British Brothers League

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Anti-immigration poster, from 1902

The British Brothers' League (BBL) was a British anti-immigration, extraparliamentary,[1] proto-fascist[2] pressure group[3] (the 'largest and best organised' of its time[4]) that 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 League promoted their cause with large meetings, which were stewarded by guards whose role was to eject opponents who entered and raised objections.[10]

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.[9] 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]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Albert Lindemann, Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (CUP, 1997)
  2. ^ 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)
  3. ^ J. A. Cloake and M. R. Tudor, Multicultural Britain (OUP, 2001)
  4. ^ D. Glover, Literature, Immigration, and Diaspora in Fin-de-Siècle England: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act (CUP, 2012)
  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. ^ Robert Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, Allan Lane, 1969, p. 25
  8. ^ a b Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, p. 175
  9. ^ a b c Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, p. 26
  10. ^ Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, Abacus, 2013, p. 258
  11. ^ Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley & British Fascism, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 350
  12. ^ Winder, Bloody Foreigners, p. 264
  13. ^ Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985, Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 108