Brian Haw: the Parliament Square protestor

By jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history on 11 Aug 2015
Brian Haw

Brian Haw

London has been the host to many a historic protest. From the Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the anti-austerity marches we see today, free speech and the right to stand up for what you believe in add to the richness of the capital.

When it comes to longevity and determination regarding modern protest, Brian Haw has become somewhat of a modern London icon. Born in London in 1949, Brian moved from his family home in 2001 to start a protest camp in Parliament Square. He strongly disapproved of UK and US foreign policy and the Iraq conflict, which was at its height during his protest campaign. This opposition, and his dislike of political leaders of the time, was clear in the many colourful banners, signs and placards which constituted his camp.

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One of Brian’s megaphones used at his camp

Brian’s camp grew over the coming years and became a dominate feature on the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament. His highly visual and vocal campaign annoyed the MPs who he was addressing, and he was regularly arrested. Then on 23 May 2006 the entirety of Brian’s protest camp was cleared by police. His many possessions, from banners and flags to clothing and tents, were confiscated, put into police evidence bags and kept in a police depot, where they remained throughout the rest of Brian’s time as a protestor.

Brian returned to Parliament Square and slowly built up a presence once again. Despite continued arrests and hardship, he continued his campaign until illness forced him to leave the site. Brian Haw died in 2011 aged 62.

Following his death his belongings were no longer required as evidence and were therefore returned to his family. In early 2012 the Museum of London agreed to acquire the full contents of the protest camp, ensuring Brian Haw’s campaign was documented as part of London’s recent history.

Over the past few months, curators and conservators have been working their way through the many bags and boxes of content, documenting what they find and taking photographs as they go along. A total of 790 objects make up Brian Haw’s protest collection, many of which are in poor condition having been exposed to the elements for so many years. The Museum will now begin a project to stabilise them all as much as possible, ensuring they are stored securely.

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Placard made by Brian Haw towards the end of his campaign

We also have lots of research to do into the collection, helping us piece together more information about Brian and his time in Parliament Square. Do you have any stories or memories about Brian? If so please comment below – we’d love to hear from you.

A small display of some objects from Brian Haw’s protest camp is on display in Show Space until 7 September 2015.

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