During the 1920s and 1930s, the Parks Committee minutes contain detailed information about the type of organisations applying to use Birmingham’s parks for meetings and demonstrations. The issue of whether to allow political meetings to take place in the parks seems to have been discussed for the first time in 1897, when the secretary of the Trades Union Demonstration Committee asked permission to hold a public demonstration in Calthorpe Park during the Trades Unions Congress held at Bingley Hall. The plan had been for members to assemble there, and march through the main streets of the city to the park, where speakers would ‘address the audience on matters relating to the various trades and industries of the city’.1 The committee refused permission, fearing that they would be setting a ‘dangerous precedent’ for the parks to be used for trade union and other political demonstrations. This ruling obviously did not deter organisations from applying to the Parks Committee. In 1914, the minutes note that the Women’s Social and Political Union were proposing to hire a boat at Cannon Hill Park to advertise their paper The Suffragette.2 It is not clear whether this was permitted.
After the First World War, the prohibition on the use of parks for political events appears to have been lifted. There are references dating from the mid 1920s to the Birmingham Trades Council and Labour Party being allowed to use Calthorpe Park for their annual May Day demonstrations ‘as in previous years’ 3 and in 1926 it was decided to set aside parts of Calthorpe, Ward End and Selly Oak parks, and Garrison Lane and the Black Patch recreation grounds for ‘political and other meetings and demonstrations’.4 Most of the political organisations applying to use the parks were campaigning groups, which probably did not have access to indoor facilities or private homes that could accommodate large numbers of people. A letter to the Birmingham Post in June 1929 complaining that political demonstrations being held in the parks were inconvenient for users, particularly children and older people, adds support to this impression. The writer considers it to be ‘a comparatively recent and, it seems to me, regrettable change on the part of our Parks Committee to allow political meetings. Neither the Liberals nor Conservatives have ever sought this innovation, especially as regards Sunday, and if they were to do so troublesome complications would be pretty certain to arise’.5
By the 1930s, the kinds of organisations applying to use the parks for demonstrations reflected national and international political developments. Calthorpe Park was used for a meeting of the National Peace Council in the summer of 1934, and the Parks Committee granted permission for the National Unemployed Workers Movement to hold a demonstration in Calthorpe Park during an industrial dispute at Lucas’ factory.6
After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, amidst rising tensions in Europe, a number of peace groups were regularly applying to use the parks for meetings, including, for example, Kings Norton Council of Action against War, which used Muntz Park for an open-air demonstration on 5 July 1936.7 Displaying evidence of other political views in Birmingham at this time, permission was granted for the British Union of Fascists to use Aston, Handsworth and Summerfield Parks for political meetings in the summers of 1936 and 1937, though the use of a loudspeaker was refused.8 The eventual outbreak of war in 1939 apparently did not stop the use of parks for demonstrations and meetings, which were still taking place during the summer of 1940. However, there are references to a previous prohibition on political meetings in parks and recreation grounds being withdrawn in the summer of 1942, and to meetings by the Communist Party being banned at the start of the war until the Soviet Union joined the Allies.9
The first post-war reference to political demonstrations being held in parks dates from 1947.10 Again, the majority of the political groups mentioned were affiliated in some way to the Labour Party or workers organisations, though Highbury Park began to be used by Birmingham Conservative and Unionist Association for its annual galas from 1951,11 perhaps appropriately, since the park previously formed the grounds of the Chamberlain family home.
1 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 19 July 1897 [BA&H: BCC AL 1/1/10] 2 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 4 May 1914 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/2] 3 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 12 April 1926 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/8] 4 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 3 May 1926 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/8] 5Birmingham Post (12 June 1929) 6 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 4 June 1934 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/15]. The organisers stated that there had been ‘agitation’ outside the factory when members were trying to speak, and asked whether they could use Burbury Street recreation ground as it would be a convenient meeting place for workers during their dinner hour. Permission was granted for the demonstration at Calthorpe Park, but the Committee refused the use of Burbury Street, on the grounds that it was too small, and the meeting would stop children from using the playground there 7 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 6 July 1936 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/17] 8 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 3 February 1936 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/17]; 5 July 1937 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/18] 9 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 1 April 1940 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/21];
Meeting 6 July 1942 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/22] 10 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 7 July 1947 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/24] 11 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 5 March 1951 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/29]
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