Victorian London - Politics - Socialism - 'Socialist Riots'

     IN concluding this little book, I shall give a brief account of the "Battle of Hyde Park" as we policemen used to call it: that was during the Socialist Riots in 1887, most of my elder readers remember that anxious time in the West End of London. I have very good reason to remember it, for I received a serious injury to my back on that occasion, which confined me to my bed for some time. The looting of shops, and smashing windows, by these mobs of so-called unemployed or socialists, was not an infrequent occurrence. Take, for instance, only a short time prior to this, their riotous proceedings after leaving the Park, in North Audley Street, Grosvenor Square. We were, however, on this occasion determined that no want of precaution should result in a repetition of such wanton lawlessness.
    On the 18th October, 1887, we had information that a large body of these men had left Trafalgar Square to march to Hyde Park to hold a meeting there, and at about 2 p.m. they began to come into the Park at Apsley Gate in large numbers, and proceeded to that part of the Park between Marble Arch and Grosvenor Gate, where they were addressed by their leaders for about two hours; it was then given out that they would have a "march round "- that meant parading through the streets, and squares, and they all, I should think not far short of a thousand, made a move across the Park in the direction of Victoria Gate. We went down that slope that lies about midway between Grosvenor and Victoria Gates. I don't forget hearing the cracking of the boughs from the trees as we proceeded along, and saw some of the scoundrels supplying themselves with cudgels, it then occurred to me mischief was brewing. I remarked this to another sergeant, whom I happened to be walking near; he said, "Yes, and we ·had better keep together, as there are not many of us. 
    I really don't think there were more than twenty police present when we started, but we soon got reinforced. There certainly were a few mounted constables, who had been on the alert near Grosvenor Gate, in readinesi to accompany us, and these, on our moving off across the grass, trotted round the road and waited at Victoria Gate, where the crowd was expected to leave the Park. Upon our approach, and seeing the mounted men near the gate (Victoria), there appeared to be - from what cause I could not think at the time - a stampede and a general rush was made across the road to a small foot gate, known as Clarendon Gate, it is opposite Clarendon Place, Bayswater Road. I was anxious to get out with them in the event of their committing any depredation, but, simultaneously, the mounted men galloped up and barred their egress, in fact, with other foot constables, forced them back into the Park. In leaving the Park by this gate there is a slight incline of the path, which was iron-railed on each side. I had succeeded in getting a yard or two up this incline, but the pressure from the back and the blockade by police at the Gate fairly wedged us in for a few seconds; all was panic now, and a big rush was made back into the Park. It was at this critical moment I was injured, for the im petus was so great that about a dozen or more big fellows fell headlong on top of me and we all went to the ground. I was underneath, and I thought my back was broken. A brother Sergeant (Kebby) came to my assistance, and with a constable dragged me out, and placed me on a seat close by, where I became unconscious. He left the constable in charge of me and proceeded into the melee, where he, I was informed very soon got roughly treated himself. Upon my coming to, things had become tolerably quiet, for the mob had rushed across to the more open part of the Park, but what attracted my attention was the number of old hats, sticks, stones, pieces of iron railings, etc., that laid about the paths and roadway. Evidently our men had been letting them have a hot time of it. I was asked if I would be conveyed to the Hospital, but I desired to go home, and was taken in a cab.
    Perhaps a short paragraph from part of "The Daily Telegraph" on that occurrence will not be uninteresting, it will certainly convey more graphically, than I can, to my readers the sort of characters the Police had to deal with at that time.

"DAILY TELEGRAPH, October 19th, 1887.

"Led by the scarlet flag carried by a youth, the men trooped across the Park in the direction of Victoria Gate, singing the chorus of a song which the demonstrators had done their best to make popular. There was no regular formation, the men probably over a thousand in number, straggling as they pleased, and covering a wide area of ground. As soon as the move was manifest, the horsemen (mounted police) at Grosvenor Gate galloped round the row and headed off the men, whilst bodies of constables on foot were hurried along under cover of the trees. Foiled in their efforts to reach Victoria Gate, which would have afforded adequate means of egress, the crowd suddenly turned, thinking to outwit the police by quitting the Park by the two smaller gates into the Uxbridge Road opposite Clarendon Place and Albion Street. But the police officers were too quick for the undisciplined mob; Supt. Huntley had halted his men inside the Victoria Gate, which had led to the flank movement of the crowd, and more mounted patrols were already in the roadway by the time the foremost of the demonstrators arrived at the lesser exits mentioned, while inside the Park the constables were in the position to dispute the passage of procession. Consequently, when the roughs saw in front of them a body of policemen, outside as well as inside the railings, there was a general flight and a backward rush. About a dozen men went down in a heap, and others took advantage of the opportunity to assault the police, one of whom, Sergeant Owen 62 A. was so badly crushed, that he was incapacitated from further duty. Another Sergeant, Kebby 12 A., was twice beaten to the earth, and in the struggle he lost his helmet. Blows were dealt on all sides and blood flowed. The banner-bearer turned, ran across the ride and rallied his men to some extent in the open. Some of the ruffians seized the park chairs and converted them into formidable weapons. Others uprooted the iron hurdles and broke off the pronged feet for a similar purpose.
    Fortunately the ringleaders were apprehended and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, and so far as Hyde Park was concerned nothing further took place in the way of riotous proceedings by Socialists, for very shortly afterwards came that memorable Sunday in Trafalgar Square, where they were finally smashed up by the police and military. I was not present, so cannot go into details, but there is no doubt that the Socialists received their coup-de-grace on that occasion, at all events. I was, as I have already stated, laid up for a few weeks, but I am thankful to say, I was able to return to duty again, and continued until I completed my full service, and was granted my pension at Hyde Park.

Edward Owen, Hyde Park, Select Narratives, Annual Event, etc, 
during twenty years' Police Service in Hyde Park,