I like Croydon, but it seems not many people do, its looked upon as the Des Moines of England, it is supposed to be very boring, and even to me it was not very radical…
So imagine discovering, that at the end of your garden, back in the 1890's, there was an "Anarchist Church" that believed and practiced the following:
|Croydon Brotherhood house - as it now is- a pub!|
In only eating food that was co-operatively grown and ran its own shop and horse drawn distribution network,
They were vegetarians,
Ran a hostel for the homeless in your local pub,
Operated a cooperative tailors and Dressmaking,
Also a cooperative laundry, in a poor part of the town.
Believed in Free union without marriage,
Some wore "rational Dress" and others went on to become pioneer nudists.
Listened to lectures on:
Dangers of vaccination
LETS schemes and the abolition of money
Living in community, and the history of Utopian communities
Utopian Science fiction
Some would not use the railways as they were destroying the countryside; they cycled or walked distances of 100 miles or more.
Henry George and Land reform,
Communism, Anarchism, Unions, Guilds.
Then you go your local library there is hardly anything about them…
So what I have been trying to do is discover more about the church and its members….
There are four main sources of information, and they tend to disagree among themselves so I hope this is reasonably accurate.
In the 1890's Britain was a ferment of new ideas and progressive thinking, people were as dissatisfied with politics and the world order then as they are now, and searching for alternatives…and many of those alternatives are the same now as then!
There must have been a lot of beginnings of the Croydon Brotherhood Church, but an easy one to follow is through Thomas Davidson. He was the illegitimate son of a Scottish shepherd, but got to university in Aberdeen were he started his first philosophical discussion group. This was an idea he took with him to St Louis in America. He was a schoolmaster, but concerned about the broader practice and philosophy of education. He came into contact with W T Harris and other transcendentalists (basically followers of Emerson and Thoreau). Then he moved to Boston living next door to Longfellow, and his discussion group there included William James. He was often taking his pupils to Europe over the summer, spending one year looking at the Eastern Orthodox Church. Then he was able to get a private interview with the Pope, speaking for an hour in Latin!
He found the religious philosophy he was looking for in the Rosminian monks at Domdollorosa, their mixture of communityn, charity, living in but separate from the world spoke to him, and seemed the way forward for mankind.
After spending the winter of 1882 with the monks he moved to London. In his Chelsea rooms he met with a group of like minded men and women; they decided to form THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE NEW LIFE with the aim of creating a community that lived by their ideals.
Subsequent meetings took place in the rooms of E R Pease (the Quaker) at 170 Osnaburgh Street off Euston Road next to Regents Park. On October 24th sixteen people attended Maurice Adams, a utopian author, H H Campion Secretary of the Social Democratic Federation, Havelock Ellis, J L Joynes who had traveled with Henry George in Ireland and lost his post at Eton as a result. Also the widow of James Hinton (who had been an ear surgeon and keen student of Jacob Boehme) and her sister, Edith Lees and Frank Podmore.
However the original aim of forming a colony and living an alternative life was soon changed and most of the members formed the FABIAN SOCIETY, with G B Shaw and the Webbs.
The Fellowship did continue and published an influential journal called Seed Time. It was these remaining members and new contributors and readers who formed the Brotherhood Church.
First was J Bruce Wallace, born in India he became a Presbyterian minister in Limavady in Ireland. Finding it impossible to subscribe to the Westminster doctrine he became a Congregationalist and moved to London working among the poor and as an early apostle of Tolstoy talking about Brotherhood, the title of a journal he published. He was able to get hold of an almost derelict church in Southgate Road, Hackney, and also start a cooperative foodstore. He found interest among intellectuals but not the local poor. One of the intellectuals was John Coleman Kenworthy. He had been much influenced by John Ruskin, and was a successful businessman.
Traveling to a new job (managing a bacon factory?) in America he met an Anarchist called Ernest Crosby, a translator and biographer of Tolstoy. The writings had such an effect on him, he returned to England with his wife and 3 children and at 35 started a new career as journalist, author and economist promoting Tolstoys Views. His book Anatomy of Misery being particularly well received. He was also in demand as a lecturer appearing on the same platform as Kier Hardie and Peter Kropotkin
A Quote of his from Seed Time
"Our times impose upon us a necessity which was never before so extreme. We must organize, and that on a grand scale; we must confront capitalist organization by fraternal organization. The healing of society must come about from within; through individuals and communities, who by living and extending the new life will at last cast off from society the slough of the old".
Havelock Ellis lived in Croydon with his new wife Edith Lees and the Seed Time printing press was there. Two notable Free Church ministers John Page Hopps and WJ Jupp had preached in Croydon on "The fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man" and introduced songs from the Labour Church hymnal.
Influenced by these people and writings six young socialists formed the Croydon Brotherhood Church in 1894 at 46 Tamworth Road. They were Nellie Shaw, Fred(Harry?) Muggeridge, Mary Grover, William Galruth, and James and Frank Henderson. J C Kenworthy was the honorary pastor and Bruce Wallace also moved to the area. Meeting initially in the tin hut of the Salvation Army they would have talks and discussions on Sunday afternoon, followed by supper and then a service. Labour Church hymns, prayers by Kenworthy, only just tolerated by some anarchists. Followed by a sermon, usually on economics by Kenworthy and always time for group discussion at the end. Soon a shop was taken on Pitlake Bridge and a cooperative food shop opened with Tolstoyan, anarchist and socialist literature in the basement. Although it was mostly a talking shop the resolve was there to actually try and do practical things. In the winter of 1896 Kenworthy traveled to see Tolstoy in Russia. Tolstoy liked him and his ideals, and liked the sound of the Brotherhood Church (though not its name!). He gave Kenworthy permission to publish his books in England and use the profits for the church's purposes.
Kenworthy arrived back in Britain at the same time a new and important member joined the church. Captain Arthur St John was an imposing man, Nellie Shaw describes him as an aristocrat, and everyone took him for a conservative spy. Travelling back to England from his station in Burma with the Inniskillen fusiliers he also read and was transformed by Tolstoy's ideas. Resigning his commission he made for the Tolstoyan community in Croydon. His money, enthusiasm and practicality helped organize soup kitchens for the poor, it had been a long and cold winter with many strikes. He set up exercise and drill classes for boys and girls and I think organized the renting of the Waddon Hotel in the fields at the edge of Croydon near Waddon Station. It is a large three-story building. It was renamed Brotherhood House and became a boarding house for those interested in the churchs ideals or passing like minded folk, and homeless men as well. A cooperative tailoring and dressmaking operation, the printing press of Kenworthys jourmal the Croydon Brotherhood Intelligencer and the cooperative store now run by St John and delivering cooperatively grown food, ordered by post, by horse and cart once a week. In the poor part of Croydon, Old Town a cooperative laundry was set up, so members of the church could "better understand the tribulations of the poor".
Steps were also being taken to look for land on which to found a "Colony" and become self sufficient in food and housing.
Tolstoy at that time, became aware of the plight of a pacifist religious sect in Russia; the Doukhobors. Thought, wrongly, at that time to have been founded by Quaker missionaries in Russia. They had tried to burn all their arms to put themselves out of temptation, but the army fearing they planned to use not burn them, instigated a massacre and the sects reluctance to serve in the Army caused continuing problems.
Tolstoy appealed for help to the Quakers in Britain and to Kenworthy and the Brotherhood Church. His private secretary Vladimir Tchertkoff went to see for himself what was happening to the Doukabours, but was taken prisoner, then exiled from Russia. He his mother wife and children and Princess Helena Petrovna and her court officials came to Croydon, taking a large house called Broomfield on Duppas Hill (at the bottom of my garden) and almost adjacent to Brotherhood House. Things got very busy as land was found at Purleigh in Essex, money from the store and Dressmaking profits enabled it to be bought and pioneer colonists moved there and started planting and building.
The Quakers raised money for the Doukabours and Arnold Eiloart at Purliegh gave an inheritance, and Kenworthy published Chertkoffs appeal for help. With pressure from the British government, permission for the Doukabours to travel seemed certain to be given. Arthur St John with Quaker John Bellows traveled to Russia to deliver the money. They must have delivered it but were imprisoned and then deported to Tiflis in Turkey. St John used money from Eiloart to travel to a proposed site for Doukabour emigration on Cypress with 2 Doukabours. He found it to be not at all suitable, but was too late to prevent 1,600 Doukabours arriving there.
Anarchist and geographer Kropotkin had traveled in Saskatchewan and seen Mennonite settlements that seemed successful in an area much more suitable for the Doukhobors purposes. Quakers in Canada negotiated at length with the Government and ships chartered to bring over the Doukhobors. Arthur St John came with them and helped them deal with government that as anarchists they seemed unwilling to negotiate with in any form.
Back in England with Kenworthy and Chertkoff at the Purliegh colony and the powerhouse example of St John now gone only the dressmaking and printing was really going on.
There seemed to be problems at Purliegh. Aylmer Maude (Tolstoy's translator) had also moved in, but so had various men who did little work. Meetings got long and tedious, and when it was decided that two working class men could not join the colony a splinter group formed and began looking for another colony with those still in Croydon.
Daniel Thatcher a Quaker journalist had inherited two thousand pounds, which he put at the Croydon Groups disposal. The West of England Land Society a predominantly Quaker group found some land at Whiteway near Stroud and In 1898 Nellie Shaw, Arnold Eiloart and all cycled down together from Croydon and approved the choice.
Whiteway is still there today but that’s a whole other story.