On 11th November 2023 an estimated 300,000 protestors marched from the Marble Arch at Hyde Park Corner to the U.S. Embassy on Nine Elms Lane to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.
A London Fire Brigade tender was parked across Wandsworth Road and various speakers addressed the crowds that were gathered in front of Brunswick House. Notable amongst which were the Rt Hon. Jeremy Corbyn M.P. and the Rt Hon. John McDonnell M.P. Both gave adresses of impressive fluency, as might be expected of experienced Parliamentarians.
It was probably the largest gathering outside Brunswick House since the spring of 1864 when the Italian Patriot and General Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived at Nine Elms Station en route from Southampton to his intended lodgings at Stafford House, Park Lane. Four years after his conquest of the Two Sicilies and two years after his failed March on Rome, Garibaldi was an international symbol of resistance and revolution.
On April 16, 1864, the Spectator carried the report on its front page that “General Garibaldi arrived in London… and was welcomed by a concourse of people as large as that which witnessed the entrance of the Princess of Wales. The enthusiasm manifested was extreme, and as there were no soldiers out, the carriage was five hours making its way from Nine Elms Station to Stafford House.”
Garibaldi’s cause meant diferent things to different people and was thus apt to be misconstrued. He was esteemed both by the upper classes and the working man. By the one for his dashing patriotism and by the other for his egalitarian simplicity. A latent current of enthusiasm, however, was an often unacknowledged sectarianism. No friend of the Pope or the Catholic Church, English ‘Garibaldians’ had clashed regularly with Irish and Catholic ‘Defenders of the Church’ at Hyde Park Corner since the summer of 1862.
These tensions were touched on by at least one newspaper at the time : “The excitement caused in some parts of the country by the discussions about Garibaldi and the Pope has been such that the municipal authorities of several towns have thought it their duty to discountenance meetings at which sympathy with the great Italian patriot might merge into, or be mistaken for contempt of the Roman Catholic religion. For instance, the Lord Mayor of London refused the use of the Guildhall for a Garibaldian meeting.”
Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell made no reference to the visit of the great Italian ‘Liberator’ and thereby missed a possible opportunity to draw historic parallels with the hero of the Risorgimento and the creation of a unified Italy.
However, we at Brunswick House were please to quietly acknowledge and stand witness to those links. It is unlikely that many, if any, of Saturday’s protestors were aware of the echoes of the past but their concerns for the interests of foreign parties and peoples were of similar magnitude and sincerity.