Radicals and Newington Green

A product of Victorian radicalism and the working men’s club movement, the building at 34 Newington Green housed one of the most politically active groups in the capital for 30 years. So while the building continued to and is still home to an operating working men’s club, it has not been active in liberal radicalism since the 1930s, cementing this change in the removal of ‘radical’ from its title.

Photograph of the club was it was at its peak with over 3,000 members, regular music hall entertainments and a wide range of social activities.

At its peak The Mildmay Radical Club had 3,000 members, hosting debates and organising demonstrations on the national and local political issues of the day. Key standpoints included  support of Home Rule in Ireland, opposition to the Second Boer War and fighting for the 8-hour working day. In fact the club was considered so radical that in 1893 the vicar of St. Matthias castigated it as a ‘pernicious influence among the young’ and in 1894 the club relocated from its original headquarters in Islington where it had been established since 1888, to where it is today. Opened at the turn of the twentieth century, the club’s now recognizable grade II listed location on Newington Green was designed by Alfred Allen and incorporated a rifle range, snooker hall, members bar and theatre.

The exterior of the Mildmay Club, Newington Green

The Mildmay Radical Club was also involved in the workers theatre movement, which in the 1920s became an, albeit short, international movement ‘committed to using dramatic means to promulgate revolutionary ideas to workers.’ Based off the agitprop theatre idea, from soviet Russia, this was a form of agitational propaganda used to convey political messages to illiterate workers in the new USSR. These workers theatre groups would perform outside factory gates, labour exchanges and on street corners, propagating ideas such as fair working hours. The movement was based in various locations around Hackney such as Kings Hall and Stoke Newington Library, as well as the Mildmay. The clubs involvement in this movement is further evidence of its radical nature at the beginning of the 1900s.

The Radicals on Newington Green were active and prominent, using their position in the local community to educate and spread liberal views, designed to extend clubs to working class men as an alternative to the pubs. A part of the community that, although now nonpolitical, has ensured the longevity of the Mildmay Club since its establishment in 1888, in actions such as running a food bank during the recent COVID-19 outbreak and hosting comedy nights.

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