The arrival of President Bush in London reminds me of one of the more glorious moments of the city’s past: the International Incident of Barclay and Perkins Brewery, in South London, by Borough Market. It was the brewery’s draymen who are the heroes in question. In 1850, one General Haynau paid a diplomatic visit to London; he was then the dictator of Austria, strongly associated with the bloody suppression of the revolutions of 1848. He was also known as ‘the Hyaena of Brescia’ after he shot men and flogged women during an uprising there (Brescia being then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Haynau expressed some species of condescending royal interest in the brewery, which was famous both for the quality of its porter and for its sheer size, and was taken to see it. But shortly after he arrived, the news got around, a cry went up of ‘The Hyaena’s in the house!’ and the draymen surged into the brewery and attacked him with brooms and stones. He was forced to flee the brewery in fear of his life, and chased along Bankside and up Borough High Street, where he sought refuge in the George Tavern (which is still there today). He was locked inside for his own protection while an angry crowd gathered outside, and eventually the police had to smuggle him out, and spirit him back to safety over the river in a barge. Lord Palmerston, then foreign secretary, supported the draymen, calling Haynau ‘a great moral criminal’, (which led to calls for his resignation), while Karl Marx wrote enthusiastically about the brewery workers as a great example of international solidarity. Fourteen years later Garibaldi insisted on visiting the brewery in person to thank the ‘the men who flogged Haynau.’ It can’t have been often that Palmerston, Marx, and Garibaldi ended up on the same side about anything. But let us, retrospectively, raise a toast (preferably in good Thames porter if such a thing is still to be had) to the draymen of South London. It would be nice to think that the truly villainous were no safer walking the streets of London in 2003 than they were in 1850, but alas, untrue. Not, I suspect, that President Bush would care to test his popularity by going anywhere without the armour-plated car to which the BBC news introduced us. Seems a shame, really.
Dr Key reminded me that the incident was also cited by Francis Wheen in an article on General Pinochet’s visit to London — when I revisited Hoo-Has and Surprises to look it up, I found that Wheen had dug up this song from the time, which I think deserves another airing:
Turn him out, turn him out, from our side of the Thames,
Let him go to great Tories and high-titled dames,
He may walk the West End, and parade in his pride,
But he’ll not come back again near the ‘George’ in Bankside