In the early 1890s, anarchist organisers in Manchester held regular public open-air meetings at a number of sites across the city. By the second half of 1893, particularly after complaints by a local vicar, the police became involved.
The earliest mention of the open-air meetings held by the Manchester Anarchist Communist Group is a date of about 1886 given in the brief autobiography of London anarchist George Cores, although he may be setting the date a little early. His recollections were that:
“Two lads, Alfred Barton, a clerk and Herbert Stockton (an odd job man and later an industrial insurance agent) commenced, with a group of other working boys and girls, to hold meetings at Preston Park Gates on Sunday mornings, at Stevenson Square on Sunday afternoons, in St Augustine’s Parish on Sunday evenings and near the market during the week. This was about 1886. Barton and Stockton were very sincere, brave lads and worked hard in the propaganda for many years. It was the custom to look to London for public speakers and I spoke at several of their open-air meetings. I felt very bashful in the presence of so many charming and enthusiastic girls.”
As an article in the anarchist newspaper Freedom, dated August 1890, described how:
“An extensive Anarchist propaganda is carried on here by the branch of the Socialist League [the precursor to the Anarchist Communist group]. Several new stations have been opened lately, both in Manchester and the smaller towns round about. At one of these, in the City, where we hold very large meetings on Sunday evenings, the police have tried to stop us. They arrested Comrade Barton, but contented themselves with sending him a summons; the case is now pending. We mean to fight the authorities on this ground till their attempt at muzzling Socialism fails, as it must do. Salvationists and others may speak where Socialists cause an obstruction. It is our principles which are the obstruction in the eyes of the authorities. Our chief work lies in breaking new ground and pushing the propaganda where it has been a thing unknown. This kind of work is, as may be expected, of a very up-hill nature. No new branches or groups have yet been formed, though we have many in sympathy with our teachings. Being the only body of Anarchists in Lancashire, we are held at a stiff distance by our friends the Social Democrats. They seem afraid to permit the thorough Socialism of our speakers to be heard on their platforms. They are too busy endeavouring to get their fingers in the pie of government, municipal and otherwise, to care for Revolutionary Socialism. The idea of the General Strike is now received with enthusiasm by the workers at all our meetings.”
The same group also organised a large meeting In Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter in April 1892 to protest at the arrest of anarchists in Walsall. Amongst the speakers were Alfred Barton, Herbert Stockton, David Nicoll and Sheffield anarchists John Bingham.
By at least 1893 the group had started to hold meetings on Ardwick Green. It was hear that the Reverend Canon Nunn objected to his Sunday congregation having to face young men making anarchist speeches from a soap-box and reported them to the police. This set in train a series of arrests, counter-demonstrations and other provocations which saw a number of Manchester anarchists arrested, fined and even sent to jail in their stand for freedom of speech, but was commented on in the local press thus:
“In Manchester there is a handful of persons who delight in regarding themselves as Anarchists. They are chiefly tailors, and some of them allow their hair to grow long. There is nothing they dislike more than the laws and regulations provided for the peace and safety of the population. They cannot endure restraint. It is all very well for common people to be compelled to conform to orders, but they prefer to please themselves”
A highly detailed, though necessarily one-sided, account of the months from September to December 1893 is given in a chapter entitled “Manchester Anarchists at Work,” part of the autobiography of Manchester police detective Jerome Caminada, “25 Years of Detective Life.”
Caminada’s chronology goes as follows:
Late September 1893: residents in the area of Ardwick Green complain of obstruction on Sunday mornings, consisting of young men holding open-air meetings. A delegation of residents visit the Chief Constable, who tells the anarchists that Ardwick Green is a “very improper” place to hold meetings but that they are welcome to use Stevenson Square. They turn down the offer. When a man who disagrees with the anarchist speakers allegedly has to be protected by police, the Chief Constable “decided to interfere.”
Sunday October 1st 1893: Caminada and a Sergeant, Mr Button, go to Ardwick Green and find the Chief Constable there. At 11.30am a Belgian anarchist, Pellier, stands on a chair and starts to “address a crowd of several hundred people, his remarks being of a revolutionary character.” After he has been speaking for “some time” the Chief Constable tells Caminada he’s like to speak to Pellier, who complies immediately with the order to stop causing an obstruction, saying that he had a wife and family, had no desire to get into trouble, and would ask the meeting to break up. Instead, Alfred Barton stands up on the chair to speak and is pulled down, to be replaced by “a young mechanic named Patrick McCabe, who also fell into the hands of the police.”
This fired up the crowd who, when McCabe was pulled down, made “a general rush in the direction of the eight or nine policemen present.” Barton allegedly hit Caminada in the chest with the chair and knocked his hat off, and Caminada responded by laying about him with his umbrella.
Monday October 2nd: Patrick McCabe, mechanic, aged 20, William Haughton, pattern maker, aged 20, Ernest Stockton, engineer, aged 19, and Henry Burrows, clerk, aged 19 all appear in court. McCabe claimed that their supporters were being kept from the court, but was calmed when his witnesses identified themselves as present. Haughton complained that they had already been “tried and condemned” in the press, to be told by the magistrate that he took no notice of the newspapers. “The evidence was continually interrupted by Burrows shouting “It’s a lie,” and by derisive laughter and hisses by the friends of the Anarchists in the gallery, which led the Stipendiary to threaten to have that portion of the court in which they were seated cleared.”
Caminada also complained that he and other witnesses were cross-examined “in a very loud and insolent manner” and that he himself was accused by Haughton of having “a bad memory, like all policemen.” Burrows also questioned the Chief Constable, who put the police position but when he apparently could not answer some questions Haughton shouted “Are we to be gagged? He is in the hole and wants to get out of it.” Despite the uproars caused, the defendants were all found guilty and fined 21 shillings plus costs or a month’s imprisonment.
On hearing the verdict one defendant apparently shoulded “Hurrah for Anarchy” and Alfred Barton added “to hell with law and order,” for which he was arrested. He retracted the comment, but was bound over to keep the peace, with a recognisance of £5
The anarchists also responded to the incident by creating a comic song about Caminada and the ‘gamp’ (umbrella) which he had used to lash out with on October 1st:
The Scamp who Broke his Gamp at Ardwick Green
(To the tune of ‘Monte Carlo’)
The Anarchists held meetings that were orderly and good,
And the workers they did go
Just to hear the Anarchists show
How the rich church-going thieves live upon their sweat and blood,
And how the masters try and (sic) crush them low.
And as they walk about the street
“With an independent air,
The people all declare,
They must have knowledge rare ;
And they do say,
We wish the day,
When Anarchists shall have fair play,
And hold their meetings free at Ardwick Green, 0.
But Nunn he was a bigot and didn’t like the truth,
And he to the meetings went,
On making mischief bent.
He got policemen and detectives to attack them without ruth—
I think it’s time that he to heaven was sent.
And as he walks about the church
With an hypocritical air,
The people all do swear,
He is a humbug rare,
For he does yell,
And the people tell,
That all (who) think will go to hell,
The parson who interfered at Ardwick Green, 0.
Caminada showed his valour by knocking people down,
And using his gamp well,
Good citizens to fell.
He collared all the Anarchists, and marched them through the town,
And put them in the Fairfield station cell.
And he walks along the street
With an independent air,
The people all declare,
He is a scoundrel rare,
His head is ” Wood,”
And is no good,
Except to provide the pig’s with food,
The scamp who broke his gamp at Ardwiok Green, 0.
He brought them before the beak, and thought to give it them hot,
But his little game was off,
And he got it rather rough,
The Anarchists did bravely, and of cheek give him a lot,
And it won’t be very long before he’s had enough.
And as he walks along the court
With a ” big bug ” sort of air,
The people all declare,
Oh ! what a fall was there.
And they are sure,
He will never more
The Anarchists attempt to floor,
The D. who broke his gamp at Ardwick Green, 0.
He told a lot of thumpers, and spun some awful fibs,
But they soon proved him to be
A liar of high degree.
And though Headlam, like an idiot, made them fork out their ” dibs,”
They fairly got old Cam. up a tree.
And he walks about the street,
With an independent air,
The people all do swear,
He is a detective rare,
For he can lie,
And none can vie—
In the list of scamps, none stands so high
As the D. who broke his gamp at Ardwick Green, 0.
But the time is coming quickly when Cam. will repent
Of having tried his game
The Anarchists to lame,
Or he and his d——d crew will to that warm land be sent,
And never trouble honest folks again.
And he walks along the court,
With a hanging vicious air,
•The people will declare,
Oh ! what an awful scare.
And they will cry,
Oh ! let him die,
And deep down the gutter lie
The D. who broke his gamp at Ardwick Green, 0.
Sunday October 8th: encouraged by handbills printed to call a meeting on Ardwick Green “in spite of Caminada and his crew,” which had been fly-postered throughout the city, another crowd of several hundred people gathered, many of them hoping to see a fight. At 11:30 Patrick John Kelly, aged 22, a taxidermist, started speaking, but was quickly pulled down by the police, crying “Three cheers for Anarchy and revolution.” He was taken to Fairfield St police station, with a large crowd watching but refusing his pleas to intervene. Like his comrades the previous week, Kelly was fined 21 shillings and costs for obstructing a public highway.
Sunday October 16th: another anarchist meeting was advertised though handbills, this time drawing 3-4,000 people keen to see the notorious clashes. This necessitated “a large staff of police. The people were kept on the move, and as the Anarchists appeared they were ordered away,” according to Caminada. Eventually James Coates, a lithographic printer, mounted the rostrum to protest against the suppression of free speech by Caminada and the Reverend Canon Nunn. He and a number of other anarchists were again arrested and taken to Fairfield Street. Two men, Taylor and Payne, offered to post bail for the anarchists, but were refused because they couldn’t give the names of the men they were offering to pay for. They were then arrested themselves for causing an obstruction outside the police station.
Monday October 17th: Arthur Booth, joiner, aged 32; Max Falk, tailor, aged 28; Abraham Lewis, tailor, aged 21; James Coates, lithographic printer, aged 21; Edmund George Taylor, tutor, aged 51 ; Thomas Spaine, shoemaker, aged 26; Walter Payne, clerk, aged 29 ; William Downey Alien, printer, aged 26 ; James Beale, porter, aged 28; Charles Watts, newsagent, aged 23 ; and William Lancaster, labourer, aged 28 were all brought before the magistrate. Again, the anarchists denied obstruction. Spaine, Beale, and Lancaster were each fined 21 shillings, the others were all fined 40 shillings plus costs.
Sunday 22nd October: the police managed to stop the anticipated demonstration by deploying throughout Ardwick before a crowd could gather, although again ‘some thousands’ had turned up to watch, running around the area whenever an anarchist martyr was reported to have been seen. “These meetings were a little harvest for the publicans of the neighbourhood, some of whom had to engage extra waiters for Sundays during the agitation,” Caminada commented. The anarchists had not appeared because at a meeting the night before, they had promised that they would hold no more meetings until they had put their position before the authorities.
Monday October 23rd: a Dr Sinclair raised the issue of the Ardwick Green meetings before the City Council. His proposed solution was that the press should ask people to stay away to reduce the size of the crowds. He expressed the opinion that the police had been “high-handed and hasty” and that if the meetings were publicly ridiculed they would diminish. Mr Alderman Lloyd stated that as well as obstructing the highway, the language used at the meetings was foul. The meeting did not find in the anarchists’ favour.
Sunday 29th October: in response to a handbill reading “The Anarchists and Ardwick Green! Obstruction or Oppression? The City Council uphold Perjury and Violence! Overtures of Peace rejected! Caminada authorised to break the heads of Manchester Citizens! This Tyranny shall not succeed! The Anarchists will be at Ardwick Green on Sunday next, October 29, at 11:30. An Indignation Meeting will be held in Stevenson Square at 3. Attend in your thousands!” another large crowd gathered on Ardwick Green. After some time, and as people were starting to disperse, Herbert Stockton, a bootmaker, aged 23, crossed the park with 200 more people. He stood on the pedestal of a lamppost in the middle of the crossing of five roads, but was removed and arrested. According to George Cores, he served a month in prison “in the fight for Free Speech. An ironic feature is that his father was a warder in Strangeways Gaol while he was there.”
Sunday 5th November: summoned by handbills promising that “the sermon would be preached by an Anarchist, the lesson read by Chief Inspector Caminada, and the psalms sung by his crew,” thousands again gathered at Ardwick Green. “The crowd reached from the lamp opposite Brunswick Street to Rusholme Road in one direction, and extended up Brunswick Street, Hyde Road, Stockport Road, and Higher Ardwick, in other directions, the park and its environs being crowded,” recalled Caminada. The first speaker, James Birch, aged 21, a mechanic, was interrupted by fireworks. He was arrested and despite denouncing the suppression of the Labour movement, fined 40 shillings.
Sunday 12th November: again, thousands gathered at Ardwick Green. Herbert Stockton again tried to speak, but was picked up on the shoulders of a member of the crowd and rescued by the police from being ducked in the horse-trough. In court, he denied police allegations that he and James Birch had discussed the need to resort to bombings to get their message across, the that he had been joking when he suggested that the anarchists had “two or three Rothschilds behind them. Stockton and Birch were both fined 30 shillings and were bound over to keep the peace for six months, on bonds of £25.James Welling, a labourer, aged 24, was fined 40shillings and costs, or one month in gaol; George Storey, a tailor, aged 49, 21shillings and costs; Alfred Roberts, dyer, aged 20, Robert Warburton, warehouseman, aged 19, Frederick Froggat, turner, aged 14, and James Taylor, warehouseman, aged 16, were all bound over in one surety of £10 to keep the peace for six months.
Sunday 19th and Sunday 26th November: Henry Salop, aged 26, labourer was fined 40 shillings and costs, and James Coates was ordered to find two sureties in £30 for six months, or in default one month’s imprisonment.
Wednesday 29th November: a meeting was called at the Co-operative Hall, Downing Street to protest at the “ violence and perjury of the police in connection with the arrest” of Taylor and Payne. This was chaired by the elected Citizens’ Auditor, whose lengthy speech on the subject of councillors spending public money on “wine, beer and trips to Thirlmere” was interrupted by a firecracker thrown into the room, causing much of the crowd to leave. The few who were left battled through more shouting and crackers, passing a motion “asking for an inquiry into the matter, and a deputation was appointed to present it.” The meeting also resulted in a question being asked in the House of Commons.
Sunday 3rd December: by this time the weather was cold and interest had declined, so only “a few hundreds” turned out the the meeting. Henry Burrows started to speak “in a low, tremulous voice” but refused to stop at Caminada’s order and was arrested. In court he called Caminada “the biggest liar he had ever known” and called out “Long live Anarchy.” He was bound over in two sureties of £30, or two months’ imprisonment. Both he and Coates elected to go to prison, “probably from the difficulty of finding bail.” By this time the anarchists’ funds were running low and fines could no longer be paid, so those arrested started to go to jail, although James Coates quickly wrote to his parents, begging them to get Alfred Barton to find the money to get him out.
Sunday 10th December: Patrick Kelly, arrested weeks earlier, instituted a new tactic, trying to speak from a box on the corner of Union Street, near the Green. He was again arrested, and fined 40 shillings and costs or default of one month in prison. The following week William Haughton was arrested and bound over to keep the peace for six months. On 24th December no anarchists tried to speak, something Caminada put down to none of them being “inclined to eat their Christmas dinner in the police station.”
31st December 1893: Morris Mendelssohn, a mackintosh tailor, aged 24, became the last anarchist to be arrested on Ardwick Green. In court he was ordered to find two sureties of £10 each to keep the peace for three months, or to go to prison for a month. The meetings moved to Stevenson Square, as the police had tried to enforce months earlier, and socialists started to join the anarchists on the platform there and at New Cross. William Horrocks was arrested in 1894 when he, Alf Barton and Dvid Nicoll tried to speak in Albert Square, and the Manchester Guardian’s celebrated editor CP Scott took up their cause in the interests of free speech.
Anarchist activity carried on in Manchester, with an article by Alf Barton defining anarchism appearing in 1895 and, according to Jerome Caminada, a handbill in celebration of the Paris Commune circulating, reading as follows: “Commune of Paris !! The Manchester Anarchists will celebrate the Revolt of the Paris Workers against Masters and Governments on Sunday, March 17th, 1895, in Stevenson Square, at 3pm; New Cross (Oldham Road), at 8pm. Rebellion is Progress.” And Arthur Redford wrote in his History of Local Government in Manchester (Vol 1) that “Though police successfully maintained public order it was at the cost of both unpopularity and ridicule.”
Article by Sarah Irving