In the final week of our second Olympic Borough, Greenwich, Ruairidh Anderson tells the story of Frenchman and anarchist Martial Bourdin, who exploded in Greenwich Park one winter’s morning.
‘It was a fresh February day in 1894 when young Frenchman Martial Bourdin left his house in Fitzroy Sreet central London for a jaunt across town. Catching a tram from outside the houses of Parliament, he must have enjoyed a relatively uncrowded journey, kept company only by his head full of ideals and the package under his arm.’
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Time Will Tell’.
Martial Bourdin – Anarchist
It was a fresh February day in 1894 when young Frenchman Martial Bourdin left his house in Fitzroy Street, central London for a jaunt across town. He caught a horse-drawn tram from outside the Houses of Parliament and must have enjoyed a relatively uncrowded journey, kept company only by his headful of ideals and the packet under his arm.
As he approached his destination in Greenwich he called out to the driver to confirm his whereabouts and then sprung from his seat, setting off across Greenwich Park towards the Royal Observatory.
The cool winter air, the stark cry of a bird overhead, the promise of spring time whispering through the trees huddled around him, were probably only enjoyed subconsciously before he tripped… and blew himself to smithereens.
Bourdin was discovered by two school boys and his only words were “take me home.” Strangely placing more importance on enjoying the comforts of his homestead than finding the remains of his scattered body, he died but minutes later.
But what? Why? Who? All good questions but with unfortunately very few answers. What we do know is that Martial Bourdin was an anarchist during a time when they were wreaking havoc across Europe. And we can assume that he was on his way to blow up the Observatory. Just 45 feet further and he would’ve done just that. But you won’t find any commemoratives plaques or statue around that area marking the event, and certainly not during an Olympic year.
However, apart from the blackened singed spot and lingering smell, Martial Bourdin left a mark on London’s history forever. He inspired the Hitchcock film ‘Sabotage’ and the Joseph Conrad novel ‘The Secret Agent’, which in turn inspired the Unabomber who worked under the alias ‘Conrad’. But more than that Martial Bourdin goes down as the first international terrorist attack on the UK.