Centenary of anti-German riots in Forest Gate

Monday 11 May 2015

Following the outbreak of World War 1, in August  1914, there were a number of riots and skirmishes aimed at German nationals, or those who were thought to be Germans, in towns and cities throughout Britain, including locally.

Location and date unknown, but a widely
used photo illustrating looting of "alien"
shops in East London during World War 1
A recent exhibition by the excellent Eastside Community Heritage (see footnote for details) looked at much of the anti-German activity in East London during World War 1. 

One of the more bizarre aspects of this was re-naming the former  King of Prussia pub on Stratford Broadway the more "patriotic" Edward V11 (who had recently died). Both his family and their name - Saxe-Coberg - were, of course, equally German.

Stratford's King of Prussia pub renamed Edward V11

The biggest upsurge in anti-German feeling locally came nine months after the outbreak of hostilities; and followed the sinking of the Lusitania on 7 May 1915. There was a significant amount of rioting and looting of German premises in both Forest Gate and Manor Park, by - as we shall see - Forest Gate residents.

Most of the copy in this blog is taken from the Stratford Express of the time.

Sinking of the Lusitania

The Lusitania was a British ocean-going liner, launched in 1906, and was for a period the world's largest ship. It regularly crossed the Atlantic - from the UK to New York.

The Lusitania - one time largest ocean going vessel

In February 1915 Germany declared the waters around Great Britain as a war zone, and said it would attack hostile vessels. In April 1915 their embassy in London placed adverts in the British press, warning civilians of the perils of  transatlantic travel for the duration of the war (see advert, below).

German advert, warning
travellers to avoid the 
Lusitania, April 1915
On 1 May the Lusitania left New York on its final voyage, and was hit by a German U-boat, off the south coast of Ireland, on 7 May.  It sunk, completely, within 18 minutes.

1,198 people perished in the sinking and 764 survived.

Britain claimed the Germans had broken international conventions, by hitting a civilian ship. The Germans countered (correctly) by saying that it was an auxiliary military ship, since it was carrying over 4 million rounds of ammunition and other military equipment.

This was denied by the British government, who used the incident as leverage to persuade America, which had lost citizens in the sinking, to join the war.

The sinking lead to widespread anti-German riots throughout the United Kingdom, including - as we shall see - in Forest Gate and Manor Park.

The first extract, below, is from the Stratford Express dated 15 May 1915, and describes local riots on the nights of 11 - 13 May 1915.
We have cross referenced the premises and business mentioned with local trade directories  of the time, and, where possible, are showing photos of those locations today. We are also highlighting the names of local streets and addresses in the text that follows.

The second extract is from the the following week's edition of the paper and records the court appearances and sentences of local people convicted of rioting and looting. It suggests that the justice was pretty summary.

Riots, Stratford Express Sat 15 May 1915

Stratford Express 15 May 1915
Anti-German feeling has been high in every quarter ..., and commencing on Wednesday afternoon many ugly scenes have occurred...
Quite close to Upton Park station there is a large butcher's shop kept by Messrs Schuch and Sons  (341 Green Street) and for many hours on Wednesday evenings these premises formed the scene of an extraordinary demonstration.

341 Green Street now - a library, on the site of
Schuch's 1915 looted butcher's shop

Thousands of people gathered in the roadway and it was with great difficulty the trams and motor buses made their way through the crowd.
The police did what they could to protect the premises but they could do very little in the face of such an overwhelming crowd .. but every minute the 'ping' of a stone would strike the shop or upper windows and when the glass fell to the pavement there was a loud cry of exhalation. Hundreds of youths were in the crowds and for hours sang snatches of patriotic songs.
Green St is paved with cobble stones, and by the number of stones that were thrown it was quite evident that a certain element in the crowd had brought their 'weapons' with them from some other place.
At Manor Park everything was quiet until the evening, when a large crowd assembled in the Broadway and a determined attack was made on two shops in that district - one a watchmaker's shop, kept by Messrs Krenz and Sons (697, Romford Road) and a pork butcher kept by Mr Streitberger (693, Romford Road), all the front windows in the pork butchers shop were broken, but the damage inside the house does not appear to have been so great as was the case in some instances. 
693 - 697 Romford Road today, a century ago,
 the premises of the looted watchmaker's of Mr Krenz
 and the pork butcher's of Mr Streitberger

The watchmaker's shop, however, was gutted, and had a bomb dropped on the shop greater damage could not have been done. Not a vestige of a window was left, and all the goods were destroyed or removed.

799 Romford Road - Bachmeyer's hairdressers,
1915, chicken shop today
Two shops kept by men named Bachmeyer - one being in Station Road (51)and the other in Romford Road (799) - were also attacked and a great deal of damage done". (These were both hairdressers shops. See photographs of locations today; 51 Station Road continued to be a hairdresser - 100 years on -until its very recent closure!).

51 Station Road, Manor Park
- hairdressers in 1915 (Bachmeyer's),
and until very recently, now
In addition to the events above, on 12 May 1915 a large crowd attacked house of Martha Mittenzwei, a German citizen, in Manor Park, but no details of her address survive.

Also, at a date unknown, Menzler's  shop (speciality unknown) -  890 Romford Rd, near Manor Park -  was attacked by stone throwing.

890 Romford Road today - 1915,
 the attacked premises of Mr Menzler

Court proceedings, Stratford Express 15 May 1915

Stratford Express - 22 May 1915
Thirty eight men, women and lads appeared before Mr WJ Grubbe, the stipendiary magistrate, on Thursday, charged with various offences, including theft, unlawful possession and disorderly conduct. Fines were imposed in a few of the more serious cases, but most of the prisoners were bound over for six months.
Amazing scenes, in which tremendous crowds took part were described by the police.  Sub-divisional Inspector Cudmore said that about twenty five different premises were damaged on the previous night, and there were thousands of people everywhere.  He had a force of 200 under him, but the crowd could not be dispersed.
Among those charged were: Walter Dixon, 38, labourer of 23 Harold Road, Upton Park; Victor Rider, 18 barman, 13 St George's Ave, Forest Gate and Harry Gordon Hall, 16, tailor's assistant of 23 Dorset Rd, Forest Gate, all charged with disorderly conduct, in Green St.
Inspector Cudmore said that at 11.10 pm he was called to 341 Green Street, the premises of Mr Schuch, a pork butcher. There was a hostile crowd of about 2,000 persons. The whole place had been wrecked and furniture had been thrown into the road from the rooms upstairs. He entered with a number of officers and special constables, and found over 30 persons inside, smashing everything they could lay their hands upon. Practically all the goods were stolen. All except the prisoners got away on hearing a shout of 'Police' five of them were in the cellar, and three were trying to push a large wire mattress downstairs.
Owen McGuire, 23, a coal heaver of 222 Queen's Road, Upton Park, who was charged with insulting behaviour was said to have 'dived' through the window of a butcher's shop in Green Street. He then went upstairs and through things into the street. When charged, he said 'I have only done my duty'. He was bound over.
John Enifor, 30, stevedore, of 343 Green Street, Upton Park and John Gardiner, 35, dock labourer of 3 Kings Road, Upton Park were charged with unlawful possession of two portions of bedsteads.
Inspector Cudmore said he saw the prisoners in Green Street, each carrying the back of a bedstead. Enifor said: 'They are all taking them home, and I don't see why I should not'. The prisoners said the bedsteads were thrown out of the windows'.

Inspector Cudmore said that there articles were presumably from the same butcher's shop. The prisoners were each fined 10s.
Thomas George Kirby, 34, grocer's assistant, of 17 Lansdown Road, Forest Gate, was charged with insulting behaviour, and also with throwing missiles. PC Watts 121K said prisoner was outside a butcher's shop shouting 'Come on, boys, let's do the XXXX in.' The windows had been broken and he shattered the remainder of the glass with stones. He was fined 5s on the second summons.
Ada Goding, 47, married of Henderson Road, Forest Gate, had possession of four half quarters of flour, taken from John Hoebig's shop at 60 Green Street, Forest Gate (see below) - She said her children brought the flour home. She was fined £1 or 10 days.

60 Green Street, John Hoebig's looted
 shop, 1915, Asian restaurant today

Mary Stephenson, 37, of Oakdale Road, Forest Gate was fined £1 or 10 days for having possession of 28 gramophone records taken from Hoebig's premises - she said her little boy brought the records home.

Eliza Mott, 29, married of Oakdale Road Forest Gate accused of having Mr Hoebig's sewing machine, said her little boy brought the machine home. She was fined 40s or 31 days.
Lena Harris of Studley Road, Forest Gate, who had a quantity of Mr Hoebig's kitchen utensils in her house, she said the children brought them home. She sent them back to the shop, but it was boarded up.
Mr Gillespie said: 'I think Mr Fagin must take a class down there' Fine £1 or 10 days.
Joseph Bornheim's furrier's,
6 Sebert Road, today
Lily Grimater, 27, married, of Forest Street, Forest Gate, who had a fur muff which had been taken from Joseph Bornheim's furrier's shop, 6 Sebert Road, Forest Gate, pleaded that she was in the crowd and that the things were thrown from the window and she picked the muff up. The police said the shop window was cleared, and many valuable furs stolen. Fined 40s or 31 days.
Below is a contemporary photo of Moy's coal and coke dealer of 741 Romford Road, whose premised were looted as belonging to an "alien" at the time of these riots.

1915 photo of Moy's coal dealer's
looted shop during World War 1, 741 Romford Road.

741 Romford Road now - hand wash car cleaners

1. The Eastside Community Heritage travelling exhibitions: Little Germany Stratford and East London 1914 is highly recommended as a source of additional information on the treatment of Germans and other suspected "aliens" in East London during World War 1. See here, for details.

2. Nusound 92FM, the local community radio station recently interviewed this blog's author about the post, above. Click here, to listen to the 20 minute long interview.

1 comment:

  1. My family were living in Essex St. during that war. In 1915 my Uncle Harry married a German girl whose father was a stocker at Beckton Gasworks. As you can imagine this was not well received and he was cut out from the family and ignored. Albert Bruns, the bride’s father, was shown in the 1911 Census as a British Citizen but born in Germany. He was one of many who ended up in the internment facility in Carpenter’s Road, Stratford. That was eventually shut down in 1917 following an investigation into the harsh treatment of inmates.
    My father had a bit of a penchant for embellishments but he told me that the Milhenstedt family owned the undertakers on the corner of Station Road and Forest Street. He was adamant that a mob attacked the shop, smashing its windows and those to the living accommodation over the shop. There were two members of that family living in Essex Street still in the 1960s. Ironically the father of one family served in Burma in the Second War.
    Harry, who married Bertha, had three sons. One died when his Hudson was shot down in April 1945. The other two died as a result of mental and physical injuries not long after the war. His two daughters were still in touch with the Bruns family in Germany well into the 60s apparently spending time on their farm near Bremen, I think it was.


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