Turbulent London: Mary Damer Dawson, 1873-1920

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. Next up is Margaret Damer Dawson, animal rights campaigner and founder of the first female police force in Britain.

Margaret Damer Dawson

Margaret Damer Dawson in her Women’s Police Service uniform (Source: BBC).

It might be tempting to think that the recent increase in vegetarianism and concern for animal rights is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, the campaign for animal rights can be traced back a long time. Margaret Damer Dawson’s involvement in animal rights activism would be enough to make her worthy of attention, but she also went on to be the founder of the first female police force in Britain, making her doubly fascinating.

Margaret Damer Dawson was born on the 12th of June 1873 in Hove, East Sussex. Her father was a surgeon, and she had a comfortable upbringing, and an independent income that allowed her to pursue her campaigning interests as an adult. She was probably educated at home, but studied at the London Academy of Music when she was older.

Dawson was a committed campaigner, devoting her life to the causes she believed in. She first got involved in campaigns against the cruel treatment of animals; in 1906 she became the Organising Secretary of the International Animal Protection Societies, and in 1908 she was made the Honorary Secretary of the International Anti-Vivisection Council. She was also an active member of the Animal Defence and Anti-vivisection society, which campaigned against the use of circus animals and the killing of animals for meat, amongst other issues. Vivisection is a particularly unsavoury practice, where operations are performed on live animals for scientific research or education. In 1906 Dawson organised the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress in London.

Although not actively involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage, Dawson was interested in feminist issues, such as the trafficking of women and children. After the beginning of the first world war, she championed the formation of the first women’s police force in Britain. Campaigners for women’s rights knew that male police officers often handled cases involving women poorly, and it was thought that female police officers would help protect women. The government had previously been opposed to female police officers, but with so many male officers joining the army they relented. Along with Nina Boyle, a campaigner for women’s rights and member of the Women’s Freedom League, Dawson was permitted to set up the Women Police Volunteers (WPV). At first the WPV consisted of 50 women, all of independent means. They initially concentrated their efforts on London, and their responsibilities included looking after refugees arriving in London after fleeing the war.

In November 1914, Dawson and Boyle had a disagreement that caused Boyle to leave their joint venture. The Army had set up a training camp for new recruits at Grantham, and the WPV were asked to protect the trainee soldiers by controlling women of ‘bad character’ in the area, effectively imposing a curfew on women. Boyle wanted to refuse, viewing the request as an attack on women’s rights. Dawson argued that they should accept any orders they were given to prove that they could accept police discipline. Dawson had the support of the WPV members and won the argument; she inspired loyalty and affection in the women who served under her. After Boyle left, the WPV was renamed the Women’s Police Service (WPS), and Mary Allen became Dawson’s second in command. Allen was a former member of the WSPU, and formed a close relationship with Dawson; the two women would live together until Dawson’s death.

Margaret Dawson Plaque

This plaque, at 10 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, marked where Margaret Damer Dawson lived with Mary Allen (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

In 1916 the Ministry of Munitions asked the WPS to supervise the female employees working in munitions factories. Dawson recruited and trained 140 women for this task, with no financial input from the government, on the understanding that the scheme would be funded if it proved successful. The WPS training, which took place in East London, received lots of attention from the press, which did not please the Home Office and the leadership of London’s Metropolitan Police.

By the end of the war the WPS had more than 350 members around the country, although many weren’t sworn in as police officers and could not make arrests. After the Armistice, many of the women who had worked during the war were expected to give up their jobs to make way for the returning soldiers. The Baird Committee on the Employment of Women on Police Duties approved the employment of female police officers, although the Home Office was reluctant. 47 members of the WPS were hired by Chief Constables around the country, although the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was especially hostile. He seemed to have a personal grudge, and refused to hire any members of the WPS, although he did recruit women who weren’t loyal to Dawson.

Dawson had to step down from the WPS in 1919 due to poor health, Mary Allen took over as Commandant of the WPS. Margaret Damer Dawson died of a heart attack on the 18th of May 1920. Allen believed that Dawson’s constant struggle with the male police establishment had contributed to her early death.

Margaret Damer Dawson was a fierce and determined campaigner. During both phases of her activist career she fought hard for what she believed in, and as Commandant of the WPS she began the process of normalising women in the police force, disproving many of the prejudices of the male policing establishment. In 2019, women make up 30% of the UK’s police officers. As with many areas of employment, the battle for gender equality is not yet won, but we owe a debt to women like Margaret Damer Dawson, who fired the first shot.

References and Further Reading

Doughan, David. “Dawson, Margaret Mary Damer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 3rd January 2008, accessed 22nd October 2019. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/45544 [Requires a subscription to access].

Simkin, John. “Margaret Damar Dawson.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2015, accessed 22nd September 2019. Available at https://spartacus-educational.com/Wdawson.htm

Wikipedia. “Margaret Damer Dawson.” Last modified 7th October 2019, accessed 22nd October 2019. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Damer_Dawson

London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Police 2


The Metropolitan Police have an uneasy relationship with Londoners, going right back to its foundation in 1829 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, South Bank, 09/10/16).

The relationship between a city and its police force is not often an easy one. London’s Metropolitan Police is the oldest civilian force in the world, and people have been opposed to it since before its foundation in 1829. The Metropolitan Police has been involved in a number of controversies in recent decades, particularly in relation to their treatment of ethnic minorities. In 1999, the Macpherson Report found that the Met was institutionally racist following incidents such as the poor handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. More recently, they have been under scrutiny for the manipulative and unethical behaviour of undercover officers investigating protest movements, some of whom started relationships and even had children with the women they were investigating.

I have written about anti-police protest stickers before, but London’s landscape of protest stickers continues to evolve, and new stickers continue to appear.

As ever, you can see where I found all these stickers on the Turbulent London Map.


ACAB is a anti-police acronym that is used all over the world. It stands for All Cops Are Bastards. It is possible that this is just an innocent sticker with a picture of a taxi, but I highly doubt it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, King’s Cross Station, 27/02/16).

11-12-18 malet street5

This sticker also uses the ACAB acronym. The #CopsoffCampus hashtag refers to the tendency of universities to call in the police to deal with student protests on campus and in university buildings. Some student activists argue that universities should be police-free spaces. I found this sticker on Malet street, which is lined with buildings belonging to the University of London. There is a high concentration of students in the area, so this reference to student politics here is unsurprising (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 11/12/18).


I took this photo outside Southwark Police Station on Borough High Street. Spaces of authority such as police stations often become spaces of resistance because of their association with power. These protest stickers are a small example of that process (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Borough High Street, 15/07/16).


This sticker has faded, but most of the text is still visible. The faint image in the bottom right corner is a stereotypical police helmet in a red circle with a diagonal line through it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 03/05/16).


This sticker, and the one below, was produced by Netpol, the Network for Police Monitoring. Netpol monitors public order, protest, and street policing and challenges policing that is excessive of discriminatory. Police Liason Officers (PLOs) have become a common sight at protests over the last 5-10 years. They are approachable and chatty, and ostensibly concerned with the welfare of protesters. Another goal of theirs is intelligence gathering, and their friendly manner is meant to encourage protesters to tell them things that they wouldn’t tell ordinary police officers. This sticker is informing people about this covert goal, and encouraging them not to engage with PLOs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 10/01/17).


This sticker is also designed to inform people, this time about their rights when stopped and searched or kettled in a protest. You do not have to give any personal information in these circumstances, but most people don’t know this (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 24/01/17).


Netpol is also involved in the Together Against Prevent campaign, which calls for the end of the Prevent programme. Launched in 2006, Prevent is designed to stop people becoming terrorists, but its critics have accused it of being ineffective at best, and stigmatising and divisive at worst (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Guildford Street, 10/01/17).


A few years ago, a series of protest stickers and advertising posters for bus stops were produced that mimicked the Metropolitan Police’s own style of publicity materials. At first glace, they looked like adverts for the Met, but if you take a second look, their critical stance becomes clear. This sticker is criticising the amount of money spent by the Metropolitan Police on advertising in 2013. Not only that, but it is arguing that the police force is spending that money covering up some of its most systematic problems (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 13/04/15).


Operation Tiberius was an internal investigation into police corruption commissioned by the Metropolitan Police in 2001. Its results were leaked to The Independent in 2014. 42 then serving officers and 19 former officers were investigated for alleged corruption, but the small number of convictions has led some to say that the issue has not been properly dealt with (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/15).

racist met stickers

I didn’t manage to find a complete version of this sticker, but it is referring to the fact that black people are much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. In 2017/8, black people were 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, an increase from 4 times more likely in 2014/15 (Photos: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 15/07/16).

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


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, 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

London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Police

The Metropolitan Police are a common sight across London today, but for a long time their survival was far from garunteed.

The Metropolitan Police are a common sight across London today, but for a long time their survival was far from guaranteed (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

London has the distinction of being home to the oldest professional police force in the world. The Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829 in an attempt to impose order on the chaotic and undisciplined city. Their primary purpose was to deter crime, but they became involved in the policing of protest in 1830. Ironically, the first protest in which the police were involved was an anti-police demonstration on the 28th of October 1830. Demonstrators chanting ‘No New Police’ clashed with the boys in blue at Hyde Park Corner. The British people had long been hostile to the idea of a professional police force, so the Metropolitan Police faced an uphill battle convincing Londoners that they were necessary. Ever since then, the Met has had an uneasy relationship with some Londoners. Radicals have always been particularly critical, especially in regard to the policing and control of protest. Disapproval and mistrust of the Metropolitan Police is reflected in London’s protest stickers.

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

One of the most common ways of expressing anti-police sentiment is with the acronym ACAB

One of the most common ways of expressing anti-police sentiment is with the acronym ACAB, which stands for ‘All Cops/Coppers Are Bastards’. In most cases, the acronym’s meaning is not spelled out, but this sticker is particularly obliging, so it seemed like a good place to start the post (Regent’s Canal Tow Path, 20/05/15).

ACAB crops up frequently, in various fonts and colour schemes. In most circumstances though, you would need to know what the acronym means to understand the sticker's message (King's Cross Station, 27/05/15).

ACAB crops up frequently, in various fonts and colour schemes. In most circumstances though, you would need to know what the acronym means to understand the sticker’s message (King’s Cross Station, 27/05/15).

The text on this sticker is difficult to make out, but it reads 'Kill the cop inside you... and then the fun begins' (Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

The text on this sticker is difficult to make out, but it reads ‘Kill the cop inside you… and then the fun begins’ (Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

The previous two stickers refer to police in general. This sticker refers to the Metropolitan Police specifically, calling it the biggest gang in London (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 12/03/15).

The previous three stickers refer to police in general. This sticker refers to the Metropolitan Police specifically, calling it the biggest gang in London (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 12/03/15).

This sticker is even more specific. (King's Cross, 06/06/15).

This sticker is even more specific. Henry Hicks died after being chased by two unmarked police cars in December 2014. This sticker is calling for support in the campaign to get justice for Henry (King’s Cross, 06/06/15).

This sticker also relates to the Henry Hicks campaign, but contains much less information (Tolpuddle Street, Islington, 20/05/15).

This sticker also relates to the Henry Hicks campaign, but contains much less information (Tolpuddle Street, Islington, 20/05/15).

This sticker also relates to a specific case. Ian Tomlinson famously collapsed and died after being struck by a police officer at the 2009 G-20 protests. AN inquest found that he had been unlawfully killed (Kennington Park Road, 04/06/15).

This sticker also relates to a specific case. Ian Tomlinson famously collapsed and died after being struck by a police officer at the 2009 G-20 protests. An inquest found that he had been unlawfully killed (Kennington Park Road, 04/06/15).

There has been a lot of controversy over the pat few years over the policing of student protest. This sticker refers to a campaign to ban police from university campuses (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

There has been a lot of controversy over the pat few years over the policing of student protest. This sticker refers to a campaign to ban police from university campuses (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

(Senate House, 17/03/15).

I found this sticker close to Senate House, part of the University of London, which suggests it may also be connected to the controversy over student protest. The writing is not easy to make out; it reads ‘Total Policing- Total Nobs.’ (Senate House, 17/03/15).

(Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

Some stickers feature the logos of the groups who produced them. This sticker was made by the 161 Crew, a Polish anti-fascist group (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

(Westminster Bridge, 20/06/15).

This sticker reworks the logo of the Metropolitan Police, filling it with criticisms of the police force, including terrifying, intimidating, abusive and petty (Westminster Bridge, 20/06/15).

Sources and Further Reading

Ascoli, David. The Queen’s Peace: The Origins and Development of the Metropolitan Police 1829-1979. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979.