THE BROWN DOG AFFAIR by Peter Mason
At the centre of the Latchmere Recreation Ground in the south London borough of Battersea, not far from the Latchmere pub, there is a small hump on the tarmac pavement that cuts through to Battersea Park Road. Its contours are barely discernible from the general surrounds, but they
are significant nonetheless, for they are all that remain of one of the most controversial statues ever erected in Britain.
The brown dog memorial was an unprepossessing bronze drinking fountain erected in memory of an anonymous London mongrel, but it became a national cause célèbre in Edwardian Britain and a focus for alternative politicians of the era. It spent most of its short life under a 24- hour police guard.
Unveiled in 1906 to commemorate a dog killed by animal experimenters at the University of London, it was loathed by the establishment not just for its bold-faced anti-vivisectionist inscription, but also for its capacity to act as a rallying point for political activists from a whole host of disparate movements. Suffragettes, trade unionists, socialists, marxists, liberals, leading figures in the temperance movement and all kinds of mavericks flocked to its defence. Many local people in Battersea adopted it as their own.
Members of the medical establishment in particular grew to hate this provocative bronze dog for the scorn it poured over their profession. When orthodox attempts to remove the memorial came to nothing, medical students and their supporters tried to smash the dog under the cover of darkness. Later they took violently to the streets in what became known as the ‘brown dog riots’. Newspapers gorged themselves on the controversy, there were endless public meetings to discuss the memorial’s legitimacy, and questions were asked in Parliament.
In the end, however, the brown dog’s fate rested not with national politicians but with the local council – which eventually pulled the monument down in the dead of night. The anti vivisectionists were enraged, but they could do nothing to save the memorial. Today, only the hump remains. Next to it, there is a sign on an iron fence. It reads ‘No Dogs’.
* The Brown Dog Affair costs £10 (including post and packing). To buy it please contact the author on firstname.lastname@example.org
* Since its publication, the book has been turned into a BBC Radio 4 play starring Nerys Hughes and Maggie Steed called The Strange Affair Of The Brown Dog