13 November 1887

The ‘Bloody Sunday’ clashes take part in central London.


There are several events which are remembered with the name ‘Bloody Sunday,’ perhaps most famously Sunday the 30th of January 1972 when members of the British Army opened fire on protesters in Derry, Ireland, killing 13. London has its own Bloody Sunday however, which took place on Sunday the 13th of November 1887, in Trafalgar Square. It was the culmination of months of increasing tension between police and Londoners over the right to demonstrate in Trafalgar Square.

Demonstrations by the unemployed had been taking place in the square daily since the summer. Many unemployed men and women also slept in the square, washing in the fountains. Under pressure from the press to deal with a situation seen as embarrassing to the great metropolis, the police started to disperse meetings in the square from the 17th of October, often resorting to violence. The tension continued, now with frequent clashes between police and protesters, and Irish Home Rulers also began to use the square to protest.

Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of Police, banned all meetings in Trafalgar Square on the 8th of November. This challenge to the freedom of speech and the right to protest ouraged radicals across London, and a meeting scheduled for the following Sunday suddenly became much more significant. Called initially to demand the release of the Irish MP William O’Brien from prison, the demonstration was a clear and deliberate defiance of the ban, and the police could not allow it to go ahead without suffering severe humiliation.

22 January 1905

Bloody Sunday takes place in Saint Petersburg, starting the 1905 revolution.

That Sunday morning, 22th of January 1905 in St Petersburg, some 150,000 people gathered at the six designated assembly points to converge on the Winter Palace and present a petition to the Tsar, Nicholas II, who as the ‘little father’ of his people would surely be bound to sympathise with them. The march was organised by an Orthodox priest, Father George Gapon, head of the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers, one of several trade unions set up the previous year with the approval of the ministry of the interior to be a safety valve for grievances and to promote loyalty to the regime. Gapon, however, alarmed the authorities by his socialist attitude and took advice from the Union of Liberation, an organisation of middle-class liberal intellectuals campaigning for parliamentary democracy. At the beginning of January, when four of his members were sacked from their jobs, he started a strike which spread rapidly until 120,000 workers were out.

Thousands of armed troops were stationed at key points, but there was not expected to be any need for force. When the advancing columns appeared, however, while some of the soldiers fired warning shots into the air, some panicked and fired straight into the packed crowds. At the Narva Gate, where Father Gapon himself led the marchers, forty people were shot dead and the horrified Gapon cried out, ‘There is no God anymore, there is no Tsar’. At the Troitsky Bridge, marchers were charged and slashed with sabres by Cossack cavalry and on the Nevsky Prospect cannon were used against the crowd. The day’s total death toll is put at about 200 with some 800 more wounded.