Pubs, police spies & the left

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2020 by kmflett

Pubs, police spies & the left

The pub has been a traditional meeting place for radicals and the left (although some sections of the movement that disavowed drink met in a range of other locations).

The 200th anniversary of the Cato St Conspiracy (a plot to kill the Cabinet in the wake of Peterloo) was marked in February. Police evidence at the trial of the conspirators noted a number of central London pubs where radicals were known to meet and both police and conspirators mingled in the Horse and Groom in Cato St itself.

200 years on not much has changed.

The evidence and tabled reports from undercover police officers in the first days of public hearings of the SpyCops Inquiry covered the late 1960s and early 1970s. Frequent reference is made to police spies having a drink with people they were watching in pubs after meetings. Reference can also be found to the point that more useful information was to be gathered this way than in meetings themselves:

Unfortunately no reference is made to what was being drunk, although at Cato St 200 years ago it would have been London porter.

The officers note that they claimed drinks they had back on expenses,they were after all ‘working’.

Tom Foot a journalist on the Camden New Journal has provided a detailed report of Spycops activities in Camden, including details of pubs that were used for left-wing meetings where police spies had been in attendance.

He notes that police monitored meetings of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in the Laurel Tree pub in Bayham St which is now Camden Town Brewdog

A new volume on the German SPD before 1914 also underlines the point about the links between police surveillance and pubs:

A particularly valuable source of working-class opinion is the collection of police surveillance reports of workers’ pubs in the Hamburg State Archives

Andrew Bonnell Red Banners, Books and Beer Mugs, the Mental World of German Social Democrats 1863-1914 (Brill 2021)

The Spycops sessions have contained only one reference to an officer getting drunk on a surveillance mission in a pub but we might recall the Alex Glasgow and Henry Livings song from Close the Coalhouse Door: A Soon As This Pub Closes (The Revolution Starts)

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