On this day in history : 24th January 1969 – Students at the London School of Economics go on the rampage with crowbars, sledgehammers and pickaxes – in protest at the installation of steel security gates….

This was just one incident in a long period of student unrest during the 1960s – not just in the UK but in some European countries and North America too….

For the LSE problems had begun a couple of years previously when Dr. Walter Adams had been appointed LSE Director…. It had sparked a series of protests and sit-ins, as Dr. Adams had formerly been the Principal of the University College of Rhodesia…. It was felt that he had not shown enough resistance to Ian Smith’s regime – and students disagreed with his appointment as Director….

Dr. Walter Adams

As a result of these earlier protests seven sets of steel gates had been erected in and around the university….Dr. Adams said they had been installed to improve security and so that areas of the building could be closed off in times of protest…. Students and staff claimed the gates made the place look like a concentration camp – they were described as ‘anti-student and anti-freedom’….

A week after the installation of the gates a meeting was held to discuss their removal…. Francis Keohane, the then Student Union president, wanted a solution to be found through negotiation – but when put to the vote his motion failed….

Within half an hour the gates were down…. Led by a lecturer apparently yelling “this way comrades” students took to the gates with pickaxes, sledgehammers and crowbars…. Francis Keohane and treasurer Roger Mountford immediately resigned from their posts as they could not condone the violence….

London School of Economics main entrance Image credit: Umezo KAMATA

The police were called and over 100 officers arrived and closed off the area around Aldwych….25 arrests were made and the protestors taken to Bow Street Police Station…. More than 200 students responded by marching, nine abreast, to the police station and then sat outside chanting “release our colleagues” …. Extra police had to be drafted in to protect the police station….

The protests continued for the following few days and as a result the LSE closed for more than three weeks. Legal action was brought against a total of 13 people, 3 of which were members of staff and believed to be the ring leaders – two lost their jobs…. The charged students were banned from college for a month and were only permitted to return if they promised not to cause any more damage and not to interfere with management decisions…. Other students faced disciplinary action for disrupting lectures….

National Archives nationalarchives.gov.uk

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