Derby Honours Anti-War Campaigner

ILPer and anti-First World War campaigner Alice Wheeldon has been honoured with a blue plaque on her home in Derby nearly 100 years after she was arrested and imprisoned on fabricated evidence.

Wheeldon (pictured below, right) was a pacifist, suffragette and ILP activist who became involved in the No-Conscription Fellowship, campaigning with her daughters Hettie and Winnie (second and third left), and son Willie, against World War One.

Alice Wheeldon and daughtersThe Wheeldon’s sheltered  young men fleeing conscription at their home in Pear Tree Road, Derby, supporting themselves by selling second hand clothes.

They were arrested in January 1917 for plotting to poison prime minister Lloyd George when MI5 intercepted a package sent to her containing curare and strychnine. But the whole thing was a set-up, orchestrated by Alex Gordon, an MI5 agent who had stayed with the Wheeldon’s posing as a conscientious objector on the run.

The trial – moved from Derby to London on the insistence of attorney general FE Smith –  was also rigged, so that Gordon never appeared and could not be cross-examined.

Hettie was acquitted, but Winnie and her husband Alfred Mason were sentenced to five years, and Alice to 10 years’ penal servitude at Aylesbury Prison where she went on hunger strike before being moved to Holloway. She was released on 31 December 1917 but prison had badly damaged her health and she died in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1919.

Both daughters were too ill to attend her funeral, but Willie placed a red flag on her coffin which was buried in an unmarked grave for fear of its defacement.

The BBC reported on the campaign to clear her name in January 2012, and a year later Derby council and the town’s civic society erected a blue plaque on her home.

Derby People’s History are holding ‘a festival for peace and justice’ in her memory at the Guildhall on Saturday 14 September. The day will include talks and workshops looking at conditions before, during and after the First World War, a Clarion cycle ride, plus an art exhibition and music from Peggy Seeger, Robb Johnson and Rosa’s Lovely Daughters.


More about Alice Wheeldon and family, and the campaign to clear their names, is here.

See a video about the campaign here.

More information from threescoreyearsandten.

More details on the festival from Derby People’s History.

Tickets for Peggy Seeger are £12.00 and £10.00 from Derby Live website.

Profiles of other early ILPers can be read here.