John Lawrence

Bob Pitt comradebobpitt at
Mon Nov 25 10:12:42 MST 2002

John Lawrence has died. He was the leading British
supporter of Michel Pablo during the 1953 split in the
Fourth International.

The following article appeared in the Camden New
Journal, 21 November. Interestingly, it makes no
mention of the fact that Lawrence was for many years a

For further information see

John Lawrence: rebel council leader

THREE times the fortunes of fiery political leader
John Lawrence, who has died aged 87, were tied to
those of Camden, writes Lee Gordon.

A left-wing leader more popular with the public and
rank and file Labour party members than with its
leadership, Lawrence was a pivotal figure in Camden
during the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1960 he helped to lead the rent strike, which
galvanised thousands of council tenants into a
showdown with the Town Hall and the government and led
to his arrest. Earlier, as council leader, he led a
protest over the government's bitterly controversial
civil defence plans for nuclear war, which ended with
him chained to the gates of a building in Camden High
Street. And, soon after declaring May Day a council
holiday and clashing with fascist supporters at a
public meeting, Lawrence was again arrested.

As the council leader in the late 1950s he refused to
pass on crippling rent rises called for by the
government and was surcharged. Under a
Conservative-led council in I960, opposition
mushroomed against a rent rise and two tenants, Arthur
Rowe and Don Cook, barricaded themselves in their
flats, backed by hundreds of supporters. Trouble broke
out after police smashed their way into Cook's flat in
Kentish Town and Rowe's, which Lawrence shared, in the
Regent's Park estate. Thousands of tenants set off for
the Town
Hall and, in a hot house atmosphere, the demonstration
turned ugly. Banner poles were used as staves, the
windows of trolley  buses  were smashed and Lawrence,
at the forefront, was hauled off in handcuffs.

He was a thorn in the side of the Labour party
hierarchy, which was itching to shed him. After facing
down a group of fascist toughs at a Conservative
election meeting he addressed another at which a
Communist Party candidate spoke. Seizing the chance,
the party expelled him, breaking a life-long

The first occasion on which he was chained – in 1957 -
followed a clash with the government over its Civil
Defence plan. Lawrence led the council in opposition
to the plan - which would have meant implementing
military law in the event of an attack. The Government
threatened to impose a Civil Defence Plan, fined the
council and even surcharge the councillors.

Lawrence led a small demonstration outside the Civil
Defence HQ in Camden High Street, which was almost
overlooked by passersby until he whipped out a large
pair of handcuffs and chained himself to the gates of
the building. For a while no one noticed the council
leader was chained up, recalls Labour veteran Peggy
Duff in her autobiography Left, Left, Left. But a
crowd gathered and police arrived to arrest Lawrence
who was driven off in a squad car with a Ban The Bomb
banner stuck to the rear. Police let the matter drop
but Lawrence achieved wide publicity for the stunt.

Soon after Lawrence was again arrested, this time on
May Day. Celebrated in Europe as a public holiday it
was ignored in Britain. So Lawrence gave council staff
the day off and hoisted a red flag over the Town Hall.
Then he headed to a May Day meeting in Ossulston
Street, Somers Town. Confronted by fascists, trouble
broke out and Lawrence and several councillors were
handcuffed, arrested and charged with breaching the
peace, and St Pancras was dubbed the red flag

Lawrence, who married twice and had three children,
was orphaned as a boy after his mother, a domestic
servant, died from overwork and his father, who pushed
a junk cart, of cancer. In a military orphanage he
developed a talent for the trombone, which he studied
at the Royal College of Music on a scholarship and
then played professionally for orchestras and at

His career was cut short by the war and, rejected for
service because of a weak heart, he worked in
coalmines and as an engineer. Separating from his
first wife, Lilly, he married Janet with whom he lived
until she died three years ago.

After working as a printer and at Dagenham's [Briggs
car plant at Dagenham], he moved with Janet to Sussex
in the 1970s where he later retired. After nursing his
wife his own health began to fail and he died in a
nursing home on November 14.

He leaves three children. His funeral takes place at
noon at Honour Oak crematorium on December 6.

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