The racist killing of Ishaque Ali in Clapton, 25 June 1978

Ishaque Ali and his nephew Faruq ed-Din were walking down Urswick Road in the early hours of Sunday morning, 25th June 1978. A white youth approached the pair and asked them for a match. And then for money. He then kicked Ishaque and was joined by two other white youths who attacked both Bengali men. By some accounts Ishaque was also strangled with bootlaces belonging to one of his assailants.

Ishaque Ali died of a heart attack in Hackney Hospital shortly after the assault. He was just 45 years old and had lived with his family in nearby Coopersale Road. Mr Ali had come to London from Bengal nine years previously and worked as a tailor. He had five young children.

Detective Chief Superintendent George Atterwil led the investigation into the killing and told The Times that “the motive here is theft and robbery” – i.e. not racism.

Others, including the bereaved family, took a different view. Ishaque’s cousin Sofar ud Din told the Hackney Gazette:

“He was attacked because of his colour. There was no money taken. It happens all the time in the East End.”

Alok Biswas of Socialist Worker knew the family:

“Faruq, who is recovering in hospital from his severe beating told me that the white youths called the two Bengalis ‘Paki bastards’ and ‘stinking blacks’. Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about this: Ishaque Ali was murdered. Had it not been for a West-Indian man who came to their assistance, Faruq would also be dead.”

Biswas also noted that the family was not aware of Ishaque having any heart problems.

I’m sure that people will come to their own conclusions about this, but given what we now know about the policing in the late 1970s and the general culture of the time, it seems unbelievable that racism played no part in the incident.

Two months previously, another Bengali – Altab Ali – was stabbed to death in a racist attack in St Mary’s Park, Whitechapel (the park was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998). And two weeks later, the front page story in the Hackney Gazette was “State of siege for us – protest Asians” following an unprovoked attack on eight Bengalis by three car loads of youths in Bow. Alongside all this, the fascists of the National Front were antagonising the community in Brick Lane with their large paper sales there each weekend.

The police and community respoonse

Patrick Kodikara of Hackney Council For Racial Equality told the Hackney Gazette:

“We are fast losing confidence in the police’s ability to defend the ethnic minority communities. If that means black self-defence groups, so be it.”

The Gazette’s editorial suggested more black and asian police officers as an alternative solution and deplored suggestions of vigilantism. A later editorial continued this theme, rebuking the “hysterical prodding that certain hot-heads are resorting to for reasons best known to themselves”

Roy Hiscock from Hackney South and Shoreditch Labour wasn’t having any of it:

“A history of the defence of the victimised and the most vulnerable will not be ignored because some well heeled editor, safe from being stabbed, shot at or otherwise attacked makes hysterical cries of ‘gun law’.”

A letter from Hackney Muslim Council attempted to find some middle ground:

“The principle and the manner of self-defence need to be examined within and outside the ethnic groups. While rash and violent langauge will be dangerously irresponsible, to sit back and do nothing would be criminal and immoral.”

Doomed Conservative parliamentary candidate Tim Miller felt that more police on the street and harsher penalties for criminals was the answer. Instead, the community got out on the street:

The Times 1st July 1978

On Friday 30th June, 300 people marched with black flags and black armbands from the site of Ishaque’s attack to Hackney police staton. The protest was organised by Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee. The group announced a day of action for Monday 17th of July:

Hackney Peoples Press #35 August 1978

On the day 70 percent of Asian shops in Hackney were closed and many children did not attend school. A number of pupils from Clapton School attended a rally at Hackney Town Hall and spoke out against the police and SUS laws alongside trade union and other community leaders. The day culminated in a three hour sitdown demonstration outside Bethnal Green police station in protest at three arrests of protestors.

The attackers and investigation

Ishaque’s attackers were described as white and between the ages of 18 and 20. They were reportedly casually dressed and between 5 foot 5 and 5 foot 7.

Newsclipping courtesy of Hackney Archives and Hackney Muslims

Three young men were eventually arrested for the attack and charged with murder: James Mitchell (17 years old, a cabinet maker from Kentish Town Road, Camden) and two sixteen year old males from Homerton.

All three were granted bail at Old Street Court on Friday 30th June 1978 (the same day as the community marched) and were required to live outside London until the hearing, which was scheduled for September 6th.

I’ve not been able to find out definitively if they were convicted but this tweet from Searchlight Archive suggests that they were, albeit one year later in September 1979:

Aftermath

In an article for the Altab Ali Foundation, Rajonuddin Jalal cites Ishaque Ali’s death as being a key factor in the emergence of the anti-racist organisation the Bangladesh Youth Movement (BYM):

“I was involved in the formation of the BYM, which was a crucial youth organisation organising against the then National Front (NF) from back in 1978. I was involved in setting up many cultural projects in Tower Hamlets, for example The Kabi Nazrul Centre. The youth movement played an important role, against the fascist when they became organised and active in Brick Lane area, following the murder of Altab Ali and Ishaq Ali back in 1978.

BYM was one of the leading organisations that organised the first protest march that involved about 2000 of Bengalis coming out in the streets of London, marching from Whitechapel to the House of Commons and back. And the slogan was ‘Here to stay, here to fight”.

In Hackney the National Front became increasingly active in the summer of 1978 and even opened their Nartional HQ in Hoxton in September. In December a black teenager named Michael Ferreira was fatally stabbed by an alleged National Front supporter in Stoke Newington, his injuries greatly exacerbated by the indifference of police officers who were asked to help.

Several hundred people attended Michael’s funeral procession.

Michael’s death and the general climate of violent racism led to the formation of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation. This set the scene for the community response to Colin Roach’s death from a gunshot wound inside Stoke Newington police station in 1983 and various police scandals unearthed by Hackney Community Defence Association throughout the 1990s.

Notes and a plea for corrections

Ishaque Ali’s death is under-reported online. Usually it appears in passing as part of an article about the murder of Altab Ali in Whitechapel.

Most online reports say Ishaque was attacked on the 26th of June 1978, whereas it’s clear from my research that it was the early hours of the 25th. Ali is also described as young throughout the internet, but was 45 years old.

I think it’s important to try and get these things right – we’re talking about someone’s Dad or husband who was killed in an unprovoked racist attack.

So, for full transparency, I should say that I’ve struggled with which names to use. I suspect this is because of transliteration issues, but I am happy to be corrected. Ishaque Ali (The Times and internet reporting) is also described as Ishakh Ali in Socialist Worker and Ashiq Ali in the Hackney Gazette.

Similarly Ishaque’s companion and nephew Faruq ed-Din is also described as his brother in law. Faruq’s name is also given as Faqruddin (Socialist Worker) and Farique Ud Din (Hackney Gazette).

Press cuttings, sources and further reading

Julie Begum – How a racist murder of Altab Ali changed the way the Bengalis saw themselves in Britain (Altab Ali Foundation PDF)

Past Tense: London anti-fascist history 1978: Blockade against National Front march on Brick Lane.

The Times 26 June 1978
Socialist Worker 1st July 1978
Hackney Gazette, July 4th 1978

With thanks to Hackney Muslims, Hackney Archives and Splits and Fusions Archive.

Roger and The Gang seek “chicks” in Dalston (1972)

A letter to underground magazine International Times, 1972.

Gender balance seems to have been a serious issue for Hackney communes in 1972. I have previously posted a similar notice from the same year by a gay collective in nearby Abersham Road E8. The difference is that Abersham Rd notice explicitly mentioned “we are into smashing our male patriarchy” whereas this would not appear to be a concern for Roger (and/or “the gang”).

For me this speaks to a clash of subcultures – on the one hand the hedonist druggies of 86 Sandringham Road. On the other the hard-edged feminist political milieu that would host figures like the Angry Brigade, Astrid Proll and Dalston Men’s Group. The hedonist faction is less well documented, for obvious reasons… I’d love to speak to Roger and the gang about their time in Hackney if they are still around.

With thanks to Pocock Rare Books on Instagram for posting this. And Paul STN for bringing it to my attention.

See also:

History Workshop Journal: Feminist squatting in Hackney

The Workers Circle Diamond Jubilee 1909-1969

A previous post covered the history of radical Jewish group The Workers Circle and their efforts to fight anti-semitism in Hackney.

Since then I have managed to get hold of a nice booklet they published in 1969 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the organisation. This has now been scanned and uploaded to archive.org where it can be read, downloaded etc.

It’s in good company there – 171 documents about the radical history of Hackney have now been uploaded covering the years from 1969-2011.

The Diamond Jubilee document includes a useful history of the Workers Circle and an overview of its activities. Some highlights for me were:

“Trade Unionism has always been part of the life of Circle members. All applicants for Circle membership were asked if they were Trade Union members. All through the existence of the Circle, leadership and assistance, both financial and in propaganda, were given when on strike or in other difficulties, to the tailors, bakers, cabinet-makers, cap-makers, furriers, shop assistants etc., many of them members of the Circle.”

1917

“This was a year of special significance for the Circle’s members who had different ideas about the events surrounding the Revolution in Russia. One result was the formation of what is still Branch 9, founded by members with similar leanings.”

This branch should probably be contrasted with Branch 15 (Poale Zion) formed in East London in 1922 as an explicitly Zionist group. Unfortunately the booklet does not mention tensions between these two tendencies in the Workers Circle.

The document is also a fascinating overview of the Circle’s mutual aid efforts, including weekly legal advice sessions, a convalescent home and wideranging cultural activities including a drama group and music recitals. Of course, it wasn’t all socialising…

1926 to 1939: FASCISM AND NAZISM

“The rise of Fascism and Nazism for the last 6 years of this period involved the membership, now at its peak, in its greatest efforts.

Our members, in London and in the Provinces, were either initiators of activities, or in the forefront of united progressive action. From 1933 – 1939 they participated in every possible action against Nazi Germany, and against the Fascist movement in England.

In 1934, the Central Committee were instrumental in the formation of the Jewish Labour Council, after initiating a Conference attended by representatives of 21 organisations. This organisation led in 1936 to the formation of the Jewish Peoples’ Council against Fascism and Anti-Semitism which carried on a massive propaganda campaign. Many will remember its influence among East London Jewry and their non Jewish allies on October 4th 1936, when the Fascists were prevented from marching through East London. [i.e The Battle of Cable Street]”

Also solidarity with anti-fascist work in Spain:

“From 1936 – 1939 the Circle helped in every way the Aid for Spain Campaign, with collections of money and food. Circle members fought in Spain and some lost their lives in the fight against Fascism. The Circle was linked too in its special support for the ‘Naftali-Botwin’ Battalion of the International Brigade composed of Jews from Poland and other countries.”

It is interesting that the advent of the NHS and its resourcing through taxation had a terrible impact on radical mutual aid societies:

“The 1948 New Insurance Act (the Beveridge Scheme)) dealt the final blow from which the Circle, (and all similar Socities) has never recovered.

With compulsory Insurance contributions deducted at work, and benefits catered for by the State, the only ties that bound members were the ideological ones, (still very strong), the Convalescent Home and sheer loyalty. The decline in membership over the years, bringing our total in 1969 to under 1000, is the result of inability in the face of outside cultural and economic changes to recruit replacements for the natural diminution through death. “

Finally:

“Since 1961 the Memorial Committee supported by the Circle has campaigned in the Jewish Community for the establishment of a Memorial in London to the memory of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust.”

The UK government is now planning such a memorial.

Book review: The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones by Stewart Home

Stewart Home lived in Hackney in the 1980s and his fiction has often included London’s finest borough as a setting. His earliest novels took a sly dig at the anarchist and arty scenes here, mashing up techniques from the avant garde with pulp fiction from the 1970s.

The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is his fifteenth novel, originally published by Test Centre in 2014. (Around this time the publisher was operating a pop up space at the old Sea Scouts building on Stoke Newington Church Street – now a children’s nursery). I missed the original edition, but fortunately Cripplegate Books have republished the book.

“The Nine Lives of…” is a fictionalised autobiography, based on extensive research and conversations with people who knew boxer and cat burglar Raymond Jones. So… perhaps not something you would expect to read about on a website about the radical history of Hackney? Well, dear reader, I am pleased to say that your expectations are about to be confounded.

Ray “The Cat” Jones shortly before his death at the age of 84 in 2001

Ray grew up in the Welsh valleys and worked as a miner before becoming an infamous boxer and burglar in London. He lived at various locations in Hackney including Brougham Road (later to be an epicentre for squat punks and radicals), Colvestone Crescent and Cranwich Road, Stamford Hill (previously inhabited by anarchist Emanuel Michaels).

The author is not someone who thinks that all criminality is radical by nature and there are a number of amusing sideswipes at anti-social scumbags throughout the book. But by all accounts Ray Jones sustained a successful career as a cat burglar over several decades – and robbed purely from upper class poshos. In Home’s hands our hero becomes an entirely plausible class warrior – hellbent on revenge against a system that persecuted him and the working class as a whole. Ray even makes anonymous donations of wads of filthy lucre to causes like a miners’ benevolent fund back in South Wales.

There are a number of vivid accounts of daring raids on country mansions and even a couple of nail-biting prison escapes. This – along with some wry observations on London’s criminal subculture in the 1950s-1970s – is the heart of the book. It’s a proper page turner.

Jones went straight in 1972 at the age of 52 and set himself up as a market trader on Ridley Road. Throughout the story we are treated to a number of passing thoughts on world and political affairs and I found the juxtaposition of a reflective Ray and the unfolding political turmoil of 1980s London to be a ripping read. He even joins Hackney Anti-Poll Tax Union…

Home’s treatment of the subject matter is done sensitively and affectionately but without the cloying nostalgia that bogs down many a gangster memoir. He doesn’t shy away from some of Jones’ mistakes and regrets. At the other end of the spectrum there are some excellent demolition jobs on the scumbags of the aristocracy and judiciary who find themselves light of some jewelry or other luxury items after a daring visit from “the cat”.

Raymond Jones died in Homerton Hospital in February 2001 at the age of 84. One of his last wishes was for his life story to be published as a book and a film. The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is certainly a fitting tribute to the man.

Hackney’s racist police in the 1940s

Sid Easton

Sid Easton (1911-1991) was a Jewish cabbie, communist and trade unionist. The following is taken from his autobiographical tribute “The Life and Times of Sid Easton” edited by Graham Stevenson. This is available here (text) and here (pdf scan) and also includes a lot of material on the Transport and General Workers Union attempting to clamp down on communists in its Dalston branch.


At this time [1941] l had an unpleasant tangle with the law, it was an event heavily tinged with anti-Semitism. I had a job carting finished dresses in my cab. I waited whilst they loaded up and then I took them where I was directed. I carried string and I used to put it in one side through an open window and take it out through the other side and tie it to the roof.

Then they would pile dresses on hangers from the string inside the cab. So much so that the guy who sat in the back of the cab was completely invisible to anyone who didn’t know he was in there.

On this job one day, I was going down Dalston Lane, a viciously anti-semitic area. Nowadays it is viciously racist against Bangla Deshis. The traffic lights were just turning red as I got to them, so I pulled up. I wasn’t conscious of cutting anyone up. l was in such a good mood, once I’d finished this job I was going home to have an early finish. All of a sudden, I got the feeling that someone was trying to come over to my nearside, but couldn”t do so as the kerb was in the way. I looked to see what was happening, when someone came over.

“I’ve a good mind to punch you in the fucking jaw for cutting me up,” he told me. I looked at him, “Look, mate ,” I replied. “I wasn’t aware that I cut anybody up. If I did, I’m sorry. But be careful how you go, don’t threaten me, because I’ve got a weak heart,” I checked him. “I’ll give you a weak heart,” he said and swung a punch at me. I opened the big half door of the cab and swung it out as he shaped up. He was forced to step back and so didn’t get anywhere near me. I thought I’d let him see how big I was, because I’ve a tendency when I’m driving to slump down a bit! So, I got out of the cab and said,”Now look, you’ve had two goes.Why don’t you get back into your cab..” (he was actually driving a lorry ) “..and when the lights change we’ll go. I’ve told you, I didn’t intend to cut you up. Whatever I did was done quite unconsciously. I’m sorry, but what else do you want? Blood?”

“You fucking Jew bastard,” he growled and slung one at me. He was a mug, because I could see it coming a million miles away. So I just stopped it and hit him myself. He hit the deck – he fell flat on his face. There he laid. It was unfortunate for me, because immediately I hit him, my arms were grabbed by two men. They turned out to be plain clothed policemen. They stood waiting for the lorry driver to get up, but l’d done too good a job on him and he remained unconscious. Leaving him on the floor they took me to the police station, riding the few yards on the side runners of the cab. My passenger was still in the back and all this time was hidden by the hanging dresses. Well, I didn’t say anything about him!

These policemen knew what they were about alright, they didn’t care that I was defending myself… it was Jew versus Gentile. In the charge room they prepared to do me for grievous bodily harm. One of them says, ”It’s a good job this wasn’t at night, because we’d have done you.” Meaning of course that they would have beat me up under cover of darkness. “Look, I’ll tell you something,” I replied. “If this had been at night the pair of you would have been on the floor and out. But I’ll let you away with it. If you feel like it, I’ll prove it to you.”

By this time a superior officer arrived and began questioning me. He sent the two policemen who had arrested me out for the body. The knocked out lorry driver had come round before the police could get back to the scene of the crime, although they did have a note of the number of the lorry. The driver nonetheless had pushed off without knowing what had happened. Whilst the passenger in my cab emerged from his hiding place and arrived at the station to confirm that I had been a victim not an assailant.

So they were unable to make the GBH charge stick and resorted to charging me only with assault.

As I was leaving the station, the two policemen who had arrested me started whistling “Deutschland Uber Alles” – remember this was 1941! I asked the policeman in charge if he knew what they were whistling and told him that they also had reckoned they would have beaten me up in the backyard if it had been night-time. I told him that they could do that as far as I was concemed, and lock the door, for there was only going to be one person knocking on the door, the other two would only be fit for burying. He said, “You’re loosing your temper.”

I replied, “What do you mean, “loosing my temper” -there’s a war on, didn’t you know! They’re whistling the enemy’s song and you’re talking to me about loosing my temper. I thought this was something you could be in prison for.” Eventually I had to leave the station, my customer was still anxious to deliver his dresses!

In court, both me and the lorry driver were bound over to keep the peace and had to pay a two shillings fine. The policeman who took the money off us said that we had both acted stupidly and that we ought to shake hands, but the other guy refused although I told the policeman that I didn’t want to fight in the first place. So the copper said, “If I turned round the other way, do you want to give him another one!” That was funny, but I said it was too easy and in any case it was no use banging somebody you didn’t really have to be afraid of.

Further reading

Anti- Apartheid and porn “redecorations” in 1980s Hackney

“Daughters of Amazon” attack Hackney porn shop (1983):

From the anarchist newspaper Black Flag 17th June 1983

Anti-Apartheid activists attack Barclays Bank on Green Lanes (1986).

From Black Flag 13th January 1986

Damage to property as direct action was reasonably common in the 1970s and 1980s. It had a dual function of “propaganda by deed”, where the business owner (and the community) were left in little doubt about the strength of feeling against them – and of course there was economic damage to the business too.

Furthermore, activists were able to claim responsibility anonymously through the underground and anarchist press via their political statements. The Angry Brigade excelled at this in the 1970s, with some very powerful manifestos – and one of their early targets was Barclays Bank on Stoke Newington High Street (now Stoke Newington Books) which was firebombed on October 26th 1970.

But most damage to property was far less spectacular than that meted out by the Angry Brigade. Indeed, the attraction of low level vandalism was precisely its accessibility – it was cheap and could be done by one or two people at night, etc.

“Diary of ALF Actions” from Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group Newsletter 10, April 1984

In the 1980s Animal Liberation Front activists must have damaged thousands (if not tens of thousands) of butchers shops and other properties involved with animal exploitation in the UK. Common actions would be anything from graffiti, to glueing up the locks so that the building could not be accessed the next day.

Hackney based anarchopunk band The Apostles (who lived at Brougham Road E8, off Broadway Market) captured the spirit of this particular direct action subculture in their 1983 song “Pigs For Slaughter”:

“Glue the locks of all the banks and butchers – or kick them in,
Spray a message of hate across a Bentley – or smash it up,
Sabotage the meat in supermarkets – poison them all,
Go to Kensington and mug a rich bastard of all his cash.

We’re knocking on your door,
We’re taking no more,
For this is Class War.

Put sugar in the petrol tank,
Deflate the tyres with six inch nails,
That’s the way to wreck a Rolls,
So get stuck in it never fails.
We’ll smash it up and we’ll bum it all down.”

The Apostles – pigs for slaughter

This kind of politically motivated damage to property seems far less common now, mainly because of the increased prevalence of CCTV, but also the laws around incitement are much harsher, so I think people that published manifestos or seemed to be encouraging this sort of thing might find themselves in far greater trouble with the law…

There’s probably a lot more to be written about this area, so any pointers about direct action generally in Hackney or Animal Liberation / animal rights activity in the borough would be welcome.

Further reading

E. Michaels – a Jewish Anarchist in Stoke Newington

The obituary above appeared in Direct Action vol 7 #3, in March 1966. Direct Action was the newspaper of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which operated from 1950 until the late 1970s. The SWF then became the Direct Action Movement before changing into the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – an organisation which is still active today.

A brief death notice in Freedom February 19th 1966

Who was he? Everything starts with an “E.”

It’s easy to understand that a Jewish immigrant revolutionary might want to keep their personal details secret. Googling “E. Michaels” produces some good results in the anarchist archives, but that is only half of the story…

Fortunately there is only one “E. Michaels” listed in the death records for Hackney for 1966:

Further poking about turns up this lovely bit of genealogy, which suggests that Emanuel:

  • Was born in Plock, central Poland on 25 Sep 1890 (near enough to 1891 listed above?)
  • Emigrated to England at the age of ten in 1900.
  • Married Rosie Kitman (3 Apr 1892 – 14 Jan 1963) at Mile End in 1914.
  • Had four children (including Harry, as in the Freedom clipping above, which is reassuring)
  • Worked as a Tailors Presser.
  • Died 12 Feb 1966.

This seems to fit quite well with what we know from the obituaries above and the sort of lives that radical Jewish anarchists would be leading at this time. But I’m not an expert, so if any historians or genealogists out there have spotted any errors, let me know!

Update: a comrade has kindly supplied a passport photo of the handsome Michaels.

Anarchy in the East End!

Most of comrade Michaels’ political activity seems to have been in the East End of London in the first half of the 20th Century. He was involved with setting up a “free school” at 62 Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, which also hosted The Worker’s Friend Club and the East London Anarchist Group. He was also the secretary of the prisoner support group the Anarchist Red Cross and is listed as a donor in a few issues of the London anarchist newspaper Freedom in the 1910s.

According to census data he lived at the following addresses too:

  • 1911: 25 Hungerford Street, Commercial Road
  • 1921: 73 Sutton Street
  • 1939: 163 Jubilee Street E1

But what about Hackney, eh?

Michaels seems to have remained active up until his death. Sparrows Nest Archive has scans of some his letters from 1958 to 1964. Most of these are addressed to Ken Hawkes, the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation. Many of them mention meetings at Circle House, 13 Sylvester Path, E8. I’ve written about the Workers Circle and Jewish radicals in Hackney previously.

Michaels’ letters are largely administrative – donations, exchanges of publications, details of meetings etc. But the letterheads are invaluable:

Firstly, they tell us that Michaels was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish radical organisations Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labour) and Rudolf Rocker Publishing Committee. (Rocker was a German Gentile who became heavily involved with the Jewish anarchist movement).

Secondly, the letters show us where Michaels lived in Hackney. (This is my assumption, based on the nature of the addresses listed and that meetings etc seemed to take place at Circle House and not those on the letterheads). So it looks like Michaels lived at 12 Cranwich Road in Stamford Hill during the 1950s and then moved to “Morley House” N16 in 1961. Which no longer exists…

But! According to this useful blog, Morley House was one of the council blocks at the east end of Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington and was renamed Nelson Mandela House in 1984. There is a quote from Mandela on the side of it which can be seen here.

A diversion down Cazenove Road

According to Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Morley House was built in 1937-1938 “with a meanly detailed exterior, although the planning of the individual flats was generous at the time”.

Fourteen years after Emanuel Michaels’ death, the flats and exterior would see further anarchistic action.

From Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press reported that Morley House was due for renovation, which meant that:

“All the council tenants were moved out between 1978 and autumn 1979, and the estate was left almost completely empty.”

Perhaps inevitably some tenacious local people seized this opportunity:

“In November 1979 the first squatters started to move in, even though vandalism and thieving had reduced the building to a dilapidated eyesore.

By February 1980 approximately 80 flats were occupied and some residents approached Hackney Community Housing Resource Centre to ask about licensing the house. (A licence to occupy premises does not imply tenancy as such but makes the occupation authorised by the Council.)

They suggested a direct approach to the Council, and three Council Officers were invited to visit the estate and talk to same of the residents. These officers submitted a report to the Housing Management Committee on 31st March this year, and suggested the granting of a license through Hackney Community Housing (HCH). The Committee however, rejected the recommendations and decided to evict the residents – offering the property to HCH as short term housing instead.”

What followed was a bit of a standoff, with the Council refusing to back down and the squatters getting more organised:

“They held weekly meetings, formed themselves into an Association, cleared up rubbish, and met a number of councillors to discuss the matter. They also formally presented a deputation to the Housing Management Committee asking once again for a licence.”

That all probably seems pretty amazing to people who’ve tried squatting recently, but even in 1980, this was simply delaying the inevitable:

From Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

Six months later, the Council’s heavy squad made the 200 squatters homeless:

“Following two dramatic dawn raids by police the Morley House squat in Cazenove Road has had all its electricity and gas supplies cut off. At least 25 people were arrested, mainly on charges relating to the stealing of gas and electricity, but the police indiscriminately smashed through the doors of all the tenants on two of the blocks on the estate.

The first raid took place on 14 January and was made by a large number of police, accompanied by police dogs and gas board officials. The police carried no warrants and yet made extensive searches for drugs and stolen goods. Many doors were broken down in the raid, while others had 6-inch nails driven into their hinges to prevent tenants from re-entering their flats. Whilst searching the rooms the police took many photographs, presumably to be used later in evidence.

Using the excuse that many of the tenants were not paying for gas, the supplies to the estate were cut off, although electric cooking rings were brought in by the Gas Board for those who complained that they were in fact paying their gas bills. But in the early hours of the following morning, the police arrived again, this time with Electricity Board officials, and electricity supplies were cut off under the pretext that all the wiring on the estate was in a dangerous condition.

As a result of these raids about half of the 150 people who lived in the squat have been intimidated into leaving. Speaking to residents of Morley House HPP has discovered that these raids follow several months of police harassment. It is estimated that some 50% of the residents had been picked up by the police prior to the raids. Morley House has been a licensed squat for over one year. In that time Gas and Electricity officials have visited the estate several times, but have not ordered any repairs.”

I hope that Emanuel would have approved of the squatters, but you never know. It’s interesting that the block was subsequently renamed Mandela House – Hackney Council in the 1980s was eager to promote social struggles thousands of miles away, but renaming the block after Emanuel Michaels or celebrating the courageous battle of the squatters was off-limits…

If anyone reading this has more information about either Emanuel Michaels or the Morley House occupation, please do leave a comment or drop me an email.

Sources and further reading

Special thanks to Neil Transpontine.

The Workers’ Circle – fighting anti-semitism in Hackney

Tom Brown – Story of the Syndicalist Workers Federation: Born in Struggle at Libcom, who also have an archive of the SWF’s Direct Action newspaper.

Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner – The Buildings of England: London 4: North, Yale University Press 1999.

George Cores – Personal recollections of the anarchist past (published by Kate Sharpley Library, available at Libcom)

Nick Heath – Echoes of Ferrer in an East End back street at Libcom

Albert Meltzer – The Anarchists in London 1935-1955. A personal memoir (online at Libcom, hardcopy from Freedom Press.)

Rob Ray – A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists (Freedom Press, 2018)

Philip Ruff – Book Review – The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid, 1923-1931 (KSL/ABSC, 2010) at Kate Sharpley Library

Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

Hackney’s acid house party hysteria (1988)

As moral panics go, Acid House was pretty enjoyable all round. On one side, the press, politicians and police were able to whip themselves up into a frenzy about thousands of young people taking drugs and losing all respect for the laws of private property. On the other side, thousands of young people took drugs and lost all respect for the laws of private property…

Here is not the place to get into a comprehensive history of Acid House, so let me just say it was invented by Afro-American DJs in Chicago in the late 1980s. It was popularised in London from 1987 onwards by clubs like Shoom in Bankside, Southwark and Trip in the West End.

The appeal of the music, and the culture of its parties, smiley face t-shirts and use of drugs like 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA aka Ecstasy) was such that the summer of 1988 was dubbed “the second summer of love”.

By September 1988, the anxiety about Acid House had reached Hackney, with the cops going into conniptions about “a wave of warehouse parties” they claimed were “dangerous drug dens”:

Hackney Gazette 16th September 1988

This first press cutting mentions a party in Commercial Road, Shoreditch – and an attempt by ravers to resist the police spoiling their fun. This sets the tone for the next few years, when rave organisers played cat and mouse with the cops – so clubbers were never certain if advertised events would actually take place or not, which some would say added to the underground illicit vibe…

Hackney Gazette 30th September 1988

It’s interesting that the event above was shut down before it started “thanks to a tip-off from a neighbour”. The tensions between illegal raves (and to a lesser extent, pirate radio stations) and the working class communities where they took place, is under-explored in the literature about the heroic history of the music.

For example, when photographer Dave Swindell spoke to the Gazette about his clubbing days he recalled that:

“…the area around Old Street and Hoxton was effectively “a desert” at the time, making it the best spot in London for warehouse parties, with plenty of suitable venues and barely any neighbours to upset.”

“Barely any” suggests that perhaps there were some – and I’m aware of several people living on estates in Hoxton and Shoreditch more recently who have been upset by clubbers making nuisances of themselves in the early hours. But that is London, really. Which of has hasn’t been woken up by a police helicopter, road rage, the neighbours having a wild one, or whatever…

Hackney Gazette 21st October 1988

By October, the police had used the Acid House hysteria to get funding for a task force “to break a suspected ring of drug pushers they believe are organising the illegal parties in Hackney” after “a surge” of events in the borough. Sounds fun!

The first victory for the task force would follow in November, when a curiously unspecified amount of drugs was seized in a car park in Wheler Street E1. 18 people were arrested, but it’s unclear what – if anything – they were charged with:

Hackney Gazette 11th November 1988

Once again, the piece above demonstrates the tenacity of the ravers in fighting for their right to party. Venue shut down? Screw it, let’s have a rave in this car park…

Hackney Gazette 25th November 1988

In a bizarre twist, by November the drugs squad were trying to play down the “hype” about Acid House in Hackney pointing out that there had been “no large scale seizures” of Ecstasy. It appeared that local residents were more bothered by smackheads in Haggerston than ravers.

This November clipping is also interesting because of the downplaying by the cops of the crack cocaine menace, which was also being hyped up in the press at the time. This is deeply ironic because Hackney police would soon become very familiar with crack:

In 1990, Hugh Prince was in a Dalston shebeen when it was raided by police. An officer ordered Prince into an empty, unlit room to be searched. When he refused, PCs Christopher Hart and James Havercroft threatened Prince with a sledgehammer and planted eight rocks of crack cocaine in his cigarette packet.

Danny Bailey is serving three-and-a-half years for intent to supply crack. He was planted with one rock by DC Peter Popham in Sandringham Road in 1991.

In 1992 Pearl Cameron would be sentenced to 5 years for conspiracy to supply crack cocaine. She revealed in court that she was supplied by a serving Stoke Newington police officer, later to be identified as DC Roy Lewandowski.

Maxine Edwards, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Beinard Gillan and PC Gerrard Carroll.

Cecil Forbes, who claims he was planted with crack by PC Chitty.

Val Howell, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Peter McCulloch.

Mohamadou Njie, who claims he was fitted up by PC Chitty and DC McCulloch for intent to supply crack.

From hackney community defence association: community defence newsletter March 1993

By December, the cops were at pains to say that parties they had raided were not Acid House raves:

Hackney Gazette 2nd December 1988

But little did the police know that this was only the beginning. The year would end with a bang…

Hackney wide-boy Wayne Anthony had taken Ecstasy while on holiday in Ibiza in 1987. He and his mates had then got the Acid House bug during a night at central London’s Heaven nightclub and set about organising their own parties in underused warehouses under the “Genesis” banner. These would be audacious occasions – some of the first large scale Acid House events. Their key dates were held in Hackney towards the end of 1988.

Wayne Anthony decorating a warehouse in Leaside Road E5

Anthony’s autobiography Class of 88: The True Acid House Experience is a wild ride that juxtaposes loved up ravers with a terrifying array of gangsters and ex-military security firms trying to muscle in on the action.

Location of the Leaside Road warehouse from the back of a flyer

Discovering an empty warehouse with a capacity of 5,000 by the canal on Leaside Road E5, the crew set about preparing for a series of festive events. But things did not go smoothly:

The printer did us 500 flyers and we spent the whole weekend promoting the Christmas Eve gig. Then one morning, just as we were back in the warehouse slogging our guts out to get it finished in time, we were having a spliff break when the entrance door was booted in. It was the big skinhead bloke we’d met on our first visit there.

He had a sawn-off shotgun in his hand and was going berserk. ‘You nicked my venue, you cunts,’ he said. ‘Hold on a minute, mate. You either use that shooter or listen to what we have to say,’ I answered. ‘No, you fucking listen: this place is mine, do you understand?’ He walked up to me, pointing the gun at my head. ‘Look, calm down. You were meant to pay the deposit last week but never showed. What did you expect us to do?’ asked ANDY. ‘Where’s the owner?’ the skinhead said, lowering the gun. NUTT! I head-butted him square on the nose and grabbed the arm which held the shooter. Andy took a run and whacked him over the head with a lump of wood. He fell to the floor, dropping the shooter in the process.

Andy quickly picked it up and shoved it in his face. ‘Now you listen and you listen good. We don’t want any trouble. It’s your own fuckin’ fault you lost the gaff, not ours. If you want to see anyone about it see the guvnor.’ He nodded, and we slowly let him up. ‘You’re right, I’m sorry, mate. It’s just when I heard you were in here I thought you were taking the piss’ he said. ‘OK,’ I answered. ‘Look, you better go and not come back unless you want to start a war.’

Wayne anthony – class of 88
Entrance to Leaside Road Warehouse
Interior of Leaside Road warehouse with Genesis banner
Interior of Leaside Road warehouse

The parties were by all accounts an amazing experience for clubbers. Genesis used thousands of old car tyres that littered the building to build a UV lit entrance tunnel and bar area. Other decor included a huge Christmas tree, parachutes, netting, inflatables & some new white canopies stolen from a nearby building site. Wayne Anthony admits in his book to playing fast and loose with fire regulations and some physical confrontations with local gangsters though.

You can’t stop the music: 1989 onwards

Above: Genesis flyers – NYE 1988, 7th Jan 1989 (both Leaside Road) and 14th Jan 1989 (Waterden Road, Hackney Wick).

Genesis continued to organise raves throughout 1989 and 1990, many of them in Hackney. Wayne’s book explains the increased hassle that the crew faced as they became more successful and well-known.

Other promoters also came to the fore, so here is a random selection of their flyers too:

And the cops continued to play their part in the unfolding drama…

Hackney Gazette 3rd November 1989
Hackney Gazette 11th May 1990

Hackney played its part in the subsequent evolutions of Acid House music too.

Hackney’s reggae soudsystem artists combined with the rave and hip hop scenes through producers like Shut Up and Dance to form the new genre ‘Ardkore, which then mutated into Jungle. Dalston’s legendary reggae nightclub the Four Aces transformed into Labyrynth in 1990 – one of the most legendary rave venues.

Anarchist squat punks took an interest in the new electronic sounds and got on board with acid techno and the free party scene:

But these other stories need to be told at greater length at some other time. It all started in 1988…

All Hackney ravers are welcome to leave comments below if they have memories of those times.

Sources and further reading

Thanks to Mark Metcalf for the scans.

Wayne Anthony – Class of 88:The True Acid House Experience – read online

Wayne Anthony – classof88.co.uk – website with flyers, blog, merch etc.

This vidcast is an excellent and very detailed oral history of the Leaside Road raves:

This connection between anarcho-punk and techno is explained comprehensively in the expansive Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted.

I’d also recommend Datacide magazine generally, for reading around the politics of dance music. Some good places to start would be:

Hackney HOWLers book launch Thurs March 17th

Slighty short notice but there is an online book launch of “Write Women Into History: Recollections from older Hackney feminists” this Thursday.

My review of the book is here: https://hackneyhistory.wordpress.com/2022/02/05/hackney-howlers-write-women-into-history/

Hackney radical history – events of interest

A few upcoming events of interest I’ve happened across – feel free to get in touch with anything I’ve missed…

Wednesday 23rd February 7pm:
Their Story in Hackney: Progressive Activism and Queerness
with Richard & Kieran Kirkwood

£5/£3 concessionsbook here

VFD 66 Stoke Newington Road,  London N16 7XB

Join us at VFD for an insightful talk on the activism and human rights movements that have taken place in Hackney from the 60s onwards. We’ll hear from Richard Kirkwood who participated in many of these movements and from Kieran Kirkwood who builds upon their father’s work as an organiser for London’s Renters Union, climate activists Wretched of the Earth and saving culture movement Save Ridley Road.

We’ll talk about the link between the radical history and politics of Hackney, how that attracts queer arts communities which in turn attracts investment and gentrification which then means they are no longer welcome or can afford to live in the area.

Richard and Kieran Kirkwood
Richard is a former senior lecturer of social science at London Met University is Hackney born and bred and was involved as a young man in the politics of the area and was a regular ‘space keeper ‘at Speakers Corner on Ridley Road Market in efforts to keep Nazi’s off the Corner. He was involved with many unions from the 70’s onwards as well as organising movements, groups and individuals. He is still an activist and has incredible knowledge and insights of Hackney’s history and can relate them to movements happening nationally and internationally.

Saturday 26th February 12pm/2pm:
Guided Walking Tour with Queer Hackney Resident Lavinia Co-op

£10 book here.

Start at: VFD 66 Stoke Newington Road,  London N16 7XB

Discover Hackney’s history, guided by performance artist Lavinia Co-op, sharing stories of life in Hackney. 

Lavinia has lived most of his life in Hackney and was a member of the radical queer theatre group The Bloolips from the 1970’s to 1990’s. 

Thursday 10th March 7pm:
Misbehaviour: Learning From the Women of the Grosvenor Avenue
Commune

Donation book here.

Newington Green Meeting House

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Come along to meet and hear from some of the women who used to live in a commune in Grosvenor Avenue, Stoke Newington.

This group famously demonstrated against the Miss World Contest in 1970 (which was watched by 100 million people worldwide).Their book, “Misbehaving”, told the fascinating true story behind the 2020 film about the protest, which starred Keira Knightley – and which was a hit with fans.

https://ngmh.org.uk/

Saturday 12th March 7:30pm:
Hackney Downs: The School that Dared to Fight and Didn’t Deserve to Die
Betty Hales and Jeff Davies, the last Head & Deputy Head of Hackney Downs School

Free/donation

St John’s Church Hall, next to the church opposite Matalan, High Road, Leytonstone, London E11 1HH

News From Nowhere Club was founded in 1996: “the club challenges the commercialisation and isolation of modern life and meets monthly on Saturdays.”

There is much of interest in its 2022 programme, but this forthcoming event is particularly of relevance to Hackney:

In July 1995, Hackney Downs School won a prolonged battle to stay open, against a corrupt, incompetent Local Education Authority, convincing the full council to vote against the recommendation of its own Chief Education Officer: an amazingvictory, yet just ten days laterit was taken over by the East London Education Association, a quango set up by the then failing Tory government, desperate to put the blame for all social ills on anyone but itself.  

The school was closed with unseemly haste & callous cruelty to pupils, parents & staff. This is a story of loyalty and passion against injustice which set the scene for the negative blame culture of bureaucracy, target setting & over-testing that has plagued education for the past 25 years.  

Free entry. Donations/Raffle/Voluntary Membership £5pa 

7.30pm Buffet (please bring an item if you can:vegetarian or vegan only.) 

No entry before 7.30pm please. 

8.00pm Talk and discussion till about 10pm

Leytonstone tube, exit left, two minute walk / Overground: Leytonstone High Road, turn left, ten minute walk   / Buses 66, 145, 257, W13, W14, W15, W19 / Disabled access / car park in front of church / bikes can be brought in / Quiet children welcome / You can phone to confirm the talk will be as shown / Open to all; no booking, just turn up 

We are on Facebook    Twitter @Nowhere_Club / Enquiries 0208 555 5248 / Email: williammorrisnews@outlook.com / Web:newsfromnowhereweb.wordpress.com / Talks are recorded and put on our website