At sometime in the 1920s or 1930’s, I guess, Cullen bought his bit of land in the tiny but pretty Essex village of Kelvedon Hatch.
I believe Cullen would have used Coppice as his own bolt hole away from the smoke and grime of London, remember he knew all about the killer disease Tuberculosis and the health benefits of the clean air of the Essex countryside.
He would also realise how good it would be to organise camps for the many youth groups that he was involved in. The youth wing of the Independent Labour Party(ILP), The Scouts, the Kibbo Kift and the newly formed Woodcraft Folk.
1931 Dr. Cullen and Jack Gaster are leading lights in a Revolutionary Policy Committee formed within Independent Labour Party.
1932 Kinder Trespass. British Worker Sports Federation and local young communist league (YCL) members invade Kinder Scout. The trespass will lay the foundations for various acts of Parliament for countryside access and the foundation of the first National Parks.
1935 Doc Cullen and a close comrade Jack Gaster are active in the ILP. Jack Gaster will become the Solicitor for the Communist Party and feature much later in the History and the sad demise of Coppice.
Gaster and Cullen are both leading members of a faction within the ILP called the Revolutionary Policy Committee (RPC). After much wrangling the pair walk out of ILP. Doc Cullen and Jack Gaster lead several hundred ILP members into Communist Party.
1937 Jack Gaster and Ted Brambly are elected as Communists to the LCC for the Stepney, Mile End ward.
1936 Belfast born John Larmour has left us some of the earliest definite memories of Labour movement use of Coppice Camp. Larmour’s life was amazing. He worked as a seaman where he met the IRA and learned about the republican movement.
He bummed his way as a hobo across the USA. Riding the boxcars and avoiding the armed railway guards with their baseball bats and shotguns he encountered fellow hobos who had joined the International Workers of the World (IWW), the famous Wobblies.
He became interested in left wing politics. He joined the Communist Party and was chased out of Hamburg in 1933 while engaged in anti-fascist leafleting.
In 1936 he met his future wife, Noella (Ella) May Parker, also a member of the Communist Party. They met at Coppice Camp. Ella had become active in the fledgling youth hostel movement, hiking all over England.
Now Ella’s was spending most of her weekends in charge of the kitchen at Coppice camp. Camps were being held there preparing and training volunteer comrades for the International Brigade struggle in Spain.
John and Ella had many Coppice friends including writer Christopher Sprigg better known as Christopher Cauldwell. Ted Roycraft, Stan Hart and Nick Cox.
Many lived in Poplar but some later moved out to Essex.
John and Ella lived together in Poplar, and were both active in the Party at the time when Oswald Mosley’s began his British Union of Fascists (BUF) and its paramilitary wing, the Blackshirts.
John was one of the comrades in the roof of Olympia to drop leaflets at Mosley’s notorious rally. Another was Bill Wainwright who would become assistant editor of the Daily Worker.
The couple also played their part in the Battle of Cable Street, when East Ender’s refused to allow Oswald Mosley and his blackshirt Fascists march through a predominately Jewish section of London’s East End.
John made a spur of the moment decision to go to Spain and join the International Brigades. He was just 26.
Ella attempted to join him in Spain but was obliged to stay in Poplar, with no driving licence or nursing qualifications she was not accepted as a volunteer.
Two months later, Larmour was at Albacete, where he was posted to the newly formed No 1 Company of the XIV International Brigade. Injured Larmour arrived back in London on 7th September 1937.
John in Spain
He and Ella married in November 1937 but only at the behest of the Party, which thought it unsuitable to cohabit. They continued to visit Coppice. John took employment in Communist Party bookshops. Ella played leading part in the WW2 communist organised squats in luxury housing in London.
1936 Battle of Cable Street. Fascism was gaining ground across Europe. In Britain, Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirted British Union of Fascists (BUF) portrayed Jewish people as the cause of the country’s problems.
East London had the largest Jewish population in Britain and the announcement that Mosley and his Blackshirts planned a provocative march through the area on October 4 was greeted with anger and a determination that it should be stopped. A petition was signed and local politicians tried to have the march called off – but to no avail.
On the day, up to 250,000 people gathered to defend the East End. There was a fierce battle with the police when they attempted to clear a path for the march and a barricade was erected and defended in Cable Street.
People in their houses threw eggs, milk bottles and the contents of chamber pots from upstairs’ windows, whilst at ground level, marbles were rolled under police horses’ hooves. The march could not proceed and Mosley was ordered to abandon his plans.
It was a blow against fascism and that night there was dancing in the streets.
1936 -39 International brigades go to Spain.
Between 1936 and 1939 over 35,000 men and women, from over 50 countries, left their homes to volunteer for the Republican forces to fight Fascism in Spain.
More than 2,300 of these came from Britain, Ireland and the commonwealth. More than 500 would give their life for the struggle.
Perhaps 80% were members of the Communist Party, or the Young Communist League, though volunteers with an alternative political background or who were active in the trade union movement also volunteered.
Perhaps one in five were of Jewish origin. Like many of their comrades they realised this was the same fight they had won in Cable Street against Mosley and his blackshirts.
The volunteers came from overwhelmingly working class backgrounds, with large from London, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. Only a small number were unemployed with large numbers involved in industrial occupations, such as labouring, construction, ship-building and mining.
Despite an enduring image of the brigades comprising young poets, the volunteers were somewhat older than this myth would have it.
The average age for the volunteers from Britain was twenty-nine.
The British Government did all it could to prevent the Brigade Volunteers getting to Spain. Camps were organised, some at Coppice to train these anti-fascist International Brigade volunteers.
Mid 1930’s Coppice is used by many organisations primarily Communist Party and other left-wing groups including the Woodcraft folk.
In the mid 1930’s health and outdoor activities such a rambling, camping (and naturism or nudism for some) is a part of left-wing political life.
As well as rambling and camping Coppice had a rudimentary swimming pool.
Karl Carter remembers a photograph with his dad and a group of young men who were building this pool. The picture showed them making a human pyramid. His belief is that the pool was never properly completed due to pre-war restrictions on building materials.
Ken Keable also has memories of the 1930s passed down to him his parents.
“They often spoke fondly of Coppice Camp, having spent a great deal of time there in the 1930s, and perhaps even earlier. They met in 1927. His aunt Mabel O’Farrell (née Keable) met her first husband, Peter Tuffin, at Coppice. Artist Pete Tuffin was one of the regular users of the Camp. Peter actually lived in a bungalow at Coppice at one time. Their daughter Sally Tuffin (picctured below) became well-known in the 1960s when working with fashion designer Mary Quant.”
Bill and Gladys Keable visited events at Coppice organised by the British Labour Esperanto Association (Brita Laborista Esperanto-Asocio), in which they were both leading members.
Bill had joined the CPGB in 1928 and Gladys in 1929, and they may well have used the Camp in connection with other organisations too. Food reform was popular with some communists. The Keables embraced vegetarianism and another, now mostly forgotten idea called cosmovitalism.
1937 George Orwell publishes the Road to Wigan Pier. In the book Orwell at his most cynical and cutting says;- “In addition to this there is the horrible – the really disquieting – prevalence of cranks wherever socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘nature cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”
“…But the point is that to him, as an ordinary man, a crank meant a socialist and a socialist meant a crank. Any socialist, he probably felt, could be counted on to have something eccentric about him. And some such notion seems to exist even among socialists themselves. For instance, I have here a prospectus from another summer school (at Coppice Camp perhaps? Frosty.) which states its terms per week and then asks me to say ‘whether my diet is ordinary or vegetarian’. They take it for granted, you see, that it is necessary to ask this question. This kind of thing is by itself sufficient to alienate plenty of decent people.”
Glady’s Keable told son Ken that the design of the main Coppice hut was based on huts used by pre-war Austrian social-democrats. German and Austrian Socialist and Communists we inextricably linked with the outdoor life styles enjoyed at Coppice Camp.