From Manchester to Tolpuddle the martyrs of our movement have been humble people. They neither sought the limelight nor found it. They were unknown except to a close circle of friends and family. They became famous not because of their ambitions nor their vanity, but because of their deaths.
Such was a man called Alfred Linnell. No one knows very much about him. He earned a pittance by copying out legal documents. On 21 November 1887 he went down to Trafalgar Square to join the fighters for free speech in the week after Bloody Sunday, when a great demonstration had been broken up by police truncheons.
While he was standing, unarmed, and unsuspecting, by the side of the crowd, a posse of police, who had orders to keep Trafalgar Square free of demonstrators “by whatever force was necessary”, charged straight into him, breaking his neck with the horses’ hooves.
The police openly despised the people they were charging. They saw them, as the Times leader put it on the day after Bloody Sunday, as “all that is weakest, most worthless and most vicious in the slums of a great city”. These were the “sweepings”, which deserved only to be swept.
But the poor of London flocked to commemorate Alfred Linnell. Tens of thousands of socialists, Irish republicans, radicals, feminists and working people of no party and no persuasion joined in what Edward Thompson described as “the greatest united demonstration which London had seen”. The streets were lined all the way to Bow cemetery with crowds of sympathetic onlookers. The few rather shamefaced policeman who dared to appear were greeted with cries of: “That’s your work”. Very, very few of that crowd knew Alfred Linnell. Yet they hailed him, in the words of William Morris at Linnell’s funeral, as “our brother and our friend”.
He was a representative of the tens of thousands who had nothing, and when they took to the streets to demand something were ridden down and battered by the forces of law and order.
Paul Foot, 1979
Labour Heritage & Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park invite you to:
A Commemoration of Alfred Linnell 1846-1887
On: Saturday 5 September 2015, 3pm – 5pm
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Southern Grove, London E3 4PX
(nearest Underground: Mile End / Bow Road)
Labour Heritage commissioned a slate in honour of Alfred Linnell for the centenary at the TUC of Bloody Sunday in November 1987. Working jointly with FoTHCP we have now erected a stone near the site of Linnell’s grave embedded with the slate and an inscription:
On Sunday 13 November 1887, ten thousand people
marched peacefully towards Trafalgar Square,
protesting against repressionin Ireland and unemployment.
Police and troops beat them with truncheons. A week after
‘Bloody Sunday’ Alfred Linnell joined the gathering in
Trafalgar Square to protest against the authorities’ violence.
He was knocked down by a police horse and died on 2nd December.
Not one, nor thousands must they slay
But one and all if they would dusk the day.
Meet at the Soanes Centre, on the right as you enter via the main gates in Southern Grove, E3, in order to walk to the Memorial Stone.
Stan Newens & John Grigg, who have researched Linnell’s life, will give short talks.
Tea and refreshments will be provided by FoTHCP, followed by a tour of this historic Victorian Cemetery set in beautiful woodland, a site of nature conservation
Diggers, Ranters and Fifth Monarchy Men: An Overview of the Revolutionary and Radical Sects in the 1640-60 Era
Speaker: Professor Bernard Capp, University of Warwick
The speaker is author of numerous works on 17th century social, political and cultural history including The Fifth Monarchy Men (1972); Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs 1500-1800 (1979), Cromwell's Navy: The Fleet and the English Revolution (1989) and When Gossips Meet: Women, the Family and Neighbourhood in Early Modern England (2003 )
Professor Capp is a fellow of the British Academy.
Talk by John Rees (Levellers Association) on the development of ideas for democracy to commemorate the 400th anniversary of ‘Free borne’ John Lilburne, a leader of the Levellers in the English Civil War and Revolution.
Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd, Croydon, CR0 1BD, not far from Fairfield Halls.
This talk is free but £2 donation requested towards costs.
A launch event for A History of Riots is planned for Monday 15th June Room 102 at the Institute of Historical Research at 5.30pm. Details of the book here
A History of Riots is the result of a conference held by the London Socialist Historians Group in early 2012, designed to look again at the historical aspects of riots in the wake of the August 2011 riots in the UK.
Many historians had thought that riots were a method of protest and revolt which had given way to more organised forms of expression, from trade unions to political parties, during the course of the nineteenth century. Events have proven this idea to be incorrect. Riots still take place around the world on a regular basis.
The contributors to A History of Riots probe various aspects of riots in order to examine the historical issues and concerns that motivate them and dictate their course and to better understand why they take place in the current day.
Sean Creighton looks at the Trafalgar Square riots in London in 1887, referred to as ‘Bloody Sunday’. Ian Birchall analyses how riots have been represented in fiction, while Neil Davidson reviews riotous activity around the Scottish Act of Union in 1707. Keith Flett looks at what is sometimes held to be the peak of British riot history, the Chartist period of the 1840s, while John Newsinger offers a different perspective: not a riot inspired by the crowd or the ‘mob’, as media commentators persist in naming protesters, but one driven by authority, a police riot in the US in the 1930s.
There are editorial introductions and conclusions that place these specific historical studies of aspects of the history of riots in a wider methodological and theoretical framework, looking at the work of some of the foremost historians of riots, including George Rude, and more recent material by Adrian Randall, Andrew Charlesworth and others.
The perspective of the book is clear. Riots are something which is an important part of history, but they also remain part of the present too. In this sense, understanding their history is an important task for historians and all those interested in how, and in what forms, protest develops.
This book represents a contribution to, and promotes, a discussion of both the history of riots and how an examination of this can help provide a better understanding of riots today.