Flashing the peace sign in Finsbury Park

blue-plaq

I have mixed feelings about blue (and other colour) plaques.

On the one hand, they are a handy resource for local historians and can highlight hidden aspects of buildings and places to passersby.

On the other hand they generally promote a point of view where history is made by individuals rather than groups, movements and so on.

Furthermore their official status tends to favour respectable (or very old) radicals. So Stoke Newington boasts a placard for peace poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld at 113 Church Street, but there isn’t one at 359 Amhurst Road, site of the infamous police raid that lead to the Stoke Newington 8 trial.

But also… most of the statues and monuments in London are for bastions of the establishment and not those fighting against it. So maybe the more modern plaques can balance things out?

Despite all that I was intrigued to see this tweet from the Council recently:

holtom-tweet

Not least because I’d assumed that Blackstock Road was well outside the borough, but it turns out the eastern side of the street is Hackney and the western side is the badlands of Islington. Which means the site of the new plaque is the furthest Western point in Hackney:

blackstock

Who Was Gerald Holtom? And what was he doing in Hackney?

Gerald-Holtom

Gerald Holtom 1918-1985

Holtom graduated from the Royal College of Art shortly before becoming a conscientious objector during World War Two. In 1958 he was invited to design artwork for use on the first Aldermaston March, organised by the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War (DAC).

There are various conflicting stories about the artwork’s creation but most people seem to agree that Holtom actually designed the logo at his home in Twickenham (and not in Hackney as per the Council tweet above).

It was a composite of the semaphore for the letters N and D (Nuclear Disarmament):

FC3Kl

On the evening of 21 February 1958 Holtom presented the logo to a meeting of DAC at the offices of Peace News* at 3 Blackstock Road. The group accepted the logo and it had its first outing at the Aldermaston march on 4-7 April:

cnd-symbol-at-aldermaston

Holtom’s logo on the first Aldermaston march, 1958.

Direct Action in Aldermaston

The four day march from Trafalgar Square to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston attracted several thousands.

It’s worth noting that DAC have been described as the “direct action wing” the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (which had also formed in 1957) with some overlap in membership. Alan Lovell describes how DAC’s work in Aldermaston did not stop with the march:

Some months after the march, the Committee returned to Aldermaston for an eight-week picket. The aim of the picket was to make people in the area aware of what was happening at the Aldermaston establishment, to get trade unions to black work on the establishment, and to get individual workers to leave the place.

During the eight weeks, the Committee visited trade unions, distributed leaflets and held factory gate meetings, and canvassed in the surrounding villages. As a result of these activities, five people have actually stopped work at Aldermaston ; three men who were going to apply for work at the base changed their minds ; and five lorry drivers said that they would not drive any more loads to the base.

The pickets were well received by the workers — when a new leaflet was produced the workers often stopped to ask for a copy.

DAC wound up in 1961, with most of its members getting involved with the larger Committee of 100. CND took over the organisation of the Aldermaston marches from 1959. Both of these organisations also adopted Holtom’s logo, which is now globally recognised as a symbol of peace and nuclear disarmament.

The first clip below shows some of Holtom’s original artwork and includes an interview with his daughter, Anna Scott:

The plaque in place

The campaign to get a plaque on Blackstock Road originates with this very readable article by Guardian journalist Ian Jack in 2015:

He gave his unforgettable work for nothing. Shouldn’t the designer of the peace symbol be commemorated?

As it says, the logo has proliferated so much because Holtom did not wish it to be trademarked or copyrighted.

I wasn’t able to make the plaque unveiling last weekend due to a hangover and the fact that it was absolutely pissing it down with rain. It is worth having a look for if you are passing, but you will need better eyesight than me if you want to actually read it…

NB: There is a load of guff on the internet about the symbol being anti-christian or satanic because it is supposedly either an upside down broken cross or an inverted Algiz rune, which symbolises death. As it says above, Holtom combined the semaphore letters N and D to create the logo. In a number of (non-bonkers) accounts he is described as being a Christian himself, and had originally considered using the christian cross as part of the logo (presumably the right way up!).

*Peace News was based at Blackstock Road from 1948 to 1958. It shared premises with Housmans Books which was then primarily a mailorder operation. In 1959 both organisations moved to 5 Caledonian Road where the excellent (and fully endorsed by me) Housmans Bookshop is still based today.

Forthcoming radical history events in Hackney

“A unique reading of the commissioned text, Wollstonecraft Live! which depicts the shooting of a biopic of Mary Wollstonecraft’s life, with actors, an original music score, and you, the audience. Taking place in the atmospheric 18th century Unitarian Chapel in Newington Green, attended by Wollstonecraft in the 1780s. Come and hear the pulse of her words woven through the tapestry of a story of and about her life, linking past and present.

Directed by Anna Birch

Script by Kaethe Fine

Sound design by Alastair Gavin”

Tickets £7.50 from here.

Roots, Rhythms & Records: The sounds and stories of African and Caribbean music in Hackney

Hackney Museum: 4 October 2018 – 16 March 2019

“From making beats in bedrooms to performing on stage, enjoying sounds in shebeens to looking sharp for the club, this exhibition explores the history of African and Caribbean music in Hackney.

Through stories of musical innovation, distribution and enjoyment, this exhibition celebrates the impact of African and Caribbean music in Hackney and beyond.

Join us for the exhibition launch on Thursday 4th October, from 6pm. Free, please RSVP here:

FREE

Hackney Museum
Ground Floor
Technology and Learning Centre
1 Reading Lane
E8 1GQ

https://www.hackney.gov.uk/museum-visiting

Do you remember Hackney spycop Tim Spence?

The Undercover Policing Inquiry is continuing to issue cover names of police spies who were engaged in surveillance and infiltration of protest groups.

A further five names were released this week, including HN 88 “Tim Spence”:

Cover name released: “Timothy Spence”. Groups: Stoke Newington and Hackney Defence Campaign, Hackney Campaign Against the Police Bill; 1983 – 1987.

There are several courses of action that will hopefully arise from this, which readers of this blog may be able to help with.

Firstly, if you knew “Tim Spence” or were active in either of the groups mentioned above, please get in touch with the Undercover Research Group. The UCG is run by activists and is completely independent of the Inquiry. Their aim is to create profiles of spycops to enhance activist investigations into this area. They are good people.

Secondly if you have memories, publications or insights into the groups named and the campaigning they did, please get in touch with me and I will add them to this site.

Here’s what we know so far:

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Hackney Campaign Against the Police Bill

The Police Bill was a typically draconian bit of Tory legislation giving the cops more powers to they could better attack people who were the victims of the government’s own policies. Its proposals included:

  • hold people for 96 hours without charge
  • set up random road blocks around an area
  • conduct forcible intimate body searches of detainees
  • use force in taking fingerprints (even of minors)
  • seize confidential information held by doctors, lawyers, journalists

It became the Police Act in 1985, but there was a great deal of resistance to it from 1983 onwards.

The national campaign against the Police Bill was based at 50 Rectory Road, Stoke Newington N16.

Interestingly, the campaign seems to have received funding from Ken Livingstone’s GLC to the tune of £38,000 which lead to questions being asked in parliament.

Some of this money presumably was spent on admin and printing leaflets (some of which can be downloaded as pdfs here).

There was also a conference at Hackney Town Hall in May 1983:

Kill the Police Bill. 1983

Much of the above is based on this blog post by Hackney comrade John Eden, who also mentions the campaign’s own reggae single by Ranking Ann:

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 21.45.03

Stoke Newington and Hackney Defence Campaign

Some of the comments of the release of the cover name have confused this campaign group with the Hackney Community Defence Association, which was not formed until July 1988, one year after “Tim Spence” stopped being deployed.

However this leaflet and the commentary makes it clear that the Stoke Newington and Hackney Defence Campaign was involved with defending people who had been arrested during protests about the death of Colin Roach by a gunshot in Stoke Newington Police Station in 1983.

Why this is important

These were legitimate protest groups that campaigned to assist victims of police brutality and also against the potential for police powers to be extended via a change in the law.

That the police would insert a spy into these groups is perhaps not surprising given what we now know. But it is (to put it politely) not a great sign for a supposedly healthy democracy.

 

“Breaking Ground” film about London Irish Women’s Centre – now online

London Irish Women’s Centre was at 59 Stoke Newington Church St from the early eighties until 2012.

liwc

I’ve covered this film previously on the blog and very much enjoyed it when it was screened at The Rio.

The film can now be viewed for free online until the end of May: http://www.breakinggroundfilm.com/

There is a trailer here to whet your appetite:

You can also buy a DVD of the film from the link above.

 

Enoch Powell in Dalston

Enoch Powell’s infamous racist “rivers of blood” speech was delivered in Birmingham in 1968.

Despite, or perhaps because of this, he was President of Hackney South and Shoreditch Conservative Association in 1973. It seems like the presidential position was elected, so he was clearly popular with Hackney’s Torys at the time (if not with the party leadership).

The borough’s Torys invited Powell to deliver a speech in 1976 – even though he had left the Conservatives to join the Ulster Unionists two years previously:

powell

Powell would later inspire the “Enoch Powell is Right” Party – a split from the National Front which stood in Hackney Council elections in 1981.

Hackney Fascists: “Enoch Powell Is Right” Party – 1981

The National Front and its several disputatious progeny fought a minimal election campaign in the May 1981 County Council and Greater London Council elections […]

A further [NF] splinter group labeling itself “Enoch Powell Is Right” fought the three seats of the Borough of Hackney and also Stepney and Poplar. At least two of these four candidates had fought seats for the NF in the 1977 GLC and 1978 borough elections […]

The four “Enoch Powell Is Right” candidates averaged 2.6% [of the vote].

from: Racial Exclusionism and the City: The Urban Support of the National Front
by Christopher T. Husbands (Routledge, 1983)

You can see from the results below that the Enoch Powell Is Right (EPR) candidates actually stood against the National Front (NF) ones, splitting the fascist vote cleanly in two:

EPR

Robin May went on to form the British National Party with John Tyndal in 1982.

Enoch Powell himself was intimate with Hackney Conservatives in the 1970s.

See also: The National Front’s Hackney HQ

Anti-fascist Hackney: The 43 Group – in their own words

As I said in the recent post about the Jewish Workers’ Circle, pretty much everything you need to know about The 43 Group is covered in Morris Beckman’s superb book.

If you haven’t got a copy yet, the 43 Group was set up in 1946 by Jewish ex-servicemen and women who had returned to the UK after the war and been sickened to see fascist groups organising again on the streets of London. Ridley Road in Dalston was a favourite venue for open air fascist meetings.

The 43 Group mounted a courageous and robust physical response to the fascists (and also did intelligence work, publishing, lobbying etc.) and claimed many victories in the process.

Below is a collection of audio and video documentaries in which former members of the group tell their story far better than I would be able to.

A Rage In Dalston – a BBC Radio 4 documentary from 2008 that I just uploaded to the underused Radical History of Hackney Youtube channel. Alan Dein met ex-43’ers when he worked at the Jewish Museum London and compiled this compelling hour of interviews, commentary and a bit of dramatisation.

The programme features a stellar cast of former 43 Group members, including: Morris Beckman, Martin Bloch, Stanley Marks, Alec Carson, Vidal Sassoon (yes that one), Mildred Garland, Joe Endom. Phil Goldberg, Len Sherman and Harry Kaufman. Also former Dalston policeman Charles Hasler, Trevor Grundy (author of “Memoir of a Fascist Childhood”) and Professor Colin Holmes. Inspiring stuff:

The Unfinished War – a short (20 mins) black and white film from 2000 (Available in better quality on Vimeo ):

Jewish Ex-servicemen of Group 43 – 5 minute interview by the Guardian with former 43-ers Jules Konopinski and Harry Kaufman:

Battling British Fascists – an 18 minute soundclip of BBC World Service History Hour from 2017. Featuring Jules Konopinksy and Professor Nigel Copsey:

Whilst we’re on Youtube, let’s round things off with some banging acid techno from 1993 by Brandon Spivey and Richie Anderson: