Times Past: Front Lane, Cranham’s Communist front man

It’s one of the great puzzles of History, but there have been very few Communists in Cranham.

Maybe flamboyant Hubert Huggins Lovell was enough.

Hubert Lovell was born in Marylebone in 1891. When Lenin’s Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, he was inspired by the Communist message.

Indeed, he did well out of it. Britain’s Communist Party had few members, but it was strangely wealthy. Critics alleged that it was funded from Moscow.

One Communist strategy was to form “front organisations”, to broaden the party’s impact by attracting “fellow travellers” (or “useful idiots” as they were called in private).

Lovell was secretary of one of them, the International Prisoners’ Aid Society, which paid him �5 a week – a good salary in the 1920s.

He was very active politically, for instance taking an active part in strikes on Scotland’s Red Clydeside.

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An assault on a police officer made him a marked man with the forces of law and order.

The biggest industrial dispute of the era was the 1926 General Strike, when the Trades Union Congress tried to close Britain down in support of the miners.

The General Strike failed, but it split families. One victim was a young Communist called Sarah Burl, who was thrown out by her parents.

Miss Burl was taken in by Lovell and his wife, who lived in Willesden. Soon the suspicious Mrs Lovell threw Sarah out - and her husband left home too.

Lovell bought a bungalow in Greenbanks, a quiet street off Cranham’s Front Lane.

Cranham was not a promising place to start the revolution, but it was a long way from the angry Mrs Lovell.

Lovell promised to pay his wife ten shillings (50p) a week. But when he went on a 5-week visit to the Soviet Union in 1927, he left her only �2.

Sarah was now officially his secretary, and he paid her �3 a week.

In 1929, Mrs Lovell took him to court, where the lawyers had some fun.

Did the Communist Party have a policy on the minimum wage?

Yes, replied Lovell, everybody should get thirty shillings (�1.50) a week. No, he couldn’t afford to pay his wife that much. “He got nothing from Russia.”

Soon after, Lovell was back in court. On a demonstration at Victoria Station, he spotted a limousine containing a member of the royal family.

“Down with Royalty!” he shouted. “Up with the Reds!”

Scotland Yard’s Insp Foster arrested him, because Lovell was “a very troublesome agitator.”

The court made him pay a surety of �30 to guarantee he would keep the peace, but he was soon in trouble again, and in 1930 the magistrate ordered him to forfeit his money.

“The reason I am here today is because I am a Communist and dare to lift the flag of revolt,” Lovell proclaimed, shouting “I will not subsidise my persecutors.”

Cranham’s resident Communist then vanishes from the record.

He was an exotic figure for a quiet suburb.

But it seems appropriate that a front man for Soviet dictator Josef Stalin should have lived on Front Lane.