I hope that the scans are a useful resource for others – they have been absolutely invaluable for this site – I have added some links to a few posts below that are all the better for HPP content.
Alongside the hardcore coverage of social and political issues, these 96 editions of Peoples Press tell us other stories about the Hackney’s evolution from the 1970s to the 1980s. Each issue has events listings, reviews and adverts that are fascinating social history also:
These all capture a particular moment in time, which should be celebrated but we should also avoid wallowing in nostalgia too much. It is easy to bemoan the lack of a radical edge to the Hackney Citizen or the Hackney Gazette in 2023 – but for better or worse we live in less radical times, and the local newspaper industry is dying on its arse.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and I was pleased to see that the new Hackney Anarchist Group have produced a nifty little fanzine to go alongside their table full of free literature:
Here is a handful of previous posts on this blog using Hackney Peoples Press stories:
Friends and comrades Past Tense on another tragic police related death in Hackney. We have a Colin Roach Centre leaflet about the case on our archive.org site, courtesty of Mark Metcalf – https://archive.org/details/kwanele-siziba
Just two weeks ago a man fell to his death from a balcony in Peckham, after police fired a Taser at him as he threatened to jump.
The dead man, not yet named, fell several floors to the ground. He was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries, and died later the same day.
The man had clearly been in some mental distress all day; neighbours had heard him shouting about jumping from the balcony for several hours before cops arrived.
The police claim the officers spent more than an hour trying to convince the man to come down.
Tasering him in while he was in such a vulnerable condition and in such a dangerous place, was pretty typical of police responses to people with mental health problems. Restraint, arrest, violence are the trademarks of cops arriving as first responders to people in mental health crisis.
At the vigil for Brianna Ghey in Soho Square we were encouraged to turn to the people next to us and tell them that they were loved. This was an important demonstration of solidarity at a time when most trans people in the UK will be feeling even more persecuted than usual. But it may not surprise you that my middle-aged cis-hetero English repression prevented me from participating.
That said, I have been thinking about my trans friends and comrades a great deal this last week. Young people talk about their “love language” and I guess, if that is a thing, then I will express my love through writing about the radical history of Hackney.
And radical history brings us nicely to the elders of the British trans community and what we can learn from them.
Roz Kaveney was born in 1949 and transitioned in her late twenties. She is a writer, critic poet and activist. Roz was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, helped found Feminists Against Censorship and is a past deputy Chair of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties). Her life in London in the 1980s features in the superb Rebel Dykes documentary, which I would recommend to anyone without hesitation.
Roz moved to London in 1974 and “lived in various flats in the borough [of Hackney], in the middle and late 1970s.”. As she told Hackney Museum:
“My living in Hackney is very much a function of the housing situation for young queer people in late 1970s and early 1980s. It was possible to get a tenancy in Hackney, if you were young and vulnerable, and I got one.”
Roz’s collection of poems The Great Good Time (2022) reflects on her early time in Hackney, as she explains in the foreword:
“Back in the late 70s, when I transitioned, I acquired as my peer group a bunch of slightly younger trans women who I met around Soho, and for a short while became their landlady, bail person and wailing wall. I had middle class and education privilege and they didn’t – I hope I used it for the greater good… It taught me a lot about solidarity.”
It’s clear from these poems that life was far from easy for trans people in this period (when has it been?), and that the mutual solidarity the group provided took many forms. There is a lot of help with recovery from violence, from police and doctor induced trauma and some often comical examples of simply navigating existence together as complicated and difficult people.
The final poem “Ridley Road 1981” is a beautiful evocation of Roz and her friends styling it out in Dalston, on the way to buy a late night kebab “protected by the nothing left to lose”.
Alongside everyday psychological and material support, a very concrete form of solidarity was providing a home:
“So, in 1979 I lived, first of all on the Hackney end of Amhurst Road and then on Colvestone Crescent in Dalston. This will be one of the things that will interest you most, because that’s the period when, because I had a licensed squat, I filled it up with a number of very slightly younger trans club workers that I knew from the trans community in Soho. There was briefly, first of all on Amhurst Road and then on Colvestone Crescent, The Dalston Trans Commune.
Looking back it only lasted a few months, because I think it lasted a while after I left, because there was a point when I got my flat on the Kingsmead, I tossed people the keys and said “You are on your own kids, I am out of here.” Because I didn’t much relish being everyone’s parent. That whole thing I was, what, 28 or 29 and they were 24 or 25 I mean, one of them was a bit younger, one of them was 19 or 20. Mostly they were people in the 23, 24, 25 area. But I nonetheless had to be the responsible adult.”
Hackney Museum interviewer: What led you to be the grown up in there?
“It wasn’t particularly a plan. […] One of my friends got out of jail, so I let her stay, while she was between engagements in jail. She had been evicted while she was in jail, so she needed somewhere to stay, so I let her stay, and then she went back to jail for a short period, only a couple of months.
While she was in jail along with one of her friends, two slightly younger trans women, who had been living with the friend who went to jail at the same time that she went to jail, got thrown out of the flat where they were living in the middle of the night. Basically [their flatmate’s] boyfriend, decided to make a pass at the pair of them, in the middle of the night, and they walked out, and then realised they had nowhere to go. Literally, I mean, at 1 o’clock in the morning I found two drowned rats on my doorstep. Obviously, I let them stay and there was nowhere else for them to go immediately and I thought, “Oh what the hell.” Then they moved with me from Amhurst Road to Colvestone Crescent, and then Maz, and for a while Bieber, came out of jail, needed somewhere to stay. Yeah I mean it was a big house.
Suddenly, there were all sorts of people wandering in, it became a crash base as well. It was a matter of very much policing people because, well, the border of Amhurst Road and Sandringham Road which is the first one, was in those days a front-line for drug dealing. So, I made an executive decision that this was a drug-free house, otherwise we would be people of interest, which meant being quite firm about dope. But also it meant, one of them, Vivian, had, I won’t say an addiction problem, but certainly a barbiturate habit, I had to tell her, “what you do when you are not here, is your concern, while you are in the house, you are clean”, and that meant that she didn’t get a key.
And it’s these things that everyone who finds themselves in that kind of alternative housing has to learn quite fast. You make people pay some rent, because otherwise they don’t feel a commitment. You make people contribute to a food kitty, because otherwise they take advantage. It’s all token things and you have to be prepared to throw someone out if they do something wrong, which I found myself having to do on one occasion, but I won’t mention the specific thing, because it was something quite hard. Someone else who lived in the flat briefly did something extremely criminal and I evicted them on the spot. Again, you have to be prepared to do this. I mean, I then went to a house and called a house meeting and said, “I have just done this, any objections?”
“So, and then I moved up to the Kingsmead, where I was fine for a while, because on a different floor of the same building was a gay male commune made up of reformed skinheads. Which meant that they dyed pink triangles on to their scalps, and adopted anti-fascist politics, having had fascist politics, but were still quite scary people. On the other hand, they were on my side… there were a couple of times I got into arguments in clubs in the West End, and they appeared sort of out nowhere and said, “She is our mate,” which was nice, but then they moved off to a farm in Wales or something. Farm or what, I don’t know. I don’t ask.
At that point, things on the Kingsmead got a little less pleasant. There was a very speed addled gang on the Kingsmead in those days, and I’ve made the mistake of ringing the police when I saw them doing a burglary. As a result of which, the police came around to my flat to take a statement, rather than ask me into the station to take a statement. What kind of idiot does that? As a result of which, I got threatened with being firebombed, and this is how I ended up living down in Haggerston, but I had to move out fairly quickly and go on paying rent in a flat I couldn’t live in, because the police had fingered me.”
Roz survived all this – and more – and remains a Hackney resident to this day. She mentions the current climate of hysteria about trans people in The Great Good Time:
“I noticed a lot of bleakness creeping into trans social media and thought it my job as a community elder to remind young people that things had been, if not worse, at least as bad in different ways… The important thing about life in an embattled community is to have each others backs.”
I hope that’s useful and perhaps inspiring context and perspective for anyone who has read this far, but especially to younger trans people. You should know that you are loved and wanted and that there is a place in this world for you.
Sources and further reading
The full transcript of the excellent interview for Hackney Museum is here.
Roz was interviewed at length about her life in a recent episode of the recommended What The Trans podcast. (Starts 37:30)
Her collection of poems about trans life in the late 1970s and early 80s, The Great Good Time is published by Team Angelica and can be ordered by your local independent book shop. Or from Amazon if you must.
The header image is a photograph of Colvestone Crescent during the “winter of discontent” of 1979 and is by Alan Denney. I have taken some liberties with it.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry continues provide useful insights into the culture of policing of 20th century radical movements. The inquiry’s website includes a bunch of previously confidential documents of varying degrees of usefulness.
Paul Gilroy (author of a number of essential books including the undisputed classic There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation) recently posted a link to this ominously titled report:
Unsurprisingly, there is a section on Hackney:
As Prof Gilroy says, the overall tone of the document is extremely paranoid about scrutiny of the police by ordinary people.
In the passage above, three members of the counci’s Police Committee are singled out:
[Redacted] is mentioned because of their past political affiliations and the fact that they happen to live with two political activists. (Presumably they are redacted because they’re still alive?)
Maureen Colquhon is flagged for being a member of the dull as dishwater Tribune group and being a “self-confessed lesbian”. Prior to coming out, Colquhon had been the MP for Northampton North – she was the first openly gay MP. There is an interesting obituary here.
Patrick Kodikara is mentioned for being a Trotskyist and anti-racist. I’ve not found any evidence of him being a Trotsksyist but it is reasonable to suggest he was on the socialist side of the Labour Party. There is an interesting obituary here.
What’s not mentioned in this section of the report – but is buried in an appendix – is that these three people would have been in a minority on the Police Committee, which seems to have had 16 members. And furthermore, all of the members of the committee were elected councillors:
Given the general climate of police violence, racism and corruption in London in the early 1980s and in Hackney especially, it’s understandable that the community would elect councillors that were prepared to tackle the issue. Scrutiny by councillors was especially important as the media of the time consistently took the side of the police.
Then as now, the police do not like to be held accountable by the community they supposedly “serve and protect”…
For nerds like me there are a bunch of things that could be added – and it will be fascinating to see how the project develops now its been launched.
Tue 28 Feb, 18.30-19.30: Hackney History have a talk at Hackney Archives on “Serious Money and Hackney: Urban explorer Caroline Knowles explores how finance has taken up residence in Hackney & Shoreditch. What does this mean for those who live there?” (Free)
Hackney Counci’s Housing Department was haven to a host of dodgy dealings in the early 1990s. A number of staff were involved with handing over keys to vacant council flats for cash payments.
The same department had a dubious history – it was also embroiled in a scandal about racism in 1984, after which much seemed to have been done to improve things in that respect.
At least 40 council flats across the borough were fraudulently marked as uninhabitable by council staff and then offered to friends and acquaintances for cash payment. (Later estimates suggest 50 flats on Woodberry Down Estate alone). Rent on these flats was then collected by the same staff using bogus rent books.
Alongside this, housing benefit was fraudulently claimed by council staff for bed and breakfast accomodation that was not being used.
Squall magazine estimated that bent council staff had pocketed £20million from all this.
According to MP Diane Abbott, Hackney had “41,000 tenants, 8,000 people on the waiting list and 3,000 homeless.” in March 1991. As well as the highest number of (supposedly) “void” flats in the country…
How it was exposed by a squatter
Text below from Hackney Heckler #10 December 1991:
“Keys for cash” was exposed by a squatter living on Woodberry Down Estate, who was convinced the council were evicting squatters. on the estate illegally.
He became suspicious of the fact that once a tenant left a flat, notices appeared immediately on the doors with a named “Protected Intended Occupier” (PIO). ‘How often is the council efficient enough to fill an empty straight away?’ he asks himself. He then noticed what were meant to be council workers arriving to do up empty flats at 5am in the morning and leaving by 7am!
The only people who seemed to be getting housed were young single men. To find out for sure, he went to the area housing office saying he was the brother to one of those named as a PIO and asked for the keys to the flat. In this way he managed to get the keys and rent books to five flats on the estate!
He decided to contact Janet Jones the then Director of Housing. He told her what he knew, giving her copies of the false PlOs and rent books. She assured him she would look into the whole affair.
However it was obvious he knew too much. A few days later he was confronted in his local pub by three men who offered him £800 and a council flat for life if he returned the keys and rent books and kept his mouth shut. He refused.
At 3am that night they smashed their way into his flat. Rushing into the nearest room where his girlfriend was asleep, they attacked her with baseball bats, only stopping when the man they were after ran at them with a crowbar. The police and ambulance were called as the woman was badly injured in the attack. The police were far from sympathetic, no statement was taken with one of the officers saying “we know what’s going on here, and we can understand if you want to do something about it yourself.”
He tried to get back in touch with Janet Jones who never seemed to be prepared to talk with him. He finally managed to see her, and again told her all he knew including the attack on him and his girlfriend. She seemed very flustered and said she would look into it and contact him in a couple of days. The next thing he heard she had left her £50,000 a year post and was living in Brazil! He decided to tell all he knew to Liberal councillor Colin Beadle who duly contacted the police and media. So that is how the cat got out of the bag!
It is worth remembering that Hackney Council was extremely hostile to squatters in the late 1980s and 1990s – there a numerous references to them occupying housing that could be given to families and those supposedly more in need of the universal right to a roof over their heads. The council boasted of its huge initiative to evict over 3,000 people from all of its squatted properties by April 1992. (By 1993, there were an estimated 1,152 squatters in Hackney which is a serious reduction. We were still number one in the country though!)
Whilst the squatters were being presented as evil incarnate, council staff were trousering filthy lucre from letting out the very flats they were supposed to be allocating to those in need…
…and ultimately it was whistleblowing by a squatter that put a stop to the corruption!
What happened next?
I’ve not found comprehensive information abot this, but at least 13 staff were suspended and at least five were sacked after a council investigation costing £250,000.
The Hackney Heckler noted that management were treated very differently from frontline workers in the investigation:
A Mr D Evans, manager in the Hall lettings department was found to be pocketing £1,000s to supplement his bloated salary. According to the report “the police treated the matter as a normal case of theft, issuing the individual with a warning”! He later left his job with no disciplinary hearing, promising to pay back the cash.
Compare this to another case where a housing benefit worker claimed housing benefit from another borough by failing to disclose his employment. He was arrested and charged by the police and sacked by the council. A typical example of the police and council working together, protecting the fat cats at the top while those at the bottom carry the can.
Hackney heckler #10 December 1991
The hostile tone of the investigation was met with resistance from the staff – a hundred of them staged a walkout. This was followed by a one day strike of 500 staff members.
A number of families who may (or may not) have gained council flats in good faith were evicted.
The council then proposed a rent increase of £15 a week, presumably to try and recover some of the costs of all this.
In 1995 the acting CEO of the council stated that:
In the past five years the council has sacked 110 employees for fraud- related offences, and successfully prosecuted 24.
In the case of job fraud, an investigation of all staff who had joined the housing directorate in the previous two years was begun in November 1993. Of 352 employees investigated, 11 were subsequently dismissed, two resigned and one died who would have been sacked. Two are suspended pending disciplinary action.
Mike craig “ANOTHER VIEW; Hackney’s fraud squad” in the independent
There are a number of press cuttings about “cash for keys” below, which are all culled from the scrapbook of Hackney Community Defence Association for 1991, which Mark Metcalf has generously uploaded to his site.
The council outsourced its housing dept to Hackney Housing in 2006. This “Arms Length Management Organisation” was then rocked by a corruption scandal in 2015, before being taken back in-house. Seven staff were sacked and eight resigned. Throughout the 1990s and noughties a number of Hackney council estates were handed over to housing associations…
“Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.”
Eleanor Crumblehulme (Library Assistant, University of British Columbia, Canada)
Hackney Library staff will be on strike on Tuesday and Thursday this week because of the Council’s plans to make 19 of them redundant. There will be pickets at Dalston CLR James Library, Dalston Lane and Hackney Central, Mare Street, so please go and show your support.
Libraries are more than bricks, mortar and books. I’ve generally found Hackney Library staff to be very helpful with my often quite esoteric queries and their curation has been spot on over the years. I’ve often stumbled across a random book which has made my day and their CD selection helped to keep me sane during a skint patch after my daughter was born some decades ago…
Whenever there is a financial crunch, libraries are the acceptable bit of public services the Council feels can be diminished or dispensed with. But people feel passionately about protecting these community assets, so there is always resistance. It’s important to remember that the libraries we have today only exist because of the struggles of previous generations.
Previously, in “the fight to save Hackney Libraries”
1988: 3 Libraries Occupied for 6 Months
In December 1987 the Council proposed to cut four libraries, two out of three reference libraries and the Schools Project Loan Service. After a series of protests, there was an occupation of three of the libraries planned for the chop on 11th of March. (Howard Road, Somerford Grove, Goldsmiths Row).
Meetings and cultural events were organised in the occupied premises and local estates were leafletted to raise awareness. Library staff continued to work in the occupied Libraries.
In June the Council took the occupiers to court. The hearing was preceded by a mass walk out of council staff which apparently “shut down every white collar intensive service”.
The court awarded the council a repossession order. But this was not acted on until September, when a series of battles took place:
“The time of the eviction was obtained by the simple ruse of ringing the bailiff’s office and pretending to be from the Council. So when the bailiffs, and eventually, eight coppers turned up at Goldsmiths Row Library in Haggerston at about 7:50am on Friday 9th September they found a building filled with 50 people and a picket of 30 outside… they withdrew.”
“Promising to return in an hours time, they then cased Somerford Grove Library where there were about 100 people including TV crews… at this point the Council apparently called the operation off”
“Bookworm revolt” – direct action issue 52
Bailiffs returned to the libraries at 3am on Thursday 22nd September and smashed the doors in, evicting the occupiers. A protest took place later in the day at the Town Hall.
Two of the libraries were then reoccupied:
There was a third and final set of evictions on Friday 30th September at 1am, which resulted in two arrests. The three libraries were then permanently closed.
Thanks to Neil Transpontine for the scans from City Limits above. Other sources used:
The old Library that used to stand here was closed in the 1990s. It was squatted in late 1995 (or early 1996), by Hackney Squatters Collective (“with our usual finesse – crowbar through the window”… “hiding quietly while cops shone their torches though the big glass doors just after we cracked it”) who had previously run great squat centres in Mildmay Park, 67a Stoke Newington Road, and the Arch refugee squat (directly opposite the latter), and went on to occupy (and save from demolition) London Fields Lido. One of the soundest bunches of people you’re ever likely to meet.
One of the old collective offered some recollections: “The library was made use of by various groups from the local Finsbury Park Action Group to Class War. Most significant for us was Reclaim The Streets (who at the time we thought were a bunch of crazy hippies), however we would go on to become irresistably entwined.
While we continued our open cafe and bar social nights, Zapatista benefit gigs etc, Peter Kenyon (local Labour scumbag), sent out letters to the neighbourhood declaring that as soon as the squatters had been evicted he would ‘return’ the place to the community. Being a politician, he lied.”
Another recalled “late nights, drinking too much, good friends, Victor’s Spanish punk band rehearsing, games nights, xmas and birthday parties, cold (until we turned the gas on), repairing the roof, getting pissed off with people who just treated the place as a late night drinking club and repopulating the library with books from Middlesex Poly…
There was also a ceilidh held jointly with a local community group who wanted to see the library put back into use, though possibly not quite in the way that we were doing it…”
The Library was a great centre, the local campaigners that had tried to save the library and wanted it re-opened were mostly supportive, there were weekly cafes, regular events, benefits, meetings. Always a friendly atmosphere, kids everywhere… Accessible to all. It lasted about three and a half years, and was evicted by the council. Who then left it empty again despite local campaigns for the library to reopen. Bleuugh.
In 2008-9 the place was squatted again for a while, but later that year work began to demolish it and build housing.
I would recommend Past Tense’s London Rebel History Calendar 2023, which is available online and from all good radical bookshops in London.
Defending Hackney Libraries in the 21st Century
At the turn of the Century, Hackney Council bankrupted itself by purchasing a dysfunctional computer system (ITNet) for its housing benefit payments. To balance the books a huge sell off of community assets was planned including nurseries, council owned properties (most infamously Tony’s Cafe on Broadway Market) and of course several libraries, including Clapton. My recollection is that all the threatened libraries survived this particular battle.
Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the UK government launched a brutal austerity assault on public spending with severe cuts to local government budgets. In Hackney this resulted in yet another proposal to reduce library services which was opposed by Save Hackney Libraries. The campaign resulted in some significant concessions from the council.
This is probably just the tip of the iceberg – if you can remember other campaigns to save Hackney Libraries, please leave a comment.
And do what you can to support the current protests!
Bonus feature: Radical meetings at Hackney Libraries
There is a long history of Hackney Libraries hosting radical events too, with meetings by the Suffragettes and the Women’s Freedom League and radical communist theatre performances by Hackney Peoples Players being held at Stoke Newington Library alone in the early 20th Century alone.
It’s a mixed legacy though…
Also bad things…
If you wanted to be scab during the 1926 General Strike, the library was where to go:
Strikebreaking was enthusiastically encouraged by Hackney Borough Council, now no longer in Labour hands. Right from the start they issued a notice calling for volunteers to man essential services. An office was opened in the public library opposite the Town Hall where strikebreakers could sign on and this was kept open from 9am to 8pm.
In September 1981 a Council meeting was severely disrupted by Hackney Ethnic Minorities Library Consultative Committee who felt that they weren’t getting anywhere with the issues they were raising with the Council about inclusivity and removing racist and sexist material from the stock. (Hackney Peoples Press October 1981 – front page).
There was a marked improvement after this protest, and it is notable that in 1985 Dalston Library was renamed the CLR James Library in honour of the Trinidadian born writer and political activist Cyril Lionel Robert James. During the redevelopment of Dalston Square, there was some indignation that the relocated library would not retain the name, but sense prevailed. (On a more personal note, a lot of my self-education in black history was through books from Hackney Libraries).