A Pillar of Poplarism

The Memorial to George Lansbury on the corner of Bow Road and Harley Grove, Tower Hamlets.  The inscription reads:

GEORGE LANSBURY

1859-1940

Member of the Poplar Borough Council 1903-1940

Mayor 1919-20 & 1936-37

Member of Parliament

Member of the Crown

Privy Councillor

A GREAT SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE

The house which stood here was his home for 23 years and this garden was created in his memory by public subscription 1955.”

“Poplar, with a long history of municipal initiative and radicalism, was among the first London authorities to build public baths, wash-houses and free public libraries, and in 1921 it made the national news when councillors voted to give more poor relief to the local unemployed rather than hand over their levy to the London County Council (LCC). The government took Poplar to court and on 29 July 1921 council leaded George Lansbury, accompanied by a mace bearer, brass band and 2,000 supporters, march from the town hall on Newby Place to the High Court to reiterate the authority’s refusal to levy the precept.  Twenty-five male councillors were arrested and sent to Brixton prison, where they continued to hold council meetings in George Lansbury’s cell, while the five woman councillors were sent to Holloway. When other councils expressed their support the jailed Poplar councillors were asked to negotiate but refused to do so from prison. They were released (after six weeks inside) and the government relented, agreeing to apportion the precept according to each borough’s means. Lansbury later became the leader of the parliamentary Labour Party, and in 1939, when mayor of Poplar*, journeyed to Berlin to meet Hitler and Mussolini in an ambitious, but fruitless, attempt to seek peace. He died on 7 May 1940, disillusioned by the outbreak of the Second World War. His home at 39 Bow Road, was, ironically, one of the first East End houses to be destroyed by wartime bombing.” – Ed Glinert, The London Compendium, 2003.

As well as the Memorial on Bow Road, Lansbury’s name lives on through several street names, the lido he founded in Hyde Park, and most notably in the name of the pioneering Lansbury Estate near East India Dock Road.

For more information on George Lansbury, visit this excellent biography.

*I realise this is contradicted by the memorial inscription. According to this site, these meetings took place during 1936-37 rather than 1939. 

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