The Luftwaffe began its bombing of British cities on September 7 1940 and the raids continued with savage regularity until May 1941. London had it worst, but Coventry, Liverpool, Glasgow and Hull were also on the receiving end. It didn’t take long for a hardcore of opportunists to realise there were rich pickings available in the immediate aftermath of a raid – and the looting wasn’t limited to civilians. In October 1940 Winston Churchill ordered the arrest and conviction of six London firemen caught looting from a burned-out shop to be hushed up by Herbert Morrison, his Home Secretary. The Prime Minister feared that if the story was made public it would further dishearten Londoners struggling to cope with the daily bombardments.
Lewis Namier famously described 18th-century British politics as ‘aristocracy tempered by rioting’. In fact riots often combine the form of radical protest with reactionary content. The Gordon Riots that erupted in the early summer of 1780 after the partial repeal of the 1698 Popery Act led to an orgy of looting not of moveable property, but of gin (though that isn’t where the name comes from). The riots drew on long-simmering resentment against excise duties on liquor. Horace Walpole remarked that more people had been killed by drink than by musket-ball, as the mob rifled gin-palaces for free booze; at one point a fire in the Fleet was unwittingly fuelled when it was doused with gin instead of water.
The goal of making the primary works more expensive may benefit Mr Hirst’s personal income in the short-term, but it makes no sense from the perspective of his market. Part of the reason that art costs more than wallpaper is the expectation that it might appreciate in value. Flooding the market with new work is like debasing the coinage, a strategy used from Nero to the Weimar Republic with disastrous consequences. If Mr Hirst were managing a quoted company, he would be unable to enrich himself at the expense of his investors in quite the same way. But Mr Hirst is an artist and, in Western countries, artists are valued as rule-breaking rogues.
If this had been an option for our PE lessons we probably wouldn’t have spent so much time down the local snooker hall* - the first purpose-built Parkour course in the UK will open at Westminster Academy in Westbourne Green by January 2011.