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Bloody Sunday 1887

This riot in Trafalgar Square on 13 November 1887 caused many injuries and some alleged loss of life, and led to a sustained media campaign against the Commissioner.

In the summer of 1887, large numbers of the destitute unemployed began camping in Trafalgar Square. Their presence made the square a centre for political agitation, and by September the Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, fearing London would again be at the mercy of the mob, asked the Home Secretary to ban all meetings in the square.

Home Secretary Matthews procrastinated throughout October, during which time Warren had to post up to 2000 policemen around the square on weekends to ensure public order. In November Matthews suddenly gave way and allowed Warren to prohibit meetings in and around the square.

The left-wing press, who had previously perceived Warren as a desirable intellectual progressive, perceived this as having been done on his sole authority, and felt it to be unlawful and provocative. A meeting to challenge his order was called for 2.30pm on Sunday 13 November, and Warren responded by expressly prohibiting any procession from entering the square on that day.

Warren stationed his 2000 men and took up a position to oversee events in the square himself, from which he sent reports at intervals to the Home Secretary. By mid afternoon Warren was forced to call in 400 foot soldiers and the Life Guards to relieve the police.

By the end of the day John Burns, the dockers' union leader, was arrested, as was the radical MP R.B. Cunninghame Graham, who had been injured in the fighting, and Charing Cross Hospital was filled with casualties. The left-wing press reported that one or more people had subsequently died of their injuries. Skirmishes continued until December, including a huge brawl in Westminster Abbey. The radicals held regular weekly demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, and Warren's unfortunate policemen were marshalled in for extra weekend duties to control the crowds.