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.

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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.

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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/

Protest Stickers: Egham 2

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Protest stickers at the main entrance to Royal Holloway, University of London (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 16/11/16).

Around the time I was putting together the first Protest Stickers: Egham blog post, person or persons unknown went on a protest stickering spree on and around the Royal Holloway campus. I can’t know for certain that they were all put up at the same time by the same person (or people), but I suspect that they were. The next time I was back on campus two weeks later, quite a few had been peeled or scratched off, so I think that I just happened to be at Royal Holloway just after they were all put up. All of the photos in this post were taken on one of these two days, the 16th and the 30th of November.  Most of the stickers were anti-fascist, which is a very common topic for protest stickers, and also another reason why I think that they were all put up at the same time.

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This is the only sticker that explicitly mentions a campaign group. Anti-fascist groups often put up stickers when they travel to other places, and it appears that the London Anti-Fascists  are no exception (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Harvest Road, 16/11/16).

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I like the powerful visual imagery of this sticker, which I found at the traffic lights at the top of Egham Hill, close to the Royal Holloway campus (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham Hill, 30/11/16).

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This sticker uses the same image as the last one, but the wording is slightly different (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Harvest Road, 16/11/16).

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My Dad is not a big fan of board games, and whenever we force him to play Monopoly he always sabotages the game by adopting this approach, and refusing to buy anything. I’m pretty certain this sticker isn’t referring to my Dad’s Monopoly style though (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 16/11/16).

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This sticker was located at the main entrance to Royal Holloway, making its message all the more meaningful. Someone took exception to it however, as when I went back two weeks later it had been completely removed (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 16/11/16 and 30/11/16).

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This sticker was on the other side of Royal Holloway’s main entrance. It was also removed by the time I went back, but not quite as effectively. I wonder if it was the same person who scratched both of them off (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 16/11/16 and 30/11/16).

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This sticker is also at the traffic lights at the top of Egham Hill. It has also been scratched away, but because of its location nest to a pedestrian crossing, I am inclined to suspect it was more to do with boredom whilst waiting for the lights to change than a strong opposition to the sticker’s message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham Hill, 30/11/6).

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This is the same sticker, on the road between the traffic lights and Englefield Green, a village even smaller than Egham. It has not been defaced, so the sticker’s message is clear (Photo: Hannah Awcock, St. Jude Road’s, 30/11/16).

 

Protest Stickers: Brighton

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Brighton has a lively street art culture, which reflects the city’s accepting and radical atmosphere. This photo was taken in Trafalgar Street on 24/05/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The city of Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England, has a reputation as one of the UK’s most cosmopolitan, radical, and open cities. I have blogged about protest in Brighton before, as well as the city’s role in the campaign for female suffrage. Brighton must also be home to a large number of sticker-ers, as the streets are covered in stickers of all kinds, including protest stickers. I have already blogged about the stickers I found on one walk down London Road, but I have found some other great stickers elsewhere in the city that I wanted to share.

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After the UK general election in 2015, the South of England became a sea of blue, apart from a small oasis of green (the constituency of Brighton Pavilion) and red (Hove). Thus was born the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove, a group calling for the city’s independence from Britain. They were joking (mostly), but the logo has become a common sight around the city. These stickers were on a post box in Brighton Station, welcoming visitors to the city (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 23/10/15).

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Some protest stickers in Brighton can be found in cities across Britain, like this anti-UKIP sticker that started appearing in the run up to the 2015 General Election. This photo was taken in Kensington Street on 24/05/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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One the other hand, some stickers are unique to Brighton. Reclaim the Night is an annual event that takes place in cities across the country that protests against violence against women (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Queen’s Road, 24/05/15).

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Brighton Hospitality Workers is a campaign unique to the city. It is run by the Brighton branch of the Solidarity Federation, the British Branch of the International Workers Association. They campaign for better working conditions for employees in the hospitality sector, and help individual workers in disputes with employers. This photo was taken on North Street on 24/05/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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A lot of British cities and large towns have an anti-fascist group. Brighton Antifascists has a strong presence amongst the protest stickers in the city. This photo was taken on York Place on 31/12/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The March for England is an annual event organised by the English Defence League, often held in Brighton. I suspect the city is chosen deliberately because the EDL know that they will not be welcomed to the city; the resulting clashes have frequently garnered a lot of publicity. This sticker is old and faded, but I think it was playing on the advertising slogan ‘United Colours of Benetton’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 24/05/15, Jubilee Street).

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Brighton is well known for having a large LGBT community. This sticker is referring to the struggle of this community to win rights, which in many countries is still ongoing. This photo was taken in Queen’s Road on 23/10/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Class War is a common theme in protest stickers, although normally the implication is that it is the working class that are at war. I’m not sure if this sticker is sarcastic, but there has been a lot of debate over the last few years about the ‘squeezing’ of the middle classes, so maybe it is heartfelt. This photo was taken in Kensington Street on 24/05/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I have seen plenty of protest stickers concerned with the environment before, but only in Brighton could you find something like this! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Kensington Street, 24/05/15).

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I have never seen a sticker about digital rights before. EDRi is an association of civil and human rights groups that campaign for human rights in the digital realm. They focus on privacy, surveillance, net neutrality and copyright reform. This photo was taken in Jubilee Street on 24/05/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The Brighton Peace and Environment Centre works to create a more peaceful and sustainable world. The ‘Not in my name’ slogan was popularised during the campaign against the war in Iraq. Social movements frequently reuse and reinvent symbols and catchphrases from previous campaigns. This photo was taken in Bond Street on 31/12/15 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Brighton Odeon- Emily's Photo

This is one of my favourite stickers I have ever found in Brighton. Falling somewhere between protest and art, it criticises modern society for being so wrapped up in the virtual world that we risk missing amazing things happening right in front of us. This sticker was found on the inside of a cubicle door in the ladies toilets at the Odeon cinema (Photo: Emily Awcock).

Book Review: The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks

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The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Harris

Jeanne Theoharis. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013). £16.99.

I buy a lot of books. To the extent that I cannot read books as fast as I buy them. As a result, I have a lot of unread books sitting on my bookshelves. Whenever I finish reading a book I go to my bookcase, look at all the unread books, and see which one takes my fancy to read next. A few weeks ago, it was the turn of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by Jeanne Theoharis. It has been sitting on my shelves since the great book-buying spree of ’15, during my trip to New York two years ago. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get round to reading it- I loved this book.

Theoharis starts this book at the end, with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the funeral of Rosa Parks when she died in 2005. Perhaps one of the best known individuals in American history for her role in kickstarting the civil rights movement, Parks became a legend in her own lifetime. The quiet, soft-spoken seamstress who refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white man in Montgomery, Alabama is well known the world over. However, the legend of Rosa Parks bears only passing resemblance to the real woman. An activist all her life, her decision not to move on that bus was the result of years of anger and frustration at American injustice, not tired feet.

In this thoroughly researched, well-paced book, Theoharis details the life of a woman who was brought up with a sense of pride and her own self-worth, who was willing to stand up and defend herself if she was attacked. Along with others, Parks campaigned for civil rights in Montgomery for decades before her bus protest in 1955. The protest took its toll, leaving Parks, her husband, and her mother economically insecure and dealing with constant threats. In 1957, the family moved to Detroit, where Rosa continued to campaign for civil rights for the next four days. Whilst segregation was not legally enforced in northern US states, Parks saw it as just as pervasive as in the south, and continued to fight in any way she could.

In The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Theoharis looks at the myth of Rosa Parks, considering its purpose and effects, then dismantles it, writing a biography of a life-long activist who was not afraid to ruffle some feathers. Rosa Parks was a fascinating woman who had a fascinating life; she was a great admirer of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and she supported both the civil rights movement and the more antagonistic Black Power movement. Parks threw herself into so many campaigns and activities that her life is like a slice though the struggle for racial equality in mid- and late-twentieth century America.

I think most people are familiar with the myth of Rosa Parks, and know that she was someone special. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks reveals that the reality is much more interesting than the myth.

Radical Voices Exhibition at Senate House

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The Radical Voices Exhibition is at Senate House Library until 31st of March.

Senate House Library is the University of London’s centralised library in Bloomsbury. The library has a small exhibition space which they use to display some of the library’s collections, around which public event series are organised. The current exhibition is on the theme of Radical Voices, so I felt almost obliged to go and check it out.

The exhibition is organised according to different ways in which dissenting opinion has been expressed through history, including posters, badges, poems, cartoons, and pamphlets. The items are displayed in glass cases, with labels detailing a bit of information about each form of communication.

One method of communicating dissent featured in the exhibition which was not illustrated with examples from the library’s collections was blogs. Examples of rebellious blogs were displayed using a large touch screen monitor. I liked this technique, as it did not alter the materiality of the blogs. Despite descending from printed pamphlets, blogs are a digital phenomenon, and displaying them in a more traditional format would have detracted from this.

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The Radical Voices exhibition at Senate House Library (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The exhibition is fairly minimal in its labelling of the objects on display; some labels do not even have a date. If I had been paying more attention, I would have noticed that the free exhibition guide contained more information about each item, but I still think I would have preferred to have more basic information on the label.

The Radical Voices exhibition is small, but it provides an insight into the various ways that radical opinions can be expressed, as well as Senate House Library’s collections. If you’re in the area, and have a spare half an hour, I would definitely recommend a visit.

The People’s History Museum

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The People’s History Museum is housed in an old pump house on the banks of the river Irwell in Manchester (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have been studying the historical geography of protest for the last four years. For most of that time, I have wanted to visit the People’s History Museum. The problem was that I am normally in the south of England, and the museum is in Manchester. Last week, I visited Manchester and finally got to see the museum, and I was not disappointed!

The People’s History Museum started life as a collection of protest-related material belonging to a group of activists in the 1960s. They opened a museum in London in the 1970s, but it struggled financially. In the 1980s, the collection was rescued by Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester authorities, with some help from the TUC. In 1990, the People’s History Museum opened on Princess Street in Manchester, in the same building where the TUC had its first meeting, over one hundred years before. In 1994, the museum opened a second site at its current location—an old pump house on Bridge Street. In 2010, the museum relaunched in a restored and expanded pump house. Now the museum has several permanent galleries, a temporary gallery space, and meeting and conference rooms. It describes itself as “the national museum of democracy,” and receives around 100,000 visitors a year.

The permanent gallery spaces are arranged in a largely chronological order. The zones are colour coded, each colour chosen for its symbolism in radical culture (e.g. red for courage and revolution, blue for loyalty). The galleries are accessible, interactive, child-friendly, and well-paced. There is a nice balance between individuals, groups, and events, and between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary politics. I think it is important to highlight the connections between these elements, as it is all too easy to focus solely on one. Whilst the galleries begin with the Peterloo massacre, a local event, the rest of the museum covers the whole country. The museum presents itself as a national museum, and I think it lives up to that.

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The ‘Reformers’ section of Main Gallery 1. Each section is colour coded according to the symbolism of radical culture. Fittingly, green means reform (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

For me, there were two threads running through the galleries that connected everything together. The first was a series of videos about 5 generations of one family. With each family member, the videos and accompanying text explained what life was like for the individual, what rights and services they were entitled to, and whether or not they could vote. They demonstrated how the conflicts and struggles described in the displays affected people in very real ways, from working conditions to healthcare.

The second unifying thread running through the galleries was the banners. The People’s History Museum has one of the largest collection of protest banners in the country, and they are the only group that specialises in the restoration and preservation of these kinds of banners. There are banners on display in every area of the galleries, from the oldest surviving trade union banner, to a banner protesting the 2012 Bedroom Tax. Some are highly detailed, others were obviously made very quickly, but all are striking. They illustrate that whilst there have been many changes over the past two and a half centuries, there are also a lot of continuities in radical culture. Banners have provided a sense of identity and belonging for radical groups for decades.

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Some of the magnificent banners on display in the museum. The are spread throughout the gallery spaces, but banners do have their own devoted section in Main Gallery 2 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The museum has an open approach to curation which I like. The plaques describing items often explain how the items came into the museum’s collection. Many items were donated by activists or their descendants, and there can sometimes be a disconnect between the received history of an event and the stories that are attached to particular items and passed down through generations. All museums have to make decisions about the authenticity of the items in their collections, but most cover up this process. The People’s History Museum does not, asking the visitor to reflect on such issues—would you trust the descendants of a protester over historians? I liked this honesty, and appreciated the way it engaged visitors in the ongoing debate about how best to represent history.

The People’s History Museum is well worth a visit, even if protest is not something that particularly interests you. It is a museum of social history as well as radical history, and as I look back on 2016 it is a much-needed reminder that many of the rights and privileges we take for granted today had to be fought for, tooth and nail, by earlier generations. If we are not willing to fight, just as fiercely, to protect them, we will lose them.

 

Book Review: Attack on London- Disaster, Rebellion, Riot, Terror and War

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Attack on London by Jonathan Oates

Jonathan Oates. Attack on London: Disaster, Rebellion, Riot, Terror and War. Barnsley: Wharncliffe Local History, 2009. £19.99.

Out of all the high street chains of bookstores, I have a particular fondness for The Works. If you’ve never come across one before, it’s a sort of outlet store for books and stationary, and I can rarely resist having a browse when I walk past one. I have found numerous bargains in there over the years, including Attack on London by Jonathan Oates.

Dr. Jonathan Oates is the Ealing Borough Archivist and Local History Librarian, but he has also published numerous books on London’s history, particularly its more criminal elements. In Attack on London Oates, inspired by the 7/7 bombings, traces how Londoners have reacted to tragedy, shock, and trauma. Starting with the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, Oates documents some of the most severe hardships faced by London, including the Great Plague (1665-1666), the Gordon Riots (1780), the Clerkenwell Outrage (1867), Bloody Sunday (1887), aerial bombing during both World Wars, IRA bombings during the 1970s, and the 7/7 bombings in 2005. Oates concludes by arguing that such dramatic events bring out both the best and the worst of Londoners; there has been resilience, bravery, and unity, but also looting and xenophobia.

If you are familiar with London’s history, then there probably isn’t much in Attack on London that will be new to you, although I was surprised to learn about the extent of aerial bombing on the capital during the First World War. However, the way the which Londoners reacted to these well-known events is a new angle, which brings together disparate events such as riot, war, disease, and fire in an interesting way. Oates’ referencing style is not very detailed, so it is difficult to identify the exact sources of his work, but it seems to be a well-researched book.

There are some elements of Attack on London that feel a little ‘amateur’. For example, each chapter ends with a conclusion identified as such with a subheading. This feels a little out of place in a history book aimed at a popular audience. Also, one of the photos reproduced in the book, of a plaque commemorating the deaths of 77 people in an air raid bombing in Southwark in October 1940, is blurry. I know I’m being picky, but little things like these combine to give a general impression of not-quite-finishedness that could have been so easily avoided. In addition, the book commits one of my biggest personal faux pas; putting all of the images on a few glossy pages in the middle of the book, and not referring to them in the main text. I know that lots of books have their images arranged in such a way, I guess it is an effective or cost-efficient way of illustrating books. I can understand that, although I would prefer to have the images close to the relevant text. However, when the author does not refer to the images in the text, then they become almost pointless, as they do not serve to back up or illustrate a particular point. Attack on London is by no means the only book that does this, but it winds me up nonetheless.

Because I found Attack on London in a bargain bookshop, it cost me quite a bit less than the £19.99 recommended retail price, which is a bit steep, in my opinion, for what you get. Nevertheless, it is an easy-to-read, engaging reflection on the best and the worst facets of Londoners.

 

London’s Protest Stickers: Stickers to Live By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolutions without Borders Front Cover

Revolutions without Borders by Janet Polansky.

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

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

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

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

(Polansky, 2015; p. 3)

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

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

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

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

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