The radical response to conservative heritage tours and banal day-tripper guides, Rebel Footprints brings to life the history of social movements in the capital. Transporting readers from well-known landmarks to history-making hidden corners, David Rosenberg tells the story of protest and struggle in London from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. From the suffragettes to the socialists, from the Chartists to the trade unionists, the book invites us to step into the footprints of a diverse cast of dedicated fighters for social justice. Self-directed walks pair with narratives that seamlessly blend history, politics and geography, and beautifully illustrated maps immerse the reader in the story of the city. Whether you are visiting it for the first time, or born and raised in it, Rosenberg invites you to see London as you never have before: the nation’s capital as its radical centre.
This 2nd edition includes new South London walks in Battersea and Bermondsey. The chapter titled People’s Power In Bermondsey starts at Alma Grove and takes us through to Borough Market and walks you through the founding of a local branch of the Independent Labour Party in Yalding Road, of which Dr and Ada Salter were part of; the ‘decrepit Tooley Street’ of George Orwell, then heading for the streets and troubles of the Dickens family before heading through the cholera-struck area of Dockhead and Jacob’s Island.
Meetings in Southwark Park and Dockhead are mentioned, as is the Social Democratic Federation newspaper, Justice, whose members held gatherings at Bricklayers Arms and the General Garibaldi pub. We read about Keir Hardie opening the Fort Road Labour Institute which was soon fighting the cause of 14,000 local female workers striking for equal pay.
The dissatisfaction leading up to the 1926 General Strike was prevalent in Southwark due to the docks and its many unionised factories. Bermondsey’s radical Labour Council set up an emergency committee on the first day of the strike and provided municipal facilities for meetings and rallies, and for the distribution of strike pay. One National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) activist and Communist Party member, Tommy Strudwick, had a typewriter and printer at his home in Swan Street near Old Kent Road. He produced a newssheet until police raided his home, arrested him and confiscated his equipment. He was sentenced to two months hard labour for ‘spreading disaffection’. At Bermondsey’s Surrey Docks, which normally had a 2,000-strong workforce, just seven dockers came to work on the first strike day. The ‘turbulent’ scenes of 1911 on Tower Bridge Road were repeated as strikers attempted to block delivery vehicles.
More stories are told about the depression of the 1930s, Mosley’s Blackshirts, the Blitz and the good work done by the Salters.
David Rosenberg – Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History (2nd ed.) – paperback/£12.99/9780745338552/396 pages