Peace and anti-war campaigning in Croydon from 1816

By - Friday 24th August, 2018

Croydon has always been a home for those who yearn for peace

Photo public domain.

A big thanks is due to Katie Rose for conceiving and organising the recent Festival of Peace. It revives with a modern, contemporary approach the Peace Weeks that were held in Croydon in the 1920s and ’30s. And it carries on the tradition of Croydon-based folk singers, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, who provided the early Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament with some of its songs.

MacColl lived in Croydon from 1953. In 1956, he fell in love with the American folk singer Peggy Seeger, and in early 1959, he left his family and set up home with Peggy at 55 Godstone Road in Purley, until the summer of 1961, when they purchased a flat in Beckenham. Both of them were on the first Aldermaston March during Easter 1958. Their anti-nuclear song ‘That Bomb Has Got To Go’ was sung on the marches. MacColl also wrote ’Against The Atom Bomb’, and put English words to the Japanese song  ’Song Of Hiroshima’. These and songs by others were included on the LP Songs Against The Bomb published by Topic Records in 1959. The role of MacColl and Seeger concluded my talk during the Peace Festival on aspects of the support of peace and anti-war activities in Croydon from the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 to the 1950s. As part of a short series of articles, I’ll be explaining more about Croydon’s role in the history of peace and protest.

Peace Campaigning 1816-1914

Organised peace activity in Britain began with the establishment of the Peace Society in 1816.

No doubt having learned the value of broad campaigning in the anti-slavery movement, the Quakers initiated the Peace Society as an organisation enabling supporters across the Christian sects to work together. From the start it had supporters in Croydon and that remained the case throughout the century.

The first listings of Croydon members of the society is for the period 1826 to 1830; William Benson, Richard Rust Joseph Steele, Charles and Abraham Crowley and Henry Dymond. John Horniman, who would later settle in Croydon, was then in the Northampton branch.

There was a pacifist strand based on the belief that an end to aristocratic rule would mean wars would scarcely occur

There was a pacifist and anti-war strand within Chartism based on the belief that an end to aristocratic rule would mean that wars would seldom or scarcely ever occur, and the view that ‘no government has a right to declare war against any nation without the consent of the people who have to pay the necessary expenses attendant upon such unnatural and nefarious proceedings’.

As we do not know much about the Chartists in Croydon, we do not know what their position on peace and war was. In 1880 one of them, Thomas Frost, wrote that “the increased power of the masses will constitute the best guarantee of peace between nations, so essential to their progress, by uniting the working men of all countries in a great league of universal brotherhood, which will render it impossible for rulers to array one nation against another for the gratification of their own ambition of territorial greed”.

One of the founder members of the Peace Society was John Morland, an umbrella businessman. By 1849, he and his wife Hannah were living in Croydon. He was a delegate at the August 1849 Second General Peace Congress held in Paris, and Hannah and another Croydonian, Richard Parkinson, attended as visitors. John died in October 1867 at Heath Lodge.

The Peace Society’s ladies’ organisation used John Horniman’s house for a garden party

Croydon supporters of the Peace Society giving donations and becoming subscribing members in the years 1873 were Alfred Crowley, A. B. Cowdell, J. W. Janson, Mrs Hannah Morland, Mrs Sargood, Charles Wise, Charles Coreby Morland and F. G. and W. H. Horniman.

The Peace Society also had a ladies’ organisation. In August 1874 it used John Horniman’s house for a garden party. Born in Reading in 1803, Horniman had started as a tea merchant in London selling unadulterated packaged tea, which became very profitable. He owned Addiscombe Lodge on Addiscombe Road from 1825 to 1855.

In 1860, he built Coombe Cliff House. He was on the national committees of the Peace and the National Temperance Societies. When he died in 1893, he was estimated to be worth £1 milllion. He left the Peace Society £10,000. His son Frederick John took over the family firm. The family’s collection of artefacts from around the world are in the Horniman Museum, while the Coombe Cliff House estate area was finally absorbed in 1930 into what is now Park Hill Park.

There were many members of anti-aggression leagues in Croydon

Charles Wise, a Quaker and stockbroker, was treasurer of the Peace Society and a member of the committee of the Anti-Aggression League. He lived his last years to 1885 at Bramley Hill.

There were also three active working-class members: J. E. Arnold and C. H. Castle of the Croydon Workingmen’s Club, and Francis Moses Coldwells of the Croydon Liberal Association. Coldwells was amongst the delegates of the Arbitration Leagues at the Paris Peace Conference in 1875. Coldwells reported back to a Croydon Working Men’s Conference in October. He also spoke at the League’s fifth anniversary meeting in November that year as well. And in early 1876, Joseph Arch, the founder of the Agricultural Labourers’ Union, addressed a peace and arbitration meeting in Croydon.

The September 1877 issue of the League’s journal The Arbitrator included a list of Croydon members in its September 1877 issue: E. Arnold of 78 North End; J. Castle of 2 Clifton Vlllas of Thornton Heath; F. Coldwells of North End; C. B. Castle of 9 Bishops Road, chairman of the Workingmen’s Club; T. M. Dobson of 2 Lansdowne Road; A. Dudley of Broad Green; Early of Addington Road; Hewett of 1 Hancroft Road; B. Lewis of George Street; and E. Williams of 3 Wellesley Villas.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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