History of the Metropolitan Police
Trafalgar Square Demonstration and Riot 1886
This brief riot and subsequent panic caused the resignation of the Commissioner, and is sometimes known as Black Monday.
On Monday 8 February two rival organisations, the London United Workmen's Committee and H.F. Hyndman's revolutionary Social Democratic Federation, gave notice of their intention to hold meetings in the square on the same day. Although it was recognised that they might clash violently, there had been no grave public order problems in London since the Hyde Park Riot in 1866, two years before the Commissioner's appointment, and the Home Secretary was preoccupied with Irish Home Rule.
As a result, neither man ordered serious precautions. The meetings were approved with arrangements for a small force of constables to police the square, and a reserve of 563 men standing by. District Superintendent Robert Walker was appointed to maintain public order, but he was 74 years old and quite unsuitable for such active service. He went in plain clothes to observe the meetings, lost touch with his men and disappeared into the crowd, where he had his pockets picked.
The meetings passed off without incident, but when the speakers had left the square a crowd of 5000 streamed west along Pall Mall and resumed a more fiery meeting in Hyde Park. A garbled message came to the reserve that there was trouble brewing in The Mall instead of Pall Mall, so they marched away to protect Marlborough House and Buckingham Palace, while a few hundred metres north the mob rushed unhindered along Pall Mall and St James's, smashing club windows as they went.
The meeting in Hyde Park inspired more mayhem, and in the early evening they raged back down Oxford Street breaking shop windows and looting. At Marylebone Lane, Inspector James Cuthbert was routinely parading a Sergeant and 15 constables. When he heard a mob was approaching he marched his men down to Oxford Street, and with a determined baton charge the 17 policemen scattered the crowd and ended the riot.
Two days later in thick fog, Oxford Street traders received word another mob was approaching, and they hastily barricaded their windows and waited for an event that never took place. Scotland Yard was blamed for this panic, and it was claimed (erroneously) that the Commissioner had issued the unnecessary warning. A committee was set up to report on the incidents, and Henderson, realising he was to be made scapegoat, resigned. The circumstances of his going lent appeal to the idea of a more military Commissioner, and he was replaced by Sir Charles Warren.