Political violence on the streets of London (pre 2000) – Clerkenwell & The City
This walk is part 2 of 3 in a series on political violence on the streets of London, pre Millenium.
These walks are designed to include as great a mix as possible of the generally politically motivated acts of terror, assassination and espionage in the city. My other two walks start of in the West, at South Kensington heading east along Hyde Park towards Mayfair, and the second takes into account acts perpetrated in Westminster. This walk focuses a little on Islington & Clerkenwell, but mainly plots that took place in the square mile.
In these walks I will try to be as objective as possible relying mainly on fact, and not political opinion.
Of course London being the seat of the largest empire the world has ever known, it was always going to attract enemies. Those numerous foes of the state have used London as their stage to forge plots of terror for over 150 years ! The first act of what we now define as ‘terrorism’ took place in Clerkenwell and was executed (badly) by forerunners of the IRA, in the IRB (The Irish Republican Brotherhood) and this attack became known as the ‘clerkenwell outrage’.
This fascinating story is our second stop on the walk after first learning of what appears to have been ‘government funded’ terrorism by the then regime of the P.W Botha, South African apartheid leadership. In this run of the mill Georgian house in Pentonville, the secret service of the S.A Government, set off a bomb on British soil not so long ago in 1982.
As we cross the City boundary at Smithfield we will find out about a group of anarchists who were active in London at the end of the 19th century. Anarchism was gaining trend around this time and the French Anarchist movement were particularly prominent, although this attack was executed by a Russian group at what was then Aldersgate tube station, and now Barbican.
At Smithfield, we will stop at the memorial for William Wallace, the Scottish ‘freedom fighter’, and it’s here that I’ll debate a little into ‘what or whom is a freedom fighter?’, as I’m sure we’re all aware of the saying ‘one mans terrorist, is anothers freedom fighter’.
Deeper into the City we hear of our first attack committed by the IRA. This took place in 1973 at the Old Bailey, where a common method was used in a car bomb. The IRA tried many different ways to hit London, and Ade will inform you of some of these including, rail stations, pubs, military installations and financial institutions. We will hear much more from the IRA later in the walk.
Although we wish that no acts of this kind are ever committed on the streets of any city, anywhere, these unfortunate occasions of terrorism did happen, and we can’t just brush them under the carpet.
As stated earlier, the most prolific organisation to attack London in the 150 or so years that what we call ‘terrorism’ has existed, were of course the IRA and its offshoots(for example the INLA). At Bank, we focus further on the Victorian Fenian campaign which included a few attacks on this building, the cerimonial home of the Lord Mayor of the City Of London, Mansion House.
Before we hear of more devastating attacks by the modern IRA, we’ll take a break from Irish dissendents and catch up with one of the most prolific and infamous ‘terrorists’ of the 70’s, Carlos The Jackal. Carlos actually had a address down in Chelsea and it was around this time that he casually attacked this Israli bank in the heart of the City of London in 1974.
Carlos the Jackal
The next few stops concentrate on acts of violence by Irish Republicans, with their attacks on financial institutions in the City itself, including the Baltic Exchange which resulted in the Gherkin (1 St Mary Axe) being built, as half of the Baltic disappeared over night.
Our final stop is Liverpool Street, a useful finish as it’s such an important transport hub, but for us we will learn that it was a target, as with so many other busy London railway stations, of the IRA in the mid 70’s. Luckily for those commuters on this day, the bomber did not reach his intended target, and a rather sad but interesting story of bravery comes out of the failed attempt to mass murder in London.
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 testimony to be being a proud Londoner !
Through my three walks and research I have been absolutely gobsmacked by the information I’ve 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’