A short account of the attack on the anarchist speaker Sydney Hanson
The bus conductor and anarchist Sydney Albert Hanson had just delivered a fiery speech in Hammersmith Grove in April 1920 and started walking home with his wife and child. Hammersmith Grove had long been a site for anarchist meetings. James Tochatti had his shop around the corner and had influenced many local workers towards anarchist-communism. As George Cores tells us: “Mrs Barker, Percy Meacham. ...Ralph Barr, Beer and others carried on meetings in the Grove for many years.” As Hanson was proceeding along the road he was suddenly stabbed in the back of the neck by a 66-year old man wielding an ice-pick. This was Frank Robert Lark, who was subsequently arrested.
At the subsequent trial of Lark, a wood machinist, the proceedings turned into more of a trial for Hanson than for Lark. As the anarchist paper Freedom noted, “as soon as the trial commenced” the prosecuting counsel “was really acting as counsel for the defence; and instead of Lark being tried for attempted murder, Hanson was tried for his Anarchist opinions.”
Lark said that he had worked in munitions factories and had observed that the mysterious strikes which happened there were the result of Bolshevism, in the name of trade unionism. He said that the class of meeting held by Hanson and the language he used inciting men to revolution called for strong measures of repression. He appealed to the jury to find him not guilty, and that in doing so the jury would not be saying that anyone could go and attack any man who preached revolution, but they would say that he had done what the government ought to have done long ago.
Hanson was interrogated by prosecuting counsel and his own political views were questioned. He stated that he was an Anarchist-Communist and revolutionist, but was opposed to bloodshed. Justice Lawrence showed extreme bias in his comments on the case wondering why an anarchist like Hanson had called out “police, police”. An indignant Hanson rose from the back of the court and cried out that he had not done that. Justice Lawrence then went on to say “These people are pestilential knaves, who do as much injury to the community as he possibly can”, going on to deliver remarks full of arrogance and class prejudice with “This man has muddled his brain by reading books he does not appreciate or understand” and that if anarchists “ really engineered a revolution they would get much worse than ice-picks”. Lark was sentenced for malicious wounding, but only received a month’s imprisonment in the Second Division”. As Freedom noted “Anarchists are outlaws!”
On another occasion Hanson was speaking in Hyde Park and said “To hell with the Union Jack, the Union Jack is the Flag of Tyranny”. For this remark he was arrested and subsequently fined 40 shillings under the Metropolitan Police Act for “insulting words or behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace”. The two verdicts speak for themselves.
Sources: Evening Telegraph, Angus 22nd April 1920
Western Times, 23rd April 1920
Cressy, David. Dangerous Talk: Scandalous, Seditious, and
Treasonable Speech in Pre-Modern England
Wright, Patrick. From stage to cold war.