Thursday, September 03, 2009

The 'Chicago Martyrs' and South London

The sentencing to death and ultimately execution of four anarchists in Chicago in 1887 was an international cause celebre among working class and radical movements across the world. As contemporary reports in the anarchist journal Freedom make clear, this included agitation in London (with William Morris, George Bernard Shaw and Annie Besant amongst those involved) with South London meetings in Peckham and Lambeth.

In November 1887, Freedom, A Journal of Anarchist Socialism reported:

'A succession of meetings have been held during the past month to protest against the infamous sentences of death and imprisonment passed upon the Chicago Anarchists. The largest of these meetings, held at South Place [Red Lion Square], Oct. 14 was organised by a representative committee of English Socialists- Anarchist and Democratic. A resolution declaring our comrades' condemnation to be an attack upon freedom of speech and public meeting, of vital concern to the working classes all over the world, was enthusiastically and unanimously passed by a crowded audience of English workers. The speakers were the Rev. Stewart Headlam chairman of the Guild of St. Matthew, William Morris of the Socialist League, J. Blackwell of the Social Democratic Federation, Annie Besant of the National Secular Society, G. B. Shaw of the Fabian Society, G. Standring of the Radical Federation, Tarleton of the Hammersmith Radical Club, H. George, one of the unemployed workers of London, "Stepniak," the well-known Russian author and revolutionist, and P. Kropotkine and C. M. Wilson of the Freedom Group. A cablegram of sympathy with the agitation of the American workers was despatched to the Leader, New York, during the meeting. Messages of sympathy were received from the Sheffleld Socialists and many Radical clubs and workmen's associations.

Other meetings, smaller but no less enthusiastic, have been held by the London Anarchist Groups and Socialist League at the Hall of the Communist Club, by the Hackney Branch of the S. D. F., by the Tower Hamlets Radical Club and Peckham Reform Club, and in the open air at Hoxton, by the Sheffleld Socialists the Clay Cross Socialists, the Scandinavian Workmen's Clubs of London, and by the Dublin Labour League Resolutions of protest against the sentence and of sympathy with the condemned men have also been passed at the London and country branches of the Socialist League and S. D. F., and at the London Radical Clubs.

Meetings continued to be held in the aftermath of the executions. In October 1890, Freedom advertised another public meeting scheduled for November 10th at South Place Institute (Conway Hall, Red Lion Square) to commemorate the executions, with speakers including Louise Michel (sometime East Dulwich resident), Peter Kropotkin (sometime Bromley resident - Transpontine)and Henri Malatesta. It also reported that The Freedom Group had arranged related local meetings as follows:

Thursday Nov. 6, Scandinavian Club, Rathbone Place, Oxford Street, W.
Friday Nov. 7, Gleicheit Club, Old Street, St. Lukes Saturday Nov. 8, International Workingmen's Club, Berners Street, Commercial Road, E.
Sunday Nov. 9, Autonomie Club, 6 Windmill Street, Tottenham Court Road.
Sunday Nov. 9, Lambeth Progressive Club, 122 Kennington Road, S.E.

The same issue also advertised a series of forthcoming anarchist meetings in London, including further meetings at the Lambeth Progressive Club and one at the Lewisham and Lee Liberal Club:

- Freedom Group holds meetings on Saturdays in Hyde Park, at 4 p.m., and on Sundays at Hampstead Heath, at 11.30 am.
- St. Pancras Communist-Anarchist Group holds meetings on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., in Prince of Wales Road, Kentish Town, near "Mother Shipton"; and on Sundays in Regent's Park, at 3 p.m.
- Blast London Communist-Anarchist Group holds open-air meetings on Sundays at 11.30 a.m. outside Hoxton Church (bottom of New North Road) and at 3.30 p.m. in Victoria Park. Comrades are earnestly invited to roll up and support.

- Lewisham and Lee Liberal Club, Camden House, 170 High Street, Lewisham. On Sunday October 26th, at 8 p.m., J. E. Barlas, "Principle v. Expediency."
- Lambeth Progressive Club, 122 Kennington Road, S.E.-Sunday October 12th, at 8. p.m., Peter Kropotkine, "Anarchist Communism." Sunday October 26th, at 8 p.m, Tom Pearson, "Organisation Free and Unfree."
- Anarchist League (Individualist) holds open-air meetings on Sundays in Victoria Park, at 11.30 am.; Hyde Park, at 4.30p.m.; and discussions in the hall of the Autonomie Club, 6, Windmill Street, Tottenham Court Road, at 8.30 p.m.
- The Cosmopolitan Research Association meet every Wednesday, at 8.30, at Temperance Bar, 46, Wharfdale Road, King's Cross, for the discussion of all questions which affect the working men's interest. All inquiries, address Secretary, C. Grason, 22, Middlesex Street, Euston Road.

I haven't found out much more about the Lewisham and Lee Liberal Club. The Liberal and Radical Year Book 1887 gives its address as The Clarendon Rooms, Lee Bridge, with its President a J.Glode Stapleton of 47 Lee Terrace and its Honorary Secretary F.E. Marshall Steele. Stapleton seems to have become an early member of The Fabian Society, demonstrating that Radical, Progressive and Liberal Clubs in this period covered a fluid spectrum of opinion - anarchists, socialists and liberals.

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