Category Archives: Rebels & Radicals

Caroline Townsend – A Lewisham Suffragette Activist

During the centenary year of (some) women obtaining the vote, it is important to remember those who were active in the campaign for women’s suffrage in South East London.  Running Past has already covered the two of the more prominent women – May Billinghurst and Emily Wilding Davison who both had a national impact; however, it is important to celebrate the work and lives of some of the other women activists who were involved in the struggle locally.  A few weeks ago, the role of Eugenia Bouvier was covered, and now it is the turn to look contribution of Caroline Townsend.

Caroline was born in Cork in Ireland on 13 August 1870; she was the youngest of three sisters in a family that travelled a lot – her eldest sister, Annie, was born in Gibraltar in 1864; Hannah in 1868 in Woolwich.

Little is known of her upbringing, and she doesn’t obviously appear in any censuses until 1901 when the three sisters were living at 188 Malpass Road in Brockley, the two elder sisters who were both listed as teachers, Caroline listed as a ‘housekeeper’ in the census return.

Caroline was one of the joint secretaries of the Lewisham WSPU, which was set up in 1907 (1).

She was arrested as part of a deputation to see Herbert Asquith, the then Prime Minister, on February 24 1909.  The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had attempted to set up a meeting with Asquith – Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence informed him on February 23 1909 that a delegation would be visiting him at the House of Commons the following evening to ask for votes for women to be included in the legislative programme for that session.  A terse reply noted that Asquith had nothing to add to previous statements and that, in any case, he would not be at The Commons that evening (2).

There was a large meeting at Caxton Hall in Westminster on February 24 addressed by Emmeline Pankhurst to protest against the Liberal Government’s failure to include women’s suffrage in the King’s Speech.  A resolution was passed calling for votes for women on the same basis as men. It was agreed to send a deputation, led by Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence to convey the resolution to Asquith. The 40 women in the deputation seem to have included Caroline Townsend (3).

The police would allow anything resembling a march so the women walked in pairs to Parliament.  The women walked to the ‘strangers’ entrance to the House of Commons.  They were followed by a fairly hostile crowd, their way was barred by around 40 police – the women went through the ‘futile formality’ (4) of asking to see their MPs before attempting to break through the police lines ‘threw themselves at solid lines of constables which not thrice the number of fighting men could have hoped to dislodge from their vantage point.’  (5)

Pethwick Lawrence and ‘the leaders’ were arrested, a total of 27 women and one man, and charged with obstruction.  This included Caroline Townsend whose address was reported as 188 Malpass Road. All were bailed upon a surety from the wealthy Pethwick Lawrence (6)

The following day all 28 appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court, in front of the same magistrate that had heard cases involving Eugenia Bouvier, Sir Albert de Rutzen.  Pethwick Lawrence addressed the magistrate at length, but there was little sympathy from him ‘it is regretted that educated ladies should disgrace themselves in this way by contravening law and order.’ (7)

All of the defendants refused to be bound over and most were required to find sureties of £10 or a month in prison.  All the women were sent to Holloway Prison (8).

Caroline received frequent mentions in ‘Suffragette’ newspaper in 1910s, mainly in role as secretary but there were mentions of speeches too (9). It was noted in an interview with her in a ‘Suffrage Annual’ that she “particularly enjoyed ‘out-door work’ – speaking, paper selling, poster parading.”  (10) Whilst these may not be the most glamourous roles they are the things that all political groups need at the local level – making the cause visible and raising its profile with local people.

The photo of the banner shows Caroline on the front row Olive Llewhellin, who lived at 114 Burnt Ash Hill, behind her is Clara Lambert (who briefly lived in Glenfarg Road in Catford) – Running Past will no doubt cover both of these women over the next few months.  The fourth woman in the photograph which is part of the collection of the Museum of London (on a creative commons) is a Miss Warwick.

By the time that the 1911 census enumerators called the sisters were living at 27 Murillo Road in Lee.  The house had been built in the last few years of the 19th century after the demolition of a large house, The Firs, in 1893 following the death of its last owner John Wingfield Larking.  Many suffragettes used the census to protest against the lack of women’s suffrage; this included Caroline and her sister, Hannah, who was also an active suffragette – only Annie was listed in the census at 27 in 1911.

Hannah was a teacher and a founder and member of the Women Teachers Franchise Union (11) who campaigned for equal pay as well as suffrage. Both sisters were members of the Women’s Suffrage Club which was based at 1 Lewis Grove in Lewisham and served as the headquarters for the local WSPU branch (12)

The Pankhursts set up the Women’s Party in October 1917 and Caroline Townsend  became the ‘Election Organiser’ in Lewisham (13). The party advocated numerous policies that promoted equality for women including equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality of parental rights and raising the age of consent. The Party also campaigned for maternity and infant care, which would be subsidised by parents according to their income, beyond this their views were relatively conservative – pro Empire, pro-Union and anti-Bolshevik.

They held regular public meetings in the market – with Caroline speaking at several (14). There was no active input into the December 1918 election though as effectively there wasn’t a contest in either of the Lewisham constituencies, with both seats seeing Conservative & Unionist candidates elected unopposed with ‘Coalition Coupons’.

It seems that the sisters moved to Surrey Hannah and Caroline were living at  Gravel Pits Farm, in Gomshall, near Guildford by the time the 1939 Register was compiled.  Caroline died in the same district two years later.

Notes

  1. Elizabeth Crawford (1998) The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 p689
  2. The Times, Wednesday February 24 1909
  3. The Times, Thursday February 25, 1909
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. The Times, Friday February 26, 1909
  8. ibid
  9. The Suffragette (London) 21 November 1913
  10. Crawford, op cit p 689
  11. ibid
  12. ibid
  13. Britannia (Official Organ of the Women’s Party) 18 October 1918
  14. ibid

Census & related information come via Find My Past

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From Russia to Rushey Green and Back – Eugenia Bouvier, a Lewisham Suffragette

This week marks the centenary of the Royal Assent of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave some women the right to vote (it would be another decade before voting equality with men was to be achieved). It is worth reflecting on, and celebrating, the life of a woman who made Lewisham her home and was actively involved with the struggle – Eugenia Bouvier, usually known as Jeannie.

She was a Russian émigré who was born, Eugenia Anna Weber in 1865.  Little seems to be known about her early years but she married the Italian born Paul Emile Bouvier in St Petersburg in August 1888 

They settled in Catford, just off Stanstead Road, at 21 Ravensbourne Road – they were there when the census enumerators called in 1891 – he was a French teacher, initially at King’s College, London and then at the nearby St Dunstan’s College in Catford.  They were well enough off to be able to afford a servant – a 20 year old, Alice Whiffin.  They remained there for the rest of the decade as, somewhat ironically, given later events, Paul appeared on the electoral register there until 1899. They had a daughter, Irene Eugenie, in 1893 whilst living there.

There is no mention of them in the 1901 census, although given the struggles that officialdom seemed to have struggled with both her names they may just be hidden in spelling errors and poor handwriting.  It is known that at some point Jeannie was living at 32 Mount Pleasant Road (1).  She was widowed in 1904 when Paul died, aged just 46.

Her home in Mount Pleasant Road (immediately to the left of the house shown below) was badly damaged during the Blitz, along with several neighbouring properties which were largely destroyed. The site had been cleared by the time the Ordnance Survey surveyed the area in 1949 and had flats on it built soon after.

Like the two other suffragettes that Running Past has covered, May Billinghurst and Emily Davison, Jeannie was actively involved in direct action and was arrested twice due in the struggle.  She was known to have interrupted a meeting in Reading in January 1908 being addressed by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, she and others shouted ‘Votes for Women’ at regular intervals.

In February the same year she was arrested as part of the ‘pantechnicon incident’ when a hired lorry was used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ in an unsuccessful attempt to enter the House of Commons.  There were scuffles with the police, mainly in an attempt to resist arrest, and lots of arrests including Jeannie.

There were 50 suffragettes arrested and they appeared Westminster Police Court – the press noted that the ‘ wily leaders escap(ed) arrest.’

The defendants, including Jeannie, were described as mostly being ‘ladies of refinement and education’ and charged with ‘disorderly conduct.’ The sentence was to find a surety of £20 or 6 weeks in jail (2)

There were further incidents later in 1908 where Jeannie is reported as peacefully disrupting meetings and receptions attended by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers.

In July 1909 she was arrested again in a ‘raid’ on the House of Commons – Jeannie threw a stone through the window of the Privy Council Offices, she was one of the first militants to adopt the tactic of window-breaking and was arrested and charged with criminal damage.  Jeannie said that the action was to show “what we thought of the Prime Minister in refusing these ladies admission to the House of Commons.”

She appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court in front of London’s Chief Stipendiary Magistrate – Albert de Rutzen.  He compared her to ‘hooligan boys in the street’; she compared her actions with men who had used similar methods protesting against the Reform Act.  She demanded to be considered as a political prisoner; he regarded her as a common criminal.  He was the magistrate; she was the prisoner and was fined £5 plus 2/6d damages or a sentence of a month at Holloway – she didn’t pay the fine (3).

Like many suffragettes sentenced to imprisonment she went on hunger strike and was released early, after just 10 days in Holloway (4).

She was secretary of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union for several years – regularly chairing meetings – including  at a ‘rowdy meeting at Blackheath’ Concert Halls in October 1909 when medical students broke up seating and let of stink bombs and fireworks – leading to the police being called (5) as well as meetings in New Cross in May (6) and November 1908 (7).  She was a regular speaker for the Women’s Social and Political Union both locally – including street meetings like this in Catford (8).

She is known to have spoken at a meeting on Blackheath, presumably at Whitefield’s Mount, in September 1909 and in 1912 was present at the opening of new WSPU offices in Lewis Grove in Lewisham where a crowd of around three thousand became hostile throwing eggs (9).

She went well beyond her local area and was a regular speaker in favour of women’s suffrage elsewhere in the country – including a meeting with Annie Kenney where a firecracker was let off inside the meeting (10).   She gave a provocative speech in  Lewisham market in early 1913 (11)

the life of men will be made so miserable that they will rush to the Prime Minsiter and beseech him to give the vote to women…men would cry for mercy … militancy had brought the women’s question to the forefront of politics

She was ‘followed by 200’ mainly men and had to be escorted to the tram by police amidst a ‘good deal of jeering (12).’

The last definitive political involvement was work in the East End with Sylvia Pankhurst speaking at conferences opposing conscription in 1915 and 1916.  Pankhurst described her as a ‘brave, persistent Russian.’ In addition to be an asset to the work of Sylvia Pankhurst in her own right, she proved useful in being able to translate and interpret for the Russian emigres in the East End.

She returned to post-revolutionary Russia in 1921, proud that her family wealth had been seized after the Revolution, suggesting that the wealth ‘ought to have taken.. from me years ago, and from all of us who lived on the backs of the people’.

She remained there until her death in 1933 (13), working for at least some of this time at the Comintern in Moscow.

Notes

  1. Iris Dove (1988) Yours In The Cause – Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich & Woolwich p5
  2. 13 February 1908 – Sheffield Independent
  3. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Feb 17, 1909; pg. 10; Issue 38885
  4. 12 July 1909 – Yorkshire Evening Post
  5. Kentish Mercury 15 October 1909
  6. Kentish Mercury 08 May 1908
  7. Kentish Mercury 20 November 1908
  8. Woolwich Gazette 11 June 1909
  9. Dove op cit p7
  10. Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser 06 November 1909
  11. Lewisham Borough News 7 February 1913
  12. ibid
  13. Dove op cit p7

WPSU Banner Photo Credit – this is part of the collection of the Museum of London, as is the photograph who allow its use for non-commercial research such as this.

For more detail on Eugenia’s life after Lewisham an excellent starting point is ‘From Russia to East London — and back again: Eugeníe Bouvier (1865-1933), suffragette and socialist.

Census and related data via Find My Past

The Cade Rebellion & South East London

Cade Road on Blackheath is a small one way lane, skirting the edge of the escarpment, without houses, but always full of cars – attracted by the absence of parking restrictions.  The name relates to a rebellion in 1450 where Kentish rebels, led by Jack Cade, camped on the Heath twice before marching on London.

Jack Cade was the leader of a popular revolt against the almost bankrupt government of Henry VI in 1450. The backdrop was the near end of the Hundred Years War which was seeing defeats for British Forces, the loss of British Territory in France and occasional forays of French soldiers into Kent.

Distrust of the Crown came to a head with a corruption scandal and the murder of the Duke of Suffolk for which the people of Kent were blamed.  There was an earlier uprising in Kent at the beginning of 1450 but this had been quickly put down.  However, the rebels didn’t disappear and became more organised in the county in the late spring; Cade had emerged as the leader by early June.  Little is known of Cade, who sometimes adopted the name Mortimer – suggesting a linkage to one of Henry’s rivals for the throne – the Duke of York.

By 11 June 1450 the rebels were camped on the Heath – with suggestions that they may have numbered as many as 20,000.  Initially Henry VI didn’t confront them, sending a series of messengers, who seem to have been presented with a series of demands.  Sometimes referred to as ‘The Blackheath Petition,’ but more generally known as ‘The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent’, the demands included inquiries into corruption and to ‘punish evil ministers and procure a redress for grievance.’

Shakespeare depicts the scene on Blackheath in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 2) with a degree of artistic licence, but the offer of a truce seemed to have happened through two messengers.

Sir Humphrey Stafford

Rebellious hinds, the filth and scum of Kent,

Mark’d for the gallows, lay your weapons down;

Home to your cottages, forsake this groom:

The king is merciful, if you revolt.

William Stafford

But angry, wrathful and inclin’d to blood,

If you go forward.  Therefore yield or die.

When the offer was refused, the King sent a large force to put down the rebellion.  The rebels may have been tipped off as by the time the Royal forces reached the Heath, the rebels had gone.   Cade’s men were followed into Kent by a small part of the Royal forces; knowing the territory better the rebels ambushed the Royal forces just to the south of Sevenoaks, close to Knole at Solefields, they defeated the Royal forces killing the leader, Sir Humphrey Stafford – Shakespeare’s speaker in the scene above.

Cade returned to the Heath towards the end of June and then marched on London in early July.  This was depicted in a recently listed mosaic mural (see above) on the former Southwark Town Hall. The scene was also portrayed by Shakespeare  in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 6)

Come, then, let’s go fight with them; but first, go and set London bridge on fire; and, if you can, burn down the Tower too. Come, let’s away.

The rebels seemed to be in control of the city for several days, executing several,including the Lord Chancellor – Baron Saye and Sele – the then occupant of the forerunner of Knole House.  He is pictured below, being brought to Cade (Creative Commons via Wikipedia) . There was much looting and the citizens of the City appear to have turned against the rebels and, on 9 July, after the rebels had spent the night outside the city, they were defeated on London Bridge.

Pardons were issued to the rebels, but the one to Cade himself was quickly revoked and he fled the City.  There is a suggestion that he briefly hid on the island in the mill pond that was later to become Peter Pan’s Pool – sadly, it is almost certainly apocryphal.

If it happened at all, the sojourn in Southend was a short one; Cade fled further south, but was eventually caught and seriously wounded in Lewes.  He died on the journey back to London but his death wasn’t enough to prevent him being subject to the fate that was de rigour for traitors of the era and he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In addition to the road on the Heath and the ‘island’, Cade’s name is lives on in a couple of other locations – there is a cavern named after him the on the Heath, and apparently he is the ‘Jack’ in the Brockley Jack pub and theatre.  Sadly, there seems to be no more credible evidence of him visiting the cavern and drinking in Brockley as there was of a stay in Southend village.

Forty years later rebels from Cornwall had pinned hopes on the Men of Kent still being rebellious, but the next generation failed to support the Cornish rebellion which was crushed at the Battle of Deptford Bridge – covered in the very first post on Running Past.

Emily Davison and her Blackheath Home

One of the best known ‘daughters’ of Blackheath was the suffragette Emily Davison, who was born at Roxburgh House, 13 Vanbrugh Park West. She was to die on 8 June 1913 following serious injuries at Tattenham Corner on Epsom Downs four days earlier.  Roxburgh House was the middle house on the eastern side of the street on the Ordnance Survey map below (on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland).

She was born on 11 October 1872 to Margaret and Charles Davison who were both from the north east.  Charles seems to have been a retired stock broker. Little is known about her early life but it seems that the family didn’t stay that long in Blackheath, while there are rumours of some time in Brockley, there next definitive location was Fulham where her father died in 1893 and the family were recorded in there in the 1891 census.  As is covered below, they had certainly moved from Blackheath by the time the 1881 census enumerators called at Roxburgh and she was at school in Kensington by the mid 1880s.

After an education that included periods at Royal Holloway College, Oxford and the University of London she taught privately for several years.  Emily joined the the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 and was working for them full time by 1909.   She was imprisoned eight times for a variety of offices including arson and stone throwing, force fed and had her cell deliberately flooded (Picture below on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia).

On Wednesday 4th June 1913, Davison attended the Derby at Epsom positioning herself on the inside of the track at Tattenham Corner, she ducked under the track,ran out on the course and attempted to grab the bridle of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. The horse hit Emily and the impact fractured her skull, she never regained consciousness and died on 8th June.  There has been much debate as to whether Emily Davison intended to kill herself in the century since her death – a new analysis done around the centenary of her death suggests that she may have intended to put a sash around the neck of the King’s horse.

As for the house, Roxburgh has an interesting story beyond that of being the first home of Emily Davison and the details of those living there tell much of the decline of the area during the 20th century before its more recent emergence as a highly desirable place to live. Roxburgh was built around 1872 and the Davison family seem to have been the first occupants.  It was the middle house on the eastern side of Vanbrugh Park West (1).  While there appear to be no photographs of the house – there are several postcards of the neighbouring Vanbrugh Park (below eBay September 2016) – whose houses were very similar. The church in the background was St Andrews – which was covered a while ago in Running Past in relation to a painting by Elwin Hawthorne.

‘The housing was substantial, provided for a prosperous middle-class who could afford space for servants, gardeners, coaches and horses.’ (2)

The first time the census enumerators called in 1881, Roxburgh House was home to the Matthews – Marmaduke and Martha Ann, their 7 children and five servants. They had moved there from Sutton in Surrey where they lived in 1871. Marmaduke was a solicitor.  A decade later the parents weren’t mentioned, but may have been away when the enumerators called as the relationships to head of household were son, daughter etc.

The Matthews had moved out by the mid 1890s to Essex, they seem to have been replaced by Alfred Blechynden a respected marine draughtsman and engineer who had moved from Barrow to manage John Penn and Sons, Greenwich shipbuilders and marine engineers, a firm he had worked for for three years a decade and a half earlier. The Blechyndens were used to a comfortable lifestyle – Alfred and Elizabeth had three servants ‘living in’ in their substantial home in Barrow in 1891.  Sadly, Alfred Blechynden died from a heart attack just over a year after moving back to south east London. How long Elizabeth remained at Roxburgh is unclear, but she was eventually to return to her native north east (photo below of Vanbrugh Park – eBay June 2017).

By 1901, Roxburgh was home to Robert Watson, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who was 55, his largely grown up children and three servants.  In 1911 the house was vacant, although an elderly caretaker and his wife, Hugh and Caroline McLean were living there.  This was perhaps the shape of things to come, after World War 1 most of the houses around Vanbrugh Park leases were subdivided into flats or used for boarding houses for naval students at the Royal Naval College (3).  The postcard below was from eBay June 2017 would have been from this era.

When the 1939 Register was compiled, the house had been divided into three flats – one was empty, another was home to the Gorsuch family – the 47 year old father, Frank, was an inspector for the Port of London Authority, his wife Marjorie and daughter Mabel (19) carried out ‘domestic duties’ while son Denis (23) was an engineer. The Willoughbys lived in in the other flat, they were retired but had a a lodger too. Most of the neighbouring houses had been similarly divided and the occupations were generally manual and clerical.  There were though still a few that were lived in by single households, often with older residents.

There was some bomb damage, probably from the V-2 rocket which hit neighbouring Vanburgh Park Road on 19 February 1945, with two deaths; this completely destroyed one house and seriously damaged the western side of that road.  Several of the houses along Vanburgh Park Road West were damaged beyond repair, the same was the case for all the houses in Vanbrugh Park between the two bits of Vanbrugh Park Road.  What level of damage was suffered by Roxbrugh House isn’t clear as the initial pink colouring, indicating damage beyond repair was whited out (4).

The 99 year leases were allowed to run down by the Page Estate who had retained the freehold and would have expired in 1971.  While the Page Estate opposed redevelopment they were compulsorily purchased and new local authority housing completed in 1965 – the Vanbrugh Park Estate (5). Roxbrugh House would have been just to the right of the photograph below.

It was designed by by Geoffrey Powell of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, the firm who designed the Barbican (6). Cherry and Pevsner describe it as ‘one of the most interesting housing estates in the borough,’ an unassuming, informal grid of flat roofed terraces with ‘distressingly unappealing cheap painted breeze blocks’ (7). The savings on the building materials enabled more to be spent on landscaping.

It is housing that has stood the test of time, although much of it has been sold under Right to Buy and those living there have no doubt changed considerably since it was built.  Average values in June 2017 on the estate were suggested to be just shy of £500k.

Notes

1 Neil Rhind (1981) Blackheath and its Environs, Vol 2 p291

2 ibid p287

3 ibid p288

4 Laurence Ward (2015) London County Council Bomb Damage Maps p163

5 Rhind, op cit p288

6 Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) ‘The Buildings of England – London 2: South’ p274

7 ibid

Census, 1939 Register and related data comes via Find My Past 

The McMillan Sisters and their Open Air Nursery

One of the more interesting regular South East London Open House venues is the Rachel McMillan Nursery in Deptford; it is an open-air nursery that evokes a time of the pioneering health care already covered in the blog in relation to the ground breaking work done in Bermondsey by the Salters and then taken up by the then Borough of Bermondsey at Solarium Court.

The Open-Air Nursery School & Training Centre, set up by the McMillan sisters, Rachel and Margaret, opened in 1914. Their philosophy was that children learned by exploring and would achieve their full potential through first-hand experience and active learning.  They stressed the importance of free play, particularly with craft and water activities, and also outdoor play – providing large and varied external areas for this. Such views seem commonplace now, but were very different to the teaching methods generally used at the time.

image

The new school consisted of a series of  ‘shelters’ which each had bathrooms,  there was a clear daily routine

  • The school opened at 7:30 am;
  • Most children were dropped off between 08.00 and 09.00 by their mothers on their way to work in factories – often taking on roles traditionally undertaken by men, who were then on the WW1 front;
  • Breakfast with porridge and milk at 9:00 am;
  • The mornings were spent doing hand work or playing in the garden (or in the shelter in poor weather);
  • Lunch 11.30 and 12 noon;
  • The afternoon activities consisted of free play, music and games;
  • Tea at 4:00 pm; and
  • Collection of the children between 5:00 and 5:30 pm.

image

Much of the early ethos remains at the nursery as the photographs above show. The nursery was filmed by British Pathé News in the 1939 (part of the footage was from a 1930 visit by Queen Mary – there is more on this later in the post).

So what of the journey of the sisters to Deptford?  Their parents were originally from Inverness but had emigrated to New York State in 1840, Margaret was born in 1860 and Rachel in 1859. They returned to Inverness following the death of their father and sister, Elizabeth, in 1865.

Their mother died in 1877 and Rachel remained in Inverness to look after her very ill grandmother.  Margaret left Inverness and trained as a governess.

In 1887 Rachel visited a cousin in Edinburgh, whilst there she heard a sermon preached by the Christian Socialist, John Glasse – about whom was written that he ‘gathered around him many ardent idealists, to whom he administered doses of Proudon and Marx … the faithful were favoured with the words of wisdom from the lips of Morris, Kropotkin, Stepniak and other distinguished visitors.’  Rachel was also introduced to John Gilray who gave her copies of Justice, a socialist newspaper and Peter Kropotkin’s ‘Advice to the Young’, and took her to a number of socialist meetings in the city.

The sisters’ grandmother died the following year and Rachel joined Margaret in London and both worked in homes for young girls. Rachel shared her Socialist views with Margaret and they attended political meetings where they met many of the important socialist and anarchist thinkers of the day including William Morris, Henry Hyndman, Peter Kropotkin – whose time in Bromley was covered in the blog a while ago – and Ben Tillet.

They became involved with the Christian Socialism that had first impressed Rachel in Edinburgh but also joined the Fabian Society, the Labour Church, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation and later the newly formed Independent Labour Party (ILP).

The moved to Bradford in the early 1890s and became involved in campaigning to improve the physical, emotional and intellectual welfare of the poorest children through improvements to housing, free school meals and early medical inspections of school children.

The sisters returned to London in 1902 and remained actively involved in campaign for free school meals, which was enacted as part of the Liberal Welfare Reforms in 1906.  They lived at 127 George Lane in Hither Green for a while after their return to London – commemorated by one of Lewisham’s maroon plaques.

image

The remained convinced about the need for medical inspections within schools and opened the first school clinic in Bow in 1908.  Margaret and Rachel McMillan opened another, the Deptford Clinic, in 1910 which served a number of schools in the area providing a range of services including General health checks, some dentistry, lessons in posture and breathing.

The McMillan Nursery followed a few years later, while Rachel died on 25th March, 1917.  Margaret continued the run the Nursery also serving on the London County Council and setting up a training college for teachers and nurses in Deptford,  the Rachel McMillan College. The College was opened by the Queen in May 1930 and captured by British Pathé News; it was taken over by the London County Council after WW2 and eventually became part of Goldsmiths College.

Margaret died the following year – her friend Walter Cresswell wrote a memoir of the sisters, remarking about them

Such persons, single-minded, pure in heart, blazing with selfless love, are the jewels of our species. There is more essential Christianity in them than in a multitude of bishops.

The sisters are buried in the same plot on the Brockley side of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery – a peaceful location despite the proximity to Brockley Road.

image

Will Crooks and the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Late last year, on a miserable rainy day I ran through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to get a little respite from torrential rain, the blog piece I wrote was mainly about the running. However, the tunnel and the man behind it are well worth returning to. 

The tunnel owed much to the vision of Will Crooks, a Progressive Party and later Labour Party politician. Crooks was a man of humble beginnings from Poplar, who in his youth spent time in the workhouse due to his family’s poverty and, with his friend George Lansbury, used his experiences to help reform the Poplar workhouse, which become a model for how workhouses should be run.


Crooks read widely in his youth and on Sundays lectured outside the dock gates on Polar where he was a casual worker. He oratory skills were later described by a fellow Labour MP John Robert Clynes

Will Crooks combined the inspiration of a great evangelist with such a stock of comic stories, generally related as personal experiences, that his audience alternated between tears of sympathy and tears of laughter.

He became active in politics and was elected to the London County Council in early 1889 as a Progressive Party member – which had been founded the year before by a loose grouping of labour movement leaders, Liberals and the Fabian Society, including Sidney Webb.


Source Wikimedia Commons

It was perhaps little surprise that he emerged as one of the leaders of the 1889 Dock Strike and he used his oratory skills in fundraising. He was also to become the first Labour mayor of the Poplar Borough Council in 1901. He also helped to set up the National Committee on Old Age Pensions believing that pensions were the only way to keep the elderly poor from entering the workhouse – this ultimately led to the first State Pensions in 1908.
Whilst on the LCC, Crooks chaired the Bridges Committee and it was on his watch that the decision to build the Greenwich Foot Tunnel was made to allow working class people in Greenwich were able to commute to the shipyards, docks and factories on the north bank of the river on a free and reliable basis. It replaced a ferry which was both expensive and frequently didn’t operate due to fogs.     

 The tunnel was designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie and was constructed by John Cochrane & Co. The building work started in June 1899, and the tunnel opened on 4 August 1902, although it users had to wait another two years for the first lifts to become operational.


The southern entrance is a glazed cupola close to the Cutty Sark, with the northern entrance in Island Gardens. It is just over 370 metres long and 15 metres deep, with a diameter of 2.7 metres, although this is slightly narrower at the northern end as an inner liner was added following WW2 bomb damage (see bottom right photo above).
Also when on the LCC he campaigned for the provision of parks – Island Gardens too was at least partly down to Crook’s efforts, he opened the park seven years before the tunnel. The park has the northern entrance to the tunnel plus a great view back towards Greenwich.


In the 1903 there was a Parliamentary by-election in Woolwich in what was then a safe Tory seat caused by the resignation of Charles William de la Poer Beresford, 1st Baron Beresford (an honorary title, as the younger son of a Marquis, so he didn’t have the same issues as Tony Benn) to become an Admiral. The Liberals agreed not to put up a candidate and Crooks was elected for the Labour Representation Committee – becoming their 4th MP. Crooks represented Woolwich, then East Woolwich when the constituency was split, until 1921, apart from a short inter-regnum during 1910.
He is sadly not remembered on the ‘plaques’ outside the entrances (he was no longer on the Bridges Committee when they opened) and, south of the river at least, his name only lives on a street facing an embankment to the A2 in Kidbrooke. However, he was ‘captured’ several times on British Pathé News including his funeral in Poplar when the crowds turned out to pay their respects

I’m certainly not the first to have run through the tunnel, the 100 Marathon Club organised a marathon to celebrate the tunnel’s 100th birthday on 4 August 2002 – 58 ‘laps’ of the tunnel during the night. You didn’t have to be Superman to compete but it clearly helped – the finishers included a Clark Kent.

Peter Kropotkin – Anarchist, Geographer, Gardener and Bromley Resident

One of the more unexpected sights on Bromley’s streets is a plaque to the Russian anarchist and geographer Peter Kropotkin in Crescent Road, who lived there from 1894 to around 1907 when he moved to Muswell Hill.


London had been a relatively safe haven for European anarchists fleeing persecution for much of the 19th century.  Kropotkin had returned to London after being imprisoned in France for membership of the International Workingmen’s Association (the First International).

The centre of much anarchist activity in London seems to have been around Fitzrovia – something I have touched on in passing before as part of a post on Martial Bourdin, the Greenwich Observatory bomber.  It is perhaps surprising then that Kropotkin made his home elsewhere. Initially he had moved to Harrow – this was where his old friend and comrade Nikolai Tchaikovsky lived.  Both had been part of the what became known the Circle of Tchaikovsky – a society for self-education and revolutionary organisation – during the early 1870s.  Kropotkin had been imprisoned for his involvement in this in 1874 and had escaped from prison before his trial, moving to Switzerland via London.

Tchaikovsky may have been the reason for Kropotkin’s move to Bromley too, as there are suggestions that the former may have lived in College Road, which is just around the corner from Crescent Road.

An interesting article by Sarah Young suggests that Kropotkin and his wife, Sophie, were keen gardeners and that this may partially explain the reasoning behind a more suburban location for his home.  Google earth suggests that the garden isn’t actually that big though, but it certainly didn’t stop the Kropotkins naming the house ‘Viola Cottage’  – the slightly bucolic name may have given the impression of some sort of rural idyll but the reality was a new (then) 4 bedroom semi-detached house in Victorian commuter land.

Bromley was still relatively small when the Kropotkins moved there, its growth linked to railway development – Crescent Road is mid-way between Sundridge Park and Bromley North.  Perhaps they shopped just down the road at Uridges or J Morton Crouch in Widmore Road.

Kropotkin was listed as a self-employed ‘Geographer’ in the 1901 census, but his income appears to have come from articles in ‘Nature’ and the now defunct ‘Nineteenth Century’.  He also wrote articles for the Geographical Journal (1) and presented a paper at the British Association (for the Advancement of Science) (2).


His income was certainly sufficient to be able to afford to employ a young Belgian servant.  However, the income appears to have been spasmodic as there was at least one occasion when he had to borrow money from neighbours.

It would be interesting to know what his neighbours made of him – in the1901 census they included an architect, a builder’s draughtsman and a marble merchant. They may have been impressed with his regular letters to The Times on all sorts of Russian issues – such as on discriminatory laws against Russian Jews (3) and administrative exile to Siberia (4).  Certainly, a neighbour who was referred to as a Prince and appeared in at least one Court Circular (when he was seriously ill with pneumonia in the winter of 1904/05) (5) may have impressed some in commuter land.

However, they may have been less impressed with the press camping outside Crescent Road at the same time as his illness, attempting to get a response from him on the Bloody Sunday massacres.

Eyebrows may have been raised if the neighbours knew the identity of some of the visitors to Viola Cottage, which became an ‘open house for anarchist exiles and British Socialists’.  In late 1899 Emma Goldman visited several times whilst in London in and she and Kropotkin argued about the political significance of gender and anarchist thinking in America at the time.  It seems that Goldman was able to persuade Kropotkin as she has the debate concluding

 “Perhaps you are right, after all.” He beamed affectionately upon me, with a humorous twinkle in his eye.

Another regular visitor to Viola Cottage was Harry Kelly, the American anarchist, who seemed to see Kropotkin as a mentor and lived for much of his time in London in nearby Anerley. Another visitor was Fernando Tarrida del Mármol, who is buried at Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, who seems to have stayed at the Kropotkins for a while.  

Clockwise from top left Rudolph Rocker, Harry Kelly, Emma Goldman and Louise Michel.

Paris Communarde Louise Michel was certainly a visitor, and may well have lived in Bromley too – excellent research by the Transpontine blog has pinpointed her to several south London addresses – the nearest confirmed one would be Albion Villas Road in Upper Sydenham.

Other visitors would have  included his friends Rudolph Rocker and Varlam Cherkezov, as well as Keir Hardie, although he wouldn’t see Lenin at home or elsewhere when the latter was in London

Interestingly one of his works whilst at Crescent Road ‘Mutual Aid’ challenged some of the work of one of the Bromley area’s other famous residents – Charles Darwin.  The book drew on Kropotkin’s experiences in geographical expeditions in Siberia to argue that cooperation and mutual aid are the most important factors in the evolution of species and the ability to survive.

  A map of eastern Siberia drawn by Kropotkin

Notes

  1. “The Census Of The Russian Empire.” Times [London, England] 7 June 1897: 6. The Times Digital Archive.
  2. “The British Association-A Retrospect.” Times [London, England] 11 Sept. 1897: 10. The Times Digital Archive.
  3. P. KROPOTKIN. “The Jews In Russia.” Times [London, England] 16 Apr. 1895: 11. The Times Digital Archive.
  4. P. KROPOTKIN. “‘Administrative Exile’ In Russia.” Times [London, England] 19 Oct. 1906: 5. The Times Digital Archive
  5. “Court Circular.” Times [London, England] 25 Jan. 1905: 6. The Times Digital Archive