September/October/November 2021 updates

Ridley Road

The response to the BBC TV series has generally been favourable, which is interesting as militant physical force anti-fascism is not especially en vogue in 2021.

Our friends History is Made at Night and Past Tense have both written some great pieces on the events that inspired the TV series. The Radical History of Hackney piece is here.

There have naturally been some terrible takes from the usual right wing pundits about how the influence of Colin Jordan’s band of Nazis was overstated in the show and that they would never have seized power. This misses the point that neo-Nazi groups can make life miserable for ordinary people on a day to day basis – and they can shift the “overton window” of political discourse to the far right and influence mainstream parties that way.

History Workshop have produced an absolutely cracking podcast about the history and struggles of Ridley Road market:

It includes some great oral history about the fight against Oswald Mosley’s fascists, but the accounts from market traders about recent battles against regeneration are even more interesting. Interviewees include local resident Tamara Stoll, who has published a photo book on the social history of the market and was one of several people to work on the essential Rio Tape Slide Reel book.

December Events

Newington Green Meeting House has a couple of interesting things happening at the moment:

An exhibition on the history of the Gay Liberation Front that runs until December 16th. (Free)

A night of music celebrating working class composers on December 3rd. (Donation)

And finally a film night on December 9th with two documentaries about tenant and community struggles in Islington in the 1970s. (£5)

The Hackney Society are running a talk there entitled “Who Wants To Go To Hackney?” on December 15th:

When proposals for Crossrail 2 (originally called the Chelsea to Hackney line) were first considered by Government Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and the plans were passed in front of her for approval. Her memorable (and deadly) response was reported to be: “Hackney! Hackney! – who wants to go to Hackney?”

Christian Wolmar, the celebrated railway historian and journalist, will talk about the long and tortuous battles for London’s railways.

(Online and also in person at Newington Green Meeting House – £11.25 or cheaper for Hackney Society members)

Good things to read

Undercover Met officers may have infiltrated Hackney CND: Hackney Gazette – more wrongness revealed during the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

Ken Williams, 1953-2020: Anarcho-syndicalist and militant anti-fascist – this obituary published by Kate Sharpley Library includes some great memories of Ken’s time in Hackney in the 1980s.

Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted sheds light on the under-explored overlap between the anarchopunk movement on the 1980s and the rave movement of the 1990s. It is extraordinarily comprehensive and there are a few references to gigs, squats raves etc in Hackney.

Hackney Reggae

The new space outside the revamped Britannia Leisure Centre was named BRAFA square following extensive engagement with the local community. BRAFA was the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – a benefit single and live event inspired by Live Aid – or rather, the lack of black artists involved with Live Aid.

Hackney Museum have produced a useful film about the story of BRAFA and launch of the square:

In other Hackney reggae news, I thoroughly enjoyed the memorial event for veteran dancehall soundsystem operator Ruddy Ranks that Hackney Archives organised in October:

L-R: Golden Eye (aka Red Eye) (Unity Hi-Fi soundsystem), Anthony Burke (Ruddy’s son), Eastman (Kool FM DJ), Etienne Joseph (Hackney Archives), Sterling (British Association of Soundsystems)

The evening at BSix College included the unveiling of a plaque for Ruddy, who attended school there when it was called Brooke House – as well as many memories of someone who was by all accounts a proper Hackney character. The Archives have some film of the event which I am sure they were upload in due course for people who couldn’t attend.

Hackney Slave Traders

The Museum of the Home has issued another statement about its statue honouring slave trader Robert Geffrye. Whilst this statement is an improvement on previous ones, it basically just says that the museum feels bad about the statue being there. It has been surprising to see how much praise this has generated.

I am firmly in camp Vernon on this one and would encourage people not to visit the museum until the statue is removed:

Meanwhile the Council has been quietly getting on with asking local people what they want to be done with the remnants of slave-trading – and then doing something about it. (Like most people I am hardly a fan of the council, but credit where credit is due!)

Kit Crowley

In July, Cassland Road Gardens in Homerton (named after slavetrader John Cass) was rebadged as Kit Crowley Gardens in honour of a local community stalwart.

I was also pleased to see Tyssen Community School near Clapton Common (named after the slave-trading Tyssen family) was putting up some new signs to mark its renaming as Oldhill School:

Just nice things

It’s been a tough couple of years. I think we all need to be reminded that good people in the community have been doing their best to crack on and make things better with very little resources. These two films about grass roots sports in Hackney both cheered me up immensely.

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