The second in a continuing series by Chris Draper of, 'Lives of Northern Anarchists'.
Thanks to everyone who responded to the story of John Oldman and
feel free to add comments, info or criticism below.THE Royal Family are parasites but Kate Middleton had one admirable ancestor; Edith Lupton, an anarchist.
The paternal ancestors of the Duchess of Cambridge, were a prominent Leeds family and 'Luptons' attended Kate and Will’s wedding. Curiously, Edith’s activism is always omitted from published accounts of the Lupton lineage (eg. Wikipaedia, Daily Mail, Daily Express etc).
Edith Lupton would certainly have livened up Kate’s wedding reception. In 1898 Edith was imprisoned for a month for disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer. Described in court as, 'well-educated, 56, an artist and social reformer', Edith denied spitting in the policeman’s face but explained 'that it was her custom to show her contempt for the force by going into the middle of the road and expectorating on the ground whenever she met a policeman.'
Born in Leeds in 1843 into a wealthy household, Edith’s father was a Unitarian Minister who chose not to practice his religious calling but instead rely on dividends from property and railway shares. When Edith was growing up, the family lived for a while in Whitby and then Chesterfield before returning to Leeds. Edith was educated at home, initially by a governess and then by her father before training as an artist at the Slade in London. In 1872 she was one of the first women awarded a silver medal for drawing by the University of London and went on to exhibit at the Royal Academy before returning north.
Edith was a feminist with an abiding commitment to children. In 1882 she campaigned as the sole “Independent” amongst eighteen other assorted 'Church' or 'Liberal' candidates for the Bradford School Board. Bradford’s MP, William Forster, had introduced the national system of compulsory state-education before assuming responsibility for the policy of coercion in Ireland. Edith’s libertarian instincts identified the continuity of this authoritarian approach. She campaigned against state imposition and for local education and was duly elected with the second highest vote, beaten only by the Rev. Simpson who stood as the 'Catholic' candidate. Supported by both male and female workers of Bradford, the local paper reported an interesting crisis of conscience experienced by one group of citizens fearing for their souls if they voted with their hearts, 'In Caledonia Street, some of the Catholic women, feeling an inkling to vote for Miss Lupton and not liking to openly support that body affected ignorance or illiteracy. When the returning-officer directed them to vote they declined to make a cross on the paper, saying they were forbidden to do so except for religious purposes and they went away without voting.'
Edith threw her heart and soul into community politics, intent on humanising the Bradford school system. In February 1883, she organised a School Board Concert at the Mechanics Institute with songs, recitations and performances by the Bowling Brass Band. In September she began a campaign to end compulsory homework for primary school children. The following year she persuaded over fifty eminent physicians to sign a petition published in the Yorkshire Post that stated;
'We, the undersigned medical men of Bradford, believing that evening brain-work is undesirable and frequently injurious to young children, most earnestly beg the board to give effect to the resolution passed at the recent meeting in St George’s Hall, to the effect that, Home lessons should not be enforced on children under ten years of age.'
In November 1884 Edith wrote a lengthy essay excoriating the state-school system that was widely reported by the press:
'She begins by saying that…a gross and ignorant tyranny has in the name of education risen up amongst us and it is time the nation opened its eyes to what is going on…She considers that not only are delicate children treated with what are at times barbarous cruelty but that the vitality of strong children is often seriously depressed by antiquated and ignorant modes of instruction.'
In the summer of 1887 Edith garnered the support of a dozen Women’s Suffrage Societies for a formal appeal to Queen Victoria, to support their campaign for political parity with men but to no avail. Edith had come to recognise the limitations of local politics and polite petitioning and the undesirability of state-socialism. Whilst she fervently opposed state schooling most of the labour movement celebrated it as a welcome advance.
By November 1887, Edith had come to identify herself as an anarchist and spoke at Leeds alongside colourful local libertarian Greevz Fisher (the subject of a future essay in this series) at a public meeting presided over by Auberon Herbert. 'The Chairman said that on the subject they had met to consider that night they all had a great mistrust of State direction… First of all they were struck by the very remarkable thing they were doing in allowing a few gentlemen to sit in an office in Whitehall from which they shaped and directed the education of the whole people of this country.'
Edith didn’t stand for re-election to the School Board in 1888. She did attend the annual conference of the 'National Society for Women’s Suffrage', at Manchester Town Hall and was duly appointed to the Executive Committee but she wasn’t impressed. Edith’s exasperation with the constitutional tactics of the Victorian suffrage campaigners finally erupted at the 1891 National Conference at Westminster Town Hall where it was widely reported that 'Miss Edith Lupton, rising in the body of the hall, moved an amendment practically taking the form of a vote of censure on the Parliamentary Committee.' Why should women thank them when they had achieved nothing! 'The amendment was seconded but ruled out of order by Lady Sandhurst.'
In 1890 Edith moved down to London to agitate full-time for William Morris’s Socialist League (SL). She initially joined the 'North London SL', which met every Wednesday evening off Tottenham Court Road, and she spoke at Hyde Park alongside anarchist heavyweights Sam Mainwaring and Tom Cantwell. Over the summer of 1890 Edith lectured at a variety of SL pitches in both central and east London before settling in south London, where her favourite pitch was New Cut, Southwark, which the SL’s newspaper Commonweal assured readers 'is as bad as any slum in the East-end”. From the outset at New Cut, as Commonweal reported, Edith was at home with the slum-dwellers, “Great enthusiasm shown by the people at both meetings.'
In August, Lupton attended a, 'Revolutionary, Anti-Parliamentary Conference' held at the Autonomie Club but her ideas didn’t go down too well. 'Miss Lupton believed in assembling the people in the streets; only by teaching them together could we infuse courage into them. Revolt, too was generated in this way, as fire by the sharpening of flint against flint. There must be leaders – (some cries of “No!”) – but they must arise when the time came. Leadership was necessary – (renewed dissent) – but we must not plan it. We must not make a trade of it; only we must be ready to utilise it when necessary.' The dissent was ominous, Edith’s pragmatism would have been welcomed in previous years but by the autumn of 1890 the SL had been taken over by an intolerant “anarchist” faction, carried away by their own fiery rhetoric and determined to exclude all but true believers. William Morris had already been squeezed out of the editorial chair and was soon to leave altogether and Edith’s card was marked.
Edith stuck to her guns and at the end of the month addressed a meeting of the SL at the Commonweal Hall in Holborn on the topic of, 'Woman'. The result was pithily reported by the paper as, 'Animated discussion'! A week later, Edith was arrested whilst speaking for the cause in Southwark. On that occasion, Commonweal offered encouraging support and ridiculed the officers who accused her of being drunk and disorderly. 'Our uniformed friends had relied upon the loyalty of their divisional surgeon – perhaps thinking that an unprotected female would never dream of demanding to see him. Both expectations were disappointed. Miss Lupton insisted upon her right and the very police doctor was compelled to certify that she was perfectly sober.' Her case was dismissed.
The following Sunday the SL organised a demonstration in Southwark to protest at Edith’s arrest and, 'A large and enthusiastic crowd assembled encouraged the speakers and showed every sympathy with the meeting.'
In September, Edith, then living at 59 Selhurst Road, Thornton Heath, took over as Secretary of the South London branch of the SL and extended her range of regular speaking pitches to include Streatham and Battersea. She teamed up for some of these talks with an especially appealing character called Robert Harding, the 'Peaceful Anarchist', who employed a range of innovative strategies to attract a crowd that often involved him being extravagantly chained to railings, lamp-posts and park benches to the anger and frustration of the police and further amusement of the audience.
In early October Edith was advertised to speak alongside William Morris, Kitz, Nicoll, Mowbray, Louise Michel and other stars of the movement at a forthcoming commemoration of the judicial murder of the Chicago Anarchists but politics intervened. Besides lecturing for the SL, Edith had been organising to liberate women from the dreadful working conditions of commercial laundries and with several other feminists had devised a scheme for creating Co-operative Laundries. At the end of October a prospectus was unveiled in the pages of Commonweal:
'Our object is to put a stop to the “sweating” which so largely and increasingly exists in the laundry industry, to pay proper wages, to shorten the hours of labour, to provide comfortable and well-ventilated work-rooms and to raise the workers at the same time from the position of wage-slaves to that of owners of their own earnings. We also make a special appeal to our comrades as women, for not only do women suffer as wage-slaves but as chattel-slaves also.'
Instead of supporting the plan, the paper’s new editors appended a critical footnote to Edith’s Co-op article, denouncing the scheme’s facility for raising capital by offering interest to subscribers. This undermining of Edith’s efforts exemplified the narrow sexist approach of the editors rather than the practicality of Lupton’s scheme. When Edith and her trio of co-workers defended their ideas in the Commonweal of 1st November 1890 the editors couldn’t resist having the last word but in doing so revealed their millenarian prejudice:
'We have quite as much sympathy with the sweated laundry women as Miss Lupton, only we are not sure that co-operation, or even trade unionism will sweep their slavery away…nothing but the Social Revolution will raise the mass from the horrible misery from which most working-women suffer at the present time.'
As 1890’s, workers were increasingly lured away from anarchism by electoral opportunism many comrades responded, not by patiently seeking to re-establish links but instead by retreating onto an ever diminishing island of revolutionary fundamentalism. Nothing but an immediate destruction of capitalism deserved contemplation, all else was worthless palliative. Edith’s name was removed from posters advertising the Chicago commemoration and the South London SL dissolved. William Morris spoke at the event but left the League soon after, yet Edith persevered. The following spring, Edith recorded her occupation on the official census as, 'Lecturer for a Socialist League (Agitatress)'. The feminisation of 'Agitator' was certainly significant and it’s likely the substitution of 'a Socialist League' for 'The Socialist League' indicated Edith’s distancing from the much diminished official SL organisation.
Edith continued campaigning for laundry workers and by July 1891 twenty-seven trades councils were demanding action but to Lupton’s consternation it seemed the State intended to pre-empt the laundresses’ efforts to organise co-operative control of their industry. Ironically, having already been rebuffed by the anarchist editors of the SL, Edith was in May 1892 derided by arch-statist, Eleanor Marx with similar prejudice. When it appeared the State was about to control laundries, (as reported by Eleanor Marx):
'immediately Mrs Fawcett the reactionary bourgeois advocate of women’s rights…who has never worked a day in her life, along with Miss Lupton, an anarchist (likewise a woman of the middle class), sent a counter delegation to protest against this intervention in woman’s labour.'
Continuing her campaign for laundry co-operatives brought her into court several times in 1892 with fines imposed and two weeks in prison served. Before the County Court in October Edith drew feminist conclusions:
'Men are a miserable lot of curs, brought into the world to run down and denounce women and prevent them from obtaining their rights. I have fought for women’s rights before and I will fight for them again. I represent the poor washerwomen.'
In September 1893 under the heading, 'EDITH’S PRANKS', the Leeds Times reported:
'At the Marlborough-street Police Court, London on Monday, Miss Edith Lupton, a shabbily dressed woman, well known in London parks as a speaker was charged with being drunk and disorderly.' Perhaps she was, for on that occasion Edith didn’t insist on a second opinion but neither did she give Mr Hannay, the magistrate, an easy time. When Hannay asked if she had anything to say she replied, “Nothing. I have had the honour of appearing before you three times and the last time I was here you punished me because I defended myself. – Mr Hannay: “Surely you must be mistaken.”- Miss Lupton: “Oh no. Would you like to hear your own words?” – Mr Hannay: “Not particularly”. – Miss Lupton: “You told me that you would have let me off if I had not accused the policeman of telling lies and I made up my mind that when I next was brought here I would not say a word.”- Mr Hannay: “Pay 10s.”
Edith kept on campaigning, and getting arrested, and as late as February 1898 she had a most erudite letter on 'Woman’s Suffrage' published in the Pall Mall Gazette but she was increasingly isolated, impoverished, ill-dressed and inebriated. In the indictment that opened this essay Edith was once again in Southwark Police-court charged with disorderly conduct and assault. 'Police Constable Reylance stated that he found the prisoner very drunk in Long Lane and she deliberately came up to him and spat twice in his face. The defendant delivered an oration from the dock, quite in the Hyde Park manner. She had devoted her life to the poor and lowly.' It was Edith Lupton’s last recorded act of rebellion. In 1904, she died in Marylebone, impoverished and un-mourned.
For Peace, Love & Anarchy