1893: The Manchester Anarchists and the Fight for Free Speech

Police repression against British anarchism is not a new happening. In 1893 anarchists in Manchester put up a fierce fight against police attempts to silence them

Submitted by Battlescarred on June 14, 2009

“In Manchester there is a handful of persons who delight in regarding themselves as Anarchists. They are chiefly tailors, and some of them allow their hair to grow long. There is nothing they dislike more than the laws and regulations provided for the
peace and safety of the population. They cannot endure restraint. It is all very well for common people to be compelled to conform to orders, but they prefer to please themselves” (Manchester press article)
“The Anarchists held meetings that were orderly and good,
And the workers they did go
Just to hear the Anarchists show
How the rich church-going thieves live upon their sweat and blood,
And how the masters try and crush them low”. From the anarchist song The Scamp Who Broke his Gamp At Ardwick Green.

Manchester was the battleground for the first concerted attack on the home-grown anarchist movement in Britain. It was to be an opening shot by the British state against indigenous anarchism.
Alfred Barton was born on 30th July 1868 at Kempton in Bedfordshire, the son of a foundry labourer Henry Barton and his wife Eliza, nee Savill. Self-educated, he became well informed in philosophy and history, especially classical history. He was able to read several languages. Not much is known of his early years in Bedfordshire. His first job was in a public library at the age of 12. He left home around 1890 to go to Manchester. Here he became a member of the Socialist League, and already had strong anarchist tendencies. He worked first as a clerk and then in Rylands Library. He threw himself into the work of the League which began an intensive propaganda campaign. Active alongside him was Herbert Stockton, (an odd job man and later an industrial assurance agent according to George Cores) who ran a drapers shop in Levenshulme, and his brother Ernest.
As an article in Freedom in August 1890 was to note:
“An extensive Anarchist propaganda is carried on here by the branch of the Socialist League. Several new stations have been opened lately, both in Manchester and the smaller towns round about. At one of these, in the City, where we hold very large meetings on Sunday evenings, the police have tried to stop us. They arrested Comrade Barton, but contented themselves with sending him a summons; the case is now pending. We mean to fight the authorities on this ground till their attempt at muzzling Socialism fails, as it must do. Salvationists and others may speak where Socialists cause an obstruction. It is our principles which are the obstruction in the eyes of the authorities. Our chief work lies in breaking new ground and pushing the propaganda where it has been a thing unknown. This kind of work is, as may be expected, of a very up-hill nature. No new branches or groups have yet been formed, though we have many in sympathy with our teachings. Being the only body of Anarchists in Lancashire, we are held at a stiff distance by our friends the Social Democrats. They seem afraid to permit the thorough Socialism of our speakers to be heard on their platforms. They are too busy endeavouring to get their fingers in the pie of government, municipal and otherwise, to care for Revolutionary Socialism. The idea of the General Strike is now received with enthusiasm by the workers at all our meetings.”
The Manchester Anarchists held meetings at Preston Park Gates on Sunday mornings, at Stevenson Square on Sunday afternoons, in St Augustine’s Parish on Sunday evenings and near the market during the week. They organised a huge protest meeting with an audience of several thousands addressed by Barton, David Nicoll, Stockton and the Sheffield anarchist John Bingham in Stevenson Square on 17th April 1892 about the arrest of the anarchists in Walsall (see the libcom biography of Fred Charles).The audience listened ‘with great attention and evident sympathy’ according to a report in the Sheffield Anarchist. By now with the collapse of the Socialist League the anarchists had set up the Manchester Anarchist Communist Group and they carried on the propaganda under this new name.
In 1893 they began to hold meetings in Ardwick Green, a park about a mile from the city centre. There they became the target of hostile Christians. On 4th October 4 anarchists were told to move on by the police refused and were arrested. These were Patrick McCabe, mechanic, 20, William Haughton, pattern maker, 20, Ernest Stockton, engineer, 19, and Henry Burrows, clerk, 19. In the course of events Detective Inspector Caminada began to strike some of the anarchists present with his umbrella, for which he later claimed damages !! Haughton remarked during noisy scenes in court the following day court that following day that “Caminada had a bad memory, like all policemen." Stockton told the court that he weighed 6 stone 5 pounds, (he was trying to point out that he was no threat to the thuggish Caminada) to which Caminada remarked that he weighed a good deal more in cheek. They were fined 21 shillings and costs. On hearing the verdict one of the accused called out “Hurrah for anarchy” which was taken up by Barton, who was attending the proceedings responded. Outside the court he cried out angrily “To hell with law and order”, was himself arrested and bound over to keep the peace for six months.
The anarchists refused to give in to this intimidation and extensively flyposted for another meeting the following Sunday, cheekily putting up posters on the walls of St. Thomas’s churchyard( St. Thomas’s was the church over which the Rev. Nunn, one of the chief Christian harassers of the anarchists presided). They also composed a skit of the popular tune The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, - The Scamp Who Broke His Gamp at Ardwick Green- which became popular in Manchester and which poked fun at Caminada. At this meeting attended by several hundreds, Patrick John Kelly, 22, who worked as a taxidermist, was arrested and was fined 21 shillings with costs. On the following Sunday, October 16th, the police turned out in force as did the crowd to the number of 3 to 4,000 (figure given by Caminada). This time a larger number of anarchists were arrested. These were Arthur Booth, joiner, 32, Max Falk, tailor,28, Abraham Lewis, tailor, 21, James Coates, lithographic printer, 21, Edmund George Taylor, tutor, 51 , Thomas Spaine, shoemaker, 26, Walter Payne, clerk, 29, William Downey Allen, printer, 26 ; James Beale, porter, 28; Charles Watts, news-agent, 23 and William Lancaster, labourer, 28. Coates had attempted to speak before being arrested, whilst Taylor and Payne had gone to the police station after the initial arrests to go bail. Here they were refused the names of the prisoners and so could not go bail and were themselves arrested after their outraged protests. All received heavy fines.
And so the protests continued every Sunday, with the anarchists putting up determined opposition to the police repression led by Caminada. On October 29th Herbert Stockton, described by Caminada as being 23 years old and a bootmaker, was arrested. In court he declared that the anarchists were fighting for freedom of speech and they were not going to let that right be taken from them without a struggle and be ridden over roughshod by the police, the parsons or anyone . And on it went It is worth noting the name of all the others arrested during following meetings, which Caminada gives in meticulous detail in his book. James Birch, mechanic, 21, (arrested on the 5th November and again on the 12th). He denied being an anarchist saying that he was a member of the Labour Church. Herbert Stockton again at this latter date, along with James Welling, labourer, 24, George Storey, tailor, 49, Alfred Roberts, dyer, 20, Robert Warburton, warehouseman, 19, Frederick Froggat, turner, 14 (!) and James Taylor, warehouse-man. At subsequent meetings Henry Salop, labourer, 26, was arrested as was Coates again.
By now it was proving difficult to pay all the fines that the court was handing out. Coates arrested yet again, as well as once more Henry Burrows, elected to go to prison for a month rather than pay the fines. Burrows said in court that Caminada was the biggest liar he had ever known. Conditions in prison were appalling and Caminada gloats about this sadistically in his memoirs.
The constant pressure of arrests, fines and imprisonment as well as police violence was wearing down the anarchists. Patrick Kelly again attempted to speak on December 10th and was again arrested as was Haughton again on the next Sunday. Finally on Christmas Eve, Morris Mendelssohn, a mackintosh maker, 26, was arrested. This proved to be the last arrest on Ardwick Green, although the anarchists continued with their meetings on Stevenson Square.
By now others joined them in the protests. Socialists like William Horrocks and H. Russell Smart began to share the platform with anarchists at protest meetings at Stevenson Square. The struggle continued into 1894 with Horrocks arrested when he attempted to speak in Albert Square alongside Barton and David Nicoll on January 7th. The celebrated editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott began to come to the defence of the anarchists.
By 11th January the anarchists were only speaking at Stevenson Square and New Cross. The repression that had begun in Manchester had spread to London when a crowd welcoming David Nicoll back from prison at Liverpool Street station was viciously attacked by the police “punching and kicking everyone they could reach”. Trafalgar Square was closed to anarchist speakers and the protest movement that started there was attacked by mounted police.

“Though police successfully maintained public order it was at the cost of both unpopularity and ridicule”. History of Local Government in Manchester, Vol 1. Arthur Redford.
“Barton and Stockton were very sincere, brave lads, and worked hard in the propaganda for many years. It is nothing against them that they supported the ILP in their older years”. George Cores
Barton married Eleanor “Nellie” Stockton (born 1872/3) sister to Herbert and Ernest in 1894 . She was one of many young women who supported the open air meetings. She was a very prominent member of the Women’s Cooperative Guild and like her brothers described herself as an anarchist-communist. The Bartons moved to Sheffield in 1897. Here Alf joined the Independent Labour Party and started moving away from his radical positions. He gained a reputation in Sheffield as The Monolith Orator. He had by now abandoned anarchism, joined the Shop Assistants Union and was its delegate to the Trades Council. In 1907 he was elected councillor for Brightside Ward, but lost the seat in 1910. Discontented with the Labour Party, he joined the British Socialist Party in 1911, issuing the pamphlet The Universal Strike, which harked back to his anarchist ideas, in the same year. He regained Brightside in 1913 as a BSP candidate and without Trades Council support and held it until 1920. He supported the First World War. After a brief period with the Communist Party he rejoined the ILP. After two unsuccessful parliamentary contests he rejoined the Trades Council in 1926, becoming an alderman in 1929. He died on 9th December 1933. Nellie eventually emigrated to New Zealand where she died in Papatoetoe on 9th March 1960 .
Herbert Stockton married and had five children and ran a drapers shop in Levenshulme. He also, according to Cores, joined the Independent Labour Party. Ernest Stockton emigrated to Canada.
Caminada was prosecuted in the late 1890s for taking bribes and kick-backs from brothels. Among the exploits he could boast of was his closing down of over 300 pubs in the Manchester area. On leaving the police he worked as a private detective. He was injured in a bus accident and died of his injuries in 1914. Today there exists a Caminada Society made up of Manchester police pensioners. Whilst Caminada is still remembered by the authorities the Manchester anarchists who fought so bravely have been forgotten. This article is an attempt to correct that.
Caminada, Jerome. Twenty five years of detective life
Cores, George. Personal Recollections of the Anarchist Past
Quail, John. The Slow Burning Fuse
Meltzer, Albert. The humble soapbox. Kate Sharpley Library Bulletin No3 November 1992.
Barton, Alfred. Anarchism: an introduction.


Sarah Irving

14 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Sarah Irving on January 26, 2010

Terrific article on an important bit of Manchester's history. For more on Alf Barton and the Ardwick Anarchists, see also a couple of articles on the Manchester Radical History website, here and here.


14 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on January 26, 2010

thanks for posting those links, Sarah. Could we please reproduce your articles, with appropriate credits and links, on our site?