Today in London’s policing history, 1798: the Wapping Coal Riot

On 2nd July 1798, officers of the West India Merchants and Planters Marine Police Institute, the UK’s earliest organised police force proper, launched their first patrols of the crowded waters of the River Thames, based at a HQ at Wapping New Stairs.

The new force was at first privately funded, and had been launched by Patrick Colquhoun, a Scottish businessman and statistician. Colquhoun had made his name and money in the lucrative commercial trade in Virginia, and later made more cash trading linen. When the American Revolution broke out, Colquhoun took the side of the British government against the rebellious colonists, and helped fund a Glasgow regiment to contribute to the war effort.

The British defeat saw him relocate back his energies to Britain. Colquhoun was interested in statistics, and collected economic data, which he used to lobby the government on behalf of the employers in various industries, particularly cotton and muslin (his background in textile dealing had made him a lot of contacts). He wrote numerous pamphlets and treatises promoting legal reform and changes in business practice – usually in the interests of powerful employers. Colquhoun was increasingly in political and government circles, and he aspired to a government position. In the late 1780s he was appointed a Magistrate in the East End.

The London docks were then the East End’s major industry; vast amounts of cargo were unloaded here, from all over the world. This was how the capital was supplied with food, cloth, sugar, raw materials… anything to supply what had become the most powerful and richest city in the world.

But there was a major problem for the dock owners and traders whose goods travelled through them – theft. Merchants were losing an estimated £500,000 worth (million in our money) in stolen cargo annually from the Pool of London on the River Thames. Many ships were unloaded on open docks or on the open river, accessible to looting; however, organised or individual theft by dockers, sailors and other workers was responsible for large amounts of disappeared cargo. There were any number of ways of making items vanish for resale on the many East End markets. The authorities had relatively little manpower to exert any force to prevent or detect theft or track missing goods down.

In 1797 Colquhoun, John Harriot, an Essex Justice of the Peace and master mariner, and utilitarian philosopher of repression Jeremy Bentham collaborated on a plan to remedy the losses to thieves. Harriot and Bentham drew up a proposal for a new police force on the docks, and Colquhoun went to work to lobby the West India Planters Committees and the West India Merchants to fund the new organisation, and applied to the government for permission to operate. The merchants stumped up £4,200 (about £543,000 in today’s moolah), and the state agreed to a one-year trial of the embryonic force. On 2 July 1798, the Thames River Police began operating with Colquhoun as Superintending Magistrate and Harriot the Resident Magistrate.

The very idea of a police was considered an affront by many in England; English folk of various classes held it outraged ‘the liberties they held dear’. Some in positions of power and wealth also thought the idea of a government-controlled police force ( as it existed in France) would be an expensive burden on the public purse. Colquhoun cleverly re-framed the political debate on policing, drawing on his economic statistics to try to demonstrate show that a police dedicated to crime prevention was not only “perfectly congenial to the principle of the British constitution” but also had potential to be cost effective.

The new force began with about 50 men, whose job was to police more than 30,000 workers in the river trades. Of these workers Colquhoun claimed a third were known criminals and “on the game”.

Whether these figures were reliable, the new river police inevitably received a hostile reception from the riverfront workers. For many of the workers on the docks, lighters and ships, and in the warehouses, a little bit of lightfingeredness supplemented what was usually low and irregular pay. Most of these jobs were casual, badly paid, seasonal; survival for these men and their families was generally a matter of daily worry. Meanwhile huge profits were being made on the tobacco, food, sugar, coal and myriads of other imports. The merchants at the top lived in luxury the dockworkers could only imagine. The temptation to help yourself to some of the profits passing through your hands had grown by tradition and struggle into a perk of the job. A lot of cracking down on ‘theft’ took the form of changing (or enforcing tighter interpretations of) perks and traditional right to take offcuts, spilled goods etc, which workers had established over decades of struggle and negotiation. Workers fighting to extend those perks ,and bosses pushing to restrict the, was part of a constant war between workers and employers; the creation of the river police could only be seen as an attack on a part of the workers’ income. And the London dockworkers were often prepared to fight to protect their interests.

The embryonic Thames River Police was organised very differently from what we might think of as a modern police force. The men who made up the river police were described as watermen, surveyors and lumpers – dockworkers enlisted to also police the job. There were only a very few constables in the force (five initially) – they were mostly employed patrolling the dockside. The rationale behind employing workers to police their workmates was that a considerable amount of crime, committed by those people employed in unloading vessels arriving in the Port of London, could be prevented if you could guarantee the honesty and integrity of those men employed in ‘lumping’ cargoes off the ships. ‘Lumpers’ employed in unloading vessels under the protection of the Marine Police Office were those with a reputation for honesty – and they were paid above the usual rate. These men were seen to be as much a part of the Marine Police Office as, say the watermen, surveyors or even the magistrates themselves. A clever process of internalising policing into the mentalities of workers, setting some workers to spy on others.

The River Police was aimed not only control of the mass and endemic nicking of goods arriving at the docks, but also breaking any form of organisation by the workers. It was paid for by the bosses, and expected to serve their interest, and workers getting together was on its radar as part of the ‘crime’ it had to keep an eye on. Colquhoun was a magistrate, and the East End magistrates had powers over labour and wages; they set wage levels, and even had a hand in organising the trade itself, for instance organising coalheaving gangs. Rival views as to how this was to be interpreted had played a crucial and divisive part in the 1768 ‘river strike’– a cataclysmic strike for higher wages that had ended up in pitched battles, murder and hangings… Alderman William Beckford, an East End magistrate, had backed gangs of scabs collected to fight strikers and smash the strike; Beckford was also a major importer of goods through the docks. The same men were employers, law enforcers and politicians, and use these connections to their own profit, and to attack working people on a multitude of levels – as well as being slave traders and plantation owners in the West Indies. Beckford, for instance, was known as the ‘king of Jamaica’ for the size of his plantations, and was determined to protect the profits from his goods from the Caribbean that came through the docks.

Like Beckford, Colquhoun was deeply involved in both the East End dock trades and the Atlantic triangular trade. Historian Peter Linebaugh identifies Colquhoun as a crucial product of, and contributor to, the economic and social power networks that drove the Atlantic trades.

“He was a planner of the trans-Atlantic cotton economy compiling stats of the workers, wages, factories, and imports in order to assist the prime minister and cabinet of England maximise profits from the cycle of capital in England, India, America, Ireland, Africa. That work was interrupted by the revolutions in France and Haiti. In the 1790s he criminalised custom. He led the hanging of those committing money crimes. He led the apprehension of those in textile labour who re-cycled waste products to their own use. He organised political surveillance by spies and snitches of those opposing slavery. In addition to his Virginia cotton interests he owned shares in Jamaican sugar plantations.” There was a direct link in terms of goods arriving from Caribbean and the interests of planters, shippers, etc, in seeing maximum of profits from them and less ‘attrition’ by working people. The West India merchants and planters were major contributors to the funds raised to pay for the new police.

Transport of coal was at the heart of the docks, and theft of coal a crucial battleground. Houses, industry, offices – coal was vital for heating and came into the docks on a colossal scale. Possibly more than any other commodity, coal was ripped off by the dockworkers, often on an individual scale. Coalheaving was dirty, hard and backbreaking work, paid badly. As the 1768 strike had shown, the coalheavers were often the most volatile group of workers, with a potential for collective action and violence.

Coal was also to cause an early battle between the dockworkers and the new River Police. Harriott and Colquhoun were both determined to stop the ‘coal markets’, selling of nicked coal from the docks, which were openly held in the streets of Wapping.

On the evening of 16th October 1798, three men stood trial at the Thames Magistrates Court, which was attached to the Marine Police Office. They were two coal heavers and one watchman’s boy, all accused of theft of coal (in fact of having coal in their possession and giving no reasonable explanation as to why), and were all convicted and each fined forty shillings. As they left the building, some friends arrived at the court and paid the fines. Upon leaving, one of the three, Charles Eyers, was met by his brother, James, who said “Damn your long eyes, have you paid the money?” Charles said “Yes, I have.” James then took his brother by the collar, dragged him toward the door and said “Come along and we shall have the money back or else we shall have the house down!”

Constable Richard Perry later testified: “I opened the door to let Charles Eyers out, when there was a voice cried, you b-y long thief have you paid the money? I saw there was a riot going to be, and I shoved the door of the office to immediately: then there was another voice said, here goes for the forty; with that the fan-light of the door was instantly knocked all over me, I suppose with a stick, they could not have reached it without; I went into the Magistrate’s room, and immediately the next light was beat, shutters and all, into the office, by large stones, I suppose twenty pounds weight, such stones as the streets were paved with; they then proceeded to the next light, that was beat in also with great stones.

– Q. Was the street quiet at this time?
– A. No, there was crying and shouting, and a great noise, and saying they would have the b-y Police-office down; they then proceeded to the third window, and beat that in also, and a large stone came in, which took me over the shoulder, and passed Mr. Colquhoun, the Magistrate.”

Within a very short period of time a hostile crowd – some reports reckoned it at around 2000 men – had gathered outside the police office and stones and rocks were being directed against the windows. There was talk of burning down the police office, with the police inside.

The action that was to follow was to leave two men dead and another wounded.

The police inside the office secured the building. When a large stone smashed through a window, officer Perry took a pistol and fired a shot into the crowd, that shot killed a rioter (who was never identified at the trial). The crowd seemed to quieten and withdraw slightly. Perry asked the magistrates to leave the building where he obviously felt at great risk. Having gone into the street, Colquhoun read the Riot Act to the crowd, ordering them to disperse. They did not.

Gabriel Franks, a master lumper employed by the Marine Police Office (later described as ‘not a sworn constable but occasionally assisting in the Office’) was apparently drinking in the nearby Rose and Crown pub. Hearing the commotion, he made his way to the police office with two other men named Peacock and Webb, and asked to be admitted, but was told that nobody was being allowed in or out of the building. Franks returned to the main street, possibly to observe the disturbance and gather information and evidence. He told Peacock to keep tabs on one particularly active rioter, whilst he himself went off, telling peacock he would try and secure a cutlass for their protection. However, someone obviously recognised Franks as a Police Office agent, as according to Peacock, about a minute after Franks walked off, a shot rang out from the direction of the Dung Wharf, and Franks cried out that he had been shot. The shooting from inside the Police Office that killed the rioter and the shot that killed Franks apparently happened in quick succession.

Franks did not die immediately. He lived on for several days, drifting in and out of consciousness. During this time Franks was questioned about the shooting, but had no idea as to who had fired the shot. The actual identity of the person who pulled the trigger and fired the fatal shot was never discovered; however, the motive would clearly seem to be hatred of the Marine Police, Franks being known as someone associated with the police office.  He might have been deliberately singled out as he walked towards the Dung Wharf, or, he may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could it have been friendly fire – ie was he killed by a shot from inside the Police Office? Witness Elizabeth Forester later tried to persuade the court that both Franks and the unnamed rioter had been killed by the one shot fired from the police office, but her evidence was discredited by the court. However, there doesn’t seem to have been any other evidence of rioters carrying or using firearms.

Failing to identify anyone who might have really shot Franks, the authorities plumped for a blatant frame-up on the loosest of justifications. James Eyers, whose behaviour at the court was the initial spark that kicked off the riot, was eventually arrested and charged with the murder of Gabriel Franks.

No one produced any evidence to suggest that Eyers had actually fired the fatal shot, or even seriously tried to suggest he had anything to do with the shooting. The prosecution’s case was that his actions in starting the riot, therefore he was responsible for Franks’ death, under the law of ‘common purpose’ (today this might come under the ‘Joint Enterprise’ concept). This was conveniently also useful in removing an obvious opponent of the Marine Police and setting a grim example to the coalheavers that resistance to policing would reap the harshest of rewards. Eyers greatest crime, the judge freely admitted, was that he had called for the Police Office to be torn down, “in breach of the peace, and in open violation of the laws of the land, in the pursuit of a very wicked purpose, namely, the demolition of the house in which the Magistrates administered the justice of the country, and the destruction of the Magistrates themselves…”

Eyers was convicted of murder on the 9th January 1799, and sentenced the following Monday morning to be hanged.

Despite – or because of – the riot and resulting deaths, the success of the police force in reducing theft on the docks was enough to guarantee the Marine Police’s future. After its first year, Colquhoun reported that the force had “established their worth by saving £122,000 worth of cargo and by the rescuing of several lives”.

The government passed the Marine Police Bill on 28 July 1800, transforming it from a private to public police agency – making official the police as a centralised, armed, and uniformed cadre of the state. Colquhoun later published a book on the experiment, The Commerce and Policing of the River Thames. It found receptive audiences far outside London, and inspired similar forces in places in other countries, notably, New York City, Dublin, and Sydney.

Historians of policing credit Colquhoun’s innovation as a critical development towards the creation Robert Peel’s “new” police three decades later. Along with the Bow Street Runners, the Marine Police Force was eventually absorbed by the Metropolitan Police in the 19th century. Colquhoun’s utilitarian approach to the problem – using a cost-benefit argument to obtain support from businesses standing to benefit – allowed him to achieve what previous magistrates had failed – for instance the Bow Street detectives. Unlike the stipendiary system at Bow Street, the river police were full-time, salaried officers prohibited from taking private fees.

The Marine Police Force continues to operate at the same Wapping High Street address. In 1839 it merged with the Metropolitan Police Force to become Thames Division; and is now the Marine Support Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In memory of Michael Delaney

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

Check out the 2020 London Rebel History Calendar online

 

 

 

 

Today in London’s judicial history: hanging Judge Jeffreys caught in Wapping pub, fleeing uprising, 1688.

George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys, was a judge, notorious for “acting as an instrument of royal policy”.

Rapidly ascending through the legal hierarchy in the 1670s, to become Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Chancellor, he also tied himself to the coat-tails of James Stuart, Duke of York, brother of King Charles II, and rose accordingly to great power.

During the Popish Plot he was frequently on the bench which condemned numerous innocent men of taking part in catholic plots to overthrow the monarchy, on the perjured evidence of Titus Oates, a protestant Senator MacCarthy. When it suited the political needs of the times, Jeffreys backed the opposition condoning of Oates framing catholics for nebulous political crimes; however, when James became king, Jeffreys was quick to back the winner. (Showing his enthusiasm by procuring the conviction of Oates for his perjury at the same trials Jeffreys had presided over.) He is most famous for hs role as the hanging judge in the ‘Bloody Assizes’, the trials arising from the aftermath of Monmouth’s failed Rebellion against the new king.

In 1683 Jeffreys presided over the trial of Algernon Sidney, who had been implicated in the Rye House Plot, a plan hatched by republicans and opposition leaders to off the king and his brother. Sidney was convicted and executed: Jeffreys’ became infamous for his conduct of the trial, ruling that while two witnesses were normally required in a treason trial, and the Crown had only one, Sidney’s own writings on republicanism were a second “witness” on the ground that “to write is to act”.  Jeffreys’ also successful convicted Lord Russell in connection with the same conspiracy as Sidney, replacing Sir Francis Pemberton, who had presided at the same trial and made clear his doubts about Russell’s guilt, much to the King’s displeasure.

Jeffreys’ historical notoriety comes from his actions in 1685, after Monmouth’s Rebellion. Jeffreys was sent to the West Country in the autumn of 1685 to conduct the trials of captured rebels.

Although the Duke of Monmouth’s uprising was nominally intended to replace the catholic king James with the protestant Monmouth, a substantial part of his support came from former levellers, republicans, veterans of the ‘good old cause’ and the Commonwealth… Around the campfires as they were on the march, Monmouth’s army discussed the possibilities of introducing a reforming program if James was defeated…

Even if the rebellion was very much doomed from the start, it was important to punish the participants, especially given the association with the radical underground. Jeffreys, as the pre-eminent establishment legal mind of his day, was co-opted to conduct the trials of the captured rebels after their defeat at the battle of Sedgemoor. The Centre of the trials was based at Taunton. Estimates of the numbers executed for treason have been given as high as 700, however, a more likely figure is between 160 and 170 of 1381 defendants found guilty of treason.

In the wake of King James succeeding to the throne, Jeffreys had been named Lord Chancellor; in the late 1680s he became in effect James appointed Dictator of London. But storm clouds were looming…

In 1688, as a burgeoning revolt against king James grew (mainly based on protestant opposition to James Catholicism), Jeffreys stuck by the king, even after other allies abandoned him. But after the king fled the country on 10th December, in the face of uprisings in London and the invitation of notables to rival candidate William of Orange to take over, Jeffreys decided it was time to leg it abroad…

“… lying concealed, he caused preparations to be made for his escape from the kingdom. It was arranged that a coal ship which had delivered her cargo should clear out the custom house as for her return to Newcastle, and should land him at Hamburg.

To avoid, as he thought, all chance of being recognized by those who had seen him in ermine or gold-embroidered robes, with a long white band under the chin, his collar of S.S round his neck, and on his head a full-bottom wig, which had recently become the attribute of judicial dignity, instead of the old-fashioned coif or black velvet cap, – he cut off his bushy eyebrows, wont to inspire such terror, he put on the worn-out dress of a common sailor, and he covered his head with an old tarred hat that seemed to have weathered many a blast.

Thus disguised, as soon as it was dusk he got into a boat; and the state of the tide enabling him to shoot London Bridge without danger, he safely reached he coal ship lying off Wapping. Here he was introduced to the captain and the mate, on whose secrecy he was told he might rely; but, as they could not sail till next day, when he had examined his berth, he went on board another vessel that lay at a little distance, there to pass the night….” Unfortunately, he also nipped over to a Wapping pub, now called the The Town of Ramsgate, to have a final drink… and was recognized by a sailor who had previously appeared in court before him. “But hardly believing his own senses, he entered the tap-room of the alehouse to examine the countenance more deliberately…. An immense multitude or persons were in a few minutes collected round the door by the proclamation of the scrivener that the pretended sailor was indeed the wicked Lord Chancellor Jeffreys… He was now in the greatest jeopardy, for… the persons here assembled were disposed at first to tear him limb from limb, and he was saved only the interposition of some of he more considerate, who suggested that the proper course would be to take him before the lord mayor.

… but before he could be secured in a carriage to be conveyed thither, they assaulted and pelted him, and might have proceeded to greater extremities if a party of the train bands had not rescued him from their fury. They pursued him all the way with whips and halters, and cries of ‘Vengeance! Justice! Justice!’ Although he lay back in the coach, he could still be discovered in his blue jacket, and with his sailor’s hat flopped down upon his face.”

Dragged to the Tower of London, Jeffreys was grateful for the protection of the authorities from the crowd… But he was to die, untried, in prison, in April 1689.

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

Today in London’s rebel history: hanging of coalheavers in Shadwell breaks the ‘river strike’, 1768.

For centuries one of the hardest jobs on the London docks was coalheaving: unloading coal from ships to warehouses from where it was sent off to fuel the City and industrial expansion. Much of the works was centred on Wapping and Shadwell. The pay was crap and the job was long and hard. Plus gangs of heavers were often controlled and organised by powerful City merchants and local publicans.

The Wapping and Shadwell coalheavers, many of who were Irish, were organised in gangs, among who were the “Bucks” & the “Brothers”, said by some to be allied to the Irish Whiteboy gangs. So many Irish coalheavers lived in the Cable Street area it was known as ‘Knockfergus’. They went on strike several times in the eighteenth century.

In 1768, at a time of starvation & mass unrest in the country, a coal-heavers strike, over a demand for a 4 pence pay rise, erupted into vicious class violence. fought in & around the taverns of the area, since the heaving gangs were organised from the taverns. Some of the taverns were pro-coalheavers, some were run by ‘undertakers’ (subcontractors), like Metcalf & Green, who were hired by Alderman Beckford of Billingsgate Ward, coal and sugar magnate, powerful West Indies slave owner & trader, and city politician. The undertakers designed methods of work to reduce wages & cut unloading times; the heavers struck.

Metcalf was keeper of the Salutation Inn in Wapping, which was destroyed by rioting coalheavers in February 1768. Green organised scab labour from his Roundabout Tavern (in Gravel Lane, now Garnet Street), which was attacked with gunfire in April: a coalheaver & a shoemaker were killed.

Armed with cutlasses and clubs, the striking coal-heavers besieged the pub until driven off by gunfire from the (now broken) windows. Next day the men returned and attempted to ‘cut [Green] to pieces and hang him on his sign’. Green retreated but retaliated by shooting dead two (or three) of the attackers.

The justices did for the rest, condemning seven assailants to the gallows which had been erected on Stepney Green, but not before Green’s sister had also been brutally murdered (‘torn to death’) in retaliation. Green was charged with murder but acquitted: his witnesses were assaulted.

By May, the masters had decided to refuse the pay rise and engaged sailors to load and unload their coal. This was a very dangerous mistake and when opportunity arose coal-heavers boarded a collier as it unloaded and told the sailors that if they remained on the ship they would be killed. Next day, sailors taking leave from unloading another vessel were attacked. Two were wounded and one, John Beatty, stabbed to death. Violent street fights continued between sailors and striking coal-heavers and two ship’s masters were also severely beaten the following week. Inevitably and with the dull predictability of all bloody reprisals the magistrates and the army were called in, caught the ringleaders and executed them.

The coalheavers sang:

Five pounds for a sailor’s head
And twenty for a masters.
We will cut the lightermen’s throats
And murder all the meters.

The heavers were supported to an extent by Ralph Hodgson, a liberal paternalist Shadwell magistrate. In May, the heavers began stopping coal carts on land, & addressing notices & petitions to wharfingers & other workers. They disciplined scabs.

The strike collapsed but not until the sailors themselves had decided to blockade the Port of London. In May, sailors joined the struggle, striking for wage rise. They raised the red flag: their decision to ‘strike the sails’, literally cut them from the masts, gave the word strike its modern meaning. River shipping was at a standstill. A meeting of merchants at Cornhill gave way on some demands, but a fleet arrived from Newcastle, & its sailors worked as scabs, breaking the alliance.

The government assigned armed ships into the Pool. War broke out in the docks, with scores of deaths.

9 coalheavers were charged with the murder of the sailor Beatty: James Murphy & James Duggan were found guilty: they were hanged at Tyburn on July 11th, & their bodies given to the surgeons to dissect, while a huge crowd mourned outside, keening in Gaelic. On July 26th, seven more Irish coalheavers were hanged at Sun Tavern Fields (just the north of the Highway, where Cable Street now runs), where the heavers held mass meetings. 50 000 people attended, rescue attempts were expected, so troops patrolled Wapping & Shadwell, 100s of constables enforced the event. The terrifying affect of the hanging broke the river workers resolve: troops were kept in the area till September (though two were killed for unloading coal).

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

Today in London’ rebel history: Striking Coalheavers battle scabs on ships, Wapping, 1768.

For centuries London’s economy was dependent on the burning of coal. But being as not that much coal was hewn in the Brixton hills… hundreds of thousands of tons of coal used to arrive in the London docks every year.

The job of unloading coal from ships was dirty, grueling and knackering. The coalheavers of Wapping and Shadwell were famous for their heavy drinking, hard-living and potential for violence. They were also prone to a spot of collective direct action… Organised through lodges known as the “Bucks” & the “Brothers”, they went on strike several times in 18th century. Many of the coalheavers were Irish, residents of Irish-dominated areas like ‘KnockFergus’ in Cable Street.

The struggles of the coalheavers for better wages and conditions climaxed in the huge ‘river strike’ of 1768. At a time of starvation & mass unrest, movements for political reform were sparking riots in support of John Wilkes, and class struggles were erupting everywhere (most notably among the Spitalfields silkweavers).

A coal-heavers strike, over a demand for a 4d pay rise, erupted into vicious class violence: fought in and around the taverns of Wapping and Shadwell, since the heaving gangs were organised from the taverns. Some of the taverns were pro-coalheavers, some were run by ‘undertakers’ (subcontractors), like Metcalf & Green, who were hired by Alderman Beckford of Billingsgate Ward, rich coal and sugar magnate, one of the most powerful West Indies slave owners & slave traders; also a leading City of London politician. The undertakers designed methods of work to reduce wages & cut unloading times; the heavers struck as a result.

Metcalf and Green gathered scab labour at taverns; the pubs became the major theatre for the war. The Bucks met at the Horse & Dray (probably in Garnet Street) & the Brothers at the Star on Wapping Wall, and the Pewter Dish (on the river, probably where King Edward Memorial Park is). The Ship & Shears was gutted in February. The King of Prussia, on Wapping High Street ,was gutted in March.

Metcalf was keeper of Wapping’s Salutation Inn, which was destroyed by rioting coalheavers in February 1768. Green organised scab labour from his Roundabout Tavern (in Gravel Lane, now Garnet Street), which was attacked with gunfire in April: a coalheaver & a shoemaker were killed.

Armed with cutlasses and clubs, the striking coal-heavers besieged the pub until driven off by gunfire from the (now broken) windows. Next day the men returned and attempted to ‘cut [Green] to pieces and hang him on his sign’. Green retreated but retaliated by shooting dead two (or three) of the attackers. The justices did for the rest, condemning seven assailants to the gallows which had been erected on Stepney Green, but not before Green’s sister had also been brutally murdered (‘torn to death’) in retaliation.

The heavers were supported to an extent by Ralph Hodgson, a liberal paternalist Shadwell magistrate; to some extent a struggle in the City authorities between paternalism and laissez-faire capitalist ‘progressives’ was being played out, with the coalheavers as proxies.

Green was charged with murder but acquitted: his witnesses were assaulted. In May, the heavers began stopping coal carts on land, & addressing notices & petitions to wharfingers & other workers. They disciplined scabs. Also in May, sailors joined the struggle, demanding a wage rise, raising the red Flag, & ‘striking the sails’ (cutting them from the mast, giving the word ‘strike’ its modern meaning). River shipping was at a standstill. A meeting of merchants at Cornhill gave way on some demands, but a fleet arrived from Newcastle, & its sailors worked as scabs, breaking the alliance.

The coalheavers sang:

Five pounds for a sailor’s head
And twenty for a masters.
We will cut the lightermen’s throats
And murder all the meters.

By May, the masters had decided to refuse the pay rise and engaged sailors to load and unload their coal. The government assigned armed ships into the Pool. War broke out in the docks, with scores of deaths. Heavers boarded the Thames and Mary in Shadwell Dock in May & threatened to kill any sailor who carried on unloading. As sailors began to unload coal on the next day, Whit Sunday, at Shadwell Dock, a riot broke out – & a young sailor was fatally wounded. 9 coalheavers were charged with his murder: James Murphy & James Duggan were found guilty: they were hanged at Tyburn on July 11th, & their bodies given to the surgeons to dissect, while a huge crowd mourned outside, keening in Gaelic. On July 26th, 7 more Irish coalheavers were hanged at Sun Tavern Fields (just the north of the Highway, where Cable Street is), where the heavers held mass meetings. 50 000 people attended, rescue attempts were expected, so troops patrolled Wapping & Shadwell, 100s of constables enforced the event. The terrifying affect of the hanging broke the river workers resolve: troops were kept in the area till September (though 2 were killed for unloading coal), ships were protected; attempts were made though, to increase wages & reform the hiring systems of the port of London.

Magistrate Hodgson lost his seat on the bench for his paternalist approach to the heavers: repression was the order of the day.

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

Today in London’s radical history: Wapping printers hold their final march, 1987.

9th February 1987 saw the last of the weekly demonstrations through Wapping, East London, that were held every Saturday night, through the bitter year long dispute between the print workers and their employers, the evil publishing giant News International. Beginning on January 24, 1986, when several hundred printers were immediately sacked for going on strike, the dispute was one of the last major strikes of the 1980s, coming about less than a year after the end of the 1984-5 miners’ strike. The Thatcher-led Conservative Party anti-union legislation was biting heavily into workers’ struggles…

Fleet street printers had a long history of almost total unionisation, militancy and willingness to strike on their own, and other workers’, behalf, and a strong control over production and working practices. Especially in the 1970s, print unions had often cripple newspaper production, to the fury of the press barons…

The strike had been preceded by many years of drawn out negotiations between the unions and News International, which was, and still is, part of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. News Corporation publishes, among others, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun (and the late, er, lamented, News of the World. Hehehe.) However Sky had not yet been dreamt up…

News International had planned to move production from Fleet Street to a new plant at Wapping, and during negotiations had been angling for a deal from the unions, which would prevent the new plant being shut down by workers’ action… They were pushing for a no-strike clause, an end to the closed shop, flexible working and the adoption of new technologies that would have led to heavy job losses. The prospect of these conditions provoked the workers (represented by the National Graphical Association (NGA) and the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) unions), into calling a strike for January 24th 1986. However, this was almost certainly a trap laid for them, to allow for mass sackings and a move to a new plant without the troublesome ‘inkies’.

All those involved in the strike were fired by the company. Members of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbers Union (EETPU) were drafted in to keep the presses running, and production was transferred to the new Wapping plant. The EEPTU had a long history of provided scabs during strikes, testimony to the free market ideology and red-baiting rhetoric espoused by one of its most prominent leaders, Frank Chapple, and his protégé Eric Hammond, who was the union’s leader during the Wapping strike. It became apparent that the swift use of the EETPU had been previously planned by management at News International, leading many to believe that the company had been seeking to instigate a strike in an attempt to bring an end to negotiations with the unions once and for all.

Mass demonstrations, often consisting of thousands of print workers, supporters and local residents, were organised by the unions in support of the strikers and regularly took place in Wellclose Square, opposite the Wapping plant. A massive police operation was undertaken to prevent any disruption to production, and the plant became known as “Fortress Wapping”, owing to the excessive security measures in place. EEPTU scabs were bussed in from secret pick-up areas, and drivers were often able to completely bypass picket lines. A union-called boycott of the News International stable of papers was also declared (there was also a fair amount of sabotage, to trucks, piles of papers, the Convoys Wharf paper plant in Deptford was set on fire…).
The company counter-acted this by hiring strongly anti-union road haulage company TNT to keep supplies of papers on the move around the country, bypassing the railways where disruption from traditionally militant railwaymen sympathetic to the printers could have cut off their distribution network.

The strike was constantly violent: clashes between workers and the police were numerous. The first major confrontation occurred on February 15th 1986, when riot police attacked a demonstration of 5000 people. Eight police officers were injured as well as many workers, 58 others were arrested. Local residents, generally sympathetic to the strikers, were also routinely attacked by the cops, and the borough usually had over a hundred police officers on duty at any one time, on one occasion massing to a number of 1800. Local residents were often prevented from walking down their own streets and entering their houses.

The printers resolve to see the remained solid throughout, though some journalists from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) were quite prepared to cross picket lines. Disruption at the Wapping plant was seriously limited, but owing to the presence of scabs from the EEPTU, not one day of production was lost and newspapers were printed as normal for each day of the strike. Much vocal support was offered by other unions although little practical aid was provided, leaving the workers mostly responsible for the day to day running of the strike.

The policing of the strike attracted widespread criticism from many groups who accused the police of having fuelled confrontations with the strikers and local residents. Accusations of attacks on journalists and camera crews who were reporting the strike also surfaced, and the BBC lodged a complaint with the police, reporting that their employees had been assaulted by police officers and their equipment damaged while they had been filming a confrontation between strikers and police. A particular occasion of police heavy-handedness was widely reported after a demonstration on January 24, 1987, when policemen were filmed attacking strikers, legal observers, journalists and first aid workers, damaging vehicles and illegally, and seemingly randomly, raiding houses in the area.

After over a year of walking the picket lines and surviving on minimal strike pay, the sacked printers were growing desperate. Union funds had been completely exhausted, and with the lack of help from other unions, the strike seemed impossible to be able to carry on. It came to an end on February 5, 1987, with the printers accepting a weak redundancy package. News International, the EEPTU and the police were heavily criticised for their actions during the strike, and the power of the print unions was forever broken. Production was moved fully to the Wapping plant, where new technology allowed print to be composed electronically and to be submitted directly by journalists, negating the need for thousands of printers to be employed in the plants. The implementation of these changes led to thousands of forced redundancies in the printing industry.

Like many disputes common of the time, the strike ended with irreversible damage done to the unions, and many hundreds of workers facing unemployment. The last major outbreak of militancy of the workers’ movement of the 1980s had, just as the miners had bitterly experienced, ended in failure.

Find more information at:

A brilliant website on the dispute: http://www.wapping-dispute.org.uk

Photos and posters from the struggle: http://www.wappingdispute.co.uk/

Every issue of Picket, the unofficial newsletter of the News International printers: http://libcom.org/history/picket-bulletin-wapping-printers-strike-1986-1987

Paper Boys – an excellent first hand account of involvement in the Wapping dispute: http://libcom.org/history/paper-boys-one-man’s-account-picketing-wapping

much more at : http://libcom.org/tags/wapping-strike

http://www.oatridge.co.uk/wapping.htm

http://www.coldtype.net/Assets/pdfs/Wapping1.pdf

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