Close – but not too close – to the Houses of Parliament, London’s Trafalgar Square has been a venue for demonstrations and a focal point for protest rallies ever since its construction in the 1830s. So it’s no surprise that it acts as the backdrop to a number of the demonstrations featured in our Campaigning: Causes and Connections exhibition. An image on the media wall shows James Keir Hardie, leader of the Labour Party, addressing the crowds at an anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar Square in 1914, flanked by the lions at the base of Nelson’s column. Fast forward to 1957 and a photograph showing demonstrators on the first London–Aldermaston march setting off from Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery in the background. On to March 1971, and a poster advertising the UK’s first Women’s Liberation march, which culminated with a rally in – where else – Trafalgar Square.

The Exhibition Space’s video wall: James Keir Hardie addresses a peace meeting in Trafalgar Square in 1914.

But the Square is conspicuous sometimes by its absence. The Reform League’s demonstration of December 1866 – in favour of the extension of the male franchise – was deliberately routed away from central London. Violent clashes at a demonstration organised by the League earlier in the year had threatened to alienate more conservative supporters, and organisers of the December march were keen to avoid any further trouble.

The exhibition also shows us that although London as a centre of power is a major focal point of protest, it is by no means the only one. Greenham Common has become synonymous with the women’s peace camp established there: the barbed-wire-crowned perimeter fence around the base features on posters produced by the camp, and numerous protest actions focussed on reclaiming the space itself. Greenham also became a metaphorical space, denoting support for the Greenham peace camp women, but also a wider community of campaigning women. ‘Greenham Women are Everywhere’ proclaims a badge; ‘Greenham will always be our base’ writes Lyn Barlow in her journal, following her departure from the camp.

Other places of protest reveal themselves more subtly. CND fundraising targets – almost as high for the north-west as for Greater London – hint at the strong radical tradition of the metropolitan centres of Liverpool and Manchester, while Keir Hardie’s address to the electors of Merthyr Tydfil is a reminder of the roots of the Labour movement in the mining communities of Wales.

Anna Towlson

About Anna Towlson

Anna Towlson is Archives and Special Collections Manager at LSE Library.