The original Croydon Peace Festival: the town’s ‘peace weeks’ in 1930 and 1934

By - Wednesday 29th August, 2018

How Croydon promoted the cause of peace in the ’30s

Photo public domain.

Annual peace weeks were run in the 1920s in Croydon every June. The 1930 week was held between 15th and 22nd June. The mayor acted as president, the chairman was Reverend H. J. Powell, the secretary E. C. Schaefer (who lived at 8 The Waldrons), and the Treasurer H.H. Castle (who lived at 15 Chepstow Road). The programme booklet front page had “war is destructive” written at the top. On the back it stated that “world peace is world co-operation. The Croydon peace week stands for the co-operation of societies interested in peace”.

The programme consisted of:

15th June: pulpit and platform references in places of worship.

16th June: the week was opened on the Monday with a service at Croydon Parish Church, led by the Bishop of Croydon. David Hopkin, MP for Carmarthen and winner of the Military Cross in the First World War, moved the resolution about war being “a grave danger to the safety, advancement, and general welfare of the human race”, and also discussed the need to substantially reduce armaments.

17th June: a Women’s Co-operative Guild disarmament demonstration from Thornton Heath Clocktower to Katharine Street and then a meeting North End Hall.

18th June: a League of Nations Union garden meeting at Petit Tor, 37 Pollards Hill North at 7 pm.

19th June: an open-air demonstration at Katharine Street by the No More War Movement.

21st June: a children’s demonstration by the League of Nations Union youth group from Bedford Park via West Croydon Tabernacle to Park Hill Recreation Ground. It included young people dressed in costumes from around the world.

The week ended on Sunday 22nd June, with peace addresses at places of worship. Every day a peace bookstall was run by the Women’s International League in the entrance to the George Street Congregational Church, and “was visited by large numbers of people”. An exhibition was mounted by the Society For Friends as well.

Participating schools produced pageant plays, a mock assembly, and mock council meeting, and a display of dolls dressed in national costumes.

“This meeting of citizens of Croydon supports the government in its endeavour to obtain disarmament”

November 1930 saw Croydon WIL say that military training in schools was not wanted, and holding meetings on Kenya and Bantu women, Jamaica, and ‘Indian women: their development and the national movement’. The latter was a talk by Mrs Rama Rao, a member of the Committee of the Women’s Indian Association.

The WIL held a public meeting on international disarmament in May 1931 which approved the resolution: “That this meeting of citizens of Croydon, considering the fulfilment of national pledges to be of prime importance, heartily supports His Majesty’s Government in its utmost endeavour to obtain at the conference at Geneva in February 1932, an international agreement to a real and substantial measure of disarmament”.

In the 1931 general election, it asked candidates where they would support the British government in bringing forward for adoption at the World Disarmament Conference “measures that will achieve a real reduction in the armies, navies and air forces of the world; and the inclusion in the convention to be adopted at the World Disarmament Conference of the general abolition of those national armaments prohibited in the peace treaties to Germany, Hungary, etc; namely warships over 10,000 tons, submarines, heavy artillery, tanks, naval and military aviation; also all preparation for chemical warfare”. The candidates for both Labour and Conservatives replied in support.

The league held a reception for Miss Bina Addy, a professional singer from India

In December 1931 the league held a reception at the Adult School Hall for Miss Bina Addy, India’s first professional singer, and Rama Rao. Addy sang Indian, European and spirituals. This was one of many examples of events about India that the league would hold in subsequent years, including events with Indian speakers. ‘Britain and India: a plea for co-operation’ was the subject of a league public meeting in March 1933 in Purley.

The 1933 annual meeting held in March 1933 called on the government “to resist to the utmost the demand for increased armaments” and for “all present [...] not only to resist any preparation for war, but also to refuse to participate in any kind of war”.

The movement lost a leading member when Henry Morland died. Born in Morland Road in 1869, he was the son of Charles Coleby Morland. He was a partner in Price Waterhouse from 1907, and a councillor from 1912 to 1930 when he became an alderman. He was active in many Quaker-linked organisations. One of those paying tribute to him at his funeral was the Jamaican Quaker Alan Jacobs, described as “a man of colour”, for his help in trying to set up a Friends’ Meeting House in Jamaica.

Croydon WIL held a Women’s Peace Lunch to meet with members of pacifist groups

The debate about peace, war and the league continued through 1934, including at the Croydon Rotary Club. The same month, September, saw Croydon WIL holding a Women’s Peace Lunch to meet with members of the Congregationalist Christian Pacifist Crusade. In October, the Thornton Heath Parliamentarians & Debating Society discussed the entry of Russia into the League of Nations, and concern about the manufacture of armaments and the need for control over them in that year’s king’s speech.

In June 1934, an anti-war exhibition was followed by the annual Peace Week. The exhibition was organised by the Croydon Anti-War Council Exhibition Committee, based at 8 Beulah Grove. There were different speakers each day: Maurice Dobb, the Communist economist; Dorothy Woodman of the Union of Democratic Control and former Secretary of the Women’s International League; Harold Morland; Ivor Montgau, the Communist filmmaker and advocate of chess and table tennis, and founder member of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians; Reginald Bridgeman, secretary of the League Against Imperialism; and W. Ferrie, who was billed as having been banned by the BBC (though I cannot find out why).

There was a peace demonstration at Duppas Hill Recreation Ground

The Croydon League organisations were among those which supported the Croydon Anti-War Council’s week of peace activities in the following week. The joint committee of the Co-operative Guilds of the South Suburban Co-operative Society area held their eighth peace demonstration at Duppas Hill Recreation Ground, with feeder marches from South Norwood, Thornton Heath Pond and East Croydon Station. Children and the Woodcraft Folk were at the head under the banner ‘Save the Children from War’.

Other organisations taking part in the week were the International Friendship League, the Women’s International League, the Adult Schools League, the Croydon League of Nations Youth group, the League of Youth, local Labour parties and Women’s Sections, Croydon TUC, and individual trade unions.

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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