Saturday, 9 December 2017

Campaigning for Votes for Women in Croydon

2018 sees the 100th Anniversary of women over 30 
getting the vote and the right of women to stand as MP.

There will events to celebrate this success of the pre-war suffragette campaigning in Croydon and elsewhere  across the country.

Because there did not appear to be be a published study of Croydon’s suffragettes, the Croydon Radical History Network published a note in April 2015..

There are two dissertations which can be read in Croydon’s Local Studies (CLS).

·    Anne Stonebank. Suffrage and the Women of Croydon: 1907-1914. Harbouring Hopes; The Struggle for Women’s Freedom. (BA Dissertation. University of Greenwich. CLS: S70(324)STO)
·    Ruth Margaret Davidson. Approach to Social Action: Public Women in Croydon 1900-1914. (MA Dissertation. September 2003 (CLS S70(3240DAV)

In addition to these dissertations a framework can be built from a number of accessible books and web resources which allows the start of in-depth research.

·    Lee Webster’s article The Croydon women who laid down their lives for equality on Inside Croydon on 3 June 2013.
·    Elizabeth Crawford’s The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928; & The Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey. (Routledge. 2013)
·    Antoinette M. Burton’s Burdens of HistoryBritish Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865-1915. (Univ of North Carolina Press. 199???) & Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India. (Oxford University Press 2003) – latter re Bonerjee
·    Laurie Magnus’s The Jubilee Book of the Girls' Public Day School Trust 1873–1923. (Cambridge University Press. 2014) – re Neligan
·    Kate Luard’s Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. (The History Press. 2014) – re-Neligan. 
·    Joy Bounds’s A Song of Their Own: The Fight For Votes For Women in Ipswich (The History Press. 2014) – miscellaneous
·    Sandra Stanley Holton’s Feminism and Democracy: Women's Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900-1918 (Cambridge University Press. 2003)
·    Cherly Law’s Suffrage and Power: The Women's Movement 1918-1928. I.B.Tauris. 1997.

 Suffrage Organisations

·    Croydon WPSU branch. Formed 1906. It had a shop at 50 High St. Its Secretary was Miss D. Arter. The Secretary in 1913 was Mrs Cameron Swan. The WPSU office was raided by the police on 30 June 1914. 
·    Croydon Actresses Franchise League branch.
·    Croydon Women’s Freedom League branch
·    Anerley Womens Freedom League branch. 1913 Secretary Miss J Fennings.
·    Purley NUWSS. Formed January 1912. 40 members enrolled. Joint Secretaries: Miss Wallis and Miss Brailsford.
·    Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association branch 1913. Secretary Miss Edith Moor (Glan Aber)
·    South Norwood Suffrage Society.


·     Miss D. Arter, ‘Melrose’, 38 Blenheim Park Rd. First Secretary Croydon WPSU 1906.
·     Florence Baxter of South Croydon photographed campaigner Vera Wentworth
·     Annie S Biggs. She wrote My Life and Why I am a Suffragette in Croydon Citizen 1907
·     Miss Brailsford. Highwood, Peaks Hill. Joint Secretary Purley NUWSS.
·     Mrs Dempsey – member of the Women’s Freedom League who was imprisoned.
·     Miss Lottie Denham presided at South Norwood Suffrage Society meeting April 1913.
·    Miss J Fennings, 149 Croydon Rd, Anerley: Secretary, Anerley Womens Freedom League branch 1913.
·    Kattie Gliddon was member of the Croydon WPSU in 1910 and 1911. Her papers include press cuttings are held at the Women’s Library at London School of Economics (Cat: GB 106 7KGG/4/3 & 4)
·    Marion Holmes – see below.
·    Miss James, tax resister – see under Dorinda Neligan below.
·    Mrs Leeds and her husband - members of the central committee of the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She became honorary secretary of the Union of Practical Suffragists (1888-9) They lived at Tower House, Birdhurst Rd, Croydon.
·    Mrs William T Malleson, and daughters Alice and Catherine. Unitarians, Alice member of Kensington Society 1865, lived at Duppas Hill.
·    Miss Miller. There is a newspaper photo of her talking of Rev. Penman of Thornton Heath, under the title The Persuasive Suffragette. (CLS. Well Known Residents. S70(929)WEL. p. 54).
·   Miss Edith Moor. Glan Aber. Secretary Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association branch 1913.
·    Dorinda Neligan – see below.
·    Mary Pearson - member of the Women’s Freedom League who was were imprisoned.
·    Miss Dorothy Simmons, B. A., Secretary Croydon WPSU 1907. 5 Heathfield Rd.
·    Helen and Margaret Smith, imprisoned following February 1907 deputation to the Commons. One of these may also be referred to as Miss E. Smith of Norbury in Croydon Times, 20 February 1907 – see below).
·    Polly Smith. Wife of local builder J. A. Smith, on 13 March 1912 she was involved in smashing shop windows in the West End when 119 were arrested. She had 4 children, the youngest being 8 years old. While she refused to pay the fine it was paid for her, she was bound over and released. The hammer belonging to her husband which she had borrowed had been confiscated by the police. (John Bailey-Smith. A Local Suffragette. Bourne Society Bulletin. No. 181. August 2000).
·    Rev Rudolph Suffield. Unitarian Minister Croydon 1870-77. Member National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1883/4.
·    Mrs Cameron Swan, 79 Mayfield Rd, Sanderstead. She worked from Croydon WPSU offices at 2 Station Buildings, West Croydon. In March and April 1912 she was in Australia touring and lecturing. 
·    Mrs Terry, 6 Morland Ave, Secretary Croydon WFL.
·    Miss Wallis, Birkdale, Foxley Lane. Joint Secretary Purley NUWSS.

Dorinda Neligan (1833-1914) 

She was Irish, educated at the Sorbonne and served with the British Red Cross in the Franco-Prussian War. She was headmistress of Croydon High School (1874-1901). She supported the Women’s Emancipation Union in 1894, the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1900, the WPSU 1909, and later WFL and Church League for Women’s Suffrage, and was patroness of the Actresses’ Franchise League. She was arrested on 29 June 1909 for being part of the deputation to Prime Minister Asquith from Caxton Hall, On 18 November 1910 she was a member of the deputation to the House of Commons. As a supporter of the Tax Resistance League her goods were restrained and sold in April 1912. Along with those of Miss James at Messrs. King and Everall’s Auction Rooms, Croydon; a simultaneous protest meeting being addressed by Mrs. Kineton Parkes. 

In 1913 she lived at Oakwood House, Croydon. Her sister was on the Committee of the Croydon branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. One of her pupils was Janaki Bonnerjee who wrote her family history including a chapter about Neligan. Another pupil at the school was Mrs Elsa Gye (1881-1943) a musician who devoted herself to the suffrage cause. 

Marion Holmes (née Milner, 1867-1943)  

Born in Leeds and grew up near Barnsley. From age ten the family lived in Nottinghamshire where she married aged 21, having two daughters. Having moved to Margate she set up the local Pioneer Society; then moved to Croydon. She was President of the Croydon Women’s Social & Political Union. Christabel Pankhurst came to the meeting to celebrate her release from prison on 5 March 1907. She was opposed to the Women’s Co-operative Guild’s adult suffrage initiative introduced into the Commons in 1907: ‘“Half a loaf is better than no bread.” The women of this country are in the position of political starvation at the present time.’ After the split in the WPSU she joined the Women’s Freedom League, and became a National Executive member and co-editor of The Vote newspaper. She wrote two plays: A Child of the Mutiny and Brass and Clay. As a freelance journalist she was active in the Society for Women Journalists. She also published biographical sketches of sketches of people like Josephine Butler, Florence Nightingale, and Elizabeth Fry and wrote ABC of Votes for Women (1910 and 1913). She was the first female election agent in the Parliamentary election in Keighley in April 1918. ‘For Marion Holmes the history of antislavery made the whole question votes for women cut and dried. “In a word, the difference between the voter and the non-voter is the difference between bondage and freedom.”’ The Museum of London has a postcard of her. 


·    1907 – Croydon WPSU members Marion Holmes, and Helen and Margaret Smith imprisoned for taking part in deputation to the Commons in February.
·    1909 - Suffragette week Croydon High St – see photo Suffragette on Croydon on Line website.
·    1909 - Muriel Matters, an Australian and actress who chained herself to the grille of the Ladies’ Gallery in the House of Commons in 1908, scattered Votes for Women leaflets over London from an airship landing in a tree in Coulsdon.
·    AFL Croydon met at Pembroke Hall on 11 November 1909.
·    1910 - Bertha Mason was a visiting speaker at the Croydon branch of the NUWSS giving an illustrated lecture on the movement’s forerunners.
·    Croydon WPSU published Arncliffe-Sennett’s An Englishwomen’s Home. (1910)
·    1911 -Croydon Women’s Social and Political Union theatre event. Israel Zangwill’s Prologue performed by the AFL at the Lyceum in 1911.
·    1912 - another visiting speaker to the Croydon WPSU Mary Dawes Thompson had her lecture published as a WPSU pamphlet Adam and Eve.
·    Women’ Freedom League meeting with Mrs Despard (Croydon Times. 2 April 1913)
·     South Norwood Suffrage Society meeting 141 Portland Rd. Miss Lottie Denham presided. Speaker Mrs Terry on ‘The vote and why we want it.’ (ditto)

Leonara Tyson 

She and her mother Helen joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU.) in 1908. In February 1908 they were both arrested while taking part in a deputation to the House of Commons. From February 1910, Leonora was the Honorary Secretary of the Lambeth branch of the WSPU, and subsequently transferred to the Streatham branch. From 8 March to 8 May 1912 she was imprisoned in Holloway for her part in the W.S.P.U. window-smashing campaign. In 1959 she lived in Purley. Her story is told in Anne Ward’s No Stone Unturned: The Story of Leonora Tyson a Streatham Suffragette ( 2005). Apart from biographical notes about Marion Holmes there is no mention of Croydon on the ‘How the Vote was Won’ website: 

Mary Sophia Allen (1878-1964)

Although not a resident of Croydon when she was a suffragette Mary Allen was imprisoned for her activities three times. In 1914 she pioneered the first female police force, recruiting and training hundreds of women. Later she became Chief Women's Officer of the British Union of Fascists. She died penniless in a Croydon nursing home. (Nina Boyd. From Suffragette to Fascist: The Many Lives of Mary Sophia Allen. (The History Press. 2013)  

Barbara Duncan Harris, 1881-1959 

Quaker and feminist. NUWSS Organising Secretary for the Hampshire, East Sussex and Surrey County Federation. Initiated the Infant Welfare Movement in Croydon. Chair British Section Women’s International League between the World Wars. First Labour woman councillor in Surrey County Borough. (Ruth Davidson (Royal Holloway, University of London). Barbara Duncan Harris Pioneer, Fighting Spirit in Abstracts for the Aftermath of Suffrage Conference. An International Conference, Friday 24th and Saturday 25th June, 2011. Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield)

Women’s Activism 1914-1939 

The story of women’s civil activism from 1914 is by Ruth Davidson in Citizens at last. Women’s Political Culture and Civil Society, Croydon and East Surrey. 1914-1939. (PhD. Royal Holloway. July 2010. CLS S70(324)DAV.) 

Local Newspapers

The local newspapers are a rich source of advertisements and reports of suffragette meetings in Croydon, letters, and the speeches at other organisations meetings. These can be looked at in the Croydon Local Studies room in the Clocktower. There will also be material at the Women's Library at LSE.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Were 18thC Africans in Britain ‘Georgians’?


Elizabeth Dido Belle, George Bridgetower,  Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cugoano, Joseph Emidy and  Bill Richmond are among the best known  Africans who came to Britain from the West Indies, the North American Colonies, and  other parts of Europe in the 18th Century. There were many others who were servants, seamen and  soldiers, like William Fifefield in Newcastle. In 2016 Black Cultural Archives put on the exhibition ‘Black Georgians: The Shock of the Familiar’  at  Black Cultural Archives, curated by S. I. (Steve) Martin, the black historian and creative writer. This led me to organise and  chair a roundtable discussion to examine aspects of our understanding of ‘Black Georgians’ in Britain, at the Annual Conference of the British Society for  18thC Studies at Oxford in January 2017.

What follows are key points made in the presentations by members of the panel Judith Bryan (Roehampton University), Brycchan Carey (Northumbria University), Kathleen Chater  (Independent historian), Ryan Hanley (New College, Oxford), and Arthur Torrington (The Equiano Society), based on their  introductory remarks and the discussion that followed.

What do we mean by Georgians?

 Brycchan started by discussing the term ‘Black Georgian’. The word ‘Georgian’ was not used at the time. It is the creation of Victorian historians. Nor has it been widely used by historians of the 18thC and the early modern period. Literary scholars term the period as Augustine and Romantic. The term is used mainly in relation to architecture, art and design, and includes ‘Regency’. It is specifically used in relation to Royal History.

The concept is complex  especially when applied to other parts of the Empire, like to the American colonists. It implies they were subjects of the King Georges. Slaves were not subjects but legally chattel, they were property with no rights or responsibilities. They were ‘legal prisoners of war’. If they were emancipated they became subjects of the King Georges.

Ignatius Sancho was a ‘Georgian’ who lived with aristocrats and had a room at Windsor Castle. Equiano served in the Royal Navy. How willingly did they identify with ‘Georgian’ Britain? Sancho was patriotic but also African. Describing Africans as ‘Georgians’ is therefore problematic. But is is a fruitful way to open discussion about allegiances and identities and about slavery.

There is a great emphasis on what Kath Chater described as  ‘the usual subjects’ i.e. Equiano and Sancho. It is easy to create an image that is not typical of the experience of most Africans in British in the ‘Georgian’ period. Her database has up to 5,000 Africans back to Tudor times. Most experienced life in Britain as did white people, living ordinary lives. The ‘Black Georgian experience is based on the writings of a few like Equiano and Sancho.  There are problems with the use of the word ‘black’ in the 18th and early 19thCs. as it was used to describe Africans, Indians and whites with dark complexions.

As  a novelist Judith Bryan  is  interested in the 18th and 19thCs, when there were an estimated 15,000 Africans in Britain, whose presence has been overlooked. Africans who wrote their histories have been constructed as heroes and protagonists. Bu they were fully human with ordinary but rich lives. Mary Prince asserts her rights over her own body, and resists her employer trying to take control of her body. In her Court evidence she clearly made sexual choices. Vincent Caretta suggests that Equiano came from South Carolina not Africa. By bringing the African experience from the margins to the centre in his Narrative Equiano manipulates his readers for his own purposes . Writings like his are a starting point for thinking about the lives of other Africans. Using historical fiction allows contemporary authors to explore experiences, attitudes and beliefs at the time .

Problems with ‘Black British History’

There was also discussion about ‘British Black History’. RH  spoke briefly about the development of black British history as an academic sub-discipline, beginning with the rise of labour history, the Sheffield School (migration studies), through the History Workshop movement, the 'New Imperial History’, and into more recent developments such as intersectional studies into the queer and non-binary black experience. He raised a number of questions as to the traditional association between black history and working-class history Is the history of black people in C18th Britain necessarily a working-class history? If so, then what about figures like Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho? As with gender history, scholars are increasingly incorporating black history and literature into broad-ranging, general courses.

I emphasised the need to account for a plurality of black experiences in the Georgian period. I supported Arthur’s point that much of the momentum and best quality research has come from outside academia, and that those of us working in universities need to catch up and work to develop partnerships.

 that it had been deeply influenced by the left and Marxists. It has its own special history month. It is a sub-division of ‘history from below’ movement (e.g. History Workshop).  A new imperial history emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.  Catherine Hall for example looked at information on the effect of the colonies on the metropolis. It is clear that the Black experience was migratory. The weakness of British Black History is that it collapses a broad range of very diverse every day experiences into something homogenous but actually diverse. There is a tendency to lump the celebrities into an artificial  category of ‘Black Intellectuals’. Is this a coherent category? Is there anything about them that goes beyond being ‘Black’? Marcus Redicker’s ideas re-race and class among the trans-Atlantic proletariat are relevant in this respect. Can we think about that linking slaves and textile workers in Manchester? There are new directions in Black British studies, including an emphasis on race and class identify and on sexuality. Should these be part of normal rather than special research? 

The work of the Equiano Society

Arthur Torrington discussed the importance of the work of the Equiano Society.   Sam King and he set up The Equiano Society (TES)  in 1996 as a community organisation that has publicised the life and times of Olaudah Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa, the African) because the latter was known to university lecturers, but not widely known to the public.  TES has since organised events in London to inform people in communities about Equiano, and the first at St Martins in the Field, Trafalgar Square (in March 1997) to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his death. TES led the lobby for him to be included in the national curriculum and this materialised in 2008, but he was taken out by Michael Gove MP in 2010 when the Conservative Government was in power.  Major events included an exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 2007 after TES and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery received £653,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A plaque (the first for a Black Briton) was unveiled for Equiano at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey on 9th February 2009, to mark the 250th anniversary year of his baptism in St Margaret’s.  Community events have been the major force in raising awareness of Black British history, and the past 20 years have seen a new interest in the subject.

Why do Africans seem to disappear in the 19thC?

This question is often asked at talks to local groups. The discussion focussed in the fact that there was Intermarriage between Africans and British white men and women.  Francis Barber is one example, of an African who married a white woman and had children.  Resident plantation owners often had children with slave women, and send their children to Britain. Nathaniel Wells inherited his white father’s estate and became a prominent figure . Many of the well-known Black figures in the 19th and early 20thCs were their sons, daughters and grand children. This is true of ‘ordinary’ families as well. The children and grandchildren became absorbed into the general population and as had been shown in David Olusoga’s BBC TV programme. How does mixed heritage relate to both white and black history.

Kathy Chater emphasised that they also disappear as of having African heritage because the records did not normally highlight ethnicity. While place of birth was always in the Census, ethnicity was not added until 1991. Sometime parish records up to the end of the 18th record where some Africans came from, or noted their colour, and used words ‘like ‘negro’. ‘Blackness’ was rarely recorded in the Settlement records kept to register who was eligible in receive poor law support in the parish they lived in. This makes it difficult to reconstruct the lives and ancestries of people.

Were the Sons of Africa a network?

There was a difference of opinion about the nature of the Sons of Africa, who included Equiano, and who wrote letters against the slave trade. It can be seen as a pressure group, a network, a lobby group, but not an organised or structured group. The Sons were well connected and therefore had some influence. It is clear that Africans met to socialise, to share information and to engage politically. There are 18thC press reports about Africans meeting at social events, and this was treated with a degree of fear. London was a typical in that because there were a larger number of Africans living or passing through it was possible to come together more easily. Less easy in the provinces where Africans were more thinly dispersed. Even in London it is not clear whether Equiano and Sancho met. Robert Wedderburn and William Davidson would have met but this would have been through the Spencean Philantropists.

It was hoped that the issues raised would be further explored by those present through their work on British Black studies, whether from a historical, genealogical, or literary perspective.  

An afterthought from Ryan Hanley

‘Something I wanted to say but didn’t get around to is to suggest that there is such a thing as specialist research skills for black history (especially when looking for lesser-known individuals) and it would be good to incorporate these into university syllabi, perhaps through the publication of a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and community historians.’

After thoughts from Sean Creighton

Arthur’s stress on the role of community based historians and activists in progressing Black History was an important reminder of the need for academics to pay more attention to what is happening and to forger partnerships. Brychann endorsed this and is one of those who is active in doing this. In another session Matthew Grenby recognised the need for those links. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership project is a good example of collaboration.

From my perspective this co-operation should include:

1.    Inviting alumni involved in history work to speak to undergraduates and postgraduates at the Universities they attended
2.    Linking with community historians in the area where a University exists so that a local/regional dimension is added in to course content

But it also requires academics in the same University or regional group to link together across different departments.   There is such a network in the North East  but as yet it does not seem to draw speakers from community historians.

The handout at the roundtable included the following thoughts from Judith Bryan.

‘An estimated 15,000 Africans lived and worked in Britain during the Georgian period, yet institutional, scholarly and popular representations frequently overlook or marginalise this presence, for example the recent British Library exhibition Georgians Revealed (dubbed by Miranda Kaufman, ‘Georgians Unrevealed’). Fictional representations play an important role in shaping popular knowledge because stories may be used to carry history. African writers in Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth century self-consciously exploit the power of story-telling. In recounting their travels, adventures, relationships, successes and failures, Equiano and Seacole construct themselves as heroes in their narrative, authoring their lives whilst chronicling their times. Conversely, Wedderburn critiques the status quo by unapologetically presenting himself as an anti-hero. Sancho asserts himself as a sentimental man of letters, a family man, a gentleman. Prince takes ownership of her body and destiny, refuting the assumed passivity of enslaved Africans. The literary productions of these black Georgians bring the African experience from the margins to the centre, and in doing so offer a starting point and a template for contemporary writers. Events such as the arrival in Britain of African veterans of the American Revolution and their dependants; the Sierra Leone resettlement scheme; the Cato St conspiracy; and the sustained engagement of British-based Africans in abolitionist campaigns have parallels with current concerns, for example around migration, labour rights, state violence against African heritage people in the diaspora, the challenge of obtaining justice for poor or marginalised people, the effects of capitalism and globalisation on lives of ordinary people, and so on. Fiction, as a form of historical reconstruction, makes it possible to bring the long eighteenth century into new and thrilling focus, and to maintain its enduring relevance.’

Judith Bryan lectures in Creative Writing at University of Roehampton. Her novel Bernard and The Cloth Monkey (HarperCollins 1998) won the 1997 Saga Prize. Her most recent publications are short story ‘Randall & Sons’ in Closure, (Peepal Tree 2015); and a chapter in Challenging History in the Museum, (Ashgate 2014). At the time of the roundtable she was working on a novel God of Thunder, an historical fantasy, masquerading as non fiction about the catastrophic disruption of history occasioned by transatlantic slavery. Further details about Judith and her work can be seen at

Brycchan Carey is a Professor of English at Northumbria University whose publications include British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility (Palgrave, 2005) and From Peace to Freedom: Quaker Rhetoric and the Birth of American Antislavery (Yale, 2012). His book Unnatural Empire: Slavery, Abolition, and Colonial Natural History, 1650–1840, is being published by Yale in 2018.  He is working on an essay collection co-edited with Tom Krise and Nicole Aljoe on Early Caribbean Literary Histories, to be published by Palgrave, and an edition of Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative in the Oxford University Press World’s Classics series. His content rich website is at

Kathleen Chater is an independent scholar.  She worked for the BBC until 1994, when she left and became a self-employed tutor in research techniques for the media and for family and local history.  She had also written books and articles on history and genealogy and researched several exhibitions on the black presence in Newham and one in Enfield.  Her doctoral thesis is published as Untold Histories: Black people in England and Wales during the British slave trade c. 1660-1807 (Manchester University Press, 2009). Her 2011 talk ‘Untold histories’ at The National Archives can be listened to as a podcast at

Ryan Hanley is is Salvesen Junior Fellow in History at New College, Oxford. In 2015 he was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s Alexander Prize for his article on James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, the first black author published in Britain. He is currently working on a monograph on black writing in Britain, 1770-1830. Further details about Ryan and his publications can be seen at

Arthur Torrington CBE is a community advocate, co-founder (with the late Sam B. King MBE) and Secretary of The Equiano Society, established in 1996 in London.   The organisation keeps alive Equiano’s story, and also publicises the heritage of other African and Caribbean people who settled in the UK over the centuries.  The Equiano Society website is at

Should a follow-up session be held at BSECS in January 2018?

I has been suggested that there should be a follow-up session on 18thC Black British History in the BSECS Annual Conference next January. If so should it focus around:
(1)    showing how the black population was all over the country
(2)    lesser known individuals especially outside London
(3)    the role of black soldiers and sailors
(4)    the contrasts of experience: Nathaniel Wells at the top of society and the black poor and the lives of black prostitutes

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The importance of knowing about Labour history

A few months ago I was asked if I would facilitate some sessions on the history of the Labour Party as part of the political education activity in a Constituency Labour Party. Unfortunately with the turmoil in the Party in the period heading up to the General Election these sessions were put on hold, and may be activated later.
The thinking behind the sessions was that with so many new members of the Party, there is not much knowledge or understanding about the history of the Party. Indeed longer term members also do not know much about it.

This is nothing new. When I joined Battersea Labour Party in the early 1970s there was little knowledge of even its own history, and we used the 50th Anniversary of the General Strike in 1976 to kick-start work on the history of the Party and the labour movement, which I have continued to work on since. That early work also linked in with initiatives within the wider Labour Party in London, and through Labour Heritage, the affiliated history group which concentrates on Party history within the wider movement, and of which I was Secretary for a couple of years in the early 2000s.

The Party was luke warm about commemorating the 2006 Anniversary of its adopting the name Labour Party having been the Labour Representation Committee formed in 1900. in 2006. This was because It was now controlled by New Labour, which had no understanding of Party history or if it did not want members to know too much about it. New Labour was in the midst of changing the nature of the Party trying to turn it into a different kind of organisation than it had been in the past. It introduced a form of ‘democratic centralism’ with the emphasis on dictat and control from the top, in which the collective voice of the membership was kicked into the side lines.

I have just rediscovered the text of a talk I gave at the West London West London Labour History Day School in October 2002 in which I reflected on New Labour and history.

I suggested that there was a fundamental contradiction at the heart of New Labour.

·       On the one hand it wanted citizens to be actively involved in the decisions that affect them in the neighbourhoods, local authorities and regions in which they live. This was central to the Government’s Urban White Paper, Neighbourhood Renewal, regeneration and social inclusion strategies.

·       On the other hand it had disempowered its own members, and belittled the historic achievements of labour movement and Party activists – Old Labour as it calls them.
The legacy of the labour movement in its widest sense from the 18th Century was the creation of collective organisations through which the social injustices of capitalism could be challenged and through which support services could be provided when workers and their families needed it: the benefits and medical services provided by the friendly societies and trade unions, unadulterated food and other goods at fair prices through the retail co-operatives, home ownership along with which increasingly went the vote through building societies, social and leisure activities through the working men’s and miners’ welfare clubs, education activities through the co-operative societies, trade unions and then through the Workers’ Educational association which would celebrate its 100th Anniversary in January 2003.

At the political level a range of organisations fought for the extension of the vote to include men and later women. The organised labour movement broke through into Parliament in 1892 and then in local government, and campaigned and when in power developed public services. And while there were disagreements over strategy and tactics, there was a vision to achieve social justice and equal opportunities as a minimum and the overthrow or transformation of capitalism into socialism as a maximum.

Without this legacy there would have been no Labour Government in 1945 with its breakthrough in the development of public services, especially the Health Service. While public services were never perfect, they began to be damaged when Labour took a wrong turn in 1976 with the deal with the International Monetary Fund, culminating in the Winter of Discontent, and laying the foundations for the Thatcherite attack on the organised labour movement and its legacy and its attempt to destroy support for socialism in the UK.  At the heart of that attack was the roll-back of the New Unionist agenda of the late 1880s and early 1890s based on fair wages, direct labour and municipally controlled services.

When New Labour gained power in 1997 it inherited a legacy of tremendous damage not just to services and employment, but to thousands of communities, and more importantly to millions of people who had been thrown by Thatcherism onto the scrap heap with public services crumbling around them.

The New Labour Government recognised that it would take 15-20 years to reverse the damage. It wants to mobilise people, but it continues to marginalise the very organisations that gave it birth, the trade unions, in some cases to vilify them, and to hamstring its own members. It blundered to confrontation with the Fire Brigades Union because of its failure to address fundamental issues of pay and conditions of public sector workers that are not as simple as take-home pay and overtime, but housing and transport costs. The problem of the cost of public service workers has been an Achilles Heel in the relationship between the public sector trade unions and labour movement controlled local authorities since the 1890s.
The labour movement from the 19th Century and Labour Party political support in the 20th Century were built from below. It is precisely why remembering and celebrating that past history, warts and all, is important.

I went on to argue that If we wanted the fundamental changes needed went on to argue that ions ofmne the workers has been an Acholles Heel in the relationship between the public sector we need to re-build the faith of ordinary people that their collective voice and action can have an effect. The history of the Labour movement and Party shows that this was done in the past. 
As older forms of working-class and labour movement associations like friendly societies have withered, there has been a mushrooming of new forms of collective organisation especially the diverse range of community organisations and social enterprises. Instead of seeing them as a threat Labour Councillors should see them as allies, moulded in the same tradition out of which the labour movement and the Party itself grew: collective action to address poverty and what we now call social exclusion, to obtain social and economic justice and create a fairer society.

New Labour promoted mutualism, including new forms. Stephen Yeo, an active campaigner and former head of Ruskin College, was writing at the time about Labour’s roots in the working class associational culture of the 18th and 19th Centuries. He talked about New Labour, Old Labour and Old, Old Labour. I referred to my discussion paper ‘Mutuality and Radical Politics’ in which I reviewed mutuality and its relationship to politics at the time.


Labour Heritage

It continues to be active with annual West London and Essex Day Schools, the Annual General Meeting talks and its Bulletin. The Bulletin is an excellent and easy to read source on a wide range of aspects of Labour Party history inc. biographical sketches of activists. It contains the following pieces by me:

·       The summary of my 2002 talk above:

·       Battersea Women’s Socialist Circle 1908-10

·       Workers Educational Association in West London (summary)

·       Preparing to Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Renaming of the Labour Party (1906)

·       Labour in Holborn in the 1930s and 1940s

Mutuality & Radical Politics

In May 2002 I took part in a Day School run by Independent Labour Publications speaking about Mutuality and Radical Politics. It can be read at

Co-operative, Mutual and Social Action in Battersea and Lambeth

My pamphlets:

From Exclusion to Political Control. Radical and Working Class Organisation in Battersea 1830s-1918
Organising Together in Lambeth. A Historical Review of Co-operative and Mutual Social Action
are available from me at
 and-radical-politics/nd 1940srun by Independent Labour Publications speaking about Mutuality and Radical Politics.
Workers' Educational Association

Sections of my essay Battersea and the Formation of the Workers' Eductaional Association in  A Ministry of Enthusiasm: Centenary Essays on the Workers' Educational Association. ed. Stephen K. Roberts (Pluto Press 2003) . 

can be seen on Google Books.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Thomas Spence, Land Nationalisation and the Housing Crisis

On Saturday 29 July Malcolm Chase gave an incisive lecture on the life and ideas of Thomas Spence and land nationalisation for the Socialist History Society. 

He stressed that on land issues  Spence had more influence on Chartism than Thomas Paine, and on Chartist supporters like Thomas E. Bowkett who initiated the Bowkett building society movement, about  which Stan Newens wrote in History Workshop Journal (No 9. Spring 1980), an article well worth reading.

Discussion included the question of whether Spence's ideas remain relevant today. There was a consensus that the issue of land ownership was a major problem at the root of the current housing crisis.  I suggested that his ideas on building a democratic Britain up from the parishes remained an inspiration to thinking about the need for major reform in governance.

You can read what Malcolm has already published about Spence “The Real rights of Man”: Thomas Spence, Paine and Chartism in Miranda revue

which he gave at a 2014 Conférence on Spence in Toulouse.

He also wrote the book about Spence and his followers the Spencean  Philantropists in The People’s Farm. English Radical Agrarianism 1775-1840, originally published in 1988 and republished in 2010 by Breviary Stuff Publications.

Breviary is also publisher of the collection of essays Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary, edited by Alastair Bonnett & Keith Armstrong.

Keith Armstrong is a leading member of the Thomas Spence Society.

Duncan Bowie on housing and planning

One of the people attending Malcom's lecture was Duncan Bowie, who teaches spatial planning and housing  at the University of Westminster. He  writes about housing and planning matters in The Chartist magazine. The first 50 of his  historical articles in it have been republished in a collection by the Socialist History Society Our History. Roots of the British Socialist Movement

His writings include:

·       Glistening towers can beguile but won't provide the homes London most needs

·       The issues illustrated by the Grenfell fire disaster

·       Revisiting the land issue 

         in Urban Regeneration and Renewal.  Vol  9. 2016. No.2. pp. 1115-121

His book Radical solutions to the housing supply crisis can be ordered at

He is involved in the Highbury Group on Housing Delivery, the extensive literature of which can be accessed at

The Radical and Socialist Tradition in British Planning

This is the title of his book on the history of planning and land nationalisation published by Routledge

 and of his linked website

Land Nationalisation Society

Among the campaign groups at the end of the 19th and into the early 20thC were the Land Nationalisation Society whose President Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of evolution, was President and writer in defence of the campaign - see his Land Nationalisation. Its Necessity and Its Aims Being a Comparison of the System of Landlord and Tenant with That of Occupying Ownership in Their Influence on the Well-being of the People 

Land Value Tax 

Another organisation was the English League for the Taxation of Land Values 

Duncan has penned the following chronology on land values in legisation

1885 Royal Commission on Housing of the Working Classes supported taxation of development land.1909 Housing and Planning Act. Tax on undeveloped land ; tax on development value – 50% on increase arising from town planning
1910 Budget (Lloyd George) 20% tax on capital gains on disposal of land
1920 Land taxes repealed. Repayment to landowners.1944 Uthwatt report on betterment
1947 Town and Country Planning Act
Nationalisation of development rights.
100% development charge on development land payable to Central Land Board
Compensation payable to landlords who were refused right to develop land
1952 Repealed by Conservative government
1967 Land Commission Act 
Establishment of land commission with power to acquire, manage and sell land
 40% levy on land disposals
Betterment levy -40% on land  sold, leased or realised by development. Collected by commission and paid to central government.
1970 Repealed by Conservative Government
1975 Community Land Act. LA had power to acquire development land at current use value.
1976 Development Land Tax Act. 80% tax on development gains (66.6% tax on first £150,000).
(50% to LA; 30% to central govt; 20% to LA pool)
1980 Repealed by Local Government, Planning and Land Act
1990 Town and Country Planning Act
s106 Provisions for LPAs to seek contributions to community benefit related to a planning consent – planning gain/planning obligations Not a tax
2011 Localism Act. Power for Local Planning Authorities and Mayor to introduce Community Infrastructure Levy – a tax on new development

The Labour manifesto in the recent General Election says it will ‘consider new options such as a land value tax’ (p. 86)

The Housing Crisis

History Workshop Podcast Episode 3 – History Acts: Housing in Crisis