Hackney history online events

Online talks relating to the radical history of Hackney I have enjoyed recently – and hope to enjoy soon…

(If I’ve missed any feel free to add a comment below…)

Earlier this week Newington Green Meeting House hosted Dan De La Motte’s superb presentation on Molly Houses – “spaces where gay and queer men, sex workers and the criminal underclass engaged in ceremonial ritual, sex parties and even spoke their own language.”

I especially enjoyed the revelation that the historical information we have on Molly Houses is thanks to the meticulous documentation by moralists of the era who were trying to close them down. Dan was fabulously entertaining (although the links with Hackney were… slightly… tenuous) but the recording is unfortunatey not online yet.

NGMH’s forthcoming events include Women and Work for International Women’s Day on 8th March (Free). Speakers include Dr Eleanor Janega on her research on the history of sex work and Professor Jane Holgate on the Fords women machinist strike in 1968 and how it led to the Equal Pay Act. 

Abney Park Cemetery recently hosted a “virtual walking tour” about the Tottenham Outrage by Alan Gartrell:

It’s an action-packed tale of a 1909 botched wages heist by Latvian nihilist-anarchists leading to a police chase through North London. PC William Tyler and Ralph Joscelyne, a young boy, were both killed during the chase and are buried in Abney Park.

Other archival recordings relating to Abney Park include How Abney Happened/Abney’s Suffragettes and An Abolitionist history of Abney Park.

Details of forthcoming virtual events run by Abney Park are here, including their International Womens Day Event on March 8th on women buried in the cemetery (£6.00).

Hackney Society Trustee Wendy Forrest interviewed Alan Denney about his own photographs of Hackney in the 1970s and 1980s. (Alan has had a lot of attention recently because of his work on the Rio Tape Slide Project book, which features vintage photos of Hackney taken by others.)

There was slightly too much focus on building conservation in this for my tastes, but don’t let that put you off. The clip includes some incredible photos and Alan is a brilliant interviewee. Protest and general working class existence are covered admirably.

Unfortunately the Hackney Society doesn’t seem to have many of its previous events available online to view, but there are some stormers coming up:

March 4th: Mark Gorman: ‘Down With the Fences!’

The extraordinary growth of London in the Victorian age swallowed up huge areas of green space. Fields, commons and woods – the leisure spaces for ordinary Londoners – were built over at an unprecedented rate. Across east London, much loved and heavily used open spaces like Epping Forest and Hackney Downs were under threat, and local campaigns were started to save ‘the people’s playgrounds’. The story of these struggles usually concentrates on the actions of middle class ‘respectable’ campaigners, while the key role played by ordinary Londoners has been forgotten. This is their story.

Free – book here.

March 25th: Sue Doe and Lucy Madison: Women from Hackney’s History

This new book from the Hackney Society, in collaboration with Hackney History, is published on 8th March, International Women’s Day. It was written and designed by Hackney women.

The book contains 113 brief illustrated biographies of women from Hackney’s history who lived or worked, were born or buried in today’s borough. Drawn from widely differing backgrounds, none of these women are still with us but their stories cover five centuries and show us how times have changed for women and for Hackney.

In this talk, Sue Doe and Lucy Madison take a few of these women, and tell their tales, showing some of the places they knew. A series of walks is being developed to explore more lives and more places.

Free – book here.

The book can also be pre-ordered from here.

I must confess I’ve never made it to any of Amir Dotan’s Stoke Newington History events, but he has a tonne of slidesets from talks available on his site including:

Ten years of the radical history of Hackney

The first post was the text and images from the debut issue of Hackney Heckler

The first post on this blog was on 19th February 2011. I didn’t do a huge explanation at that time, partly because I wasn’t sure how sustainable it would be as a project. I was also a bit apprehensive about how the things I wrote would be received by people who had actually participated in the events at the time.

Ten years on is a probably a good point for some reflection.

Background to The Radical History of Hackney site

I first started coming to Hackney in 1987 for music gigs. The Borough’s reputation preceded it – there was a thriving subculture of radical art and politics here, including huge amounts of squatting. A year later I moved to neighbouring Haringey and was a regular visitor to Hackney before finally moving here in the mid nineties.

I’ve long been inspired by the radical history work by people like Past Tense and History is Made at Night and others. But I never saw myself as being a Historian, or knowing enough about things that had happened in the place where I lived.

Then I had some conversations with younger friends in the pub. We spoke about the long list of black people who had died in police custody in London. And I mentioned that Colin Roach had been shot in the lobby of Stoke Newington police station in 1983. And then I went off on one about the insane levels of police corruption in Hackney in the 1990s and how Stoke Newington had been a textbook example of bent cops who controlled the drug trade and routinely fitted people up.

And my younger friends looked at me quizzically and I realised that this was the first time they’d heard all this and that actually it did sound a bit fantastical and perhaps I had misremembered it all. So I looked around and it was clear that these were things that had actually happened, but there wasn’t a lot of information about them online.

So I figured that I could just scan a few things in and post them on a blog. That would be a nice little project which would be short-lived and could be fitted around my worthy-but-not-radical office job and family life. The comrades at 56A Infoshop were very generous with their Hackney Community Defence Association and Hackney Solidarity Group material from the 1990s, which complemented a few things I had kicking about in my boxes of radical printed matter that can be a source of irritation to my partner. I also had the beginnings of a Hackney radical history timeline from the Hackney Anarchy Week festival in the 1990s that I had been involved with organising. The early focus was on documenting events from my time in London that had happened before everything was recorded on the internet.

An alternative version of the header image kindly supplied by an anonymous comrade designer

Then I kept remembering other things. And reading around one subject would yield some tantalising links to other areas for exploration. Sometimes I’d find out enough for a new post, but if not I’d post requests on my Wantlist. People would then leave comments with further information and some cases offer to send me their own scans or printed material, which is how I ended up republishing hugely important documents like Hackney NUT’s Police Out of School and an online archive of Hackney Peoples Press. The support I’ve received has been incredibly touching.

I also got involved with the Radical History Network, which was a great way of meeting like-minded people, talking through various issues in discussions, gaining insights into other projects. And reassuring myself that it was actually possible to have a reasonable stab at this sort of thing despite not having “done history” since school.

Successes

The site generally gets about 25,000 views a year (36,000 last year) so thank you for that!

The top five posts of all time by views are:

  1. Timeline
  2. The sad story of Fred Demuth, Marx’s son in Hackney
  3. Fighting The Lawmen (HCDA’s pamphlet on police corruption / “stokey cokey”)
  4. Hackney’s Anarchic Nineties
  5. The National Front’s Hackney HQ

Broadly people have liked the site and I’ve had some amazing feedback from Hackney residents past and present as well as the expected politicos. So thank you if you have said nice things.

Despite my misgivings about irritating activists by misrepresenting what they were doing, the site has mainly annoyed precisely the right people, judging by the (unpublished) comments from racists and individuals who seem to think that any efforts to improve the world are bad in and of themselves.

It’s been even more satisfying that material here has been useful for great initiatives like On The Record’s documentation of the Centerprise and the recent tour de force which is the Rio Tape Slide Project book – as well as an irregular informal exchange of ideas with the heroes at Hackney Archives, Hackney Museum and elsewhere. 

At its best radical history can inspire and inform contemporary struggles and it’s been good to get stuck into things like the Museum of the Home’s racist memorial to slave trader Robert Geffrye, as well as the campaign by the victims of Spycops to get justice.

On a more personal level it has made me very happy that the comments boxes here have reunited people who haven’t seen each other for decades, including estranged family members.

Misgivings and things which didn’t happen

My enthusiasm for the site waxes and wanes, hence the erratic posting schedule. Juggling this and other projects on top of my worthy-but-not-radical office job and family commitments means that I can’t always spend as much time as a topic deserves. 

There were a couple of excting offers of working some posts up into a book, but time doing that would mean less time doing this. There has also been a trickle of requests for help from people doing research for school or college projects which I’ve engaged with grudgingly (not least because very few people then send you the output of this research). 

Breathless enquiries from the media have got shorter shrift – maybe I won’t drop everything to help you with a piece you are doing today, right this minute about the Angry Brigade…

The biggest risk with this sort of site is that it just creates nostalgia. I’m excited by the long history of resistance and struggles in Hackney, but am conscious that it’s easy to slip into a restless feeling that everything was happening back then – and that today looks boring in comparison, which isn’t true. And of course the material conditions (as yer Marxists say) are completely different now. Most of my younger friends who I chatted to ten years ago in the pub have been priced out of Hackney since. 

I’m also struck by the fact that some of the most popular posts attract people with ideas that are diametrically opposed to mine. National Front hardman Derrick Day is one of the most popular search terms and he seems to exert a weirdly fetishistic pull on people. Frederick Demuth being Marx’s son (or not) seems proof enough to a large number of people that Marx’s ideas are therefore completely tainted. Perhaps reading the material here will give some of these people pause for thought, but the polarisation of current discourse suggests that is optimistic.

I’ve been gently challenged by my neighbours about not covering feminism sufficiently well, which I agree with. The same is probably true of black history and other areas. If I had more time I’d definitely do more interviews with people and perhaps organise some events or publish the odd pamphlet. Or spend more time in physical archives rather than on google. Or be better at encouraging others to contribute.

Short of a lottery win, or retirement at some point, or the complete transformation of society after a world revolution, things will probably just chug along in the same way though. I have a pile of unfinished posts that I am looking forward to polishing up. Over the last ten years I’ve realised that I’ve only really scratched the surface… 

Monument plan for H Block prisoners in Hackney (1981)

A TV news item on the culture war about a statue – from November 1981. The clip reports on the scandal around a campaign for the construction of a monument to ten dead Irish Republican hunger strikers.

Five Labour councillors signed a petition supporting the camaign, but there seems to have been some confusion about whether they knew what they were doing… (insert joke here about Hackney councillors).

The petition was also signed by Ernie Roberts, MP for Stoke Newington, who subsequently withdrew his support.

The call for the monument (and the more pressing need for political recognition of Irish Republican prisoners) was organised by the Smash The Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign, which according to the comrades at Powerbase was a front for the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. (The Tendency was becoming the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1981 when all this happened. It then evolved into the wildly dodgy Living Marxism/LM before mutating further into the contrarian tentacles of the network around Spiked! and other wrongness).

A mock up of the proposed monument which campaigners wished to be installed outside Hackney Town Hall

Hackney was one of several frontlines of the RCT’s battle for Republican prisoners. One year before the monument furore, the Tendency had organised a march from the Town Hall to mark the beginning of the hunger strike:

(Image courtesy of New Historical Express, whose useful post on the wider left’s support or otherwise for the hunger strikes is well worth a look.)

On 13th October of 1981 the Smash The Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign ran a meeting at Stoke Newington Town Hall with “relatives of the H-Block Prisoners and prominent hunger strike activists from Ireland and Britain”.

So naturally, the RCP/T seized the opportunity to make political capital out of the monument campaign in their paper The Next Step:

(scans courtesy of the expansive Splits and Fusions archive, whose introductory post on the RCP and its publications is recommended.)

Needless to say, the monument did not get built. But who were the councillors who may or may not have supported it?

Bella Callaghan went on to be Mayor of Hackney from 1983-1984.

Ron Heisler, is a socialist and self-described “delinquent historian” with a penchant for visiting all the left wing bookshops in London (admirable pursuits, I am sure you will agree).

Patrick Kodikara was well known in the eighties as a black activist. Mr Kodikara sadly died earlier this month and his obituary at the Guardian is well worth a read. He has previously appeared on this blog in relation to defunding Hackney police and there is footage of him in the extended news clip on Hackney Schoolkids Against the Nazis.

The standard work on the H-Block hunger strikes and the conditions from which they arose is Ten Men Dead by David Beresford. I would also recommend Culture Wars: The Media and the British Left by James Curran, Ivor Gaber and Julian Petley on the general media climate of the time and its focus on “loony lefty councils”.

Previously on Radical History of Hackney:

The Provisional IRA in Stoke Newington

Shots fired at Hackney Council meeting (1986)

Centerprise, An Phoblacht and a suspect package

Hackney Solidarity Group: 1990 video clip + PDFs

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…)

There were two subsequent iterations of Hackney Heckler, one in the noughties (or possibly late nineties?) and one by Hackney Solidarity Network in 2018, which can be seen in all its full-colour glory here.

Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis (1978)

“We are black, we are white – we are dynamite!”

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 badge

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.

05:36 Veteran tenants organiser Bob Darke (previously covered on this site here)

07:59 Haggerston Labour councilliors Roger and Ros Tyrrell

11:15 Aiden White from East Ender newspaper

13:13 School Kids Against The Nazis

There is also some great footage of Hackney school kids talking about police racism in the 1980s here.

Wednesday 11th November – History of Hackney Policing: free event

In the last update I mentioned the excellent work being done by both Hackney Archives and the new youth-led police monitoring group Hackney Account.

So I was quite excited to find that they are working together on an event this week:

Stop & Research: Police and the Community in Hackney

Wed, 11 November 2020 18:00 – 20:00 GMT

Join ACCOUNT and Hackney Archives to explore the past, present and future of policing in Hackney through creative responses, discussion and material from the archives about community campaigns.

Free online event but pre-booking needed.

The event will include a showing of Hackney Accounts first mini-documentary “Community Healing” and the launch of its Youtube channel Account TV.

October 2020 updates

Photo by STN

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:

Photo by Hackney Citizen

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:

Their claim about reflecting the communities they serve seems at variance with the position of the Museum’s former Director David Dewing who is said to have stated that he had “no interest in the culture of the labouring classes”.

Out now

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 novel Shine On Me which promises “Skinhead werewolf, mod witches, dead Crass fans!”

Mick Hugo

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.

Photo by @happymantree on Twitter

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 newsletter online 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 report Policing 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.

In the September update I mentioned the public vote to choose the name of the new public square by Britannia Leisure Centre. There are four contrasting radical Hackney options to choose from and the deadline is November 11th.

Finally it was lovely to hear some praise for this site during Mayday Rooms’ online session on “Archiving Radical Spaces” at the London Anarchist Bookfair event.

September 2020 updates

Stoke Newington 8 poster with Stuart Christie bottom centre

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.

Book your free space on Eventbrite – joining details for the Zoom call will be emailed to you in advance.

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.

There is more information on each option on the web page about the vote and you have until 11 November to make up your mind.

What a nice example of creative community engagement, in stark contrast to the top down approach of the Museum of the Home and Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and their insistence on keeping the memorial to racist slave trader Robert Geffrye in Shoreditch against the wishes of the community.

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.

Hotspot of dissent, the Newington Green Meeting House is now offering socially distanced tours:

Tuesdays 12pm – 1pm and 2pm – 3pm

Thursdays 12pm – 1pm and 2pm – 3pm

Until December 17th.

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.

Image posted on Twitter by Councillor Jon Burke

The 62 Group fought fascists in Hackney – now in a BBC drama

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.”

Maurice Podro obituary, Daniel Sonabend – The Guardian

“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 (image courtesy of Hackney Museum)

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!”

Monty Goldman interviewed for Foyles blog

 

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:

Flyer for ill-fated neo-Nazi rally in 1962

“…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:

Hackney’s finest attack the Blackshirts on Ridley Road, 1962

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…

August 2020 updates

The rigid conservatism of the Museum of the Home has thankfully been outpaced by East London’s Sir John Cass Redcoat School which has now been renamed Stepney All Saints CofE Secondary School. The name change recognises the role John Cass played in the slave trade.

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.

Mark Metcalf, formerly of this parish – and Hackney Community Defence Association, Colin Roach Centre and many other great initiatives – has uploaded scans of some relevant documents to his website.

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.

Sparrows Nest in Nottingham have subsequently also uploaded the October 1993 issue of Hackney Trade Union News as part of their huge online archive too.

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.

Radical History of Hackney tentacles also extend to a Soundcloud page with audio content or a Youtube channel if you prefer that.

The comrades at Libcom have uploaded an article about gentrification in Hackney at the turn of the century from the anarchist Black Flag magazine: “You Can’t Live On A Web Site” – Privatisation and Gentrification, Reaction and Resistance, in Hackney’s ‘Regeneration State’ – Libcom’s “Hackney” tag is well worth a browse through also.