The sad story of Fred Demuth – Marx’s son in Hackney

“I can’t help feeling that Freddy has had great injustice all through his life.”  – Eleanor Marx

 

Photo of Frederick Lewis Demuth 1851-1929

Frederick Demuth 1851-1929

Frederick’s Demuth’s story is a convoluted one which is contested by a number of historians – and tainted by hostility or deference to his alleged father. This bias makes it difficult to do justice to Demuth himself. 

People have strong feelings about Karl Marx, so I’ll put my cards on the table from the outset and say that reading his books has helped me to understand the world. I would thoroughly recommend David Harvey’s lectures about Capital which can be viewed on Youtube or downloaded as mp3s. As an individual Karl seems as charming and annoying and brilliant and messed up as the rest of us – if not more so. More on that later.

We have some travelling to do before we reach Hackney, so please bear with me…

Marx – married and on the move

Karl Marx married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. They had been engaged for seven years and had known each other since childhood. In October 1843 the Marxes moved from Jenny’s family home in Kreuznach (near Frankfurt) to Paris. It was a busy time. Karl wrote for a radical journal, met lifelong comrade Friedrich Engels for the first time and began his expansive study of political economy that would be the basis for Capital. The couple’s first daughter Jenny Caroline was born in 1844 (the convention is to use the second name to avoid confusing the Jennys, as we will see).

The Marx family were kicked out of France in 1845 and headed to Brussels. Jenny Marx’s mother was worried about them and sent her housekeeper Helene ‘Lenchen’ Demuth to help. Lenchen stayed with the Marxes for the rest of their lives.

Jenny Laura Marx was born in Brussels in 1845. The Marx family and Lenchen decamped to London in 1849. The two junior Jennys were followed by Edgar (1847); Henry Edward Guy (1849); Jenny Eveline Frances (1851) and Eleanor (1855). That’s six children born to Jenny senior in 11 years. But that wasn’t quite the end of it…

Helene Demuth gave birth to Frederick Demuth on 23 June 1851 in the Marx home of 28 Dean Street, Soho. She was not apparently in any kind of “respectable” relationship at the time, so young Freddy was fostered out. The Marx children assumed (or rather, were helped to believe) that frequent visitor Engels was responsible. But Helene never spoke about her son’s father.

It is now generally (but not universally) believed that Karl Marx was actually Frederick Demuth’s father. This means Karl was shagging Helene whilst his wife was pregnant with Jenny Eveline. His letters from the time mention that he went into hiding in the British Library for many days when Lenchen’s pregnancy would have been discovered.

Frederick Demuth in Hackney

Freddy Demuth as a dashing Hackney lad

Frustratingly little is known about Frederick Demuth’s life compared to his birth. (If you know more, or where to find out more, please leave a comment!)

Freddy was fostered by a family named Lewis in East London. He trained as a skilled fitter and turner (lathe operator – possibly gun-smithing) and left his foster family and “rough childhood” as early as possible.

Ellen Demuth

In January, February or March 1873 Demuth married the Irish gardener’s daughter Ellen Murphy (b 1854). The couple lived in Hackney in the early 1880s and had a son, Harry (aka Frederick confusingly) in 1882.

The tomes of Marxological correspondence show that Eleanor Marx maintained a friendship with Freddy from at least the 1880s onwards.

When Karl Marx died in 1883, Helene Demuth became Engels’ housekeeper (Jenny Marx senior had died a few years previously). Harry Demuth would later recall his father taking him to visit granny Helene at Engels’ Regents Park Road home.

Eleanor continued her efforts to bridge the gap between Freddy and his presumed father Engels:

“Freddy has behaved admirably in all respects and Engels’ irritation against him is as unfair as it is comprehensible. We should none of us like to meet our pasts, I guess, in flesh and blood.”

Perhaps because of this Freddy was invited to Engels’ 74th birthday party in November  1894. But there was no time to develop things further – Engels died the next year. He left nothing in his will for Freddy, but the “legitimate” Marx children were included and are said to have given him regular support. There are contested suggestions that Engels confessed that Marx was actually Freddy’s father on his deathbed.

One account states that Eleanor Marx introduced Freddy to Clara Zetkin as “my half brother” during the Second International’s Congress of 1896 in London’s Queen’s Hall, Langham Place.

In February 1888 Freddy joined the Kings Cross branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers as a skilled fitter. The ASE would shortly become the third largest union in Britain and embark on a lengthy strike for an eight hour day. (Workers’ struggles around the length of the working day was one of the themes Karl Marx tackled in volume 1 of Capital which had been published in English in 1887.)

When Helene “Lenchen” Demuth died of cancer in 1890 she left all her worldly goods – including ninety-five pounds – to Frederick Lewis Demuth of 25 Gransden Avenue, Hackney.

AVlIwKx2TfSMF5mxLb9DGQ

The site of 25 Grandsden Avenue

That side of Gransden Avenue is now a building site, but our comrades at Past Tense have written about the area as part of their essential Hackney Walk:

London Fields east: Mentmore Terrace, Sidworth Street, Lamb lane, Gransden Avenue:

 

Sidworth Street was the site of a V2 bomb during the war and in the 1960s and 1970s industrial unties built.

 

In 2010 one block (13018) was squatted as Urban HapHazard Squat. Some buildings around Sidworth Street and Mentmore Terrace are currently squatted, some with the knowledge/permission of the property owners.

Properties round here bough by local council after WW2 (bomb damage & slum clearance) and in the 1970s. During this time there were several traveller sites on Lamb Lane, Gransden Avenue and  Mentmore Terrace. In the 1980s a site on Gransden Avenue/London Lane was being considered as a permanent local authority traveller site.

Freddy’s son later recalled that they inhabited the first floor of the “ramshackle” house, with the Clayton family on the ground floor. Henry Clayton worked with Freddy at Paterson and Cooper, a firm of electrical engineers and scientific instrument makers based at Telegraph Works, Pownall Road, Haggerston.

The 1891 census has the family of Frederick, Ellen and Frederick jnr still at Gransden Ave. Freddy is listed as engineer and fitter. But by the 1901 census only the father and son remained.

In 1892 Freddy’s wife Ellen had left him to run away with a soldier. She also nicked most of his possessions, as well as £29 belonging to a workers’ benevolent fund that comrade Demuth had been entrusted with. Ouch. Eleanor Marx pulled some strings and bailed him out with the assistance of her siblings.

Freddy posing with Hackney Social Democratic Federation comrades

Harry Demuth told journalist David Heisler about his father’s political activity increasing around this time, including being an avid reader of the socialist newspaper The Clarion and his membership of the Hackney Social Democratic Federation, attending their meetings at the Rendezvous Cafe at 155 Mare Street and the British Oak Tavern on Lea Bridge Road. There is also mention of Freddy being one of the founders of the Clapton Park and District Co-Operative and Industrial Society at 28 Brooksby’s Walk in Homerton. Harry recalls his father studying the works of Marx and Engels and having their pictures on the walls of their family home.

We also know that Freddy was a founder member of the Hackney Labour Party. (When was this? The Labour Party was founded in 1900, but its first showing in Hackney parliamentary and council elections is 1922. Separate Hoxton ran a Labour candidate in the 1919 council elections though).

jvn0tbmtaqr3xdem4cdyg.jpg

54 Reighton Rd

By 1911 Freddy was boarding at the slightly more upmarket 54 Reighton Road in Upper Clapton. `His profession is listed as mechanical engineer – working with fountain pens. He was boarding with the Payne family. Alfred Payne had also been a founder member of Hackney Labour Party and went on to become mayor of Hackney between 1919-20.

Harry lived elsewhere at this point, working as a cab driver before briefly emigrating to Australia.

Freddy (front and centre) convalescing from a period of illness, 1912

In 1914 Freddy started working at the Bryant and May factory in Bow, initially as a fitter and then as a foreman. He’d previously had roles at Gestetner (Lea Valley) and stamp printers De La Rue (Bun Hill Row). In 1924 he retired at the age of 73. He was still a member of the Hackney branch of Amalgamated Engineers Union.

Freddy died of heart failure in Upper Clapton in 1929, outliving all the other Marx children. At that point he shared a house with Ellen “Laura” Payne, the widow of Alfred Payne. Freddy’s son Harry was for some reason named as his nephew in his will – he got the surprisingly large sum of £1971 12s 4d. Rachel Holmes suggests that this inheritance may have been a product of the financial support Freddy had received from the Marx siblings.

Yvonne Kapp has Frederick Demuth’s last address as 13 Stoke Newington Common:

BxBo4vEpRG+lUD8AvueNzg

13 Stoke Newington Common

The hazards of moral judgements and historical perspective

“[Karl] did not love the boy, the scandal would have been too big.” – Louise Kautsky

There are two very polarised perspectives on Frederick Demuth and they are both entirely wrong.

Socialists and Communists generally gloss over Freddy’s existence as an unfortunate event that is either an interesting footnote or something that demonstrates the steps that the workers’ movement had to take to defend itself from attacks in the media.

Generally, if he is ever mentioned at all, Freddy is one weapon in an arsenal of tools used to attack his father. If you listened to conservative commentators you would know that Karl Marx was a terrible person who never worked a day in his life (in fact he was paid as a journalist and author) sponged off factory owner Engels (partly true – although Engels was more than willing to help out his objectively more talented comrade) and more seriously raped his servant. The latter claim is of course impossible to prove or disprove now.

The few accounts we have of life in the Marx family household seem to indicate that there was a great deal of mutual affection between Karl, Jenny senior and Helene. That said, there is clearly a power imbalance between employer and employee which makes it difficult to know how complete consent can be in a sexual relationship which takes place in that context.

We also know from accounts of the Marx household and the wider historical context that finances were tight (and often desperate) – and that “respectable” families did not include children born out of wedlock.

Karl Marx shouldn’t have shagged his housekeeper. But he did. Is this a stain on his character? Yes it is. Does it undermine his ideas? Not really, but it is a black mark for sure.

They think only of two individuals and forget the family. They forget that nearly every dissolution of a marriage is the dissolution of a family and that the children and what belongs to them should not be dependent on arbitrary whims, even from a purely legal point of view.

On a Proposed Divorce Law, 1842

 

The change in a historical epoch can always be determined by the progress of women toward freedom, because in the relation of woman to man, of the weak to the strong, the victory of human nature over brutality is most evident. The degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation.

The Holy Family, 1844

The nucleus, the first form of [property] lies in the family, where wife and children are slaves of the husband. This latent slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property …

The German Ideology, 1846

In the above quotes, Marx recognises the unequal status of women in capitalism and the effect that the dissolution of a family can have on children. He would also have been only too aware of the differences in class between him and his housemaid – and the consequences of their relationship being discovered.

Marx and Engels’ vision for a new world included some laudable words about women and relationships:

It [communist society] will transform the relations between the sexes into a purely private matter which concerns only the persons involved and into which society has no occasion to intervene. It can do this since it does away with private property and educates children on a communal basis, and in this way removes the two bases of traditional marriage, the dependence, rooted in private property, of the woman on the man and of the children on the parents.

Communist Manifesto, 1848

But the world of 1848 (and 1851 when Freddy was born) was even further away from that than we are now. Marx fostered out Freddy because that is what most people in that situation would have done at the time – and because a public scandal about his family would undermine the work he was doing. He behaved in accordance with his class, which meant oppressing his servant even more than usual when the chips were down.

I am not married. I am writing this whilst my daughter does her school homework at the same table. I am able to do this without controversy because of the work done by feminists and the workers’ movement over the last 167 years to loosen the strange-hold of conservative values on the family and child rearing. Marx’s contribution to this process of social change cannot be ignored.

Having said that, parts of the left would still rather cover up a scandal than address the failings of the men it elevates to leadership positions. In 2013 the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party was rocked by accusations that it had covered up allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against one of its leading members. As one of the female victims said at the time: “They are putting the interests of the party above the interests of the women.”

The personal remains political. Which brings us back to Frederick Demuth.

If you subtract the question of his father from the equation, Freddy’s life remains interesting and worth celebrating. He escaped a harsh childhood and a horrendous marriage breakup and still managed to retain his humanity – his capacity to care for others. His years of union work and political activism are the quiet, patient building blocks out of which we will construct a better world.

demuth-freddy

Notes and sources

I first heard about Frederick Demuth during a talk given by Barry Burke and Ken Worpole at Pages Bookshop in 2015. So thanks as ever to them for all the work they did on Hackney’s radical history before I even got started.

I have used the following for this piece:

Eduard Bernstein – What Drove Eleanor Marx to Suicide (1898) – includes a number of letters from Eleanor `Marx to Freddy that demonstrate he was her main confidante towards the end of her life.

Terrell Carver – Marx’sIllegitimate Son’ …or Gresham’s Law in the World of Scholarship – a useful dose of scepticism on the Marx-paternity claim.

Hal Draper – Marx and Engels on Women’s Liberation

Edna Healey – Wives of Fame: Mary Livingstone, Jenny Marx and Emma Darwin (Bloomsbury, 2011)

Rachel Holmes – Eleanor Marx: A Life (Bloomsbury, 2014)

Yvonne Kapp – Eleanor Marx: A Biography (Verso, 2018) – the main source. Appendix 1 especially.

Yvonne Kapp – Writing Eleanor Marx  – includes an account of the Demuth family contacting her after being messed about by a journalist who stole their family photos.

Frances Wheen – Karl Marx (Fourth Estate, 1999)

Two newspaper articles from the David Heisler interviews in the early 1970s:

ABC Madrid – El Hijo Que Carlos Marx Trato De Olividar (“The son that Karl Marx tried to forget”) (1974)

Der Spiegel – Marx: Ungeliebter Sohn (“Marx: Unloved Son” – google translate) (1972)

A “Bash The Rich” march in 1900s Hackney?

Walter Southgate was a member of Hackney Trades Council and the Social Democratic Federation at the turn of the Century. He remembers:

“We wanted to stir up the middle classes. So we organised a corps of men; we all put on masks and with George Oram, who was a very tall painter, leading us with a red flag on a long pole, we walked all around the toffee-nosed areas of Hackney”. Many carried placards with various slogans on while “one bloke had a kettle drum and another had a bugle.”

(From Rebels With a Cause: The History of Hackney Trades Council 1900-1975 by Barry Burke)

Walter expands on this in his excellent autobiography “That’s The Way It Was” (New Clarion Press, 1982):

In a local effort at Hackney during this pre-war period, I remember the local socialists decided that only shock tactics would frighten the smug middle class voters out of their skins. It was an easy salve to their consciences by constantly saying that the unemployed were work shy; therefore, shocks would get some at least to appreciate the dangers and explosive nature of social discontent.

George Oram, a veteran of the Boer War, was to lead a poster parade through the wealthier parts of Hackney and I was deputed to prepare the posters, the markings on which would be skull and cross bones, skeletons, starving children and other macabre stuff.

There were 12 of us, with George at the head wearing his medals and carrying a large red flag, the latter calculated to send shivers down the spines of comfortable drawing room viewers. Each sandwichman carried a poster fore and aft and wore a mask for fear of victimisation. At the rear of the procession a comrade blew a blast on his bugle at intervals.

In the meanwhile any unemployed fellows were ostentatiously busy ringing at door bells and pushing handbills into letterboxes explaining that unemployment was a social responsibility and could not be salved or solved by charity and soup kitchens but by government action. We carried no collection boxes as a sign of our sincerity.

As a publicity stunt, with a moral and educational purpose, this was something new and it brought us many recruits from this quarter of the borough.

There is a brief and very interesting biography of Walter Southgate by our comrades at Hayes Peoples History here.

I’ve not been able to find out more about George Oram or the slogans, yet…

(The UK anarchist group Class War organised “Bash The Rich” marches in the eighties, commencing with one on Kensington on May 11th 1985 – and the revived the tactic in 2007 with a march through Notting Hill. Class War’s inspiration was from the American anarchist Lucy Parsons though.)

The Workers’ Circle – fighting anti-semitism in Hackney

v0_web (2)

Flyer for 1949 Workers’ Circle meeting in Stoke Newington, courtesy of Hackney Archives.

I’ve been a bit negligent in documenting Jewish radicalism in Hackney so far. The reason for this that there is so much of it that it’s a slightly intimidating prospect.

One of the first books I ever read about the radical history of Hackney was Morris Beckman’s superb The 43 Group: The Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism (Centerprise, 1993). Doing a blog post about the 43 Group seems pretty redundant when Beckman’s book is such an amazing combination of social history, good humour – and Blackshirt Fascists getting righteously duffed up. It’s recently been republished, so you really should be reading that instead of this.

On a similar note, even listing radical Jewish people who have been active in Hackney is fraught with problems as I’m sure I’d leave someone out. And the nature of radical politics is that many of the people I have in mind have wildly divergent politics anyway – “Jewish radicalism” isn’t just one thing.

Let’s just start by saying that there is a continuous line of radical Jews in East London from at least the formation of the Hebrew Socialist Union in 1876 right up to Jewdas today. I say “East London” because Jews were generally concentrated around the industrial heartland of Tower Hamlets in the 1870s. Moving out to the leafy suburbs of Hackney became fashionable (and economically viable) between the wars.

pt1.jpg

Nevertheless, radicals like Rudolf Rocker lived in Shoreditch in 1896 whilst editing the Jewish Anarchist paper Arbeter Fraint (Worker’s Friend). And we know that fellow Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman attended fundraisers for the paper in the East End too. (She properly disses Eastenders for all being drunkards in her autobiography Living My Life though).

The paper eventually gained a circulation of 5,000 copies. There is more on Arbeter Fraint at the excellent London Rebel History Calendar site by our comrades Past Tense.

Arbeter Fraint activists Arthur Hillman and Nathan Wiener were also involved with setting up the Workers’ Circle Friendly Society.

This superb article by David Rosenberg describes the energetic atmosphere of early Jewish radicalism in London. It includes the following about the establishment of the Workers’ Circle in 1909:

[Morris Mindel] chaired a group including anarchists and socialists that established the Circle. While unions fought for better conditions in individual workplaces, the Circle organised joint activities across occupations to strengthen secular Jewish working class life and culture in the East End.

Other friendly societies at the time were often boosted by an initial injection of philanthropic money, but the Circle stuck firmly to its principles of doing everything from its own resources and from the bottom up. It collected weekly subscriptions from members to fund its initiatives. Its most basic economic role was providing benefits for members facing great hardship. Those who were long-term unemployed through illness could draw benefits. Those suffering bereavements could arrange secular Jewish burials through the society.

It established a building fund and in 1924 purchased a large building in Whitechapel known as Circle House which had two halls, a library and several meeting rooms.  On Thursday nights, two sympathetic law graduates provided a free legal advice surgery. The Circle’s “propaganda committee” set up a series of Friday night lectures. On Sunday nights it offered concerts and Yiddish theatre performances.

In the late 1920s young Polish Jewish immigrants colonised a top floor room to establish the Progressive Youth Circle, which used Yiddish as the medium for discussion on women’s rights, free love, communism and Zionism. They invited trade unionists and political activists to speak to them, studied left wing writers, and developed Proltet an agitprop Yiddish workers’ theatre group.

fullsizeoutput_1218

Circle House at Alie Street, Whitechapel . From Joe Jacobs’ Out of the Ghetto

Jack Shapiro recalls that the Workers’ Circle was “full of a vast variety of militants fresh out of the revolutionary parties in their own countries [whose] militancy and keenness to keep the struggle alive was an important inspiration to young people such as myself.” 

Joe Jacobs gives a flavour of the day to day activities of the Circle in his autobiography Out of the Ghetto: My Youth in the East End – Communism and Fascism 1913-1939 (another book everyone should read):

There was the Workers’ Circle, “Circle House”, in Alie Street, a hive of working class activity. This was a Jewish organisation organised on the basis of a friendly society with all sorts of mutual aid activities. Many of the leading lights had tried to bring a little of the ‘old country’ into their lives. They were former ‘Bundists’ from Poland, Anarchists and Libertarians from all parts, Socialists and Freethinkers. Every shade of Russian and European Labour thought and action were represented here. In addition there were Zionists and other purely Jewish organisations. There was a very good bar – no alcohol, but good food, continental style, Jewish of course. Chess and draughts as well as the inevitable dominoes were played for hours on end.

The National Archives notes that the Workers Circle began partly because its founders “did not find existing Jewish friendly societies suitable, because of their religious and class bias.” Morris Mindel’s son Mick later mentioned that the Circle’s rules and regulations “caused quite a stir among bourgeois friendly societies, especially the declaration that we welcomed women to free membership”.

Indeed, in this short lecture, a Mr Pearce recalls that many of the working class audience at Workers Circle concerts didn’t quite know how to behave properly:

The second half of Pearce’s lecture covers the discussions around how Jewish groups should respond to the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. He mentions a delegation from the Workers’ Circle visiting the Board of Deputies to discuss setting up Jewish self-defence organisations. And being rebuffed. Undeterred, the delegates worked with other radical groups to set up the Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism. All seven members of the first executive committee of the Council were Workers’ Circle members.

The Council organised opposition to a British Union of Fascists march through the East End on October 4th 1936 which became the infamous Battle of Cable Street. Joe Jacobs notes that people who required legal assistance after Cable Street were instructed to go to Room 5 of Circle House.

Pearce also states in his lecture that Workers’ Circle members volunteered to fight against Fascism in the Spanish Civil War, some being killed as part of the conflict. In her dissertation on East End Jews in Politics, Elaine Rosa Smith mentions that the Workers’ Circle was involved with fundraising for anti-fascists in Spain and subsequently aid for Jewish child victims of Nazism in Poland.

Circle House in Alie Street was bombed during the 2nd World War.

David Renton’s Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s gives some clues about the continuing work of the Circle after the war in 1947:

In London, the Workers’ Circle concentrated on putting pressure on the London City Council not to let halls to fascists, and the Circle also called a large anti-fascist public meeting in Shoreditch Town Hall. Although the Circle was active it was not complacent. Members of the Workers’ Circle criticised the Circle itself and other Jewish organisations for not doing enough. As M.D. Rayner commented, “At the fascist meetings at Hackney, Bethnal Green etc., individual Jews were present, and they were vocal and otherwise active, but the communal organisations and leadership had fallen down.”

The National Archives notes a general decline in Circle mutual aid activity after the war:

In its heyday there were about 3,000 members paying 2s. 6d per week for which they got 30 shillings a week when sick, £5 towards cost of seeing specialist and grant to buy false teeth and glasses. [1] […]

The Second World War saw another decline in membership, destruction of the Alie Street hall and considerable damage to the rest of the premises. The formation of the NHS also reduced the incentive for membership.

untitled

After the war Circle House was sold and the organisation moved to 13 Sylvester Path, Hackney, in 1956. Membership continued to decline, with branch mergers, though post-war activity included an exhibition on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and support for the the state of Israel.

It’s clear from the “how to fight anti-semitism” flyer at the top of this post and the Renton quote above that the Circle had been active in Hackney and Stoke Newington prior to its HQ moving here, so I think we need to up our game in documenting its activities in the Borough. (If you have anything to add to this piece, leave a comment!).

The Sylvester Path premises were shared by the London Jewish Bakers’ Union. There’s a short clip about them and their banner on Youtube courtesy of the Jewish Museum:

Two members of the Workers’ Circle went on to be Mayors of Hackney:

Sam Cohen (former Workers’ Circle Chairman) became Mayor of Stoke Newington in 1959 and Mayor of Hackney in 1978.

He seems to have fared better than Solomon Lever who was Mayor of Hackney from 1951 to 1952. Solomon was the acting general secretary of the Workers’ Circle in 1959 when he was tragically and brutally killed as part of a robbery of its premises at 13 Sylvester Path.

The Workers’ Circle closed down shortly after its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1985.

Stoke Newington Suffragettes

I’m very grateful to the History of Stokey twitter feed for posting these two images. (I’ll even let them off calling it “Stokey”).

First of all an amazing poster for a meeting in 1906:

suff.png

The space the meeting was held in is still used by the Library for exhibitions and events.

Millicent (or Mrs Henry) Fawcett and her husband have been mentioned in a previous post about Hackney Suffragettes and the 1866 petition.

Also an image of Suffragettes outside Stoke Newington station in 1899:

1d20bbfd3c66da613550689f87a013fa

Any further pointers or information about the women’s suffrage movement in Hackney, Stoke Newington or Shoreditch would be gratefully received.

Reprinted: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900

hackprop

This inspiring pamphlet was originally published by Centerprise in the 1980s but has just been reissued in a lovely facsimile edition. It’s available in Pages of Hackney and Stoke Newington Bookshop, direct from the authors on Amazon and presumably other places (let me know?).

Five quid gets you an eminently readable and well researched look into the radical working class culture of the era.

Pages are also organising an event with both the authors – here is the blurb from their site:

Working Class Club Life and Politics in
Hackney 1870 – 1900
Tuesday 17th November, 7pm
Pages of Hackney
70 Lower Clapton Road
E5 0RN
Tickets £TBA

In the heady days of late Victorian London, Hackney was regarded as the most radical – even revolutionary – district of London with a large number of liberal reform and socialist clubs and organisations across the borough. These clubs organised lectures, demonstrations, musical concerts, outings, and education classes, and famous radicals such as William Morris were regular speakers.

Barry Burke and Ken Worpole recreate the world of radical Hackney, to mark the publication a new edition of their original 1980 study.

worpole.net

The Real World War 1

Some friends and comrades have started work on an initiative to put forward a radical history of the first world war.

There is (inevitably) a blog http://therealww1.wordpress.com/ including a very good “about” page and reading list.

Other activities are planned…

If I get time I will try to put something together on the war and Hackney – any suggestions or contributions would be welcome.

 

Standing up to corporal punishment, 1904

An article by Dora B Montefiore, which appeared in the journal New Age in February 1904.

There were 28 Board Schools in Hackney at that time – it’s not clear from the article where this small bit of resistance took place. (See below for some notes on Board Schools)

Pr_CorporalPunishment

Women’s Interests
Corporal punishment

Humanitarians, among whom I trust are many women, owe a debt of gratitude to Arthur Hall, aged 13, who on January 13 at the Board school, Hackney, vindicated by passive resistance his right as a human being to refuse willingly to submit to the indignity of corporal punishment.

If mothers held in the State the position which is their right, it is scarcely believable that these degrading exhibitions of violence inflicted on those still too weak to resist physically could continue. If a boy or girl of thirteen has the moral courage to offer the example of moral resistance to the terror of violence, which hypnotises for the time being his or her companions, that child, properly treated, has the makings of a Hampden, a Josephine Butler, or a Wilberforce.

According to the report in the Morning Leader, the North London magistrate, Mr. Fordham, “compared the boy to a jibbing horse, and said most people would hold that it was not cruelty to thrash a jibbing horse into submission.” As far as I have seen, no one has protested in print against the insolence of this magisterial pronouncement. Putting aside the very doubtfully effective cure in the case of horses (the most highly nervous and sensitive amongst animals) of brutal and senseless thrashings to induce them to submit to the will of man, I would ask Mr. Fordham by what right he dares, in his magisterial capacity, to compare the children entrusted by their parents to the teachers in the Board schools for physical, mental, and moral training to jibbing dumb animals, and advises and approves of their being treated as such?

I would remind him that Board school teachers and magistrates are paid servants of the people, and that they are entrusted with their offices in order that they may train, educate, and influence the children of the people in the highest ideals of good citizenship, and of morality based on the sanctions of what is best in socialised action, not that they may degrade and brutalise those children through the terrors of corporal punishment.

The Facts of the Case

As presented to the public in the newspaper reports, the facts of the case are as follows:- The Chief Technical Instructor at the Board school blew a whistle for the boys to fall into line, “but at that moment another boy had struck at Hall with a knotted rope, and missed; Hall laughed, and the instructor ordered him to stand out for two ‘handers.’.” It was then that Hall, feeling he had done nothing to deserve punishment of that sort refused to submit to the indignity, and the head master, who was then called, must have felt more or less in sympathy with the boy’s attitude, for the report says he advised the boy to submit.

Most lads would have submitted, would have taken the two “handers,” and would thereby have lost force and independence of character. All honour to Hall that he still passively resisted, and refused to hold out his hand to receive the traditional and conventional indignity, which, be it remembered, when all the forces of the powers that be are arraigned against a luckless youngster, is so much easier to submit to than to resist. “He would not, however,” says one of the reports, “be persuaded or forced into submitting to take a punishment which he did not consider he deserved,” and six times he was forcibly held over a bench while he received in silence six blows with a stout cane.

Nine days after the thrashing severe bruises were found by the police surgeon on the boy’s body. Do mothers realise that the bodies of their children are their own flesh and blood, and, that each blow inflicted on those tender organisms is a blow struck at their own personal dignity and at their own motherhood?

The senselessness of the punishment

To take no higher ground, but arguing merely from the comparison of the jibbing horse, which appeared appropriate to the magistrate before whom the case was tried, I am prepared to maintain from experience that more horses are made confirmed jibbers by thrashing than are cured of the habit by the use of this too often senseless method.

In Australia, where horseflesh is cheaper, where colts are seldom handled till they are rising four, and where the methods of breaking are sharp, senseless, and brutal, the young animal, not understanding what is required of it, often becomes sulky and inclined to jib. The only panacea known to the ordinary bushman is thrashing, and more thrashing, and still more thrashing. Sickening scenes, that have made my blood boil, and caused me to feel ashamed for male humanity, are the result; and Australia possesses a record number of jibbers.

Just as in old convict days what were known as obstinate convicts both in Tasmania and Australia were on several occasions flogged to death, so nowadays wretched, nervous, terrified horses, flogged into stupidity, lie down and die on dusty bush roads, the victims of men in whom the germs of senseless cruelty have doubtless been sown by previous cruel treatment.

From personal experience on two occasions with young horses, pronounced confirmed jibbers, and sold for a song, I can affirm that kind and understanding training and handling can change these poor obstinate dumb beasts into affectionate willing friends, eager to respond to the slightest turn of the wrist or pressure of the muscle of the leg when being driven or ridden.

I therefore deny Mr. Fordham’s assertion that it is necessary and not cruel to thrash a jibbing horse into submission, and I protest in the name of human dignity, of advanced morality, and of scientific pedagogy against the methods of discipline advocated by that gentleman, and carried out by the head master of the Board school, Hackney.

DORA B. MONTEFIORE.

From: http://www.marxists.org/archive/montefiore/1904/02/corporal-punishment.htm

montefiore-dora

Dora B Montefiore (1851-1933) was a communist and suffragette.

NOTES

Board Schools

The London School Board was created under the Elementary Education Act 1870 to set up schools in the area covered by the London County Council.

The Hackney division of the school board for London included Shoreditch and Bethnal Green and had offices at 205 Mare Street. The board was warned in 1872 that compulsory attendance could be achieved only after a building programme in the poorest districts, where absentees were “of such a low order” as to be unfit to mix with children in regular attendance.

From: ‘Hackney: Education’, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney (1995), pp. 148-165. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22718

Corporal Punishment

From Wikipedia:

In state-run schools, and also in private schools where at least part of the funding came from government, corporal punishment was outlawed by Parliament with effect from 1987.

In other private schools it was banned in 1999 (England and Wales), 2000 (Scotland) and 2003 (Northern Ireland).

(However in 1993, the European Court of Human Rights held in Costello-Roberts v. UK that giving a seven-year-old boy three ‘whacks’ with a gym shoe over his trousers was not a forbidden degrading treatment.)