06. The Walsall Anarchists

The arrest, trial and sentencing of the Walsall Anarchists in 1892 deserve more attention than they have received from the historians of the left in Britain. From the point of view of the more liberal, there was a disconcertingly straightforward use of agents provocateur by the police. From the point of view of historians of the growth of institutions connected with the working-class movement, the existence of options for propaganda by deed and the reasons for the rejection of these options should have given more cause for thought. In any case, the circumstances were unusual enough for notice. As ex-Detective Sergeant McIntyre was to say, 'Quite a sensation was caused at the time by the appearance of this new class of revolutionist. It is safe to say that no conspiracy of quite the same nature had been known in England during this century.' [1]

On 6 January 1892 Joe Deakin, an Anarchist living in his native town of Walsall, was arrested in Tottenham Court Road on his way to the Autonomie Club. He was remanded in custody at Marlborough Street Court the following day on a charge of manufacturing bombs. Immediately after the court appearance Inspector Melville went to Walsall by train and on the evening of the same day Victor Cailes, a Frenchman, and Fred Charles were arrested at the Socialist Club in Goodall Street, Walsall. Later William Ditchfield and John Westley were arrested in Walsall and Jean Battola, an Italian, was arrested in London. Deakin and Battola were transported up to Walsall to stand trial. They were all jointly charged with what amounted to manufacturing bombs. At their first appearance at the Walsall police court, Mr Young, prosecuting, asked for a week's remand on the grounds that 'The authorities both in Walsall and London had received very important information with reference to what he might call a widespread conspiracy throughout the country.' [2]

The evidence brought against the accused men was as follows : In Charles' possession was found a sketch of a bomb with instructions in French on how to make it, a model of a bolt allegedly to fit the top of the bomb and a manifesto in French in Cailes' handwriting entitled The Means of Emancipation which said in part, 'Let us occupy ourselves with chemistry, and let us manufacture promptly bombs, dynamite and other explosive matters much more efficacious than guns and barricades to bring about the destruction of the actual state of things, and above all, to spare the precious blood of our comrades. Courage, companions ! Long Live Anarchy ! Walsall, 1 September 1891.' In Cailes' possession was found a length of fuse and a large number of Anarchist publications in French, including issue number 7 of L'International, which gave instructions on making bombs and how to use them for the destruction of public buildings. At Ditchfield's workshop 'a plaster cast of a bomb similar to the sketch produced' was found and at his home a bolt 'for the head of one of the missiles'. In the basement of the Socialist Club there was 'a quantity of clay mixed with hair, evidently for moulding purposes'. On the 'sworn information of the Chief Constable that all the persons had in their possession or under their control explosives under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such substances were not in their possession or under their control for a lawful purpose' the magistrate - in this case the Mayor of Walsall - remanded all the men in custody. This was done even though no evidence at all had been brought against Battola, Westley or Deakin; and in the case of the other men, whatever suspicions might have been aroused by what was found in their possession no explosives had been produced at all and it was unlawful possession of explosives 'with intent' that lay at the centre of the charge.

As it stood, this evidence could not have faced an energetic defence in court. It was fortunate for the police, therefore, that at the next hearing, on 21 January, a most incriminating set of confessions by Deakin were produced. As The Times put it :

On the 15th inst. Deakin told witness [Chief Constable Taylor] that he should like to tell all, as he had come to the conclusion that Charles was a police spy. The following day he handed in a statement, in which he wrote that the parcel of chloroform found in his possession when he was arrested in London was given to him by Cailes to be given to an acquaintance of Cailes. This was the man charged at the Court under the name of Battola. As for the castings and models, Ditchfield and Charles arranged to get them for Cailes. Deakin added that he understood the things were for use abroad. A second statement made by Deakin ( ... ) was of a great length and of a sensational character. It showed that in the summer of last year [i.e. 1891] Charles went to the Walsall Socialist Club, of which Deakin was the secretary. As he was known to the members of the club through the socialist papers and also slightly known to Deakin who had met him in July 1889, in Paris, [3] he was permitted to have the run of the club. He mentioned to Deakin and to other members that a London comrade named Coulon had written to him. It was decided to have the man over. This was during the months of June and July.

A few weeks later Charles met two Frenchmen at the station and Deakin was introduced to them. One of these men was Cailes, who stayed in Walsall, the other man returning to London. Cailes spoke very little English.

One night in October or early in November 1891, Cailes and Charles spoke to him about a letter written in French, which Cailes had received and which enclosed the sketch of a bomb produced in the police court. The letter was sent in the name of 'De Farney' [4] and Cailes not knowing the name wrote to Coulon, 19, Fitzroy Square, London, asking whether it was all right. He afterwards got an affirmative reply. Deakin understood that the bombs were wanted for use in Russia. They came to the conclusion they should want a pattern for the bomb to be cast from. One Sunday Cailes, Westley, Charles and Deakin met to make one. Then came the question of having it cast. Charles said he would pay the cost and it was agreed that they should call the bomb an electric cell. A letter was sent to Messrs. Bullows by Charles in the name of La Place. Subsequently a letter was received from London by Cailes saying that someone would fetch the things. The stranger who went down was the man Battola.

The reading of the statement caused some excitement in court. [5]

This was something of an understatement. Deakin was denounced as an informer and liar in the Commonweal. There was little else to do for what Deakin's statement did was to link up the accused and lay them open to charges of conspiracy. All the bits and pieces in their possession which separately meant very little now had a great collective significance and were admitted to have been for a common and violent purpose. Things now looked very bad indeed for the men. They were again remanded.

It is a little difficult to get at the truth of how this confession was obtained. Nicoll gives the story as Deakin told it later but it rings oddly. Ditchfield had been threatened and bullied by Melville and Taylor but without much information being obtained from him. He did not have much to tell. Deakin was then taken from his cell to the private room where Inspector Melville and Chief Constable Taylor started a conversation with him on socialism. Deakin was a simple enthusiast and he was soon worked up to a high pitch of excitement. In the dead of the night he was taken back to his cell and while there he heard what he thought was the sound of the voices of two of his companions, Charles and Ditchfield, confessing all about the plot to the officers. Under the impression that he was betrayed he made a full confession, which was just what the police wanted. [6] When Deakin found that Charles and Ditchfield had not made this confession 'he declared to a friend that a trick must have been played upon him and that someone must have imitated the voices of his comrades'. How much reliance one can put upon this story it is difficult to say. For myself, I think it more likely that Melville and Taylor told Deakin that Charles and Ditchfield had made full confessions, and even told him that Charles was employed by them. And as we shall see, they would be able to give all sorts of 'private' details of what had been going on which would seem to substantiate their story. It might only have been necessary to hint that Charles was a police spy, since this had already been rumoured in the movement - Nicoll alleged later that the rumour originated with members of the Freedom Group 'who so persuaded Kropotkin of its truth that he said to Charles "If you are not in the pay of the police you are doing their work" '. [7] Faced with this apparent betrayal Deakin then confessed since he does not seem to have been the stuff that martyrs are made of. Finding that he was alone in his confessions, 'hearing voices' would appear to be a way of saving face or a convenient resolution of the situation by his unconscious.

Deakin's confession, however, mentioned the name of one co-conspirator who had not been arrested - Coulon. Coulon's career linked the defendants together. Events were to show why a man so obviously compromised remained free and unpursued. Who was Auguste Coulon ?

He had taken some part in the Dublin branch of the Socialist League and had some official correspondence with the League in 1886. [8] He 'left that body and went to France where he formed some connection with the Possibilist Party. Thence he came into the movement in England, in January 1890. At this time ( ... ) he was living at Notting Hill and joined the North Kensington branch of the Socialist League. Here he posed as a very violent Anarchist. He occasionally visited the Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League where he chiefly occupied himself by endeavouring to sell a little French book L'Indicateur Anarchiste containing instruction concerning the manufacture of bombs and dynamite.' [9]

Coulon described himself as a professor of languages but had been 'chronically out of work ever since he had been in England. He had largely been supported by the generosity of comrades in Hammersmith and North Kensington,' says Nicoll, and as a consequence of these sources drying up he appeared at the Autonomie Club saying that he'd been expelled from the Hammersmith Socialist Society. In this he was appealing to and deepening the split in the Socialist League - there were, for example, raiding parties from the West End which disrupted meetings at Hammersmith. At the Autonomie his ability to speak several languages recommended him for the job of assistant to Louise Michel who could speak only French, in a school which was started for her by the foreign Anarchists for the education of the children of the foreign socialists of north Soho, in the autumn of 1890. There was little money available but Coulon declared himself willing to sacrifice himself, his wife and children for the good of the cause. He made himself busy and soon had the entire business management of the school in his hands - he received all money and his name appeared as prominently in advertisements and circulars as that of Louise Michel herself. His connection with Louise Michel, naturally enough, made him appear a man to be trusted. A further indication of his apparent trustworthiness was the work he engaged in for the refugees from France after the stormy events around May Day in 1891. There had been riots and fights with the police. 'Nine people were killed by the police at Fourmies. At a riot at Clichy Levallois three men were wounded and arrested after a gun fight with the so-called "forces of order". The wounded men, all anarchists, were taken to Clichy police station and there brutally assaulted by the police and not even given facilities for bathing their wounds.' [10] Two were eventually sentenced to long terms. ( It was in revenge for their treatment that Ravachol was to set his bombs. ) One of the refugees was the Walsall defendant Victor Cailes, who was wanted by the French police for incitement to 'incendiarism, murder and pillage' after a riot in his native town of Nantes on May Day. Cailes was sent to Walsall through the contact Coulon had with Fred Charles who by this time was living there.

Charles, 'out of employment and in a desperate mood' in London, had gone first to Sheffield to find work. [11] In Sheffield he had helped Dr Creaghe start the Sheffield Anarchist. Creaghe wrote of that time

I cannot forget the time that Charles who was then out of work started with me the first number of the Sheffield Anarchist. He would do nothing for himself. If his chances of getting a £1000 depended on his keeping an appointment, I am certain he would not be there and I was astonished how actively and steadily he worked for the cause he loved. I cannot say how often I regretted it when he had to leave me, for we spent some happy hours in that anything but sweet smelling den which served us for a club and office at 47 West Bar Green, Sheffield. How we laughed as we scribbled and enjoyed in anticipation the horror and rage of the enemy. [12]

Whether because of this activity or for other reasons he did not manage to find a job. He then went to Walsall about July 1891, and was fixed up with work by local comrades. Charles was known to Deakin in a business capacity from 1888 when Deakin, then secretary of the Walsall Socialist League, had regularly written to Charles for copies of the Commonweal, pamphlets, etc. [13]

As far as the socialist movement in England was concerned the men arrested at Walsall were almost unknown except for Charles. Apart from being a known activist he had an incredible reputation for open-handed generosity. Practically all his earnings and possessions were given away to tramps or the unemployed. He had been known to take off his coat and pawn it in order to be able to give something to a fellow worker who was without money. Ted Leggatt told how he had seen Charles 'take his best boots off his feet and the last half crown out of his pocket and give them to a man he had never seen before, who pleaded poverty to him at a meeting at the Berner Street club where William Morris was lecturing. Others can verify my statement' [14] Nicoll said of him, 'I, who knew him well, have often thought that Charles, Atheist and Anarchist as he was had more of the spirit of Christ about him than those who talk so loudly of their Christianity.' [15] Coulon had helped Charles when he had been hard up - Charles had 'like many other fine natures, suffered much from the ingratitude of those he had befriended and was therefore charmed with Coulon's "generosity". This is a man after my own heart he thought, and after he left London for the North, he still kept up a correspondence with Coulon.' [16] Through this correspondence Cailes arrived in Walsall.

Charles and Cailes were accepted as members of the Socialist Club on 10 August 1891. The conspiracy might well have been started as a result of a conversation which took place on Saturday, 29 August, at the Autonomie Club. Deakin, returning from an International Congress at Brussels, was in the bar 'chatting to a group of Anarchists to whom he was known. Someone asked after Charles : "Oh he's all right," said Deakin, "he's at work in an iron foundry." "Oh, he will do to make bombs for us," cried Coulon, who was present.' Two months later the letter signed 'Degnai' containing the sketch of the bomb was sent to Cailes at Walsall. Not knowing the name, Cailes, as we have seen, wrote to Coulon who replied that the letter was 'all right'. This was the letter which the police were to say was in Battola's handwriting. Cailes and Charles were connected through Coulon - and on closer inspection it was found that Coulon had not only underwritten Battola's reputation for the men in Walsall but was directly responsible for bringing him into the conspiracy. Battola lived next door to Coulon in Fitzroy Street and they were in constant communication. He did not speak English but did speak fluent French, as prison letters testify. [17] Battola did not know Cailes or Charles : the only connection conceivable between them is through Coulon. As Nicoll says,

Supposing Battola wrote the letter did he not do it at Coulon's suggestion. Battola an exile burning with hatred against the tyranny that had driven him from his native land, might be easily worked upon to assist Coulon in his nice little plot of manufacturing 'bombs for Russia' ( ... ) according to Deakin's confession, Coulon was writing to hurry them up, from 19 Fitzroy Street. In truth he kept up a vigorous correspondence with the Walsall people 'pressing' them to hurry on with the bombs ( ... ) At last a letter arrived from Coulon informing the Walsall men that a man would call on Saturday, December 5th for some of the bombs which it was expected Bullows would have completed by this time. On December 2nd, the man arrived in the shape of Battola.

Coulon had been busy in other areas too. His command of several languages seemed to recommend him for the 'International Notes' section of the Commonweal. His style was chatty - and his basic subject was dynamite - e.g. 'Our Austrian Comrades beat the record this time ! Dynamite seems to grow as thick there as rotten potatoes in Ireland. Only last week, I mentioned two bomb explosions in Ruchenberg, and here again, we record another infernal and diabolical machine that has thrown terror and dismay into the mind of the capitalist class' [18] ; and 'No voice speaks so loud as Dynamite and we are glad to see it getting into use all over the place.' [19] Nicoll, as editor of the paper, says he was unwilling to interfere on what might appear to be ideological grounds but finally lost his patience with Coulon's notes when 'he sent me in a paragraph celebrating the blowing up of a cow in Belgium as a great and good revolutionary act and as I would not publish it Coulon has never forgiven me'.

In October 1891, Coulon was organizing chemistry classes. 'The class consisted of mere boys and one of them M----- [20] was sent to Mowbray and Nicoll asking if they would join. They declined with thanks ( ... ) and the class was dropped.' However M----- was provided with a bottle of nitric acid and a bottle of glycerine and encouraged to start the production of home-made nitro-glycerine. Luckily this exceedingly dangerous proceeding was prevented by the lad's father finding the materials and pouring them out onto a patch of ground. Another 'enthusiast C-----, medical student, [21] under the direction of the arch conspirator, translated Moses Revolutionary Warfare this was to be privately printed and distributed to all the Anarchist groups in the country, ( ... ) this book contains simple directions concerning the manufacture of dynamite and bombs.' So, all in all, Coulon had been a very active fellow. But among sections of the foreign Anarchists Coulon had become the object of some suspicion. 'He had become a petty tyrant, and there were even graver charges against him. The result had been his dismissal from the International School at the end of October ( ... ) He moved into Fitzroy Square, taking a highly respectable dwelling for a man "with no visible means of subsistence" '. At the Sunday meeting at the Autonomie Club on 10 January 1892 - the Sunday following the arrest of Deakin on the 6th and Cailes and Charles on the 7th - 'Coulon was openly charged with betraying the Walsall men. "You do no work; how do you get your living if you are not a police spy ?" he was asked. He replied, "I am a true Anarchist; I live by plunder." The explanation was not considered satisfactory and he was expelled from the club.' By this time, however, it was a little late.

The arrests of the Walsall men and the sudden accusations of Coulon burst upon the English Anarchist scene as a complete surprise. Even in Walsall, the business of getting the bomb cases cast does not seem to have been known about outside those immediately involved. It seems unlikely that the members of the Walsall Club should have been so blithe about their treatment of the detectives who began to dog the footsteps of the 'prominent members' in early December. 'They took the detectives for long walks into the country by the banks of the canal, where discussions were held as to the advisability of giving them a ducking. In fact they made the detectives' lives unbearable by dint of chaff, insult and ridicule. So the game went merrily on.' Among the English movement bomb plots seemed not to be a major concern at the time of the Walsall arrests. Activity was concentrated in more traditional areas. One of the major concerns of the socialist world was the fight led by the S.D.F. at the World's End, Chelsea, for the right of free speech which had been going on since November I891, resulting in many arrests. It was being taken up by assorted Liberal/Radical bandwagon jumpers. Among the London Anarchists there was something of a skirmish going on connected with John Turner's United Shop Assistants Union. A shopkeeper in the Harrow Road, named Haile, who would not accede to the Union's demand that he close at the earlier time of 5 pm on Thursdays, was picketed by members of the union together with some 'outside agitators'. In Turner's words, 'The local excitement had grown week by week with the result that riots occurred, the shop was raided and the mounted police were called out.' [22] Earlier on in the struggle, pickets had been charged with minor offences - Tochatti, for example, was arrested for causing a disturbance and fined in October. [23] The union had paid the fines involved. As the struggle escalated, however, 'a more serious view' was taken of the situation and three pickets, one of whom was David Nicoll, were arrested and prosecuted on a more serious conspiracy charge. Convicted, they were sent to prison for a month with the option of a fine. The hard-pressed union, almost bankrupted by the struggle, took three days to raise the money to get the men out of jail. Nicoll was in jail when Coulon was accused of being a police agent.

If anybody was thinking of examples of 'individual action' immediately before the Walsall case broke, they would probably be mostly concerned with the rather farcical action of John Evelyn Barlas ( a poet whose collection of poems, Phantasmagoria, was published under the pen-name of Evelyn Douglas ). On 31 December 1891, a policeman first heard and then saw him discharging several shots from a revolver at the Houses of Parliament at about 9 o'clock in the morning. The policeman ran towards him. 'Seeing witness [i.e. policeman] he [i.e. Barlas] handed him the revolver saying, "I am an Anarchist and I intended shooting you but then I thought it is a pity to shoot an honest man. What I have done is to show my contempt for the House of Commons." Magistrate, "Was the prisoner sober ?" Witness, "Perfectly." ' [24]

The accusation against Coulon and his expulsion from the Autonomie Club was the subject of great debate. Nicoll was probably typical of the English movement :

I was totally ignorant of the existence of the conspiracy ( like everyone else connected with the Commonweal ), I thought it extremely improbable that Coulon could know anything about it; therefore I reserved my opinion. Coulon remained in London, till the Thursday that Battola was arrested, professing all the time to be very much afraid of arrest. He disappeared directly after Battola was taken.

I still remained incredulous as to Coulon's part in the conspiracy till Deakin's confession was published. Then I saw at once who was the instigator and the betrayer of the plot.

Deakin's confession made it clear how deeply Coulon was involved in the conspiracy. Evidence that Coulon was a police agent was at first circumstantial - his various instigating activities combined with a surprising freedom from interference by the police. More solid evidence was to emerge. Nicoll, on his release from prison, started a defence fund and then became secretary of the Defence Committee for the prisoners. He says, 'The friend of a wealthy French Anarchist had an interview on a matter of business with Coulon's brother, who has a shop in the neighbourhood of Old Street. They mentioned Coulon, and the brother, who was unaware that the gentleman knew anyone in the Anarchist movement, said, "Yes, my brother is in the pay of the police. He tells me he has been in the employment of Melville for two years. But I did not think till now Melville was at Scotland Yard, I thought he was a private inquiry officer."' This information came into Nicoll's hands and though the man was in no way willing to be publicly mixed up in the affair he was prepared to repeat his conversation with Coulon's brother to W. M. Thompson, the barrister hired by the Defence Committee. [25]

With this information and some letters written by Coulon to various people before his disappearance, Thompson cross-examined Inspector Melville at Walsall police court :

Inspector Melville said he had some experience of these cases ( ... ) He had not been engaged in any cases abroad, but he had made inquiries abroad as to foreigners ( ... ) Among the foreigners he had inquired about there was not one named Coulon. He knew a man of that name who was a well known Anarchist. He had often been in Coulon's company but not at Scotland Yard. To his knowledge, Coulon had never been there. He could not swear that he had never given Coulon anything to do for him but he did not remember having done so. He would not swear that he had not paid Coulon money, for he had paid lots of Anarchists money. Mr Thompson :- 'Have you paid him any money ?' Witness asked the Bench if he were to answer such a question and Mr Young, the prosecuting counsel, said that if these questions were designed merely to get the name of the informer they could not be put. Mr Thompson : 'My theory is this, that any suspicious element in the case is the work of this man Coulon who is an agent of the Police.' ( Loud applause ) The Mayor ( who was on the Bench ) : 'If there is any more of this, we shall clear the court. We decide that on the ground of public duty, the question should not be put.' [26]

Inspector Melville's replies are more than a little shifty here and much the same could be said of his replies on the following Monday, 15 February, when Thompson offered him Coulon's address from one of his letters. It looked very bad indeed that the police should decline to accept information leading them to a man directly cited in the confession by Deakin as being a central figure in the conspiracy. But it is possible that W. M. Thompson made a great mistake in bringing up the question of police provocation in the police court. By the time the case came up at the Stafford Assizes the Inspector was warned, the prosecution was warned, and steps could ( and were ) taken to evade the question where it might actually have helped the defendants - in front of a jury. In a small and reactionary town the forces of law and order have a tendency to try and impress prestigious visitors from London. If that meant remanding prisoners in custody on no evidence except the belief of the Chief Constable that they were guilty, keeping them almost completely without bedding in the middle of winter and feeding them sufficient food 'only to keep body and soul together' as the Chief Constable put it - if this was what seemed required they were glad to do it. W. M. Thompson should have understood that the Mayor of Walsall would not know how to listen to allegations of malpractice against the celebrated Inspector Melville of Scotland Yard. And since he did not know how to listen he would not bother to try. The prisoners were committed for trial at Stafford Assizes and remanded in custody at Stafford Gaol. There, however, the conditions were somewhat better.

There was some measure of press hysteria over the case which particularly made hay with the Means of Emancipation and another text entitled The Anarchist Feast at The Opera that were found in Charles's and Cailes's possession. The hysteria communicated itself to the police, who arrested a Swiss named Cavargna in near-by Handsworth on the grounds that he was a dangerous Anarchist. He was nothing of the sort - he had invented some small explosive shells for exterminating rabbits in Australia, and could produce correspondence with the Patent Office to explain why he had explosives in his possession. He spent forty-eight hours in jail, however, before the police rather reluctantly released him.

The scene was also enlivened by the activities of a most unattractive person named McCormack. A complete parasite, he thieved from comrades who helped him and, in fact, had followed the ever-generous Charles to Walsall. [27] There he had managed to disgrace himself completely as far as the Socialist Club was concerned. When the Walsall case broke he offered his services as informer to Chief Constable Taylor of Walsall, was accepted, installed in lodgings in the police station and paid two shillings a day. However, after some research into his background it was thought expedient to release him from this employment. McCormack then went to Birmingham and sold a story to the Birmingham Daily Argus entitled 'The Adventures of a Police Spy' which eventually appeared on 16 February. In the meantime McCormack got drunk on the proceeds and stood up and addressed a crowd in the streets of Birmingham on Anarchy - whether for or against is not recorded. Arrested for being drunk and disorderly, he appeared in court the next day and much to the embarrassment of everybody said that he had been employed by Scotland Yard in 'getting up evidence' against the Walsall prisoners and 'had worked hard for the police as Inspector Melville of Scotland Yard could testify'. He was given seven days. ( He was not completely cast off by the police, however : some measure of protection was afforded him at various later appearances at Tower Hill, etc. ) [28]

Meanwhile, the Anarchists did what they could to defend their comrades and to point out the politics of the situation. George Cores, an ex-Socialist League Anarchist, came to Walsall from Leicester to coordinate the local propaganda campaign. After the six men were committed for trial the first number of what was presented as a regular local weekly paper was published from the club at 18 Goodall Street on 27 February. It was in fact the issue of Commonweal of that date with its heading changed to read the Walsall Anarchist. It covered the use of police agents in the case and attempted to counter the frenzied anti-Anarchist propaganda in the local press. It reprinted a letter sent by Cores to the Birmingham Daily Argus which gave a vigorous exposition of Anarchist Communism and also attempted to mend the damage done by The Anarchist Feast at The Opera, which had already received quite a lot of publicity in the local press. This latter piece of Grand Guignol was a detailed account of how to cause the maximum amount of carnage in an opera house by the simplest methods. Comrades were to buy seats in the cheapest, highest gallery in the building and as opportunity presented itself - in an interval for example - the comrades were to cut the gas pipes which serviced the house lights sufficiently to allow large quantities of gas to float up to the ceiling as the performance proceeded. The comrades were then to push incendiary devices through slits in the seat covers into the stuffing. These would spontaneously combust after a period of time sufficient to allow the comrades to slip away. Then the gas would explode and great would be the destruction, the moaning and the gnashing of teeth.

This may seem horror-comic stuff to us now, but at the time it was used to great effect against the Anarchists. ( Furthermore, Most had given detailed instructions for delayed-action incendiary devices in his Revolutionary War Science. ) The Feast 'purported to be a translation from a French Anarchist Paper,' wrote Cores.

It advocated the burning of theatres and went on to express the joy of the writer could he hear the frizzling of human bodies and taste the broiled flesh of the rich. This has been freely used to show what an awful class of people we Anarchists are. Well, I know with what horror and disgust I read the article referred to, and I have been gratified to find every Anarchist I have met of the same mind. More, from my knowledge of Anarchists, they would be among the very first to save life not to destroy it. And in a burning theatre it is the workers, their wives and children who suffer most from any panic. The rich have the best chance of escape. Human suffering brings no joy to the heart of an Anarchist. It is the existence of human suffering that makes him such a determined foe of all forms of oppression and misery. The paper I have alluded to ( so French Anarchists tell us ) [29] is published by an agent of the French Secret Police to discredit the Anarchist movement. It is not like any ordinary Anarchist organ - published by a known Anarchist society and distributed or broadcast, but secretly and sent only to prominent revolutionists.

But George Cores was swimming against the tide. The local socialist movement was dismayed and cowed by the arrests and the trial with all the attendant publicity. The club was closed and local reactionary forces were mobilized against them, though local meetings held for some weeks wore out this opposition by sheer bloody-minded nervous energy.

Matters were not helped by behind-the-scenes bickering over the finance and policy of the defence of the Walsall men. At the same time that Nicoll was asked by members of the Autonomie Club to set up a defence fund for Charles and Battola, Robert Bingham in Sheffield had approached Edward Carpenter to ask him to set up a fund for Charles. ( Charles had spent some time in Sheffield, as we have seen, and Carpenter certainly met him, for he writes most affectionately about him in his memoirs. ) Nicoll's fund was publicized through the columns of the Commonweal; Carpenter's through Freedom. Carpenter asked Nicoll to put his fund in with his. Nicoll and the Autonomie Club people flatly refused - Nicoll does not say why but we have already noticed the attitude of Nicoll to the Freedom Group. As 'middle class faddists' they might not be relied upon to provide a hard enough defence. Carpenter, apparently was very angry at this refusal - or so Nicoll said. In fact, we have to rely rather heavily on Nicoll's account here. [30] He says that the solicitor friend of Carpenter's, H. Gore, whom Carpenter employed in the case, was indignant with W. M. Thompson for raising the question of police provocation in the police court. And it does not seem that it was for reasons of a better tactical use of the relevant evidence - the barrister ( Willis ) hired by Gore never referred to police provocation in his presentation of the defence case at Stafford Assizes. Nicoll also says that Gore stopped some contributions reaching Nicoll's fund, so much did they disapprove of the 'police provocation' line : 'These respectable people seem as indignant as an old Tory reactionary at any attacks on Scotland Yard.' The difficulties this conflict brought about - an unfocused and messy defence for the accused among other things - did not compare, however, with the news from France, which created an atmosphere which would have severely tested the toughest defence.

The news from France was of bomb explosions. On 11 March a bomb exploded at the house of M. Benoit in the Boulevard Saint Germain, Paris. No one was seriously hurt but there was considerable damage done. Benoit had been the presiding judge at the trial of the two Anarchists condemned to jail sentences after the fighting at Clichy Levallois on 1 May 1891. On 18 March a bomb exploded at the Lobau barracks. On 27 March there was an explosion in the Rue de Clichy, Paris, at the apartment of M. Bulot, in which five people were injured and much damage was done to the building. Bulot had been the prosecutor at the Clichy Levallois trial. The bombs at the judge and prosecutor's residences had been set by Ravachol. ( No one was accused of the Lobau barracks bombing until some time later when Meunier was extradited from England and sentenced to life imprisonment for this and another explosion at the Cafe Very. ) Due to incredible indiscretions on his part Ravachol was arrested in Paris, on 30 March 1892. The details of his bombings, robberies, and of his arrest and trials can be found elsewhere. [31] What concerns us here is the considerable effect these events were to have on the trial of the Walsall men. The Paris correspondent of The Times, for example, was sending really quite frenzied reports :

No possible political end can be adduced to justify or explain the detestable acts which have startled us all. It is clearly the war of disorder and chaos against order and law. It is crime for crime's sake. It is murder and havoc acting in the service of covetousness, hatred and all evil. Undoubtedly all Anarchists are not assassins but all assassins are ready to increase the army of Anarchists and it really is with an army of murderers that society has now to deal. [32]

Since it had already been made quite clear that the bombs had been aimed at members of the judiciary in revenge for the sentences at Clichy Levallois and, furthermore, since no one had been killed in these attacks, the language of the Paris correspondent seems a little over-inflated. The centre of the matter, however, is made clear a few lines later. 'In the stress of so wide a danger there should certainly be an international league preventing every murderer of this sort from finding a place to linger even for a night in any country under the sun.' And, neatly switching the emphasis but preserving the odium, he continues : 'Anarchists should not be regarded as members of a political party, and it should not be possible for an Anarchist to hurry away from Paris to find an asylum in Brussels, in Geneva or in London.'

This was to become a familiar theme. Governments whose dissidents had escaped abroad resented strongly their ability to continue to cause them difficulty from their exile by publishing propaganda and distributing it from a safe base. The very existence of a safe place to run to tended to make the as yet un-exiled dissidents bolder in their actions. The result was that many Continental governments were to exert considerable diplomatic pressure and to indulge in considerable public relations work in order to close the more liberal havens to political refugees. The relative security ( or lack of it ) given to political refugees was often a bargaining counter in diplomatic manoeuvrings and ententes. As far as native British chauvinism went, the cry for anti-Anarchist legislation was mixed in with 'fair trade' demands, demands for the throwing out of 'pauper aliens' and so on. The smokescreen thrown up by professionally excitable fellows like the Paris correspondent of The Times allowed the authorities a certain latitude in their handling of immigrants. It certainly made the lives of political exiles in London harder and saddled the English Anarchist with a reputation that was both dangerous and difficult to live up to.

The trial at Stafford Assizes of the six Walsall men began on 30 March - the same day that Ravachol was arrested. On 4 April the newspapers reported Ravachol's confessions, which not only quite breezily admitted the bombings but also showed him to be genially unrepentant : '( ... ) if I had not been taken I would not have been satisfied with these explosions. None of those who had helped prosecute our mates would have escaped.' [33] He would, he said, also have paid some attention to the Deputies responsible for putting forward the alterations in the dynamite laws which made threatening the use of explosives as heinous a crime as attempt to murder. The newspapers of 5 April carried news of a narrowly averted attempt by Anarchists to bomb the Spanish Chamber of Deputies. [34] They also reported the end of the Walsall Anarchists' trial.

The prosecution at Stafford Assizes was conducted by the Attorney-General which gives some idea of the importance given the trial by the government. The judge was justice Hawkins ( already nicknamed 'Hangman' Hawkins ). The trial itself apparently proceeded with dignified irrelevance - reading The Times reports of the trial one gets no sense of a battle either to prove guilt or to assert innocence. The evidence brought forward by the Crown was that given to the police court together with evidence from explosives and handwriting experts and some additional evidence that the prisoners had been seen together. The true nature of the trial is better expressed by the repressive atmosphere in the court. Freedom reported '( ... ) the system of spying has been dreadful throughout. Every remark made by the prisoners to their solicitor, or vice versa, in the court was eagerly picked up if possible by a band of attendant detectives. Almost everyone interested in the case was 'shadowed' at Stafford. [35] Some people were refused entrance because they had the wrong face. The Crown - the whole court - assumed guilt and the defence, as far as one can see, put up a miserable display of shadow boxing. The attempts by Deakin's counsel to have his confession set aside, on the grounds of its having been obtained through inducements, were pathetic. W. M. Thompson's attempts to get Inspector Melville to again make injudicious references to 'paying lots of Anarchists money' were ineffectual.

Neither of these two lawyers seemed prepared to hammer away at the only two points which could have saved the men - the confession from Deakin obtained by threat or inducement, together with the activities of Coulon in setting up the plot and his relations with the police. Nor did they make any real attempt to throw doubt on the impression given by the Crown that the psychotic fantasy of The Anarchist Feast At The Opera - which was read in full - represented the views of the men on trial. The counsel for Charles - Willis, paid for through Carpenter's fund - proposed as the core of his defence that since no explosive substances had been found they could not be found guilty under the Explosives Act. And if a paragraph of the Explosives Act referred to the illegality of 'any apparatus, etc., used ( ... ) or adapted for causing, or aiding in causing any explosion ( ... ) also any part of any such apparatus', nobody was in any mood to accept his subtle distinction between patterns for bomb cases and bomb cases themselves. Having made little difference to the course of the trial, in his final speech he took it upon himself to explain in effect that desperate situations sometimes breed desperate acts - which was not really a clever thing to say in what was supposed to be a conciliatory defence. On 4 April the jury retired and after an hour and three quarters returned to pronounce Charles, Cailes and Battola guilty; Deakin guilty but with a recommendation for mercy; and Westley and Ditchfield not guilty.

The convicted prisoners were then asked if they had anything to say. And it was only here that something like daylight fell upon the whole vicious buffoonery of the legal process. Charles stated openly that the affair was a police plot and referred to the memoirs of the police chief Andrieux, of Paris, who had arranged for explosions to take place in order to incriminate Anarchists. He stated that the bombs had been represented as being intended for Russia - finding they were not, 'he at once abandoned any connection with them'. Battola - who put on the bravest front among them - made a long speech through an interpreter. Completely unawed by his surroundings - though prudent enough to deny any connection with bomb-making - he accused his accusers 'who had kept him from his wife and children ( ... ) of all the crimes of the age, of all the murders prompted by want and all the suicides'. [36] He also denounced Coulon as the instigator of the plot. Cailes, too, spoke defiantly. But it was too late, far too late.

Justice Hawkins declared that 'no part of the sentence he passed was because they were Anarchist or because of the possession of those documents'. Charles, Battola and Cailes were given ten years each, and Deakin five. The Times, however, was a little more honest :

The offence with which the prisoners were charged is one of the most dastardly and wicked which it is possible to conceive. Like treason it is aimed at the very heart of the State, but it is not designed to destroy the existing Government alone. It strikes at all Governments, and behind all Governments it strikes at those elementary social rights for the defence of which all forms and methods of civil rules exist. The crime of which the Walsall prisoners have been found guilty was no isolated act ( ... ) Hate, envy, the lust of plunder, and the lust of bloodshed are stamped on every line of the Anarchist literature read at Walsall and on every word of the confessions made by RAVACHOL.

The sentences, The Times recognized, were severe. But, it said, 'our columns this morning contain abundant evidence that this is no time to deal lightly with such crimes ( ... )' It was referring to the attempt on the Spanish Chamber of Deputies, news of other attempted outrages and a list of fairly recent, mainly Fenian, bomb explosions in England prepared by H.M. Inspectors of Explosives. [37] The prisoners of Walsall were suffering not only for breaking the law but for the dastardly crime of making the ruling class nervous.

As the case proceeded the Anarchists did what they could to publicize the case and to provide back-up support for the imprisoned men. At the centre of this activity was David Nicoll, the editor of the Commonweal. In addition to raising money for the defence he spoke at meetings, researched the background of the case and lobbied the radical press and anybody else who might have been useful. His efforts were even recognized by Justice, the S.D.F. paper, in a back-handed sort of way : 'Though we entirely differ from Nicholl [sic] we must give him the fullest credit for the work he did in securing a defence for his Walsall comrades. He spared no pains in this direction and sacrificed himself in every way. Such noble and courageous conduct renders us the more sorry that so much enthusiasm and zeal should be thrown away on the hopeless cause of Anarchism' [38] , etc., etc.

The importance of David Nicoll's activity in the defence of the Walsall Anarchists was also recognized in a rather different way by Auguste Coulon. The latter, who had disappeared after Battola had been arrested, was holed up in Brixton where he was traced by one of the ex-pupils of his bomb-making school who was acting for Nicoll. From here he issued two really quite scandalous leaflets denouncing Nicoll as a police spy. One gave a highly coloured account of Nicoll's younger days when he had affected 'aesthetic' modes of dress and had got into trouble when he threatened a printer who had refused to print one of his poems. His behaviour had been weird enough to result in his being held at the workhouse as a lunatic. He had been rescued by his family. Coulon's conclusion from all this was that Nicoll had been rescued from a lunatic asylum by Inspector Melville to spread mayhem in the Anarchist movement. [39] The second leaflet was better - in psychological warfare terms - because it was more plausible. Nicoll and Cyril Bell, who had probably aroused Coulon's animosity by taking over his position at Louise Michel's school after Coulon's dismissal, were accused jointly of collecting money to print the Emancipator ( which I take to be Most's Revolutionary Warfare ) and pocketing the proceeds. Nicoll, a 'quaker shaped spy without any human feelings, leaves his wife and child at the mercy of charitable institutions. It is this jesuit who never dares look at you straight in the face in private conversation who is now giving his private address where money should be sent for the propaganda. Seeing himself ousted at our last congress he hit on a bold stroke. He went to Peter Edlin to get 24 hours of prison ( ... ) to save his reputation ( ... )' ( Peter Edlin was the judge in the Harrow Road/Shop Assistants Union case. )

Cyril Bell, who as we said earlier had acted on Coulon's suggestion in this, is accused of being an agent provocateur 'in sending letters to form a secret conspiracy of which he would be No. 1, for the fabrication of explosives ( ... ) His shortsightedness and deafness added to the repulsiveness of his manners make him an object of disgust.' [40] The major point about this leaflet is that it asks comrades not to send money to Nicoll 'but to some trustworthy comrade of which there are plenty in London'. ( Presumably he meant himself. ) Apart from revenge for being exposed as a police agent by Nicoll, the intention of the leaflet was probably to stop money going to the defence fund for the Walsall Anarchists. Inspector Melville also played his part in these accusations according to Nicoll : 'Melville had told several people that Coulon was "All right" but it was Nicoll that had given information.' [41] Melville had reason to feel spiteful towards Nicoll. The work Nicoll had put in had made the role of Coulon more apparent and had led to Melville's embarrassment by W. M. Thompson in the Walsall police court. Further, Nicoll had publicized his embarrassment in the Commonweal. Nicoll tells how he met a friend who had been at the trial at Stafford. 'He told me that he had seen Melville who had stated to him that he was very indignant at the way he had been libelled in the Commonweal. He was not responsible for Coulon acting as an agent provocateur. "If a man comes to me with information what can I do ?" Then with a sudden burst of temper, "If that fellow Nicoll goes on telling lies about me, I'll have him".' And Melville was to get his chance.

When the sentences were passed on the convicted Walsall men there was considerable shock in the socialist movement generally. 'Alas ! Alas ! Ten years for Charles,' wrote Edward Carpenter, 'it is too bad. An evil conscience makes them cowards.' [42] But in addition to such handwringing there seems to have been a sudden shudder of fear through the movement. While the trial had been going on, several protest meetings over the prosecution had taken place with quite considerable numbers of people attending. The first open-air meeting after the convictions, on Sunday, 10 April in Hyde Park, was very sparsely attended. It is true it had been hastily organized but so had the others - fear seems to have played its part in keeping people at home. Nicoll says, 'Detectives positively swarmed in the crowd. There were enough there to take the whole crowd into custody. In fact these gentlemen were so numerous that several comrades would not come to the meeting.' [43] The speeches were made by David Nicoll and John Turner and amounted to a rehash of the facts of the case with particular attention to the role of Coulon, together with a general appeal to the workers to rally to the cause of Anarchy, at least to the extent of demanding the release of the prisoners. Subsequent attempts to prove that Nicoll had made a speech inciting to violence failed. However Nicoll had already more or less committed himself in an article written for the Commonweal. Nicoll had been rather unrealistically optimistic about the chances of the accused men at Stafford Assizes. It seems likely that deep and sympathetic acquaintance with the evidence for the defence had allowed him to assume that the judge and jury had an acquaintance equally deep and sympathetic.

I believed ( ... ) that the men at Walsall were trapped by an agent of the police into making castings for the purpose of manufacturing bombs for 'Russia'. I thought also that the admissions which Mr Thompson had obtained from Inspector Melville had made this pretty plain to judge and jury. What was therefore my surprise and indignation at hearing of the brutal sentence passed on three of the men of ten years penal servitude ( ... )

The day on which I heard of the result of the trial was Tuesday. Our paper goes to press on Wednesday. I went down to the office full of rage and indignation against those who had so cruelly and shamefully treated a dear friend of mine. It was there I wrote the article. [44]

This hastily written piece published in the issue of 9 April 1892 bears all the marks of angry indignation - one of them being a measure of incoherence. What is clear from the article, though, is that Nicoll advises workmen contemplating violent revenge on their oppressors to avoid conspiracies and act alone. Further, the responsibility for the savage sentences rested firmly with a police plot constructed by Mathews ( the Home Secretary ) and Inspector Melville, carried out by Coulon and connived at by justice Hawkins. Finally he asks if the men named 'are fit to live'. It was a cry of anguish, of hate, and, it has to be said, an expression of impotence. Nevertheless, reactionary papers had already started demanding that the government prosecute over the article on the evening of the day it was issued [45] There was a steadily rising chorus of such demands and questions were asked in Parliament. Yet Nicoll's cry of anger had probably broken the silence that settled when the sentences were announced. He was lobbying a number of newspapers and was hopeful that the details of Coulon's activities would soon become known to a wider audience - in more ways than one he was keeping the issue alive. The week after the sparse meeting in Hyde Park, on 17 April, in Manchester's Stevenson Square, Nicoll, Barton, Stockton and John Bingham addressed a meeting of protest and had an audience of several thousand people who listened 'with great attention and evident sympathy'. [46]

The Commonweal of the previous day had naturally enough taken up the subject again, though in more temperate language. This was not the only difference. He said, 'The reader must not suppose that there was "a wide-spread conspiracy" save on the part of the police and their accomplices. It was Coulon who had twenty plots in hand at the same time; all distinct from each other. Coulon knew everything, the rest of the "conspirators" only knew what they were doing. The true story of the Walsall Police Plot has yet to be told, and we shall begin to tell it in our next number.' Nicoll believed that it was this announcement that caused or at least precipitated his arrest and circumstances would seem to justify this belief. When the 'Are these men fit to live ?' article came out a close watch was kept on premises connected with the Commonweal. 'Our offices in the City Road and Socialist Co-operative Federation, where our comrades sometimes met' ( John Turner was the manager of the Federation ) [47] 'were closely watched by spies and a few nights before my arrest my wife came to me and said "She could not understand, but she was sure there was a man watching for someone in our street." She did not know that I was threatened with prosecution. I told her I thought it must be her fancy.' [48]

Nicoll returned from Manchester to find encouraging news from the newspapers he had tried to interest with the case. The Commonweal had the first instalment of the promised revelations concerning the Walsall case set up in type - what became 'The Sketch of the Bomb', the first chapter of the pamphlet The Walsall Anarchists trapped by the Police. A few days previously Coulon had, with the most incredible brass face, sent a letter to the Star. 'That letter was published, with his address in full - 29 Fitzroy Square - above a resolution passed by a workman's organization calling upon the government to prosecute him, as the condemned men at Walsall had accused him in open court of being the chief instigator of the plot. 'I wrote to the paper,' said Nicoll, 'and pointed out that though Coulon gave an address a few yards from the police station where Deakin was arrested, yet he was untouched by the police. That afternoon, on which the letter appeared in the Star, the police arrested, not Coulon, but me.' [49] As he returned home from the Commonweal office on Tuesday 19 April, he was taken, almost on his doorstep.

At that moment, the article 'The Sketch of the Bomb' was on its way to Scotland Yard under a strong escort of police. Melville and Littlechild with a posse of Scotland Yard detectives had stormed the offices of the Commonweal, and had carried off anything that might compromise them. They had seized the new Commonweal that had been set up, type, manuscript and all ( ... ) [50] They were assiduous in their inquiries as to a certain book on explosives which Coulon had been getting out, but which had never been printed. If they could only have found a few copies what valuable evidence it would have been. Tom Cantwell told them in jest, 'We have been expecting you for some time, and do you think we should be fools as to keep anything here likely to get men into trouble ?' [51]

W. C. Hart tells a rather different story. In his book Confessions of an Anarchist he says that the Emancipator - for this was the book referred to - was set up in type when the police raided the offices of the Commonweal. In the act of removing the formes of type from an upper shelf for the police to inspect, someone - presumably Tom Cantwell - 'accidentally' dropped them and the type was pied. [52]

Charles Mowbray was also arrested. He was the publisher of the paper while Nicoll was its editor but was not involved with the paper when the 'Fit to Live ?' article was published because he was nursing his wife who was desperately ill. While Nicoll was being arrested and the Commonweal office was being raided, another group of detectives under Detective Sergeant McIntyre were searching for Mowbray. The last address they had for him was at a house used as a Socialist Club in Bethnal Green. It was closed and empty. McIntyre and his men had to rush up and down the streets of Hoxton and East London looking for him - finally locating him through his signboard in a window ( 'Working-man's tailor. Articles made up cheap for the working classes.' ) There was no other way to find him, says McIntyre. 'It was useless to seek information from any of the Anarchist Fraternity, for no matter what disguise was adopted they would be sure to spot a "Yard" man and give the tip to Mowbray.' [53]

When the police finally located Mowbray they found a desolate scene. A matter of an hour or two before their arrival, Mowbray's wife had died and her body was lying upstairs;

he was sitting down to a scanty meal with his little children when the detectives entered and seized him. 'This is a job,' said Mowbray, 'my wife is just dead and what are these children to do ?' and he burst into tears. It was vain for him to declare he did not agree with the article. That he had never seen it till the Commonweal was published and that he had then severed all connection with the paper. All these statements were quite true but it made no difference. The law must be obeyed. He was dragged away. [54]

The cruelty of this arrest, leaving as it did, Mowbray's children alone in the house with their dead mother, certainly affected Sergeant McIntyre, and his 'softness' towards Mowbray at the police court hearing probably contributed to the later harsh disciplinary proceedings brought against him which led to his leaving the police force. The magistrate, however, suffered from no such inconvenient sentimentality and remanded Mowbray in custody and with reluctance said he would allow Mowbray to attend his wife's funeral, and then only under police guard. However, the circumstances of Mowbray's arrest underlined by this final example of judicial indifference led to something of an outburst in the press calling for Mowbray to be released on bail. Mrs Besant rather noisily took temporary care of his children, and William Morris offered to stand surety. On this bail of £500 Mowbray was released. His wife's funeral, as a result of these events, became a public occasion :

The various London groups of Anarchists decided that the funeral should be a public one and the cortege was announced to start from the Workpeople's International Club, Berners Street, Commercial Road, East, at 3.30. Long before that time several thousand persons assembled, a brass band and some twenty anarchist banners being in attendance ( ... ) A number of prominent Anarchist and Trades Unionists had assembled including representatives of various provincial groups, Louise Michel, Hunter Watts ( representing the Social Democratic Federation ), W. Votier ( Boot and Shoe Makers Union ), M. Brochean ( Brocher ? - French Anarchist Section ), M. Malatesta ( Spanish Anarchist section [sic], Mr Ramsey ( Freethinkers ) and others.

Mowbray was so upset as hardly to be able to speak; finally, however, he thanked the people for their sympathy and asked them to avoid confrontation as his bail would be put in danger.

Before the cortege started, the crowd which had assembled in the street were addressed from one of the windows of the club, and the conduct of the police authorities was strongly denounced. It was not until nearly half-past four that the funeral procession, headed by a banner bearing the following inscription : 'Remember Chicago; there will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today' and with the band playing the 'Dead March' in Saul began to wend its way towards the cemetery ( ... ) On each side of the coach men carried large red flags, to one of which was attached a copy of the suppressed edition of the Commonweal while another bore a placard stating 'The Commonweal still alive. Our office plundered. Bogus charges. Our editor in gaol. Published every Saturday'. While the cortege was passing across Commercial Road a tram car driver attempted to make a way through. His horses were at once seized by a number of the processionists, who despite the efforts of three police officers, held the animals' heads and forcibly prevented the car from proceeding until the whole procession had passed.

At the grave-side Touzeau Parris 'said that the sister they had buried had gone to a place where there was no labour, no sorrow, no sweating ( ... ) Mr Hunter Watts who followed said that their comrade, Mary Mowbray, was lying at their feet slain by the accursed capitalist system.' [55] And here lies the relevance of the quotation at the head of the procession. Albert Parsons; the Chicago Anarchist martyr, was hanged. Mary Mowbray's death ( from consumption ) was in great measure due to bad conditions, malnutrition and overwork. For the Anarchists, both were victims of capitalism, the differences being a matter of degree rather than kind.

Revolutionary speeches at funerals were, in any case, no new thing in the Anarchist movement. In 1886, at the funeral of Gustav Knauerhause, a procession with brass band set off for Manor Park cemetery and 'about 800 comrades followed the Hearse and revolutionary speeches were delivered over the grave in English, German and French'. He too had died of consumption. [56]

The demonstration at Mary Mowbray's funeral, despite its melancholy origins, represented a further breaking of the spell that the Walsall convictions had over the Anarchist movement. As we have seen, The Times reported an attendance of some several thousand people, and Nicoll's perhaps rather foolish outburst in the Commonweal had opened out the questions surrounding the Walsall convictions. Furthermore, the raid on the Commonweal and the carrying away of documents and type caused an uneasy stir in Radical ranks. They might not sympathize with Anarchists but they were jealous of 'English Liberties'.

On the following Sunday, 24 April, there were protest meetings all over the country at the raids on the Commonweal and the arrests of Nicoll and Mowbray. In London there was a meeting in the morning in Regent's Park and in the afternoon at Hyde Park. Here 'a tremendous crowd' heard Harding, Cantwell ( 'much amusement was caused by his mimicry of Littlechild and Melville who told him they were Anarchists ( … ) ' ), Morton, Miss Lupton, Tochatti, Fox, Parker, Atterbury 'and others giving outspoken addresses'. All their literature was sold out. Commonweals gradually went up in price. 'Starting at 2d then 3d, 4d, 6d, to 1/- while in some instances as much as 2/- was given for a copy.' [57] A second edition was printed on the Monday. Large meetings were held and the paper completely sold out at Manchester, Leeds, Leicester, Walsall, Norwich, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Glasgow, Birmingham, Sheffield, Aberdeen, Burnley and other places. The Anarchists were also able to make a fairly impressive showing on 1 May - May Day - which fell upon a Sunday. At the demonstration in Hyde Park after a procession numbering some 18,000 people calling for an eight-hour day, which had been organized under the auspices of various trades unions and socialist bodies, the Anarchists held a separate meeting at the Reformers Tree, where they mustered over a thousand people. Since Anarchists were also speaking from other platforms in the main body of the demonstration who presumably had their support in the crowd this was an indication of growing Anarchist strength. The Walsall convictions and the prosecution of Nicoll and Mowbray had given the Anarchists the stamp of seriousness. For all the distortions to which such spectacular happenings progressively subjected the Anarchist message in the public mind, they seem to have led initially to a great increase of activity and interest. This not only seems the case from Anarchist evidence but is confirmed by contemporaries : Detective Sweeny says as much in his memoirs. [58]

The Anarchist meeting on May Day also in no way took up a defensive stance, except for Ted Leggatt who was thinking, perhaps, more of the chances of securing the acquittal of Nicoll or of an earlier release for the Walsall men. Behind the platform were two large banners, one reading 'Anarchist Communism' and 'Revolution and Anarchy', and the other 'If the people when oppressed are silent such is stupidity, the forerunner of the downfall of public liberty.' Tochatti denounced police spies. H. B. Samuels followed Leggatt's assertions that Anarchism did not imply violence with counter-assertions as to the necessity for it and praised the example of Ravachol to cheers from the audience who had listened with some impatience to Leggatt's disavowals. Louise Michel then spoke, in French, saying that as fast as Anarchists were jailed new Anarchists sprang up to take their place. John Oldham 'rejoiced that all his life he had been a notorious poacher. He was one of those who refused to starve', and Parker spoke on the anti-rent campaign : 'In the East End they had started an "anti-broker brigade" and in several instances the broker's man had been forcibly ejected from the house he was distraining on and the furniture had been carried away by some 20 or 30 of their comrades.' The meeting broke up after three hours with three cheers for Anarchy. [59] It is worth noticing that the 'violent means' versus 'peaceful means' ( or more particularly, the pro- or anti-dynamite ) debate and the vigorous grass-roots direct action and propaganda ( of which Parker gave an example ) are fundamental to the Anarchist movement of this period. They are themes which recur again and again.

Nicoll and Mowbray were tried on Friday, 6 May, at the Old Bailey before the Lord Chief justice and the prosecution was conducted by one of his successors to that office. Mowbray was represented and Nicoll defended himself. The prosecution used as evidence the 'Fit to Live' article in the Commonweal and some new evidence from two policemen who had been present at the sparsely attended meeting on Sunday, 10 April, in Hyde Park to protest at the Walsall convictions. These policemen alleged that Nicoll had said, 'Four men are responsible for the conviction of the Walsall comrades, Butcher Hawkins, Melville, Mathews, and Coulon. Within a fortnight two of them must die ( … )' Nicoll brought a number of witnesses to show that he had said nothing of the sort. Then one of the policemen, Detective Sweeny, returned to the witness box. He attempted to adjust his account so that it was compatible with Nicoll's witnesses but preserved the murderous sentiments by saying that Nicoll spoke the words in a second speech. It was a little too transparently obvious an attempt to strengthen the case against Nicoll. The judge became irritated, Nicoll accused Sweeny of perjury - in fact, Sweeny was quite regularly referred to as 'Sweeny Todd the Perjurer' in later Anarchist papers - and the prosecution discreetly indicated that they would proceed only on the basis of the 'Fit to Live' article.

Mowbray's prosecution rested on the fact that on paper he was the publisher of the Commonweal. However Nicoll had made a statement to the police the day after his arrest taking full responsibility for the article and specifically saying that Mowbray was not responsible for it. Further, evidence was brought by Mowbray's counsel at the trial to show that Mowbray disassociated himself from the article in question : the printer of the Commonweal said that 'Mowbray had denounced the article that appeared on the 9th ( to him ) and said that if such things were printed in future he should withdraw his name from the paper. He said such language was foolish at the best and damnable at worst. He gave witness ( i.e. the printer ) notice as the registered proprietor, not to print off the copies if he found such expressions had been put into type, but to detain the type and send for him.' [60] This, incidentally, would seem to be a clear indication that Mowbray's relationship with the Commonweal group had become strained before Nicoll's arrest or imprisonment. ( If the 'Fit to Live' article aroused his anger, it had many predecessors which were equally irritating. ) This evidence, together with Nicoll's further statement in court that he took full responsibility and the circumstances surrounding Mowbray's arrest and initial imprisonment, were sufficient to guarantee his acquittal.

Nicoll's defence rested on the grounds that he had been angry and upset at the blatant injustice of the sentences on the Walsall men and that his words were not to be taken literally but as an expression of that anger. This must not be taken as an indication of cowardice on Nicoll's part. He spelled out the role of Coulon in the Walsall conspiracy and placed him firmly in the tradition of the English agents provocateurs and spies at the close of the Napoleonic wars. His role was, as theirs had been, to provide the Tory government of the day with suitable bogey men to scare the 'rich and the timid among the respectable classes' and persuade them of the need for strong and bloody-minded government, which the Tories could provide. But, Nicoll said, there was more to it than that. Hyndman had said, in 1885 on the Embankment, that if the government remained deaf to the cries of the starving then 'by God, some of them should die' - and the bombs had been exploding in London then, not Paris. John Burns said something in 1887 in Battersea Park about the desirability of 'sending Joseph Chamberlain to heaven by chemical parcels post'. Why were they not prosecuted for incitement to murder ? Nicoll says that in his case the police were not at all concerned about such incitement but were concerned to suppress the revelations he was about to make about the Walsall Anarchists, so concerned to suppress them, in fact, that they carried away the set-up type at the Commonweal and were prepared to perjure themselves to secure his conviction.

But there was, he said, one final reason why he was prosecuted where others had been let go free. He was an Anarchist. This was the hidden charge against him. An Anarchist was not necessarily an incendiarist or assassin, though 'anyone who has seen as much of the poverty and misery of the East End as we have and not use strong language would be absolutely heartless'. And as if to prove his point he went on to discuss the dynamitards :

Ravachol ! Why, your civilization - that drives the poor into misery and degradation, that drives women into prostitution, and men to crime, by enslaving and sweating them to pile up wealth for the rich - is breeding Ravachols by thousands ! Breeding them into its fever dens, breeding them in its slums, where good dies and where only vice and crime can flourish. Ravachol ! Your civilization is only fit for Ravachol. And to Ravachol we leave it. Let the monsters you have created devour you.

But why had Ravachol actually happened in Paris and not in London ? The difference lay in the fact that the French repression far out did that in England. Or at least that had been the case so far; but now the state was locking people up for their opinions.

Well go on with your policy, but you know what it will lead to. You will not suppress us or our ideas. Do you think that this prosecution has prevented the spread of our principles ? Have you suppressed them ? Why, you have not even suppressed the Commonweal which has now six times the circulation which it had three weeks ago.

For my part, I am willing to suffer for my ideas, knowing full well that our friends increase with persecution and I am quite willing to suffer in a good cause. I only tell you that you will not crush the movement by repression. You will only make it more revolutionary and dangerous. [61]

This was a brave speech. In defending himself and by this final speech for the defence, Nicoll takes his place among those immoderate heroes and martyrs in the cause of a free press; a modest place it is true, but a place nevertheless. The main weakness of his defence was not in the words used but in the distribution to a wide audience. It is natural that the newspapers should print nothing of his allegations concerning the activities of Coulon. It is surprising however that he should not have made arrangements to have his defence speech properly circulated; so much of the importance of this type of trial lies in the realm of theatre and the spectacle. Unless, of course, Nicoll was expecting to be acquitted. He had nourished sanguine hopes in the Walsall case. However, it seems that the activity of detectives in the court who were stopping people taking notes was sufficient to prevent the text of the defence appearing until after Nicoll's release. At the very least, it seems to me, a copy of the defence speech could have been taken out of the court by Mowbray or his counsel. This elementary precaution against the possibility of suppression does not seem to have occurred to Nicoll. ( Another possibility is that fear or some other kind of pressure was being brought to bear. ) Further, no proper arrangements seem to have been made for anyone to take up the work connected with the Walsall Anarchists. The Defence Committee seems only to have been composed of Nicoll himself. The extent to which he played close to his chest is indicated by the fact that even his wife didn't know that he was threatened with arrest. So when he was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months' hard labour for a rather foolish article the movement gained a martyr but lost a lot of information [62] and also lost the opportunity to quickly develop a campaign in response to the convictions of the Walsall men. And the publicity surrounding the trial was not all Nicoll had intended in the way of advertising the cause.

For their part, the authorities were careful to give Nicoll and Mowbray a 'fair' trial. After all, the raid and the 'unfortunate' publicity surrounding the arrest of Mowbray had aroused quite noisy protests. It was as well to be careful. The Lord Chief Justice was the soul of courtesy throughout and even allowed himself a few words of praise for Nicoll : '( … ) you conducted yourself today perfectly well and you have shown marks of considerable education and force of character.' [63] But praise from such quarters is rather like being given the privilege of being eaten by a crocodile with especially clean teeth. It is true that Nicoll could have been sentenced to five or ten years' imprisonment; but the sentence of eighteen months represented nothing more than a careful calculation. As The Times put it : 'Many, no doubt, would have acquiesced in a much more severe sentence than the Lord Chief justice has passed. The danger is that severity may arouse sympathy and that a prisoner who has really got no more than his deserts may become an object of public commiseration, not only among his confederates or personal friends'

So Nicoll started his sentence. Unless activity within prisons links up with the wider movement, I have restricted the accounts of Anarchists' prison experiences. In Nicoll's case, however, his experiences were to explain much of his later attitudes and activities in the movement. It is for these reasons that I present it in this history, although it deserves to take its place among prison literature as yet another example of the viciously pointless nature of those institutions - pointless, of course, unless their purpose is revenge. In the latter case, the state was well revenged on David Nicoll for his presumption in inquiring about the fitness to live of its representatives. The first part of his sentence was passed at Pentonville prison. For the first month he walked the treadmill and for the rest of his time there was set to picking oakum - oakum being 'sections of ship's cable, thickly encrusted with tar and sometimes with paint. Often the tar has hardened with age and then the work is much harder'. The point of the exercise is to shred the oakum by hand which if it is done without using all the little tricks that experience teaches, leaves the prisoner with broken nails and bleeding hands, and a sense of running a crazy race against time to produce the amount demanded. Dr Creaghe was to write to the Commonweal, 'I fear that hard labour will be terribly trying to a man like comrade Nicoll.' He was right.

Nicoll was moved on 13 June to the gaol of the small country town of Chelmsford. As at Pentonville he worked in his cell in solitary confinement at oakum picking. In the 13 August issue of the Commonweal it was made clear that he was finding the work no easier. When two comrades arrived to visit him 'a consultation took place as to whether we should be allowed to see him at all since he had not picked enough oakum the day before and had been put on bread and water in consequence ( ... )'. The comrades found him in a cheerful enough mood at this point. He had thought on going into prison that his 'sentence seemed so unjust that I could not believe I should serve the whole of it'. But it was at Chelmsford that it finally came home to him that there would be no premature release from prison. Taken with this, the limited food, the solitary confinement and then finally the news that the Commonweal had suspended publication plunged him into a deep mood of despair. Then he started hearing voices. They took the form of supposed readings from the popular press by the warders concerning the doings of Anarchists. Then it appeared that the police were raiding the houses of Anarchists all over London. But public indignation was rising. Then John Burns himself decided to speak at an Anarchist protest meeting at South Place. The reports of this meeting were that it had been a great success and that there was to be a huge demonstration in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, 13 November, calling for an amnesty for all the arrested Anarchists, including Nicoll. John Burns had provided the money for the Commonweal to be restarted under the editorship of Mowbray. On the Saturday before the meeting Nicoll heard murmuring crowds outside the jail. The meeting 'was a glorious success and my release seemed certain'. Then the crowds outside the prison started singing to Nicoll, versions of the 'Carmagnole' - 'Hurrah for the Commonweal/Socialist League/Socialist League ( ... )' - and after this happened several times, the whole thing reached a climax after

a manly voice ( ... ) made solemn proclamation that 'John Burns will be down tomorrow at eight o'clock with a free pardon from the Home Secretary ( ... )'

Bedtime came, and I retired to bed, but not to sleep. The female voice returned with a chorus of others, chanting wildly the 'Carmagnole'. They made the night hideous with this melody, which rang wildly through the darkness. Swifter and swifter ran the magic tune. Wilder and wilder grew the dance and louder the chant, till it sounded as if a host of witches were keeping Sabbath around the prison. Hell was let loose. At last, at a late hour I fell asleep amid the wild discords of the ghostly revel.

Naturally enough, no pardon arrived, the events described by the voices having no relation to events outside Nicoll's imagination. From this point on, Nicoll complained of voices from the next cell asking prying questions about Anarchists in London. On complaining about this to a visitor - an objection which was passed on to the Home Secretary via John Burns - he spent some time in the Infirmary being pronounced to be suffering from delusions induced by solitary confinement. This Nicoll indignantly denied, and in the pamphlet The Ghosts of Chelmsford Gaol [64] gives accounts of other people hearing whispers in prisons and blames the voices and singing on a conspiracy of prison warders and bought-over prisoners. Apart from the fact that the masterminding of such a conspiracy required a creativity beyond the reach of most prison warders, whose interferences with prisoners tend to be more physically immediate and brutal, there are quite obvious inconsistencies of a bizarre nature in Nicoll's account, which would seem to indicate that he underwent some kind of paranoid breakdown. When the immediate pressure of solitary confinement was released and he was put to work in the prison garden 'my life was almost uneventful' ( as he says ) and the useless and pointless days passed by until the sentence passed on him was completed.

While the immediate excitement of Mowbray's and Nicoll's arrest, May Day, and the trial was going on, the Commonweal was edited by George Cores, the man who had done his best to secure a continuation of Anarchist propaganda in Walsall. And as Nicoll pointed out at his trial, the circulation of the Commonweal multiplied six times in three weeks. Certainly Cores was an able editor who produced a lively paper; and certainly the publicity given to the Anarchists by the raid on the Commonweal office and the arrests, following after the Walsall trial, attracted serious inquiry as well as idle curiosity. Yet the fundamental reason that Nicoll could claim 'a huge increase in circulation at the time of his trial was that the protest demonstrations and then the May Day demonstrations had given the Anarchists a readymade market for their papers. Temporarily the mountain had come to Mahomet. As the 7 May Commonweal said of the May Day demonstration : 'All over the Park our women folk [sic] were selling Freedom and the Commonweal and the sale was the largest ever known.' In Manchester, at the 1 May demonstration there, twenty quire of Commonweals had been sold. This level of sales was not sustained. The problems of distribution which bedevil oppositional newspapers had only been temporarily transcended by opportunity and enthusiasm. For the paper to have sustained these sales either mass left-wing demonstrations where the Anarchists could have sold it would have to have happened continually or they would have to have had a sales force able to reach a much more greatly dispersed body of sympathizers or sensation-seekers. When their audience was not ready-made the sales of the paper would be a more true indication of their organizational strength and their ability to reach potential supporters and comrades.

A start was made on the formation of a number of autonomous Anarchist groups in London. The Commonweal for 14 May announced that H. B. Samuels was now the publisher of the paper and also announced a list of groups and secretaries 'and it only remains for comrades and sympathizers to attach themselves to the groups they can best work with'. It was either lack of forethought or a noble lack of opportunism which caused this organizational attempt to miss the mass audiences of 24 April and May Day. This move, however well or badly planned, did represent something of a departure. Up to this point the English Anarchists had grown within other bodies, as in the case of the Socialist League, or around a periodical, as in the case of Freedom and the Anarchist, or through individual contact and general association with Anarchists in the political clubs. The activity of the new Anarchist groups was to remain propagandist but now they were prepared - even eager - to sharply differentiate themselves within the socialist movement not only ideologically but organizationally as well. Eight groups were given in the Commonweal. They were the Commonweal Group ( secretary, T. Cantwell ); Hammersmith ( Tochatti ); Holborn ( H. Bird ); Paddington ( W. B. Parker ); North London ( J. Presburg ); Stratford ( F. Goulding ); Tottenham ( H. B. Morgan ); Whitechapel ( E. Leggatt ). In the next issue two more groups were added : South London ( F. A. Fox ) and Freedom ( Mrs Hyde ). ( The fact that the latter was included as something of an afterthought is some indication of its status among the Commonweal Anarchists. ) A programme of outdoor speaking was started, with three pitches, rising to five by 4 June.

Nevertheless, the paper went into a steady decline once the excitement of Nicoll's trial was over. Nicoll himself was to blame this exclusively on Samuels' editorship : 'the paper,' he said, 'was edited in such a bungling manner that its subscribers rapidly dropped away and it finally went under.' [65] On one level this was unfair. The paper was subject to a degree of harassment from the police which made publishing the paper rather more difficult. Firstly, the type seized by the police when they raided the Commonweal at the time of Nicoll's arrest was not returned until mid-June. It took a great deal of trouble, - with applications through the courts and through direct application to Scotland Yard, with a large number of obstacles placed in the way. Even when the type was returned, the made-up type - including the first part of Nicoll's revelations concerning the Walsall men - was ordered to be 'pied', that is, broken up, on Home Office orders. The Commonweal was also evicted, in late June, from its office in City Road. This followed some mysterious measuring activity indulged in by the police - presumably to see if the office transgressed some siting regulation. This proved not to be the case. The Commonweal alleged that the police then went to the landlord and whispered in his ear to such effect that he gave the paper notice to quit. After enjoying some weeks' tenure rent-free and after fighting the possession order in the courts - unsuccessfully - the paper removed itself before the bailiffs arrived to the premises of the Berner Street club.

However, on another level Nicoll was quite right to blame the editorship of the paper for its decline. Firstly, Samuels edited a boring paper. Secondly, he seems to have provoked internal dissension in the Commonweal Group in such a way as to ensure that even if the paper did get produced there was no enthusiasm to ensure its proper circulation. The paper was boring because it lacked journalistic sense : the accounts of Nicoll's trial were perfunctory, and although the text of his speech was promised 'as soon as we can get it from the clerk of the court ( ... )' it never appeared. Creaghe sent letters reporting on his faction fights in Burnley with the S.D.F. which made excellent reading. Similarly he sent a plea that 'I hope you will let us know in the Weal as often as possible how the comrades are getting on in Stafford as well as Nicoll.' Yet accounts of the Walsall men never appeared and certainly no agitation was started concerning the role of the agent provocateur Coulon. Nicoll was mentioned and his letters were reprinted from time to time but no demands for his release were made. None of the comrades left in the movement, it seemed, had Nicoll's obsessive organizational and agitational ability, as shown in his campaign around the Walsall affair except perhaps for Cores. The reason for the latter's sudden disappearance from the scene after editing the paper so successfully was not made at all clear in the Commonweal. If the published estimations of Samuels' character are anything to go by it is probable that Cores left after a quarrel between the two men. The reports of the movement, like Creaghe's contributions, were squeezed out by material made up of serializations of theoretical matter. This is not to say that it was of a low standard : Kropotkin's 'Representative Government' appeared through May and June and was followed by 'Revolutionary Government'. Other serialized matter, too, was worth producing - in pamphlet or book form. But in an agitational newspaper it was a great mistake to fill the greater part of it with overlapping wads of theoretical saga. In fact, it can be no accident that an article entitled 'Too Abstract' appeared in the 25 June edition. This article - reprinted from La Revolte - starts with the words :

'You are too abstract', 'You are not accessible to the masses', 'You are too monotonous'. Such are the reproaches which we find too often in the correspondence which we have with comrades interested in the propaganda, and who think that it is due to a wish to appear very scientific. We have often admitted that as regards the workers our paper is, for those who begin to study the social question sometimes undoubtedly very dry.

The article goes on to argue that in order to change the world we have to understand it, we have to be clear about the direction we are attempting to take, the workers' revolts of the past have failed because they were too confused to make their revolts into revolutions, etc., etc.

Now the article argues the point clearly and it is a point worth making. The suppressed premise, the unarticulated context of the argument, is the assumption that the understanding of this world and our aspirations for a better one can only be understood through a particular style of discourse. But the songs, the utopias, the cartoons, the humour of the movement were more than the dross surrounding the pure metal of 'theory', all of these things could be more or less coherent, more or less creative. All of them were more or less effective ways of understanding the world in order to change it. A revolutionary journalism has many styles to choose from. There was thus no particular excuse for converting the Commonweal almost exclusively into a series of overlapping political analyses. Neither could it be said to represent the efforts of the Commonweal Group to understand the world from their own specific viewpoint - most of the material was reprinted. It seems to me that they aspired to the philosophical glitter of Freedom, the editorial group of which they were themselves actively engaged in developing the theory of Anarchist-Communism. The Commonweal Group, to put it simply, did really want to appear very scientific and philosophical. In producing a copy of Freedom they inevitably produced an inferior version of the original.

But there were also internal difficulties in the group producing the paper. The main difficulty centred round attitudes to Ravachol. The dispute only surfaced in occasional flashes in the paper and to a certain extent one has to read between the lines. As we have seen, H. B. Samuels praised Ravachol to cheers at the Anarchist demonstration on May Day. The developing saga of his trial, first for the bombings of the homes of the judicial worthies and then for the murder and robbery of the hermit of Chambles, occupied the press from April until his execution in July 1892. In the circumstances Anarchists found it necessary to define their position in relation to Ravachol's acts. The trouble was that for some the subtlety of claiming Ravachol the bomber but disavowing Ravachol the robber and murderer smacked of lack of determination. In the Commonweal of 2 July we find H. B. Samuels writing '( … ) we are anxiously awaiting the advent of some English Ravachols' and describing him as 'a man who has shaken capitalism to its foundations'. The fundamental confusion of identifying the fear and panic that Ravachol caused among the French bourgeoisie with a comparable degree of damage to the bourgeois system itself seemed to be shared by most of the correspondents. Alf Barton wrote in to oppose H. B. Samuels, finding it impossible to accept the murder and robbery of the hermit as a great revolutionary act. Similarly he could not stomach Ravachol's attempted grave-robbery. 'No doubt deeds speak louder than words,' he wrote, 'but the deeds should have some humanity and heroism about them.' Burnie wrote to associate himself with Barton's letter; Cantwell wrote to say that if one did not like the killing one had to admit that Ravachol was to be praised for refusing to lie down and starve to death like so many workers; while a W. Jackson wrote in a letter of strong approval for all Ravachol's acts. Meanwhile, at a meeting at the Berner Street club on Saturday, 16 July, 'speeches in French, German, English and Yiddish were delivered to a crowded and most enthusiastic audience who cheered every allusion to Ravachol's struggles against society ( … )'. On Tuesday, 19 July, at the Athenaeum Hall, Tottenham Court Road, 'another crowded audience listened to speeches from several comrades who urged the necessity of individual activity against society'. It would seem therefore that there was a certain popular groundswell of opinion in the Anarchist movement which was enthusiastically in favour of Ravachol-style propaganda by deed. This was not enthusiasm from afar either, particularly among the foreign Anarchists in exile in Britain. Two of these exiles - François and Meunier - were being assiduously hunted by Melville and the political police for their alleged bombing of the Cafe Very in revenge for the arrest of Ravachol after a tip-off from one of the staff. Thirty police under Melville raided the house of Delbaque, a French Anarchist, at 30 Charlotte Street, on 27 June, enthusiastically smashing open locked doors but finding no one. The police raided 39 Compton Street, Tavistock Square, on 27 July, causing more damage but coming away equally empty handed. Meetings certainly took place at the Autonomie Club, where pro- and anti-Ravachol factions argued out the matter. One, not altogether reliable, source implies that François particularly had been basking in admiration at the Autonomie, being greeted as he walked in through the door with shouts of 'François ! François !'. Since, apparently, he was in the habit of boasting to all and sundry about his exploits it is not surprising that Melville knew he was in London. Given the circumstances he took a remarkably long time to catch the two men. [66] Both Cantwell and H. B. Samuels seem to have shared the pro-Ravachol enthusiasm, and occasional bursts of verbal terrorism in the Commonweal express the fact. Others, like Mowbray, if we remember his remarks about Nicoll's article being 'foolish at best, damnable at worst', and Leggatt, who disavowed Ravachol at the Anarchist demonstration on May Day, could be assumed to be in opposition to the line taken by Samuels and Cantwell. One has to remember that Nicoll had been arrested for verbal terrorism. It can be quite readily understood that some members of the group, particularly Mowbray, would be firmly opposed to 'provocative' material for the sake of it. Mowbray and Leggatt were by no means opposed to violence when it was a matter of mass mobilization of the working class or as part of the organizing process or defence, but presumably just did not see the point of putting the paper at jeopardy for the sake of rhetoric. As far as the Commonweal was concerned the group which included Mowbray and Leggatt seems to have been strong enough to stop any further articles in praise of Ravachol appearing after July. The side effect was, however, that reprinted theoretical material formed the bulk of the paper, which was now unleavened by even wilful extremism.

By August it was apparent that things were not well in London, though it was announced in the Commonweal that Anarchist groups had been formed in Manchester and Leeds. A peculiar paragraph appeared in the paper after an announcement that a meeting to discuss the propaganda campaign for the autumn and winter would be held at the Berner Street club. It said 'Inspector Melville the premier liar of Scotland Yard has been boasting openly that he has succeeded even beyond his hopes in splitting up the Anarchists into factions and has set them fighting each other instead of carrying on their work of propaganda. Those who are not of Melville's opinion will attend above meeting so that these hounds may have a little more work on hand. No plots but a discussion of steady serious propaganda ( … )' By 20 August, the outdoor speaking pitches in London were down to three. In the issue of 28 August there was a Notice to Readers which said : 'It is with regret that we have to announce that unless more funds are forthcoming we shall not be able to publish next week. Donations to the Printing Fund should be forwarded to the Commonweal Office ( … )' In the following issue the number of groups had fallen to six ( from ten in May ) with the disappearance of Paddington, Holborn, North London and Whitechapel. This issue, 4 September, was the last in 1892. It was 'explained' why in a 'Parting word to Our Readers' :

The fluctuations of industry, have for a time without the aid of the police, scattered several of our groups, our comrades having to travel about in search of a livelihood, thus being prevented from doing a steady propaganda. This fact and the persecution which the name of Anarchist entails, have somewhat hindered the steady propaganda by means of which the Commonweal has hitherto existed ( ... ) In order that the Revolutionary movement should not be without a mouthpiece for too long a time, we ask comrades to consider the advisability of forming a fund to start a paper, outspoken and fearless on the first of May next, with funds behind it sufficient to avoid the necessity of these appeals.

The appeal to trade fluctuations as an excuse will not do in itself. Unemployment was greater, and yet Anarchists were more numerous and active in 1893 and 1894 than in 1892. [67] The social disruption caused by the undoubted rise in unemployment in 1892 could not help but affect the Anarchists too. The erosion of the working-class gains of 1889 to 1890 was proceeding steadily and in some areas at a disastrous rate. But for all this I feel sure that the fundamental reason why the paper stopped publication was that the particular combination of people running it could see no point in going on the way they were. The crisis was a crisis of morale. Nicoll was later to allege that, 'It was proposed to dismantle the office and sell the plant to the Freedom people.' [68] He wrote an indignant letter from prison which, he says, the group did not publish. The implication is that it was only as a result of his protests that it was proposed to restart the paper the following May. Be this as it may, it is worth pointing out that any suspension of publication gave the group that restarted it an overwhelming claim of ownership. The winter of 1892-3 gave time for shifting allegiances, reshuffles and arguments to do their work. When the paper restarted the editor was the same but the character of the group and the nature of the paper had changed somewhat. H. B. Samuels had used the time well.

Notes
[1] Reynold's News, 14 April 1895.

[2] The Times, 16 January 1892.

[3] i.e. at the Socialist Congresses held in Paris that year.

[4] This was, in all pedantry, a mistake. The letter was signed 'Degnai'.

[5] The Times, 22 January 1892.

[6] Anarchist, Sheffield, Vol. 2, No. 8, 1895.

[7] Commonweal, No. II, May 1898.

[8] See S.L. archive, K1137, 1138.

[9] D. J. Nicoll, The Walsall Anarchists, London, 1894.

[10] J. C. Longoni, Four Patients of Dr. Deibler, London, 1970, p. 16.

[11] He arrived in mid-1890.

[12] Commonweal, 21 May 1892.

[13] Letters K1239-1240, S.L. archive. See also Deakin's confession.

[14] Ted Leggatt, letter to Reynold's News, 21 April 1895. See also article by P. McIntyre, Reynold's News, 14 April 1895, and Edward Carpenter, My Days And Dreams, London, 1916.

[15] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[16] D. J. Nicoll, The Walsall Anarchists, London, 1894.

[17] In the Brotherton Collection, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.

[18] Commonweal, 24 October 1891.

[19] Commonweal, 5 December 1891.

[20] Whom I suspect, on very little evidence, to have been the young Billy McQueen.

[21] This would appear to be Cyril Bell.

[22] Shop Assistant, 30 August 1924

[23] The Times, 17 October 1891.

[24] The Times, I January 1892. See H. S. Salt's introduction to Selected Poems of J.E. Barlas, London 1925, for some biographical details. He had been 'batoned and floored' on Bloody Sunday and had been a member of both the S.D.F. and the Socialist League.

[25] W. M. Thompson was also the editor of Reynold's News.

[26] Birmingham Daily Post, 10 February 1892.

[27] A notice warning about his activities had appeared in Justice the previous year, on 18 April 1891.

[28] Justice, 5 November 1892.

[29] L'Internationale, which was distributed in England by Coulon.

[30] Commonweal, No. II, 15 May 1898, and Good Friday 1909.

[31] See Longoni, Four Patients of Dr. Deibler, London, 1970.

[32] The Times, 29 March 1892.

[33] The Times, 4 April 1892.

[34] It changed little for the Walsall defendants that this later turned out to be a plot got up by a highly professional agent provocateur. See Central News telegram of 21 April, quoted Freedom, May 1892.

[35] Freedom, May 1892.

[36] The Times, 5 April 1892.

[37] The Chief Inspector was Colonel Majendie who gave evidence at this and other Anarchist trials for the prosecution.

[38] Justice, 9 April 1892.

[39] Leaflet in Nettlau Collection.

[40] A. Coulon, Anarchy is too true a Doctrine…, British Museum.

[41] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[42] Edward Carpenter to Alf Mattison, 7 April 1892. Brotherton Collection, Leeds University Library.

[43] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[44] Nicoll, Anarchy at the Bar, London, 1894. The 'dear friend' is Fred Charles.

[45] See St James's Gazette, 9 April 1892.

[46] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[47] The headquarters were at 7 Lamb's Conduit Street, W.C.1. 'This is the only Society in the United Kingdom,' they announced, 'founded on TRUE co-operative principles : Self-employment by the workers; Eight Hours Day; TU wages the minimum pay; No Interest to Shareholders; No Dividend Grabbing; Sweaters boycotted.' People's Press, 24 January 1891.

[48] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20.

[49] Nicoll, Anarchy at the Bar.

[50] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20.

[51] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 21.

[52] W. C. Hart, Confessions of an Anarchist, London, 1906, p. 45.

[53] Reynold's News, 7 April 1895.

[54] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 21, 1895.

[55] The Times, 25 April 1892.

[56] Anarchist, 20 April 1886.

[57] Commonweal, 30 April 1892.

[58] J. Sweeny, At Scotland Yard, London, 1905.

[59] The Times, 2 May 1892.

[60] The Times, 7 May 1892.

[61] Nicoll, Anarchy at the Bar.

[62] This is quite literally true. Some of the documents had disappeared by the time Nicoll was released.

[63] The Times, 7 May 1892.

[64] Published Sheffield, 1897.

[65] Commonweal, Christmas 1904. [johngray note : the number for this footnote is missing from the main body of the text in the original book. Since footnote 68 refers to the same source and follows a similar quote by Nicoll about the suspension of Commonweal - and also since there is no other passage between footnotes 64 & 66 which looks like a likely place for it - we are assuming the marker for footnote number 65 should have followed this quote by Nicoll].

[66] See the series of articles in the Evening News, London, December 1894, particularly 18 and 19 of that month.

[67] See Chronology.

[68] Commonweal, Christmas 1904.