Book Review: Bad Girls- The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison

Bad Girls Book Cover

Bad Girls by Caitlin Davies.

Caitlin Davies. Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison. London: John Murray, 2018. RRP £10.99 paperback. 

For 9 years, I studied at Royal Holloway, a college of the University of London in Egham, Surrey. For 9 years, when I told people I went to Royal Holloway, I had to put up with jokes about Holloway Prison, the infamous women’s penitentiary in London. Beyond that, I didn’t know much about Holloway apart from the fact that a lot of suffragettes were imprisoned there. So when I heard about Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison, it seemed like a good opportunity to find out more about why Holloway is so well known.

First opened in 1852, HMP Holloway was made female-only in 1902, rebuilt in 1971-85, and closed for good in 2016. In that time, it has witnessed dramatic changes in society, including seismic shifts in the treatment of both women and prisoners. In Bad Girls, Caitlin Davies recounts how life in the prison changed over more than 150 years, telling the stories of governors and staff as well as the women incarcerated there. Some of the women described in Bad Girls are well known, either for the severity of their crimes, such as Myra Hindley, or because they took a stand for what they believed in, like the suffragettes and the women of Greenham Common. The vast majority of the women who spent time in Holloway, however, are unlikely to remembered by anyone but their families. That does not, however, make their stories any less fascinating.

the history of women in Holloway is a bleak one and stories of triumph are few and far between. It’s impossible not to feel depressed at a century and a half of women betrayed and coerced, condemned and mistreated, wrongly imprisoned, punished and executed. But this is why its story has to be told, because women have for too long been kept out of sight and out of mind behind the walls of Holloway.

Davies, 2018; p.316.

The women imprisoned in Holloway did not just break the law, they also undermined society’s perceptions of gender; crime is simply not feminine. Caitlin Davies doesn’t just tell a good story, she also explores how dominant narratives around gender and femininity are tied up with understandings of criminality and punishment. She questions what prisons are for and highlights how their dual purposes of punishment and rehabilitation rarely complement each other. This book has as much to say to the present as it does to the past.

Although many of Caitlin Davies’ books are clearly based on extensive historical research, she describes herself as a writer rather than a historian, and this is reflected in Bad Girls. Unlike most history books, Davies herself is very much a part of the narrative; she details her visits to prisons and cemeteries, and describes the London cafes in which she interviews former inmates of Holloway and their descendants. I enjoyed this approach; it felt as though Davies is taking the reader with her on her journey to uncover the stories of women who’s lives have often been swept under the carpet.

Bad Girls is an excellent book. Not only is it a great read, it is also an ideal example of how an understanding of the past can illuminate significant issues in the present-day. In the acknowledgements, Davies mentions that she had to cut out a lot of material, and that a lot of stories have been left untold. My response to that is: when can we expect the sequel?

Street Artefacts of the 2020 Lockdown: Hull

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Murals thanking healthworkers have cropped up all over the world since the coronavirus epidemic began. This one in Hull city centre is by local artist Hull_grafitti (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In my last blog post, I wrote about the streetscapes of Hove and Portslade during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. Once the lockdown started, people began to place artefacts in their windows, gardens, and streets in an attempt to connect, entertain children, or just make each other smile. I recently travelled up to Hull (it was an essential journey, I wasn’t just testing my eyesight!), and whilst I was there I got to see how Hullensians used the streets to express themselves during the lockdown. The neighbourhoods where I spend most of my time in Hull, the Avenues and Newland Avenue, are pretty creative anyway, so I had high hopes for the city’s lockdown streetscapes. I wasn’t disappointed!

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Window displays like this one have become increasingly common during lockdown, perhaps as a way of reaching out at a time when many of us are feeling isolated (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Over the last few months the rainbow has become a symbol of gratitude for our NHS and keyworkers. This has led some in the LGBT+ community to fear that their association with the rainbow flag is being overwritten (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Whilst some trends, like the rainbows, are common across the UK, some things are more localised. Coloured ribbons like this one are not something that I have come across in Brighton, but they are quite common in Hull (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

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Here, the rainbow and the ribbons have been combined (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The floral displays along Newland Avenue are changed frequently to reflect important events and holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Remembrance Day. During the lockdown, they have been used to celebrate the NHS (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

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Creativity has shone through during the lockdown, and this drawing certainly brightened up the waterfront on a particularly dreary evening (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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These are lyrics from the Maroon 5 song “She will be Loved” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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These stickers can be found all along Newland Avenue. It is not uncommon to find stickers of all kinds in this area (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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There is quite a lot of street art in Hull. One area you can almost always find some is the Fruit market, which is where I found this unicorn impaling coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I almost felt like an intruder reading this, but Miss June and Mr February clearly wanted to commemorate this important moment during lockdown (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Street Artefacts in the 2020 Lockdown

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A recent addition to the railway tunnel at Aldrington Station (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Since the start of the UK Lockdown in late March, I have being staying at my family home in Portslade, a suburb of Brighton and Hove. I used my daily exercise to do a lot of walking around Hove and Portslade, and as the weeks went on I started to notice more and more Lockdown-related ‘things’ appearing on the streets. First of all rainbows and messages of support for the NHS started appearing in people’s windows, then things began to appear in people’s front gardens and on the streets. Ranging from images and messages chalked, pasted or taped to pavements, walls, and lampposts to objects such as painted pebbles, bunting, and cuddly toys. I have been photographing protest stickers for a while now, and I am interested in the ways that people use public space to communicate with each other. So I started taking photos of Lockdown artefacts too. Below are some of the photos, and some thoughts on why people might be doing this kind of thing.

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The idea of putting drawings of rainbows in your windows for children to count whilst out for exercise caught on early in the Lockdown. This is my Mum with the rainbow she drew. Rainbows have since become a symbol of the nation’s gratitude to the NHS. This has caused some controversy amongst the LGBTQ+ community, as some fear that their association with the rainbow is being overwritten (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Painted pebbles have become another common sight during the Lockdown. Items like this can be a way to reach out and connect with people at a time when the normal ways of connecting are closed off to us (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

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This giant angry bird appeared overnight. I think it is connected to a trend of putting teddy bears in your windows for children to spot when they passed by. This didn’t seem to catch on as much as the rainbows, but in Portslade it went even further, with teddy bears being tied to lampposts, benches and railings all over the place. There does seem to have been some local variation in terms of which kinds of artefacts are popular (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Seeing loads of teddy bears tied to lampposts by their necks can actually be a bit creepy, but this Pingu looks happy enough with the situation! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Another motivation for leaving artefacts such as this on the streets could be a desire to make people smile in these difficult times. Crafting has become incredibly popular during the lockdown, whether is painting and drawing or baking. It could be that people have more time to practice their hobbies at the moment, but I also think that activities like this can be therapeutic, and we all need a way to relax right now (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The idea of being kind seemed to be gaining traction before Lockdown began, but it has really gathered pace over the last few months. I have spotted this sign in various places around Hove (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I think there is a difference between artefacts that are displayed in a home or garden, and those that are left in the street, like this one. The person who made this will probably never get any praise or recognition, whereas I’d they put it up in their front garden then at least the neighbours might acknowledge it! I do think there is a competitive element to the artefacts displayed in or around people’s homes, reflecting the desire to ‘keep up with the Jones’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This origami heart is also encouraging people to be kind to each other. These artefacts have a lot in common with street art, in that people put time and effort into them, but are still willing to give up control over what happens to them. This heart could last a day, a month, or maybe longer, but the person who made it has no say in that (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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People may be producing these artefacts out of a desire to be a part of something. The Lockdown has been a lonely experience for many people in different ways, and any sense that you are part of a community can be helpful (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I have found one or two protest stickers related to coronavirus, but a lot of the stickers appearing over the last few weeks do not have an explicitly political message. This sticker, by local artist MyPenLeaks, has popped up all over Hove and Portslade (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The children of keyworkers and those who are vulnerable have been continuing to go to school throughout the lockdown. Many primary schools have done craft projects like this one (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Chalk drawings and messages have become common during the lockdown. Lots of children have turned the pavement outside their house into an obstacle course for themselves and passersby. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The overwhelming message of these street artefacts is a positive one. They provide a sense of hope and resilience at a time when these qualities are being sorely tested (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Brighton’s Protest Stickers: Animal Rights

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A fairly unambiguous anti-fur sticker (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Kensington Gardens, 20/04/19).

Animal rights have been increasing in prominence over the last few years through the prism of vegetarianism and veganism. Brighton has been a hotspot for vegan activism over the last few years, and there a lot of protest stickers in the city encouraging people not to eat meat. However, there are many other areas where animal rights are compromised including fur, testing on animals, mass extinctions, and live animal transportation, and these topics also feature in protest stickers relatively often.

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The Animal Liberation Front is a leaderless resistance movement that undertakes direct action in support of animal rights. Some consider them to be terrorists (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Church Road, 24/04/19).

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Another anti-fur sticker with a pretty unequivocal message. I thought that public opinion had mainly turned against fur, but it is still common enough for activists to see it as an important issue (Photo: Hannah Awcock, New Road, 04/02/17).

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Respect for Animals is an organisation based in Nottingham that campaigns against the international fur trade (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Dyke Road, 06/08/16).

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Fox hunting remains a controversial topic, even though it has been banned in the UK since 2005. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Queen’s Road, 20/04/19).

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Brighton Hunt Saboteurs uses non-violent direct action to prevent illegal fox hunts (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Jubilee Street, 27/08/16).

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Experimenting and testing on live animals is another well-publicised controversial topic. This sticker uses a particularly graphic image (Photo: Hannah Awcock, West Street, 27/10/16).

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The Swiss League against Vivisection has been campaigning for animal rights since 1883. Here they are targeting a specific airline in an attempt to pressure them to change their practices (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Queen’s Road, 24/03/17).

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The RSPCA is a well known charity in the UK. They investigate animal cruelty, rescue animals, and prosecute those responsible. In this sticker they are calling for an end to the practice of transporting livestock long distances before they are slaughtered (Photo: Prince Albert Street, 20/04/19).

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PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is another well known animal rights organisation. They are an international organisation, with more than 6.5 million supporters around the world. They focus on 4 main areas where they believe animals suffer the most: laboratories, the food industry, fashion, and entertainment. Although animals in circuses are much less common than it used to be, it is still legal for UK circuses to use wild animals (Photo: Hannah Awcock, North Street, 09/12/18).

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It isn’t clear who made this sticker. The message reads “Don’t bet with William Hill greyhound killers.” The ‘H’ in William Hill has been overlaid with a ‘K’. Greyhounds typically live for 10-14 years, but they only race for about 4. I think this sticker is accusing William Hill of killing greyhounds when they are no longer competitive (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Church Road, 24/04/19).

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The symbol on this sticker may be familiar to you now as the Extinction Rebellion logo. The symbol itself is older however, created in 2011 by artist ESP. The circle symbolises the planet, whilst the hourglass indicates that time is running out for many species (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Grand Parade, 18/04/17).

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This march was organised in 2019 by Brighton Vegan Activists. I really like the design of this sticker, so it seemed like a good one to end on! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Queens Road, 20/04/19).

Turbulent Londoners: Margaret Harkness, 1854-1923

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past. Most of the Turbulent Londoners I feature are women, because their contribution to history has so often been 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. Next up is Margaret Harkness, a radical journalist and author.


Margaret Harkness

Margaret Elise Harkness was a second cousin of Beatrice Webb (nee Potter), one of the founders of sociology as an academic discipline. Margaret trained as a nurse before deciding to make her living as a writer, publishing under the name John Law.

Born on 28th February 1854 in Great Malvern Worcestshire, Margaret was the daughter of a clergyman, the second of five children. She was educated at home, before going to a finishing school in Bournemouth at the age of 21. In 1877 she moved to London to train as a nurse at the Westminster Hospital. After she qualified she worked at Guys Hospital in London Bridge, but she didn’t enjoy the work much.

In the early 1880s, perhaps inspired by Beatrice, Margaret decided to try and make her living writing. Beatrice and her sister Katie supported Margaret financially, and introduced her to a circle of intellectuals who met at the reading room of the British Museum. She began to publish both fiction and non-fiction, most of it under the pen name John Law.

Margaret became friends with a wide range of the radicals in London at the time, including Eleanor Marx and Annie Besant. She began to take an interest in radical politics herself. Margaret must have seen the impacts of poverty first hand during her time as a nurse, and she came to believe that socialism was the solution to. inequality and poverty. Her beliefs influenced her writing, and she published five novels about the lives of London’s poor. The most famous is In Darkest London, first published in 1888. Another of her novels featured the famous Bloody Sunday in  November 1887, when radicals clashed with police in Trafalgar Square over the right to protest there.

Margaret joined the Social Democratic Federation, and was an active campaigner during the 1889 Dock Strike. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Manning, was instrumental in resolving the strike. Margaret went to see him in September 1889, and its thought she persuaded him to intervene in the dispute.

Margaret’s work enabled her to travel, she spent time in Manchester, Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand. It becomes quite difficult to trace her movements, but between 1906 and the start of the First World War she was in India. It seems likely that Annie Besant introduced Margaret to the religion of Theosophy, but she also became interested in Indian nationalism, and published a book about her experiences in the country. By this stage, Margaret had rejected socialism and now advocated the ideals and work of the Salvation Army, which inspired her last know novel, published in 1921.

Margaret continued to travel, living in France and Italy before her death, in Florence, on 10th December 1923. Margaret may not have been the best known radical female author in late-Victorian London, and she might not have achieved the most either. But her achievements were still remarkable, and I think it is important not to focus too much attention on a few prominent individuals. There was a vibrant radical community in London in the late nineteenth century, all of whom played a part in the successes and failures of that period.

Sources and Further Reading

London Fictions. “Margaret Harkness: ‘In Darkest London’-1889.” No date, accessed 5th May 2020. Available at https://www.londonfictions.com/margaret-harkness-in-darkest-london.html#

Lucas, John. “Harkness, Margaret Elise.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 26th May 2005, accessed 5th May 2020. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/56894 [Subscription required to access].

Book Review: Power Games- A Political History of the Olympics

Power Games front cover

Power Games by Jules Boykoff.

Jules Boykoff. Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. London: Verso, 2016. RRP £11.99 paperback.

I have had Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 – the Games have only been cancelled three times since they started in 1896 – it felt like an appropriate time to actually read it. Power Games is an engaging and insightful history of the modern Olympics, from their conception by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the late 1800s, to their current incarnation. Jules Boykoff, an Olympic athlete turned academic, brings a unique perspective to the topic as someone who has both participated in and studied the Olympics.

Power Games is arranged chronologically. Some games are discussed in depth, whilst others are barely mentioned. Boykoff focuses on several themes throughout however, particularly the downsides of the games. The issues he discusses include a lack of accountability, greenwashing, extensive and long-term public debt, profit going to private companies, displacement of residents, and increased policing powers. Boykoff discusses the resistance movements that have grown up in host cities including Vancouver, London, and Rio de Janeiro. In some cases, activists have even managed to prevent cities bidding to host the games, including Boston, Hamburg, Rome, and Budapest.

The Olympic movement has descended into a slow-motion crisis. Fewer and fewer cities are game for the Games. For too long host cities have worked in service of the Olympics. It’s time for the Olympics to start working in service of host cities. A serious rethink is long overdue.

Boykoff, 2016; p.241

Power Games is an excellent example of how powerful the appearance of being apolitical can be. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has worked hard to portray the Olympic Games as above politics; they refuse to take a public stance on conflicts or disputes, and athletes who use the Games to make a political statement have been punished harshly. I am a strong believer in the argument that there is no such thing as apolitical however; even refusing to take a side has an impact. If you can convince people that something is apolitical however, then it becomes much harder to critique. In Power Games, Boykoff explores how this process works, and just how effective it can be.

I really enjoyed reading Power Games, it is well-paced and well-written. I knew a little bit about the mounting critiques of the Olympic Games before reading it, but my understanding is much better now. Boykoff also references quite a few geographers in his analysis, which is pretty much a guaranteed way to make me like an author! There are a few things that I think would have made the narrative easier to follow, such as a list of host cities and IOC Presidents, and maps of host cities and Olympic sites. I think pretty much every book would be better with more maps though, so perhaps I’m being overly critical.

As a former athlete, Boykoff clearly has a strong affection for the Olympic Games, and he would like to see them reformed rather than abolished; he provides a clear and comprehensive list of the changes he believes need to be made in order for the Games to survive in a more sustainable and ethical way. If I was the IOC, I would pay attention.

Protest Stickers: Hull 2

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An Extinction Rebellion poster at the main entrance to the University of Hull (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 16/03/20).

I have been living in Hull for just over a year now. Over that time I have come to appreciate and love this city. The nature of the academic job market means that I will have to move on soon, but I will miss it. One of my favourite things about Hull is that there is always something interesting to see when you’re out and about, whether it’s an interesting historic building, a piece of street art, or a new protest sticker. I have written about protest stickers in Hull before, on this blog and elsewhere, but new and intriguing stickers continue to appear.

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There is a relatively active branch of Extinction Rebellion in Hull, who periodically put up posters and stickers around the city. The aesthetic style of Extinction Rebellion has quickly become familiar, but this is a design that I haven’t seen before (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 16/03/20).

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This sticker, and others like it, began appearing in several cities a few months before the UK left the EU. The stickers promote the positive elements of the EU. They are produced by North East for Europe, a grassroots campaign group (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/09/19).

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A lot of stickers in Hull relate to international politics. Stickers such as this one became much more common after the start of the European refugee crisis in 2015. This sticker was produced by Active Distribution, a radical publishers and shop which produces and sells more than 200 sticker designs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/10/20).

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This sticker refers to the protests in Hong Kong that took place throughout 2019 over the perceived increase in the control of Hong Kong by mainland China. The protesters called for support from the rest of the world, and whilst governments did little, there was clearly some international solidarity (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 15/10/19).

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Whilst a lot of protest stickers are about international politics, some relate to local issues and groups. Football Lads and Lasses against Fascism (FLAF) was created to counter the increase of far-right politics among football fans. It is not tied to any particular team, but this sticker is connecting the group to the Hull Tigers, who play in the second tier of English football (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 19/09/19).

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The Democratic Football Lads Alliance is an example of the kind of group that FLAF aims to counter. Set up in 2017 after a series of terror attacks in the UK, it is strongly associated with far-right politics and has been described as anti-Muslim by the Premier League (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/02/19).

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Putting stickers up in public space is something that football fans and activists have in common. This sticker combines the two, combining support for Bristol City with an anti-police message (ACAB stands for All Cops Are Bastards). This image is a play on a popular Banksy work which shows a teddy bear throwing a petrol bomb at riot police. Banksy is strongly associated with Bristol (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/06/19).

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This sticker was produced by the Hundred Handers, a far-right white supremacist group that prizes anonymity. The group’s members are expected to print and disseminate stickers around their local area. This sticker and several others appeared overnight on Newland Avenue, but most were quickly taken down or covered up (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 31/10/19).

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Protest stickers range from the elaborately designed and printed to the hand made. This example is firmly in the latter category. I can’t be sure what the top half of the message said, but I’m fairly certain it was “white”. Stickers with a particularly offensive or controversial message often don’t last long before they are covered up or (partially) removed (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 02/09/19).

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Whilst there are some right wing and xenophobic protest stickers in Hull, there are more from an anti-fascist/anti-racist perspective. This sticker is comparing UKIP to the Nazi Party. The text on the red background is hard to make out, but it says: “Fascists are greedy racists pretending to be innocent patriots” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 05/03/20).

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The roll out of 5G mobile network is proving controversial in several respects, including claims that it damages health, and fears over the potential implications of allowing Chinese firm Huawei a role in building the infrastructure. Anti-5G stickers are becoming increasingly common (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/06/19).

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A few weeks ago, I was wondering how long it would take for the coronavirus to come up in a protest sticker. Not long apparently. This sticker is homemade, but is very well made compared to the White Power sticker above. It was removed the same day I took this photo, so I was lucky to catch it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 16/03/20).

Turbulent Londoners: Susan Lawrence, 1871-1947

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past. Most of the Turbulent Londoners I feature are women, because their contribution to history has so often been 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. Next up is Susan Lawrence, an upper class politician who started her career as a Conservative Councillor, but converted to socialism.


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Susan Lawrence in 1930 (Source: National Portrait Gallery)

Susan Lawrence was born into a life of wealth and privilege. Well educated, she embarked upon a career as a Conservative politician. It didn’t take her long before the realities of life in London helped in her conversion to non-revolutionary socialism. She became a devoted member of the Labour Party, and went on to be an effective politician.

Arabella Susan Lawrence was born in London to a prosperous family on 12th of August 1871. She was well education, studying at University College London and Newnham College, Cambridge. In her early life, Susan was politically and socially conservative, strongly believing in the British Empire, the Church of England, and charity. In March 1910 she was elected to the London County Council (LCC) as a Conservative. As she immersed herself in London politics however, her beliefs began to diverge from the policies of the Conservative Party.

Over the next two years, Susan underwent a political and personal transformation. Previously a devout member of the Church of England, she became much more secular in her beliefs. She also realised that social change could not be brought about by voluntary work alone, it required action by the state. Susan joined the Fabian Society, a group of non-revolutionary socialists (they wanted to bring about a socialist society by gradual means), and became good friends with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, a power couple of British socialism. Susan served  on the executive of the Fabian Society from 1913 until 1945. As a member of the LCC, Susan became aware of how little the women who cleaned London’s schools were paid. As a result, she became involved in women’s trade unionism. She met and befriended Mary Macarthur, the secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL). For the next decade, Susan worked to organise working class women, earning the nickname ‘Our Susan’. In 1912, she resigned from the LCC because of this dramatic change in her beliefs.

Susan still believed in making a difference, and the following year she was re-elected to the LCC as a Labour Councillor for Poplar in East London. After her mother’s death, Susan moved to the East End, living just off the East India Dock Road. It was not unusual at this time for middle- and upper-class women to try to help East London’s poor, but Susan displayed an uncommon level of dedication by actually moving there.

During the First World War, Susan was a Fabian representative on the War Emergency Worker’s National Committee, a coalition of Labour and socialist groups who worked to improve conditions for the working classes. She also served on government committees, trying to ensure the interests of workers,  and particularly female workers, were taken into account. Like many other Labour politicians, Susan was optimistic that post-war reconstruction could be used to benefit the working classes. In 1918, she was elected to the new women’s section of the Labour Party’s National Executive. In just 6 years, Susan had become one of  Labour’s most important women.

In 1919, Susan was elected to Poplar borough council. Two years later, she was one of 30 Poplar Councillors imprisoned because of the Poplar Rates Strike. The Councillors took a stand over the unfair way in which unemployment benefits were paid for in London, which meant that the poorest boroughs had the highest burdens. The government sentenced them to prison indefinitely, but the government backed down and Susan and the other Councillors were released after 6 weeks. Despite their success, the Poplar Councillor’s illegal strategy was unpopular with the rest of the Labour Party.

1924 Women MPs

Women were allowed to stand as MPs for the first time in 1918. By 1924, there were 8 female MPs in Parliament. Susan Lawrence is the second from the left (Source: National Portrait Gallery).

Susan was loyal to the Labour Party however, and in the 1920s she turned her attention to Parliamentary politics. After failing to win seats in the 1920 and 1922 elections, Susan was elected as the MP for East Ham North in 1924, becoming one of Labour’s first 3 female MPs. Although she was never a Minister, Susan held several positions in Labour governments became quite successful. She was the first woman to chair the Labour Party Conference in October 1930. Despite being a trailblazer for women in politics, women’s rights was never a priority for Susan. She had been indifferent at best to women’s suffrage, and she didn’t want women’s issues to divide the Labour Party; for Susan, no other identity was more important than class. Unlike other female politicians at the time, such as Ellen Wilkinson, she seemed impervious to the pressure to appear ‘feminine’; she never took much interest in her clothes or appearance.

In the 1931 general election Susan lost her seat, and this marked the end of her Parliamentary career. She tried to get re-elected in 1935, but was unsuccessful. A new and younger group was increasingly leading the Labour Party, and Susan was increasingly alienated. She remained on the Party’s executive until 1941, however. Susan dedicated her retirement to translating books into braille. She moved to Berkshire after her house was bombed during the Blitz, but returned to London after the war, moving to South Kensington. She died at home on 24th of October 1947.

Susan Lawrence was a dedicated and effective politician. She was not a suffragette, but she shared with them a willingness to go to prison for what she believed in. I think it must have taken a huge amount of bravery and resolve to shift her political allegiance as she did, and I admire her for that. Contemporary politicians seem incapable of admitting that they were wrong, and I think they could learn something from Susan.

Sources and Further Reading

English Heritage. “Lawrence, Susan (1871-1947).” No date, accessed 23rd March 2020. Available at https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/susan-lawrence/

Howell. David. “Lawrence, (Arabella) Susan.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 28th May 2015, accessed 23rd March 2020. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/34434 [Subscription required to access].

Perera, Kathryn. “Susan Lawrence: The Monocled Maverick.” Labour List. Last modified 20th December 2010, accessed 23rd March 2020. Available at https://labourlist.org/2010/12/susan-lawrence-the-monocled-maverick/

Simkin, John. “Susan Lawrence.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2020, accessed 23rd March 2020. Available at https://spartacus-educational.com/TUlawrence.htm

 

 

Book Review: Alone in Berlin

Alone in Berlin front cover

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada.

Hans Fallada. Alone in Berlin. Translated by Michael Hoffman. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2009. RRP £9.99 paperback.

I got Alone in Berlin as a Christmas present. My parents saw the 2016 film adaptation starring Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson, and thought I would like the book. I did, and not just because it is about resistance. First published in 1947 under the title Every Man Dies Alone, the novel tells the story of the Quangels and their doomed attempt to resist the Nazi regime.

Otto and Anna Quangel are a middle-aged, working-class couple in Berlin during World War 2 who are just trying to keep their heads down and survive Nazi rule. Until they receive news that their only son has been killed fighting, and they can no longer accept the injustice and hypocrisy of the Nazi regime. They begin to carefully transcribe postcards with anti-Nazi slogans and distribute them in buildings around Berlin. Unable to tolerate even this limited resistance, the SS give Gestapo Inspector Escherich the job of hunting down the Quangels. For several years, the Quangels managed to evade capture, but it is clear to all involved that they would be caught eventually. The other residents in the Quangel’s block of flats also feature in the story, including the elderly Jewish woman on the top floor, the ardent party members on the floor below the Quangels, the mysterious retired Judge on the ground floor, and the opportunistic criminal in the basement.

Hans Fallada was an interesting character in himself, who struggled with addiction and mental illness throughout his life. A popular author in Germany before the Nazis came to power, he was no fan of Hitler’s, but decided to remain in Germany during Nazi rule. During this period he toed the line, doing just enough to satisfy the Nazis without giving in to to full scale fascism and xenophobia. After the war he was recruited by the Soviets to write an anti-fascist novel, and he apparently wrote Every Man Dies Alone in 24 days. He died soon after.

The novel is based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel; this edition of the book contains photocopies of some of their postcards and other historical documents related to their case. Fallada himself found their story quite uninspiring, but he managed to turn the source material into a touching and thought-provoking narrative. The reader is encouraged to feel sympathy for some characters, and disdain, if not repulsion, for others, but they are all well-rounded characters, most of whom are just trying to survive in a violent and volatile society. In Britain, we are used to viewing World War 2 from particular angles, such as the fighting on the Western Front, the horror of the Holocaust, or the hardship and determination of the Home Front. Alone in Berlin looks at Nazi Germany and the War from a less common perspective, the German civilian. I found this alternative angle refreshing.

If you like your novels to have a happy ending, then Alone in Berlin is not a book for you. There is a small sliver of hope at the end, but from the very beginning there is a sense that the story is not going to end well, and that atmosphere of inevitable tragedy hangs over the novel like a guillotine. It’s clear Fallada was a skilled writer, who did an excellent job of exploring the actions of people who have been pushed to the very edge of their humanity.

Protest Stickers: Edinburgh 2

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This is one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

At the end of 2019 I went on a last-minute trip to Edinburgh. It was great to explore the city, and it also meant I got to add to my protest sticker collection! There are a range of topics on protest stickers that often crop up in in big cities, including: gender, working relations, vegetarianism, housing conditions, elections, and Brexit. There are also specific local issues, which you don’t tend to find anywhere else. In Edinburgh, examples of these are: working conditions at the Fringe Festival, the use of public land for events which profit private companies, and Scottish independence.

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Fair Fringe is a campaign to improve the wages and working conditions of people working for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They are asking Fringe Employers to sign a charter guaranteeing they will give their employees certain working conditions (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Edinburgh is famous for several public events, including the Edinburgh Festival, the Fringe Festival, a Christmas Market, and Hogmanay. As these events have expanded, tensions have increased between organisers and local people, who often have to put up with significant inconvenience and restrictions on their movements around central Edinburgh. Some feel that the city doesn’t get enough benefits from these events. I think this sticker is referencing those ongoing debates (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Like most big cities, the cost of housing in Edinburgh is high, and increasing all the time. Living Rent is a tenant’s union which campaigns for tenant’s rights across Scotland, including calling for a nationwide rent cap (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The campaign for a second referendum on Scottish Independence has been boosted by Brexit, and it was the topic of quite a few protest stickers in Edinburgh. This sticker is responding to the argument that Scotland wouldn’t be able to make it as an independent country (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Just in case the Yes campaign wasn’t patriotic enough, this sticker takes it one step further! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The image on this sticker has faded so it’s quite difficult to make out, but the text is very clear (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker incorporates anti-fascist symbolism and design style with the transgender flag (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker, on the other had, is rather sarcastically criticising the transgenderism. This debate has split the feminist movement in recent years (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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In December 2019, university staff around the country went on strike over working conditions and changes to pensions. The Autonomous Design Group designed these stickers in solidarity with those on strike in Edinburgh (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I found this sticker outside one of the University of Edinburgh’s buildings. It is also probably left over from the strike. Tuition fees were first introduced in the UK in 1998, but there are still some who oppose them. VCs, or Vice Chancellors, are the most senior people in the university hierarchy, so they often become the focus of opposition (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

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I’m guessing that this sticker is from before the General Election on the 12th of December. It is comparing Boris Johnson to Pinocchio, who’s lies famously got him into trouble (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker looks quite old, but it could just be that paper stickers don’t tend to last as well as other materials. Boris Johnson only agreed his Brexit deal with the EU in October 2019, so the sticker can’t be more than a few months old (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Sometimes, you have to take a sticker’s location into account in order to appreciate it fully  (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is really interesting because I have seen quite a few stickers in various places calling for solidarity with Hong Kong since the latest round of protests started there in mid-2019. I have only seen this anti-solidarity stance in Edinburgh however. The graffiti is referring to the fact that the Extradition Bill which kick started the protests was in response to a woman from Hong Kong being murdered by her partner in Taiwan. Most people don’t know this however, and the Extradition Bill was almost universally criticised as an attempt by China to gain more power over Hong Kong (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is advertising vegankit.com, a website that offers advice and guides on eating and living vegan. It isn’t clear who is behind the website though. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).