Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gasworkers strike 1889/90

I've posted before about the South London Gas Workers Strike in 1889/90 - the owner of the gasworks was George Livesey who later used his wealth to build a library (which became the Livesey Museum) and to pay for the creation of Telegraph Hill Park.

Michael, a regular Transpontine correspondent, has been researching this and come up with some more details. The main gasworks were where the gas tanks still stand today on the Old Kent Road, with the headquarters of the South Metropolitan Gas Company at709a Old Kent Road.

The Central Strike Committee had their HQ at 87 Old Kent Road (according to the South London Record), evicted by the police in early January. The Times reported: 'Yesterday the following poster, in very large type was displayed in the window of the coffee-house in Old Kent road, to which the Central Strike Committee have now transferred their headquarters: "The Battering-ram Brigade in London. Eviction of the Gas Workers' Strike Committee by the police. In consequence of the above the Central Strike Committee-room is removed to 671, Old Kent-road. Jan 7, 1890." The committee appear to be very bitter about the way in which the police arrangements have been carried out, and still further irritation was felt by them yesterday because two policemen were specially stationed outside the premises where they meet" (The Times Jan 9th 1890).

The Greenwich branch of the gasworkers' union, formed during the strike, met at the Three Cups coffee tavern in Greenwich.

An interesting strand of this history is the role of coffee houses - you see they weren't invented by Starbucks! In this period, there was a strong overlap between the trade union and socialist movements and the temperance movement - as a result of which many meetings of the former were held in coffee houses rather than pubs.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Livesey was actually condemned by the local Temperance (no drink) Movement because he laid on alcohol for his “blacklegs” from Salford, Birmingham, Portsmouth and the Essex brickfield.

So rough and drunk were the Birmingham "scabs" they were sent back or simply sacked others joined the union

Mary said...

I'm interested that someone else has picked up Livesey - who was an contradictory, complex character, as well as being a major strike breaker (and a hater of trade unions) he wanted property re-distributed so working people could become owners and set up a scheme whereby workers could become company directors of the gasworks. He also upset other private gas companies by suggesting that they lowered their profits until prices too went down.
He was brought up in a house in Canal Grove alongside the gas works and I am almost certain he never went to school. He was a major figure in the London Band of Hope.
I wrote up the gas workers 1889 strike in day by day detail in South London Record about fifteen years ago and also deposited the outline of a biography of Livesey in the Southwark Local History Library.
In the past I have lectured all over the place about him and the 1889 strike - happy to do so again.