Radical Hackney after World War One

Spurred on by the great Radical Hackney History blog, I’ve dug out some digital press clippings on radical movements in my home borough after the first world war. The first covers an early instance of squatting, when unemployed workers unoccupied properties, the second a rent strike in Shoreditch.

These two articles are taken from the fantastic Trove, a resource built by the National Library of Australia. Most of the digitization of English newspapers has been by private companies, and consequently they are neither accessible nor usable. Hidden behind paywalls, with the most horrendous automated text transcription rendering them both illegible and unsearchable, one wonders whether they even succeed in their main aim of making money.

Trove, on the other hand, is free to view, and allows the reader to correct errors in the transcription. A virtuous circle ensues: the more it is used, the more useful it is, in turn attracting more users and sharing the heritage. Although it collects Australian newspapers, there are many news reports from the United Kingdom, even down to the local level as these two cuttings show.

Aside from the local aspect, these reports caught my eye as examples of spatial contestation in London. This city has been made and remade through conflicts over space, whether as buildings, commons, communities or customs. This is an aspect of my work on the debtors’ sanctuaries of London circa 1670 to 1724, but the long story of the struggles over the terrain of London remains to be written. It’s on my to-do list, but not near the top.

For more North London WW1 radical history, see Ken Weller’s Don’t Be A Soldier.



Seizure of Town Property.

[Australian Press Association.]

LONDON, December 2. [1920]

The increasing unemployment has resulted in much disorderly conduct in some of the London suburbs. In several instances unemployed have seized unoccupied municipal property in order to establish relief organization. The latest step has been the occupation of the town halls of Tottenham and Edmonton. The men hoisted the red flag on the building, and declare they will remain in possession until work is found for them. At Camberwell they seized the Free Library building and 21 empty houses, and at Hackney they have occupied a drill hall. The public are supplying them with rations of bread, ‘bully beef,’ and coffee. There were riotous scenes also at Dalston, another metropolitan suburb, where men out of work attempted to seize empty houses. The police were obliged to draw their truncheons in dealing with the riot. The whole problem of unemployment has become a serious question. Some boards of Poor Law guardians are granting relief to men at the rate of 10/ per week, with 10/ extra for a wife and 5/ for each child.



LONDON, September 7. [1921]

A meeting of unemployed at Shoreditch carried a resolution that no rent should be paid by those out of work until the maintenance of the unemployed had been made a national charge, and a scheme  for the provision of full maintenance for the unemployed was in practice. In order to enforce the “strike,” the   borough was divided into 16 parts, each under a marshal, who will arrange pickets to patrol the streets and give   assistance against the authorities, in the event of any attempt being made to evict a “striker.”


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2 Responses to Radical Hackney after World War One

  1. NT says:

    Very interesting, thanks for this! I have just read that many of these occupations were organised by unemployed ex-servicemen. Richard Flanagan’s (1991) “Parish-Fed Bastards” A History of the Politics of the Unemployed in Britain 1884-1939. Great book!

  2. Pingback: Radical Hackney after World War One | The Radical History of Hackney

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