A tiny meeting house, converted from a chapel, stood at the back of number 18 Denmark Street, Soho, in London, until the 1880s. The Eclectic Hall regularly hosted a range of political radicals and counter-cultural commentators, often attracting sell-out crowds. Using that venue as a prism, this article investigates some shifting currents in ‘Soho radicalism’ – a phenomenon that has had oddly little attention since Stan Shipley’s groundbreaking survey Club Life and Socialism in Mid-Victorian London (1971). The Eclectic Hall was the informal headquarters of Bronterre O’Brien’s National Reform League throughout the 1850s and into the early 1870s. John De Morgan’s National Republican Brotherhood also based itself here, and the hall additionally provided an address for the Mutual Colonisation and Co-Operative Emigration Land Company, which assisted London working-men to settle in the United States. The venue was also used by smaller, special-interest campaigning groups, such as the Lunacy Law Reform Association (founded 1873). More broadly, the hall intersected with the political pub and club culture of such meeting places as the Rose Street Club, which was the Soho headquarters of Continental political refugees; and the Bull’s Head Tavern – the founding place of The Manhood Suffrage League in 1874, which stood in Crown Street (today’s Charing Cross Road). Denmark Place led into one of the most immiserated districts of Victorian London, the St Giles rookery, and the relationship, or lack of one, between the pauper class of the slum and the Radicals who sought the raising of the labouring classes is additionally highlighted. In this article I map the various currents of political radicalism that packed into this tiny area of central London and give an idea of the audiences who came along to listen and the atmosphere of attending such meetings.
Eclectic Hall in Soho was the mid-Victorian home of the O’Brienities, one of the most engaging and militant strands within metropolitan radicalism. The hall stood just off Denmark Street, a corner of Soho which still has a touch of magic … but for how much longer? This article by Sarah Wise in the most recent issue of History Workshop Journal is freely available only for the month of April, 2017.
Sarah Wise is a historian of Victorian England and the author of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum and Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England. She tweets from @MissSarahWise