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Following the Paris Commune of 1871, around 3,500 Communard refugees and their families arrived in Britain, with the majority settling in the capital. This article is an exploration of these exiled Communards within the geography of London. The spatial configurations of London's radical and exile communities, and the ways in which Communards interacted with those they crossed paths with, is vital in understanding how some of the ideas that came out of the Commune permeated London's radical scene. Too often British political movements, particularly British socialism, have been presented as being wilfully impervious to developments on the continent. Instead, this article argues that in order to find these often more affective and ancillary foreign influences, it is important to think spatially and trace how the exile map of London corresponded with, extended, and redrew parts of the existing radical mapping of the city. In carving out spaces for intellectual exchange, Communard refugees moved within and across various communities and physical places. The social and spatial context in which British sympathizers absorbed and appropriated ideas from the Commune is key to understanding how the exiles of the Paris Commune left their mark on the landscape, and mindscape, of London.


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Department of History, King's College, London, wc2r


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I would like to thank Paul Readman, David Todd, and the Modern British History Reading Group at King's College London for their generous feedback on early versions of this article. I would also like to thank Katrina Navickas and Antony Taylor for their advice and encouragement.



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1 Smith, Adolphe, ‘Political refugees’, in Besant, Walter, London in the nineteenth century (London, 1909).

2 For a short summary of the debate surrounding the number of Communards killed, see Tombs, Robert, ‘How bloody was la semaine sanglante? A revision’, Historical Journal, 55 (2012), pp. 679704.

3 Quentin Skinner and the Cambridge school have shown the importance of contextualizing ideas in the context of other ideas. However, this focus can neglect the social context. See David Wootton, ‘The hard look back’, Times Literary Supplement (2003), pp. 8–10; Whatmore, Richard, What is intellectual history? (Cambridge, 2016); and Tully, James, ed., Meaning and context: Quentin Skinner and his critics (Princeton, NJ, 1988). Peter Gay first used the phrase ‘the social history of ideas’ in 1964 – see Gay, Peter, The party of humanity: essays in the French Enlightenment (New York, NY, 1964); and Darnton, Robert, ‘In search of the Enlightenment: recent attempts to create a social history of ideas’, Journal of Modern History, 43 (1971), pp. 113–32, at pp. 113, 114, 132. For a recent example that blends intellectual history and the history of popular movements, see Burrow, J. W., The crisis of reason: European thought, 1848–1914 (New Haven, CT, 2002).

4 For example Porter, Bernard, The refugee question in mid-Victorian politics (Cambridge, 1979); Lattek, Christine, Revolutionary refugees: German socialism in Britain, 1840–1860 (Abingdon, 2006); Isabella, Maurizio, Risorgimento in exile: Italian émigrés and the liberal international in the post-Napoleonic era (Oxford, 2009); Thomas Jones, ‘French republican exiles in Britain, 1848–1870’ (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge, 2010); Freitag, Sabine, ed., Exiles from European revolutions: refugees in mid-Victorian England (New York, NY, 2003); Aprile, Sylvie, Le siècle des exilés: bannis et proscrits de 1789 à la Commune (Paris, 2010).

5 Bantman, Constance, The French anarchists in London, 1880–1914: exile and transnationalism in the first globalisation (Liverpool, 2013).

6 The exiled Paris Communards, and the Paris Commune more broadly, in Britain is the subject of my Ph.D. thesis. See Laura C. Forster, ‘“Scaped from Paris and crossed the narrow sea”: the Paris Commune in the British political imagination, 1871–1914’ (Ph.D. thesis, King's College London, 2018).

7 Paul Martinez, ‘Paris Communard refugees in Great Britain, 1871–1880’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sussex, 1981), pp. 310, 410.

8 For a good overview of debates around the ‘continuity thesis’, see Roberts, Matthew, Political movements in urban England, 1832–1914 (London, 2009), esp. chs. 3–5. For the main proponents of the thesis, see Biagini, Eugenio, Liberty, retrenchment and reform: popular liberalism in the age of Gladstone, 1860–1880 (Cambridge, 1992); Biagini, Eugenio and Reid, Alastair J., eds., Currents of radicalism: popular radicalism, organised labour and party politics in Britain, 1850–1914 (Cambridge, 1991); Vernon, James, Politics and the people: a study in English political culture, 1815–1867 (Cambridge, 1993); Joyce, Patrick, Visions of the people: industrial England and the question of class, c. 1848–1914 (Cambridge, 1991). For some critiques of the ‘continuity thesis’, see Kirk, Neville, Change, continuity and class: labour in British society, 1850–1920 (Manchester, 1998), esp. pp. 9–12.

9 Key theorists of space/place include Lefebvre, Henri, The production of space (Oxford, 1991); Foucault, Michel, Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison (London, 1977); Soja, Edward, Thirdspace: journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places (Hoboken, NJ, 1996); Harvey, David, Rebel cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution (London, 2012); Cresswell, Tim, In place/out of place: geography, ideology and transgression (Minneapolis, MN, 1996).

10 For further discussion of some of these difficulties, see Jerram, Leif, ‘Space: a useless category for historical analysis?’, History and Theory, 52 (2013), pp. 400–19.

11 Parolin, Christina, Radical spaces: venues of popular politics in London, 1790 – c. 1845 (Canberra, 2010). Tom Goyens similarly interrogated informal places and drinking cultures to show how and where German anarchists enacted their politics in New York City. See Goyens, Tom, Beer and revolution: the German anarchist movement in New York City, 1880–1914 (Urbana and Chicago, IL, 2007).

12 Navickas, Katrina, Protest and the politics of space and place, 1789–1848 (Manchester, 2016).

13 Ashton, Rosemary, Victorian Bloomsbury (New Haven, CT, 2012).

14 Massey, Doreen, Space, place and gender (Cambridge, 1994), p. 1.

15 Raphael Samuel, ‘Foreword’, in Stan Shipley, Club life and socialism in mid-Victorian London, History Workshop Pamphlet, 5 (1971), p. i.

16 Beer, Max, Fifty years of international socialism (London, 1935), pp. 133–4, quoted in Shipley, Club life and socialism, p. 1.

17 The International Working Men's Association moved into the Rathbone Place premises in 1872. See Documents of the First International (5 vols., Moscow, undated), v, pp. 116, 187.

18 The nineteenth-century French Catholic population left behind the Notre Dame de France, a Catholic church just north of Leicester Square, consecrated in 1868 and still serving London's French population today.

19 Martinez, ‘Communard refugees’, p. 109.

20 Letter from Karl Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann, 27 July 1871, Karl Marx Frederick Engels collected works, iv: Marx and Engels, 1870–1873 (Dagenham, 1987), p. 176.

21 Janvrin, Isabelle and Rawlinson, Catherine, The French in London: from William the Conqueror to Charles de Gaulle (London, 2016).

22 Jones, Thomas C. and Tombs, Robert, ‘The French left in exile: Quarante-huitards and Communards in London, 1848–1880’, in Kelly, Debra and Cornick, Martyn, eds., A history of the French in London: liberty, equality, opportunity (London, 2013).

23 Vésinier was expelled from France by Napoleon III in 1851 and arrived in London via Geneva and Brussels. He returned to France in 1870 and following the Commune fled again to London. His papers are held at the International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam.

24 Mills, A. D., A dictionary of London place-names (Oxford, 2010), p. 90.

25 Smith, ‘Political refugees’, p. 404.

26 Ibid., p. 399.

27 Stanford University, Hoover Institute, Boris Nicolaevsky Collection, Series 246, Préfecture de Police, Paris, typewritten copies of reports on Paris Commune refugees in London (hereafter BNC PP), 441:6:1369–72, 27 Feb. 1874.

28 Lattek, Revolutionary refugees, p. 112.

29 Martinez, ‘Communard refugees’, pp. 84–5.

30 Smith, ‘Political refugees’, p. 400.

31 Vallès, Jules, La rue à Londres (Paris, 1884), p. 94.

32 BNC PP, 441:5:1138–9, 20 Aug. 1873.

33 ‘The Frenchman in London’, Examiner, 22 Dec. 1877.

34 Smith, ‘Political refugees’, pp. 399–400.

35 Ibid., p. 401.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Martinez, ‘Communard refugees’, p. 149.

39 Merriman, John M., The dynamite club: how a bombing in fin-de-siècle Paris ignited the age of modern terror (New Haven, CT, 2016), p. 120.

40 ‘London gossip’, Birmingham Daily Post, 27 July 1894.

41 Bantman, The French anarchists, pp. 54, 82.

42 Thompson, E. P., William Morris: romantic to revolutionary (Oakland, CA, 2011 [1955]), p. 589.

43 Ashton, Victorian Bloomsbury, pp. 251–2.

44 Ibid., pp. 25–57. For more on the founding of UCL and other Bloomsbury institutions, see UCL Bloomsbury Project,

45 Shipley, Club life and socialism, p. 3.

46 Pentelow, Mike and Rowe, Marsha, Characters of Fitzrovia (London, 2002), p. 46.

47 Thompson, William Morris, p. 278.

48 Wright, J. B., ‘“The valiant dead”: William Morris and the Paris Commune of 1871’, Journal of the William Morris Society, 13 (1999), p. 37.

49 International Herald, 29 Mar. 1873, ‘The escaped communists’, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 5 July 1874.

50 Royle, Edward, Radicals, secularists and republicans: popular freethought in Britain, 1866–1915 (Manchester, 1980), p. 47.

51 Finn, Margot, After Chartism: class and nation in English radical politics, 1848–1874 (Cambridge, 1993), p. 134.

52 Harrison, Frederic, Autobiographic memoirs (2 vols., London, 1911), i, p. 265.

53 Royle, Radicals, secularists and republicans, p. 47.

54 Quoted in Boos, Florence, Morris's, ‘Williamsocialist diary”’, History Workshop Journal, 13 (1982), pp. 176, at p. 28.

55 Ibid., p. 28.

56 Advertised in Freiheit (Freedom): A Journal for the Diffusion of Socialistic Knowledge, 15 May 1881.

57 Frank Kitz, Recollections and reflections, originally published in Freedom, Jan.–June 1912. Viewed at, ch. 2.

58 ‘The escaped Communists’, in Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 5 July 1874.

59 Quoted in Taylor, Barbara, Eve and the new Jerusalem: socialism and feminism in the nineteenth century (London, 1983), p. 283.

60 Morgan, David, ‘A law unto herself’, Socialist History Society Newsletter, 3 (2013), p. 3.

61 ‘International Working Men's Association’, Manchester Guardian, 15 Jan. 1872.

62 Max Nettlau, Proofs of ‘Ein verschollener Nachklang der Internationale: The International Labour Union (London, 1877–1878)’, Max Nettlau papers, no. 1947, folder 2, IISH, Amsterdam.

63 BNC PP, 441:2:488, 15 June 1872.

64 Advert in Qui Vive! (London), 3 Oct. 1871.

65 Pentelow and Rowe, Characters of Fitzrovia, p. 42.

66 West Central News (Soho), 25 Aug. 1877. For more biographical information on Kitz, see Freedom, July 1912.

67 Ibid.

68 Pentelow and Rowe, Characters of Fitzrovia, p. 47.

69 Shipley, Club life and socialism, p. 13.

70 Pentelow and Rowe, Characters of Fitzrovia, p. 43.

71 Daryl, Phillipe (pseudonym of Paschal Grousset), Ireland's disease: the English in Ireland (London, 1888).

72 ‘The late Commune: the refugees in London scenes (reprinted from the The London Echo)’, New York Times, 23 Sept. 1871.

73 Ibid.

74 ‘Communist refugees in London’, Fun, 17 June 1871.

75 Ibid.

76 Ibid.

77 ‘Our extra-special and Miss Louise Michel’, Fun, 17 Jan. 1883.

78 BNC PP, 441:1:195, 16 Oct. 1871.

79 BNC PP, 441:3:676–7, undated – almost certainly early Oct. 1872.

80 BNC PP, 441:3:695, 12 Oct. 1872.

81 Johnson, Martin Phillip, The paradise of association: political culture and popular organisations in the Paris Commune of 1871 (Ann Arbor, MI, 1996), p. 277.

82 Ibid., pp. 286, 173.

83 Ibid., pp. 165–71, 19, 5. Maurice Agulhon has worked on the same phenomenon in early and mid-nineteenth-century France. See Agulhon, Maurice and Lloyd, Janet, trans., The Republic in the village: the people of the Var from the French Revolution to the Second Republic (Cambridge, 1982); and Agulhon, Maurice, Le Cercle dans la France bourgeoise, 1810–1848: étude d'une mutation de sociabilité (Paris, 1977).

84 Haine, W. Scott, ‘“Café friend”: friendship and fraternity in Parisian working-class cafés, 1850–1914’, Journal of Contemporary History, 27 (1992), pp. 607–26, at p. 607.

85 Ibid., p. 607.

86 Taylor, Anthony, ‘“A melancholy odyssey among London public houses”: radical club life and the unrespectable in mid-nineteenth-century London’, Historical Research, 78 (2005), pp. 7495, at p. 90.

87 Massey, Doreen, ‘Places and their pasts’, History Workshop Journal, 39 (1995), pp. 182–92, at p. 183.

88 BNC PP, 441:2:413, undated – probably Apr. 1872.

89 L'association des amis de la Commune,

90 Amy Levy, ‘Readers at the British Museum’, Atalanta, 1 Apr. 1889.

91 Jules Vallès to an unnamed fellow Communard. Quoted in Arkell, David, ‘When the Commune came to Fitzrovia’, PN Review, 14 (1987), p. 13.

92 Vallès, La rue à Londres, p. 254.

93 Levy, ‘Readers at the British Museum’. For a detailed discussion of Panizzi and his role in shaping the British Museum Library, see ch. 5 of Ashton, Victorian Bloomsbury.

94 Bax, Ernest Belfort, Reminiscences and reflexions of a mid- and late Victorian (New York, NY, 1920), pp. 128–9.

95 Cartoonist of the Commune.

96 A Jacobin member of the Commune.

97 Vallès to unnamed Communard, in Arkell, ‘When the Commune came to Fitzrovia’, p. 13.

98 Bernstein, Eduard, My years of exile: reminiscences of a socialist (London, 1921), p. 225.

99 Evans, T. F., ‘Introduction’, in Evans, T. F., ed., Shaw: the critical heritage (London, 1976), pp. 139, at p. 18.

100 Bernstein, Susan, ‘Radical readers at the British Museum: Eleanor Marx, Clementina Black, Amy Levy’, Nineteenth Century Gender Studies, 3 (2007), pp. 120.

101 Gissing, George, New Grub Street (London, 1891).

102 Bernstein, Susan, Roomscape: Women writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf (Edinburgh, 2013).

103 Eleanor Marx remembered going outside to smoke while discussing theatre, politics, and religion with other ‘young bohemians’. See Gabriel, Mary, Love and capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the birth of a revolution (Boston, MA, 2011), p. 390.

104 Quoted in Bernstein, Roomscape, p. 63.

105 Smith, ‘Political refugees’, pp. 404–5.

106 Something like what Matthew Beaumont has termed ‘the secret life of the streets’. See Beaumont, Matthew, Nightwalking: a nocturnal history of London (London, 2016), p. 10.

I would like to thank Paul Readman, David Todd, and the Modern British History Reading Group at King's College London for their generous feedback on early versions of this article. I would also like to thank Katrina Navickas and Antony Taylor for their advice and encouragement.

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