Formation of the Society of Friends of Russian Freedom

Event date(s)

30 April 1890


In the 1890s England was home to Russian émigrés of many political stripes. The anarchist Petr Kropotkin and the terrorist Sergei Kravchinsky, or Stepniak (notorious for having killed the chief of the tsarist police) were notable examples. There was substantial sympathy amongst English liberals for the Russian revolutionary cause, fuelled both by distaste for the autocratic regime and by personal connections with sympathetic Russian émigrés. In April 1890, the Society of Friends of Russian Freedom was established, to coordinate publicity for the revolutionary cause in England. The Society published a journal, Free Russia, which in its early years was edited by Stepniak. Although much of the Society's activity was focused on London, its initiator was Robert Spence Watson, a native of Gateshead and Secretary of Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society. Spence Watson was the Society's President from 1890 until his death in 1911. Both he and his wife Elizabeth were active in the revolutionary cause from their house at Bensham Grove, Gateshead. After Elizabeth's death in 1919 Bensham Grove House became an educational settlement; it is now a community centre and a centre for adult education.

Location/map point


Bensham Grove House

Further reading

Barry Hollingsworth, 'The Society of Friends of Russian Freedom: English Liberals and Russian Socialists, 1890-1917' Oxford Slavonic Papers, New Series vol. 3 (1970) pp. 45-64. The Robinson Library at Newcastle University holds Spence Watson's personal papers and books from his library.