Communist Plan for Life in Hackney (1930s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Hackney Communist Party banner from 1952.

Hackney Needs Socialism – a similar pamphlet from 1978

Of related interest is a look at Lenin in Hackney.

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

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

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WHO OWNS HACKNEY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine Health Achievements

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To abolish the taxes on our food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Radical History of Hackney Parks

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“The Park is called the People’s Park
And all the walks are theirs
And strolling through the flowery paths
They breathe exotic airs,
South Kensington, let it remain
Among the Upper Ten.
East London, with useful things,
Be left with working men.

The rich should ponder on the fact
Tis labour has built it up
A mountain of prodigious wealth
And filled the golden cup.
And surely workers who have toiled
Are worthy to behold
Some portion of the treasures won
And ribs of shining gold.”

An ode to Victoria Park, 1872
(from Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park)

The text below was originally published as a pamphlet, bashed out for the Radical History Network meeting on “Community Empowerment and Open Green Spaces”, July 10th 2013. (I have a couple of the pamphlets left – drop me an email if you want one.)

It’s full of holes, a work in progress. Get in touch with additions, criticisms, comments.

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1275 The area that is now London Fields was recorded as common pastureland adjoining Cambridge Heath. In 1540 the name London Field is found recorded as a separate item consisting of around 100 acres in changing ownership of land. London Field was one of the many “commonable lands” of Hackney where the commoners of the parish could graze their livestock on the fields from Lammas Day (Anglo Saxon for bread mass), August 1st, celebrating the first loaf after the crops had been harvested, to Lady Day, March 25th. This arrangement was known as Lammas Rights and was protected by law. (from here)

1700s In the Marshes towards Hackney Wick were low public houses, the haunt of highwaymen. Dick Turpin was a constant guest at the “White House” or “Tyler’s Ferry” and few police-officers were bold enough to approach the spot.

1750 onwards Clissold House (originally named Paradise House) was built, in the latter half of the 18th century, for Jonathan Hoare, a City merchant, Quaker, philanthropist and anti-slavery campaigner. (His brother Samuel was one of the founders of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.). The grounds of the house went on to become Clissold Park.

1793 Big open-air demonstration on Hackney Downs, in support of the revolutionary gains in France. The tutors Richard Price, Joseph Priestley and Gilbert Wakefield organised lectures on the French Revolution at the New College, a non-conformist academy (“by-word for revolutionary opinion”) at Lower Clapton.

1840 Abney Park Cemetery opens as the first fully non-denominational burial ground in Europe (where anyone could be buried, but especially non-conformists, dissenters etc). Many anti-slavery campaigners are buried there.

1845 Victoria Park is opened following a petition by 30,000 local people to Queen Victoria. “There was no bathing pool provided and local youths were in the habit of bathing – naked! – in the adjacent Regent’s Canal.  Attempts to police such shocking behaviour were unavailing and within a few years a pool was provided in the park itself.” – Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park

1848 Chartists meet at Bonners Park (near Victoria Park) to march on Parliament.

1860s Hackney Downs open space (originally common land) preserved as parkland as a result of pressure by the Commons Preservation Society.

1866 Widespread pickets and demonstrations for universal male suffrage as advocated by the Reform League during summer. After disorder at Hyde Park the Tory government banned all protest meetings throughout London. The ban was widely ignored; a huge “illegal” rally took place in Victoria Park.

1872 180 acres in Hackney are preserved as public open space and protected from the encroachment of development. Including Clapton Common and Cockhanger Green (now boringly called Stoke Newington Common).

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In the 1880s the grounds of Clissold House and the adjacent Newington Common were threatened with development, and two prominent campaigners, Joseph Beck of The City of London and John Runtz of The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) persuaded the Board of MBW to buy the land and create a public park. (from Clissold Park User Group, as was the image above)

1885 William Morris speaks at Victoria Park:

The political culture of the day was not simply confined to the clubs and indoor meeting places. The open-air meeting, whether in the park, or on the street corner, remained the principal forum for addressing the uninitiated, convincing the unconvinced, spreading the word. William Morris was one of the mast well known public speakers for socialism of the period, and visited Hackney often. There is a fine portrait of him speaking to a crowd in Victoria Park in 1885 in Tom Mann’s Memoirs:

He was a picture on an open air platform. The day was fine, the branches of the tree under which he was speaking spread far over the speaker. Getting him well in view, the thought came, and has always recurred as I think of that first sight of Morris – “Bluff King Hal”. I did not give careful attention to what he was saying, for I was chiefly concerned to get the picture of him in my mind, and then to watch the faces of the audience to see how they were impressed…. Nine-tenths were giving careful attention, but on the fringe of the crowd were some who had just accidentally arrived, being out for a walk, and having unwittingly come upon the meeting. These stragglers were making such remarks as: ‘Oh, this is the share-and-share-alike crowd’; ‘Poverty, eh, he looks all right, don’t he?’ But the audience were not to be distracted by attempts at ribaldry: and as Morris stepped off the improvised platform, they gave a fine hearty hand-clapping which showed real appreciation.

(From Hackney Propaganda: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900)

1887 Free speech demo in Victoria Park in March.

1889 Clissold Park was opened by the newly formed London County Council (LCC). The two ponds in the park are named the Beckmere and the Runtzmere in honour of the two principal founders.

1926 Victoria Park is the site for some enthusiastic speeches in support of the General Strike. The park is closed briefly to the public during the strike when the army is stationed there – for reasons which seem to be unclear.

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1930s Hackney Red Radio (a branch of the Workers Theatre Movement) perform agit prop and pro-working class skits and plays. The group performs in parks, streets etc, including London Fields, where they are pelted with over-ripe tomatoes by an unappreciative audience on one occasion.

“We are Red Radio,
Workers’ Red Radio,
We Show you how you’re robbed and bled;
The old world’s crashing,
Let’s help to smash it
And build a workers’ world instead.”

1936 British Union of Fascists holds regular rallies in Victoria Park including clashes with anti-fascists. Also a large anti-fascist meeting in July organised by the Trades Councils of North and East London: “A mile long procession headed by a brass band culminated in a large public meeting which declared its unalterable opposition to fascism and to the war which it would inevitably lead.” Fascists attempt to march through East London in October for another Victoria Park rally, but are prevented from doing so by anti-fascists: The Battle of Cable Street. They did not pass.

1939 Trenches are dug in Hackney Downs, Victoria Park and other open spaces at the outset of the 2nd World War.

(There is a bit of gap here! Can you help fill it? What happened between the 1930s and the 1970s?)

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1978 80,000 attend huge Anti-Nazi League concert in Victoria Park (apparently the stage was in Hackney but the audience was in Tower Hamlets!).

1980s Three GLC-organised festivals in Victoria Park. Two are themed around peace / against nuclear weapons – including one on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 1983.

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1981 Funk The Wedding concert takes place in Clissold Park on the day of the marriage of Charles and Di. (from History Is Made At Night, as is the image above)

1983 Clissold Park Free Festival, August?! (mentioned here, any further info welcome)

1990s The demolition of London Fields Lido is resisted by the people of Hackney, including standing in front of the bulldozers. Local people led campaigns to reopen the Lido and cleared away vegetation. The children’s paddling pool which was closed in 1999, was reopened by local people for summer seasons. In 1998 the Lido was squatted for housing, a café and communal events. In August 1998 there was the Carnival of the Dispossessed, a benefit for Reclaim The Streets. The Lido was squatted for a second time 2002-2005. (From Past Tense)

1990 Hackney residents burn Poll Tax bills in Clissold Park.

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1991 Anti-Fascist Action sponsor Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs:

“AFA had surprised everyone by organising the biggest anti-fascist event for over a decade, drawing 10,000 people to the Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs. Supported by a wide range of organisations, from the Hackney Joint Shop Stewards Committee, to the Fire Brigade Union, the Carnival programme again drew attention to rising levels of race attacks and urged people to become pro-active: ‘We have organised today’s event to draw attention to the growing number of racist attacks especially in east London. The fact that some sections of the community virtually live under siege is unacceptable and we hope you are prepared to do more than just come to this symbolic show of unity. Support the activities on the back of this programme to get organised and do something to stop racist attacks.'”

Sean Birchall – Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (Freedom, 2010) p250

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1994 Hackney Homeless Festival, Clissold Park – 30,000 people. Clashes with police afterwards. (image by Jamie from tribe.net)

1996 Hackney Anarchy Week, a ten day festival including a punks’ picnic and 3-sided football match in Clissold Park.

2007 After much resistance and protest, the Manor Garden Allotments (near Hackney Wick, but apparently not technically in Hackney!) are demolished to make way for the Olympics. Similar struggles take place on Hackney Marshes (where football pitches are closed to make way for a coach park)

2012 A small “Occupy London” camp sets up briefly in Haggerston Park.

Sources/Acknowledgements

http://www.londonfieldsusergroup.org.uk/

http://www.clissoldpark.com/park-history/

Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park

Barry Burke and Ken Worpole – Hackney Propaganda: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900 (Centerprise, 1980) (William Morris)

Barry Burke – Rebels With A Cause: The History of Hackney Trades Council (Centerprise. 1975)

History Is Made At Night (Funk The Royal Wedding)

Past Tense (London Fields Lido)

Getting Involved

Hackney Council’s list of Park User Groups.

Further Reading: Modern

The Rise of the Friends Groups Movements, by Dave Morris

Finsbury Park: A History of Community Empowerment, by Hugh – Friends of Finsbury Park

The Community-Led Transformation of Lordship Rec, by Friends of Lordship Rec

Further Reading: Older

Down With The Fences: Battles For The Commons In South London, by Past Tense

Subversive of Public Decency: Open Space In North / North East London: radical crowds, immorality, and struggles over enclosure, by Past Tense (not online yet)