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Rates rebel martyrs honoured as relatives turn back the clock

PUBLISHED: 16:29 17 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:42 05 October 2010

Minnie Lansbury cheered as she marches to jail in 1921 and (inset) the restored town clock in her memory

Minnie Lansbury cheered as she marches to jail in 1921 and (inset) the restored town clock in her memory

DESCENDANTS of the rebel councillors who went to jail rather than impose unfair’ rates on the poor returned to London’s East End yesterday to honour one of the martyrs of the famous 1921 Poplar Rates strike. They turned up outside Bow’s Electric House, a block of council flats just a stone’s throw from the old Poplar Town Hall in Bow Road, for the rededication of a restored town clock first erected in 1932 in memory of Minnie Lansbury

Julia Gregory

DESCENDANTS of the rebel councillors who went to jail rather than impose unfair’ rates on the poor returned to London’s East End yesterday to honour one of the martyrs of the famous 1921 Poplar Rates strike.

They turned up outside Bow’s Electric House, a block of council flats just a stone’s throw from the old Poplar Town Hall in Bow Road, for the rededication of a restored town clock first erected in 1932 in memory of Minnie Lansbury.

Minnie was one of the Poplar councillors who refused to pass on the Metropolitan county rate precept on the grounds that the East End’s poor couldn’t afford to pay more than the wealthy of Westminster and Kensington.

They preferred raising money only to support the population of the dockland borough facing mass unemployment.

Minnie proudly marched off with the others to prison through the streets of Poplar, cheered by thousands of workers, telling a reporter from the Daily Herald: “I wish the Government joy in its effort to get this money from the people of Poplar.

“Poplar will pay its share of London’s rates when Westminster, Kensington, and the City do the same!”

Their stubbornness and mass Working Class support forced the Government of the day to adjust the rates funding system in favour of poorer boroughs.

But the bold stand cost Minnie Lansbury her life. She died of pneumonia on January 1, 1922, at the age of 32, just six weeks after her release from jail.

Her nephew Harold Langdon, now aged 92, was six when Minnie died—but grew up with stories about her determination and that of the other 29 rates strikers, including Minnie’s father-in-law George Lansbury who later became Poplar’s MP.

“We are very proud of Minnie,” Harold told the East London Advertiser. “She had the courage of her convictions.

“Everybody in the family spoke of her with awe. She had done something that no-one had done before.”

Harold’s daughter, Dr Selina Gellert, told the crowd gathered at the rededication about Minnie’s short life and her legacy.

“It seems remarkable that a Jewish coal merchant’s daughter became a schoolteacher and later joined the East London Suffragettes.

“She was close to the Pankhursts and became an alderman of Poplar at a time when few women had the vote.”

Minnie was elected alderman in 1919—even before women received the vote for Parliament.

“The councillors decided to break a bad law but were taken to court by the London County Council,” Dr Gellert continued.

“Five women councillors including Minnie were released after six weeks in Holloway Prison without having to collect rates—they had won.

“Unfortunately Minnie never recovered her health.

“It is personally sad that we never knew what made Minnie make the changes in her life from the more conventional route planned for her.”

Minnie was born Minnie Glassman in Stepney in 1889, who married Edgar Lansbury in 1914 before going into politics on Poplar Council in 1919 where she left her mark on the East End’s proud history.

Actress Angela Lansbury, daughter of Edgar Lansbury’s second wife, donated £2,000 towards the clock restoration.

But she was unable to make it to Thursday’s rededication—on her 83rd birthday—while recovering from a knee operation. She sent a personal massage which was read out at the event.

Minnie’s great-niece Kate Geraghty travelled from her home Dorset for the ceremony. She was joined by Minnie’s great-great niece Nancy Whiskin, who is involved in public life today in neighbouring Newham.

Also there was Chris Sumner, whose mother Doris Easteal became the secretary to Minnie’s husband Edgar in 1925. His grandfather Charlie Sumner was Deputy Mayor and one of the jailed rates strikers.

The Memorial clock was restored after a £13,000 public appeal launched by the Jewish East End Celebration Society.

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