A short clip of interviews with HSG activists Norman and Justin about opposition to the Poll Tax and the increased class struggle dimension in the anarchist movement after the miners’ strike.
Hackney Solidarity Group was launched in 1989 and existed until at least 1993. Its main activity was opposition to the poll tax, but it was involved in a number of other local working class campaigns too and had a fine line in exposing council corruption.
The footage above is taken from the film “Dare to Dream: Anarchism in England in History and in Action” directed by Goldsmiths student Marianne Jenkins in 1990. It’s is an interesting overview of veterans like Albert Meltzer, Nicolas Walter and Philip Sansom (all of whom have since died) alongside a new generation of activists from London Greenpeace, the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement and HSG. It even features what looks like a young Roger Hallam of Extinction Rebellion at the 24 minutes mark.
Many issues of Hackney Solidarity Group’s Hackney Heckler newsletter can be now be viewed as PDFs on archive.org. This site includes an introduction to the group as well as scanned versions of the Heckler. (Irritatingly I’ve not got a copy of the issue Justin is holding up in the clip above though…)
This short news clip shows a group of kids leafletting outside a school (I’m not sure which one?) and discussing racism and the National Front with fellow pupils. You can also see a march by school children across Hackney Downs.
Heartwarming stuff – I’m very grateful to Louis Allday for posting this to Twitter (and to the comrade who brought it to my attention).
School Kids Against The Nazis was an initiative by the Anti-Nazi League, but as you can see from the clip this incarnation in Hackney was a very grassroots affair with distinctly homegrown leaflets (and accents!).
There was a battle for the hearts and minds of schookids taking place in the late 1970s, with the National Front publishing its own youth paper Bulldog to pollute children’s minds with its fascist ideas. The NF also produced its infamous “How To Spot A Red Teacher” leaflet in 1978 which led to some physical attacks on teachers. The Front was especially active in Hackney in this period – its National HQ Excalibur House in Great Eastern Street in the south of the borough opened in 1978 also.
Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis was formed shortly after the ANL’s Carnival Against The Nazis in Victoria Park on April 30th 1978.
The clip is taken from a longer Thames Television documentary which you can see here:
There is a tonne of great Hackney-related footage in the full piece (but the school kids segment is the highlight for sure):
00:00 ANL march from Traflagr Square to gig in Victoria Park, including interviews with marchers
03:07 Patrick Kodikara of Hackney Campaign Against Racism
03:52 Leafletting session on Hackney estates
04:45 Leafletting Ridley Road market: “Remember to bombs on Hackney, we remember in Ridley Road, we remember Mosley’s fascists”. As Charles points out in the comments below, this includes Monty Goldman – one of Hackney’s most prominent Communist Party candidates.
The controversry about the Museum of the Home’s racist memorial to slave trader Robert Geffrye continued this month. The Hackney Citizen reported that:
Of the 2,187 respondents to the [museum’s] consultation, 71 per cent voted to take the statue down, with 29 per cent saying to leave it up. Four per cent did not respond to the question.
Protests have been taking place regularly outside the still-closed museum and persons unknown have upped the ante with some radical redecoration to the exterior wall as can be seen in the photo above. Police are apparently investigating this as well as the impressive makeover of the statue itself:
Having steadfastly ignored the wishes of the community, the PR geniuses at the museum raised hackles across the borough with a tweet inviting people to implicate themselves in the ongoing shitstorm:
In happier news, the The Rio Tape/Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 80s book has now been published and if you like this blog you should get it. It’s a lavish production with 254 pages filled with amazing photos and some great commentary from participants in the original Rio Tape/Slide project as well as Michael Rosen and Hackney photographer Alan Denney.
My copy arrived a few days ago and the few pages I have managed so far have already piqued my interest for some future entries here.
The book is £26 direct from Isola Press (and I think from the Rio itself and Artsword bookshop on Broadway Market) and is apparently going quick. If you can’t afford that, then check out the related free exhibition at the newly opened Hackney Museum (the museum that knows how to do things properly in Hackney).
The exhibition online launch event is online with some great presentations about Hackney in the 1980s and the background of the production of the book:
Alan Denney is also in conversation with the Hackney Society on 10th December. This free online event will cover his own incredible photos of Hackney in the 1970s and 1980s.
Some great 1980s posters from the Hackney Empire were unearthed this month. The poster on the left was tweeted by Hackney Museum who had this to say:
Opposition to South African Apartheid was widespread in 1980s Hackney In 1985 workers at the British Tyre & Rubber factory (SA) went on strike over rights, pay and conditions. Within 72 hours they were dismissed.This play was put on to raise money for the strikers #bhm2020
The poster on the right was posted by Hackney ranting poet and author Tim Wells on his excellent Stand Up and Spit blog. Tim’s skinhead werewolf pulp horror shocker of a novel Moonstomp was a highlight of last year and was mainly set in late 1970s Hackney. This month he announced his second novelShine On Me which promises “Skinhead werewolf, mod witches, dead Crass fans!”
Veteran radical Hackney historian Ken Worpole wrote a fascinating obituary for his friend Mick Hugo in the Guardian this month, covering his work as a merchant seaman and his time in Hackney the 1970s as a squatter, housing activist and Centerprise volunteer amongst many other things.
Meanwhile in horticultural history, The Happy Man Tree was voted “Tree of the Year”. It’s a 150 year old grade A London Plane street tree near Woodberry Down which is (still?) slated for demolition by Berkeley Homes.
Hackney Archives is sadly still closed but Friends of Hackney Archives are going strong and have unusually published a copy of their newsletteronline with an update on the archives and articles including Philip Twells MP (a slave owner who lived on Stoke Newington Church Street), the campaign to restore the Hackney stocks, Hackney in London Parish maps circa 1900 and more.
Hackney Account is an inspiring youth-led police monitoring group launched earlier this year. They just published their reportPolicing in Hackney: Challenges From Youth In 2020 with some excellent statistics and commentary about stop and search and other recent policing issues in the borough. I was struck by the title and its resonance with the essential book published by Karia Press in 1988 and how some things have improved since then, while some things have stayed the same.
Veteran anarchist Stuart Christie died back in August. He was probably most well known for his regrettably failed attempt to assassinate Spain’s fascist dictator Franco in 1964. But that was merely one aspect of a life dedicated to radical politics and publishing. His autobiography Granny Made Me An Anarchist is an essential read.
Stuart was also one of the people arrested in connection with the Angry Brigade bombings in the early 1970s – who became known as The Stoke Newington 8. However he did not live in Stoke Newington – he was picked up by the cops when visiting the flat at 359 Amhurst Road where several of the other defendants lived. He was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Some videos about his arrest and the trial have resurfaced after his death:
The Council website has a very boring web page about Black History Month 2020. Perseverence is rewarded by the discovery that this year’s events include a free online film screening of African and Caribbean History in Hackney on October 7th:
Join Hackney Museum for an online screening of a new film which gives an overview of African and Caribbean history in the local area. The film features stories from our collections, displays and exhibitions, creatively woven together by spoken word artist and performer, Bad Lay-Dee. Followed by a Q&A.
Local residents are being given the opportunity to vote on the name of new public square outside the new Britannia Leisure Centre and the options are… really good actually:
Bradlaugh Square – Charles Bradlaugh was an atheist and freethinkiner in the 19th Century who was prosecuted for blashphemy and (on a different occasion) for obscenity for republishing a pamphlet advocating birth control.
Humble Square – named after the Humble petition of Haggerston residents demanding votes for women in 1910.
BRAFA Square – British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – set up in 1985 as an afro-centric response to the Band Aid charity single.
McKay Square – Claude McKay was a Jamaican socialist, writer poet and activist.
Rab MacWilliam was editor of N16 Magazine which I have to say was never really to my taste (probably because it never strayed too far from Church Street). But he is by all accounts a good guy and his forthcoming book looks really interesting:
Stoke Newington has long been one of London’s most intriguing and radical areas. Boasting famous residents from Mary Wollstonecraft to Marc Bolan, it has always attracted creative types. In the 1960s and 1970s ‘Stokey’ was becoming a somewhat disreputable neighbourhood, but in recent years its appeal has led to its gentrification and the arrival of a wealthy middle class. The area’s history is a fascinating one. This book reveals, through a combination of anecdote, historical fact and cultural insight, how this often argumentative yet tolerant ‘village’ has become the increasingly fashionable and sought after Stoke Newington of today.
I mentioned Nottinghan’s Sparrows Nest Archive of anarchist material last time but hadn’t spotted that they had uploaded a PDF scan of newsletter from the Hackney Anti-Fascist Committee. I doubt it is too much of a wild leap to presume that this group was some kind of split from the main militant anti-fascist group of the day, Anti-Fascist Action.
At an early 62 Group encounter outside Hackney town hall, Maurice charged at a huge fascist bruiser and smashed him to the ground. He then grabbed his jacket with such force that the lapels came away in his hands. “Next time you buy a suit,” he advised, “go to a proper Jewish tailor.”
“The British National Party has a meeting on John Campbell Road. We formed up a flying wedge and charged at them. There were only about twenty or thirty of them and we kicked the shit out of them. They took their walking wounded to the Metropolitan Hospital in Kingsland Road, where there was a black doctor in charge in casualty, so they all came limping out again. We were waiting outside and helped them on their way again.”
62 Group member Tony Hall in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann
This week the BBC announced a new TV drama had gone into production:
Introducing Aggi O’Casey and Tom Varey who lead in gripping new thriller “Ridley Road” for BBC One…
Ridley Road tells the story of a young Jewish woman, Vivien Epstein, played by Aggi O’Casey, in her first television role.
After falling in love with a member of the 62 Group, she rejects her comfortable middle-class life in Manchester and joins the fight against fascism in London, risking everything for her beliefs and for the man she loves.
Inspired by the struggle of the 62 Group, a coalition of Jewish men who stood up against rising neo-Nazism in post-war Britain, Vivien is working with them when she realises that Jack, her missing boyfriend (played by Varey) has been badly injured. Vivien infiltrates the NSM, a neo-Nazi movement which is becoming increasingly prominent in London. As Vivien descends further into the fascist organisation her courage and loyalties are challenged.
The series is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Jo Bloom, who explained the idea behind her book to the Hackney Gazette:
“I attended a funeral of one of my mum’s oldest friends,” Bloom says. “My father and I were about to leave when we were asked to give a lift to an elderly man who had a problem with his hip.”
The man in question turned out to be Monty Goldman, a notable communist activist, who stood for election for Mayor of Hackney in 2002 and 2010 and for Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch in 1997 and 2005.
“In the car on the way to the nearest station, he and my father started talking about post-war east London where they both grew up,” she says.
The two men discussed the 43 Group, the anti-fascist group set up by Jewish ex-servicemen after World War II, as well as the 62 Group which was founded to fight the resurgence of fascism in Britain in the sixties. Whilst her father had not been a member of either group, he knew lots of people who had. And Monty had fought alongside both groups.
Mony Goldman is a Hackney fixture who has stood as the Communist candidate in more local elections than most people have voted in. He’s got his hands dirty with street poltiics too:
“I always tried to keep out of getting hurt. I was sensible. If I missed our crowd of people, I wasn’t going to be a hero and fight ten blackshirts on my own. I didn’t mind one to one, there was nothing barred. You kick ‘em where it hurts!”
The 62 Group were the successor organisation to the more well known 43 Group, who fought Oswald Mosley’s fascists after the 2nd World War. The 43 Group are reasonably well known with two excellent books and several documentaries available. The 62 Group are less well known but hopefully that can change now.
The 43 Group wound down in 1950, having smashed Mosley’s fascist Union Movement off the streets and given them a good hiding on several occasions at Ridley Road market in Dalston.
But as recent history shows, fascism rarely disappears for long:
“…within a few years, Mosley had already chosen London’s black community as a new prime target, while in 1962, the neo-Nazi activist Colin Jordan felt comfortable enough to hold a rally in Trafalgar Square beneath an eighty-five-foot-long, eight-foot-high banner reading ‘FREE BRITAIN FROM JEWISH CONTROL.’ This prompted the creation of the 62 Group, which intended to carry on the job of their predecessors.”
Marcus Barnett reviewing Daniel Sonabend’s 43 Group book for Jacobin
As Past Tense point out, the rally was disrupted by anti-fascists, some of whom had been members of the 43 Group. This would lead to the formation of the 1962 Committee, more commonly known as the 62 Group. In another post Past Tense also note the differences between the 43 Group’s membership and the new organisation:
While similar to the 43 Group in some ways, there were some marked differences. Britain in the 1960s was a different place to Britain at the end of the Second World War, and so the composition of the new group was different. As with the earlier organisation, the left and the Jewish community remained leading players in the wider anti-fascist movement; but the left’s influence in the Jewish community was beginning to wane. International events and demographic shifts were changing the nature of London’s Jewish community in particular. Thus the 62 Group was not dominated by the left in the same way that the 43 Group had been. Although some of those who set up the 62 Group had been involved in the 43 Group, a new generation was also becoming involved.
This is mildly disputed by at least one former 62 Group member:
“Don’t let anyone kid you that the 62 Group was an exclusively Jewish organisation, because it wasn’t. There were all sorts in it. The backbone of our part of it was the Stoke Newington branch of the Communist Party. They weren’t all members of the CP, but people associated with it, sympathisers, friends, villians, all sorts of people”
Tony Hall, quoted in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann
Having said that, the group’s composition certainly created some problems for Hackney anti-fascist Gerry Gable:
“In Hackney, which had been a focal point of fascist and anti-fascism activity in the 1930s and postwar, people were getting together to prepare to resist the gathering storm. And it became my job to bring people from all sorts of backgrounds to cleanse the streets of the enemy.”
“I was chief steward of the North and East London Anti-Fascist Committee, a multi-racial group that included members from most of the political parties, including even some Young Tories from Stepney… Lots of us were workmates – I was a sparks [electrician] in the building trade as were some of my black mates. We would police building sites where racists were at work and clear them off the sites. Fascists had even been allowed to attend trade union meetings wearing their badges; we went along and tossed them out.”
“A new activist anti-fascist group, The 62 Group, was formed after Jordan’s National Socialist Movement rally in Trafalgar Square in 1962, but some of us could not, or would not, join as it was solely a Jewish organisation […] Although I qualified as Jewish because my mother was Jewish, my dad was a non-practising Anglican and I decided not to join. Nevertheless, the Leadership of the Group invited me to become one of its two Intelligence Officers, although I insisted on selecting my own team of people to engage in ‘special operations’.”
Gerry Gable, quoted by Past Tense
Gable would later be one of the founders, and longest serving editor, of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.
The 62 Group was even more clandestine than the 43 Group and did not publish a newspaper or make public statements unlike its predecessor. By 1963 the police estimated that the group had 200 members, with 70 in London (Nigel Copsey, Fascism in Britain).
Fascist rallies recommenced in Hackney in the early sixties along with racist graffitti, violent assaults on black and Jewish people and even an arson attack on a synagogue. Hackney police provided protection for fascist rallies and were unenthusiastic about investigting racist crimes.
I have so far discovered the following examples of 62 Group (and related militant anti-fascist) activity in Hackney from this era:
31st July 1962: Former fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley has been assaulted at a rally in London’s east end. He and members of his anti-Semitic Blackshirt group were punched to the ground as soon as his meeting opened at Ridley Road, Dalston. Police were forced to close the meeting within three minutes and made 54 arrests – including Sir Oswald’s son Max.
A crowd of several thousand had gathered in the area, where Sir Oswald, leader of the Union Movement formerly known as the British Union of Fascists, planned to speak from the back of a lorry. As soon as he appeared from between two police buses the crowd surged forward and knocked Sir Oswald to the ground. […] He was met by a hail of missiles including rotten fruit, pennies and stones and people tried to storm the platform.
His speech was drowned out by continuous boos and a chorus of “down with the fascists”. Scuffles continued as Sir Oswald was shepherded to his car and his vehicle was punched and kicked as it drove off though a gangway cleared by mounted police. (BBC “On This Day”)
3rd August 1962: Despite a TV appeal by the Mayor for Hackney residents to keep away from Ridley road, by 7.30 about 1500 people had gathered at the corner of Ridley Road. Immediately he appeared, the crowd pressed in on Sir Oswald. He was pulled to the ground, punched and kicked. Fierce fighting then broke out, combined with shouts of “Down with Mosley, Down with Germany.” Mosley disappeared under a group of struggling, punching men and women, only to reappear and start hitting, fighting his way to a loudspeaker lorry. His words were drowned by the shouts of the crowd and the sudden cry of “Sieg Heil”– the victory cry of Hitler. Coins and tomatoes were thrown at the lorry, and Sir Oswald fought his way to a green car, just as the police stopped the meeting. Abuse was hurled at Mosley, but he forced his way into the back seat with a bodyguard on each side. The lorry of his supporters, surrounded by mounted police, made its way into Kingsland High Street. People on board were shouting “Two-Four-Six-Eight, who do we appreciate?” The ensuing cry of “MOSLEY” incensed the crowd, which chased the lorry. Shop windows in the High Street were broken as men and youths, chasing the lorry, clashed with police. (Hackney Gazette 3/8/1962 – quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action).
2nd September 1962: Hundreds of angry East Enders gave a stormy reception to Fascist meetings at Hertford Road, Hackney and Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green. Both meetings were broken up the police, before they got out of hand. Sir Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement meeting at Victoria Park Square collapsed under a hail of stones, eggs and fruit, and resulted in over 40 arrests. Mr Jeffrey Hamm started the meeting with a few supportes. When Sir Oswald arrived about an hour later, the crowd had increased and eggs were being thrown. He climbed onto the speaker’s ‘platform’ – a lorry – and spoke for two minutes, but his speech was drowned by shouts of “Six million Jews! Belsen, down with Mosleyl” Then the police ordered the meeting to close. As Mosley moved away the crowed advanced towards his car and hammered on the windows with their fists. He was followed by his suporters, mainly teenagers, in the speakers lorry. Later, Mosley was reported to have said that he intended to hold more meetings. At Hertford Rd, the British National Party meeting, led by Mr John Bean the party’s acting secretary, was met with strong opposition by a large crowd of mostly Jewish people, and the twelve supporters were told to stop the meeting. In an address, Mr Bean, who was guarded by mounted policemen, said his speaker system had been ‘smashed’ and a Land Rover had been wrecked. Most of what he said was inaudible because of the heckling. Two of his supporters stood in front of him with bandaged heads. They had earlier been in a scuffle with anti-fascists in Kingsland Rd. Yellow Star held a marathon fillibuster meeting at Ridley Rd., Dalson, which 26 lasted all day, forcing the British National Party to hold it’s meeting a quarter of a mile away at Hertford Rd. (Hackney Gazette, 4/9/62 – quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action)
12th September 1962. 400 young people marched from Ridley Road to Whitehall to demand that incitement to racial hatred be made a crime. They walked in silence, some wearing the yellow Star of David, some carrying barriers urging “Black and White Unite”. (Layers of London)
16th September 1962: Followers of Sir Oswald Mosley fought a series of running battles with Hackney Young Socialist supporters and others in the Ridley Rd., Dalston, area on Sunday. The scuffles spread along Ridley Rd.l into Kingsland Rd. and nearby side streets as 50-60 police moved in and arrested 14 people, amomg them two juveniles. Sir Oswald’s plans to hold a rally were thwarted by Hackney Young Socialists who staged a day long meeting in the weekday market place. Instead, the Union Movement leader addressed followers in Hertford Rd., Dalston, a few hundred yards away. He spoke for some 25 minutes to an audience of his own supporters hemmed in by a tight cordon of police. This meeting passed off without incident. Then about 20 of his audience moved off to Ridley Rd. Shortly afterwards fighting broke out at the previously peaceful Ridley Rd. meeting. Police who were disbanding after the Mosley meeting were quickly called to Ridley Rd., as anti-fascists began actively protesting against the heckling Union Movement men, among them Mosley’s 22 year old son, Max. One young man wearing the Union Movement badge was chased along Kingsland High Street by other men, then trapped in a doorway 27 and pulled to the ground and pummelled before being rescued by police. Other clashes broke out in sidestreets as the Fascist supportes left the area. As the main party of hecklers tried to drive off in their car, other cars attempted to hem them in. More scuffles followed all over the road.” (Hackney Gazette, 18/9/62 quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action)
1963: Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement withdraws from street activity. The British National Party adopt a “flash mob” mentality for rallies and paper sales, avoiding publicity to minimise physical attention from anti-fascists.
January 1965: The Greater Britain Movement attempts to hold an evening rally at Ridley Road. Both the police and the 62 Group are attacked with pick axe handles and knives. Later that night GBM members are attacked at their Norwood Headquarters. (Searchlight’s History of the 62 Group by Steve Silver, available on Libcom.)
It’s worth mentioning that the 62 Group and other organsations were the militant tip of the iceberg of resistance to fascism in Hackney in the 1960s:
“I remember seeing Mosley at Ridley Road on the back of a tipper truck and everyone was throwing stuff at him. Not just your normal anti-fascist protestors but old mums, shoppers, everybody. I saw one woman take off her shoes and throw them at Mosley because that’s all she could find to throw. Other people were throwing eggs, pennies, organges off the stalls, anything they could lay their hands on.”
62 Group member Tony Hall in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann
Tony also mentions some rather more clandestine operations including home visits for people found doing racist graffitti, plumbing alterations to pubs that wouldn’t serve black people and covert mechanics on a Union Movement van on Balls Pond Road the night before a rally. He is also suitably sanguine about the results of the group’s hard work:
“There was a period when every Sunday morning they would turn up, get a punch on the side of the ear, have their papers thrown all over the pavement. They stopped trying after a while. Nobody could sustain that. This was done on the basis that violence worked. They were not going to come back to Hackney if they got a good kicking every time they showed their faces”
62 Group operations decreased in the late 60s, mirroring the downturn in far right activty. The group attempted to disrupt the inaugural meeting of the National Front in 1966 and the relaunch of the National Socialist Movement as the British Movement in 1968. These two fascist organisations, and Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968, would lay the foundation for the British far right in the 1970s, which would be opposed by different militant anti-fascist organisations….
It’s hard to know how the Ridley Road TV series will treat the heroic legacy of the 62 Group – it is after all just one element in the plot alongside the more romantic or mundane aspects. Hard to know also how the portrayal of militant anti-fascism will play out in the tedious culture wars we are living through. People upset by “cancel culture” may raise an eyebrow at what the good people of Hackney were doing to drive fascists off our streets in the 1960s…
This summer statues of John Cass were removed from St Botolph’s Church (Aldgate High Street) and the Sir John Cass Institute (Jewry St). Cass’ connections to Hackney are documented in a previous post here.
These include PDFs of Hackney Union News from the late 1980s, a number of Hackney Community Defence Association pamphlets and three issues of Revolutions Per Minute – a cultural magazine produced by the Colin Roach Centre.
I am conscious that personal websites can get hacked or go offline for various reasons, so have taken the liberty of arranging for these documents to be added to the archive.org site alongside dozens of other radical Hackney documents from the seventies to the noughties.
It has emerged that shortly after the community clean-up of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, Oliver Dowden (Her Majesties HM Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) wrote to the Museum of the Home to say:
“You play a crucial role in conserving our heritage assets, caring for our national collections, providing access to knowledge and leading efforts to offer cultural education to all.
“I am aware that the issues of contested heritage provoke strongly held views, and that right now these issues will be in the forefront of your minds. I therefore wanted to share with you the government’s position on these issues.
“The government believes that it is always legitimate to examine and debate Britain’s history, but that removing statues, artwork and other historical objects is not the right approach.
“Confronting our past may be difficult at times but, as the prime minister has stated, we cannot pretend to have a different history. Historical objects were created by previous generations, who often had different perspectives and different understandings of right and wrong.”
“As a government-funded organisation,I would expect you to be mindful of the above approach, which has been agreed with Historic England. If you plan to make any statements or actions in relation to this issue, please contact DCMS in advance of doing so.”
The reference to funding can only be seen as a not-so-veiled threat in the current climate.
Dowden’s minsterial duties include appointing three of the Board members at the Museum of the Home and its Chair.
He is MP for well-to-do Hertsmere in Hertfordshire. According to They Work For You, he has “Generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights”. Dowden’s interference in Hackney is unwelcome.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport backed their minister:
“Whilst it is always legitimate to examine Britain’s history, removing statues, artwork and other historical objects is not the right approach. Instead, we should aim to use heritage to educate people about all aspects of Britain’s complex past, both good and bad.”
“Publicly funded museums must not remove statues that form part of a listed building or other heritage objects in their care for political or campaigning purposes. They must be seen to be acting impartially, in line with their publicly funded status.”
“Impartiality” is great cloak here for keeping everything the same forever – which is I guess the definition of “conservative”. But there are no plans to reintroduce statues of Jimmy Savile, oddly.
But yes, we will continue to educate people about Britain’s history. And perhaps create some history ourselves in doing so, as the people of Bristol have shown.
Hackney Citizen approached Ligali’s Toyin Agbetu for his charateristically spot on comment:
“As I read the communications between the Geffrye and government, it revealed that the culture minister Oliver Dowden was more concerned with preserving a monument that literally celebrates the history of Britain’s slaving past than developing assets that accurately reflect the reality of British society and culture as it exists today.
“It’s a backward-looking form of bourgeois cultural purism normally practiced by racists who feel threatened by the call for progressive change made by movements like Black Lives Matter.
“I interpret the statement, which explicitly highlights the fact that the Geffrye as a government-funded organisation is expected to be mindful of choosing to remove the statue, as a threat. The instruction telling the Geffrye staff to contact the government first if they go against its dictates was chilling.”
Others including Diane Abbot have been similarly outspoken:
Still no comment from Meg Hillier, the MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch where the Museum is based though?
The museum is yet to announce a reopening date (September had been mooted). There is talk of “further reflection” by the Board. But talk and reflection are not enough.
The reopening of The Museum of the Home will be an excellent opportunity to “educate people about all aspects of Britain’s complex past, both good and bad.” And if the museum will not do that, then the community will.
The Museum of the Home has gone very quiet since announcing last week that it would defy public feeling and keep its memorial to slave-trader Robert Geffrye. Its usually very responsive Twitter account has not posted anything since 31st July. They haven’t answered my questions.
Alongside narky radical historians and the usual lefties, the museum’s decision has been condemned by the Mayor of Hackney, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Diane Abbott as well as several local councillors. (I have not yet seen any comment from Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch?)
I was also very pleased to see this statement from artist Maria Fusco who was commissioned by the museum to produce an artwork for its reopening.:
On Wednesday the Board of Trustees of the museum wrote to me with the outcome of the consultation:
Thank you for taking part in the consultation about the future of the statue of Sir Robert Geffrye at the Museum of the Home.
Alongside many other cultural organisations across the UK, we have a responsibility to act against injustice, and this includes acknowledging the legacy of colonialism and slavery within our history.
The statue of Sir Robert Geffrye on our building is a symbol of the historic connection the Museum buildings have to an English merchant whose wealth was partly derived from the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. Geffrye donated the funds to build the almshouses in which the Museum is housed.
Following a process of reflection, debate and research, and a consultation conducted in partnership with Hackney Council, the Board of Trustees of the Museum has taken the decision not to remove the statue from the Museum’s buildings.
The Board believes that the Museum should respond to the issues raised by this debate by continuing with its vision of change at a fundamental level, by diversifying the Museum’s workforce, creative partners, content and programming to become more representative and inclusive.
The Board feels that the Museum should reinterpret and contextualise the statue where it is to create a powerful platform for debate about the connection between the buildings and transatlantic slavery.
The Museum has a responsibility to reflect and debate history accurately and in doing so to confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the Museum buildings.
Many people took time to share their views in the public consultation. Overall, the response was in favour of removing the statue. However, feedback showed that what to do with the statue is a complex debate, full of nuance and different opinions.
The Board has taken the view that the important issues raised should be addressed through ongoing structural and cultural change, along with better interpretation and conversation around the statue.
When the Museum of the Home reopens – as a place to reveal and rethink the ways we live in order to live better together – we will also be addressing, in our galleries and programming, the connections between the British home and exploitative trade, value systems and physical objects, both historically and today.
We are committed to continuing to develop our programming and policies on anti-racism and equity to create greater diversity and representation at the Museum.
The Board has chosen to ignore the wishes of local residents and has instead opted for the tiresome conservative position that having a memorial to a racist on prominent display is a good thing to stimulate a conversation about history.
The Museum’s website now also includes, incredibly, a statement in support of Black Lives Matter:
Black Lives Matter
We strongly believe that museums should not be neutral. As a sector we have a responsibility to be inclusive and accessible.
We are committed to anti-racism and equity, and to working harder to make our organisation more representative.
We will learn from history and ensure our staff, programme and collection tell diverse stories and represent Black voices, artists, visitors and communities.
BLM has been consistent in calling for these types of statues to be taken down. Not taking the statue down is against the aims of BLM. It is not “neutral” – it is against Black Lives Matter.
The Board’s decision is so wrongheaded that ITV News has weighed in to make them look stupid:
In that clip Mayor Phil suggests that the Board are “out of touch” and Jermain Jackman (Hackney born and bred winner of The Voice UK) is clear about his anger at the decision.
Former councillor, writer and general comrade Patrick Vernon has called for a boycott (and he is right!):
From that account I discovered that the first protest against the decision took place yesterday:
I think that the Board have groslly underestimated the strength of feeling about this in the community and will regret their decision.
My questions for the Board are:
The Museum’s Director has stated previously that “Homes should be welcoming places of shelter and security, love and comfort. This is what we want our museum to represent We know that for many the statue of Robert Geffrye on our building represents abuse, oppression and the history of thousands of enslaved people torn from their homes and families and forced to work in appalling conditions.” Is this view shared by the Board? Is this still the view of the Director?
Why was it the right to change the name of the museum from The Geffrye Museum of the Home to The Museum of the Home – but it is not right to remove the memorial statue to Robert Geffrye?
How successful do you think you will be in “diversifying the Museum’s workforce, creative partners, content and programming to become more representative and inclusive.” when there is a massive statue of a racist slave-owner looming over the grounds? Why should the museum’s workforce have to face that every day?
Given that none of the Board members are black, was your decision to retain the racist statue against residents’ wishes discussed by the museum’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group?
In the ITV News clip above, the Mayor of Hackney suggests that the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport may have influenced the Board’s decision. Is this true and if so what was their input?
You say on your website that “The feedback from the consultation was considered alongside other information when the Board discussed the future of the statue.” What was this “other information”?
When will you be removing the statue of Robert Geffrye?