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The Walsall Anarchist Bomb Plot

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					The Walsall Anarchist Bomb Plot
The Background to the Plot
The bomb plot which was uncovered in Walsall in 1892 came at the end of a century which had seen frequent social unrest and political disturbances. By the late nineteenth century, the socialist movement, which aimed to empower the working classes, had gained a wide following. On the fringes of socialism, the anarchists wished to bring an end to all forms of organised government. A few extremist anarchists carried out bombings and assassinations, provoking fear across Europe. In Walsall a socialist club was established in 1889, with premises on Goodall Street. Walsall had had a police force since 1832. The first police station was based on Church Hill, with a gaol consisting of six underground cells at the Guildhall. In 1843 a new police station was built in Goodall Street, with a lock-up to replace the cells under the Guildhall. The Walsall police were always suspicious of their neighbours, the Socialist Club, which they believed harboured anarchist sympathies. They kept the club under surveillance, and made Scotland Yard aware of their concerns.

The Bomb Plot of 1891-2
The Walsall Socialist Club gained a new member in the summer of 1891, when Frederick Charles arrived in Walsall from Sheffield, looking for work. Charles was an active socialist, and already knew Joseph Deakin, the secretary of the Socialist Club. Shortly after his arrival, an anarchist acquaintance, Auguste Coulon, wrote to him asking for help in finding work for a French comrade, Victor Cailes, who also soon arrived in Walsall. At the end of October Cailes showed some club members a letter written from the London home of Jean Battola, another acquaintance of Coulon. The letter enclosed a sketch of a bomb. Cailes subsequently received confirmation from Coulon that the letter “was alright”. Charles, Deakin, and Cailes set to work on the manufacture of the bomb. Two other members of the Club, John Wesley (or Westley) and William Ditchfield, were asked to assist, although it seems that neither man realised they were helping to make a bomb.

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The Walsall Anarchist Bomb Plot

Wesley and Ditchfield arranged the production of castings for the bomb, and on 5th December 1891, Battola arrived in Walsall to inspect progress. He was unaware that he had been followed by William Melville, a Detective Inspector at Scotland Yard. On 6th January 1892, Deakin travelled to London. He was due to meet with Battola, but instead was intercepted by Inspector Melville at Euston Station and arrested. The next day Melville went to Walsall, and Charles, Cailes and Wesley were arrested. Finally, on 13th January, Ditchfield and Battola were arrested.
Detective Sergeant Patrick McIntyre of Scotland Yard, who alleged that August Coulon acted as an agent provocateur in the plot.
Courtesy of Andrew Cook

Deakin and Battola were brought to Walsall, and all the men were held in the cells at the Goodall Street police station. On 15th January, Deakin made a full confession, in the mistaken belief that he had been incriminated by Charles. In the confession he stated that he believed the bombs were to be used against the Czar of Russia. The case against the accused was initially heard by the Walsall Magistrates. This was followed by a full trial at the Stafford Assizes from March to April 1892, which was presided over by Justice ‘Hangman’ Hawkins. Deakin, Charles, Cailes and Battola were found guilty, while Wesley and Ditchfield were acquitted. Charles, Cailes and Battola were sentenced to ten years imprisonment each. Deakin received five years.

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The Walsall Anarchist Bomb Plot

The blue plaque on the former home of Joseph Deakin, 238 Stafford Street.

During the proceedings before the Walsall Magistrates it was alleged that Auguste Coulon was an agent provocateur in the pay of Inspector Melville. Many in the anarchist movement believed Coulon to be a police spy, but Justice Hawkins refused to allow the allegation to be repeated at the Stafford trial. However, further allegations about Coulon’s role as an agent provocateur were made in 1895 by Detective Sergeant Patrick McIntyre of Scotland Yard. Despite the outcome of the trial, the accused men had never actually succeeded in manufacturing a bomb. Either the original design was faulty or the men themselves lacked the necessary expertise to turn the design into a working model. Following the arrest of the conspirators the police made alterations to the design of the bomb, and had a number of castings manufactured in time to be produced as evidence at the trial. One of these castings was retained by the West Midlands Police and is displayed here. Alongside it is another bomb-shaped object which was also produced at the trial. It may in fact have been a muff warmer. The allegations of a police set-up which surrounded the Walsall bomb plot led to protests across the country. The great designer and socialist, William Morris, was among those who wrote in support of them. Deakin was released in 1897, and returned to Walsall, where he continued to work for the socialist cause. Charles, Cailes and Battola were not freed until 1899.

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