There’s nothing to even suggest that behind the stucco facades of Georgian Fitzrovia that it was a hot spot of Anarchy in the UK. There are no blue plaques (unless they’ve been nicked) to guide you to the buildings where Louise Michel had lived or set up her school. But this Sunday you can discover what English Heritage and some of the neighbours don’t want you to know about.
Louise Michel (1830-1905) had fought on the barricades in defence of the Paris Commune back in 1871 before it was savagely destroyed by government troops. Michel had been a teacher in Paris where she had run creches for the children of women factory workers. Exiled to London she lived at Charlotte Street and set up the school in Fitzroy Square.
Called the International School it was run at number 19 and taught French, German, English, music, drawing, sewing, and engraving. It was closed when the police raided it in 1892 and found bombs in the basement.
It was suspected these were planted there by the school’s assistant Auguste Coulon, who was later unmasked as a police spy. He was expelled from the anarchist Autonomie Club at 6 Windmill Street, where Michel had first met him.
In a subsequent trial of several anarchists, who were given sentences of ten years’ hard labour for possessing explosives, they claimed these had been supplied them by Coulon.
One of these was an Italian shoemaker Jean Battola, who lived next door at 18 Fitzroy Square. In the dock he remained defiant, accusing the state and the ruling class of all the real crimes of the age, concluding with the question: “How many generals are imprisoned for using weapons of death?”
We can’t imagine the current residents’ association of Fitzroy Square holding such views.
Aside from Louise Michel you can see the locations of the Socialist League, German anarchist Autonomie Club, Lilyan Evelyn’s anarchist Ferrer School, the soup kitchen set up by refugees from the Paris Commune, and the buildings that housed the (in)famous Malatesta Club of the 1950s.
Guided walk of Anarchist Fitzrovia. Meet at ticket barrier at Great Portland Street at 1pm Sunday 8 March 2015. £4 waged, £2 unwaged. All proceeds to the new London paper of the Anarchist Federation, Rebel City.