Dalston riot, July 1981

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Below is an eyewitness account by journalist Paul Harrison on disturbances in Hackney. This is followed by some reports from Hackney People’s Press about the riot and its aftermath.

Harrison tries to be even-handed about the police throughout the book this is taken from, even spending some time with them on the beat as part of his research. The police’s side of the story was believed by fewer and fewer people throughout the eighties. The credibility of cops at Stoke Newington police station was severely undermined in the 1990s after numerous exposés by Hackney Community Defence Association and the police’s internal investigation “Operation Jackpot”.

But before the written account, here is a brief bit of oral history about the beginning of the riot by anti-racist campaigner Claire Hamburger, including an amusing anecdote about the non-rioting community and the police:

THE ROUGHEST BEAT: POLICING THE INNER CITY
Paul Harrison

The peacemaker gets two-thirds of the blows.

He who lights a fire should not ask to be protected from the flames.

Arab proverbs

In 1981 a Conservative government that had promised a strong approach to law and order presided over one of the most serious breakdowns in law and order in mainland Britain of this century.

On 10 April, the first Brixton riots erupted. On 3 July came disturbances in Southall, followed in rapid succession by major troubles at Toxteth in Liverpool, Moss Side in Manchester, and again in Brixton. There were smaller-scale disorders in Bristol, Southampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Preston and Teesside, and across London from Acton to Walthamstow and from Haringey to Clapham. The list was a catalogue of Britain’s inner cities, finally forcing themselves dramatically into the nation’s consciousness.

Hackney, too, had its say. The year had already seen the earlier emergence of an ominous phenomenon of law-breaking by large groups of black youths. On 20 April, towards the end of a bank-holiday fair at Finsbury Park, hundreds of youths went on the rampage with sticks and bars, smashing up stalls and mugging people.

On the night of Tuesday, 5 May, about a hundred youths, most of whom had just come out of Cubie’s, the popular Afro-Caribbean disco off Dalston Lane, gathered round while some of them ripped out a jeweller’s window and stole jewellery worth £500. The retreating crowd threw bottles at the police.

In the early hours of Wednesday, 24 June, gangs of youths roaming the streets, again after chucking-out time at Cubie’s, smashed the windows of a travel agency and a fish-and-chip shop, grabbed the till of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Kingsland Road, and mugged three pedestrians.

Part of the problem was that London Transport bus crews, fearful of trouble, had been refusing to pick up passengers from Cubie’s for some months, thus leaving large gangs of black youths to walk home, along streets lined with shops, in a mood of anger and frustration.

It was not until Wednesday, 8 July, that the first attacks on police occurred [apart from chucking bottles at them on 5th May? Ed]. That night two officers on patrol in Stoke Newington were stoned [insert joke here about Stoke Newington police and drugs – Ed] and towards midnight four police cars were damaged by missiles. The next evening, police were out in force, on foot, in the Dalston area, keeping a couple of hundred youths on the move. Five shop windows were smashed and one policeman injured by missiles.

The worst disturbances occurred on 10 July. The location: the junction of Sandringham Road and Kingsland High Street. There was a certain inevitability about the site. Sandringham Road leads down into the heart of some of the worst private rented housing and the densest settlement of people of West Indian origin in Hackney. At the top, on the left, the Argos showroom windows gleam with consumer products. On the right, Johnson’s cafe, a haunt favoured by young blacks, the scene of frequent drug busts and raids in pursuit of ‘dips’ (pickpockets) escaping from their favourite hunting-ground of Ridley Road Market (a quiet back alley, Birkbeck Road, leads between Ridley and Sandringham). At the junction of Sandringham and Kingsland, there are permanent pedestrian barriers lining the road, offering support and, if necessary, shelter against attack.

johnsons

Johnson’s Cafe, Sandringham Road, from the 1976 UK reggae documentary “Aquarius”

The trouble that day began around 5 p.m. when a group of youths robbed a jewellers’ shop in Kingsland High Street. The police closed down Johnson’s cafe and moved on groups that formed outside: a few bricks and bottles were thrown. Then larger groups of blacks began to congregate. At around 7.30 p.m. two fire-bombs were thrown: one at the Argos showrooms, followed by looting; and one at a policeman in Arcola Street, site of the main social-security office in Stoke Newington. The police charged down Sandringham Road, but were pushed back by the youths for a distance of about 40 metres before making a successful counter-charge. Just before midnight bricks were thrown at the police stationed at the mouth of Sandringham Road, from the barrier railings outside the Rio cinema, opposite. Under attack, exhausted from working days of fourteen and sixteen hours around London’s riot areas, some officers lost their cool. A unit of helmeted police charged across the road, truncheons drawn, and used them to `disperse’ the crowd at the railings. One girl suffered a head wound and was rushed to hospital.

I arrived on the scene just after midnight. There was an atmosphere of Sweeney and Starsky and Hutch. It was just after the stoning incident, and police Rovers, Escorts and blue-and-white vans packed with men were using Kingsland Road as a race-track, hooters wailing and lights flashing, in pursuit of the suspected assailants. For the meanwhile, the protection of property took a back seat, and I watched for half an hour as menswear shop, Mr H, was looted down to the last button and buckle. The window smashed a few seconds after I had walked past it: there was no one in sight but a young black boy of about thirteen, looking a picture of innocence. A few minutes later five or ten youths, black and white, began to arrive, clambering over the railings from the road, then leaning against them and looking around themselves with great caution before acting. One boy set the example, snatching a white sweatshirt and stuffing it down the front of his jacket. The others helped themselves, each one walking away in a relaxed manner calculated to allay suspicion. Mr H’s alarm was ringing noisily: but so were many others. After a lull more wardrobe hunters arrived, and some of the first wave returned for second helpings. The first time they’d snatched anything that came to hand. This time they were more discriminating, checking sizes and colours and discarding unsuitable ones.

Three whites in their late twenties stood opposite, smiling benevolently and shouting ‘Police’, with the accent on the first syllable, whenever men in blue came near. A skinhead in a long Edwardian jacket, attracted by the Victoria Wine off-licence next door to Mr H, wrapped a brick in a paper bag and hurled it at the window with all his might. It bounced off. A boy slipped on the glass outside Mr H, and cut himself badly, and the others gathered round to help. The looting proceeded, while at the back, thieves were smashing their way through security bars and looting the racks inside. Some of the earliest looters had the opportunity to saunter by five or six times, while the skinhead persisted in his increasingly desperate attempts to smash the off-licence window, the only effect being to leave a dusting of brick powder on the glass.

At about 1 a.m. a big black bearded youth in a long leather raincoat took out a pair of model legs from the window and threw them into the middle of the road. Police vehicles had passed the scene at least forty or fifty times, but this act finally attracted their attention. A van screeched to a halt, a dozen officers leapt out, and one of them stayed behind to stand guard over what, by now, was a totally empty window.

The whole evening had been, by the standards of Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side, a mere affray, but it was a disturbing pointer to what could happen when police attention was diverted and the thin veneer of ice that caps Hackney’s troubled waters was cracked. In all forty premises were damaged that night and sixty arrests were made. The score of injuries was even: twenty-three police, twenty-three members of the public.

High Noon in Dalston

The following day, Saturday, 11 July, far worse was expected. Shoppers stayed away from the High Street and the Wimpy Bar owner complained of his worst Saturday for business in twenty years. But the shopkeepers had their minds preoccupied in other ways. From Dalston Junction to Stamford Hill, they were measuring and sawing, drilling and screwing, fitting and hammering. According to means, great panels of corrugated iron, wood, plywood, chipboard, hardboard and cardboard were being battened up by those who did not already have armour-plated glass, grilles and shutters. Builders’ merchants were running out of supplies, security firms doing more business than they could cope with, employees and friends and relatives were dragooned into a frenetic race against time to put up their protective walls before the expected confrontation of the late afternoon and evening.

The media came sniffing for trouble. One camera crew arrived and interviewed people on the street. Another crew filmed a festival at London Fields where trouble had been predicted. People threw darts at images of Thatcher, drum majorettes twirled, and the Marlborough pub heavies won the tug-of-war match. But there was not a stir of trouble. When one of the organisers phoned the television company to ask why the festival had not been televised, she was told it was because ‘nothing happened’.

Up at the end of Sandringham Road, the atmosphere was High Noon. The police were scattered, in twos and threes, all down the High Street. About fifty black youths, with the merest scattering of whites, were sitting along the railings and on the wooden fence of the petrol station and crowding outside Johnson’s cafe. I talked to many of them and the grievances bubbled out, against unemployment, racialism, but above all against the police.

A pretty girl of seventeen, with four grade ones in the Certificate of Secondary Education, out of work for ten months, said:

‘I go down the temp agency every morning. There’s only been two jobs going there all week. Since Thatcher’s come in, everything’s just fallen. She needs a knife through her heart.’

Her nineteen-year-old friend continues:

‘I got three O-levels and that’s done me no good at all. A lot of my friends are having babies. If you haven’t got a job, you might as well have a baby.’

Vengeance for colonialism and slavery, rebellion against discrimination, redress for police abuses, all mingled together as a group of boys pitched in. They were angry, agitated.

‘You can’t win,’ said a tall youth worker:

‘If a black person drive a nice car, the police say, where you get the money to drive that? You wear a gold chain, they say, where you thief that? We like to gather in a little place and have a drink and music, so what the police do? They like to close it down, so we all on the street instead. And what happen when they get hold of you? They fling you in the van, they say, come on you bunnies [short for ‘jungle bunnies’]. They play find the black man’s balls. They treat us like animals, man, they treat their dogs better than they treat us. They kick the shit out of us and put us inside to rot. They think they are OK in their uniforms. But if that one there was to walk over here naked now, we’d kick the hell out of him. Somebody said, black people will never know themselves till their back is against the wall, well, now our backs is against the wall. I’m gonna sit right here, and I ain’t gonna move.’

A boy of eighteen in a flat corduroy cap said:

‘I was driving down from Tottenham to Hackney once, I got stopped seven times on the way. Four years ago, they came to my house searching for stolen goods and asked me to provide a receipt for everything in my house. We’ve been humiliated. It’s time we show them that we want to be left alone.’

‘We’re fighting for our forefathers,’ said the seventeen-year-old secretary:

 ‘We’ve been watching Roots [the film series on American slavery]. They used us here for twenty years, now they got no use for us, they want us out.’

An eighteen-year-old boy in a green, red and black tea-cosy hat went on:

‘The police can call you a fucking cunt, but if you say one word at them they’ll take you down. They don’t even like you to smile at them. You try to fight them at court: you can’t fight them, because black man don’t have no rights at all in this country.’

There was a lot of military talk, for this was not seen as a challenge to law, but a matter of group honour: the police, as a clan, had humiliated young blacks, as a clan, and clan revenge had to be exacted.

‘Since they got these riot shields,’ said a boy of twenty, ‘they think they’re it. We can’t stand for that. Tonight we have to kill one of them, and now there’s a crowd of us, we’re gonna do it. If they bring in the army we’ll bring in more reinforcements and kill them.’

One boy in sunglasses, sixteen at the oldest, launched into a lecture on guerrilla tactics:

‘If you come one night and they make you run, then the next night you bring enough stones, bottles and bombs that they can’t make you run: you don’t run, they run.’

He smirks, as if he has just stormed their lines single-handed:

‘But look at everyone here. They’re all empty-handed. Last night they were wasting their petrol-bombs, throwing them on the street. It’s no use throwing one without a specific target. Look at that police bus: one bomb at the front, one at the back, and that would be thirty-two or sixty-four police less. You got to have organisation, like they got.’

There were moments of humour, too. One drunken man in a leather jacket was straining to have a go at the police. ‘What can you do?’ his girlfriend asked him, holding him back by the jacket.

‘I can at least fuck up two of them. I can take the consequences. They ain’t gonna kill me.’

‘They will kick the shit out of you,’ says his girl-friend. She pacifies him for the moment, but he eludes her and stands, slouched on one elbow, against the railings, awaiting his moment of glory. Levering himself up he staggers half-way across the road towards the main police gathering, shouting, ‘You’re all a load of fucking wankers.’ Before he has got five metres he is arrested by the district commander in person.

In the end, the brave talk remained talk. At 6 p.m. the police decided to clear the crowds that had assembled. They moved on the group on the petrol-station fence, pushing them down Sandringham Road. At the same time another cordon of police began to walk up Sandringham Road from the other end. An escape route was deliberately left open — the alley of Birkbeck Road — and the cordons let through most of those who wanted to get by.

But many of the youths believed the police had trapped them in a pincer with the intention of beating them up. Several of them started to break down the wall next to Johnson’s café to use the bricks. As one young boy explained:

‘When they come smashing you over the head with a baton one night, the next time you know you’ve got to get something to defend yourself with.’

But this misinterpretation of police intentions itself brought on the attack it was intended to prevent. The police closed in to forestall the brick-throwers, there were scuffles, one policeman was injured, and five arrests were made.

And that was it. The expected explosion did not occur. The proceedings ended not with a bang but with a whimper. It is perhaps typical of Hackney that, although more deprived than Lambeth and most of the other scenes of disturbance, it couldn’t get together a full-blooded riot. The reason lies in Hackney’s fragmentation: it has no single core like Brixton has, where blacks predominate and congregate, no ghettos without their admixture of poor whites, Asians and Mediterraneans. The sheer numbers required to start a large-scale disturbance never came together. Police tactics, too, were flexible and effective: with the experience of Brixton to learn from, they did not offer a static, concentrated defensive line that was a sitting target for missiles. And they split up the opposition into smaller groups and kept them moving down separate side roads, preventing any larger crowds from forming.

Nevertheless, there was rioting and there was looting and there was violence. It is important to understand why. These were not the first skirmishes in the revolution, nor were they an organised protest against monetarism or mass unemployment. Many of the rioters were at school, some had jobs. The conscious motivation of those who were not just in it for the looting was, quite simply and straightforwardly, hatred of the police among the young and the desire to hit back at them for humiliations received. Monetarism and recession were, however, powerful indirect causes. The strains produced by loss of hope and faith in a society that seemed to have lost all charity certainly provided emotional fuel for the troubles. More specifically, recent recessions, each one deeper than the last, pushed up levels of violent theft and burglary, and therefore led to a greatly increased pressure of policing in the inner city, bringing police into unpleasant contact with increasing numbers of whites and blacks, guilty and innocent alike.

BLUE IS THE COLOUR: VIOLENCE IS THE GAME
Hackney People’s Press issue 71, August 1981

The clashes in Dalston and Stoke Newington between police and local people on the weekend of 10-12 July were the culmination of several days of tension, caused mainly by police tactics.

Local traders had been told repeatedly to board up shops because the police were expecting trouble, and this created an unreal siege-like atmosphere in both Kingsland and Stoke Newington High Streets. There were also a number of raids on Johnson’s, a West Indian cafe in Sandringham Road, which was to become the focus for the worst disturbances.

Our reporter was threatened by this policeman with getting his camera smashed. Shortly after, he was clubbed to the ground by another, and  had to have stitches put in a head wound.

Our reporter was threatened by this policeman with getting his camera smashed. Shortly after, he was clubbed to the ground by another, and  had to have stitches put in a head wound.

After groups of youths had gathered on various street corners police presence in the area was increased dramatically throughout the week. Trouble became inevitable when the police tried to prevent people going down Sandringham Road, to gather outside Johnson’s. On the Friday night, there were at least two baton charges by police to clear Sandringham Road. Policemen were lashing out wildly with truncheons – aiming at the head, in direct contravention of the Metropolitan Police Standing Orders – and many people were injured, including a Hackney People’s Press reporter, who was standing in the doorway of the Rio Cinema. He was taken to the Hackney Hospital, and had three stitches in a scalp wound. Our reporter writes:

“The casualty ward of the hospital was like a battle-field. A number of people were being treated for head wounds. I spoke to two 16-year old white youths who had been attacked. One of them had been truncheoned and kicked while outside the Rio, at the same time as me. Another had been attacked with a group of friends while on his way home to Stoke Newington. With his head bleeding from a wound, he and his friends walked all the way from Sandringham Road to Hackney Hospital. While at the hospital I saw uniformed and plain-clothes police writing down the names and addresses of people being treated. They were being helped to do this by at least one member of the administrative staff.”

In Stoke Newington on the same night there was repeated use of violent police tactics to clear the streets of people, many of whom were innocent bystanders and spectators. Several times Transit vans full of police were driven very fast down narrow roads and up onto pavements. Coachloads of police would suddenly rush out of their buses and chase off local people, lashing out wildly with their truncheons. HPP knows of a number of people who were attacked and arrested on that evening.

In most of these cases criminal charges are now pending, which makes any comment on them at the moment difficult, but it is quite clear that random attacks and arrests were being made, on the assumption that anyone around on the streets deserved what they got. On the Saturday, there were further disturbances during the afternoon, particularly in the Sandringham Road area. A pincer movement by police to try and clear the streets led to further violence and a number of arrests. Residents of St. Mark’s Rise were disturbed during the afternoon by groups of police chasing youths through their gardens. In one incident the police commander himself, Commander Howlett, arrested a man outside the Rio Cinema, during a conversation with a Hackney Councillor and the Secretary of the Hackney Council for Racial Equality. The man has now been charged with insulting behaviour after he had shouted at the group of people talking.

By the Sunday, the situation was a lot calmer, but there was still a massive police presence on the streets. Coachloads of them seemed to be permanently parked in Sandringham Road, and a new style of Transit van, with iron grids over the windscreen to prevent it being smashed, was seen outside Stoke Newington police station.

The organisers of two local festivals held that weekend at London Fields and Stoke Newington Common, were asked by the police to cancel their festivities. Both of these refused and, of course, there was no trouble at all. Since that weekend the inquests have started. A Hackney Legal Defence Committee has been set up and has started helping those arrested and attacked by the police during the various incidents. Already more than 50 people have been contacted by the Committee, most of whom will appear in court during August. The Borough Council, Hackney Council for Racial Equality and Hackney Community Action have all come forward in condemning police behaviour on Hackney’s streets that weekend. Below we report on a number of these initiatives. [an article on proposals for community control of the police, not included here – Ed]

UPRISING AFTERMATH
Hackney People’s Press issue 72, September 1981

Over 100 people were arrested after the uprising in July when youth took to the streets and clashed with the police. Many of them have now appeared in court, and some very severe sentences have been imposed by the magistrates. The Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HDLC) has been set up to assist those arrested during the uprising. Below we summarise what they are trying to do. First, we print an account of some reactions in the month following the uprising.

Along Kingsland and Stoke Newington High Streets, local traders were still repairing damage done to shops. I called in at Johnson’s cafe in Sandringham Road and asked about the baton charges and damage done to the West Indian cafe. I was told:

“All the glass wall and glass door at the front of the shop was kicked in, kicked in by the police – bash! and smash!”

Not doubting the fact that the police had lashed out wildly, zooming with their batons and cracking scalps, I said: “What’s your opinion of the riots that took place between the black youths and the police in the Dalston area in July?” The woman in the cafe said:

“Police came into the cafe using truncheons, slashing them in…a them head, using all their strength in murderous attacks on defenceless people. They was not concern about the frighten state of the people’s mind.”

I asked if there had been anything missing or stolen. She exclaimed: “No. Blood! Blood! Spilled by police tactics. They batter them, batter them in a tha head.”

Then I interviewed two administrative officers at the Town Hall, Mare Street. They suggested that the local authorities hadn’t any direct links with the action and movement of the local police force. They are only concerned in the parking sector and community work, and have a liaison committee with the police.

Nonetheless, I thought these questions were vital. At the time of the Civil Service dispute, the Town Hall was relied upon to share the work to help the unemployed. So I continued to ask their opinion on the riots and terrorism people suffered by the serious violence inflicted by the troops of armed police leaping from their vans, causing breach of the peace with unnecessary provocation.

One said:

“The government, in general terms, is giving the local authorities less and less money, therefore their plans for central facilities on programmes for work become fewer.”

He added:

“The riots in Hackney are minor compared with, say, Manchester or elsewhere.

“The disturbances should not cause great alarm, with the number of people who were involved. The local authorities are presently having committee meetings regarding additional educational courses. Benefits may be gained from self-organisation.”

I approached Stoke Newington Police Station enquiring about the clashes and police tactics, and asked to talk to the local home beat officer informally. I was told to write to the superintendent of police. Hercules [“Hercules” being the pseudonym of the reporter – Ed]

HOW YOU CAN HELP THE HACKNEY LEGAL DEFENCE COMMITTEE

If you are one of the arrested and require legal or financial assistance, or if you are a witness to any arrest or have any information which would help us in the legal defence of those charged, or if you received any injuries (or witnessed anyone receiving injuries) or have photographic evidence which would assist in our work, please contact us immediately at the address below.

We need financial contributions to pay for legal costs and fines, to ensure the best possible defence.

HLDC also needs your active participation in visiting courts and collecting information from those charged, those who witnessed incidents, those who were beaten up, etc.

If you want to contribute to the work of HLDC or require any further information, con-tact us at: The Co-ordinator, Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HLDC), c/o 247 Mare Street, E8; tel 986 4121.

HLDC meets every Friday evening. Contact the above for further details.

Finally, there is a suggestion on the Hackney Buildings site that the Hackney Peace Carnival mural was partly inspired by the riots of 1981, presumably including our own riot around the corner…

7th May: A Hackney Biography app and book launch

This just in from the organisers:

You are invited to the launch of the
A Hackney Autobiography mobile app & book
Sunday 7 May

You are invited to celebrate the launch of A Hackney Autobiography: a mobile app and website and the publication of The Lime Green Mystery: An oral history of the Centerprise co-operative.

When: Sunday 7th May, 5 – 7 pm

Where: Sutton House, 2 and 4 Homerton High Street, London E9 6JQ. Map here.
Booking essential.

Contact: info@on-the-record.org.uk to reserve your place.

Before the party, there’s a unique chance to preview one of the audiowalks featured on the app as a group. Meet at 3:30 at Homerton station and RSVP asap as places are booking up quickly.

What: hear a roundtable of speakers who are engaged in cultural and community activities in related fields, reflect on the history of Centerprise as re-presented by a hackney autobiography and join the discussion. Receive a free copy of The Lime Green Mystery, preview the app and get help downloading it.

Speakers include: Toyin Agbetu from Ligali, Vivian Archer from Newham Bookshop, Nana Fani Kayode, teacher and radio producer, Gary Molloy from Core Arts, Marie Murray from Dalston Eastern Curve Garden and representatives from the Young Historians’ Project.

Event organised in collaboration with Pages bookshop

More details on the app, book and audiowalk below.

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Through the memories and reflections of many of the people involved, The Lime Green Mystery charts how the Centerprise co-operative (1971 – 1993) attempted to put radical ideas about education, culture and community work into practice. It explores issues of representation, power and collective management and will appeal to those interested in radical community organisations, grassroots bookselling and publishing, the adult literacy movement, London’s social history, and to people involved in community-based cultural and co-operative initiatives today.

Pre-order your free copy now by emailing us with your address. Limited numbers available, pre-ordering is encouraged to avoid disappointment. Donations to cover the cost of postage appreciated but not essential.

The Inside Out Homerton Audiowalk

The walk explores birth, madness and creativity, inside and out of The Institution. This 45 minute immersive audio walk blurs boundaries between auditory hallucination and external sound. This is a unique opportunity to experience a hackney autobiography, with the people featured in it.

To book a place on the Inside Out Homerton audiowalk, please contact us by 21 April. Later bookings will be accepted if places remain available.People who don’t like smart phones are welcome!

A Hackney Autobiography app

Poetic sat-nav, mapping Hackney through the writing and memories of its people. A hackney autobiography features:

  • four audio walks, each with original illustrations and music
  • over fifty bite-sized stories about creativity, education and resistance in Hackney.

All content was published or inspired by Centerprise, a radical cultural and community project (1971-2012).

The app and website will be launched at the end of April and will be at http://ahackneyautobiography.org.uk

“Most Awful Place in Britain”: Hackney 1982

Paul Harrison was a journalist whose first books were on the Third World. His 3rd book is concerned with the London Borough of Hackney based on  his research between May 1981 and July 1982.

It includes a lot of depressing detail on the deprivation which was prevalent in Hackney at that time. The statistics can be a bit wearying, but this is compensated by the numerous personal interviews which are included and the general insights the author provides.

Harrison’s book is a good counterbalance to the romanticism some people have about the “good old days” in Hackney. The intensity of the poverty, horrendous working conditions, terrible housing, violence and racism is remarkable – the author makes a compelling case that the Borough was the worst place to live in the UK (although neighbouring Tower Hamlets was also a contender by many measures).

I am obliged to say that wherever there is oppression you will also find resistance (something I definitely believe… in my more optimistic moments…). Alongside the crime and crumbling infrastructure of 80s Hackney, the book also includes some brief pieces on community organisation and a really good report on a dispute at the Staffa Products factory in the Lea Valley which included an occupation of the premises by striking workers. I got quite excited about that before I realised Staffa Products was in Leyton rather than Hackney and therefore slightly out of scope for this blog.

There is also a great first person account of a riot in Dalston in 1981 which I will post up here soon.

Paul Harrison went on do work for the UN and publish a further book on “pantheism”. He has a website here.

I found my copy for a quid in the basement of Housmans, London’s leading radical bookshop. You can also buy second hand copies of the book cheap online.

Below is a section from the prologue of the book which gives a reasonable overview of Hackney’s grimness at the time:

The Breaker’s Yard

Hackney, like most urban settlements of any size, is a patchwork. It exists as a unit only as a local-government entity. It possesses an aorta: the long straight road, once the Romans’ route to Cambridge, that begins in the south as Shoreditch High Street and ends in the north at Stamford Hill, changing its name half a dozen times along the way, from Kingsland Road to Kingsland High Street, and from Stoke Newington Road to Stoke Newington High Street.

But Hackney is a place curiously without a heart, an uneasy amalgam, still only in its late teens, of three older boroughs —Shoreditch, Hackney and Stoke Newington — themselves formed by the fusion of several parishes. Hackney is an archipelago of islands, each with its own distinctive geo-morphology and ecology. In Shoreditch, atolls of dilapidated small factories, warehouses and offices, cut off by a sea of metropolitan traffic.

To the north, Hoxton, a concrete forest of council blocks, still largely inhabited by Cockneys, one of the few places in the borough’s boundaries where some networks of community and kinship survive, albeit much weakened and frayed. Further north again, De Beauvoir, whose stately terraces — by far the best built and best laid out in Hackney — increasingly house the upper-middle and professional classes.

East of that, Haggerston and Queensbridge wards, more than three-quarters council tenants, and planning-blighted London Fields and Broadway Market, with shops boarded up or burnt out and streets of houses either empty, with doors and windows breeze-blocked up, or housing squats of radicals and feminists: Why pay rent when they don’t give a damn about you? reads one painted slogan.

Demolition of Metal Box factory on Urswick Road (c) Alan Denney
Demolition of Metal Box factory on Urswick Road, 1983. © Alan Denney.

East again, Homerton and Lower Clapton, streets of humble Victorian terraces, many of them not much above the level of the Hackney Marshes and the River Lea that bound the borough’s eastern limits. The Marshes, Hackney’s only area of ‘natural’ wildlife, are marred by motorbike scramblers, electricity pylons and what little exists of large-scale industry in Hackney — Lesney’s Matchbox Toys (closed down in 1982), Metal Box, James Latham Timbers.

Inside the bend of the river, stretching from Stamford Hill down to the flyovers of Eastway, a long succession of council estates, each cursed with its own subtle combination of torments: the rain-penetrated towers of Trowbridge; Kingsmead with its air of a high-security prison; crime-plagued Clapton Park; and a row of grim blocks — like Wren’s Park, Wigan House, Lea View and Fawcett. Along the borough’s northern edges, bounded by Seven Sisters Road and Amhurst Park, lie the more desirable wards of Hackney, becoming fashionable among radical professionals and long the home of most of Hackney’s large Jewish population, including members of the revivalist Hasidic sect whose bearded men wear broad-brimmed black hats, long black coats and hair in ringlets.

And in the heart of Hackney lie terraces of the worst Victorian housing, originally dominated by cheap rooming houses, now in the process of changing over to gentrification, housing associations and infill council housing: a chaotic mixture of races and classes where whites, West Indians, Asians, Africans and Cypriots are shuffled like the suits in a pack of cards.

Even a superficial tour would show that most of Hackney is not healthy or prosperous. There are piles of refuse in ‘many streets, and run-down shops with safety grilles left up even when they are open. There is an air about people in the street or in the bus queues: of patience adopted not out of a tranquil mind, but out of necessity, holding in a tense bolus of sufferings. An air, not of open despair, but of lack of hope; not of misery, yet of an absence of joy. An air of aggravation and diffuse anxiety. For Hackney is a sump for the disadvantaged of every kind, a place to which those with the fewest resources sink, and from which those who gain any freedom of choice escape. It is a place of deprivation, of poverty, of toil and struggle and isolation, a knacker’s yard for society’s casualties,
a breaker’s yard where the pressure of need grinds people against each other and wears them down.

Ridley Road market, 1982. © Alan DenneyRidley Road market, 1982.  © Alan Denney.

You can get a glimpse of the problem from the statistics. Even by Inner London standards, Hackney is an unusually underprivileged place. It has the second highest proportion of overcrowded households in Inner London, the second highest proportion of manual workers (two-thirds), the second highest proportion of households with no car (two-thirds), the second highest male unemployment rate (22 percent in January 1982), and the second highest proportion of children in care (one child in forty). On all these criteria, Tower Hamlets, usually known as London’s East End, pips it to the post. But Hackney leads Tower Hamlets in other indicators: it has the second highest proportion (after Haringey) of people living in households with a New Commonwealth head (27 per cent), the second highest incidence (after Lambeth) of violent street crime. And Hackney leads the field for a string of other factors. It has the highest female unemployment rate in London and the highest proportion of single-parent families (with 15 per cent of children under sixteen). It has by far the highest proportion of dwellings unfit for human habitation — one in five — and by far the lowest educational attainments in London. It has the highest proportion of registered disabled in London. It has the highest level of smoke pollution. And it has the honour of being the only Inner London borough without a tube station. Incomes in Hackney are the lowest in London, and well below the national averages despite much higher than average housing and transport costs. In April 1981, average weekly earnings were £133.50 for men and £94 for women — bottom of the Greater London league in both cases. One in three male manual workers earned less than £100 a week, one in ten earned less than £72.30. These figures are for full-time workers whose earnings were unaffected by absence: average incomes in Hackney, dragged down by high levels of part-time or short-time working, by lay-offs and absenteeism, and by unemployment, are far lower.

There is no objective way of weighing one type of misery against another. No one can construct an unchallengeable index of total deprivation that would enable us to rank locations in the lower reaches of hell. There are, of course, subjective measures. In 1978 the National Housing and Dwelling Survey asked people in inner-city areas what they thought of their neighbourhood. The proportion of respondents in Hackney who were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the area was 42 percent, by far the highest in the country — a full 11 percent ahead of Tower Hamlets, the nearest London rival, and almost double the highest figure outside London (22 percent for Manchester).

It is invidious to make comparisons, but I believe that Hackney is one of two or three contenders for the title of the Most Awful Place in Britain.

There are many people who live in Hackney who will deny this: middle-class owner-occupiers will tell you aggressively that it is not at all such a bad place to live. And probably it is not, for people with cars, telephones, bank accounts and self-contained dwellings. They do not have to walk along dangerous streets with all the money they possess in their pockets, or queue for hours at bus stops, or search for unvandalized phones when someone falls ill. They do not have to share toilets or baths. They do not have to wrestle shopping and pushchairs up stairs or into lifts that often do not work. They do not have to suffer damp and cold. They do not have to be humiliated in social-security offices or wait months for essential repairs. Above all they are there by choice, not by compulsion. They can leave at any time they want: they do not have the sense of imprisonment, of closed options, that plagues those without the incomes or the saleable skills that would enable them to get out. Whether a place is tolerable to live in, or intolerable, depends on your income; that is as true of Britain as a whole as it is of Hackney.

For the poor, Hackney is something akin to the Slough of Despond, a place so terrible that the only recourse seems to turn tail and run. Yet most of them lack the means of escape — the money to buy a house elsewhere, the skills or certificates to get a job elsewhere.

Hackney Gazette story on the Colin Roach Centre

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Link to Gazette feature.

Good to see our main local paper covering some radical history and mentioning current struggles around spycops. Hackney Community Defence Association and the Hackney Trades Union Support Unit were both based at the Colin Roach Centre.

 

 

Communist Plan for Life in Hackney (1930s)

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This pamphlet was produced by Hackney Communist Party, probably in 1937 – prior to the London County Council elections that year. This page in the Amiel Melburn Trust Internet Archive suggests that similar pamphlets were produced for 28 London boroughs.

1937 was twenty years after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and one year into the Spanish Civil War. But there is a disappointing lack of revolutionary zeal (or even mention of communism) in the text below – the focus is on critical support for the Labour Party and commendable bread and butter working class issues like health, housing and wages instead. This is partly down to Lenin, whose “Left Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder encouraged British communists to work with the Labour Party rather than taking a hardline extra-parliamentary position as suggested by Sylvia Pankhurst and others.

So, whilst the General Strike of 1926 gets a mention, the Battle of Cable Street which had taken place in the previous year does not – even in the section on combatting fascism.

Some of the demands have resonances with today – landlords exploiting tenants with high rents and poor conditions, a lack of social housing or affordable childcare, poor people struggling to make ends meet etc.

But there are also some differences, which are arguably as a result of past campaigning victories – paid holidays for employees, raising of the school leaving age to 16 and decent maternity facilities in Homerton Hospital. Until fairly recently we also gained access to free education up to University standard and free milk for school children…

All the Hackney constituencies and Stoke Newington (which was then a separate borough) returned Labour councillors in the 1937 elections.

The future development of Hackney Communist Party is covered elsewhere on this site:

Bob Darke’s disaffection from the Hackney CP in the 1950s.

A Hackney Communist Party banner from 1952.

Hackney Needs Socialism – a similar pamphlet from 1978

Of related interest is a look at Lenin in Hackney.

The full text of the pamphlet follows below. I have amended some of the grammar, particularly some hyphenation that annoyed me. Scans of the original text are included too – you can click on the images to see a bigger version.

If anyone has a copy of Communist Plan for Life in Stoke Newington, please get in touch!

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WHO OWNS HACKNEY?

Hackney’s nearness to the City of London has influenced its development from a country manor to a suburban town and finally to a part of London. With the growth of the City of London and the rise in influence of city merchants we see a change taking place also in Hackney. The ownership of Hackney passes from the landed aristocracy into the hands of the city merchants, with the result that [in] about 1700 Mr. Tyssen, one of the merchants, became the Lord of the Manor. Today, descendants of this Mr. Tyssen still own large parts of Hackney. Among other large landowners of Hackney today are of course the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, St. Thomas’ Hospital Estate and the Spurstowe Trust.

Our Fine Record
With the growth of London we see workshops and factories rising in Hackney. Among the earliest known industries in Hackney were paint, and boot and shoe manufacturing, and as industry developed, so did working class activity! Hackney played its part in the famous Chartist Movement. Our workers providing a fair quota of Chartists, while the Lord of the Manor and his brother helped the Government to organise special constables in the attempt to prevent the demonstration of April 10, 1848. But this demonstration did meet – and elected delegates to present to Parliament the famous “Six Point Charter”, claiming political rights for the workers.

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The working people of Hackney were among the pioneers in the trade union organisation, some of London’s oldest trade union branches being in Hackney. Just as in the past, so today the people of Hackney are in front wherever there is a need to defend the people’s rights. They actively participated in the General Strike in 1926. They helped the miners both morally and financially. They assisted the famous Hunger March in 1934 by providing shelter to the Tyneside marchers. There isn’t a single working-class activity in London from which the workers of Hackney are absent.

Overcrowding
Growing industry and the rise of factories and workshops have changed Hackney from an area of open spaces to a densely built-up town. It has also brought a big rise in the population. In 1807 there were, in Hackney, four persons per acre, whilst now we have an average of 64.5 persons per acre! This growth has been chaotic and unplanned, causing very serious hardships for the workers and people of Hackney. It is the object of the Hackney Communist Party to discuss some of the more important questions concerning the life of the people in Hackney, and to give some positive proposals for the solution of these questions.

Win Better Factory Conditions !
Looking at Hackney today one sees a large industrial centre with 1,268 factories and workshops, some factories of worldwide repute, employing many hundreds of workers. There are firms in Hackney which have expanded from small beginnings to large millionaire establishments. Lewis Berger is a good example. This firm originated in Hackney and today is a worldwide firm whose profits for the last five years amount to £470,000. (The chairman of this company is Viscount Greenwood, who, as Sir Hamar Greenwood, let loose the Black and Tans in Ireland just after the war.)

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There are many other factories, particularly in tailoring, where conditions are absolutely appalling. Speed-up is the predominant factor in production, and the conveyor belt, known among the workers as the ” chain-gang,” is in operation. Labour [i.e. the workers] is mainly juvenile owing to its cheapness, one particular factory connected with Hector Powe [tailors] has been a source of grievance not only to the workers in the factory but to the clothing workers in general.

A large number of factories have sprung up in the last few years in the Hackney Wick area where trade union organisation hardly exists and juvenile labour is predominant. The conditions are such that last year we had strikes taking place at Ingrarns, Bouts Tillotson, Morris’s, Bloom & Phillips, and other factories. Only complete trade union and shop organisation can secure improvement. Every year a large number of young people are crippled through accidents whilst working without proper protection. This barbaric system could be prevented if an adequate number of factory inspectors were maintained.

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Organise the Out-workers!
Whilst the conditions of the workers in factories are very bad, the conditions of ‘the workers who subcontract out and take the work home is far worse. This out-work is largely seasonal and even at the height of the season very few earn a decent wage for a working week of anything up to 100 hours. According to the Medical Officer of Health’s Annual Report for 1936 there are 1,565 out-workers in Hackney. These are on the register, but in reality this number can safely be doubled. Apart from the large factories and workshops there are, of course, a very large number of workshops employing a few workers each where exploitation is again very high, because of the lack of organisation.

Make the Transport Combines Give Us Better Travel!
Thousands of our workers have to travel long distances to work. Their life is made a bigger burden by the lack of trains, buses, and trains. In many cases they have a 10 or 20 minutes walk to get to one of these services and then they are invariably dangerously and unhealthily overcrowded.

The transport problem would not be difficult to solve were it not for the monopolist control by the London & North Eastern Railway and London Transport Board. These companies, anxious to maintain their profits, prevent any improvement being made in this vital service. The people of Hackney are entitled to better travelling facilities. This can be achieved by building an underground railway to the city, by adding more buses on existing services as well as by introducing new services where needed. There is now a favourable opportunity through the present extension of the underground railway from Liverpool Street to Woodford, passing through Bethnal Green, for Hackney to have a branch line giving speedy travel to the city and other parts of London.

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Housing
We often hear it said that in Hackney the housing conditions are not so bad as in other boroughs. There is some truth in this. But we say, without fear of contradiction, that in Hackney housing is still in a deplorable state. Here are some facts from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health:

(a) Overcrowding. The Public Health, Department discovered that at the end of 1936 out of 61,615 families visited, 2,876 families were living under overcrowded conditions;

(b) Unfit Houses. Out of 11,380 houses inspected for defects under the Public Health Act 5,067 were “found not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation,” and in addition there were 344 houses found to be in a state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation (suitable for demolition). 5,511 of 11,380 unfit for human habitation! If this is not bad we would like to know what bad housing conditions are!

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Landlords
Many thousands of houses in Hackney are nothing more than boxes placed one upon the other. These are the kind of “houses” that our landlords want us to live in and pay high rents for. At the Local Housing Inquiry the landlords’ agents put up a strong resistance against any clearance schemes of the Borough Council. Here are some arguments used against the demolition order:

“To demolish these houses will be a most wasteful proceeding, the families who are now happy and comfortable under quite good sanitary conditions will have to be rehoused, and they cannot afford to pay the rents charged by Local Authorities.”

“These small houses each contain a living room, a bedroom, and a scullery. They are ideal homes in a neighbourhood like Hackney, in the centre of London, for a married couple with one or two children. It is true that the heights of the rooms are not so much as the present regulations require, but that is really a very, unimportant detail.”

“The houses are quite equal to the standard prevailing in the district. The drains have been reconstructed and are quite sanitary.”

“There is only one defect that can be alleged against them—they have no backyard and no back windows. As to this, it is counteracted by the fact that if the front door is opened and the front window on the upper storey is opened, a current of fresh air is at once set up, and this operation can be put in motion as often as possible.”

The Labour Borough Council have made a good start, during the last three years they have cleared some of the blackest spots. Their 1935 Housing Programme provides for clearance of 31 acres containing 570 buildings and further clearance schemes are in hand. Compare this with. the Municipal Reform (Conservative) record. Their 1930 five-year programme provided for the clearance of 16 areas containing 277 buildings. The Labour Borough Council has built new flats at Clapton Common and Rossington Street. The new Hindle Street scheme provides for 205 flats to be built in blocks with perambulator and cycle sheds, also a communal laundry fitted with electric washing machines. A communal hall is provided for the use of residents. The rents of the Borough Council Flats compare very favourably with rents for private houses and they are much lower than those rents originally fixed by the Conservatives for their Council flats. For example the rents of the new Rossington Street flats are: 4s. 6d. one room; 7s. 6d. two room’s; 10s. 6d. three rooms.

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Keep the Rents Down!
Rents today are too high. But now every tenant is threatened with rents actually being put up! For the Rent Restrictions Act, which protects tenants from profit-grabbing landlords ends early in 1938! This Act must be renewed, and extended to protect every working-class house. But will the landlords’ National Government do this? Not unless the people themselves act, in support of our Council. Tenants’ Defence Leagues in many parts of London have won better conditions from landlords. Hackney needs such a League, if the coming struggle for rent control is to be successful, and we urge our Borough Council, with other Boroughs, to bring immediate pressure on the National Government.

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Labour’s Good Start
The Communist Party fully appreciates the advance made by the Labour Borough Council. It is good, but not good enough. With 2,475 families living under overcrowded conditions and with 5,511 houses not reasonably fit for human habitation, the Borough Council housing programme, planning to build 1,100 flats, cannot be considered as a satisfactory solution of Hackney’s housing problem. The Borough Council as well as the L.C.C. schemes are for rehousing of slum areas. We want houses for all Hackney people at reasonable rent. We say to the Borough Council:

Increase your housing programme so as to provide houses not only to replace overcrowding and slums, but also to provide houses at reasonable rents for those thousands of workers who are forced to pay high rents to private landlords. The chief reason for the existence of these bad conditions is the blocking of housing plans by the landlords and their National Government. Our Labour Council, with a strong Labour Government behind it, could soon solve the problem of housing!

Fine Health Achievements

The Labour Borough Council have also improved the Public Health Services. In the face of bitter opposition not only from the local Conservatives, but also from the National Government, the Borough Council has some remarkable achievements to its credit. The result of improved health services is best seen in the death rate. In 1936 the Hackney Borough Council was able to record its lowest maternal death rate. Only four mothers died in childbirth, the rate being 1.2 per thousand, whilst the rate for England and Wales was 3.6. Similarly the infantile death rate reached its lowest point for Hackney in 1935, being 47 per thousand as compared with 58 per thousand for the County of London for the same year. The Labour Borough Council has built a new Child Welfare Centre in Richmond Road and is proposing to build two or three other centres. No doubt it would have done much more but for the policy of the National Government, which puts armaments before social services. For example, but for the Labour Borough Council’s fight against the Ministry of Health, the Richmond Road Centre would not have been comparable with what it is today.

Maternity and Child Welfare Centres
Though, as we have seen above, the Labour Borough Council has made a good beginning in this field, the Maternity and Child Welfare Centres are still, with one or two exceptions, inadequate in some ways. The centres are not open long enough to deal with the number of mothers attending for advice and help, and no privacy exists for consultations with the doctors, etc. We ask that the Borough Council build Welfare Centres (in spite of the obstructionist tactics of the National Government) in all areas, so as to be in reasonable reach of all mothers, and that no new housing estate be built without its own Welfare Centre.

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Maternity Hospital for Hackney
Every year there are 3,000 babies born in Hackney. The majority of them are born of working-class parents whose mothers cannot afford to go into private nursing homes, and who are forced either to have their babies at home (often in already overcrowded premises) or seek confinement accommodation outside of our Borough. This is an intolerable position and we demand that a modern Maternity Hospital be built in Hackney. Our Borough is not a poor Borough; if we can afford to spend £250,000 for a new Town Hall, and also to spend £3,000 on Coronation decorations, and pay 5 per cent. interest on loans to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, surely we can afford to spend an appropriate sum for a Maternity Hospital.

Free Milk for Babies and Schoolchildren
Milk, the most essential body-building food, is absent from many homes in Hackney. It is too dear to buy. Many a mother cannot afford the price of 3 1/2 d. per pint, Yet milk is cheap for industrial purposes. More than 1d. out of 3 1/2 d. you pay goes to subsidise the manufacture of butter, cheese, chocolate and other milk products. These manufacturers get their supplies of milk as low 1/2 d. per pint. London’s milk trade is dominated almost entirely by one huge company, the United Dairies. Over the past 10 years this company has netted nearly £6,000,000. The National Government protects the profits of these huge combines and with its armaments programme forces food prices to go up. The cost of living is rising every day and housewives find it more difficult to get enough, bread, let alone milk. The Communist Party urges the Borough Council to provide every child with at least one pint of milk daily. We ask the Borough Council to provide not only free milk, but also other nourishing foods and medicine to all necessitous mothers, ignoring the Means Test and all other restrictions. This can be done—make the National Government pay the bill. We must also insist that the policy of the Milk Board of cheap milk to industries and dear milk to workers should cease.

Higher and higher prices for food. More and more mothers unable to buy proper nourishment. All the more need to see that full powers are used to give our children cheap milk and free meals!

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Day Nursery
An adequate number of Day Nurseries is urgently needed. Hackney, with a population of over 200,000, has many thousands of working women who go out to work, and there is only one small Day Nursery. Even this nursery is a private concern, though subsidised by the Borough Council to the extent of £200 a year. Therefore we demand that Municipal Day Nurseries be established in every ward and every large housing estate. These nurseries must be staffed by competent and qualified persons.

Education

  1. The C.P. demands the raising of the school-leaving age to 16 years with adequate grants to parents. This would contribute to the solution of the problem of unemployment among youth.
  2. Full opportunity-for every child of access to free education up to University standard.
  3. Limitation of classes in accordance with the National Union of Teachers demands.
  4. Provision of sufficient number of well-equipped modern schools, especially in areas where large new housing estates have been built.

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Hands Of the Unemployment Fund ! Food Before Guns !
In spite of the fact that we are supposed to be living in the time of boom or so-called “prosperity”, in Hackney there are nearly 5,000 on the Unemployed Register and some 4,000 persons receiving outdoor relief. The C.P. realises that the real solution of the problem of unemployment can be attained only under Socialism, but we propose the following as immediate steps to relieve the hardships of the unemployed:

  1. A 40-hour week for all workers. The Borough Council to give a lead to introduce this at once for municipal employees.
  2. A fortnight’s holiday for all with pay.
  3. All the Borough Council building schemes to be carried out by direct labour under T.U. rates and conditions.
  4. Full relief for unemployed at T.U. Congress scales: 20s. each adult, 10s. each dependant, 5s. each child, and full relief for single men and women.
  5. Abolition of the Means Test.

The Means Test was introduced as a means of economy in 1931 by the National Government; the Unemployed Fund has accumulated a surplus of £60 million. The war-mongers’ Government is after this money in order to use it for its arms programme. The C.P. declares that this money belongs to the unemployed and it must be used to increase the scales of relief, particularly in view of the rapidly rising cost of living.

But not with the Food Prices Rocketing!
The cost of living has risen so much that a pound buys less than 57 shillings did a year ago! Meat, bacon, flour, butter, bread, tea, milk—all are going up almost every week ! To catch up with these rising prices, workers need a rise of at least 3s. 6d. in the pound. Not to make them better off, but just so they can eat as well as they did last year!

The workers who are most seriously hit by the increases are the unskilled labourers, unemployed, and old age pensioners.

Who is responsible for this increase? The shopkeepers? The Co-operative Societies? No! The policy of the National Government, in giving subsidies to the Marketing Boards and their price-fixing policy. Who benefits from these high prices? The big trusts and companies who are piling up profits. And it is the deliberate polity of the National Government to raise prices to help pay for the war plans. They make the poor pay instead of the rich, through their food taxes.

How can we fight the policy of the National Government and the Marketing Boards? Communists propose an immediate united campaign by the whole Labour Movement:

To force a reduction in the combines’ profits, and so a reduction in food prices.

To abolish the taxes on our food.

To put working-class representatives on the Food Council, and to make this body publicly expose profiteering prices.

To raise wages to meet the high cost of living. Our Council must help in this by an increase of 5s. to all municipal workers under the Joint Industrial Council. To win an increase of 2s. 6d. in the pound to all those on Public Assistance—and the unemployment scales to those advocated by the Trades Union Council, of 20s. to each adult, 10s. to each dependant, and 5s. to each child. To increase old age and all other pensions. To make the rich pay for these necessities out of their super-profits.

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We Want Cheaper Electricity
“Electricity is cheap in Hackney,” says the Borough Council. But it is not cheap to the small consumer. The scale of charges favours the rich. For example, it varies in price from 1/2 d. to 4 1/4 d. per unit, and for industrial purposes the rate is half that of the domestic rate. For example, in 1936 the industrialists paid an average of 1.09d. per unit and domestic users paid an average of 2.01d. per unit.

We want the unification of the scales of charges, and free wiring installations for all working-class houses to make electricity available to all.

Defence of Hackney Citizens Against Fascism
Whilst new homes and better conditions are essential, it is necessary to safeguard these by defending our democratic rights. Hackney workers have a special problem to face in the growing Fascist menace. Brutal attacks on Hackney residents have been made: people have been beaten up. Fascism is attempting to obtain a foothold in Hackney and is planning to oppose Herbert Morrison [Labour MP for Hackney South] in the coming Parliamentary Elections. The C.P. appeals to every worker who values his home and liberty to keep the Fascists out of Hackney. This can be done by the unity of all progressive elements and more particularly by the unity of all working-class parties in the Borough without exception. As an immediate step to combat the Fascist menace we propose the following:

  1. Banning of all Fascist meetings in Hackney, whether outdoor or indoor.
  2. The closing of the Fascist barracks.
  3. Democratic control of the police to ensure protection against Fascist attacks.

Against War
With the continued existence of the National Government in office the war menace grows daily. Everything goes to prove that the National Government is encouraging Fascist aggression abroad and at home. Spain and China today, and it may be England tomorrow. How can those who are leading us to war be trusted to protect us against war? Can the National Government and their local Conservative allies, who have continually condemned the British working class to ill-health and starvation with their economy stunts, Means Tests and rising prices, be trusted? Can these people be trusted to protect us from air raid attack? Obviously not! We believe that the only defence for peace is the defeat of the National Government and their local allies. We do not think that war is inevitable, but we believe the National Government should be made responsible for the supply of suitable protection equal to that for the rich. Gas masks must be of the very best quality, and the construction of gas- and bomb-proof shelters, under the control of the Borough Council, should be undertaken at once. All air raid precautions should be democratically controlled by the Borough Council and the working bodies in the Borough. The full cost of these schemes must be borne by the National Government and not by the Borough Council.

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Make the Rich Pay!
The proposals as outlined in the preceding pages will, of course, require money. Now, where is the money to come from? This need not come from the rates, but should be borne by the people who are exploiting. Hackney. How can this be done?

  1. End the Derating Act, by which the National Government relieved the rich employers of three-quarters of the rates making the workers foot the bill. Make employers pay their rates in full!
  2. The rating of empty premises. This measure would not only bring in more money from the landlords, who can afford to pay. But it would immediately bring down rents!
  3. Reduction of interest on loans.
  4. Steeply graded municipal tax.
  5. Grants from the L.C.C.
  6. Increased grants from the National Government. Social services must come before armaments. The National Government spends £350 million per year for arms. If they can find the money for armaments, they can find the money for the improvement of the standard of life of the people!

Communists believe that all working people of Hackney want to see the plans outlined in this pamphlet put into action. How can it be done? By a united, determined, Labour Movement, composed of all working class bodies including the Communist Party. United Labour action will not only strengthen Labour Councils everywhere. But will also defeat the National Government and put in its place a strong Labour Government.

A STRONG COMMUNIST PARTY IS THE
SUREST WAY OF GETTING SUCH UNITED
ACTION BY THE WHOLE LABOUR MOVE-
MENT. THEREFORE IF YOU WANT TO
TAKE A HAND IN BUILDING THE NEW,
HAPPY AND HEALTHY HACKNEY – JOIN
THE HACKNEY COMMUNIST PARTY AND
PLAN FOR LIFE.

Published by the Hackney Communist Party, 280a, Richmond Rd., Hackney, E.8, and printed by Marston Printing Co. (T.U.), Nelson Place, Cayton Street, London, E.C.1.

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Hackney Peoples Press, 1975 + Hackney Mental Patients Union

My HPP archive is missing the issues between the debut in 1973 and the ones below, but a previous post highlights an edition I don’t have from 1974.

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Both of these issues are about 3 quarters A4 size. The May issue is 12 pages and the July one (below) is one sheet bigger at 16 pages.

The May issue is essentially “the health special” with pieces including:

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Abortion – opposition to a private members’ bill seeking to disallow abortions except where a doctor agreed that there was a risk to a woman’s life or health. (Like a lot of these bills, it didn’t go anywhere. Hard to say whether that is through resistance or lack of support). Also the lowdown on the difficulties faced by women seeking abortions in Hackney.

Hackney Helps Hoteliers – on the huge subsidy (£450,000 a year) paid by the council to the owners of bed and breakfasts so they could house 155 homeless families. Hackney was the top borough in London for this at the time. The article rightly points out that the money would be better spent on building or acquiring council houses. Nearby Camden had purchased several thousand homes for this purpose over the previous few years, compared to 189 by Hackney in 1974 – and 37 in 1973.

Hackney Reading Centre – a new joint adult education venture between Centerprise and City and East London College.

Centerprise – funding difficulties and a deficit had built up. The council had refused to increase its £1000 a year grant.

Hackney Health Guide – a four page feature on health facilities in the borough – and also the issues they faced.

Stop The Road – opposition to proposals for a huge new road from Dalston to Hackney Wick.

Marsh Festival – taking place in July with a “Hackney Marsh on Sea” theme – Punch and Judy, donkey derby, etc.

Groups / Contacts – everything from Gamblers Anonymous to playgroups and 3 branches of Hackney Young Socialists.

Also a feature on Hackney Mental Patients Union, which was then based in a “democratic community”-run house at 37 Mayola Road, Lower Clapton. The group named the building “Robin Farquharson House” after the mental health activist of the same name who had recently died as the result of an arson attack on his home in Kings Cross:

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Photo of Andrew Roberts at doorway of Farquharson House

Photo of Andrew Roberts at doorway of Farquharson House

There is a wealth of information about Hackney based mental health campaigning at Andrew Robert’s website:

http://studymore.org.uk/mpu.htm

(There is quite a lot of text on the page so you will need to press CTRL + F on your keyboard and do a search for “Hackney” – or anything you fancy…). The following is of interest:

Friday 6.5.1974 4.30pmFirst meeting of Hackney Hospital MPU

“Alan Hartman explained what kind of things the mental patients union does. Refusing treatment, cruelty to patients, clothes grants, fighting against being discriminated against in jobs… Alice ill-treated by nurses…”

“Resolved that a branch of the Mayola Road M.P.U. be formed in Hackney Hospital. proposed Alan Hartman, seconded Alice. 15 for – none against. Alan Hartman elected chairman..”

The meeting was adjourned after the senior nursing officer attempted (unsuccessfully) to break it up.

Hackney Gazette 6.8.1974 MENTAL PATIENTS UNION IS NOW RECOGNISED

The Hackney hospitals branch of the Mental Patients Union is the first in the country to achieve recognition. Psychiatric wings in both the German and Hackney Hospital are affected.

The MPU aims to bring about a better deal for patients in mental hospitals, and improved status.

Mr Andrew Roberts, of the Hackney branch, claims that several patients in Hackney Hospital psychiatric wing had spoken of better treatment by staff since the branch was recognised on July 18.

People’s News Service 1.6.1974 “MENTAL PATIENTS’ UNION MEMBER ESCAPES COMPULSORY DRUG TREATMENT.

Last week Tony O’Donnell moved into the house of the Mayola Road Mental Patients Union in East London after a long struggle to find a place where he could live without having to undergo injections of modicate, an extremely strong drug used on people diagnosed as schizophrenic…”.

MPU

Joan Hughes recalled Robin Farquharson House in 2006:

We ran the Robin Farquharson House in Mayola Road for three years. This was divided into individual rooms that were entirely under resident’s control, but it also had an office which served as a crash pad in emergencies. We often had people staying who were going through a crisis and who were supported by other residents. We also helped and advised people by telephone and letter, and there were any visitors from all over the country as well as from abroad.

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The July issue is still a bargain at 5p – especially with the extra pages! Features this time on:

Hoxton Hall – 80 years of its role as a hub for working class culture and education.

Stop The Road – the proposed Dalston to Hackney Wick road was refused by the council, but there was concerns it could still be pushed through by the GLC.

Barbauld Road: Cheaper to Stop the Bulldozers – Opposition to the demolition of houses in south Stoke Newington. The argument was that it would be £2million cheaper to renovate the existing homes. (I assume that this advice was ignored and that the estate on Barbauld Road is what happened?)

Health on the Cheap – a critical article about the reorganisation of Hackney hospitals by an anonymous doctor who had worked in them.

Abortion: the fight goes on – report on a demonstration against the proposed amendments to abortion law covered above. And the general lack of access to abortions for women in Hackney even without it.

Hackney Women’s Aid – short feature on women’s refuges etc. The absence of funding from Hackney Council is very troubling.

Nursery Nurses Win – negotiations culminate in an agreed 36 hour week and backdated pay rise.

Repairs: Who carries the can? – The state of the 26,000 council homes in Hackney. HPP conducted surveys amongst tenants in De Beauvoir and Stonebridge – a number of issues were identified.

Also groups and contacts (pretty much as above, but now includes Hackney Committee Against Racialism), a call for help with the paper, various upcoming events.

and:

A round up of housing news including housing association / council skullduggery and some properly horrible stories about housing situations people in Hackney had to endure.

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Plus! Music on the back page!

Music makes money. The star system produces glamorous performers on the one hand and passive consumers on the other. It’s not just that the music industry is a business – ruled by profit – the star system corrupts everybody learning or creating music. The motivation for learning or making up music is too often dreams of fame or fortune, not creating something for our friends, workmates or comrades to express the realities of our lives.

I’m not sure they would have been fans of the X-Factor… I should point out that I don’t agree that music fans are necessarily passive consumers (some of them put quite a lot of effort into it, whether “it” be active listening, involvement in fan communities or simply dressing the part when they go out). I also think that whilst music that expresses the “realities of our lives” is needed, that it would be quite boring if that was the only music around. Sometimes we need sounds that help us escape, or imagine new realities…

Having said all that, Hackney Music Workshop looks like it did great work!

(At some point I would also like to cover the Hackney Musicians Collective and their now unaffordable 1981 LP – any info welcome…)

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Issue 19 would appear in May 1976…

7th December: Daniel Rachel and Ken Worpole on Rock Against Racism

This just in from The Broadway Bookshop, 6 Broadway Market…

WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN:
A TALK with DANIEL RACHEL
in conversation with KEN WORPOLE
Wednesday 7 December 2016 at 7 p.m.

We are delighted to announce that Daniel Rachel will be appearing at the shop on Wednesday 7 December to read and talk about his new book WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN (published by Picador).

Daniel’s remarkable oral history – which brilliantly captures the mood on the streets of British cities before and after the epoch-changing rise of Rock Against Racism – will be introduced by writer Ken Worpole, who remembers when Hackney’s streets were on the front line.

Tickets £3 (includes glass of wine). For booking please RSVP: books@broadwaybookshophackney.com or call 020 7241 1626. For further information please see below.

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About the book:In August 1976, Eric Clapton made an inflammatory speech in support of Enoch Powell and ‘black’ repatriation, sparking an anti-racism campaign that would soon radicalise an entire generation. The following sixteen years saw politics and pop music come together as never before to challenge racism, gender inequality and social and class divisions. For the first time in UK history, musicians became instigators of social change; and their political persuasion as important as the songs they sang.

Through the voices of campaigners, musicians, artists and politicians, Daniel Rachel charts this extraordinary and pivotal period between 1976 and 1992, following the rise and fall of three key movements of the time: Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone, and Red Wedge, revealing how they both shaped, and were shaped by, the music of a generation.

Consisting of new and exclusive in-depth conversations with over 100 contributors, including Pauline Black, Billy Bragg, Jerry Dammers, Phill Jupitus, Neil Kinnock, Linton Kwesi-Johnson, Tom Robinson, Clare Short, Tracey Thorn and many more, Walls Come Tumbling Down is a fascinating, polyphonic and authoritative account of those crucial sixteen years in Britain’s history, from the acclaimed writer of Isle of Noises.

Walls Come Tumbling Down also features more than 150 images – many rare or previously unpublished – from some of the greatest names in photography, including Adrian Boot, Chalkie Davies, Jill Furmanovsky, Syd Shelton, Pennie Smith, Steve Rapport and Virginia Turbett.

“We were trying to change the world in our tiny way by stopping the rise of fascism amongst youth with the power of music.” – Red Saunders, founder of Rock Against Racism.

‘An amazing oral history’ Billy Bragg

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Daniel Rachel wrote his first song when he was sixteen and was the lead-singer in Rachels Basement. He was first eligible to vote in the 1992 General Election and now lives in north London with his partner and three children. Daniel is the author of Isle of Noises: Conversations with Great British Songwriters – a Guardian and NME Book of the Year – also published by Picador, and a regular guest contributor on BBC Radio 5.

www.danielrachel.com

Ken Worpole is a writer and social historian, whose work includes many books on architecture, landscape and public policy. He is married to photographer Larraine Worpole with whom he has collaborated on book projects internationally, as well as in Hackney, London, where they have lived and worked since 1969.

Ken is Emeritus Professor, Cities Institute London Metropolitan University, and has served on the UK government’s Urban Green Spaces Task Force, on the Expert Panel of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and as an adviser to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

www.worpole.net