On This Day: The Battle of Lewisham, 13th August 1977

Most people who know anything about the history of protest in London are familiar with the Battle of Cable Street, which is remembered by many as a victory of anti-fascism over the anti-Semitic British Union of Fascists in 1936. Less well-known is the Battle of Lewisham, which took place four decades later in South East London. The two events share many similarities; the Battle of Lewisham was also sparked by attempts to prevent a far-right group from promoting a xenophobic message by marching through the streets of London, and it also ended with clashes between demonstrators and police. It is also seen as the beginning of a decline in the fortunes of the fascist group involved, the National Front, leading to a significant period of unpopularity for far-right ideologies which has only recently come to an end.

BoL Right-Left clash

Far-right and left-wing activists clash on the streets of south east London during the Battle of Lewisham (Photo: John Hodder for the Guardian).

The events known as the Battle of Lewisham were spread out over quite a large area, so I put together this map to help make sense of things:

During the mid-1970s, New Cross in south east London was a focus for the organising activities of the National Front, a far-right fascist group. The National Front was quite popular in the area, and in 1976 the All Lewisham Campaign Against Fascism and Racism (ALCARAF) was set up in order to counter this growing popularity. In 1977, tensions increased further due to the arrest and trial of the ‘Lewisham 21,’ 21 young black people whom the police accused of being part of a gang responsible for 90% of the street crime in south east London. The National Front decided to capitalise on this tension, and announced plans for an ‘anti-mugging’ march in the area on the afternoon of 13th August.

Local church leaders, Lewisham Council and the Liberal Party all called for the march to be banned, but David McNee, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, refused. Anti-fascist groups started planning how to disrupt the march itself, but could not agree on the best response. As a result, 3 separate counter demonstrations were planned by different groups:

  1. ALCARAF organised a peaceful demonstration for the morning of the 13th August.
  2. The 13 August Ad Hoc Committee planned to occupy the National Front’s meeting point at Clifton Rise.
  3. The Anti-Racist/Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee (ARAFCC) called for support for the ALCARAF march and for a physical attempt to stop the National Front. To confuse matters further, the ALCARAF was a member of the ARAFCC.

At 11:30 on the 13th of August, the ALCARAF demonstration gathered in Ladywell Fields in Lewisham. Around 5000 people listened to speeches by the Mayor of Lewisham, the Bishop of Southwark and the exiled Bishop of Namibia. After the rally, ALCARAF marched as far as Algernon, where the police turned them back towards Ladywell Fields. After this, however, ARAFCC stewards led people through back streets to New Cross Road, which was part of the National Front’s planned route. As a result, lots of people made it from the ALCARAF demonstration to the afternoon protests.

BoL Police

Police officers attempt to hold back demonstrators (Photo: John Hodder for the Observer).

The first clashes between police and counter-demonstrators happened at about 12:00 pm, when Socialist Worker Party activists were evicted from a derelict shop on New Cross Road near Clifton Rise. There were further clashes when the police tried to force the demonstrators down Clifton Rise, away from Achilles Street, where the National Front started assembling at about 1:30 pm. At 3:00 pm, the police escorted the National Front out of Achilles Street and onto New Cross Road. The police had cleared a route with some difficulty, but the road was still lined with people, and the National Front were pelted with bricks, smoke bombs, bottles and other objects. Some protesters managed to break through the police lines and separate the back of the march from everyone else. National Front banners were captured and burnt before the police managed to separate the two groups. Mounted police were used to clear a path through crowds who were trying to stop the National Front advancing along New Cross Road. The police used roadblocks to keep people out of the area, and officers surrounded the National Front 3 deep.

BoL NF

National Front marchers surrounded by police officers (Photo: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy).

Anti-fascist protesters went to Lewisham town centre, where the National Front march was supposed to finish, and blocked the High Street. As a result, the National Front had a short rally in a car park on Cressington Road, then were escorted by the police to trains which were waiting at Lewisham Station to take them out of the area. Most counter-demonstrators were not aware that the National Front had left the area, and clashes continued between them and the police for several more hours. At one point, the police briefly lost control of central Lewisham, a period that was later dubbed ‘the People’s Republic of Lewisham Clock Tower.’ Throughout the day, more than 100 people were injured, about half of them police officers, and around 200 were arrested.

BoL New Cross Road-Lewisham Way

Anti-fascist protesters gather at the junction of New Cross Road and Lewisham Way (Photo: Chris Schwartz).

The Battle of Lewisham was a humiliation for the National Front. They were vastly outnumbered by counter demonstrators, and what was meant to be a show of strength and legitimacy made them look weak and unpopular. It was also a significant moment in the history of protest policing: it was the first time riot shields were used on the British mainland (many tools used to police protesters were used in northern Ireland first). Baton charges and mounted police were also used to try and disperse protests, a technique which has become familiar to activists in London over the last few decades.

According to the Remembering the Battle of Lewisham project, undertaken by Goldsmiths to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Battle in 2017, very few people know what happened in south east London that day in 1977. On the 40th anniversary of the Battle, a plaque commemorating the protest was installed on 314 New Cross Road. There are also plans for a community memorial to be situated on nearby Batavia Road. Perhaps projects like these will make more people aware of what happened during the Battle of Lewisham. As people like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and Jacob Rees Mogg continue to gain power and influence, it can only be a good thing for people to know that fascism can be defeated by popular protest.

Sources and Further Reading

Goldsmiths, University of London. “Remembering the Battle of Lewisham 40 Years on.” No date, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at  https://www.gold.ac.uk/history/research/battle-of-lewisham/ (There are a lot of great resources on these webpages).

Townsend, Mark. “How the Battle of Lewisham Helped to Halt the Rise of Britain’s Far Right.” The Guardian. Last modified 13 August 2017, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/13/battle-of-lewisham-national-front-1977-far-right-london-police

Whitmore, Greg. “Flares and Fury: The Battle of Lewisham 1977–in Pictures.” The Guardian. Last modified 12 August 2017, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/gallery/2017/aug/12/flares-and-fury-the-battle-of-lewisham-1977

Wikipedia. “Battle of Lewisham.” Last modified 5 January 2018, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lewisham

 

 

On This Day: Women’s Sunday, 21st June 1908

Women's Sunday Ticket

A ticket for Women’s Sunday (Source: Museum of London).

On the 13th of June 1908, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), organised a huge march in London to demonstrate the strength of their commitment to women’s suffrage. Just a week later, on the 21st of June, the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU) organised a ‘monster meeting,’ also in London. The WSPU was much smaller than the NUWSS, but its militant tactics were better at grabbing headlines, and it is by far the best-known women’s suffrage group now. In June 1908, however, the WSPU decided to try a more peaceful method of campaigning, which was a resounding success. Up to 500,000 people gathered in Hyde Park to hear 80 speakers talk about women’s suffrage at the biggest political demonstration the UK had ever seen.

The meeting was organised by WSPU Treasurer, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, and her husband Frederick. Like the NUWSS’s march a week earlier, the demonstration was organised in response to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s challenge to prove the strength of feeling behind the demand that women be given the vote. Special trains were chartered to transport WSPU supporters to London from around the country, and a Sunday was chosen in order to maximise working class attendance.

Women's Sunday More Crowds

The crowds in Hyde Park, surrounding some of the 700 banners carried by the WSPU marchers (Source: Museum of London.

7 processions totaling 30,000 suffragettes marched from around London to Hyde Park. This was the first time that the WSPU’s now infamous colours of purple, green, and white were featured in public. Women were asked to wear white dresses, and accessorise with green and purple. The effect was striking. Emmeline Pankhurst and Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy led the procession from Euston Road, Annie Kenney headed the march from Paddington, and Christabel Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence helmed the demonstration from Victoria Embankment. Flora ‘the General’ Drummond, a formidable suffragette known for leading marches in a military-style uniform, visited each of the 7 processions. Like the NUWSS procession the previous week, banners played an important role in the marches. The suffragettes carried up to 700, although none are known to survive.

Women's Sunday Platform 6

A photo of speaker’s platform 6, taken by professional photographer Christina Broom (Source: Museum of London).

20 raised platforms had been constructed in Hyde Park, from which 80 prominent supporters of women’s suffrage gave speeches, including Emmeline Pankhurst (of course!) Keir Hardy, Barnard Shaw, Israel Zangwill, and Amy Catherine Robbins (wife of H.G. Wells). The meeting was considered to be a great success, although several newspapers pointed out that most of those attending were there out of curiosity rather than support for the cause. I don’t really see this as a problem though; surely it was a good opportunity to win over a few converts to the cause.

It seems unlikely that the WSPU deliberately planned Women’s Sunday to be a week after the NUWSS procession, but the sight of women marching through the streets of London, proud, defiant, and well-ordered, was still enough of a novelty to draw hundreds of thousands of people to Hyde Park.

Sources and Further Reading

Marches, Protest, and Militancy. “Women’s Sunday: Hyde Park 1908.” Last modified 14 April 2016, accessed 6 June 2018. Available at  https://womenofinfluencesite.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/womens-sunday-hyde-park-1908/

Wikipedia. “Women’s Sunday.” Last modified 18th March 2018, accessed 6 June 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_Sunday

Women of Tunbridge Wells History Project. “‘Women’s Sunday’: Hyde Park Rally 21st June 1908.” Inspiring Women: Hidden Histories from West Kent. No date, accessed 11 June 2018. Available at https://www.kent.ac.uk/sspssr/womenshistorykent/themes/suffrage/womenssunday.html

On This Day: NUWSS Suffrage Procession, 13th June 1908

NUWSS Suffrage Procession.PNG

Banner bearers at the NUWSS’s Suffrage Procession on the 13th of June 1908. The photo was taken by professional photographer, Christina Broom (Source: Museum of London).

As the first decade of the twentieth century drew to a close, the campaign for women’s suffrage had been going on for half a century. As the decades wore on, the women involved became increasingly creative with their tactics. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was founded as the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872. They were suffragists, believing in peaceful, constitutional campaigning. The NUWSS had first experimented with mass marches the previous year; despite the wet weather, what came to be known as the Mud March was a resounding success. The women were praised for their determination and organisation skills. In the summer of 1908, the NUWSS decided to hold another march.

In 1908, women’s suffrage seemed both tantalisingly close, and as distant as ever. In February, a women’s suffrage bill was blocked by the government after passing its second reading in Parliament. Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister in April, and challenged British women to prove that they wanted to vote. The NUWSS organised their Suffrage Procession in response to this challenge, and also to prove that their organisational skills were such that they deserved the vote.

NUWSS Bugler girl tea towel

Designed by Caroline Watts, the Bugler Girl became of the most recognisable images of the suffrage campaign (Source: radicalteatowel.co.uk).

Artist and illustrator Caroline Watts designed the Bugler Girl poster to advertise the march. Despite her military appearance, the NUWSS were keen to emphasise her peaceful nature, and the image went on to be used quite often within the suffrage campaign in both the UK and the US. On the afternoon of the 13th of June 1908, 10,000 women gathered on the Embankment in central London. They then proceeded to march, in neat rows of either 4 or 6, to the Royal Albert Hall where a meeting was held. Every detail of the march was planned, including the order of the procession, which was as follows: provincial NUWSS groups, in alphabetical order; colonials and internationals; professions, including medical women, business women, writers, actors, and farmers; other societies, including the Women’s Co-operative Guild, the National Union of Women Workers, Liberals, Fabians, Conservatives and the Women’s Freedom League (who’s President was Charlotte Despard); and finally, the local branches of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. The march was led by NUWSS president, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and Lady Frances Balfour.

NUWSS Suffrage Procession Programme

The souvenir programme for the march and meeting (Source: Woman and her Sphere).

The International Conference for Women’s Suffrage began in Amsterdam on the 15th of June, which meant that a lot of important international suffragists could be in London for the march, adding another feather to the NUWSS’s cap. Representatives came from around the world, including the US, Australia, Russia, Hungary, South Africa, and France. The marchers were accompanied by 15 marching bands. The women carried 76 banners designed and made by the Artist’s Suffrage League (ASL), a group of professional artists established in 1907 to produce banners, posters, postcards, and similar materials for the suffrage campaign. Many of the banners were designed by Mary Lowndes, chair of the ASL and designer of stained-glass windows.

NUWSS huddersfield-banner

The banner designed by the ASL for the Huddersfield and District branch of the NUWSS, to carry with them during the Suffrage Procession (Source: Kirlees Museums and Galleries/Woman and her Sphere).

There were two main types of banners. The first type represented the various branches of the NUWSS. The organisers wanted to emphasise that the demonstration was representative of the whole country. The second type of banner commemorated prominent women, both past and present, including: Marie Curie, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Mary Wollstonecraft, Caroline Herschel, Florence Nightingale, and Queen Victoria (despite her vehement opposition to women’s suffrage). The banners were on display in Caxton Hall in Westminster, which was frequently used by suffrage campaigners, for a few days before the march, and they toured the country afterwards. Local suffrage groups could hire the banners to host exhibitions, and they were displayed in Manchester, Cambridge, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Brighton, amongst others. Many of the banners were also used in later marches and demonstrations.

The 1908 NUWSS Suffrage Procession was a great success. The women demonstrated their commitment to the cause, as well as illustrating their significant organisational skills, part of an attempt to persuade the public that women were capable of shouldering the responsibility of voting. The beautiful, hand-made banners also showed off the women’s feminine side, as well as capturing the attention of spectators and the media. Peaceful mass demonstrations were an ideal way for the suffragists to attract publicity and show their conviction. But the suffragettes also made use of such tactics, holding their own ‘Monster Meeting’ in London only a week after the NUWSS.

Sources and Further Reading

Crawford, Elizabeth. “Suffrage Stories: An Army of Banners- Designed for the NUWSS Suffrage Procession 13 June 1908.” Woman and her Sphere. Last modified 26 November 2014. Accessed 4 June 2018. Available at  https://womanandhersphere.com/2014/11/26/suffrage-stories-an-army-of-banners-designed-for-the-nuwss-suffrage-procession-13-june-1908/

Crawford, Elizabeth. “Suffrage Stories/Women Artists: Caroline Watts and the Bugler Girl.” Woman and her Sphere. Last modified 3 December 2014, accessed 6 June 2018. Available at https://womanandhersphere.com/2014/12/03/suffrage-storieswomen-artists-caroline-watts-and-the-bugler-girl/ 

Keyte, Suzanne. “Celebrating 100 Years of Votes for Women: Women’s Suffrage at the Royal Albert Hall.” Royal Albert Hall. Last modified 5 February 2018. Accessed 4 June 2018. Available at https://www.royalalberthall.com/about-the-hall/news/2018/february/celebrating-100-years-of-votes-for-women-womens-suffrage-and-the-royal-albert-hall/

Observer, The. “From the Observer Archive, 14 June 1908: 10000 Women March for Suffrage. Last modified 17 June 2012. Accessed 4 June 2018. Available at  https://www.theguardian.com/news/2012/jun/17/archive-1908-suffragette-march

On This Day: Occupation of the Savoy, 14th September 1940

When we think of London during the Second World War, we think of the Blitz. When we think of the Blitz, we think of the Blitz spirit epitomising the British stiff upper lip. There is a collective imaginary of Londoners banding stoically together, facing down the Nazis with a grim smile, a cup of tea, and maybe a sing song. But London was not always united in the face of the enemy. The occupation of the Savoy Hotel on the night of the 14th September 1940, the 8th night of the Blitz, was a manifestation of some of these divisions.

E and C during air raid

Londoners sheltering in Elephant and Castle Underground station during an air raid. At first, the government were reluctant to let people shelter in the underground (Source: IWM)

In the early days of the Blitz, there was a serious lack of deep shelters in the East End, which was particularly hard hit due to the high levels of industry in the area. Pre-war planning by the government had rejected deep shelters in London, afraid that a ‘shelter mentality’ would develop. They decided instead to issue gas masks and rely on surface level shelters, such as the Anderson shelter. It very quickly became obvious that this provision was insufficient. What shelters there were lacked facilities and were overcrowded.

The Communist Party immediately took up the cause. the London district printed 100,000 leaflets and 5,000 posters calling for better provision of shelters and the requisitioning of empty houses for the homeless. The East End Communists decided to march for better air raid shelters in the East End, and to highlight the fact that not all Londoners suffered the effects of the bombs equally.

The Savoy

The entrance to the world famous Savoy hotel on the Strand (Source: The Daily Mail)

With the help of some sympathetic waiters, between 40 and 70 protesters occupied the Savoy’s luxurious air raid shelter. The shelter was divided into cubicles, with beds and armchairs. Nurses and waiters served the hotel’s guests during raids. When the air raid siren went off, the Savoy’s manager realised he could not chuck the occupiers out; they would have to stay the night. After some negotiation with the catering staff, the occupiers were provided with tea, bread, and butter. All in all, it was a pretty pleasant way of drawing attention to the disparity of deep shelter provision across the capital.

The contrast between the shelter conditions for the rich and the poor called for exposure. This was done…One Saturday evening we gathered some seventy people, among them a large sprinkling of children, and we took them to the Savoy Hotel. We had heard from building workers of the well-constructed and luxurious shelter which had been built for their guests. We decided that what was good enough for the Savoy Hotel parasites was reasonably good enough for Stepney workers and their families.

Phil Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2006); p. 73. Phil Piratin was a prominent member of the Communist Party, and became one of the party’s first MPs in 1945. He was present during the occupation of the Savoy.

The Blitz was one of the darkest periods in London’s history. By the time it ended 43,000 British civilians had been killed, half of them in London. Protest and dissent was less common during the world wars than in peace time, but Londoners were willing to fight for decent air raid shelter provision. Thanks to actions such as the occupation of the Savoy Hotel, the situation greatly improved, making the lives of Londoners that much more bearable as the bombs fell.

Sources and Further Reading

German, Lindsey, and John Rees. A People’s History of London. London: Verso, 2012.

Piratin, Phil. Our Flag Stays Red. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2006.

Sweet, Matthew. “When Max Levitas Stormed the Savoy.” Spitalfields Life. Last modified 3 November, 2011. Accessed 23 August, 2017. Available at http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/11/03/when-max-levitas-stormed-the-savoy/

On This Day: The Coldbath Fields Riots, 13th May 1833

In a previous On This Day post, I wrote about the death of PC Keith Blakelock in the Broadwater Farm Riots in 1985. He was only the second police officer to be killed in a British riot since 1833. In June 1919, Station-Sargeant Green died of injuries received during a riot of Canadian soldiers in Epsom. The officer killed in 1833 was PC Robert Culley, who was stabbed in the chest during the Coldbath Field Riots over 150 years before. The response of the public to the two deaths in 1985 and 1833 was vastly different, demonstrating just how much the Metropolitan Police’s reputation with Londoners has improved since its foundation in 1829.

Coldbath Fields Meeting Poster

A poster advertising the protest that would become the Coldbath Fields Riots.

The Coldbath Fields Riots on the 13th of May 1833 was the first major clash between radicals and the young Metropolitan Police. The National Union of the Working Classes (NUWC) organised a demonstration in Coldbath Fields against the 1832 Reform Act. The Reform Act increased the number of men allowed to vote, but only by a small amount, and it didn’t go far enough for the NUWC. The Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, declared the meeting illegal, but it went ahead anyway. On the afternoon of the 13th of May a large crowd had gathered, listening to speeches given from the back of open wagons.

After a while, a large detachment of police arrived and began to clear the crowd. The high number of police officers raised tensions, leading to shouted insults. The police trapped some of the protesters in nearby Calthorpe Street, who then attempted to fight their way out. In the ensuing chaos, three police officers were stabbed; Sergeant John Brooks, PC Henry Redwood and PC Robert Culley. Brooks and Redwood both survived, but Culley only made it to the nearby Calthorpe Arms before he died.

Coldbath Fields Riot

An engraving of the Coldbath Field Riots by J. Prater (Sources: Mary Evans Picture Library).

Robert Culley was one of the first men to join the Metropolitan Police, aged 23, when it was founded. Although the murderer wasn’t caught, the inquest into Culley’s death began two days later, in an upstairs room of the same pub where he died. The 17 men of the jury returned a verdict of Justifiable Homicide, arguing that the police had provoked the crowd with their violent approach to policing the protest. The men of the jury were local shopkeepers and householders, not radicals, and their verdict reflected the extensive mistrust and disregard that most Londoners felt for the Metropolitan Police at the time. Many resented the state intervention that the new force represented, and the jury became local heroes. The following month, a riverboat trip was arranged for them and their families to Twickenham, and crowds lined the river to cheer them on, despite heavy rain. In a similar way, George Fursey, the man who stabbed the other two police officers, was acquitted in his trial at the Old Bailey in July.

The public outcry and widespread condemnation after the death of PC Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm Riots could hardly seem more different to the reaction to the death of PC Culley 150 years before. The Metropolitan Police is not universally liked today, but it is hard to imagine the death of an officer during a protest receiving such a callous response. For better or worse, the police force has become part of the fabric of modern London in a way that might surprise an onlooker from the early nineteenth-century.

Sources and Further Reading

Moult, Tom. “The Metropolitan Police in Nineteenth-Century London: A Brief Introduction.” New Histories 3, no. 5 (2012). Available at  http://newhistories.group.shef.ac.uk/wordpress/wordpress/the-metropolitan-police-in-nineteenth-century-london-a-brief-introduction/

Rowland, David. “The Murder of Police Constable Robert Culley.” Old Police Cells Museum. Last modified 18th October 2015, accessed 28 April 2017. Available at  http://www.oldpolicecellsmuseum.org.uk/page/the_murder_of_police_constable_robert_culley

Webb, Simon. Bombers, Rioters and Police Killers: Violent Crime and Disorder in Victorian Britain. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2015. 

On This Day: The Mud March, 9th February 1907

At the start of the twentieth century, the campaign for women’s suffrage was gathering momentum. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) organised the first large march for the cause on the 9th of February 1907. The women planned to march from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall, a large meeting hall on the north side of the Strand. Unfortunately the weather was not on the marchers’ side, and heavy rain made the streets of London very muddy, hence the name of the march. Despite this, the march was considered a great success.

mud-march-flyer

A flyer advertising the event which became known as the Mud March (Source: Woman and her Sphere).

Unlike the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the NUWSS refused to use militant or violent tactics in its attempt to win the vote for women. They were known as suffragists, which differentiated them from the suffragettes in the WSPU. However, they understood the need to have a visible presence in society; this march was their first attempt at using protest marches to attract attention.

Around 3000 women took part, from a range of social classes and occupations, and representing over 40 suffrage organisations. The march was organised by Phillipa Strachey, daughter of Lady Strachey. The march was considered so successful that she went on to organise all the NUWSS’s large marches. The march was led by Millicent Fawcett, leader of the NUWSS, and Lady Strachey, Lady Frances Balfour, and Keir Hardie, also prominent suffragists. The Artist’s Suffrage League designed posters and postcards advertising the march, and designed and made around 80 embroidered banners for the march itself.

Despite the wet weather, thousands of people turned out to watched the march. The sight of thousands of women from across social divides marching together was enough of a novelty to persuade people to brave the rain. Press from across Europe and America were fascinated by the diversity of women involved. At the time, it was perceived that women were reluctant to make displays of themselves in public. As such, the participants in the march were considered to be even more dedicated to the suffrage because they were willing to put themselves through such an experience. Kate Frye was on the march, and she obviously relished taking part, writing in her diary that she “felt like a martyr of old and walked proudly along.”

nusww-rally-at-hyde-park

The NUWSS used protest marches and rallies often after the success of the Mud March. This photo was taken in Hyde Park in 1913 (Source: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images).

The suffragists marched from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall in the Strand, where the Strand Palace Hotel stands today. The Hall was opened in 1831 as an organisational and meeting space for evangelical groups. The Great Hall could hold 4000 people, and lots of causes held meetings there, including anti-Slavery and temperance. In 1880 Exeter Hall was taken over by the YMCA, but the Great Hall could still be used for meetings. The suffragists’ rally must have been one of the last meetings to take place there, as the building was sold and demolished in 1907. It required expensive alterations that the YMCA were unwilling to pay for. The suffragist’s rally featured music from an all-female orchestra, and speakers such as Keir Hardy, Israel Zangwill, Millicent Fawcett, and Lady Strachey.

The success of the Mud March, despite the foul weather, established the large-scale organised procession as a key tactic for the campaign for women’s suffrage in Britain. It has also been argued that the march gave the women’s suffrage movement a sense of respectability that the militant tactics of the WSPU did not.

Sources and Further Reading

Cowie, Leonard W. “Exeter Hall.” History Today 18, no. 6 (1968): 390-397.

Crawford, Elizabeth. “Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: The Mud March, 9 February 1907.” Woman and her Sphere. Last  updated 21 November 2012, accessed 24 December 2016. Available at https://womanandhersphere.com/2012/11/21/kate-fryes-suffrage-diary-the-mud-march-9-february-1907/

The Armchair Anglophile. “The Mud March.” Last updated 7 February 2012, accessed 24 December 2016. Available at http://www.armchairanglophile.com/the-mud-march/

Wikipedia. “Mud March (Suffragists)” Last updated 17 December 2016, accessed 21 December 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mud_March_(Suffragists)

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.

broadwater-farm-aftermath

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.

broadwater-raised-walkway

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 1919.

pc-blakelock

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

On This Day: The London Women Transport Workers Strike, 16th August 1918

1915 Female bus conductor

One of the first female London bus conductors (Source: Daily Mirror, 28/10/1915)

In August 1918, female tram conductors in Willesden started a wildcat strike which quickly spread around the country and to other sectors of public transport. Initially demanding the same war bonus that had been given to men, their demands morphed into equal pay, over 40 years before the Equal Pay Act.

During the First World War, women took over many of the jobs that had previously been done by men. Public transport was one area where female employees became key. By the end of the war, the London General Omnibus Company employed 3500 women, and thousands more were employed by other bus and train operators in London as well as on the Underground. Lots of women joined unions, but the unions were more interested in protecting the long-term job security of men rather than the employment rights of women. The unions wanted to make sure that men could return to their pre-war jobs with the same working conditions when the war finished, so they didn’t want women to get too comfortable. In addition, both unions and management refused to entertain the idea of equal pay, arguing that the work that women did was not worth the same as men’s.

In mid-1918, male workers were given a 5 shilling a week wartime bonus to help cope with the increased cost of living. Women were not given this bonus, and some workers in London were not willing to accept this. On the 16th of August, a meeting of women at Willesden bus garage decided to go on strike the following day, without informing their bosses or unions.

The next morning, they were quickly joined by women at the Hackney, Holloway, Archway and Acton depots and garages, and the strike continued to spread throughout the day. At first the women demanded the same 5 shilling per week bonus as men, but their demands soon escalated to equal pay, and they adopted the slogan ‘Same Work- Same Pay.’

1918 Female strikers

Images of the strike from the Daily Mirror (20/08/1918).

By the 23rd of August, female bus and tram workers around the country had joined the strike, including in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton, and Weston-super-mare. Some women working on the London Underground also joined the strike- it mainly affected the Bakerloo Line. It is estimated 18000 out of a total 27000 women working in the public transport industry participated.

The strikers held a series of mass meetings at the Ring, on Blackfriars Road in Southwark. It was a boxing arena that had been destroyed by aerial bombing. Many women brought their children and picnics with them. The strike was settled on the 25th of August after a contentious meeting at the Ring- many women did not want to go back to work. The tube workers didn’t go back to work until the 28th. The women won the 5 shilling bonus, but not equal pay.

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 but even now, almost a hundred years after the women transport workers’ strike, women are not paid the same as men for the same jobs. London’s female public transport workers were some of the first to make a demand that is still yet to be fully realised. Without the aid of the experienced unions, the women were able to win the same bonus as men, if not the same wage. Little is known about how the women organised, which is a shame, although it might make a very nice research project!

Sources and Further Reading

Stuart. “London Buses in Wartime.” Great War London. Last modified 30th December 2014, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  https://greatwarlondon.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/london-buses-at-war-1914-1918/

View from the Mirror. “From Prayer to Palestra: The Ring at Blackfriars.” View from the Mirror: A Cabbie’s London. Last modified 4th February 2013, accessed 20th June 2016. Available at https://blackcablondon.net/2013/02/04/from-prayer-to-palestra-the-ring-at-blackfriars/

Walker, Michael. “London Women Tram Workers – Equal Pay Strike 1918.” Hayes People’s History. Last modified 13th February 2007, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at http://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/women-tramworkers-equal-pay-strike-1918.html

Weller, Ken. “The London Transport Women Workers Strike 1918.” libcom.org. Last modified 19th December 2012, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  https://libcom.org/history/london-transport-women-workers-strike-1918

Welsh, Dave. “The 90th anniversary of the Equal Pay strike on the London Underground.” Campaign Against Tube Privatisation- History. No date, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  http://www.catp.info/CATP/History.html

On This Day: The Death of Blair Peach, 23rd April 1979

blairpeach

Blair Peach, 1946-1979 (Source: Anorak.co.uk)

Mark Duggan, Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes; some people have the misfortune of being famous because they were killed by the Metropolitan Police. Blair Peach is perhaps one of the better known names on that list. Peach died from a broken skull on the 23rd of April 1979, after being struck on the head during a demonstration outside Southall Town Hall. The results of the internal investigation into what happened weren’t published until 2010, three decades after Peach’s death.

Clement Blair Peach was born in New Zealand on the 25th of March 1946. He moved to London in 1969 and started working as a teacher at the Phoenix School in Bow, East London. Peach was no stranger to radicalism and protest; he was a member of the Socialist Worker’s Party, as well as the Socialist Teacher’s Association and the East London Teacher’s Association, both within the National Union of Teachers. In 1974 he was acquitted of a charge of threatening behaviour after he challenged a publican who was refusing to serve black customers. He was also involved in campaigns against far-right and neo-Nazi groups; he was well known for leading a successful campaign to close a National Front building in the middle of the Bangladeshi community around Brick Lane.

On St. George’s Day 1979, the National Front held a meeting in Southall Town Hall. The Anti-Nazi League held a counter demonstration outside the Town Hall. Peach was one of 3000 people to attend. The demonstration turned violent; over 150 people were injured (including around 100 police officers), and 345 arrests were made. Peach was struck on the head by a police officer at the junction of Beachcroft Avenue and Orchard Avenue, as he tried to get away from the demonstration. He died from his injuries later that night in Ealing Hospital.

Blair Peach's funeral

Peach’s funeral was attended by thousands of people (Source: BBC News).

Peach’s death struck a chord amongst the communities he had stood up for, and across the city as a whole. A few days after his death, 10000 people marched past the spot where he was fatally injured. His funeral was delayed by several months, until the 13th of June, but that was also attended by 10000 people. The night before his funeral, 8000 Sikhs went to see his body at the Dominion Theatre in Southall.

Blair_Peach protest

There were multiple protests demanding justice for Peach (Source: The Times)

The Metropolitan Police commissioned an internal inquiry into what happened, which was led by Commander John Cass. 11 witnesses saw Peach struck by a member of the Special Patrol Group (SPG). The SPG was a centrally-based mobile group of officers focused on combating serious public disorder and crime that local divisions were unable to cope with. It started in 1961, and was replaces in 1987 by the Territorial Support Group, which also has a less-than stellar reputation amongst activists.

The pathologist’s report concluded that Peach was not hit with a standard issue baton, but an unauthorised weapon like a weighted rubber cosh,or a hosepipe filled with lead shot. When Cass’ team investigated the headquarters of the SPG, they found multiple illegal weapons including truncheons, knives, a crowbar, and a whip. 2 SPG officers had altered their appearance by growing or cutting facial hair since the protest, 1 refused to take part in an identity parade, and another was discovered to be a Nazi sympathiser. All of the officers’ uniforms were dry-cleaned before they were presented for examination.

Cass concluded that one of 6 officers had killed Peach, but he couldn’t be sure who exactly, because the officers had colluded to cover up the truth. He recommended that 3 officers be charged with perverting the course of justice, but no action was ever taken. The results of the inquiry were not published, and the coroner at the inquest into Peach’s death refused to allow it to be used as evidence, despite making use of it himself. On the 27th May 1980, the jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure. After decades of campaigning by Peach’s partner Celia Stubbs, the report was finally published in April 2010, although the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was still not enough evidence to bring charges against anyone.

Celia-Stubbs-former-partn-001

Celia Stubbs, Blair Peach’s partner when he died, in 2009. She campaigned for Cass’ report to be published for 30 years (Source: The Guardian).

If I had written this blog post more than 6 years ago, it would look very different. The death of Blair Peach was a public relations nightmare for the Metropolitan Police; a respected and well-liked activist who fought hard for local communities, Peach was a man for whom many people cared about. The Met should have been transparent, finding out what happened and punishing those responsible quickly and openly. Instead, they covered up the cause of Peach’s death for 3 decades, allowing what happened to fester, contributing to a sense of resentment and distrust that continues to this day.

Sources and Further Reading

Casciani, Dominic. “Blair Peach Report: What the Investigation Uncovered.” BBC News. Last modified 17th April 2010, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8646829.stm  

Editorial.”Death of Blair Peach: The Truth at Last.” The Guardian. Last modified 28th April 2010, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/28/death-of-blair-peach-editorial

Lewis, Paul. “Blair Peach Killed By Police at 1979 Protest, Met Report Finds.” The Guardian. Last modified 27th April 2010, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/apr/27/blair-peach-killed-police-met-report

Metropolitan Police. “MPS Publication Scheme: Investiagation into the Death of Blair Peach.” No date, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://www.met.police.uk/foi/units/blair_peach.htm 

Renton, David. “The Killing of Blair Peach.” London Review of Books 36, no. 10 (2014): 23-26. Available at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n10/david-renton/the-killing-of-blair-peach

Wikipedia. “Death of Blair Peach.” Last modified 28th March 2016, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Blair_Peach

On This Day: The Cato Street Conspiracy, 23rd February 1820

The early nineteenth century was a turbulent time. Economic depression was exacerbated by returning soldiers flooding the job market after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and the Industrial Revolution was causing food shortages and new patterns of employment. One radical group was called the Spencean Philanthropists, after the radical speaker Thomas Spence. Led by Arthur Thistlewood, they were a revolutionary group involved in unrest and propaganda, with the ultimate goal of starting a revolution. They wanted to assassinate the cabinet, seize key buildings, overthrow the government and establish a Committee of Public Safety to oversee a radical revolution.

Cato Street Plaque

The plaque in Cato Street commemorating the conspiracy being discovered (Photo: Simon Harriyott).

The death of King George III on the 29th of January sparked a political revolution. The Spencean Philanthropists planned to take advantage of the confusion, and assassinate the Prime Minister (Lord Liverpool) and all the cabinet ministers when they gathered for a dinner at the home of Lord Harrowby. However, George Edwards, the groups’ second in command, was a police spy, and there was never any risk of the plot succeeding. Thanks to Edwards, the Home Office knew about the entire thing, and the cabinet dinner was a fiction designed to entrap the group.

We will probably never know how many people were involved in the conspiracy—there were a lot of groups sympathetic to the aims of the Spencean Philanthropists—but 13 men were arrested in a dramatic showdown in the groups’ rented headquarters in Cato Street. The rented building was a stable and hayloft, close to Lord Harrowby’s House in Grosvenor Square. On the 23rd of February Richard Birnie, the Bow Street magistrate, waited in a pub across the road with 12 members of the Bow Street Runners, predecessors of the Metropolitan Police. They were waiting for promised reinforcements from the Coldstream Guards, but at 7:30pm they decided to go in alone.

Cato Street

A contemporary sketch of the moment the Bow Street Runners confronted the conspirators in the hay loft Cato Street. Arthur Thistlewood has just killed Richard Smithers.

In the resulting scuffle Arthur Thistlewood killed Richard Smithers, one of the Bow Street Runners, and escaped out a back window with 3 others. They were arrested a few days later. Some of the conspirators gave evidence on the others to avoid conviction, so on the 28th of April 10 men were sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered for high treason. This barbaric punishment was commuted for all 10, but that’s not as good as it sounds—5 men were hung and beheaded, and the other 5 were transported to Australia. Thistlewood and 4 others were executed at the infamous Newgate jail on the 1st of May 1820.

Edwards did not give evidence during the trial. Police spies were controversial at the time, and Edwards was accused of being an agent provocateur—he had suggested targeting the dinner in the first place, and he had even provided money to help the conspirators buy weapons. Some people questioned whether the group would ever have gone so far if it wasn’t for the spy who was supposed to be trying to stop them.

cato street execution

A contemporary image of the gory execution of the 5 conspirators. Arthur Thistlewood’s head is being held up for the crowd to see.

What would have happened if the Cato Street Conspiracy had succeeded? Whether it would have sparked the uprising Thistlewood hoped for, or merely put new faces in the same old positions of power is impossible to predict. Nevertheless, it was a bold and desperate attempt to cause change, and although I can’t approve of the Spencean Philanthropists’ methods, I can’t help but admire their vision.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “Cato Street Conspiracy.” Wikipedia. Last modified 12th December 2015, accessed 22nd January 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato_Street_Conspiracy

Anon. “The Cato Street Conspiracy.” The National Archives. No date, accessed 22nd January 2016. Available at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/rights/cato.htm

Bloy, Marjie. “The Cato Street Conspiracy: 23 February 1820.” The Victorian Web. Last modified 30th August 2003, accessed 22nd January 2016. Available at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/riots/cato.html

Marjie, Bloy. “The Cato Street Conspiracy: 23 February 1820.” A Web of English History. Last modified 12th January 2016, accessed 22nd January 2016. Available at http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/distress/cato.htm

Simpkin, John. “Cato Street Conspiracy.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed 22nd January 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/PRcato.htm