Turbulent Londoners: Jane Cobden, 1851-1947

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. My next Turbulent Londoner is Jane Cobden, one of the first women to be elected to the London County Council.


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A portrait of Jane Cobden by the artist Sidney Starr.

Fans of Victorian crime drama Ripper Street might recognise Jane Cobden from series 2 and 3. Played by Leanne Best, Cobden was a strong, opinionated London County Councillor, more than a match for love interest Detective Inspector Edmund Reid. But how does the character match up to the real Jane Cobden?

Born Emma Jane Catherine Cobden on the 28th of April 1851 in Westbourne Terrace, London, Jane was the fourth of sixth children of the well-known reformer and politician Richard Cobden. She devoted her life to campaigning for women’s rights and protecting and developing her father’s legacy- she was committed to the’Cobdenite’ issues of land reform, peace and social justice.

In 1869 Jane moved to South Kensington with her sisters Ellen, Anne and Kate, also dedicated activists. Jane was active on the radical wing of the Liberal Party, and became increasingly committed to the cause of women’s suffrage over the 1870s. In 1871, she attended the Women’s Suffrage Conference in London with her sister Anne. In about 1879 she joined the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, and by the following year she was the organisation’s Treasurer.

The National Society was cautious, avoiding close association with political parties and excluding married women from their demand for the vote. This was too conservative for some, and the Central National Society broke away in 1888. In 1889 this group split again, and the Women’s Franchise League (WFL) was formed, including Cobden and Emmeline Pankhurst. The WFL’s aims were more radical- they wanted votes for women on the same basis as men, and women to be eligible for all political offices. Jane was politically pragmatic as well as ambitious, however. She disagreed with the mainstream Liberal Party’s stance on many issues, but remained a member because she believed it was the best way to advance her causes.

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A photo of Jane Cobden taken in the 1890s, by Fradelle and Young (Photo: National Portrait Gallery).

In the late 1880s, no one was sure whether women could serve as councillors or not; the law was unclear. In November 1888, the Society for Promoting the Return of Women as County Councillors (SPRWCC) was set up to test the law. This catchily-named organisation set up a £400 election fund and choose two women to stand as Liberal candidates for the newly established London County Council. Jane stood in Bromley and Bow, and Margaret Sandhurst stood in Brixton. Jane campaigned on a variety of issues, including opposition the tax on coal, better housing for the poor, “fair” wages, and opposition to sweat shops. Both women won, but their positions were not secure; there were many who opposed their election and tried to overturn the results. Sandhurst’s election was challenged by the man she defeated, and her election was declared invalid. Jane was supported by her runner-up, who was also a member of the Liberal Party. However, a judge eventually ruled that Jane’s election was unlawful, and therefore so were her votes in the council. She quietly served the rest of her term, and did not stand for reelection. It wasn’t until the Qualification of Women Act in 1907 that women legally gained the right to sit on county councils; Cobden was truly a woman before her time.

In 1892, aged 41, Jane married Thomas Fisher Unwin, a publisher. Encouraged by him, Jane expanded her interests to include international peace and justice, and rights of aboriginal people around the world. The couple strongly opposed the Boer War. In 1893, Jane represented the WFL at the World Congress of Representative Women in Chicago.

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Jane Cobden as portrayed by Leanne Best in BBC/Amazon drama Ripper Street (Photo: BBC).

As the campaign for women’s suffrage gained pace after 1900, Jane chose not to participate in the illegal activities of the WSPU, but she fiercely defended her sister, Anne, when she was imprisoned for a month in October 1906. She organised the Indian women’s delegation in the Women’s Coronation Procession on the 17th of June 1911, a few days before the coronation of George V. Cobden never gave up on a political solution to women’s suffrage. The Conciliation Bills of 1910-12 would have given a small number of propertied women the vote. Cobden asked the Irish Parliamentary Party to support the doomed bills, because of the support that women had given to the Land League campaign in England. She also continued to campaign for other causes she cared about during this time, publishing two books on the subject of land reform: The Hungry Forties: Life Under the Bread Tax (1904) and The Land Hunger: Life Under Monopoly (1913).

Jane Cobden died on the 7th of July 1974, aged 96. The BBC’s synopsis of her character in Ripper Street describes her as “one of the giants on whose shoulders the Suffragette Movement was to stand,” and it doesn’t exaggerate. Cobden may be more well-known than other women’s rights pioneers because of her portrayal in Ripper Street, but I think her achievements still deserve more recognition.

Sources and Further Reading

Baldwin, Anne. “Women’s History Month: Persistence Pays Off, as Women are Finally Elected to the London County Council.” Women’s History Network. Last updated 5 March 2010, accessed 31 October 2016. Available at http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/?tag=jane-cobden

Hurley, Ann. “Emma Jane Catherine Cobden-Unwin 1851-1947.” Hurley and Skidmore Family History. No date, accessed 31 October 2016. Available at http://www.hurleyskidmorehistory.com.au/emma-jane-catherine-cobden-.html

Richardson, Sarah. “What Next, and Next? The Cobden Movement: Fleeting or Fundamental?” Liberty Fund. Last updated 8 January 2015, accessed 31 October 2016. Available at http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/lm-cobden

Wikipedia. “Jane Cobden.” Last updated 4 September 2016, Accessed 31 October 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Cobden

 

London’s Protest Stickers: Animal Welfare

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You find stickers of all kinds all over London, sometimes even in posh places, like these outside the National History Museum in South Kensington (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Exhibition Road, 30/08/16).

As regular readers of my blog will know, you can find all kinds of different issues represented on the protest stickers that plaster London’s streets. Over the last year and a half, I have written about protest stickers relating to immigration and race, housing, and the EU referendum, amongst others (see the Turbulent London Map for locations of all the stickers I’ve featured). But all of my topics so far have been rather human-centric, and many activists concern themselves with the non-human. The way that humans treat animals has been a topic of fierce debate for decades. It’s a complex issue, which can escalate rapidly into a philosophical debate about whether or not animals are entitled to certain rights in a similar way to humans. The debate also manifests itself in practical ways however, such as opposition to experiments being carried out on animals, and concern for the treatment of farm animals bred for human consumption. In recent years, ethical consumerism has reduced the amount of product testing carried out on animals, and vegetarianism and veganism has increased (the number of vegans in Britain has gone up 360% in the last 10 years (Source: The Telegraph, 2016). This has not been enough to satisfy everyone, however, and animal welfare continues to be a topic of protest stickers.

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This sticker equates animal with human liberation, mirroring the symbolic raised, clenched fist with a raised paw (Photo: Hannah Awcock, New Cross Road, 23/08/16).

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The British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) use of animal experimentation is a common topic of protest stickers in London. The British Heartless Foundation is an organisation that aims to promote the fact that the BHF fund experiments on animals- they argue that less people would donate money to the BHF if they knew that was the case (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 11/03/15).

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The British Heartless Foundation produce a variety of different stickers. This one features rats (Photo: Hannah Awcock, East Street, Southwark, 04/06/15).

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According to the British Heartless Foundation, BHF also fund experiments on pigs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 19/05/15).

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This sticker references recent culls of badgers in an attempt to prevent the spread of bovine TB. The effectiveness of the policy has been questioned by campaigners, who argue that the policy is cruel and unnecessary (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Southbank, 12/09/15).

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A lot of protest stickers promote vegetarianism and veganism. This sticker equates killing animals for food with murdering a human (Photo: Hannah Awcock, New Cross Road, 20/03/16).

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The Friendly Activist is a vegan who campaigns for animal rights and the environment, amongst other things. He seems to have gone quiet recently though (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Borough High Street, 26/06/15).

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Animal Aid campaigns against all forms of cruelty against animals and promotes what they call ‘cruelty-free living’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Russell Square, 15/04/15).

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This sticker is relatively low-tech; it is not very waterproof, so is likely to deteriorate quickly. Veganstickers.co.uk sells vegan protest stickers, and Earthlings is a documentary  about animal cruelty (Photo: Malet Street, 08/03/16).

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This sticker is a similar style and quality. It is advertising vegankit.com, a website that provides advice, information, and links to vegans and people who are considering veganism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 08/03/16).

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This sticker is the same as the last, although its condition suggests it has been out on the street for longer. The photo was taken two months after the previous one and close by, so they could have been put up at the same time. Someone has crossed out the YouTube videos and web address, perhaps because they disagree with the sticker’s message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/05/16, Gower Street).

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This sticker was also located in the same vicinity as the previous two; they may have been put up by the same person (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 08/03/16).

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Location can be very important for protest stickers. I found this sticker outside a McDonalds in Islington (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Upper Street, Islington, 01/12/15).

If you want to see where all these stickers were located, take a look at the Turbulent London Map.

Publishing Your PhD: Some Advice

On the 1st of November, the Royal Holloway Geography’s seminar series Landscape Surgery held a seminar entitled Publishing Your PhD. Two Royal Holloway alumni, Justin Spinney (Cardiff University) and Amanda Rogers (Swansea University), returned to give advice on how to convert your PhD into publications. As someone who is rapidly approaching the end of their PhD without having published anything, I found the session very useful, so I thought I would summarise some of their advice here.

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Justin Spinney and Amanda Rogers give advice on how to publish your PhD research during a Landscape Surgery seminar in Bedford Square, London (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The first thing that struck me, which I often find when talking to academics about their careers, is that there is no gold standard. There is no perfect recipe for publishing your PhD (apologies if that is what you were hoping to find here!) Justin and Amanda have taken different approaches to publishing since they finished their PhDs, and both have successful academic careers. So with that in mind, I have pulled together the bits of advice that I think most people will find useful, which fit nicely into three topics.

First of all, have a plan, or at least think about what you want your publications to achieve. Are you publishing because you have something to say, or because you want to further your career? If it’s the latter, you might want to think carefully about which journal to publish in. Some journals are notoriously slow, can you afford to wait? Are their particular journals which cater to the discipline or subject area in which you want to work? Might you be better off trying to get a book chapter published first? If it’s the former reason, there are still questions to ask yourself, such as what kind of audience do you wish to reach? There is a huge amount of pressure on PhD students now to publish in order to get an academic job, and I for one have definitely been guilty of blindly panicking rather than thinking strategically.

This leads nicely into the second area of advice I picked up from the seminar; which relates to writing format. There a range of different publishing formats available, which have different requirements and can serve different purposes. For a Geography PhD student I would argue that a book review is nice, a book chapter is great, but a journal article is the the holy grail. Different disciplines value single-author books differently, but it seems to me that they generally come 5-10 years after a PhD, if at all. Online publications such as The Conversation allow you to respond quickly to current events, and help to get your name out there without going through the lengthy and stressful peer review process. Blogs too, whether you have your own or guest-write for someone else, help your work to reach different audiences, and allow you to test out new ideas unrestrained by the formal requirements of academic writing style. So don’t necessarily confine yourself solely to journal articles.

The third area of advice relates to other people. Academia cam often be a lonely pursuit, so I was surprised when other people kept coming up again and again during the seminar. The connections you make during your PhD are significant; supervisors, examiners, or people you meet at conferences might lead to a chapter in an edited book or a paper in a special journal issue. You might even find someone to co-write with. It could be a good way of taking on that scary first publication, but you need to be clear about what your contribution was when it comes to CVs and job interviews. How to deal with referees’ comments was also a key area of discussion. The consensus seemed to be don’t be disheartened, don’t feel like you have to respond to every comment, and be prepared to stand up for yourself and your ideas- it’s OK to refuse to change something if you feel strongly about it.

So there you have it; my summary of other people’s advice. I found it very helpful, so I hope others will too. Thank you to Justin Spinney and Amanda Rogers, and Veronica della Dora for organising the seminar.

Book Review: Sophia- Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary

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Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand.

Anita Anand. Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. Paperback £9.99.

If you asked the average person to name individual suffragettes, they would probably say Emmeline or Christabel Pankhurst, or perhaps Emily Davison. There were, however, many individual women who contributed to the campaign for female suffrage, including Sylvia Pankhurst, Daisy Parsons, Clementina Black, and Charlotte DespardSophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary tells the story of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, one of these lesser known, but just as fascinating, women who devoted herself to the fight.

Granddaughter of Ranjit Singh, the Maharaj of the Punjab, Princess Sophia and her siblings occupied a unique position in British society. Her father, originally beloved by Queen Victoria, had turned against the British empire which had taken his birthright. Her family relied on the British government for everything, but their status as Indian royalty gave them a degree of protection that meant they could still be troublesome. Sophia did not resent the British government like her father and some of her siblings, but she did care deeply for the people of India, which she visited several times. There was little she could do for the burgeoning independence movement from so far away, however, and women’s suffrage became the cause to which she devoted her energies.

Sophia is a well-written, thoroughly researched, and detailed biography. Anita Anand has included a wealth of rich details that makes you feel like you really know Sophia, that you understand her motivations. Personally, I welcome anything that helps to extend popular awareness of the suffragettes beyond Emmeline Pankhurst and her most famous daughter, and I also appreciate the way Sophia puts the suffragettes in the context of contemporary non-British social movements, particularly the early campaign for Indian independence. They are mostly seen as a stand-alone phenomena, but the campaign for women’s suffrage took place in the context of a whole range of other social justice movements.

Whilst I understand the necessity of context, there are times where it feels like the book goes into too much contextual detail. Sophia isn’t even born until page 44, and the narrative sometimes veers away from Sophia to dwell on other people and events. It feels a little like padding, which seems unnecessary considering how much source material Anand was able to find about Sophia herself.

Sophia is an enjoyable read, and Anita Anand deserves the praise she has received for it. I would recommend it to anyone interested in women’s history, colonialism, or the women’s suffrage movement.

Turbulent Londoners: Minnie Baldock, c.1864-1954

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus on women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. My next Turbulent Londoner Minnie Baldock, an early member of the WSPU who helped establish the organisation in East London


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A postcard of Minnie Baldock, in about 1909 (Source: Museum of London).

Minnie Baldock was an early member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), who helped the organisation establish a presence in London, particularly amongst the working class women of the East End. Born in the East End in about 1864, she worked in a shirt factory as a young woman, and had two sons after her marriage to Harry Baldock.

Female suffrage was not the cause which brought out Minnie’s radicalism; she was a member of the Independent Labour Party, and in 1903 held a public meeting to complain about women’s low wages with her MP, Keir Hardie. As a member of the WSPU, however, Minnie flourished as an activist.

Minnie joined the WSPU early on, before it moved to London, and was soon involved in many of its activities in the capital. In December 1905 she was ejected from not one but two public meetings for heckling Herbert Asquith and Henry Campbell Bannerman, leader of the Liberal Party. In January 1906, Minnie established the first London branch of the WSPU in Canning Town, in an attempt to recruit working class women. Several other branches soon followed in the East End. Minnie was at the heart of networks of radical women in London; she helped Annie Kenney make connections when she first moved to London, she knew Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard, and was a mentor to Daisy Parsons.

Also in 1906, Minnie became a full-time organiser for the WSPU. For the next few years she toured the country, promoting the cause of female suffrage. In October that year she was arrested at the opening of Parliament. She was arrested again outside Parliament in February 1908, and this time spent a month in Holloway Prison. She was worried about leaving her two sons alone with her husband, which illustrates the tension many female activists feel between their activism and their caring responsibilities.

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Minnie Baldock with Christabel Pankhurst and Edith New in December 1906 (Source: Museum of London).

Minnie worked for the WSPU until 1911, when she became seriously ill with cancer. She did not return to the WSPU after she recovered, although she remained a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, which united all kinds of suffragists who were also religious. This suggests that she had become disillusioned by the WSPU’s methods rather than their main objective; they became increasingly violent, authoritarian, and dismissive of the concerns of working class women in the years before the First World War. Minnie moved to Southampton with her family in 1913, and was living in Poole when she died in 1954.

The WSPU was much more than the Pankhurst family; women like Minnie Baldock were essential to the successful running of the organisation. Minnie helped the WSPU establish a presence in London, and went on to campaign tirelessly for them around the country. Her name may not have survived the lottery of history, but the impact of her actions still resonates.

Sources and Further Reading

Brooker, Janice. “Suffragette.” Lost in London. Last modified 1st May 2007, accessed 11th October 2016. Available at http://www.brooker.talktalk.net/suffragette.htm

Simkin, John. “Minnie Baldock.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2015, accessed 12th October 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/WbaldockM.htm

Walker, John. “Forest Gate’s Proud Suffragette Legacy.”E7 Now and Then. Last modified 6th March 2015, accessed 14th October 2016. Available at http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2015/03/forest-gates-proud-suffragette-legacy.html

5 Reasons Why I Love My PhD

Some bits of your PhD are tough, and some bits are damn hard. I have been going through a particularly difficult stretch recently; I am coming into the last few months, and everything is taking about twice as long as I need it to. On some days, it is difficult to remember why I signed up for this in the first place. But I do love my PhD, and I want to hold on to that, so I made a list of all the things about my PhD that I enjoy:

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I have always enjoyed spending time in libraries, and I’ve certainly been able to do a lot of that during my PhD! (Photo: Tony Evans).

1. My topic. I have always loved history and geography, and protest is a topic I’ve been interested in since the Student Tuition Fee Protests in 2010. I was an undergraduate, and it was the first time I got involved in protest. The connections between my experiences and my studies in Geography were obvious. London is a fantastic city to research as well, I love being able to spend my days finding out more about the people and events that have shaped the history of one of my favourite cities in the world.

2. Working in the archives. Whilst I was conducting research on the Gordon Riots, I spent quite a bit of time in the Rare Books and Manuscripts room at the British Library. I consulted the diary of John Wilkes, radical politician and perpetual pain in the neck of the government in the middle of the eighteenth century. I got a little thrill knowing I was touching pages that he had written. I also just enjoy spending time in libraries and archive reading rooms, surrounded by books, in peace and quiet. The Bishopsgate Institute Library in London is a particular favourite of mine, it is exactly what a good library should look like!

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I loved exploring Chicago during time out from the AAG (Photo: Llinos Brown).

3. Going to conferences. Conferences are long and tiring, but I really enjoy them. They are great opportunities for finding out about the latest ideas and research, and for meeting new people, and catching up with others that you met at previous conferences. Doing a PhD can be a lonely experience, and conferences are an enjoyable social respite. They can also be an excuse to travel; last year I was lucky enough to go to Chicago for the Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers, and I had a fantastic time exploring the city.

4. Teaching. I have been lucky enough to get plenty of teaching opportunities during my PhD. I’ve had a go at marking, demonstrating, lecturing, and running seminars, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. I’ve also helped on the undergraduate field trip to New York.

5. Writing this blog. There have been several occasions over the last few months when I have considered taking a hiatus from Turbulent London, or at least decreasing the frequency of posts in order to concentrate on my thesis. Every time I have decided not too, because I enjoy it too much. The writing style comes to me more easily than the formal academic style, and it feels great when someone responds to a post. So I’m going to try and keep it going for as long as I can.

So there you have it; 5 reasons why I love my PhD. I think it’s really important to be open about the negative elements of postgraduate study and academia, but sometimes you just need to stop and take stock of all the good things.

London’s Protest Stickers: Stickers to Live By

Stickers of all kinds are a common sight on the streets of London. I am particularly interested in the ones with a rebellious or subversive tone (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Stickers of all kinds are a common sight on the streets of London. I am particularly interested in the ones with a rebellious or subversive tone (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

London’s protest stickers cover a whole range of topics, from housing to race and immigration. However, some of them don’t fit into any specific category, instead embodying a rebellious ethos. This post is about these stickers, the ones providing good advice for anyone with a subversive streak.

This sticker, photographed on the Tottenham Court Road on 03/09/15, seems like a good place to start. Why should anyone else have a say over the way you live your life? (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker, photographed on the Tottenham Court Road on 03/09/15, seems like a good place to start. Why should anyone else have a say over the way you live your life? (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker encourages people to think for themselves- an important quality for anyone involved in social movements or activism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, taken on Waterloo Bridge on 02/06/15).

This sticker encourages people to think for themselves- an important quality for anyone involved in social movements or activism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Waterloo Bridge, 02/06/15).

This sticker links nicely to the previous one- critical thought is an important ability for academics as well as activists- question everything, never just accept what you are told as the truth. This sticker was photographed outside King's Cross Station, near the British Library, on 06/06/15. The location of a sticker can alter, or highlight, the message of a sticker (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker links nicely to the previous one- critical thought is an important ability for academics as well as activists. Question everything, never just accept what you are told as the truth. This sticker was photographed outside King’s Cross Station, near the British Library, on 06/06/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker was photographed in Elephant and Castle on 05/03/15. Even small, everyday acts can be rebellious (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker was photographed in Elephant and Castle on 05/03/15. Even small, everyday acts can be rebellious (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is a reminder to everyone that your happiness does not depend on the sadness or deprivation of others. The photo was taken on Albany Road, near the occupied Aylesbury Estate on 02/04/15, making it all the pertinent (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is a reminder to everyone that your happiness does not depend on the sadness or deprivation of others. The photo was taken on Albany Road, near the occupied Aylesbury Estate on 02/04/15, making it all the more pertinent (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This is a question that everyone should ask themselves every once in a while. If you aren't, then what can you do to try and change things? (Photo: Hannah Awcock. 07/06/15, Shoreditch Hight Street).

This is a question that everyone should ask themselves every once in a while. If you aren’t, then what can you do to try and change things? (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 07/06/15, Shoreditch Hight Street).

Activists are often told that their demands are impossible, that they will never achieve the change they want to see. It takes a lot of determination to keep going in the face of all that negativity (Photo: Hannah Awcock. 12/03/15, Gordon Square, Bloomsbury).

Activists are often told that their demands are impossible, that they will never achieve the change they want to see. It takes a lot of determination to keep going in the face of all that negativity. rs21 is a news and analysis website run by British revolutionary socialists (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/15, Gordon Square, Bloomsbury).

Although scratched and torn, it is easy to make out the intent of this sticker. The message-

Although scratched and torn, it is easy to make out the intent of this sticker. The message- “This will be ours,” is a determined statement of intent (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 17/04/15, Gordon Street).

This empowering sticker is a reminder that the government only governs because we allow it to. If everyone decided to act together, it would create a very powerful force (Photo: Hannah Awcock. 20/06/15 Fleet Street).

This empowering sticker is a reminder that the government only governs because we allow it to. If everyone decided to act together, it would create a very powerful force (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 20/06/15 Fleet Street).

This sticker isn't protest-related, but I liked it so much that I had to include it. It makes me smile every time I walk past (Photo: Hannah Awcock. 21/05/15, Borough High Street).

This sticker isn’t protest-related, but I liked it so much that I had to include it. It makes me smile every time I walk past, even if I’m having a bad day. If only all street furniture was so complementary (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 21/05/15, Borough High Street).

You can see the locations of all these stickers on the Turbulent London Map.

Book Review: Revolutions without Borders- The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World

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Revolutions without Borders by Janet Polansky.

Janet Polansky. Revolution without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World. London: Yale University Press, 2015. 

Back in May, I went to a seminar given by historian Janet Polansky organised by the London Group of Historical Geographers. I enjoyed the seminar so much that I got the book so I could read Polansky’s arguments in more detail. And I wasn’t disappointed; I think Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World is a very good read.

In the late eighteenth century Europe and the Americas went through a period of political turmoil which saw revolutions “From the Americas to Geneva, the Netherlands, Ireland, the Belgian provinces, France, Saint-Domingue, Guadaloupe, Poland, Martinique, Sierra Leone, Italy, Hungary, and Haiti” (Polansky, 2015; p.2 ). The American and French Revolutions are by far the best known, but almost no country surrounding the Atlantic Ocean remained untouched. Ideas, information, and people circulated back and forth across the Atlantic in an age before the Internet, telephones, even a postal service. Revolutions without Borders is about how these radical ideas and individuals traveled, both adapting to and shaping the contexts that they found themselves in.

Two centuries before the Arab Spring, without social media or even an international postal system, revolutionaries shared ideals of liberty and equality across entire continents. Theirs, too, was an international movement connected by ideas that traveled.

(Polansky, 2015; p. 3)

Polanksy structured the book by source material- each chapter is devoted to a different method of circulation such as official decrees, rumours, letters and travelers. Overall, I like this unusual approach because it brings archival research to the fore, which a lot of history books tend to gloss over. Different sources contain different kinds of information, and the structure of Revolutions without Borders highlights this. However, structuring the book in this way does necessitate some jumping back and forwards in terms of time, which did prove a little confusing on occasion. There is a Dramatis Personae and a Chronology, which may alleviate the effects of this confusion for some.

Sometimes when you read a book it resonates with current events. I experienced this whilst reading Revolutions without Borders. Chapter 9 focuses on itinerant revolutionaries, individuals who traveled the world during the revolutionary period, sometimes running from failed revolutions, sometimes running towards budding ones. Many of these people, including Benjamin Franklin, who lived in London for two decades*, had high hopes for the future of cosmopolitanism. They dreamt of universal citizenship, where a traveler would be welcomed as if returning home wherever they went in the world. Unfortunately this dream was not to be, and as the 1790s progressed travelers returning to America from Europe were shunned as dangerous radicals. The dream of universal citizenship struck a chord with me as I was reading this book, in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, and I couldn’t help but think that Benjamin Franklin would be disappointed with the result of the referendum. Universal citizenship seems that much further away now.

Revolutions without Borders is well-written and accessible. Relevant to both historians and geographers, I think it would also be enjoyable for those who read for leisure.

*The house where Franklin lived whilst in London is now a small museum, to which I would definitely recommend a visit.

Cable Street 80

The 4th of October 2016 marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, a well-known protest in which around 100,000 people prevented the anti-Semitic British Union of Fascists (BUF) from marching through the East End of London, which had a large Jewish population at the time. Since the late 70s, it has become tradition for the 5- and 10-year anniversaries of the Battle to be celebrated with a march, and a rally in St George’s Gardens near the Cable Street Mural. On  Sunday the 9th of October I went along to the latest commemoration, Cable Street 80.

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A campaigner outside Altab Ali Park, where the march began. The park is named after a Bangladeshi textile worker who was killed in a racist attack in 1978. Anniversary marches of the Battle of Cable Street have started in the park since the 60th anniversary in 1996 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The commemoration was organised by Cable Street 80, a loose coalition of community and campaigning groups. David Rosenberg (pictured here in the blue vest), a local author and historian, played a key role in organising events (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Sadly there are not many people left who were actually present at the Battle, but many people on the march on Sunday had parents or grandparents who were there (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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A large number of different groups were represented on the march. This is Sarah Jackson, one of the co-founders of the East End Women’s Museum,  a fantastic project to commemorate the lives and activism of women in the East End (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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GMB is a general union which has its roots in the Gas Workers and General Union, formed in the East End in 1889 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The Battle of Cable Street has become a source of inspiration and pride for many on the political left, so a large range of different groups and causes were represented at the march (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The march sets off from Altab Ali Park (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The march makes it way along Commercial Road (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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As time went on and migration brought new communities into the area, the Battle of Cable Street came to be symbolic for whole new generations of East Londoners. It has come to stand as rejection of xenophobia of all kinds, not just anti-Semitism. The Bangladeshi community in East London faced prejudice and violence in the 1970s and 80s, much like the Jewish community had 50 years earlier (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The Battle of Cable Street is continually connected to new and ongoing struggles. For many who marched on Sunday, it was as much about demonstrating a determination to combat the rise of the far-right in Europe today as it was commemorating an event that happened 80 years ago (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The march makes its way down Cable Street, which looks very different now to how it would have done in 1936 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The march arrives at the Cable Street mural, on the side of St. George’s Town Hall. The mural itself is nearly 40 years old, and has an interesting history in its own right (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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In 1936, the Irish community in the East End also took part to prevent the BUF marching, when many doubted they would. The Connolly Association campaigns for a united and independent Ireland (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The Battle of Cable Street also has a Spanish connection, which explains the presence of the Spanish Communist Party. The Battle’s slogan ‘No Pasaran’ is Spanish for ‘They Shall Not Pass’, and comes from the Spanish Civil Way, which was underway in 1936. Many participants in the Battle of Cable Street went on to volunteer in the International Brigade to fight for the Spanish Republic (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Unsurprisingly, there was a strong anti-fascist presence on the march. There are large number of anti-fascist groups in the UK, as evidenced by the amount of anti-fascist protest stickers I have found on the streets of London (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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After the march there was a large rally in St. George’s Gardens, near the mural. Speaking here is 101-year old Max Levitas, one of the few remaining veterans of the Battle of Cable Street (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is Michael Rosen, the well-known author and poet. His parents were both at the Battle of Cable Street, and he is a keen supporter of the process of remembrance (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The ‘headliner’ was Jeremy Corbyn, controversial leader of the Labour Party. He is a constant presence at protests and rallies of all kinds (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

On This Day: The Broadwater Farm Riots, 6th October 1985

The recent Black Lives Matter campaign could give the impression that institutional racism is a distinctly American problem. Britain has had to deal with its own fair share of problems in this regard however, and like in Ferguson and other American cities, tension between the police and ethnic minorities has occasionally flared into violence. The Broadwater Farm Riots, on the 6th of October 1985, were one such occasion.

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Police officers inspect the damage the day after the 1985 Broadwater Farm Riots in north London (Photo: Daily Mail).

At the beginning of October 1985, tensions between police and the black community in Tottenham, north London, were running high. Longstanding grievances were exacerbated by riots in Brixton the previous week, following the shooting of a black woman, Dorothy Groce, during a police search. At lunchtime on the 5th of October Floyd Jarrett, a young black man who lived about a mile away from the Broadwater Farm estate, was arrested and charged with theft and assault- he was later acquitted of both charges. Later that day, however, the police decided to search the house of Floyd’s mother, Cynthia. During the search, 49-year-old Cynthia Jarrett collapsed and died of a heart attack. Her daughter claimed that Cynthia had been pushed by an officer called DC Randle, and the resulting fall could have contributed to her death. Randle denied it, and no police officer was charged or disciplined for what happened.

The black community in London already believed that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist (they were probably right!), and the treatment of Cynthia Jarrett sparked outrage. Bernie Grant, local council leader at the time, condemned the search of Cynthia’s house and called for local police chiefs to resign. A demonstration gathered outside Tottenham police station in the early hours of the next morning, the 6th of October. Violence between police and some members of the local community escalated throughout the day; centring on the Broadwater Farm estate. The rioters built barricades, set fire to cars, and threw bricks, molotov cocktails and other projectiles at police, making effective use of the raised walkways on the estate.

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A man walks through debris from the riots on one of the raised walkways that caused so much difficulty for the police (Photo: BBC News).

At about 9:30 p.m., the police and fire brigade were called to a fire on the upper level of Tangmere House, a block of flats and shops on the estate. Whilst attending the fire, the officers were attacked by rioters and forced to retreat rapidly. A police officer, Constable Keith Blakelock, tripped and fell in the confusion. He was immediately surrounded by rioters, who beat and repeatedly stabbed him in a vicious attack. PC Blakelock became the first police officer to be killed in a riot in Britain since 1883.

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PC Keith Blakelock was killed by rioters. Three men were convicted of his murder, but the convictions were overturned on appeal (Photo: Mirror).

The riot tailed off during the night as it started to rain and news of Blakelock’s death spread. The impacts of the riots, however, would last a lot longer than 24 hours. Determined to find Blakelock’s killers, the Metropolitan Police maintained a heavy presence on the Broadwater estate for several months, arresting and questioning over 300 people, many of whom were denied access to a lawyer. The riots led to changes in the police’s tactics and equipment for dealing with riots, and efforts to reengage with the local community.

Six people were eventually charged with the murder of Keith Blakelock; although the investigation and ensuing court cases were severely hampered by officers who were willing to cut corners and ignore the law. Three children had their cases dismissed after a judge ruled that they had been held and questioned inappropriately. Three adults, Winston Silcott, and Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite, were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment despite there being no witnesses and no forensic evidence. All three were cleared by the Court of Appeals in November 1991. In July 2013, a man named Nicholas Jacobs was charged with Blakelock’s murder, but was cleared at trial.

Neither Cynthia Jarrett nor Keith Blakelock have received justice for what happened to them. Although from different ‘sides’ of the conflict, both were victims of  an institutionally racist society that was creating tension between those in authority and communities in London and across Britain. We are kidding ourselves if we think these tensions no longer exist, and the Broadwater Farm Riots are a stark reminder of the danger of overlooking such problems.

Don’t forget to check out the location of the Broadwater Farm Riots on the Turbulent London Map!

Sources and Further Reading

BBC News, “What Caused the 1985 Tottenham Broadwater Farm Riot?” Last modified 3rd March 2014, accessed 5th October 2016. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-26362633

Bloom, Clive. Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010 [2003].

Wikipedia, “Broadwater Farm Riot.” Last modified 26th September 2016, accessed 5th October 2016. Available at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadwater_Farm_riot

Wikipedia, “Death of Keith Blakelock.” Last modified 4th October 2016, accessed 5th October 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Keith_Blakelock