At the centre of St George’s Circus, in a traffic-choked corner of south London close to the Elephant and Castle, stands an obelisk. On one side, and rather crammed in beneath the date the structure was built (‘The XIth year of the reign of King George the Third’), is inscribed the name ‘Brass Crosby Esquire/Lord Mayor’. Aside from a blue plaque affixed to Crosby’s former home near Bromley in Kent, this is the only public commemoration of a man whom Ben Wilson describes in his splendid new book as a ‘liberty-loving guerrilla’ – one of a band of ‘seedy adventurers’ to whom we owe the civil liberties we enjoy today.
The fact that most of those who pass the obelisk on the Number 63 bus each day won’t have heard of Crosby tells us, Wilson argues, something important about liberty in this country: about how it was achieved and about our attitudes towards it.
Brass Crosby merits a place in Wilson’s pantheon of ‘bloody-minded’ heroes of British liberty for a provocation he colluded in with John Wilkes in 1770. Wilkes was an alderman of the City of London and Crosby Lord Mayor. The two men decided to test those provisions in the