Ten Places that Uncover the History of Power, Protest and Progress Selected in Historic England Campaign
- Historian David Olusoga judges the Power, Protest & Progress category from hundreds of public nominations in Historic England’s campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance
- The Palace of Westminster, Bosworth Battlefield, the site of the Peterloo Massacre, the home of the Bristol bus boycott and The Pitman's Parliament, ‘working class leadership manifested in bricks and mortar’ chosen
- These ten places complete Historic England’s campaign which has aimed to find the 100 places that bring to life England’s rich history
- New podcast episodes added to series which explores all 100 places in depth
The Palace of Westminster, the site of a peaceful Civil Rights protest in Bristol and Manchester’s Peterloo Massacre are among the top ten places that chronicle the history of power, protest and progress in England.
They have been selected by historian David Olusoga from hundreds of public nominations.
The end of the campaign
This is the tenth and final category to be announced in our campaign and podcast series, Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical.
From Science & Discovery to Music & Literature, the campaign has been exploring, through ten different categories, the 100 places that bring to life England’s rich and extraordinary history. Find out more about all 100 places.
This September an illustrated book of all 100 remarkable places will be released.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “Every place chosen in this category has a fascinating story to tell about the history of power, protest and progress. Throughout this campaign we have been trying to uncover lesser known stories, as well as to delve more deeply into the history of some well-known places. The ten in this category show that there is still so much to learn about our nation’s past.”
Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive of Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “These ten places are a poignant reminder of the some of the pivotal struggles that have shaped our nation, whether that has been fighting inequality, discrimination or an enemy from abroad. The stories of power, protest and progress are a fitting way to complete the list of 100 Places that have shaped England’s history and we are proud to be able to celebrate them through our sponsorship of the campaign.”
The 10 chosen Power, Protest & Progress places
The Palace of Westminster, London
The Palace of Westminster is probably the most famous building in the UK and recognisable around the world for its dramatic roofline and iconic clock tower which houses Big Ben. It is an internationally-renowned symbol of the seat of democracy and constitutional monarchy with a history that goes back nearly 1000 years, as a centre of power.
It is known by many as the “mother of all parliaments” and was the site for pivotal moments in the story of democracy. From the medieval origins of parliament in the early 13th century when barons became dissatisfied with arbitrary royal rule, to the moment when Emily Wilding Davison hid in a cupboard to protest women’s inability to vote, it has been at the centre of our national life, and a focus for protest, for generations.
Its importance lies in its physical fabric but also in what it has witnessed and what it represents.
Peter Street, site of the Peterloo Massacre where the Free Trade Hall now stands, Manchester
In August 1819 fifteen peaceful protestors were killed and hundreds injured at what became known as the Peterloo Massacre. That day a huge crowd of people poured into Manchester’s St Peter’s Fields to hear the orator Henry Hunt speak at what was supposed to be a peaceful rally calling for political reform and better representation in parliament.
The procession of men, women and children heading for this part of Manchester, which was then open fields, was accompanied by bands playing music and people dancing alongside. The crowd was so determined to prove their peaceful intentions that they banned anything that could be construed as a weapon and people left their walking sticks behind in pubs along the way to the rally. But local magistrates feared the crowd was not peaceful and instead had violent, revolutionary intentions, so they sent in armed forces to disperse them.
People who were already cramped, tired and hot panicked as the soldiers rode in, and several were crushed as they tried to escape. The first to die was a baby, trampled under horses’ hooves. A further 14 people were killed, whilst more than 650 were injured.
Despite huge public sympathy for the victims, and horror expressed at the way it was handled, the government responded by cracking down on reform. Peterloo was one of the bloodiest clashes in British political history and remains a key moment in the history of democracy because it allowed the reformers to gain the moral high ground. The events of that day prompted John Edward Taylor, a 28-year-old Manchester businessman and witness to the massacre, to start his own paper and campaign for reform. This was the Manchester Guardian, now known simply as The Guardian.
Judge, David Olusoga said: “The nation is about to reconnect with this critically important event. The site needs to be better known.”
Bristol Bus Station- plaque commemorating the Bristol Bus Boycott, Wapping Road, Bristol
The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ non-white people in the city’s bus crews.
In 1963 18 year-old Guy Bailey was turned away from a job interview at the state-owned Bristol Omnibus Company before it had even begun. The manager told him to leave, saying “we don't employ black people." Locals Paul Stephenson and Roy Hackett passionately denounced this "colour bar"- the open secret that no non-white driver or conductor had ever been employed by the company. They urged a boycott of the bus service, leading to members of the local black community, supported by some white neighbours, to stage a boycott of the network in protest. High-profile politicians lent their support, too: Bristol South East MP Tony Benn declared he would "stay off the buses, even if I have to find a bike".
The boycott echoed the non-violent civil rights protests led by Martin Luther King in the United States, causing as much disruption as possible in a peaceful manner.
On 28 August 1963 the managers announced a change in policy at the Bristol Omnibus Company. There would now be "complete integration" on the buses, "without regard to race, colour or creed". The boycott was a watershed moment and a step on the road towards the UK's first ever laws against race-based discrimination. The Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968, brought in by Harold Wilson’s government, banned discrimination in public places and in employment.
David Olusoga said: “In the context of the times this was an incredibly important and dignified protest, carefully linked to the wider Civil Rights struggle.”
The Pitman’s Parliament, Durham Miners’ Hall, Redhill, Durham
Durham Miners’ Hall is the stunning headquarters of the Durham Miners’ Association and has been at the heart of miners' welfare in Durham for the last 100 years. Opened in 1915, the building was the democratic hub for the 200,000 miners who were members of the union. It is one of the finest trade union buildings in Europe, intended as a status symbol, so that when negotiations went on here the strength of the union was understood. At the building's heart is the Pitman's Parliament - a 298 seat debating chamber. Each numbered seat corresponds to a colliery which would send a delegate to the Pitman’s Parliament. From this seat the colliery representative would stand for the interests of their colleagues as well as their entire mining community. It was here that important debates shaped the lives of whole communities in the Durham coalfield.
The Pitman's Parliament is working class leadership manifested in bricks and mortar. It has been described as “a palace built by workers for workers” and the room is designed to amplify the voice of the people. Although the remaining membership of the DMA has fallen to under 2000 living ex-Durham miners, the Pitman's Parliament continues to be a hub for dialogue and debate.
Judge, David Olusoga said: “The infrastructure of these formidable communities is too often forgotten, as is their history.”
Battle of Cable Street, East London
The Battle of Cable Street took place on Sunday 4 October 1936 on Cable Street in East London. Anti-fascist protesters, including local Jewish, socialist, anarchist, Irish and communist groups, clashed with the Metropolitan Police, who were protecting a march by the British Union of Fascists (colloquially known as the Blackshirts), led by Oswald Mosley. Judge David Olusoga said: “although this was a violent protest, as a nation we should be more aware and proud of the Battle of cable Street.”
The Jewish community in London had been growing for hundreds of years and by the 1930s around 183,000 Jewish people lived in London, mostly in the East End. With powerful backing from some members of the aristocracy and various media, Mosley fostered anti-Semitism, which was exacerbated by deprivation caused by the Great Depression. Some neighbouring communities particularly blamed the Jewish community for worsening conditions in the East End. By 1936 the British Union of Fascists (BUF) had become the largest organised anti-semitic force in Britain.
To celebrate the BUF’s 4th birthday, Mosely planned an anti-semitic march into London’s East End. Crowds of people, hearing of the March, blocked various routes into the East End, the last of which was Cable Street. The crowd is said to have roared “They Shall Not Pass!” and “Down with Fascism!”
Six thousand police tried to clear the area, attacking the people building barricades. The demonstrators fought back with sticks, rocks, chair legs and other improvised weapons. Rubbish, rotten vegetables and the contents of chamber pots were even thrown at the police by women in houses along the street. Mosley was forced to march his troops away from the area and anti-fascists marched to Victoria Park, heralding a victory for the Jewish community, the people of the East End, and anti-fascists everywhere. The battle is immortalised in a mural on the side of the former St George’s Town Hall in Tower Hamlets.
73 Riding House Street, Westminster, London
This site in Westminster is where Olaudah Equiano, the formerly enslaved abolitionist campaigner, once lived. Equiano, like millions of Africans, had been captured as a very young boy in Nigeria by white slave traders. He then endured the middle passage on a slave ship bound for the New World and was enslaved in Virginia where he weeded grass and gathered stones. In 1757, he was bought for about £40 by Captain Pascal, who named him Gustavas Vassa, The African. Under Pascal and others he travelled far, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic, before he was able to buy his own freedom in 1766.
Equiano settled in London and became part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group of prominent Africans living in Britain who had freed themselves from slavery, or been freed. Knowing the power of his own story, at 73 Riding House Street Equiano wrote his autobiography of 1789 The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, which told of his extraordinary life and depicted the horrors he suffered whilst enslaved. He toured around the country with his book, speaking about the cruelty of the slave trade. The tireless campaigning of Equiano and the Sons of Africa were a major contributing factor to the passage of the British Slave Trade Act of 1807. For judge David Olusoga: “Equiano's importance just keeps growing. He's now an integral part of 18th century history.”
Group Operation Room- Battle of Britain bunker, Uxbridge, London
This underground operations room is an expression of how power was deployed and controlled during the Second World War. David Olusoga said: “From here and other sites air power was deployed with unique precision. The site itself is a time capsule.”
Built in 1938, this bunker played a fundamentally important role in defending Britain from the air during the Battle of Britain and in other key actions of the Second World War. From this room Air Vice Marshall Keith Park commanded the squadrons within 11 Group's sector stations, responsible for planning and coordinating the air defence of London and the South East of England.
The bunker’s design, with the plotting room at its heart surrounded by operations and control cabins, includes a pioneering system of air filtration, internal communications systems and telecommunications equipment, all designed to ensure that operations could continue no matter what happened.
By September 1940 Britain had become the first nation in history to remain independent through air power, with the RAF ending the supposed Nazi invincibility and providing a glimmer of hope to resistance movements in occupied countries. It has been argued that without victory in the Battle of Britain the political geography of Europe in the second half of the twentieth century would have been very different.
Sycamore in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset
In 1834 a group of farm labourers from Dorset, barred from church halls or other indoor spaces, sheltered under the spreading branches of the Sycamore tree in the heart of Tolpuddle. Here they discussed their long hours and small wages, forming an outlawed workers' association which made them pioneers of the trade union movement which sought employees’ rights.
The ringleaders, George Loveless and five fellow workers, were charged with having taken an illegal oath. But their real crime was to have formed a trade union to protest about their meagre pay of six shillings a week – the equivalent of 30p in today's money and the latest in a series of wage cuts. Landowners in this time were determined to stamp out any organised protests, so when the local landowner caught wind of his workers forming a union, he had the men arrested. They were tried and transported to Australia as common criminals where they were forced into convict labour.
After the sentence was pronounced, many working class people rose up in support of the Martyrs. A massive demonstration marched through London and an 800,000-strong petition was delivered to Parliament protesting about their sentence. After three years, during which the trade union movement sustained the Martyrs' families by collecting voluntary donations, the government relented and the men returned home, with free pardons, as heroes.
Whilst in prison, George Loveless wrote: “We raise the watchword, liberty. We will, we will, we will be free!" These fiery words have inspired generations of people to fight against injustice and oppression. David Olusoga said: “The history of trade unions is under-expressed and this site iconic.”
Former Physics Laboratory, Rutherford Building, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester
The Rutherford Building housed Ernest Rutherford’s former physics laboratory at the University of Manchester. It was here that he discovered the structure of the atom in 1911. The discovery that the mass of an atom is concentrated in its nucleus, a particle 1,000 times smaller than the atom itself, with orbiting electrons making up rest of the atom, paved the way for splitting of the atom in 1917, and the initiation of the field of nuclear physics. For this, Rutherford is known as the “father of nuclear physics”.
Rutherford was aware of what his investigations could mean for society. In 1916 he publicly stated that he hoped mankind wouldn’t work out how to extract the energy from the nucleus until "man was living at peace with his neighbour". His experiments with nuclear reaction of course changed the world forever, beginning the move towards nuclear power and the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War Two. But his work also allowed us to develop cancer-fighting radiotherapy.
For David Olusoga, “this is a critically important site in the creation of the nuclear age, in which we still live.”
Bosworth Battlefield, Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre & Country Park, Leicestershire
Judge David Olusoga calls this “One of the most decisive moments in English and Welsh history- the end of one age, the start of another.”
The Battle of Bosworth Field was the last significant battle in the Wars of the Roses- the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York that extended across England in the latter half of the 15th century. Fought on 22 August 1485, the battle was won by the Lancastrians. Their leader, Henry Tudor, won and became the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty. His opponent, Richard III, the last king of the House of York, was killed in the battle.
Richard III’s reign began in 1483, though his reputation was quickly sullied when he became implicated in the death of his nephews and even his own wife. Henry Tudor, a descendant of the greatly diminished House of Lancaster, seized on Richard's difficulties to challenge his claim to the throne.
The battle at Bosworth Field marked the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the beginning of the Tudors. It was a turning point in the story of power in England.
The 10 places Olusoga has chosen will be explored in-depth in new episodes of Historic England’s podcast series- free on iTunes and Soundcloud. The podcast is presented by historian Suzannah Lipscomb.