On the 15th of February 1894, a French anarchist named Martial Bourdin was killed in an explosion when a bomb that he was carrying unexpectedly detonated in London’s Greenwich Park. Just what his plans had been with that bomb is unclear, but most assume that he intended to blow up the Royal Observatory, the site of the Prime Meridien, in the name of anarchist revolution. That accidental explosion generated a press frenzy over what was labelled the first act of international terrorism within the borders of the UK, raising questions about links between Britain’s communities of refugees and migrants and the threat of revolutionary violence.
That event became known as the “Greenwich Outrage”. Now, to mark its 130th anniversary, comes “On Direct Action”, a two-day series of events and workshops to be held on the 14th and 15th of February at various locations around London. The events explore both the culture and topography of late 19th century anarchism and the resonances of that history in the present day, when the politics of migration and asylum have become so exceptionally volatile and when groups like Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil have put practices of direct action under the political spotlight.
In this conversation, the event’s co-organiser Megan McInerney and historian Thomas Jones explore the forgotten world of late 19th century London anarchists and its resonance for the present day.