A small obelisk outside an otherwise unremarkable building caught my attention the other day, and it tells us that this was once the home of a former leader of the Labour Party.
George Lansbury (1859-1940) was a local councillor for nearly 40 years, the local Mayor, an MP, a government minister, leader of the Labour Party, and as the stone obelisk says, “a great servant of the people”.
He spent most of his political life fighting for social justice and women’s rights, and was briefly imprisoned in 1912 when campaigning for women’s right to vote.
A strong pacifist, he however supported the Russian Revolution, and lead the 1921 so-called rates revolt in Poplar. Due to his strong opposition to rearmament in the lead up to WW2, he resigned as leader of the Labour Party in 1935 and spend most of his final years travelling and campaigning for disarmament and the avoidance of war with Germany.
For the final couple of decades of his life though, he lived in an impressive house on this spot.
In the House of Commons on 8 May 1940, the day following Lansbury’s death, Chamberlain said of him: “There were not many hon. Members who felt convinced of the practicability of the methods which he advocated for the preservation of peace, but there was no one who did not realise his intense conviction, which arose out of his deep humanitarianism”. Attlee also paid tribute to his former leader: “He hated cruelty, injustice and wrongs, and felt deeply for all who suffered … [H]e was ever the champion of the weak, and … to the end of his life he strove for that in which he believed”
This patch of road used to be lined with the sorts of grand looking houses that can be found further along the street, but that all changed during WW2 when the corner block was destroyed, just a couple of years after Lansbury had died.
Left empty for a few years after the war, the current block of council flats for the aged were erected in May 1955, and both building and garden were named after him, with the garden and monument funded by public donations.