A look at political violence in London, from the 1870’s to 2000.
Part of my series of walks on political ‘terrorism’ and covert operations, we’ll start just south of Westminster, the absolute seat of power in this country today, and throughout the last century and even further back, the absolute seat of power around the globe. It was in Westminster and the surrounding buildings during this period that Britain made many enemies, some of which would come back to cause terror and havoc on the capital’s streets.
We’ll start at St James’s park tube, in the very heart of what was once the centre of the intelligence community with MI5 having its HQ directly opposite the station in the Broadway, and the ‘old, New Scotland Yard’ just having been demolished, that dominated the skyline of the near vicinity.
Along the walk we will hear of more well known groups involved in ‘terror’ actions, but the first act of violence we’ll try to understand is what happened here at Caxton Hall in 1940. Urdam Singh, a revolutionary with links to political ideologies of the left, was also a fervent believer in Indian Nationalism. It was at this spot that he gained some form of revenge for atrocities carried out by the ruling British in his country.
Around the corner and standing under what is arguably the most iconic building in the world, a political attack hit at the very heart of the British government when Margaret Thatcher’s close friend of Airey Neave was blown up as his car left the underground car park. Although the IRA were very active at this time, this act of violence was perpetrated by a splinter group, the Irish Nationalist Liberation Army, a republican, socialist paramilitary unit.
As we wind through the streets of Westminster, I’ll inform you of the formation of particular units set up at Scotland Yard to react especially to the perceived threat of Irish radicalism. As we’ll understand this threat was true enough as the IRA predominantly stepped up their campaign on the British mainland and shortly before the peace agreement was signed, one of the most daring attacks took place on 10 Downing Street when a mortars were fired from Whitehall directly towards John Major’s residence.
Away from Irish nationalism and crossing St James’s Square, the walk comes to one of the most infamous acts of terrorism in British history as we stand outside what was in 1984 the Libyan embassy. Two bombs had been set off at Manchester and Heathrow airports that year and four Libyans were arrested, what followed happened here that year turned into a major political incident that still resonance today, when a police officer was gunned down here fired from the embassy.
Moving eastwards, and I’ll give you information on what could really be described as the founders of modern day terrorism tactics in the ‘Stern Gang’, the Zionist radical terror movement in Israel. The Irgun another Zionist movement had just committed an act of aggression when in 1946 they set off a huge bomb in Jerusalem killing nearly 90 people. Here I’ll tell you about the stern gang’s attempt to blow up the the Foreign office failed but they managed to detonate a device in London shortly afterwards.
Onwards to another attack by the IRA and here I’ll inform you of a disturbing terror tactic the movement used frequently in the 1970’s, the pub bomb. Another pub attack perpetrated not by a group but a single person with views about race and lifestyle that would not be interpreted as ‘inclusive’ shall we say, I’m talking here David Copeland, the nail bomber. Here he attacked a bar in the centre of gay London, and went on to detonate a couple more around the capital.
And to finish we hear of fascinating political ideologies that were unfortunately put to violent use. The final two stops will reveal anarchist beliefs held high in Europe which moved over to our shores and came to fruition in the latter part of the 19th century as an HQ was set up in Fitzrovia. The last stop is the iconic Post Office tower. An explosion happened here in the early 70’s that was initially blamed on Irish republican groups but turned out to be a British version of so called revolutionary groups that were gaining support across western Europe at the time. The group were linked to a Spanish far left group and were known very Britishly as the ‘Angry Brigade.
I must say that growing up in London in the 80’s and 90’s, I was acutely aware of the dangers posed by devices that could be detonated at any given time, although like most Londoners, we tended to forget it and get on with our daily lives. A true testominoy to be being a proud Londoner !
Through my three walks and research I have been absolutely gobsmacked by the information garnered from books and the internet and I want to be able to pass this on to you guys.
Hopefully see you soon on one of my walks.
Take a stroll with Ade, a qualified London Borough Guide
‘Enthusing the enthusiastic’