Monday, 7 December 2009

Crown and Woolpack, Clerkenwell

A pub with a revolutionary connection

Opened in 1851 the Crown and Woolpack is sadly no more. This pub, which in Victorian times housed the meetings of the Walton and Cotton angling club, closed in 1990, a few months before the collapse of the USSR. What's the connection I hear you say between a Clerkenwell watering hole and the soviet regime? Well, here goes the story... In 1903 the exiled leaders of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, including Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov -better known as Lenin- gathered in Brussels for the party's second congress. However because of repeated harassment by the Belgian police, who thought they were part of an anarchist plot, the delegates decided to move to London before the first session could even take place. Once in the British capital Lenin and other delegates met in the first-floor room of the Crown and Woolpack to organize the event. Although the British authorities were not too concerned, Scotland Yard was informed and a policeman was duly sent to spy on the meeting. Hidden in a cupboard, he later reported his mission had been totally fruitless: those Russian revolutionaries had not ushered a single word in English! The congress began a few days later in a meeting room off Tottenham Court Road and at various locations around central London. If you remember your history lessons at school, you'll know of course that the 1903 London congress went down in history as the one when the party split in two irreconcilable factions, on 17th November: the Bolcheviks, headed by Lenin, and the Mensheviks, led by Martov.
There is no evidence that the future leader of the USSR, who visited London on several occasions beween 1902 and 1911, went to the Crown and Woopack on more than one occasion. He was however a regular at The Crown on Clerkenwell Green, which was near the offices of 20th Century Press where Iskra (The Spark), the organ of the RSDLP, was published (the building, at 37a, now houses the Marx Memorial Library).
As for the Crown and Woolpack, as mentioned above, it closed in 1990. Then for a few years the building housed a Japanese restaurant. Nowadays it has been converted into a hairdresser's / beauty salon.

Location: St John Street / Picture taken on: 14/08/2008

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