King's College London
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Mayhem in the Metropolis

The 1920s

1927 rag at University College1927 rag at University CollegeThe inter-War period witnessed the flourishing of the student rag and of the friendly rivalry between King's College London and University College.

College Union societies greatly expanded their sporting, social and charitable activities at this time and in 1921 the University of London Union Society was formed as an umbrella organisation.

Rags comprised well-organised kidnappings, the collection for charity by students dressed as the opposite sex or in elaborate costumes, processions and mock battles.

1919: Intemperate conduct

The first serious student incident occurred when a visiting speaker was injured in 1919.

William 'Pussyfoot' JohnsonWilliam 'Pussyfoot' JohnsonWilliam Johnson (1862-1945) was a controversial American prohibitionist who earned his nickname, 'Pussyfoot', for the stealthy nature of his operations to suppress illegal alcohol distribution by the dead of night.

Johnson was keen to spread the temperance message internationally, often drawing large crowds to listen to his speeches. At one such gathering in 1919, a debate between Johnson and a representative of the Licensed Victuallers' Association at Essex Hall, near King's College London, Johnson was kidnapped and carried off down the Strand by King's students. An abortive police rescue attempt resulted in stone throwing and the loss of one of Johnson's eyes.

The incident led to some soul searching by King's students. An open letter of apology to Johnson published in the College Review lamented the fact that as a 'result of the Students' Rag it had been necessary to remove your eye', and another contributor wrote of the participants having 'dragged the name of the University in the dirt' and having 'proved the efficacy of Bolshevism by their entire and disgusting reliance on force'.

A satirical poem, however, in another edition, explained the reason for the kidnap:

O mister Johnson, now you'll see,
That we don't want to hear you,
No man shall come from USA
And tell us what we should do!
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