Issue 236 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1999 Copyright Socialist Review

Our hidden history

A thousand years of resistance

Dave Beecham looks at a millennium of struggle in Britain

1070-1071
Hereward leads rebellion against the Norman invasion.

1196
London rising against war, taxation and corruption is thwarted and ten are executed.

1297
William Wallace begins the Scottish rebellion that leads to independence.

1327-1328
Population of Bury St Edmunds and other towns attack monasteries in the largest of several revolts against the feudal power of the church.

'Fellow citizens, who now a scanty liberty has relieved from long oppression, stand firm while you may.' William Gryndecobbe, leader of rebels in St. Albans, 1381


1381
The Peasants' Revolt. Largest uprising in medieval Europe against feudal servitude and the poll tax. Rebels hold London for a week. Eventually defeated in battles at Billericay and North Walsham, and up to 1,500 executed, among them John Ball and Wat Tyler.

1400-1408
Welsh rebellion against England led by Owain Glyn Dwr. The revolt is eventually put down but Glyn Dwr is never captured.

1450
Rebellion led by Jack Cade marches on London, defeats royal army at Sevenoaks and occupies the city. Rebels return home with promises and guaranteed pardons, only to be betrayed and see their leaders murdered.

1497
Cornish rising against war taxation. Led by Michael Joseph (known as An Gof--The Smith), rebels gather support in a march on London but are defeated at Blackheath.

1548-1552
Risings across England against land enclosures and local oppression, notably in Norfolk, where Robert Kett's rebel army takes Norwich and establishes first English Commonwealth with elected delegates and 'governors'. They are defeated after a month by an army including foreign mercenaries.

'We desire this liberty; this we will have, otherwise these tumults and our lives shall end together.' From the manifesto of Norfolk rebels, 1549


1629-1631
Food riots and risings against enclosures of common land.

1640-1652
English Civil War and Revolution. Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army wins decisive battles. Monarchy overthrown, Charles I executed and Commonwealth Established. Revolutionary army seeks to impose a wider democracy on its leaders, but Levellers are defeated. Monarchy is restored in 1660 but power shifts decisively towards parliament and the bourgeoisie.

1685
Monmouth Rebellion. West Country rises against James II. Rebel army, including many cloth workers and miners, is defeated. Mass repression and executions fuel the hatred which leads to the overthrow of the Stuarts in 1688. For the following 60 years followers--Jacobites--seek to restore monarchy with a series of rebellions in Scotland.

'I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another;
for none came into the world with a saddle on his back,
neither any booted or spurred to ride him.'
Colonel Rumbold, at his execution for conspiracy against the king, 1685


1761
Northumberland miners rebel against Conscription into the army (Militia Act). Massacre at Hexham leaves 50 dead.

1768
First mass strikes by London weavers and clothing workers.

1780
Uprising in London known as the Gordon Riots. Initially anti-Catholic, rioters then attack the Bank of England, prisons and homes of the wealthy. Death toll reaches more than 300, with 25 executed.

1795
Mass demonstrations organised by London Corresponding Society against conscription, hunger and war with France: up to 300,000 people involved, almost half the population of London.

1797
Navy mutinies at Spithead and the Nore over pay and against brutality. Miners at Tranent near Edinburgh rebel against new conscription laws.

'Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered;
yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.'
Tom Pain The American Crisis, 1776


1811-1817
'Luddites' organise strikes and armed attacks on weaving mills and their owners. Attempted risings in London and Derbyshire.

1819
Mass demonstrations for reform. At least 11 are killed and 400 wounded in the Peterloo Massacre.

1820
Mass political strike in Glasgow and Renfrewshire attempts to overthrow government.

1830-1832
Villages across southern England rebel against starvation wages and unemployment, with more than 1,000 attacks on farms, machinery and workhouses.

1831
Widespread uprising across England and Wales: in Bristol 12 are killed and more than 100 wounded. Workers in Merthyr take control for four days.

1833
Rebecca movement against tolls in Wales. Newly formed Metropolitan Police attack workers' demonstration. One policeman is killed: jury's verdict is 'justifiable homicide'.

1839-1842
Chartist convention and mass strikes for political reform. Risings at Newport and in Yorkshire. Mass strikes in Oldham and Manchester.

1882-1889
Struggle for land in the Highlands reaches climax in the 'crofters' war'. Marines and gunboats are sent to Skye and Lewis.

1889-1892
Strike movements in London and elsewhere mark the birth of the 'New Unions', involving women and unskilled workers.

'The law locks up the man or woman/
Who steals the goose from off the common/
But leaves the greater villain loose/
Who steals the common from the goose.'
18th century popular verse


1903-1913
Suffrage movement brings women into militant action, including demonstrations and hunger strikes.

1910-1913
The 'Great Unrest'. Mass strikes in the mines, docks and railways. Schools are shut as pupils rebel.

1916-1919
Agitation over pay and conditions in the engineering industry leads to the development of the first shop stewards' movement.

1918-1919
Mass strikes threaten to bring down the government. Police strike. Army mutinies by British, Canadian and Jamaican troops.

1926
Millions of workers respond to the call for a general strike supporting the miners. The movement is defeated when leaders call off the strike without any guarantees, leading to mass victimisation.

1931-1932
Riots over unemployment in London, Glasgow and Birkenhead. Naval mutiny at Invergordon against pay cuts.

1936
Mass demonstration prevents fascists marching in Cable Street, east London.

1972
Strikes in the mines, docks and building industry. Factory occupations in the engineering industry, Mass solidarity strike frees imprisoned dockers and leads to collapse(and then repeal) of anti-union laws.

1981
Riots over unemployment, racism and police repression in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Bolton, Luton and other towns.

1984-1985
Miners strike for a year in the longest ever mass strike in history. Police occupy mining areas including North Yorkshire and Kent. 10,000 people are arrested; five people are killed.

1990
Demonstrations and riots across Britain against the poll tax. Millions defy the law and the government is forced to abolish it.

'No human being on the face of the earth, no government, is going to take away my right to speak, my right to protest against wrong, my right to do everything that is for the benefit of mankind. I am not here then as the accused. I am here as the accuser of capitalism, dripping with blood from head to foot.'
John Maclean, 1918


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