Friday, July 26, 2013

History Corner: Peckham Anarchists in the 1890s

Interesting account by Nick Heath at Libcom on 'state repression against the Peckham Anarchist Communist Group in 1894':

'In the 1890s several groups of, in the main, young activists broke away from Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation and coalesced as anarchist groups in Canning Town, Deptford and Peckham. The Peckham Anarchist-Communist Group was one of these groups and was extremely active. It engaged in much local activity , although the rather suspect anarchist H. B. Samuels became a member of the Group.

However this period -1893-1894-was one of active repression against the British anarchist movement, with government, police and judiciary acting to attack open air meetings organised by anarchists, as in Hyde Park, Manchester and indeed in Peckham.

In March 1894 Peckham Anarchists held an open air meeting in Peckham Park Road on 15th March. A group of right wing thugs in collusion with the police attacked the meeting and seized the group’s red flag which was then torn to pieces. The group defended themselves with walking sticks and the police, who had been actively inciting the mayhem moved in. Detective Sergeant Walsh of the CID apparently got behind little boys and pushed them forward, according to Freedom of April of that year. Alfred Foster, the main speaker, twenty seven years old and living at Commercial Road, Peckham was arrested by P.C. Martin for ‘disorderly conduct by causing a crowd to assemble’!

At Lambeth Police Court the following day Foster appeared before Justice Biron. Speaking for the defence was another member of the group William Hart, a tailor’s trimmer, who stated that he was an atheist and took an affirmation rather than swearing on the Bible. Biron was hostile from the beginning asking “You were making Anarchist speeches?” Foster was ordered to find a surety of £25 to be of good behaviour for six months or go to prison for a month.

Agnes Henry volunteered to put up the money but was refused as a woman! H.B. Samuels in his turn offered to put up the surety but was refused because he would not swear on the Bible! After a week in prison Foster was freed when W. B. Parker put up the money.

The following week the Peckham anarchists again held an open air meeting which was “perfectly orderly” until a group of blackleg gas-stokers operating in collusion with CID detectives attacked the meeting. As a result the Peckham group gave up holding open air meetings, but continued an active propaganda.

It was present for the May Day assembly in Hyde Park later in the year where its black banner was inscribed with the motto: ‘Away with authority and monopoly - We demand free access to the means of life’.

Read the full article here

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