I'm doing some research into the spate of Latvian revolutionary 'expropriation' in London 110 years ago and I've come across some marvellous pieces of ephemera. The Latvian anarchists probably got away with a few robberies and wages snatches. But two robberies failed spectacularly - and tragically.
One was the Tottenham Outrage of January 1909, when two heavily armed robbers stole the money being brought to pay the wages at a rubber factory. They got the cash - but were pursued over six miles by police, passers-by, local kids, the lot. The two robbers died or suffered fatal injuries. And two others were shot dead - a policeman and a ten-year-old boy.
In December 1910, another group of armed Latvian emigres staged a much more sophisticated attempt to rob a jewellery shop in Houndsditch in the City of London. They were interrupted by local police, Three police officers were shot dead, and one of the robbers suffered fatal gunshot wounds at the hands of a comrade.
There was a national sense of shock and anger. This folding mourning card paid tribute to the three murdered policemen.
A few weeks later, two of the suspected Houndsditch gang were tracked down to a first-floor room at 100 Sidney Street in Stepney. Overnight the police surrounded the house and managed to get the other occupants out. The two men were well armed. The first shots rang out at 7:30 in the morning of 3rd January 1911- and the shoot-out continued for another six hours.
The police were comprehensively outgunned, and Scots Guards were called in to help meet the volley of shots fired by the two men. Eventually the house caught fire. The fire brigade were not allowed to douse the flames. In the embers of the house, the bodies of the two gunmen were found - one had been shot and other died from suffocation.
The Siege of Sidney Street was a sensation. This dramatic, illustrated account of the event was on sale within days.
And here's another wonderful artefact - a few days after the Siege, some of those allegedly involved were required to appear in court in committal proceedings relating to the Houndsditch shootings.
This news photo shows the two women who appeared - Sara Trassjonsky and Luba Milstein - flanked by a warder and a prison matron. What a telling image!
A transatlantic pilgrimage achieved its goal today when the relatives of men who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War gathered around a newly refurbished bench honouring the volunteers on Hampstead Heath.
Mariah Wilson - the grand-daughter of International Brigade member Joe Gibbons - flew in from New York and was joined by her father David Wilson from Florida. They met up with Mariah's London-based cousin, Ted Sandling - a relative of another of the men honoured, Milt Cohen - to visit the bench and to pay tribute to the courage of their forbears.
The original bench with an inscription honouring the Gibbons brothers and their comrades was in such disrepair that it was set to be removed. Heath runner Martin Plaut was familiar with the bench and wanted to ensure that well-wishers had an opportunity to keep alive the memory of this band of International Brigaders. That led to a blog here all of six years ago - which eventually caught the attention of Mariah Wilson in the US.
Until then. Mariah was entirely unaware that her family members had a memorial bench on the Heath. For her, organising a replacement bench with a slightly modified inscription became a Pandemic mission. The bench was installed in June - the story is told here along with an account of the volunteers and what befell them in Spain and afterwards. And this morning, she and David flew in and made more-or-less straight away, along with Ted, to see the bench.
They were joined by Marlene Sidaway, president of the International Brigade Memorial Trust which seeks to keep alive the memory and spirit of those who volunteered to resist fascism in 1930s Spain.
Quite by chance, as the group approached the bench today a young man was sitting there enjoying the view. He had noticed the inscription and it bore a powerful echo of his own family's experience. Alex Baro, a freelance film maker, is from Barcelona, and lost family members in the brutal Battle of the Ebro in 1938 which sealed the fate of the Republican forces.
The bench is in a wonderful, tranquil spot - looking out on the ponds and beyond towards Highgate. It's a beautiful spot for the Brigaders to be remembered.
Mariah commented: "I'd like to think Joe and his brothers, as well as Milt Cohen and Pat Dooley were all smiling down at our gathering today :)"
For all those who paid homage on the Heath today, it was a special moment!
A bust of the remarkable Charles Bradlaugh - Victorian MP, atheist, republican, radical, advocate of birth control, champion of Indian and Irish nationalisms and much more besides - is back at his burial place.
The initial bronze has been missing for decades, either stolen or vandalised. But yesterday I was among sixty or so well-wishers who made the journey to Brookwood Cemetery near Woking to celebrate the restoration of Bradlaugh's memorial.
I am proud to say I had a role in this marvellous piece of historical restitution. Thirty years or more ago, I bought at auction a bronze bust of Bradlaugh. It's among my most prized possessions.
No, it's not the one stolen from the grave. It's a much smaller piece - either the sculptor's maquette, or perhaps one of a number of small busts sold to raise money for the larger work.
Some months ago, as recorded in these annals, I lent my bust to a specialist enterprise Ryman & Leader who mapped it in 3-D, scaled it up, and made the splendid bust in bronze resin which is now back on display in Brookwood.
Yesterday's ceremony was organised by the National Secular Society, the freethought organisation that Bradlaugh founded in 1866, and the Brookwood Cemetery Society who have done a brilliant job in caring for this capacious burial ground.
The attendance was higher than had been expected, and the mood distinctly upbeat. There's so much about Charles Bradlaugh to celebrate!
As well as the short speeches and the laying of wreaths, Bob Forder, a stalwart of the National Secular Society, read an account from Bryan Niblett's biography of Bradlaugh's funeral 130 years ago. Here it is:
And if you need a bit of a primer about who Charles Bradlaugh was and why he is worth remembering, well, you could give this a listen -
Sally Fraser's Images of Liberation
You've got just a month to catch a wonderful exhibition of photographs by Sally Fraser (now Chandan Fraser) of the early women's liberation movement of half-a-century ago. It's at the old site of Ruskin College at Oxford - now Exeter College's Cohen Quad - which was the venue for Britain's first Women's Liberation Conference in 1970.
Sally Alexander, who is in the photo above, was a student at Ruskin in 1970 and one of the organisers of the conference. She was a founding editor of History Workshop Journal and is a hugely respected feminist historian.
She's pointing at a photo of herself fifty years ago, wearing an Afghan coat and holding one end of a banner at the pioneering International Women's Day march through central London in 1971. The accompanying detail from that photo doesn't do justice to the quality of the images, but you can just about make out the younger Sally.
The photographs Chandan took cover that first Women's Liberation Conference and some of the key early feminist marches, and contingents on bigger demonstrations, which helped to establish the women's movement, and give it confidence and visibility.
Chandan says that she was always a participant first and a photographer second - she reflects on the times and her photography here - but her images (some can be seen here on the Report site) are an unparalleled chronicle of the initial phases of the women's liberation movement. It's so heartening that they are being exhibited.
The launch was yesterday - a low-key but warm and enlivening occasion. The photos are really well displayed, and a few have been printed on fabric and put up as if they are banners on a demo -
Here are the details of the exhibition, and a bit more about Chandan and her photographs -
And blowing the photos up big means you can spot people in the crowd who might otherwise have passed unnoticed. Take this example -
And there's going to be a bigger exhibition of Chandan's photos at Four Corners in Bethnal Green in the Spring. Something to look forward to!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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