Woolwich & Districts
The Plumstead Common Riots, 1876
Extract from: IDEAL HOMES: A History Of South-East London
by Barbara Ludlow
The people of Plumstead strongly opposed the ambitions of
Queens College stating that they had the right to graze cattle,
geese and other livestock, the right to cut turf and to dig
for sand and gravel on the Common.
Also they claimed the right to use the open space for sports
and other pastimes. Eventually hundreds of people joined in
demonstrations for the purpose, digging gravel and sand for
their own use.
These actions attracted the attention of John De Morgan, a
leading light of the Commons Protection League. On 1st July
1876 he spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 local people in front
of the Old Mill beerhouse (the windmill had been converted into
a beerhouse in 1853). De Morgan then took the crowd around the
common with the intention of removing recently erected fences.
The authorities, afraid that the revolution had started, arrested
him and other demonstrators charging them with riotous assembly,
and disturbing the peace. John De Morgan went to prison for
seventeen days. The riots concentrated the minds of politicians
and, in 1878, the Plumstead Common Act ensured that about one
hundred acres of land remained as public open space forever.
The Act was passed just in time as some roads had been built
across the Common effectively dividing it into the two portions
that can be seen today.