facility there for printing—no printing was done there.

Cross-examined by Foote. I have seen you at Stonecutter Street only occasionally—the Freethinker had been sold there for some considerable time before I shifted into the employment of the Freethought Publishing Company—I did not see you often there during the period it was so sold—I never saw you transact any business there; I had no reason whatever to suppose that you transacted business there.

Cross-examined by Ramsay. You were manager of the Freethought Publishing Company up to the time they left Stonecutter Street, and when they shifted to Fleet Street—you are manager there still—you removed to Fleet Street in consequence of requiring larger premises—you were not entirely employed at Fleet Street in managing the business of the company.

Re-examined. When Mr. Foote came to Stonecutter Street I fancy he would sometimes visit my own apartments—Mr. Ramsay would sometimes be in the shop, and sometimes in the other parts of the house.

JAMES BARBER . I am Assistant-Registrar in the Newspaper Registration Office, Somerset House—I produce the original registers of the proprietors of the Freethinker under the statute—this one of 7th February, 1883, was made in my presence by Mr. Foote and Mr. Ramsay together; they were both present—Mr. Foote wrote it; it is all the same writing; I saw him write it.

WILLIAM OLDHAMPSTEAD (City Detective). I know the shop 28, Stonecutter Street, and I know the present office of the Freethought Publishing Company in Fleet Street; they are not more than five minutes’ walk apart—on 16th February I purchased this weekly number of the Free-thinker, dated 18th February, at 28, Stonecutter Street, of defendant Kemp—I made a note of the date at the time I bought it—it is a Sunday newspaper; you can get them on the Thursday, dated up to the Sunday following. (This stated that the Christmas number of the Freethinker had had an unprecedented sale, that they had spent lavishly on the Christmas number in order to carry their views far and wide, and were out of pocket by it.) I served a notice to produce, of which this is a copy, on the defendant Foote, by leaving it at No. 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square, on 27th February—at that time he had been admitted to bail by the Lord Mayor.

Cross-examined by Foote. I left the notice with the servant, Mary Finter, I did not see you at the time—I have been buying some numbers of the papers; I was told to do so by my inspector, Mr. McWilliam—he did not give me the money to purchase them, I don’t expect that he will; I expect to be repaid by the City Solicitor.

Cross-examined by Ramsay. I have no idea where the funds for this prosecution are coming from, no further than from the City Solicitor—I cannot say whether he is finding it out of his own pocket, I have no idea.

SARAH CURLE . I am the wife of Alfred Curle, and live at 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square—Mr. Foote has lodged with me about three years—my servant, Mary Finter, waits on him—I occasionally go into his room, very seldom—he has lived there down to the present time, and does so still—I could not swear that I have seen the Christmas number of the Freethinker in his room, I do not notice any particular book in his room—I may have seen it—I could not swear if I have seen a number of the Freethinker without the yellow cover; I have seen divers coloured books there; I could not swear to one book in particular—I have seen this cover, or the colour of it, not containing a number of the Freethinker to my knowlenge—I may have seen copies of the Freethinker in his room, I have no doubt that I have—I could not swear to one in particular; I never examined any books in his room.

MARY FINTER . I am in the service of Mrs. Curle at 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square, and have been for fifteen months; during that time Mr. Foote has lodged there—I used to wait upon him and do his rooms—I have not seen the Christmas number of the Freethinker in his room. (MR. POLAND, in accordance with the notice to produce, called for the production of all letters and papers addressed to Foote relating to the Freethinker, and all letters and envelopes describing him as the editor of the Freethinker.

  1. CLUER objected that the notice was not sufficient in itself and that the service of it was too late, and was not proved to have reached the defendant. MR. JUSTICE NORTH did not think the service proved was sufficient.) The defendant was living at this address last week—I can’t say that he slept there every night—he was there every day—when papers are left for him I take them up and put them in his room—I remember Oldhampstead giving me a paper last week—I took it up into Mr. Foote’s room—he slept at the house on the Wednesday night before the trial last week—I put the paper in his room directly it was given to me about half-past 5 in the afternoon—I don’t think he slept in the house on the Tuesday night. (MR. CLUER still objected to the evidence, butMR. JUSTICE NORTH considered it was now admissible, the witness being the person who waited upon him, and it not appearing that he had a Separate servant of his own.) There is a letter-box to the house—I generally take out the letters in the morning—letters addressed to Mr. Foote I put on the hall table—his rooms are at the top of the house, the third floor—some of the letters were addressed to Mr. G.W. Foote, 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square, very seldom as editor of the Freethinker; some were, but very seldom; I have only seen letters addressed to him in that way since the first trial.

Cross-examined by Foote. I cannot say that I have seen more than one copy of the Christmas number of the Freethinker in your room, I don’t believe I have—I see papers of all shapes and all colours in your room—I never saw an envelope with the words “Editor of the Christmas number of the Freethinker” on it—I could not say that I saw any envelope or letter addressed as editor of the Freethinker between 16th November and 16th December—I have seen an envelope addressed “G. W. Foote, editor of the Freethinker,” but very seldom—I can’t say if I saw you between the time I received the notice paper and the following morning—you might have been there but I did not see you—I answer the door.

Re-examined. The lodgers have keys to let themselves in—Mr. Foote had a latch-key.

THOMAS WILLIAM JAMES ALFORD . I am a letter carrier—for the last eight years I have delivered letters at 9; South Crescent, Bedford Square—I have delivered letters there directed to G.W. Foote for the last year or two—some have been addressed G.W. Foote, Esq., editor of the Freethinker—I have here a memorandum which I made since Christmas—I can give no dates prior to that—I have seen letters so addressed before Christmas, I may say months before—I have also delivered newspapers so directed—I have delivered letters so addressed since Christmas, up to last Saturday week.

Cross-examined by Foote. I have no memorandum before Christmas—Oldhampstead served me with a subpoena—I had seen him before that—I had no conversation with him about this prosecution, not by himself, he called at our district post-office in Holborn, and I was called upstairs by the district postmaster, who asked me if I had had letters addressed to G.W. Foote, at 9, South Crescent—I don’t think he asked me if I had had letters addressed to the editor of the Freethinker—this interview took place about a month back—I had had no conversation with anybody about this prosecution before that—I was instructed by my superior officer to make a memorandum as to the delivery of letters about a month ago.

By the COURT. I have my memorandum book here—I made the first memorandum about 10th February.

THOMAS CAMPBELL . I am a letter-carrier, and live at 84, Gower Place, Gower Street—I have been in the habit of delivering letters at 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square—I have been on duty there for 18 years—during the last year I have noticed how some of the letters I left there were addressed—some were addressed “G. W. Foote Esq., 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square, some Mr. G.W. Foote, Editor of the Free-thinker, and some G.W. Foote Esq.—I noticed letters so addressed for several months past—I put them in the letter-box in the door—I remember on one occasion about three or four months ago, having a packet that was too big for the letter-box, and I rang the bell and gave it to the servant—that bore on it as part of the address “Editor of the Freethinker”—I don’t know whether it had Mr. Foote’s name on it or not.

Cross-examined by Foote. Since I saw the detective, Oldhampstead, I have made memorandums of the delivery of letters addressed to you—that was, I believe, on the 9th of last month; the first memorandum I took was on the 10th—I have often delivered letters addressed to the Editor of the Freethinker, but I can only recollect delivering one package, that was about three or four months ago, it might be longer—I cannot swear that I delivered any letter or package addressed to the Editor of the Freethinker between 16th November and 16th December; I should be surprised to learn I had not, because my belief is that I have delivered letters to you so addressed pretty well every week; I could not swear as to that interval—the 9th February was the first time I had any conversation on this subject—I have not been paid anything for coming here to-day—I expect to be paid my expenses, it has cost me 6s. a day to get off—I received half a crown on the night the subpoena was served, nothing else.

WILLIAM LOY (City Policeman 495). I know the three defendants—I last saw Kemp at 28, Stonecutter Street on Wednesday last, Foote on 16th February, and Ramsay on Tuesday or Wednesday last—I have seen Kemp there for some months, Foote for four or five months, and Ramsay for the last two years.

Cross-examined by MR. AVORY. I have seen Kemp behind the counter acting as shopman and serving the customers—I have been on duty at 6 a.m. and have seen the shop opened—I never saw Kemp open it—I have seen a boy close it several times—no one slept there—I have seen persons served with papers and books—it is four or five months since I first saw Kemp there.

Cross-examined by Foote. I have seen you there four or five times—the earliest day I can fix is January 21st, but I have seen you there for four or five months—I told the Magistrate four or five times; I may have said three or four—the last time was February 16th—I have not seen you transacting what looked like business, but I saw you go in and come out.

Cross-examined by Ramsey. A number of books and papers are sold there—I have seen you go in and out—Detective Sagar spoke to me three or four days before the first hearing, and said “Just take notice who you see going in and coming out of 28, Stonecutter Street”—he may have said that I was to take notice as to Ramsey going in and out, but I don’t remember, nor do I remember saying so before the Magistrate.

JOHN EDWARD KELLAND . I am a solicitor’s clerk, and live at 19, Peabody Square, Westminster—during the last year I have often been to 28, Stonecutter Street and bought the weekly numbers of the Freethinker—I have seen all three of the defendants there—I usually made the purchases of Ramsay up to July, when I gave evidence at the Mansion House against him and Foote and Charles Bradlaugh—all these numbers produced were bought of Ramsay and given in evidence, and attention was called to the fact that they are edited by G.W. Foote, and also to the fact of the heading for literary correspondence to be forward to the editor; and the statement at the end “Printed and published by W.J. Ramsay, 28, Stonecutter Street”—the first date of these is 24th March, 1882, and the last 18th June, 1882; some numbers are missing—after July I bought various other numbers there, most of them of Kemp—they run on every week, and early in December the Christmas number of the Freethinker is advertised—the earliest one is December 3rd: “Ready next week, the Christmas number of the Freethinker “—at the end of that here is “Printed and published by H. A. Kemp, 28, Stonecutter Street”—they have all Foote’s name on them as editor, 9, South Crescent, Bedford Square—the number of Dec. 30 has the advertisement of the Christmas number, “now ready”—I saw Foote at 28, Stonecutter Street, on 28th February, not before.

Cross-examined by MR. AVORY. I can’t say the earliest date I saw Foote there, but it was after the first prosecution at the Mansion House—my first purchase of Kemp was before the prosecution—I was conducting the prosecution in July and am now—I also asked Kemp for the National Reformer—I saw a number of other books and publications there.

Cross-examined by Foote. I did not buy this Christmas number in your presence—these numbers of the Freethinker have been in the custody of the solicitor for the prosecution—this is my signature on them; I put it on at the time of the purchase, not at the shop, but in the office—I am clerk to Messrs. Batten; they are solicitors to Sir Henry Tyler—the firm gave me the money to buy these numbers—I don’t know whether Sir Henry Tyler pays for them—my employers did not tender them to Mr. Poland; I was subpeonaed to produce them—Sir Thomas Nelson may have written to the firm—I don’t know whether I shall get any extra payment for this case—I expect to be treated liberally.

Cross-examined by Ramsay. I bought the copies in July, chiefly of you—you were in the habit of serving behind the counter—I don’t think I have bought any of you since July.

Re-examined. My examination in July related to some of the weekly numbers—my depositions were taken and I signed them—I was called more than once, and my depositions were taken each time—in each case I attended on subpoena, which was served in the regular way, and I was asked to produce these numbers.

  1. CLUER submitted that there was no evidence against Ramsay on any of the counts. It was not proved that he was the proprietor after7th February, 1882, so as to connect him with the Christmas number.

The COURT considered that there was ample evidence of publication.

  1. CLUER further contended that the prosecution must elect against which of the defendants they would proceed, as they ought to have been separately charged; the defendants being charged jointly, the offence must be proved jointly, and no joint offence against the three defendants had been proved.
  2. JUSTICE NORTH said that the case must go to the Jury, and declined to reserve the point.

Foote in his defence complained of the hardship of not having been admitted to bail on Thursday last, from which he had not only suffered considerably, but had been prevented from preparing his defence, which he had to do alone against three learned Counsel, backed by the wealth of the Corporation of London, who he thanked for the splendid advertisement which their prosecution of the Freethinker had given to it, and contended that there was no proof that he was the editor; and as to the publication itself no witness had been called to say that his feelings had been outraged by it; that it had not been forced on any one, and no one need have bought it who did not want it. He quoted largely from the works of Payne, Carlisle, Shelley, Byron, Professors Huxley and Tyndall, J.S. Mill, and others, whose works are still freely sold, and contended that if the Freethinker was blasphemous those works were blasphemous also, and that Christianity, like every other religion, ought to take its chance of success without having to depend, upon law and police.

Ramsey in his defence also complained of the harshness of his imprisonment, having hitherto surrendered to his bail. He begged the Jury by their verdict to render obsolete the barbarous laws of former times; he stated that the meaning of the word blasphemy had greatly changed during the last 250 years; at that time Quakers were blasphemers, and were flogged at the cart’s tail, but now one was allowed a seat in the Cabinet. He contended that the publication in question was only, as its name implied, a free expression of opinions.

GUILTY. FOOTE— Twelve Months’ Imprisonment . RAMSAY— Nine Months’ Imprisonment . KEMP— Three Months’ Imprisonment.

For case tried in New Court on Monday, see Essex Cases.

Before Mr. Justice North.”

Another blasphemy case came to trail in March 1883, against Foote, as Freethinker editor, was accompanied in the dock by William Ramsay (shop manager) and William Kemp (printer).

But despite the judge’s advice to the jury, they failed to convict and a retrial was ordered for the following week.

Foote and Ramsey were back in court for a third trial in April on the first charge relating to The Freethinker of 28 May 1882. This time the case was heard by Lord Justice Coleridge who, in contrast to North, treated the defendants with consideration and courtesy. The jury failed to reach a decision and although a retrial was expected it never occurred. The prosecution mysteriously dropped the case.

Foote conducted his own defence throughout the trials. One of his main arguments was that his crime had been to peddle blasphemy cheaply to working people while polite agnostics and sceptics (such as T.H. Huxley and Aubrey Beardsley) were left to carry on undisturbed.

Foote, Ramsey and Kemp served their sentences at Holloway under the severe regime of a Victorian gaol. Foote was now a national figure; he received a hero’s welcome on his release.

When Foote was released from prison, he was a hero in freethought circles. He continued writing, lecturing, and editing magazines until Charles Bradlaugh died in 1891. At that time Foote was elected to lead the National Secular Society, founded by Bradlaugh. Foote continued in this role until his death on 17 October 1915.

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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This week in London secret history, 1977: Aubrey, Berry and Campbell arrested under Official Secrets Act, sparking ABC trial.

On 18th February, 1977: three men were arrested, John Nicholas Crispin Aubrey, John Ashley Berry and Duncan Campbell. Berry was charged with “communicating classified information to unauthorised persons” and Campbell and Aubrey with “unauthorised receipt of classified information” under the 1911 Official Secrets Act. (ABC trial)

The ABC Case of the 1977-78 drew national attention following the incumbent Labour government decision to employ the Official Secrets Act 1911 to intimidate the press from investigating the country’s signal intelligence operation.

The case emerged after Duncan Campbell and Time Out reporter Crispin Aubrey met with former Ministry of Defence employee, John Berry in Berry’s north London home. Seven years previous, Berry had worked for Signals Intelligence [SIGINT] in Cyprus. Berry claimed to have information exposing the inner working of the UK’s surveillance activities.

At the 18 Feb meeting, the two journalists discovered that Berry’s knowledge was largely out of date, rendering the encounter journalistically unproductive. Upon their exit from Berry’s home, however, all three were arrested by Special Branch and charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Police were alerted to the meeting since Campbell had been placed under surveillance by MI5 and Special Branch following revelations in a Time Out article, The Eavesdroppers, the previous year detailed secret government spying agency GCHQ.

Aubrey, Berry and Campbell appeared in court in what was known as the ABC trial (an acronym of their surnames). The ABC case attracted huge public interest as the government mounted a prosecution by turns farcical and ferocious. The case became notorious for a number of reasons, including jury vetting after the defence discovered that the jury foreman was a former SAS officer and that two other jurors had signed the official secrets act, as well as the prosecution of journalists under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. The trial revealed much about government surveillance and also the lengths it would go to keep its activities secret. Following the trial, Crispin wrote the book Who’s Watching You: Britain’s Security Service and the Official Secrets Act (1981).

The arrests of the ABC group were related to the arrests of former CIA agent Philip Agee and journalist Mark Hosenball. They were brought into custody and were intended to be deported in connection with the American magazine Counterspy which had made disclosures about the CIA. The Home Office wanted to deport the pair because of what they cited as “…obtaining information which could be harmful to the security of the United Kingdom.” However, Agee said:

“I believe pressure has has been put on the United Kingdom from the highest level to order me out in an attempt to disrupt publication of my second book on CIA activities.”

The connection to the ABC group came from an article called “The Eavesdroppers,” that had appeared in Time Out magazine in May 1976 that Mark Hosenball had co-written with Duncan Campbell, before Hosenball joined the London Evening Standard in July 1976. Duncan Campbell also appeared before the Home Office advisory committee hearing representations from Agee and Hosenball and he said that he had written most of the article that had appeared in Time Out. The article had covered GCHQ in Cheltenham and Campbell stated “there were no official secrets in the article that were not already available to the public.”

During the time Hosenball and Agee were earmarked for deportation, Campbell and Aubrey became aware of John Berry, a former officer at GCHQ, who had written to the National Council for Civil Liberties, (which was under General Secretary Patricia Hewitt – future Secretary of State for Health – who also campaigned for Hosenball and Agee to get a fair trial) saying that he shared Hosenball and Agee’s doubts about the legitimacy of GCHQ activities and that it was a smokescreen for anti-democratic activities.

As a result of this Campbell and Aubrey decided to interview him for Time Out.

The three were arrested at John Berry’s flat on 18 February 1977 and were then held without bail for 7 days. Berry was accused of passing on information to Campbell and Aubrey who were then arrested for receiving “highly classified” information. On August 9th, Campbell was also charged with “…for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state, collecting information concerning defence communications that might, directly or indirectly, be useful to an enemy.” The case was the adjourned until November 7th for the hearing to begin.

The first day of committal proceedings was at Tottenham Magistrates’ Court in London where a tape was played (the court was cleared the tape played in secret) in which the prosecution alleged that it was John Berry, former soldier, giving details of Britain’s monitoring telecommunications to Campbell and Aubrey. The recording lasted more than 3 hours after which police officers, who had been keeping watch, arrested the three men.

The defence for Berry, Mr. Michael Mansfield, said there was nothing in the tape which was detrimental to national security and that playing the tape in secret amounted to prejudging the case. Campbell’s defence, Mr. Geoffrey Robertson said that his client would say the prosecution had mistook investigative journalism for subversion and the other side of the coin should be heard. He also pointed out the inconsistency in the application of secrecy in that Berry needed written permission to visit any country in the Soviet bloc for just two years after his Army discharge yet he could never go to Time Out.

The trial at the Old Bailey began on 5th September 1978. Before the trial had opened, the prosecution had gone to considerable lengths to keep secret the identity of Colonel B. His actual name, Colonel HA Johnstone was published in The Leveller magazine. This prompted Samuel Silkin QC, the Attorney General, to apply for jail orders for the magazine’s publishers under the grounds of Contempt of Court. Colonel ‘B’ had already been named three times at a National Union of Journalists conference in April 1978 when Special Branch officers attempted to deliver contempt of court actions to the NUJ’s General Secretary, Kenneth Ashton.

The attempts to protect the identity of Colonel B (which Crispin Aubrey described as “…the security services tried to cloak their witnesses in anonymous letters and make the whole affair appear more sinister.”) began to degenerate further into farce when the Speaker of the House of Commons had to rule whether the Director of Public Prosecutions was in contempt of Parliament over a memorandum to newspapers to protect the identity of Colonel B.

At the heart of the case during the first trial was the accusation against Campbell that he had “tried to discover the layout and function of the United Kingdom’s defence communication system”; Mr. John Leonard QC for the Crown, argued that Campbell had used his skill to fit together pieces of a jigsaw to present a picture that might be valuable to a potential enemy.

At no time was Campbell accused of trespassing on Ministry of Defence property or of deliberate espionage. The Crown’s case rested on the fact that Campbell had been clever enough to put together a picture of a communication infrastructure based on public records, photographs of public structures (such as radar antennas) and even from entries in the public telephone directory.

The trial itself was dramatically halted on 22nd September when two new conditions came to light:

Solicitors advising Duncan Campbell had told him the prosecution would not be proceeding with its case, that he breached Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act, the most serious of the charges the ABC were to face.

Mr. Justice Willis ordered a new trial for the ABC defendants because of what he described as a “piece of gratuitous journalistic gossip” on the London Weekend Television programme “Saturday Night People”. In this programme it was revealed that the foreman of the jury in the ABC case was an ex-SAS soldier and the defence counsel had argued that as the SAS had close links to intelligence and counter-terrorist units he may not have had an open mind on the case.

On October 3rd 1978 the trial reopened at the Old Bailey and each juror now had to declare any involvement with the armed services within the last 15 years leading to one juror being asked to stand down.

On 24th October the first charge that Campbell was in breach of Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 that he “[was] collecting sketches, notes, documents and information about defence communications for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state;” the judge formally entered a verdict of Not Guilty as Mr. John Leonard, QC for the Crown said no evidence would be offered on the charge.

Crucially the abandonment of the Section 1 charges came about as the Judge was unhappy about them being applied in this case as it specified: “a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state”.

The Judge found the Section 1 charges “oppressive” as the provisions of Section 1 had been reserved for spying and sabotage cases and the Crown had made clear there were no accusations of spying involved in the alleged offences against the ABC defendants. Without any evidence of spying taking place or an intention to spy or to assist a possible enemy, the Section 1 charges were wholly without substance.

Also, the Judge noted that in 1964 the House of Lords made an authoritative decision that Section 1 on the application of the charge to sabotage and that no one seemed to consider that Section 1 was appropriated to cover anything other than spying or sabotage.

On 1st November 1978, Duncan Campbell in his defence made the following statement in relation to receiving information and its context within the Official Secrets Act 1911:

“The second…is a common sense interpretation which you have to make, because if the Act was interpreted literally every newspaper published would be in contravention of it.”

Campbell went on to say that his Not Guilty plea rested on the statement of the then Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees who said in the Government’s view the mere receipt of information should no longer be an offence. Campbell also said that although he was charged with the receipt of information from Berry, he commented that it was “dross rather than gold” and that he gained a few minor details he could have picked up elsewhere. He said that he had actually gone to Berry as me may have been able to cast some light on the deportations of American journalists Philip Agee and Mark Hosenball but it sooner became clear Berry knew very little about them.

The receipt of information became central to the allegations against Campbell; on the 4th November Campbell said that the aerial photographs of army signals intelligence units had been obtained from a United States agency which sold satellite surveillance photographs which were available for $60. He had also gained details of the Signals Intelligence units (“SIGINT”) from a published volume known as the International Frequency List.

On Thursday, November 16th 1978 Duncan Campbell was found guilty at the Central Criminal Court of receiving information about British Signals Intelligence from a former soldier. On the previous Tuesday Crispin Aubrey had been found guilty of abetting Campbell and John Berry guilty of communicating information to Campbell. They were sentenced by Mr. Justice Mars-Jones as follows:

* Aubrey: Conditionally discharged for three years and ordered to pay £2,500 towards prosecution costs and a third of his own.

* Berry: Sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years and ordered to pay £250 defence costs.

* Campbell: Conditionally discharged for three years and ordered to pay £2,500 towards defence costs and £2,500 towards his own.

The ABC trial failed for several basic reasons:

The first was it demonstrated in court how oppressive and unenforceable official obsession with security had become, especially where the military was concerned. The Judge had described the Section 1 charges as “oppressive” and in the opinion of Campbell, “SIGINT [Signals Intelligence] is illegal. It is contrary to a number of international conventions and people doing SIGINT are left in no doubt about it they are engaged in illegal activity.”

The Law Society went on to say that the decision of Attorney General Samuel Silkin, QC, to continue to prosecute the two journalists even after the Section 1 charges had been dropped struck at “the very foundations of journalism” according to a leading article in the Law Society Gazette.

The critical part of the case splits in to two parts; first Campbell and Aubrey were prosecuted for the mere receipt of information which was all the prosecution had ever alleged and secondly as Campbell et al made clear at various points during the trial nearly all of it was public knowledge, including the information which would have made identifying Colonel ‘B’ easy. In the press conference after the trial Campbell reiterated the point that the state had cast an enormous net to “catch a tiny tiddler” and that none of the information they had received from Berry was a secret nor, in his opinion, was it damaging. The Crown had been forced to drop the Section 1 charges of Campbell collecting information which included such names as the Post Office towers in London and and Birmingham “and which could not be mentioned because it would be damaging to the interests of the State.” At this point the trial had started to become farcical.

The National Union of Journalists said “the verdict could only give heart to those who wished to create a more closed society in which journalists were unwilling or unable to expose improper activities by government…All journalists are now placed at risk whenever they interview unofficial sources about government activities.”

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Yesterday in radical history: William Cobbett indicted for seditious libel, 1830, for supporting Swing Rioters

In 1830, the radical journalist William Cobbett was accused of inspiring and inciting the huge surge of rural rebellion, agitation and arson that was labelled together as the Swing Revolt, after the fictional Captain Swing in whose name anonymous threatening letters to employers were signed.

Cobbett would later be acquitted.

An account of the particular circumstances of the accusation against Cobbett follows. It is interesting in that it focusses on specific acts and individuals, among the hundreds hanged, transported and jailed for taking part in this mass movement. But also in that it calls examines the conclusion of the Swing movement’s celebrated historians, the marxists Eric Hobsbawm and George Rude, that it was a purely economic upsurge, formed in rural workers’ immediate grievances, and only weakly connected to the growing political reform movement or its agitators.

The account is most of an article written by Roger Wells:

Mr William Cobbett, Captain Swing, and King William IV

WILLIAM Cobbett’s trial, and triumphant acquittal, for seditious libel published in his widely circulated Political Register on 11 December 1830, just as the Swing rising was beginning to subside, is well-known. The charge accused Cobbett of inciting Swing crimes, including machine-breaking, and above all arson.

The motivation behind Cobbett’s prosecution by Grey’s government, despite its commitment to parliamentary reform, remains obscure. Cobbett’s claim that his indictment derived from a ministerial conspiracy against one of its arch-critics is usually written off as an exotic mixture of customary exaggeration, paranoia, and the rhetorical demands of a self-conducted legal defence in court, or a combination of all three. In the footnotes of Professor Dyke’s recent penetrating study of William Cobbett and Rural Popular Culture, he attributes reports from the Swing epicentre of Battle in Sussex to a ‘government informer’. This personage was not the implied run-of-the-mill Home Office correspondent, but George Maule, none other than the Treasury Solicitor. This ultimately poses the question of what this elevated state functionary was doing in Battle, which also happened to be the venue for one of Cobbett’s lectures, just under a month before Maule arrived in the town. Battle was also the home of the capitally convicted arsonist, Thomas Goodman, reprieved for confessing that he was motivated by hearing Cobbett’s lecture in the town on 16 October.

The political temperature across the rural south-east steadily rose from the spring of I829, when Kent farmers unprecedently mobilised to petition for the postponement of the hop tax, and further parliamentary petitioning for relief from agrarian distress recurred over a broader region in 1830. Hostilities spawned by the rejections of these petitions were reflected in the denunciations of the unreformed state by candidates and their agents in the general election of August 1830 after the death of George IV. The simultaneous impact of the continental revolutions was indeed profound. Sectors of the press hailed the ‘stupendous and glorious revolution’, in stark contrast to the ‘buffooneries of…corrupt electioneering’ in Britain, and successfully advocated celebratory meetings with collections for the fallen revolutionaries to extend to ‘remote country villages’. The ‘glorious actions’ of the French stimulated political thrusts by popular democrats elsewhere, including Battle where a vociferous artisan and labouring grouping also rallied behind the embattled ‘revolutionist’ editor of the Brighton Guardian, gave ‘public testimony to the freedom of the press’, and extolled the virtues of people like themselves, ‘spirits that dwell in humble tenements’. Moreover, these pro-French meetings endured, and Cobbett’s lecture tour opportunistically exploited them through his distributions of petitions to be signed in favour of parliamentary reform. A meeting at Maidstone which despatched cash and a euphoric address to Paris on 10 October was quickly followed by Cobbett on 14 October, and two days later he lectured at Battle. By this juncture Swing’s mobilisations in Kent, commencing with the expulsion of Irish harvesters in July and August, had extended to the destruction of threshing machines at the end of August and into September, before bursting into widespread incendiarism. In the October correspondence between Kent’s Lord Lieutenant Camden and Sir Robert Peel at the Home Office, arson constituted the primary concern. Incendiarism was significantly more intense than revealed by the copious logging in Hobsbawm’s and Rude’s tables, as exemplified by a Southfleet farmer’s diary note that ‘fires continue almost over the county’. Neither of the two specified that day figure in the tabulation.

Cobbett’s Battle speech was dramatically paraphrased by Earl Ashburnham – who lived locally and had had a public altercation some years previously with Cobbett – for Camden’s consumption:

there never was such rank treason utter’d in any country, or at any age…he reprobated the labouring class in Sussex for not shewing the example set them…in Kent, where their fellow sufferers were asserting their rights by destroying the property of those who tyrannised over them.

Camden dutifully relayed this missive to Peel; if Peel cursorily and darkly replied that he had ‘taken steps with regard to Cobbett and his Lectures’, Peel’s principal concern with incendiarism remained unshaken. No suspect had been arrested, though Peel had despatched London police officers to help local magistrates, but only in response to specific requests, together with limited army support. The Home Secretary was prepared to consider an unprecedented extension of government pardons and rewards to accomplices of arsonists who confessed, but feared that the result would be agent provocateurs whose contrivances would be exposed in court.

Moreover, Peel quite critically feared that ‘if’ he ‘originated interference with the ordinary exertions of the local magistrates’, he risked a debilitating political backlash. Conversely, Peel was convinced that the ‘severe example’ to be made from an incendiary’s conviction and execution would be crucial in its own right, and counter the ‘unparalleled Lenity’ of the light sentences passed by Sir Edward Knatchbull on the first batch of machine-breakers tried in October at the Kent Quarter Sessions. On 26 October, Camden was informed by an increasingly desperate Home Secretary, that he would ‘adopt any Measures – will incur any Expence… that can promote the suppression of the Outrages’. He proposed that

‘some-one well versed in Criminal Business & in the art of detecting crime, will [be] establish[ed]… in some central place – place at his disposal…a certain number of Police Officers, and place him in general Communication with the most active Magistrates’

in Kent. The sole proviso was categoric assurance that this initiative ‘will not give offence to the local magistracy and induce any relaxation of their activity’. On receipt of this assurance, Peel sought Cabinet approval, and despatched Maule to Maidstone where he arrived on 31 October.

Maule’s original mission to Kent was soon briefly extended to East Sussex, and he then had ultimate supervision over prosecutions at the Special Commissions which sat in judgment on Swing activists for Hampshire and other counties to the west. The suppression of Swing almost totally absorbed Maule’s department for the ensuing three months. ~ The Home Office itself was recurrently ‘besieged’ by communications over the risings. Once he succeeded Peel, Melbourne ‘sat up all the first night he was in office’ on 23 November, and subsequently rose daily at 6 am ‘to get through the business’. Although arson retained its paramountcy for Maule, other Swing crimes including machine-breaking, attacks on professional poor-law administrators and tithe audits, automatically concerned him. He investigated additional issues, among them clandestine riot incitement by farmers, their refusals to become special constables, and politically motivated activists with their suspected linkages with metropolitan radicals.

No fundamental policy change derived from Grey’s ministry’s replacement of Wellington’s, though the Whigs were much more determined on speedy repression. Maule’s existing brief was uncompromised, and indeed widened firstly by Melbourne’s 23 November proclamation offering huge rewards for those who both helped arrest certain categories of Swing offenders and gave evidence against them, and secondly by the decision to create Special Commissions. Maule’s tasks included the selection of cases to be financed by the Treasury, and those to be left to the normal county agencies. Government would prosecute only in felony cases where the evidence was strong.

By the time of Maule’s appearance in Maidstone, further attacks on threshing machines had occurred in Kent, together with mobilisations over wages, and levels of poor-relief, which were spreading into Sussex. The first rising in that county in fact occurred at Battle on 30 October, not the famous Brede incident of legend, and featured as such on Charlesworth’s maps. At Maidstone, Maule supervised prosecution processes, perused all available depositions, directed the deployment of plain-clothes policemen, in order ‘to give spirit and courage to the magistrates with… advice and by cordial co-operation’. On 1 November Maule attended a meeting of over seventy Kent magistrates, chaired by Camden, to debate Swing’s causes and course. It was widely believed that ‘over-taxation, want of work [and] insufficiency of wages’ underlay the risings. Knatchbull refused to say what considerations underlay his lenient sentencing, and the ultra-Tory Lord Winchelsea explained why he had given cash to a major Swing crowd he encountered days before. Maule’s proposed role was warmly endorsed, and Cobbett went unmentioned, despite the fact that while the magistracy convened, a popular meeting for parliamentary reform, orchestrated by the ‘pretty numerous’ radical and unionised paper-makers, went ahead on nearby Penenden Heath. Maule resisted suggestions that a magisterial posse should reconnoitre; instead two policemen were despatched, and if their arrival coincided with the audience’s dispersal, placards demanding ‘Reform in the Commons House of Park vote by ballot… or nothing’ and enjoining ‘respect the Soldiers…they are our friends’ remained in place. The magistracy departed once cavalry escorts were available).

After a brief sojourn in London, Maule returned to examine paperwork against Hollingboume protesters, and the radical Maidstone shoemaker Adams who had led two to three hundred rioting ‘agricultural labourers’ in the vicinity, demanding cash contributions from various targets, and making political speeches. Maule also received ‘disastrous intelligence’ of further fires in Kent, more in Sussex, including two at Battle, further details on which came from the local Clerk of the Peace who rushed across specifically to lobby Maule. The clerk insisted on the current escapist line, that incendiaries were ‘strangers’) Maule was ‘heretical on this point’, believing that locals were responsible on the grounds of ‘the number of these conflagrations and the intire absence of a trace in any one instance…If strangers do the act’, he reasoned, ‘some of those…on the spot conceal it’. No suspect had as yet been arrested for arson, and Maule immediately despatched policeman Clements to Battle. Arson also topped others’ agendas. One leader of at least three distinct Swing mobilisations, the former naval rating and radical, Richard Price, claimed that the ‘burnings were necessary to bring people’ – by which he meant establishment ‘gentlemen’ – ‘to their senses’. Customers ‘talking about the fires’ in the comfort of the Rose in Dover, included Thomas Johnson, whose ‘exulting…manner’ in his prediction ‘that there would be a great many more’ led to fighting. The police removed Johnson in handcuffs, but not before he ‘seized’ one protagonist ‘by his teeth in his private parts’.

Wellington’s notorious 2 November declaration, categorically ruling out parliamentary reform, shortly precipitated his government’s demise, and more immediately generated popular mobilisations in London. These culminated in the abortion of the king’s customary regal visit to the inaugural dinner of London’s new Lord Mayor on 9 November, as neither the monarch’s nor the duke’s safety could be guaranteed. The cancellation pre-empted one metropolitan policeman’s intention to ‘throw off his Coat’ and ‘join the Mob’; instead, this man, Charles Inskipp, who hailed from Battle, simply resigned, denying his inspector’s charge that he was motivated by ‘fear’, as ‘he wished to go into the Country’, which he did). The Weald was engulfed by Swing crowds when Inskipp arrived in Battle. On 8 November a Petty Sessions meeting had been targetted by a mass lobby drawn from several parishes, though the full-blown riot advocated by the future arsonist Thomas Goodman was forestalled by the cavalry’s arrival. News on 10 November, that serious disturbances had not occurred in London, alleviated local authorities’ fears that metropolitan violence would have ‘acted electrically’ to trigger politically motivated disorders in the town. Nevertheless, dozens of risings within a fifteen-mile radius, demanding wage and poor-relief increases, tithe and rent reductions, intermingled with attacks on professional social-security administrators and refusals to enrol as special constables, stimulated dark forebodings. The customarily cool and energetic justice Courthope, who chaired the Petty Sessions, had previously focused solely on incendiarism. Once Sussex followed ‘the example of Kent’ with mass mobilisations, the

‘whole fabric of society appears to be shaken’, not least owing to the general prevailing opinion that all governments must now submit to the will of the people & cannot resist redressing all real and imaginary grievances of the labouring population.’

Four days later on 11 November Courthope believed the magistracy was liable to collapse, and urgently supplicated the Home Office:

Let me again & again entreat… Peel not to leave us without some good adviser… the whole of the County may be hazarded by an indiscreet tho’ well intentioned act of one or two County Magistrates.

Maule arrived in Battle on 12 November, though he clearly saw this as a diversion. Although arson suspects had by now been arrested in Kent, the view ‘that the incendaries are imported from the Metropolis’ was so ‘prevalent’ in Kent, that Maule had asked for an enquiry by intelligence sources to reveal any links between radicals in country and capital. Among those whose letters he advised intercepted were Stephen Caute, the ‘spokesman of the Radical Club’ at Maidstone, and a principal speaker at the recent Penenden Heath meeting. While Maule sympathised with the multifaceted problems of Courthope’s Bench, notably the need for ‘some legal assistance’, Maule’s stay must be brief; if Peel thought otherwise, then he should send a London stipendiary magistrate to deputise. Cobbett did not figure in either Courthope’s perceptions or Maule’s calculations.

On 14 November Courthope was ‘so fatigued & harrassed that I can scarely put two connected sentences together’. The arrival of General Balbiac at Battle to direct military deployment on 15 November restored some confidence, though the cavalry were too stretched to intervene everywhere in the High Weald ‘infested with assemblies’. Many activists flourished handbills, ‘distributed with the activity of an election’, detailing the incomes of state sinecurists and senior ecclesiastics, appropriately entitled ‘Nice Pickings’. Justice Collingwood tried to neutralise their impact by ending one negotiation with protesters by orchestrating three cheers for the king and exacting promises not to read Cobbett. Battle remained in ferment. The postmaster remained deeply ‘impressed that the Peasants are instigated to pursue their present outrages by persons…anxious to overturn the government’, an assertion supported by information that ‘a person of notoriously revolutionary principles had ‘gone round to the neighbouring Village Beer Shops lecturing the Paupers after Cobbett’s fashion’. This proved to be none other than the recently-resigned London policeman, Charles Inskipp. He donned ‘a Cap decorated with tri-colored Ribbands’, which he stressed ‘were worn at the French Revolution…and if they were all of his Mind there would soon be a revolution here’. Inskipp claimed to ‘have left the new Police for the purpose of coming down to instruct the people’, arguing that

‘now’s the time to make…Government…comply and do away with the Tythe and Taxes and… said that he did not value his life a farthing and he would head them, and would instruct those unenlightened to fight for their rights.’

The issue of arrest warrants for Inskipp in late November coincided with another incendiary attack. By this juncture, Swing’s epicentres were moving swiftly westward, and stimulated renewed populist politicking in West Sussex. A ‘riotous and revolutionary spirit’ in the Horsham region focused on the town itself, and on 18 November a thousand protesters led by three members of the ‘Horsham Radical Party’ besieged local gentry, farmers, and a lay tithe proprietor in the church, during which alter rails were demolished for weapons. This meeting limited itself to wage increases and tithe reductions, but was followed by a purely political assembly at the town hall which attributed the disturbances to governmental ‘mismanagement’. Employers, whether farmers or master tradesmen, were too impoverished to afford improved wages, unless tithes, taxes and rents were reduced, together with the ‘total abolition of all sinecures, useless places and unmerited pensions’; parliamentary reform was indispensable. Only four of the sixty-three householders summoned to become special constables turned out, giving the local Bench – which included the present High Sheriff Thomas Sanctuary – no option but to lobby for military aid. Once troops arrived – by forced marches – warrants were issued against politically-motivated instigators of the first protest who had absconded, and the detective services of a London policeman secured to expose the perceived ‘conspiracy’ to effect ‘revolutionary objects, &: for the incitement of Riots at Horsham and the adjacent Parishes’. The latter initiative developed into a prolonged farce, played out against continual fears that the county jail in the town would be attacked, with the release of the Swing prisoners, whose numbers were swelling and included arsonists. The army guarded the town until mid-December when the prisoners were carted off to Lewes for the Assizes.

During this period in late November and early December in East Sussex, authority moved temperately gradually to restore order. As many farmers were ‘in the greatest poverty & their capital all gone’. Courthope refused to compel legally men to serve as special constables. He enrolled those who volunteered, ‘made them as friends instead of enemies’, and was thus ‘able to distinguish our friends from our foes’, prior to launching an offensive against the ‘perpetrators of these outrages’. County policy to organise parochial night patrols – ‘not a very agreeable office these Cold nights’ – was slowly implemented, with Battle among the first. Late on the night of 2 December the Battle patrol passed Thomas Goodman, but made no verbal contact with him; shortly afterwards it was called to a blaze at Henry Atherton’s barn, though little could be done to save it.

Subsequently, two patrol members insisted on reconnoitering the spot where Goodman had been seen, and his footprints were traced in one direction to the barn, and the other to his lodgings at Thomas Pankhurst’s. Both men were arrested, and Goodman speedily committed. Pankhurst was held some time and released only after agreeing to give evidence of his lodger’s movements. At Horsham jail Goodman joined three other alleged incendiaries. These were George Buckwell belatedly committed in mid-November for arson at Hartfield one month earlier, a retarded fourteen year-old for incendiarism at Bodiam, and Edward Bushby for firing farmer Olliver’s barn at East Preston on 28 November.

Simultaneously, Maule experienced mixed fortunes in orchestrating Swing’s repression in Kent. Three arson suspects from Northfleet were eventually released for lack of evidence, while Maule’s attempts to indict Wrotham farmers for inciting labourers to force tithe reductions foundered on the incumbent’s refusal to prosecute and thereby generate ‘an irreconcilable break between himself & parishioners’. Intelligence sources failed to establish links between radicals in Kent and London. On the other hand a batch of machine-breakers had been transported at the East Kent Sessions, and maximising press coverage was calculated to have reversed the effect of Knatchbull’s early leniency. Radical activists were under arrest. Maule aimed to prosecute them not for political but for typical Swing offences, including at least one for levying contributions, robbery in legal terms, and liable to capital punishment, Moreover, six suspected arsonists were in custody. If the evidence against two was merely circumstantial, one of the three youths accused of incendiarism at Blean had turned King’s Evidence. The case of the army deserter John Dyke who had been ‘wandering about the Country for some time’ raised strong hopes for a conviction at the Kent Assize scheduled for mid-December. Dyke and the two Blean youths were found guilty, and executed on Penenden Heath on Christmas Eve. Once the Kent Assize finished, Maule briefly returned to London, before proceeding to Lewes for the Sussex Assize commencing on 20 December. At this point Maule’s correspondence with the Home Office briefly lapsed, restarting with his arrival in Reading on 28 December to oversee prosecutions at the Special Commission for Berkshire.

Maule was in London on 17 December, the day after Arthur Trevor in the Commons advocated Cobbett’s prosecution by the government. Maule’s return from the Sussex Assize coincided with Trevor’s repeated demand on 23 December. The ministry decided to ‘fight…Trevor’s Motion’ by insisting that it infringed executive prerogative, an argument which suggested that government was not going to be bounced into prosecution and only implied that action would be considered.

Cobbett’s commentary, principally in print, exploited the Swing crisis throughout the autumn to maximise political capital. His imagery of a ‘rural war’ and concept of a ‘just war’ were dramatic, but hardly unsubstantiated by the facts, though his claim that he had ‘for many years past’ warned ‘the middle class, and particularly the farmers, against the…time when millions would take vengeance on the thousands’ was an exaggeration. Certainly, Swing legitimated reiteration of all dements of Cobbett’s central critique of the agricultural depression, underemployment, inadequate wages, parishwork, benefit-cutting professional overseers, and the game laws; its aggravation by taxes, tithes, national debt, sinecures and pensions facilitated advocacy of unity between farm labourers and their employers to demand parliamentary reform as the panacea for the redress of grievances, and the restoration of rural economic equilibrium. Cobbett emphasised elements of emergent inter-class solidarity, including refusals to serve as special constables, and extolled examples of Swing mobilisations being followed by parliamentary petitioning as at Horsham. He was however cautious, controlling his enthusiasm notably when attempts were made – again in the Battle district – to stop forcibly tax collections. He would not have been surprised that the Home Office closely monitored the pages of the Political Register, and annotations thereon reveal that Cobbett’s observations on incendiarism were carefully scrutinised. According to Cobbett, arson was principally resorted to where labourers were too weak to force redress through overt means. He insisted that incendiaries were not strangers, but locals, and that arson in contrast to riot, was ‘most easy to perpetrate, the least liable to detection’; ‘no power on earth’ could forcibly contain this brand of terrorism. Moreover, in the Register for 11 December, Cobbett attributed widespread reductions of tithes to ‘the terror of… the fires, and not to the bodily force’ represented by riotous mobilisations. That part of his article was heavily scored in the Home Office’s copy. Key components of his argument, notably the difficulty of detection, and that arsonists were locals, coincided with the Treasury Solicitor’s perception. Ironically, it was Cobbett’s populist political rival, Richard Carlile, who was to be convicted in 1831 for riot incitement, who asserted that Cobbett had ‘the power to rouse the country to resistance by one week’s Register. A serious word from him to the people would decide that point’.

Cobbett asserted that arson and fears of incendiarism produced tithe reductions, and constituted ‘unquestionable’ evidence that these ‘acts’ of ‘working people…produced good, and great good too’. These became the grounds for the charges of incitement to ‘violence and disorder and to the burning and destruction of Corn, Grain, Machines and other property’, which eventually appeared in the indictment. The decision to prosecute was taken in January 1831, but presenting it to the Old Bailey Grand Jury was delayed by the Attorney-General’s absence at the Special Commissions until 16 February. Then a True Bill was found, though the trial did not come on until July.

Events at the Sussex Assize between 20 and 23 December were nevertheless crucial. Here, Maule discussed legal details with prosecuting counsel Non-felony cases, including former policeman Inskipp for seditious speech at Battle, were left to customary county funding. So too was the charge against Goodman for arson at the same place, as in Maule’s estimation it ‘might possibly fail’. Maule left Lewes on 22 December, after Bushby’s conviction for arson, but in the middle of Goodman’s eight-hour trial. Unusually, Goodman’s conviction hinged on the footprint and supportive circumstantial evidence, and as the judge emphasised, did not include customary proof of animosity between arsonist and victim.

This lack of traditional motivation was critical. It negated a reprieve in response to an orthodox case for clemency based on the concurrence of the victim and good character references, hardly feasible in the fervid atmosphere. Clemency, however unlikely, demanded extraordinary grounds, which eventually derived from the three separate, but incremental allegations against Cobbett. The first, a single sentence version, was published in The Times on 24 December, the same day as the Thunderer reported the bulk of the Lewes trials, and was verified by the Revd Rush. Much has been made of Rush’s supposedly inexplicable presence at Lewes, not least by Cobbett himself, but Rush had given evidence against two men convicted of conspiring to force the tax collector at Crowhurst to return the cash to the payers. Cobbett accurately claimed that Swing prisoners in Hampshire and Wiltshire jails were ‘canvassed’ for links with himself, and if he made no mention of Sussex antecedents, it is not impossible that such occurred. If Goodman was approached after his conviction, and volunteered that his incendiarism was stimulated by Cobbett’s Battle speech, it was the only conceivable chance, however remote, to save Goodman’s life. Irrespective of Rush canvassing, verification of Goodman’s statement by a clergyman was logical. Cobbett immediately denounced Goodman’s allegations, including The Times’ embellishment that Goodman’s first target, a stack belonging to Charles Emery of the George in Battle on 3 November, which Goodman admitted after his conviction on another charge, was fired in retaliation for Emery’s refusal to accommodate Cobbett with a venue for his 16 October lecture at Battle.

William IV not only read the newspapers and worried over the impact of the ‘lower orders…of a licentious and unrestricted press’, but on occasion brought his ministers’ attention to possible seditious paragraphs. Among them was at least one issue of the Political Register. The king took a close interest in Swing, and was particularly relieved that the trials at Lewes ‘proceed[ed] without interruption’. Doubtless his personal proximity to Lewes underlay this relief, for William spent Christmas 1830 at Brighton Pavilion, where he ‘always’ kept ‘open house’, a ‘strange life’ for a monarch. On Christmas Day, as Bushby and Goodman were transferred back to Horsham for execution on New Year’s Day, the king’s private secretary informed the Duke of Wellington – who had relayed the latest information of Swing trials at the Hampshire Special Commission – that

‘Proceedings at Lewes have been of the same Character and one of the Incendiaries has confessed that he had been incited to the mischief by Cobbett’s Publications and Lectures:’

On 30 December Francis Burrell and two visiting magistrates at Horsham jail, activated they said by Cobbett’s denial, interviewed Goodman ‘without the slightest hope being held out to him of any remission of his Sentence’. They interrogated Goodman as to ‘whether he had any enmity against’ his arson victim, and were reassured that Goodman ‘bore no malice’. Then ‘without any dictation or suggestion’, Goodman penned a more substantial account of Cobbett’s lecturing, including advocacy of every man having a gun in ‘readdyness’ to follow the speaker into action when called upon. The High Sheriff of Sussex, Thomas Sanctuary, showed the second confession to the king at the Pavilion on New Year’s Eve, and was introduced by him to Home Secretary Melbourne ‘on the subject of Cobbett and the Swing Fires’. William was convinced that ‘Cobbett begins to be frightened’.

Melbourne performed a remarkable volte-face between 30 and 31 December. On 30 December he had specifically and personally rejected a petition presented by the Whig MP for Lewes, Thomas Kemp, for a respite for both Goodman and Bushby, to make time for representations for reprieves. On the following day Melbourne formally and hurriedly transmitted the king’s commands granting Goodman a fourteen day stay of execution; within days it was commuted to transportation for life. Ironically, William had also learned

‘that Goodman is not acquainted with Cobbett’s Person and… he may have mistaken a Disciple of C’s who lectured after he left Battle… Cobbett… is supposed to be very wary to have so committed’

himself to the language alleged by Goodman. Now the king asked Sanctuary to get ‘Corroboration’ of Goodman’s statement to the visiting magistrates. Bushby was hanged on I January as scheduled. Under-sheriff Medwin who presided, reported directly to the king, including the possibility that another party was also involved with Bushby at East Preston. William ‘desired’ Medwin to preserve the paper to which he committed Bushby’s few dying words. The king still hoped that ‘Cobbett may be laid hold of’ on 2 January, as Sanctuary launched a local investigation into Goodman’s character and sought further details of Cobbett’s lecture. This elicited a robust response from Sir Godfrey Webster, the somewhat idiosyncratic politician and local landowner, who sat on the Battle Bench, and who had played a determined role in countering Swing. Webster’s anger that Maule had refused to ‘take up’ and finance ‘the case of Inskipp for Sedition’ was turned to fury by ‘one… of the most destructive fires we have yet had’ at Battle which greeted the news of Goodman’s respite. Locally, Cobbett’s ‘admirers’ had increased, while the ‘licentious pasquinador’ was now ‘looked upon as a guardian angel’, an impossible scenario in which to gather incriminating evidence respecting Cobbett’s lecture. Moreover, the disparity between Goodman and Bushby’s fate induced the local magistracy to believe the latter’s execution constituted ‘Judicial Murder’, and the former’s reprieve ‘a great mistake’. Later that month, King William told the Duke of Wellington that

‘Ministers had carried too far their pardons to the rioters. He took great blame for himself for having been led to propose the pardoning of Goodman. Some Sussex gentlemen had got round him & there was a hope he would have given some evidence against Cobbett.’

Further irony derives from the fact that Goodman had witnessed one of Charles Inskipp’s beershop harangues. Inskipp’s arrest and prosecution itself owed much to very peculiar circumstances. The bar-room orator was denounced by one of the cavalrymen policing Battle. This character, William Moneypenny, was however no run-of-the mill squaddie, but the scion of an affluent Irish family, cut off from his inheritance for making an improvident marriage. Moneypenny’s motives can only be guessed. Significantly, none of the other soldiers who were billeted on the beershop gave evidence, and Moneypenny’s initiative may have constituted an attempt to rehabilitate himself. More sinister are the facts that as Inskipp was a Battle man, and about the same age as Goodman, the arsonist was unlikely not to know him. Moreover, the two were fellow prisoners while awaiting trial. In view of these details, Goodman deliberately juxtaposed Inskipp and Cobbett in a cynical attempt to incriminate the latter, encouraged by a number of Sussex magistrates who were probably initially not aware of Goodman’s apparent duplicity. This series of developments briefly led the king to believe that conclusive evidence against Cobbett was obtainable.

These led directly to Goodman’s pardon, but his testimony was useless against Cobbett, though the charge according to Cobbett’s solicitor would have been clinched by any proven incendiary’s claim that he had been motivated by Cobbett’s speeches or journalism. The commutation to transportation was hurriedly implemented presumably to get Goodman out of the way. Ministers were anxious to stop Tory attacks for not prosecuting Cobbett, and indicting him – and the much more vulnerable Richard Carlile – also had the virtue of holding notorious demagogues partially responsible for Swing. This ruse countered some pamphleteers’ claims that the rising was driven by revolutionary protesters in conscious imitation of the French. After the continental revolutions William IV was paranoid about sans-culottes. If he came to believe that Swing somehow represented an English form of similar portents, his support for Whig parliamentary reform may have evaporated. Cobbett publicly and grandiosely attributed his prosecution to a combination of Whig fears and malignancy, and a determination to silence his criticism of government early in 1831. However, this claim loses some of its credibility in the context of Cobbett’s solicitor lobbying the assistant secretary of state at the Home Office, who in response made it categorically clear that Cobbett’s current support of the first Reform Bill would not head off the prosecution; ministers would rather ‘add a million to the national debt’ than abandon the case. Cobbett’s acquittal, at the hands of a hung jury, principally derived from the weakness of the case that he had advocated arson, and Cobbett’s production of witnesses who had been in his Battle audience, backed by a petition from many others, denying that he had incited them. One signatory was Henry Alderton, Goodman’s victim. Cobbett’s prosecutors were unable to replace Goodman with any other witness from Battle, though Goodman’s inadmissable evidence against Cobbett was nevertheless confounded at the trial. Later, Cobbett dutifully and glowingly praised ‘the excellent people of Battle’ who had preserved him from the ‘conspiracy’ of 1830-1.

A number of conclusions may be drawn from events in Swing’s initial south-eastern theatre, Cobbett’s activities, Goodman’s revelations, and the Treasury Solicitor’s campaign. Interpretations of Swing as the inevitable violent response to the intolerable and seemingly chronic deprivation of farmworkers encapsulated by the customary perception of the ‘last labourers’ revolt’ requires significant qualification. Farmworkers were not only joined by considerable numbers of rural craftsmen, some of whom were clearly politically- aware populist democrats, but the revolt also embraced their counterparts in adjacent towns. There were too many conjunctions between village and urban protesters to warrant perceptions of an exclusively rural revolt, and too great a participation by non-farmworkers to accept notions of a labourers’ uprising. Farmers clearly played a covert role in stimulating labourers to mobilise principally against the clergy and tithe payments, though as Maule discovered at Wrotham prosecuting delinquent farmers was highly problematic. The injections of politics were critical, and Cobbett’s crusading on stage and in print was the very visible tip of an iceberg. Cobbett certainly contributed to publicising French events in the rural south-east, but others including the radical nucleus at Battle were already active in the same cause. Both clearly contributed to the atmosphere in which people at the bottom of the social hierarchy really did consider that mass mobilisations would remedy grievances, as reported by Justice Courthope among many others. Moreover, the popular democratic politics articulated by Swing activists convinced many previously sceptical electors, and a body of liberal Tories, that modest reform of the Commons was paramount. This was a major reason which eludes some historians, ‘why the clamour for constitutional reform… hitherto… contained within safe pockets spread so suddenly and extensively in… 1830’.

Maule’s orchestration of repression in Kent, especially criminal prosecutions, represented an unparalleled intervention by central government thereby seriously compromising customary local juridical autonomy. But, both in the south-east, and later in those counties for which the Special Commissions sat, Maule and his department, were responsible for ensuring that almost all Swing indictments pertained to acts of violence, as opposed to politically motivated sedition. Inskipp was an exception, but his prosecution derived from the unusually situated cavalryman, Moneypenny, and the trial was financed by county not Treasury funds. Cobbett’s indictment followed a unique series of events, namely Goodman’s desperate post conviction claims, and the capacity of Tory magistrates to exploit their proximity and access to the monarch to outmanoeuvre the government, which had recently fought Tory MPs’ demands for legal action against Cobbett. Ministers could hardly refuse to act against Cobbett after the publicity accorded to Goodman’s assertions, though ironically those assertions could never be transmuted into admissable evidence. Privately, one MP opined that ‘The Whigs were egged on by the taunts of Tories’ into Cobbett’s prosecution, and once it failed ‘laughed at the…defeat’. A warped version of William IV’s role in all this was eventually publicised by the Observer which claimed that Cobbett’s prosecution comprised the ‘fulfilment made by a very exalted personage to a few Sussex landowners’. Once acquitted, Cobbett cheekily challenged the government to prosecute the editor for implicating the king. The prosecution of both Cobbett and Carlile on political charges, namely incitement through seditious publications, subscribed to the convenient fiction, that the politics of Swing, along with some of the violence could be ascribed to the demagoguery of a pair of notorious radical publicists. Despite Maule’s role in orchestrating Swing’s repression, especially the legal counter-offensive, this barrister ‘of great ability‘ played no part in the decision to prosecute Cobbett.

Eventually Cobbett celebrated the Reform Act in another Swing epicentre, Barton Stacey in Hampshire, principally because this locality provided so many – including one of the capital – victims of the Special Commissions. Cobbett insisted that he ‘was an utter stranger to the neighbourhood’, one reason why the canvas of prisoners in Winchester jail for incriminating evidence failed. He claimed that the second Reform Bill’s passage ‘owe[d] more to the COUNTRY LABOURERS than to all of the rest of the nation put together’, because Swing triggered Wellington’s resignation and his replacement by Grey’s government committed to reform. If reality was more complex, especially the desertion of Wellington by ultra-Tories who were convinced that Swing demonstrated that some measure of reform was necessary to recreate confidence in the state, Cobbett was not wide of the mark. More critically, he also reiterated the incisive observation that while riots were relatively easily contained in rural regions, arsonists remained elusive, with incendiarism ‘the most easy’ mode of protest ‘to perpetrate, the least liable to detection’. Ironically, the Home Office agreed, stressing as early as January I831 that the numerous investigations by London police officers of ‘many fires’ across Swing’s territories, had been of ‘little use’ but of ‘great expense’ for central funds. In future, policemen would be made available only where local authorities met the full cost. This represented a reversal of policy initiated by Peel, maintained by Melbourne, and initially directed by Maule in the south-east. Cobbett’s further claims, that arson would intensify in the aftermath of Swing’s ostensible repression, and that the press was subjected to pressures against full reportage, also proved correct, though it was complicated by farmers trying to evade restrictions introduced by insurance companies. Swing did not invent incendiarism as a peculiarly rural form of protest, but that episode not only witnessed a massive recourse to arson, and perhaps more importantly elevated it to the most enduring mode of countryside protest prior to the Revolt of the Field in the 1870s.

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2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London’s religious history: Lollard William Sawtrey questioned for heresy at St Pauls, 1401

In 1399, the first time that William Sawtrey was arrested on charges of heresy, he went to prison until he broke down and gave up his beliefs. After he was freed, however, he felt as if he had betrayed Christ. The English priest from St. Margaret’s in Lynn, Norfolk, found employment in London.

William was one of many laymen and priests who accepted the teachings of John Wycliffe. These believers were known as Lollards. Wycliffe said that the church of his day had corrupted the plain teaching of the Bible. He made a translation of the Bible in English so that all the people could understand God’s word for themselves.

Alarmed by Wycliffe’s teachings, England passed a law which made burning the penalty for “heresy.” Archbishop Thomas Arundel ordered William to appear at St. Paul’s on February 12, 1401 and give an account of his teachings. Arundel questioned William closely.

This time, William Sawtrey stood firm. He had said, “Instead of adoring the cross on which Christ suffered, I adore Christ who suffered on it.” He stood behind those words now and it became one of the charges against him by persecutors who considered it proper to bow before crucifixes.

However, it was his beliefs about the mass that finally got him condemned. He agreed that the bread of the Eucharist after consecration was indeed the bread of life, but insisted it was just bread all the same. Roman teaching says it really becomes Christ’s flesh, so he was considered a heretic.

William also held that it was a better use of time to preach to the lost than to recite certain prayers. He said that money spent on pilgrimages to save one’s soul would be better spent helping the poor. The independent-thinking priest also said men were more worthy of adoration than angels.

Because of his answers, he was indicted. He answered each charge in the indictment with scriptures. Arundel questioned him for three hours on his interpretation of the mass. The archbishop tried to convince William to change his mind, or at least to accept the decision of church authorities. William refused.

On February 26, 1401, his sentence was issued. William was condemned as a relapsed heretic. Under the new law, this meant he would burn. Through seven steps called “degradation” he was removed from being a priest and handed over to the secular authorities to die.

Using the defenses at his disposal, William appealed to the king and Parliament. After his appeal was denied, he was burned to death at Smithfield in front of a crowd of spectators.

He was the first “Lollard” martyr in England.

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Today in London religious history: Lodovick Muggleton ordered to be pilloried, his books burnt, Old Bailey, 1677.

Lodowick Muggleton was a self-proclaimed prophet, who emerged from the swirling pool of sects, preachers and cults that characterised mid-17th century London. Muggleton could be said to have broadly been associated with individuals who were lumped together as ‘ranters’, though he moved away from this scene and sought to distance himself from its ‘excesses’. Nevertheless his views on religion and his elevating himself as a prophet got him into trouble with the authorities, and he was imprisoned twice for his beliefs. His follower, later called Muggletonians, developed an individual creed, and survived until 1979.

After claiming to have had spiritual revelations, beginning in 1651, Muggleton and his cousin John Reeve announced themselves as the two prophetic witnesses referred to in Revelations 11:3. Their book, A Transcendent Spiritual Treatise upon Several Heavenly Doctrines, was published in 1652. They further expounded their beliefs in A Divine Looking-Glass (1656), maintaining that the traditional distinction between the three Persons of the Triune God is purely nominal, that God has a real human body, and that he left the Old Testament Hebrew prophet Elijah, who had ascended to heaven, as his vice regent when he himself descended to die on the Cross.

According to Muggleton and Reeve, the unforgivable sin was not to believe in them as true prophets. Although they gained some notable men as followers, the group’s notions provoked much opposition. Muggleton was imprisoned for blasphemy in 1653, and his own followers temporarily rebelled against him in 1660 and 1670.

Muggleton also entered into a long feud with the Quakers, which led their leader, William Penn, to write The New Witnesses Proved Old Hereticks (1672) as an attack on him.

Muggleton spent his working life as a journeyman tailor in the City of London. He held opinions hostile to all forms of philosophical reason, and had received only a basic education. His discovery that he was a prophet emerged from his musings about resurrection and hellfire. Having somewhat despairingly concluded that he must leave it all to God, “even as the potter doth what he will with the dead clay”, he then began to experience revelations concerning the meaning of scripture. This was obviously influenced by other ‘prophets’ Muggleton observed speaking in London at the time.

“It came to pass in the year 1650, I heard of several prophets and prophetess that were about the streets and declared the Day of the Lord, and many other wonderful things.” Notable among these preachers mentioned by Muggleton were John Robins and Thomas Tany (Muggleton calls him John Tannye). “I have had nine or ten of them at my house at a time,” reports Muggleton. The prophets claimed power to damn any that opposed them.

Muggleton says of Robins that he regarded himself as God come to judge the quick and the dead and, as such, had resurrected and redeemed Cain and Judas Iscariot as well as resurrecting Jeremiah and many of the Old Testament prophets. Robins displayed considerable ‘magical’ talents; presenting the appearance of angels, burning shining lights, half-moons and stars in chambers, thick darkness with his head in a flame of fire and his person riding on the wings of the wind. This clearly theatrical performance left a lasting impression on Muggleton.

While Muggleton denounced Robins as a false prophet, for ‘self-deification’ and of indulging in dangerous powers many years later, he wrote appreciating Robins’ power and the belief even his enemies had in his curses.

 The Muggletonian ‘movement’ was born on 3 February 1651 (old style), the date Muggleton’s cousin, fellow London tailor, John Reeve, said he had received a commission from God “to the hearing of the ear as a man speaks to a friend.” Reeve claimed to have been told four things:

  • “I have given thee understanding of my mind in the Scriptures above all men in the world.”
  • “Look into thy own body, there thou shalt see the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of Hell.”
  • “I have chosen thee a last messenger for a great work, unto this bloody unbelieving world. And I have given thee Lodowick Muggleton to be thy mouth.”
  • “I have put the two-edged sword of my spirit into thy mouth, that whoever I pronounce blessed, through thy mouth, is blessed to eternity; and whoever I pronounce cursed through thy mouth is cursed to eternity.”

Reeve believed that he and Muggleton were the two witnesses spoken of in the third verse of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation.

Throughout the period until the death of John Reeve in 1658, Muggleton seems to have acted only as Reeve’s ever-present sidekick. There is no record of him writing any works of his own nor of him acting independently of Reeve. The pair were tried for blasphemy and jailed for six months in 1653/4.

Apparently, on the death of John Reeve, there was a power-struggle between Lodowicke Muggleton and former ranter Laurence Clarkson (or Claxton) for leadership of the sect, and subsequently there were disputes with those followers of John Reeve who did not accept Muggleton’s authority.

The Muggletonians emphasised the Millennium and the Second Coming of Christ, and believed, among other things, that the soul is mortal; that Jesus is God (and not a member of a Trinity); that when Jesus died there was no God in Heaven, and Moses and Elijah looked after Heaven until Jesus’ resurrection; that Heaven is six miles above Earth; that God is between five and six feet tall; and that any external religious ceremony is not necessary. Some scholars think that Muggletonian doctrine may have influenced the work of the artist and poet William Blake.

The six principles of Muggletonianism were perhaps best summed up thus:

  • There is no God but the glorified Man Christ Jesus.
  • There is no Devil but the unclean Reason of men.
  • Heaven is an infinite abode of light above and beyond the stars.
  • The place of Hell will be this Earth when sun, moon and stars are extinguished.
  • Angels are the only beings of Pure Reason.
  • The Soul dies with the body and will be raised with it.

These principles derive from Lodowicke Muggleton, who added one other matter as being of equal importance, namely, that God takes no immediate notice of doings in this world. If people sin, it is against their own consciences and not because God “catches them at it”.

John Reeve’s formulation also included pacifism and the doctrine of the two seeds This credo held all humans had within themselves something from Seth and something from Cain: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The former promoted faith within us, the latter promoted reasoning and desire. This is the conflict within every person. This is a predestinarian belief but, because there are two seeds and not one, humanity is not rendered abject and the innocence of Adam and Eve still has a chance of coming to the top within modern humankind.

According to Rev Dr Alexander Gordon of Belfast, “The system of belief is a singular union of opinions which seem diametrically opposed. It is rationalistic on one side, credulous on another.”

Muggletonianism was in many ways profoundly materialist. Matter pre-existed even the creation of our universe; nothing can be created from nothing. God, identified as the Holy One of Israel, is a being with a glorified body, in appearance much like a man. There can never be a spirit without a body. A purely spiritual deity, lacking any locus, would be an absurdity incapable of action in a material world (from which doctrine came Muggleton’s particular disputes with the Quakers). The man Christ Jesus was not sent from God but was the very God appearing on this earth. Speculation about a divine nature and a human nature, or about the Trinity, is not in error so much as unnecessary. At worst, John Reeve said, it encourages people to ascribe to the deity a whole ragbag of inconsistent human attributes expressed as superlatives.

Reason stems from desire and lack. Reason is not seen as a sublime mental process but as a rather shoddy trick humans use to try to get what they misguidedly imagine they want. Angels are creatures of Pure Reason because their only desire is for God so that their lack will be totally satisfied over and over again. The reprobate angel was not at fault. God deliberately chose to deprive this angel of satisfaction so that, by his fall, the other angels would become aware that their perfection came from God and not from their own natures.

Professor Lamont sees 17th century Muggletonianism as an early form of liberation theology. Because there are no spirits without bodies, there can be no ghosts, no witches, no grounds for fear and superstition and no all-seeing eye of God. Once persons are contented in their faith, they are free to speculate as they please on all other matters. God will take no notice.

Through the 1600s and 70s Muggleton entered into hostile polemics with a number of Quakers.

In 1669, Muggleton’s An answer to Isaac Pennington, Quaker was intercepted at the printers by the Searcher of the Press, and Muggleton was tipped off that a warrant for his arrest would be issued and he was able to disappear for nine months to live in hiding amongst the watermen of Wapping.

In 1675, Muggleton, as executor of the estate of Deborah Brunt, became involved in property litigation against Alderman John James. He seems largely to have been successful until his opponent hit upon the idea of trying to get him excommunicated in the Court of Arches so that he could no longer have defence of law in civil matters. At the time, Muggleton was in hiding at the house of Ann Lowe, a believer, from an arrest warrant of the Stationers Company. Hiding was now no longer a solution as Muggleton could be excommunicated in his absence if he did not appear and plead. On doing so, Muggleton was remanded to Guildhall Court on a warrant of the Lord Chief Justice. It was Muggleton’s ill-luck that the Lord Mayor that year was a stationer. Muggleton was bailed to appear to answer charges arising from his book The Neck of the Quakers broken, specifically that he did curse Dr Edward Bourne of Worcester, therein. Muggleton remarks that it was strange that a curse against a Quaker should be considered blasphemy by the established church. Muggleton’s problem was that it was common practice for recently published dissenting books to bear false dates and places of publication to escape the law. Muggleton’s bore a false place (Amsterdam, not London) but a true date, some 13 years earlier, and he should have escaped prosecution. No evidence, other than innuendo, was offered by the prosecution.

On 17 January 1676 (1677 new style) Muggleton was tried at the Old Bailey, convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced to three days in the pillory and a fine of £500. At each of his three two-hourly appearances in the pillory (at Temple Gate, outside the Royal Exchange and at the market in West Smithfield) a selection of the books seized from Muggleton were burnt by the common hangman. Considerable public disturbance arose from fights between Muggleton’s supporters and members of the public who felt deprived of their sport. Nevertheless, Muggleton (who was no longer a young man) was badly injured. Muggleton’s attempts to get himself released from Newgate gaol were frustrated because his keepers were reluctant to let go a prisoner from whom they could derive a profit. Muggleton was advised to get Ann Lowe to sue him for debt so that a writ of habeas corpus would remove him from Newgate to the Fleet prison. Eventually, the Sheriff of London, Sir John Peak was persuaded to release Muggleton for a payment of £100 cash down.

Lodowicke Muggleton died on 14 March 1698 aged 88.

In 1832, some sixty Muggletonians asubscribed to bring out a complete edition of The Miscellaneous Works of Reeve and Muggleton in 3 vols.

Muggletonianism has been called “disorganised religion”. Believers held no annual conferences, never organised a single public meeting, seem to have escaped every official register or census of religion, never incorporated, never instituted a friendly society, never appointed a leader, spokesperson, editorial board, chairperson for meetings or a single committee. Their sole foray into bureaucracy was to appoint trustees for their investment, the income from which paid the rent on the London Reading Room between 1869 and 1918.

Muggletonian meetings were simple comings-together of individuals who appeared to feel that discussion with like-minded believers helped clarify their own thoughts. “Nothing in the Muggletonian history becomes it more than its fidelity to open debate (though sometimes rancorous).”

Records and correspondence show that meetings took place from the 1650s to 1940 in London and for almost as long in Derbyshire. Regular meetings occurred at other places at other times. Bristol, Cork, Faversham and Nottingham are among those known, and there were many others, especially in East Anglia and Kent.

In both London and Derbyshire two types of meeting were held. There were regular discussion meetings and there were holiday meetings of a more celebratory nature held in mid-February (to commemorate the start of the Third Commission) and at the end of July (to remember Muggleton’s release from imprisonment).

There remains a description of a Muggletonian holiday meeting held at the Reading Room at 7 New Street, London on February 14, 1869. There were about 40 members present, of whom slightly more than half were men. One quarter were said to have been born into the faith. Tea was served at 5 o’clock. Discussion continued until 6 when a lady sang “Arise, My Soul, Arise”, one of the Muggletonian divine songs.Then a large bowl of port negus with slices of lemon was served and a toast enjoined to absent friends. More songs were sung by each who volunteered. Beer was brought in and supper served at half past eight. “It was a plain substantial meal; consisting of a round of beef, a ham, cheese, butter, bread and beer. Throughout the evening, every one seemed heartily to enjoy himself or herself, with no lack of friendliness, but with complete decorum.” No speeches were made. “By ten o’clock all were on their way homeward.”

There is also an account for a far older holiday meeting which Lodowicke Muggleton and his daughter, Sarah, attended in July 1682 at the Green Man pub in Holloway, then a popular rural retreat to the north of London. In addition to a goodly meal with wine and beer, a quartern of tobacco, one-fifth of a pound, was gotten through and a shilling paid out to “ye man of the bowling green”.

Outside of holiday times, meetings seem to have altered little with time and place. They comprised discussion, readings and songs. There was no public worship, no instruction, no prayer. There is no record of any participant being moved by the spirit. Until mid-Victorian times, London meetings were held in the back rooms of pubs. In the early days, this is said to have provided an appearance of outward conformity with the Conventicle Acts 1664 and 1667. The meeting would look and sound to outsiders like a private or family party. Nothing would advertise religious observance. By 1869, pub life had become irksome and the London congregation obtained their first Reading Room at 7 New Street, which was reckoned to be built on the former site of Lodowicke Muggleton’s birthplace, Walnut Tree Yard. This was made possible by legacies from Catherine Peers, Joseph Gandar and the Frost family; all of whom had been active in the faith. The money invested in government stock yielded sufficient income to pay the rent and the wages of a live-in caretaker who, for most of the Victorian period, was an unemployed shoe-repairer named Thomas Robinson. 7 New Street is perhaps the only site with Muggletonian connections still extant. However, it may require considerable historical imagination from the modern passer-by to gain a mental picture of what it would have been like in Victorian times. Then, the area was full of warehouses and factories, not the smart, professional consultancies of today.

By May 1918, wartime inflation seems to have undermined the Victorian financial settlement.The Muggletonians moved to cheaper rented premises not far away at 74 Worship Street, to the north of Finsbury Square.They remained there until probably the autumn of 1940 when the building was destroyed by a firebomb during the London Blitz. This was the event which led to the transfer of the Muggletonian archive to Mr Noakes’ farm in Kent. As a fruit farmer, Mr Noakes received a petrol ration to take his produce to Covent Garden market in central London. On the return journey, the archive was packed into the empty boxes and taken to safety.

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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