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