Monday, June 20, 2011

June 24, 1855 --- Sunday in the Park

On a brilliant summer Sunday, Hyde Park is the scene of an unusual protest.

Strict Sabbatarians are very close to passing a bill, now before Parliament, to restrict Sunday commerce; for example, no cabs, no museums, and - what rankles most the most - no pubs. For most Britons, Sunday is their only day off and to have their entertainments and movements restricted on that day is not to be abided.

It is a middle-class "mob" in the Park, drawn by placards posted in many pubs which read, "Come see how the rich observe the Sabbath. Be at the Serpentine Sunday at 3 p.m." The crowd, which soon numbers 30,000, targets the wealthy out for a ride in their private carriages, of course unaffected by the proposed law. Rotten Row is blocked by crowds chanting "Go to Church! Go to Church!" Others shout, "Get out and walk and let your slaves rest!" Deliverymen, bound for West End kitchens, with items for sumptuous Sunday suppers, are heckled and abused.

Although rowdy, the demonstrators are for the most part non-violent and quickly won public support. "L. of Kensington Gore," harassed in the Park, takes refuge in his club, writing The Times to declare: "At a time when not a poor wretch in the metropolis might purchase a drop of beer, I obtained for myself (at the club] whatever liquid refreshment I desired."

The following Sunday, even more people crowd the Park with a larger "rough" element attracted by the idea of a row. 600 police moved in, the inevitable melee ensued, even spilling into the Serpentine at one point. 100 are arrested. The Times had had enough, "The People are in the right and Lord Robert Grosvenor (the bill's sponsor] in the wrong." Grosvenor withdrew the bill.

Ernest Jones, the radical editor of The People's Paper, exulted, "Such is the power of the people, if they knew but how to use it." A disappointed Sabbatarian, Lord Shaftesbury blamed the demonstrations on "sedition and infidelity" inspired by Russian agents. A young Karl Marx, in his Neue Order Zeitung, declared - erroneously, as it turned out - "Yesterday, the English revolution began in Hyde Park."

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