Stoke Newington Suffragettes

I’m very grateful to the History of Stokey twitter feed for posting these two images. (I’ll even let them off calling it “Stokey”).

First of all an amazing poster for a meeting in 1906:


The space the meeting was held in is still used by the Library for exhibitions and events.

Millicent (or Mrs Henry) Fawcett and her husband have been mentioned in a previous post about Hackney Suffragettes and the 1866 petition.

Also an image of Suffragettes outside Stoke Newington station in 1899:


Any further pointers or information about the women’s suffrage movement in Hackney, Stoke Newington or Shoreditch would be gratefully received.

late Nov / early Dec events of interest

Abney Park Trust and Hackney Archives bring you:
The Life and Times of Joanna Vassa

Thurs 26 Nov, 6-7.45pm.

Free entry
At Hackney Archives, Dalston CLR James Library, Dalston Square, London E8 3B

A talk by Arthur Torrington, OBE, Secretary of The Equiano Society.

Joanna Vassa was the only surviving child of the former enslaved African and anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano. Find out how her grave was discovered in 2005 in Abney Park and learn about her father’s incredible journey from slavery to abolitionist campaigner and bestselling author.

Booking essential – email: or call: 020 8356 8925
All ages welcome
Friends of Hackney Archives Talk:
Uncovering London’s Radical History – David Rosenberg

Thursday 10th December
6.00pm Refreshments
6.30pm Talk

At Education Room, Dalston CLR James Library and Hackney Archives, Dalston Square, London

In this illustrated talk David will tell some of these stories of trail-blazing chartists and suffragettes, pacifists and anti-fascists that he collected for his book Rebel Footprints: a guide to uncovering London’s radical history (Pluto March 2015).

Writer and educator David Rosenberg began leading walks of London’s radical history in 2007, unearthing stories of ordinary people who fought for better lives, from the beginning of the 1830s to the end of the 1930s, especially in London’s first manufacturing area – the East End.

If you would like to attend this event, please book your place with Hackney Archives Department (020 8356 8925 or email

Roach Family Support Committee – Bulletin 3, 1983

Colin Roach died of a gunshot wound in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station on the night of the 12 January 1983. The subsequent protests and community investigation are covered in the book Policing In Hackney 1945-1984.

The bulletin below gives a flavour of the protests and campaign for a public inquiry about Colin’s death.


Roach_Bulletin_3 [pdf version]

Scans courtesy of the comrades at Mayday Rooms.



At the start of the campaign for an independent public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach, the Roach Family Support Committee wrote to Home Secretary William Whitelaw. RFSC called on the Home Secretary to set up a PUBLIC INQUIRY into all the circumstances surrounding the death of Colin Roach in Stoke Newington Police Station. Numerous other organisations and individuals also wrote to Whitelaw making the same demand.

In response, the Home Secretary accepted the need for a “full independent and public inquiry into the matter.” However, he argued that such an inquiry would be provided by the inquest. This latter argument is fallacious and has been thoroughly discredited.
Firstly, the Coroner, Dr Douglas Chambers, publicly stated that his inquest was not a public inquiry, that the Home Secretary was wrongly and badly advised. He demonstrated this by pointing out that in the case of Kevin Gately who was killed by the National Front, both an inquest and a Public Inquiry were held.

Secondly, when the Coroner went to the High Court over the venue of the inquest and the interested party Status of Hackney Black Peoples Association, he was rebuffed by Mr Justice Woolfe on both counts. In his judgement, Mr Justice Woolfe said,


Given those circumstances, the Home Secretary also has to bear in mind that over 100 members of Parliament have signed two Commons Motions calling for, an Independent Public Inquiry.

The Home Secretary cannot dither any longer. Now is the time for him to announce the setting up of the Independent Public Inquiry, regardless of whether it is held before or after the inquest.

RFSC calls on all individuals and organisations who support our central demand to write to the Home Secretary again on this matter.

Letters should be sent to:
William Whitelaw M.P. Home Secretary
The Home Office
Queen Anne’s Gate
London SW1



The inquest on Colin Roach was resumed at 9a.m. on April 18th at St. Pancras Coroner’s Court. The Coroner immediately adjourned it until Monday April 25th again at St. Pancras.

The family’s lawyer asked that it should be adjourned as the family were all prepared for it to go ahead. The Coroner did not even consider this.

Lawyers acting for Hackney Council and Colin’s family asked that the inquest be transferred to Hackney Town Hall so that all the people who wanted to attend the inquest could do so. The police opposed the transfer of the inquest but refused to say why in public. They would only give their reasons in secret. They said they would produce Affidavits later in the day.

After listening to the lawyers the Coroner decided that he would not transfer the inquest.
The lawyers acting for Colin’s family were puzzled as to why the police were producing Affidavits. These were clearly not needed in the Coroner’s Court as the Coroner had already announced his decision as to where and when the inquest would be held.
Later that day (18.4.83) summonses were delivered to the family’s solicitors, to HBPA, to Hackney Council, and to the GLC. The Coroner was going to the High Court to seek a Declaration that the GLC could not order him to move the inquest. The police Affidavits were to be used by the Coroner to support his case that the inquest should not be moved.

This raises a number of questions –

  • How did the police know the Coroner was going to need the Affidavits?
  • Was there collusion between the police and the Coroner over the weekend before the inquest resumed?
  • Was the Coroner’s application to the High Court a deal cooked up by him and the police before the inquest even started?
  • If so, that means the Coroner is colluding with the police and the hearing on April 18th was a charade because the police and the Coroner had taken all the decisions beforehand.
  • If so, that would mean the Coroner was in the pocket of the police, and the police were telling him what to do and what to say.
  • If so, have they already told the Coroner what verdict he has to produce at the end of the inquest?
  • If the Coroner is colluding with the police, how can he be regarded as independent?
  • If the Coroner is not colluding with the police, why did he go to the High Court to stop the inquest being moved? Why didn’t he let the police do it?
  • After what has happened no one can have any faith in the independence of the Coroner and no one can have any faith in the inquest.
  • Why won’t the Coroner let Colin’s family see all the evidence he has collected?
  • What is the Coroner trying to hide?
  • Is he trying to protect the police by suppressing evidence?The inquest is just another part of the cover up. Don’t be fooled.

Who Killed Aseta Simms?

(Reprinted from BLACK VOICE, VOLUME 2, 1971.)


Mrs. Aseta Simms, while in the custody of police officers from Stoke Newington police station, received multiple injuries of which she later died.

These injuries must have been inflicted by someone inside Stoke Newington but unknown to the community, except the police.

At the Coroner’s hearing on 10.6.71, a police doctor from the Wood Green area says this:
“I examined the body of Mrs. Simms and found that she was a well-nourished coloured woman. There was swelling and bruising above and below the right eye. There !vas deep bruising over her head but no fracture, but the brain was swollen. The heart was not the cause of death. There was no evidence of alcoholic poisoning. There was little evidence of inhaling vomitting. I cannot say what was the cause of her death. “

With this evidence given by a police doctor. The racist Coroner, Douglas Chambers in his hasty quest to cover up the murder of this black woman; took over both roles in the hearing of Coroner and jury: claiming that he had the right to do so under some unknown home office rules. He went and sat with the jury, returning a verdict of ‘Death by Misadventure’ meaning that this black woman murdered her own self.

The family of Mrs Simms is not going to allow her brutal murder to go unpunished, Black people in Britain and outside Britain are not satisfied either. We are determined that these murderers will be weeded out and be punished by the people. We, members of the Black Unity And Freedom Party shall give every assistance to the family in their struggle for justice.

This is a part of our general struggle against this rotten, racist, capitalist system. There is no force in the world more powerful than a determined people. If we allow the perpetrators of this brutal murder to get away with it. Then we all know surely as day follows day; they are going to murder us all the following day.

1) Insp. Barton of Stoke Newington
2) Coroner Douglas Chambers who sat on the hearing as judge and jury.
3) Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham or Quintin Hogg.
4) Commissioner of Police, Waldron, under whose commission this crime was committed.
5) The two doctors who gave evidence in the coroners’ hearing.

Coroner Dr. Douglas Chambers who officiated in the Aseta Simms case is also the Coroner in the Colin Roach inquest.
He has set the date for the resumed inquest for Monday June 6 at the Clerkenwell County Court 33 Duncan Terrace, Islington N1.

For those people arrested while campaigning for the Independent Inquiry, a hardening of attitudes by Magistrates at Highbury Corner is manifesting itself.

In particular, all those people who appear before Magistrate Mr. Johnson have no chance of being acquitted however diabolical the police evidence.

To date, every person who has come before Mr. Johnson have been convicted and sentenced very severely.

He appears to come into court with his mind already made up, with a blind faith in the total sincerity and total unemotional involvement of the police.

Two most disturbing cases are those of Merville Bishop, a RFSC Steward on the 12 March demonstration, and the case of Fred Chitole who was not taking part in the demonstration, was not taking part in it, but happened to be on his way home when police attacked the last RFSC March.

For performing his duties as a Steward, Merville was physically assaulted and arrested. He was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment by Mr. Johnson.

Fred Chitole was not demonstrating. He had been to Woolworths to buy batteries, then to Rumbellows to buy a cassette. He was on his way to Boots the Chemist to buy shampoo when he was arrested.

Fred Chitole was convicted by Mr. Johnson and sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.
Both cases are subject to appeal.

The campaign for an Independent Public Inquiry has received widespread local and National support.

Here, we publish a sample of the letters received by RFSC.

Brothers & Sisters,
Hail I, and Greetings. I will be on the march on May 14th. I have participated in previous marches and have witnessed the provocative behaviour of the police. In my own case, I was pushed and dragged for no reason.
My previous experience with the police leads me to believe that the police are engaged in a cover up over how Colin Roach met his death. In November 1982, my brother was being arrested by the police – ten minutes after leaving home, for allegedly committing a mugging up the Narrow Way.
As a Youth Worker, I tried to explain to them my concern and the impossibility of him being involved.
They abused me verbally, used violence to arrest me, then charged me with assault, criminal damage and obstruction. My brother was released without any charge. I am now awaiting trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
The circumstances of my arrest and the charges against me are similar to what happened to a number of the people arrested on the previous marches.
We must not give up! We must continue to fight for our rights! We must keep on fighting until we get the independent public inquiry we are campaigning for. That is the only way we will know the truth.

Sister Asher

Dear Brother / Sister,
We are writing you in order to send our support for the aims of your committee. We have urged the Sunderland Polytechnic Students’ Union to send a formal letter of support, on behalf of all its members, to you.
We would further like to show our support by marching with you in solidarity at your forthcoming national march. We therefore ask that you please send us the relevant information (date, time, place etc).
We are presently arranging a collection, among the students, for your financial appeal. If there are any other ways in which we could be of assistance, please let us know.

Radical Black Students Society Sunderland Polytechnic

Dear Sir / Madam,
First of all, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to Colin Roach and his family, in what they have been through. I feel that we (meaning S.P.E.A.R.) would like to contribute our support in any way we can to help to promote your cause.
S.P.E.A.R. (which stands for, Solidarity of Pupils in Education Against Racism), is a political and cultural body in our school that was formed to promote the issues that affects Black people in general and Black interest as a whole. It is at present very successful, in that we have successfully amalgamated every Black conscious pupil as well as white sympathisers, into organising themselves on issues that arises such as your cause. I feel as the Colin Roach Committee is a newly set up committee, it is important that S.P.E.A.R. can play an important part in your campaign for justice, for Blacks in Britain, by opening the eyes of both the whites and Blacks of our school and our community, in order to do that, we need your help.
S.P.E.A.R. would like to help:
(1) Distribute leaflets about the case of Colin Roach
(2) Would appreciate a speaker to come up to our school and talk to us about the case
(3) Would like to organise an activity e.g. sponsored walk in order to help fund your cause.
In order to do so, I feel that we need you to open our eyes to the realities that affects us all, and in doing so, I feel that we need your presence at our school

Yours faithfully,
President of S.P.E.A.R.
Leyton Senior High School for Girls

Dear Friends,
The Students of Warwick University Students’ Union, a considerable number of whom come from the south and east of London, have instructed me to write to you expressing our support for you in your fight to fmd the truth surrounding the death of Colin.
In recent years too many people, white as well as black, have died in similar mysterious circumstances while in police custody. It also can no longer be ignored that Black youth in many of our cities are continually. harassed and intimidated by police Officers.
Good Luck in your struggle.

Yours fraternally,
General Secretary
Students Union, Warwick University
Dear Friends,
Having recently learned of the tragic death of Colin Roach, we wish to extend our condolences to his family. We also wish to offer our support to your campaign.
We have discussed the leaflet which you have produced and would like to write to William Whitelaw to request that a full and proper inquiry (into the circumstances leading to Mr Roach’s death) is carried out.
If you think it would be helpful to you we will write to the Home Secretary in support of you, and provide you with a copy of the letter. Please write and let us know.

Yours sincerely,
Helen Best
Secretary, Tameside Immigration Campaigns Support Group.

Dear Sir,
I am writing this letter to point out to you and your colleagues that I was particularly impressed with the measure of codification and discipline demonstrated on Saturday at the March and Rally re: the above-mentioned brother’s death.
It is a fact of life and we have the ability and capacity to delineate concretely that we Blacks can expose the lie rather the mendacity and the myth, that we are unconstructive and un-productive.
As the Superintendent minister for Stoke Newington, I would like you to be assured of my Circuit support at all times. Not to mention my personal conviction, commitment and dedication to the total and whole liberation of oppressed and indigent people.
May the inner need and power of solidarity and that deep and penetrative love for each other motivate us at all times, to work, plan, demonstrate, and move towards that degree of human audacity, that when fully and truly translated means justice, freedom, unity, and liberation.
May the eternal light of love ie concrete human love and brotherhood keep you and your committee contiguously.
Please keep me posted and do feel free to call on me anytime for my support.
Yours in the struggle for the creation of peace, justice, love, brotherhood and manumission.

Yours sincerely,
Rev. Robinson Millwood
The Methodist Church
Stoke Newington Mission Circuit

Dear Sir / Madam,
The following resolution was passed by the National Executive of the N.C.B.T in its meeting held at the Institute of Education, University of London, on Wednesday 16th March 1983.
The N.C.B.T give their full support to the Colin Roach Campaign in their fight against systematic attempts on the part of the police to cover up and to obstruct any investigation in the event under which Colin Roach’s death took place.
We support the demand for an official inquiry.

Yours faithfully,
Co-ordinating Secretary
National Convention of Black Teachers
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I am writing on behalf of the Hackney branch of the Confederation of Health Service Employees to express our support for the PUBLIC INQUIRY and for the activities of the Roach Family Support Committee.
We wish to extend our sympathy to the Roach Family and to support the campaign in whatever they
We wish to extend our sympathy to the Roach Family and to support the campaign in whatever way we can. We have supported previous demonstrations and will have members on the May 14th March.
Could you please let us know if there are any other activities we can take to support you.

Yours in Solidarity,
Andrea Campbell
Branch Secretary
Dear Friends,
We are a West Midlands based Community Magazine, with Readership of about 1500.
The current issue as you see includes a short article about the death of Colin Roach, publicising your Committee and the ‘suspicious’ circumstances of Colin’s death.
May I offer our support to your campaign and its aims. If there’s any other way we can help publicise your activities etc, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best Wishes
Abdul Sheir
For Musique
Moseley, Birmingham B13

It is very important for Black people to find out the truth of How and Why Colin Roach died.

I think there is going to be trouble or some-thing big before there is a Public Inquiry.

I think everybody should know the truth. There have been too many deaths of Black people in mysterious circumstances. Colin Roach is one too

A Public Inquiry may help to settle the arousement of some people even though the whole truth might not come out But I don’t see how even half the truth can come out at an inquest.

Outrageous Sentences At Highbury

Since the untimely death of Colin Roach on 12 January, a total of 84 persons were arrested over five major demonstrations. Demonstrators have campaigned for and INDEPENDENT PUBLIC INQUIRY into all the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Colin Roach in Stoke Newington police station.

Eight persons were arrested on. January 14, seventeen on January 17, twenty-five on January 22, ten on February 12 and a further twenty-four on March 12.

Magistrates at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court have bent over backwards to convict people. To date, there have been 18 convictions and 14 Acquittals.

The sentencing policy of the Magistrates is outrageous. In the case of Delray Thompson, he was charged with threatening behaviour and having an offensive weapon. Despite being found not guilty on the offensive weapon charge, he was nevertheless convicted of threatening behaviour. He was sentenced to seven days imprisonment by a Magistrate who appears to have his eyes, ears and brains closed to anything but police witness statements.

An immediate appeal was lodged. Delray is now on bail pending appeal. He told a
reporter, “I knew Colin Roach. I don’t believe that he would go into a police station to kill himself as the police would have us believe. I took part in the first demonstration because I support the demand for an independent public inquiry. I know the truth will never come out at an inquest.”


Another, outrageous sentence was that imposed on Chas Holmes, a young student at North London Polytechnic. On January 22, he saw someone being arrested. He asked for the person’s name and address. This is not illegal. He was arrested and charged with obstruction.

In their evidence, police claimed that Chas grabbed a policeman by the neck. If that was true, he would have been charged with assaulting the police. Despite pictures disproving the false evidence given by the police, Chas was found guilty of OBSTRUCTION, fined £100 with £125 costs. This case is also subject to appeal.

The Roach Family Support Committee is co-ordinating the defence of all the people arrested. RFSC has pointed out that the police strategy is to criminalise anyone who dares to protest publicly against the racism and violence which pervades Stoke Newington police. Their intention of driving the Roach campaign off the streets has failed. RFSC plans to begin counter charges of conspiracy to arrest, to use violence against peaceful demonstrators and to break up peaceful protests against the local police.

Most of the seventeen people convicted are appealing against conviction. RFSC will meet the legal costs of these appeals where legal aid is not granted.

Defendants. are appearing in court on the following dates and support and solidarity is needed at these court appearances.
MAY 17 Highbury Juvenile Court
MAY 17 Old Street M.C.
MAY 18 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 19 Highbury Juvenile Court
MAY 19 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 23 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 24 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 25 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 26 Highbury Corner M.G.
MAY 27 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 31 Highbury Corner M.C.
JUNE 1 Old Street M.C.
JUNE 1 Highbury Corner M.C.
JUNE 2 Old Street M.C.
JUNE 14 Seymore Place J.C.
JUNE 20 Old Street M.C.


At this phase in our campaign because many of us have different levels of involvement and therefore different levels of understanding and consciousness, it becomes important that certain basic principles should be spelled out clearly.

A Black family – the Roach family – have suffered a devastating loss. The death of their son Colin Roach, killed by a shotgun blast in Stoke Newington police station on 12th January this year, has caused the Roach family great pain and distress and has fired anger and outrage in our community. This much we all know. But more times we have to remember the basis of the Campaign.

There can be no doubt that this Campaign is unique. Because of its various dimensions it is a major issue for Black and other people. And once this is over we will have learned how effectively Black people in this community can rally round and organise.

Many of us are aware that the first two demonstrations were organised by Black and white youths from Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Those demonstrations on 14th and 17th January called for an independent public inquiry. Those demonstrations were characterised by a mass presence and peaceful protest. Those demonstrations were mainly co-ordinated by members of Colin’s family and friends. The family called for an independent .public inquiry and initially took the demand onto the streets. This is how the Campaign began.

The Roach Family Support Committee was only launched after Mr and Mrs Roach, Pauline Roach and Patrick Roach had agreed with representatives of Hackney Black Peoples Association that there be a Campaign in and co-ordinated from Hackney. This means that from the beginning – the Roach family, a Black family decided the basic terms of how the Campaign should go. They wanted an independent public inquiry and as part of the Campaign for this, demonstrations were necessary. But only peaceful protest demonstrations would allow us to mobilize people, publicize our concerns and present our case. This is not to say that if we are attacked we should not defend ourselves – we should always defend ourselves when attacked. But it means that if we are to be successful in our Campaign we should not consciously cause any unnecessary confrontations.

At any time in our life times there are always difficulties which confront Black people. This is because we are oppressed – downpressed. Oppression is the condition of our existence. This means that if we are seriously concerned about unity amongst Black people when any one of our families is under threat or suffers intense hardship, we must rally round. We must come together, we must organise, we must unify around that family.

That is unity and that is strength.

This is how we are supporting the Roach family in this Campaign. And every Black person, young and old, man and woman, should feel shame if they do not support the Roach family and support us. This is the only way the Black community can be strong because it is we who are taking the lead. This is why we have decided that no white individual, group, politician or political organisation will set the terms or tell us what to do in this Campaign. Although we respect the fact that there will be white people and their organisations involved in this Campaign – they must support us on our terms and not on their terms.

It must be said time and time again that we are campaigning for an independent public inquiry -this is one major and original objective of the RFSC. We have to make a case for an independent public inquiry. This is why we are campaigning for an independent public inquiry. What we are demanding exists in law. Under Section 32 of the Police Act 1964, the Home Secretary can exercise his discretion to authorise an independent public inquiry into an area of policing – the death of Colin Roach is an area of policing.
This is what we are campaigning for and it is clear that the police have been frightened by our campaign because they are eager to put a stop to us. But they will not put a stop to us because we intend to campaign and support the Roach family – a Black family – until we win.

Saka Dedi & Stepaz Dance Group
Friday 20th May at 8pm
at Chats Place, Brooksbys Walk
Homerton, London E9
Admission £2.00 Unwaged £1.00

Three students from St. Martins School of Art Film School have made a film of the RFSC campaign. Entitled “Who Killed Colin Roach”, it shows the campaign in its various dimensions, from marches to pickets, poetry, music, interviews, press conferences etc.

During the course of filming, all three members of the film crew were arrested. Two were charged and one was released without being charged.

The video is available from RFSC and can be used for showing at meetings, youth clubs, schools and colleges etc.

Details from RFSC, 50 Rectory Road, London N16 7PP Telephone: 01-254.74- 80

Published by RFSC,
50 Rectory Road, London N16 7PP.

Also on this site:

Policing In Hackney 1945-1984

Deaths in custody: Songs for Colin Roach

Workers’ Playtime on the death of Colin Roach and “community policing”, 1983

Mark Metcalf on the 2011 riots – and the Colin Roach Centre

Forthcoming events of interest

This Saturday, Flowers in the Dustbin revisit Sutton House:


(A previous post suggested this was going to be part of an exhibition about Sutton House’s squatted past – there is also a post about that here).

Tuesday 17th next week: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870 – 1900

Pages of Hackney, 70 Lower Clapton Road E5 0RN
7pm, Tickets £3


In the heady days of late Victorian London, Hackney was regarded as the most radical – even revolutionary – district of London with a large number of liberal reform and socialist clubs and organisations across the borough. These clubs organised lectures, demonstrations, musical concerts, outings, and education classes, and famous radicals such as William Morris were regular speakers.

Barry Burke and Ken Worpole recreate the world of radical Hackney, to mark the publication a new edition of their original 1980 study.

Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd of November: Antiuniversity Now!


Various events throughout the UK to recreate the spirit of the original AntiUniversity, based in Shoreditch in the 1960s:

Including: Occupy the Archives: Saving Radical & Diverse Histories in a Time of Austerity – Hackney Archives Sat 21st Nov (Free, but full?)

The Queer History of East London Project

Screenshot 2015-11-07 15.12.27

Thanks to @project__indigo and Hackney Archives on twitter for bringing this site to my attention. Lots of interesting material including:

Lesbian and Gay Men Support The Miners benefit at Stoke Newington Town Hall in 1985.


Scans of a resource booklet for gay men produced by Hackney Council in 1988.

Definitely one to watch. Their general tag for all things Hackney is:

Caribbean House, Hoxton 1976-1988

Caribbean House postcard

Caribbean House postcard


I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Caribbean House prior to watching the Somewhere In Hackney film from 1980 courtesy of the British Film Institute. That film largely concerns itself with Free Form Arts Trust, who decorated the front of the building (see the section from 6:45-8:00 minutes), so I was curious about what went on inside.


There’s not a huge amount of information about Caribbean House available online, so this post is mainly based on a book published in 1985 by its founder, Rev Dr Ashton Gibson:


Ashton Gibson – a black Robin Hood?

Gibson was born in Barbados in 1927. By his own account he was “barely able to speak” when he began school at the age of eight and didn’t do particularly well educationally until his father moved him to a fee-paying “prep” school, where he excelled. After school he worked in a variety of different jobs, (teacher, newspaper sub-editor) as well as embracing Catholicism and committing unspecified “anti-social acts”. In 1952 at the age of 25 Ashton’s mother paid for his passage to England to keep him out of trouble.

Like most Caribbean immigrants of this era, Ashton was forced to take up jobs that were more menial than those he done in his home country. He worked as a kitchen hand, a driver and an office cleaner, using his spare time to train as an accountant. The racism of 1950s England eventually got to him. He began to hear voices.

God was apparently speaking to Ashton and informing him that “the Church had money enough to solve the problems caused by poverty among his people”. He began what can only be described as a campaign of radical wealth redistribution, initially by going from church to church and pleading poverty. The resultant funds were then donated to organisations dedicated to the welfare of West Indian immigrants like himself. In the book, Ashton is at pains to say that none of the money he acquired went into his own pocket.

Nevertheless, the authorities took an interest in him. After a couple of referrals for psychiatric treatment Ashton was eventually sentenced to two years in prison for obtaining money by false pretenses. He shared a cell with a safe cracker, and perhaps inevitably put his newly acquired skills to use on release. Church safes up and down the country were relieved of their contents, although once again Ashton states forcefully that any money obviously set aside for charities was untouched and that he never used the loot for his own gain.

After further brushes with authority, Ashton became involved with slightly more conventional community work – volunteering at the Black House set up by Michael X and the Racial Action Adjustment Society (RAAS) on Holloway Road, then launching the Melting Pot Foundation in Brixton (“with £30,000 of his own money”) – a garment factory aimed at giving West Indians work opportunities/experience. The Melting Pot also branched out into finding places to live for homeless black youth.

The book makes it clear that Ashton’s own upbringing and experience of the the alienation brought on by a racist society and education system inspired him to try and improve the lot of black people in the UK.

Westindian Concern Ltd

Gibson resigned from the Melting Pot Foundation when it became more established, receiving funding from Lambeth Council and support from the wider voluntary sector. He was paid off to the tune of £20,000 and used this to set up a company called Westindian Concern. The launch was held in a church in the City of London on 22 July 1975. The emphasis was on black (or West Indian) self-help – a black-run charity which encouraged black people to develop the skills and networks they needed to survive in the UK. Various locations were sought for premises before the right one was found:

“Three derelict buildings were found near New North Road on the borders of Islington, Hackney Boroughs in Hoxton, North London. The three terraced houses, 76-80 Bridport Place, were all adjacent to one another, making conversion into a single unit relatively simple. But the overwhelming advantage to these premises, dwarfing the many problems raised by their unpromising condition, was that they were cut off from the residential area. This meant that the organisation stood infinitely more chance of succeeding in its long term aims, which naturally included acceptance in the local community. In particular there were no neighbours to complain of noise when social or recreational activities took place. As an added bonus, unimpeded view across Shoreditch Park afforded some pleasure to the eye in a heavily built up and neglected area. The London Borough of Hackney, to whom the property belonged, was persuaded to make a gesture to its large Westindian population; a five year lease was granted to Westindian Concern for the proposed community centre and hostel.”


Caribbean House

After extensive renovation work, undertaken by people from the black church movement, the centre opened during Easter 1976.

Initial problems included funding issues and an article in Private Eye suggesting that Ashton Gibson was using the centre for his own financial gain. More seriously, a fire broke out in the building, gutting 78 and 80 Bridport Place. Arson was suspected, with reasonable suspicion being leveled at supporters of the National Front, which had a lot of support in the area at the time and would open its headquarters in nearby Great Eastern Street in 1978.


Repairs were made and funding issues resolved. Activities and work undertaken at Caribbean House included:

  • A children’s hostel
  • A family-centred child care service, with emphasis on the reconciliation of children with their parents where there had previously been conflict
  • A social club for the elderly
  • An Education Unit, helping children with school work – as well as courses for social workers, teachers, probation officers to assist them in better understanding of issues faced by black people.
  • Career advice, and a job-finding scheme
  • A food co-op
  • Music workshops
  • Cricket and dominoes teams
  • Westindian Voice – a newspaper (which admittedly only lasted for 7 months)

Bazil Meade gives a flavour of what Caribbean House was like in his book when describing rehearsals of the London Community Gospel Choir there:

“Soon our rehearsals became like mini-concerts themselves. Caribbean House was a busy place where people came to socialise with their friends. When they heard us rehearsing they would wander into the hall to listen, and before long the hall was full and people were spilling out of the doors, clapping and singing along…”

(from Bazil Meade & Jan Greenough: A Boy, A Journey, A Dream. Monarch Books, 2011. P111)

Policing and “Homeward Bound”

Ashton Gibson gave evidence on behalf of Caribbean House and Westindian Concern to the Scarman Inquiry which was set up after the Brixton riots of 1981. His submission is reproduced in the book. He stops quite a way short of saying that the riots were an understandable reaction to a racist society in general and the institutional racism of the police in particular. Instead he sees prejudice developing as a result of two well meaning groups of people who happen to originate from cultures that do not quite understand each other.

Indeed, most of Gibson’s criticism is leveled at the black community. “Badly run late-night clubs” attended by teenagers are singled out as a source of inter-generational conflict and the breakdown of families.  The “black leadership” in Brixton is criticised as being “very poor… Few of the leaders of those organisations funded and supported by the authorities have any grasp of the problems besetting this area.”

To put things in context, It is worth bearing in mind that the police in Hackney were widely viewed as being intensely racist at this time. Hackney Black People’s Organisation had been set up in 1978 as a result of racist violence and policing, specifically the death of Michael Ferreira. (Ferreira was a black teenager who was stabbed by National Front sympathisers in Stoke Newington. He was taken by friends to Stoke Newington Police Station where he was then questioned by the police about the incident rather than receiving medical assistance. Michael eventually died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.) The tensions between the community and the police would increase throughout the eighties with the killing of Colin Roach inside Stoke Newington police station being just one notable flashpoint.

Ashton Gibson receiving a cheque in 1984 from the Police Property Act Fund via Hackney Mayoress Bella Callaghan

Ashton Gibson receiving a cheque in 1984 from the Police Property Act Fund via Hackney Mayoress Bella Callaghan

Six months after the 1981 Brixton riots, Caribbean House launched its “Homeward Bound Fund”, “to enable Westindians with little hope of adjusting to life in Britain to be resettled in in the Caribbean or other region of their choice”. The fund was severely criticised by Hackney Council for Racial Equality, Darcus Howe (then of the Race Today collective) and even Melting Pot, the organisation in Brixton which Gibson had set up. Essentially the critics felt that the fund was a capitulation to the right wing press and “send them back” racists like the National Front and Enoch Powell.

There are some lengthy rebuttals to these criticisms by Ashton Gibson in the book. He suggests that the fund was a purely humanitarian venture that was intended to help Caribbean families who were “at breaking point”. Its critics are portrayed as “White Liberals and their Black lackeys in the Race Relations Industry”. The fund was abandoned shortly after its launch, having amassed £2,000.

The criticism of the fund also included various people demanding that funding for Caribbean House be reviewed. Although it is unclear how successful this lobbying was, it does seems that there were some real difficulties with resources when A Light In The Dark Tunnel was published in 1985. The book concludes with an appeal for funds which notes that the Greater London Council (GLC) was to be abolished in 1986 along with its extensive funding of a huge array of community groups (the London Irish Women’s Centre in Stoke Newington would be just one other example). Coupled with this, other sources of funding from local government were due to expire.

Ashton Gibson seems to have been very talented at courting those in positions of influence and power – the book includes numerous testimonials from politicians, bishops and members of the House of Lords. Unfortunately this did not prove to be enough to sustain his organisations through funding cut backs.

I’ve not been able to find much material about the dissolution of Caribbean House. This Youtube clip suggests that it managed to survive its problems with funding until 1988:

The clip also has some great footage of the interior of Caribbean House. However the comment below is slightly ominous:



Bridport Place now

Bridport Place today

Westindian Concern was wound up as a company in October 1988. King Bee Music Academy were based at 76-80 Bridport Place from 1988 “to provide the urban youth of Hackney with the belief and knowledge that music builds self-confidence, and encourages people to play a positive role in their community… “

The building was listed as “an empty commercial property” by Hackney Council in 2011. And seems to have been sold for £2,861,000 in 2012 (BBC PDF linked from this story). It looks like it was divided up into 8 flats later that year. And the company doing the conversion was busted for health and safety offences in 2014.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to get into the nitty gritty of the funding, administration, or legacy of Caribbean House. Whilst I only have the rather uncritical book which is co-authored by Rev Dr Gibson to go on, I will say that trying to provide essential support and resources for marginalised people in a prejudiced society is a noble aim. I’m sure large numbers of people were helped by the work of Ashton Gibson and the many others who organised and contributed to the activities at Caribbean House.

There are echoes of the controversies about funding, administration and the relationship with the state in the recent furore about Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company.

If you have any memories of Caribbean House, feel free to leave a comment below, or get in touch.

Reprinted: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900


This inspiring pamphlet was originally published by Centerprise in the 1980s but has just been reissued in a lovely facsimile edition. It’s available in Pages of Hackney and Stoke Newington Bookshop, direct from the authors on Amazon and presumably other places (let me know?).

Five quid gets you an eminently readable and well researched look into the radical working class culture of the era.

Pages are also organising an event with both the authors – here is the blurb from their site:

Working Class Club Life and Politics in
Hackney 1870 – 1900
Tuesday 17th November, 7pm
Pages of Hackney
70 Lower Clapton Road
E5 0RN
Tickets £TBA

In the heady days of late Victorian London, Hackney was regarded as the most radical – even revolutionary – district of London with a large number of liberal reform and socialist clubs and organisations across the borough. These clubs organised lectures, demonstrations, musical concerts, outings, and education classes, and famous radicals such as William Morris were regular speakers.

Barry Burke and Ken Worpole recreate the world of radical Hackney, to mark the publication a new edition of their original 1980 study.