ADVERTISER 150: We report Poplar Rates Strike of 1921 as 28 councillors go to jail to save the poor
- Credit: Archant
Our nightly series celebrating the East London Advertiser’s 150 years in print reaches 1921 and the Poplar Rates Strike when 28 councillors refuse to set the LCC’s unfair charge on poor households at the same rate as the wealthy of Westminster. It is a point of principal, but council leader George Lansbury and his supporters would rather go to jail than put such a burden on the poor...
1921: Members of Poplar Borough Council are jailed in September for refusing to raise London County Council precept rates on the poor, which are the same for an impoverished area like London’s East End with its chronic post-war unemployment as wealthy districts like Westminster and Kensington.
The East London Advertiser follows the strike by the Mayor, George Lansbury, and 19 other councillors who refuse to set the rate for Dockland families on the breadline.
Poplar suffers hardships of its unemployed dockers who don’t have enough to meet their basic needs, they argue.
So Lansbury proposes lowering the rate demanded by the LCC to relieve the poor.
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The council is accused by the Metropolitan Asylum Board of being in contempt by this act, reducing the precept from 6s.10d (34p) to 4s.4d (22p).
Lansbury and the other council members are personally summonsed to court, and ordered to pay out of their own pockets—or go to prison.
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The councillors meet for the last time in freedom on August 31, when 6,000 protesters join them for a mass council meeting outside Poplar Town Hall on the Bow Road. A huge demonstration also fills Tower Hill with thousands of protesters from all over Poplar and the neighbouring boroughs of Stepney, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch.
The next day 28 councillors including Lansbury and his daughter-in-law Minnie Lansbury are arrested at the Town Hall and led off to a waiting Black Maria to drive them to prison, as shocked protesters watch. Thousands of Poplar families go on a rent strike.
Councillors stick with their decision. Only one of them, Nellie Cressall, is released early as she is six months pregnant.
Other Metropolitan boroughs threaten to follow Poplar’s example if the LCC precept rates aren’t reduced or made fairer across the metropolis between rich and poor districts.
The Government, faced with this massive protest, eventually agrees to Poplar’s demands and the councillors are released on October 12 after a punishing six weeks behind bars.
It leads to a new ‘equalisation’ scheme where rates from wealthy boroughs are spread out across London. It changes the face of Britain’s Poor Law for ever—thanks to the sacrifice of 28 Poplar councillors led by George Lansbury who are willing to be jailed rather than punish the poor.