Monday, February 21, 2022

Russian Revolutionaries in New Cross/Deptford, 1907

In 1907 the 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was held at the Brotherhood Church in Hackney. The 338 delegates represented the various factions of the party, chiefly its Bolshevik and Menshevik wings, and included Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and, Maxim Gorki. The Radical History of Hackney blog has written about this and why not, that was where it all happened.

But did some of the delegates stay in SE London? A later account given by one George Adam, a Reuters journalist at the time, suggests so. The article 'When Lenin came to Islington' (Graphic, 4 February 1928) states that:

'shortly before the Harwich boat-train came in with its cargo of Russians,six unmistakable Yard men, wearing the Yard bowler hat and the Yard boots [...] marched on to the platform and took up strategic positions behind the pillars supporting Liverpool Street Station. The delegates were marched off into groups with Scotland Yard in step with them to the East London Underground

In the train I became friendly with one of the C.I.D. (Special Branch), and he confessed that they did not know where the Russians were going, adding that they were all Nihilists, bomb-throwers, and villains of the deepest dye. They went no farther than New Cross, where these desperadoes- they certainly looked the part- prosaically marched up to a big London County Council lodging - house, paid a tanner apiece for their bedrooms, and went to sleep comfortably, while the Special Branch found what rest it could on the hard wooden benches of the hall'.

Adam managed to get inside the Church during the Congress - this is his description - 'There were men from all the Russias, thin-faced Jewish fanatics, university intellectuals, bovine peasants... The vestry had been turned into a refreshment bar. From two or three barrels, resting on a house-decorator's trestles and planks, beer was being dispensed... There almost under my eyes, the organization of the Soviet, more or less as it afterwards came into being, was outlined'

The tale is certainly feasible. At this time trains could indeed be taken on the East London line from Liverpool Street to New Cross, and if so the accommodation mentioned is likely to have been the LCC's Carrington House in Brookmill Road, Deptford, opened in 1903 as a hostel for working men.

Which of the delegates stayed there is not known - others stayed elsewhere for sure, including Stalin who is said to have stayed at another hostel in Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel.  

Carrington House - the building still stands

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