British Brothers League

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
British Brothers' League
FounderWilliam Stanley Shaw
TypePressure group
PurposeOpposition to immigration

The British Brothers' League (BBL) was a British anti-immigration, extraparliamentary,[1] pressure group,[2] the 'largest and best organised' of its time.[3] Described as proto-fascist,[4] the group attempted to organise along paramilitary lines.[5]


The group was formed in May 1901[6] in east London as a response to waves of immigration that had begun in 1880 and had seen a rapid increase in the numbers of Russian and Polish Jews, as well as others from Eastern Europe, into the area.[7] As a result, Captain William Stanley Shaw formed the BBL to campaign for restricted immigration with the slogan 'England for the English' and soon formed a close alliance with local Conservative MP Major Evans-Gordon.[8] Initially the League was not antisemitic and was more interested in keeping out the poorest immigrants regardless of background, although eventually Jews became the main focus.[9] The organisation promoted their cause with large meetings, which were stewarded by guards whose role was to eject opponents who entered and raised objections.[10]

Anti-immigration poster, from 1902

The League claimed 45,000 members, although membership was actually fairly irregular as no subscriptions were lifted and anyone who signed the organisation's manifesto was considered a member, with Tory MP Howard Vincent amongst those to do so. As a result of this, attempts to militarise the group were largely a failure, although the movement continued to organise demonstrations against immigrants.[9] The Aliens Act 1905, which restricted immigration, was largely seen as a success for the BBL and, as a result, the movement by and large disappeared.[8]

It officially carried on until 1923, albeit on a tiny scale, and was associated with G. K. Chesterton and the distributist movement.[11] Nonetheless they would resurface from time to time as new immigrant scares and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War they were even given a public donation of ten shillings by Arthur Conan Doyle, who had been caught up in a growing public swell of Germanophobia as war loomed.[12]

The League also left behind a legacy of support for far-right groups in east London and this was exploited by the British Union of Fascists, the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women, the Union Movement and the National Front who gained followings in the same environs.[13]


  1. ^ Albert Lindemann, Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (CUP, 1997)
  2. ^ J. A. Cloake and M. R. Tudor, Multicultural Britain (OUP, 2001)
  3. ^ D. Glover, Literature, Immigration, and Diaspora in Fin-de-Siècle England: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act (CUP, 2012)
  4. ^ Sam Johnson, '"Trouble Is Yet Coming!" The British Brothers League, Immigration, and Anti-Jewish Sentiment in London's East End, 1901-1903' in Robert Nemes and Daniel Unowsky (eds), Sites of European Antisemitism in the Age of Mass Politics, 1880-1918 (Brandeis University Press, 2014)
  5. ^ Robert Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain (Allen Lane, 1972)
  6. ^ Richard S. Levy (ed) Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 1 p86 (2005)
  7. ^ Benewick 1969, p. 25.
  8. ^ a b Barberis, McHugh & Tyldesley 2000, p. 175.
  9. ^ a b Benewick 1969, p. 26.
  10. ^ Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, Abacus, 2013, p. 258
  11. ^ Dorril 2007, p. 350.
  12. ^ Winder, Bloody Foreigners, p. 264
  13. ^ Thurlow 1987, p. 108.


  • Barberis, Peter; McHugh, John; Tyldesley, Mike (2000). Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-8264-5814-8.
  • Benewick, Robert (1969). Political Violence & Public Order: A Study of British Fascism. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0713900859.
  • Dorril, Stephen (2007). Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-025821-9.
  • Thurlow, Richard C. (1987). Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918–1985. Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-13618-7.

External links[edit]