I hope that the scans are a useful resource for others – they have been absolutely invaluable for this site – I have added some links to a few posts below that are all the better for HPP content.
Alongside the hardcore coverage of social and political issues, these 96 editions of Peoples Press tell us other stories about the Hackney’s evolution from the 1970s to the 1980s. Each issue has events listings, reviews and adverts that are fascinating social history also:
These all capture a particular moment in time, which should be celebrated but we should also avoid wallowing in nostalgia too much. It is easy to bemoan the lack of a radical edge to the Hackney Citizen or the Hackney Gazette in 2023 – but for better or worse we live in less radical times, and the local newspaper industry is dying on its arse.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and I was pleased to see that the new Hackney Anarchist Group have produced a nifty little fanzine to go alongside their table full of free literature:
Here is a handful of previous posts on this blog using Hackney Peoples Press stories:
At the vigil for Brianna Ghey in Soho Square we were encouraged to turn to the people next to us and tell them that they were loved. This was an important demonstration of solidarity at a time when most trans people in the UK will be feeling even more persecuted than usual. But it may not surprise you that my middle-aged cis-hetero English repression prevented me from participating.
That said, I have been thinking about my trans friends and comrades a great deal this last week. Young people talk about their “love language” and I guess, if that is a thing, then I will express my love through writing about the radical history of Hackney.
And radical history brings us nicely to the elders of the British trans community and what we can learn from them.
Roz Kaveney was born in 1949 and transitioned in her late twenties. She is a writer, critic poet and activist. Roz was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, helped found Feminists Against Censorship and is a past deputy Chair of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties). Her life in London in the 1980s features in the superb Rebel Dykes documentary, which I would recommend to anyone without hesitation.
Roz moved to London in 1974 and “lived in various flats in the borough [of Hackney], in the middle and late 1970s.”. As she told Hackney Museum:
“My living in Hackney is very much a function of the housing situation for young queer people in late 1970s and early 1980s. It was possible to get a tenancy in Hackney, if you were young and vulnerable, and I got one.”
Roz’s collection of poems The Great Good Time (2022) reflects on her early time in Hackney, as she explains in the foreword:
“Back in the late 70s, when I transitioned, I acquired as my peer group a bunch of slightly younger trans women who I met around Soho, and for a short while became their landlady, bail person and wailing wall. I had middle class and education privilege and they didn’t – I hope I used it for the greater good… It taught me a lot about solidarity.”
It’s clear from these poems that life was far from easy for trans people in this period (when has it been?), and that the mutual solidarity the group provided took many forms. There is a lot of help with recovery from violence, from police and doctor induced trauma and some often comical examples of simply navigating existence together as complicated and difficult people.
The final poem “Ridley Road 1981” is a beautiful evocation of Roz and her friends styling it out in Dalston, on the way to buy a late night kebab “protected by the nothing left to lose”.
Alongside everyday psychological and material support, a very concrete form of solidarity was providing a home:
“So, in 1979 I lived, first of all on the Hackney end of Amhurst Road and then on Colvestone Crescent in Dalston. This will be one of the things that will interest you most, because that’s the period when, because I had a licensed squat, I filled it up with a number of very slightly younger trans club workers that I knew from the trans community in Soho. There was briefly, first of all on Amhurst Road and then on Colvestone Crescent, The Dalston Trans Commune.
Looking back it only lasted a few months, because I think it lasted a while after I left, because there was a point when I got my flat on the Kingsmead, I tossed people the keys and said “You are on your own kids, I am out of here.” Because I didn’t much relish being everyone’s parent. That whole thing I was, what, 28 or 29 and they were 24 or 25 I mean, one of them was a bit younger, one of them was 19 or 20. Mostly they were people in the 23, 24, 25 area. But I nonetheless had to be the responsible adult.”
Hackney Museum interviewer: What led you to be the grown up in there?
“It wasn’t particularly a plan. […] One of my friends got out of jail, so I let her stay, while she was between engagements in jail. She had been evicted while she was in jail, so she needed somewhere to stay, so I let her stay, and then she went back to jail for a short period, only a couple of months.
While she was in jail along with one of her friends, two slightly younger trans women, who had been living with the friend who went to jail at the same time that she went to jail, got thrown out of the flat where they were living in the middle of the night. Basically [their flatmate’s] boyfriend, decided to make a pass at the pair of them, in the middle of the night, and they walked out, and then realised they had nowhere to go. Literally, I mean, at 1 o’clock in the morning I found two drowned rats on my doorstep. Obviously, I let them stay and there was nowhere else for them to go immediately and I thought, “Oh what the hell.” Then they moved with me from Amhurst Road to Colvestone Crescent, and then Maz, and for a while Bieber, came out of jail, needed somewhere to stay. Yeah I mean it was a big house.
Suddenly, there were all sorts of people wandering in, it became a crash base as well. It was a matter of very much policing people because, well, the border of Amhurst Road and Sandringham Road which is the first one, was in those days a front-line for drug dealing. So, I made an executive decision that this was a drug-free house, otherwise we would be people of interest, which meant being quite firm about dope. But also it meant, one of them, Vivian, had, I won’t say an addiction problem, but certainly a barbiturate habit, I had to tell her, “what you do when you are not here, is your concern, while you are in the house, you are clean”, and that meant that she didn’t get a key.
And it’s these things that everyone who finds themselves in that kind of alternative housing has to learn quite fast. You make people pay some rent, because otherwise they don’t feel a commitment. You make people contribute to a food kitty, because otherwise they take advantage. It’s all token things and you have to be prepared to throw someone out if they do something wrong, which I found myself having to do on one occasion, but I won’t mention the specific thing, because it was something quite hard. Someone else who lived in the flat briefly did something extremely criminal and I evicted them on the spot. Again, you have to be prepared to do this. I mean, I then went to a house and called a house meeting and said, “I have just done this, any objections?”
“So, and then I moved up to the Kingsmead, where I was fine for a while, because on a different floor of the same building was a gay male commune made up of reformed skinheads. Which meant that they dyed pink triangles on to their scalps, and adopted anti-fascist politics, having had fascist politics, but were still quite scary people. On the other hand, they were on my side… there were a couple of times I got into arguments in clubs in the West End, and they appeared sort of out nowhere and said, “She is our mate,” which was nice, but then they moved off to a farm in Wales or something. Farm or what, I don’t know. I don’t ask.
At that point, things on the Kingsmead got a little less pleasant. There was a very speed addled gang on the Kingsmead in those days, and I’ve made the mistake of ringing the police when I saw them doing a burglary. As a result of which, the police came around to my flat to take a statement, rather than ask me into the station to take a statement. What kind of idiot does that? As a result of which, I got threatened with being firebombed, and this is how I ended up living down in Haggerston, but I had to move out fairly quickly and go on paying rent in a flat I couldn’t live in, because the police had fingered me.”
Roz survived all this – and more – and remains a Hackney resident to this day. She mentions the current climate of hysteria about trans people in The Great Good Time:
“I noticed a lot of bleakness creeping into trans social media and thought it my job as a community elder to remind young people that things had been, if not worse, at least as bad in different ways… The important thing about life in an embattled community is to have each others backs.”
I hope that’s useful and perhaps inspiring context and perspective for anyone who has read this far, but especially to younger trans people. You should know that you are loved and wanted and that there is a place in this world for you.
Sources and further reading
The full transcript of the excellent interview for Hackney Museum is here.
Roz was interviewed at length about her life in a recent episode of the recommended What The Trans podcast. (Starts 37:30)
Her collection of poems about trans life in the late 1970s and early 80s, The Great Good Time is published by Team Angelica and can be ordered by your local independent book shop. Or from Amazon if you must.
The header image is a photograph of Colvestone Crescent during the “winter of discontent” of 1979 and is by Alan Denney. I have taken some liberties with it.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry continues provide useful insights into the culture of policing of 20th century radical movements. The inquiry’s website includes a bunch of previously confidential documents of varying degrees of usefulness.
Paul Gilroy (author of a number of essential books including the undisputed classic There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation) recently posted a link to this ominously titled report:
Unsurprisingly, there is a section on Hackney:
As Prof Gilroy says, the overall tone of the document is extremely paranoid about scrutiny of the police by ordinary people.
In the passage above, three members of the counci’s Police Committee are singled out:
[Redacted] is mentioned because of their past political affiliations and the fact that they happen to live with two political activists. (Presumably they are redacted because they’re still alive?)
Maureen Colquhon is flagged for being a member of the dull as dishwater Tribune group and being a “self-confessed lesbian”. Prior to coming out, Colquhon had been the MP for Northampton North – she was the first openly gay MP. There is an interesting obituary here.
Patrick Kodikara is mentioned for being a Trotskyist and anti-racist. I’ve not found any evidence of him being a Trotsksyist but it is reasonable to suggest he was on the socialist side of the Labour Party. There is an interesting obituary here.
What’s not mentioned in this section of the report – but is buried in an appendix – is that these three people would have been in a minority on the Police Committee, which seems to have had 16 members. And furthermore, all of the members of the committee were elected councillors:
Given the general climate of police violence, racism and corruption in London in the early 1980s and in Hackney especially, it’s understandable that the community would elect councillors that were prepared to tackle the issue. Scrutiny by councillors was especially important as the media of the time consistently took the side of the police.
Then as now, the police do not like to be held accountable by the community they supposedly “serve and protect”…
“Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.”
Eleanor Crumblehulme (Library Assistant, University of British Columbia, Canada)
Hackney Library staff will be on strike on Tuesday and Thursday this week because of the Council’s plans to make 19 of them redundant. There will be pickets at Dalston CLR James Library, Dalston Lane and Hackney Central, Mare Street, so please go and show your support.
Libraries are more than bricks, mortar and books. I’ve generally found Hackney Library staff to be very helpful with my often quite esoteric queries and their curation has been spot on over the years. I’ve often stumbled across a random book which has made my day and their CD selection helped to keep me sane during a skint patch after my daughter was born some decades ago…
Whenever there is a financial crunch, libraries are the acceptable bit of public services the Council feels can be diminished or dispensed with. But people feel passionately about protecting these community assets, so there is always resistance. It’s important to remember that the libraries we have today only exist because of the struggles of previous generations.
Previously, in “the fight to save Hackney Libraries”
1988: 3 Libraries Occupied for 6 Months
In December 1987 the Council proposed to cut four libraries, two out of three reference libraries and the Schools Project Loan Service. After a series of protests, there was an occupation of three of the libraries planned for the chop on 11th of March. (Howard Road, Somerford Grove, Goldsmiths Row).
Meetings and cultural events were organised in the occupied premises and local estates were leafletted to raise awareness. Library staff continued to work in the occupied Libraries.
In June the Council took the occupiers to court. The hearing was preceded by a mass walk out of council staff which apparently “shut down every white collar intensive service”.
The court awarded the council a repossession order. But this was not acted on until September, when a series of battles took place:
“The time of the eviction was obtained by the simple ruse of ringing the bailiff’s office and pretending to be from the Council. So when the bailiffs, and eventually, eight coppers turned up at Goldsmiths Row Library in Haggerston at about 7:50am on Friday 9th September they found a building filled with 50 people and a picket of 30 outside… they withdrew.”
“Promising to return in an hours time, they then cased Somerford Grove Library where there were about 100 people including TV crews… at this point the Council apparently called the operation off”
“Bookworm revolt” – direct action issue 52
Bailiffs returned to the libraries at 3am on Thursday 22nd September and smashed the doors in, evicting the occupiers. A protest took place later in the day at the Town Hall.
Two of the libraries were then reoccupied:
There was a third and final set of evictions on Friday 30th September at 1am, which resulted in two arrests. The three libraries were then permanently closed.
Thanks to Neil Transpontine for the scans from City Limits above. Other sources used:
The old Library that used to stand here was closed in the 1990s. It was squatted in late 1995 (or early 1996), by Hackney Squatters Collective (“with our usual finesse – crowbar through the window”… “hiding quietly while cops shone their torches though the big glass doors just after we cracked it”) who had previously run great squat centres in Mildmay Park, 67a Stoke Newington Road, and the Arch refugee squat (directly opposite the latter), and went on to occupy (and save from demolition) London Fields Lido. One of the soundest bunches of people you’re ever likely to meet.
One of the old collective offered some recollections: “The library was made use of by various groups from the local Finsbury Park Action Group to Class War. Most significant for us was Reclaim The Streets (who at the time we thought were a bunch of crazy hippies), however we would go on to become irresistably entwined.
While we continued our open cafe and bar social nights, Zapatista benefit gigs etc, Peter Kenyon (local Labour scumbag), sent out letters to the neighbourhood declaring that as soon as the squatters had been evicted he would ‘return’ the place to the community. Being a politician, he lied.”
Another recalled “late nights, drinking too much, good friends, Victor’s Spanish punk band rehearsing, games nights, xmas and birthday parties, cold (until we turned the gas on), repairing the roof, getting pissed off with people who just treated the place as a late night drinking club and repopulating the library with books from Middlesex Poly…
There was also a ceilidh held jointly with a local community group who wanted to see the library put back into use, though possibly not quite in the way that we were doing it…”
The Library was a great centre, the local campaigners that had tried to save the library and wanted it re-opened were mostly supportive, there were weekly cafes, regular events, benefits, meetings. Always a friendly atmosphere, kids everywhere… Accessible to all. It lasted about three and a half years, and was evicted by the council. Who then left it empty again despite local campaigns for the library to reopen. Bleuugh.
In 2008-9 the place was squatted again for a while, but later that year work began to demolish it and build housing.
I would recommend Past Tense’s London Rebel History Calendar 2023, which is available online and from all good radical bookshops in London.
Defending Hackney Libraries in the 21st Century
At the turn of the Century, Hackney Council bankrupted itself by purchasing a dysfunctional computer system (ITNet) for its housing benefit payments. To balance the books a huge sell off of community assets was planned including nurseries, council owned properties (most infamously Tony’s Cafe on Broadway Market) and of course several libraries, including Clapton. My recollection is that all the threatened libraries survived this particular battle.
Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the UK government launched a brutal austerity assault on public spending with severe cuts to local government budgets. In Hackney this resulted in yet another proposal to reduce library services which was opposed by Save Hackney Libraries. The campaign resulted in some significant concessions from the council.
This is probably just the tip of the iceberg – if you can remember other campaigns to save Hackney Libraries, please leave a comment.
And do what you can to support the current protests!
Bonus feature: Radical meetings at Hackney Libraries
There is a long history of Hackney Libraries hosting radical events too, with meetings by the Suffragettes and the Women’s Freedom League and radical communist theatre performances by Hackney Peoples Players being held at Stoke Newington Library alone in the early 20th Century alone.
It’s a mixed legacy though…
Also bad things…
If you wanted to be scab during the 1926 General Strike, the library was where to go:
Strikebreaking was enthusiastically encouraged by Hackney Borough Council, now no longer in Labour hands. Right from the start they issued a notice calling for volunteers to man essential services. An office was opened in the public library opposite the Town Hall where strikebreakers could sign on and this was kept open from 9am to 8pm.
In September 1981 a Council meeting was severely disrupted by Hackney Ethnic Minorities Library Consultative Committee who felt that they weren’t getting anywhere with the issues they were raising with the Council about inclusivity and removing racist and sexist material from the stock. (Hackney Peoples Press October 1981 – front page).
There was a marked improvement after this protest, and it is notable that in 1985 Dalston Library was renamed the CLR James Library in honour of the Trinidadian born writer and political activist Cyril Lionel Robert James. During the redevelopment of Dalston Square, there was some indignation that the relocated library would not retain the name, but sense prevailed. (On a more personal note, a lot of my self-education in black history was through books from Hackney Libraries).
The Radical History of Hackney site sprung out of some conversations with some younger friends of mine. I was trying to explain some of the events of the 1970s and 1980s I’d heard about. They looked at me a bit sceptically, so I promised I’d send them some links. But there were no links to be had. Just my fading memories.
With the help of the comrades at 56A Infoshop I scanned in some old newsletters. But that didn’t really do it all justice. So I started writing and researching and following up links and one thing led to another.
And now there are links about a multitude of struggles, strugglers, victories, defeats and inspiring events on this site. And it’s been gratifying to see people engaging with the various stories here and linking to them or citing them in their own writing. Perhaps one thing that’s missing is telling these stories in a cohesive and non-nerdy manner. Bringing it all together in one entertaining package that is easily digestable. Like a novel maybe.
White Riot is a crime novel set in Hackney from 1978-1983. The crime is primarily committed by the police.
The book draws extensively on material from this site AND is a gripping read. The author does an incredible job of bringing the various strands and events to life – The Rock Against Racism carnival in Victoria Park, the National Front HQ in Hoxton, the death of Colin Roach, the drugs trade and cops, old pubs of Hackney, music, it’s all kicking off here.
I especially liked the way that the same events were looked at by different characters – a downtrodden Hackney Council bureaucrat (who may be based on the author’s Father), a radical female photographer who lives in squats, an anti-racist cop, a Turkish teenager and a Spycop.
About a third into the book my trainspotter tendencies were defeated. I stopped trying to figure out which documents things were from and just enjoyed the unfolding plotline.
I have no doubt that people who were around in the timeframe will have some criticisms of the way that things are described, as do I. For example I think the Spycop is portrayed too heroically given the wideranging testimony of the havoc that these police officers have unleashed on people’s lives – although it is possible this side of things may be dealt with in greater detail in future instalments, as White Riot is the first of a trilogy.
But creating a space for these criticisms to be made is good. One of the valuable things about the book is drawing attention to the struggles of the past and what lessons can be learned from them.
I’m excited to see how the story is received and what conversations can be had about the subject matter.
The book includes some useful notes and bibliography which clarifies which parts of the story are fictionalised and what sources are used.
White Riot is published by Arcadia Books on 19th January. You can pre-order it through Pages of Hackney.
This events programme for Hackney Women’s Centre Lesbian Group is typical of some of the social events programmes and flyers which we have throughout the archive. It illustrates the wide range of social activities that these groups promoted amongst the women that used those spaces. Flyers like this are often interesting because they can often underline the intersectional approaches to organising that feminist and lesbian spaces often tried to institute around building access for wheelchair users, childcare facilities and language interpretation.
Glasgow women’s library
I also like that the events are social rather than overtly political – precisely because in the 1980s lesbians socialising together would haven been a political act in itself in many ways.
Hackney Women’s Centre appears to have been based at 27 Hackney Grove E8 and then at 20 Dalston Lane E8 around 1984/5.
The Centre’s origins stretch back to at least 1981, with this call to action in Hackney People’s Press:
The group seems to have prioritised a feminist approach to the entire project – the commitment in the article above was matched by ensuring the premises were accessible to disabled women.
Similarly, the renovation of the Dalston Lane property was overseen by Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative – an feminist architecture co-op who were also based in Dalston at the time:
There is an interesting post about their work on Hackney Women’s Centre at Matrix Open Feminist Architecture Archive including a scan of some pages from a brochure about the renovations needed at the 20 Dalston Lane building.
In “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne note that not all of the GLC funded women’s centres were as successful as the Hackney one:
Matrix was involved in projects for Hackney, Brixton and Bermondsey. Of these, only one, Hackney Women’s Centre, was built. The borough council had made a rundown shop building on Dalston Lane available, and much of the limited funds for building work went into repairing it before it could be converted for use: here the kitchen, built by women joiners, was at the heart of the social space, and as much of the building as possible was made accessible for disabled people.
Alongside the technical renovations and building work, the Centre commissioned some lovely stained glass by femalie artist Anna Conti and the photos on her site are the only tantalising glimpse of the interior of the Centre I have been able to find:
The flyer below gives a flavor of the sort of activies that the organising group were hoping the Centre would be able to offer. And of course there is the inevitable mail box at Centerprise!
Aside from the Hackney Lesbian Group flyer at the top of this post, I’ve not found a huge amount of material on what actually happened at the Centre after it opened. There are some interesting adverts in the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter from 1988 and 1990:
The longevity of these events suggest that the Centre was able to maintain the commitment to intersectionality noted by Glasgow Women’s Library.
Inevitably it was not all plain sailing, as is evident from this unpleasant exchange of letters between the Pan African Congress Group and the Centre. They concern an argument over a group obtaining a Malcolm X tape which is mainly about homophobia in the black community:
It appears that Hackney Women’s Centre was in operation until at least 1993. A lot of organisations that had been supported by the GLC struggled to maintain funding beyond this point. (Although it is worth noting that London Irish Women’s Centre was at 59 Stoke Newington Church Street until 2012).
The Centre appears in several novels: “Calendar Girl” by Stella Duffy (1994), “Hello Mr Bones” by Patrick McCabe (2013) and “All Girl Live Action” by Sara Faith Tibbs (2015)
If you have any memories of Hackney Women’s Centre – or access to archival material, stories, people relating to it, please leave a comment below.
Sources and further reading
Petrescu, D. (ed.) (2007) AlteringPractices: Feminist Politics and Poetics ofSpace, New York and London: Routledge – includes “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne.
Grace Quah – Beyond the Home: Re-evaluating feminist representations of domestic space through contemporary cinema (Thesis for Bartlett School of Architecture, 2017) – available on academia.edu
Stewart Home lived in Hackney in the 1980s and his fiction has often included London’s finest borough as a setting. His earliest novels took a sly dig at the anarchist and arty scenes here, mashing up techniques from the avant garde with pulp fiction from the 1970s.
The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is his fifteenth novel, originally published by Test Centre in 2014. (Around this time the publisher was operating a pop up space at the old Sea Scouts building on Stoke Newington Church Street – now a children’s nursery). I missed the original edition, but fortunately Cripplegate Books have republished the book.
“The Nine Lives of…” is a fictionalised autobiography, based on extensive research and conversations with people who knew boxer and cat burglar Raymond Jones. So… perhaps not something you would expect to read about on a website about the radical history of Hackney? Well, dear reader, I am pleased to say that your expectations are about to be confounded.
Ray grew up in the Welsh valleys and worked as a miner before becoming an infamous boxer and burglar in London. He lived at various locations in Hackney including Brougham Road (later to be an epicentre for squat punks and radicals), Colvestone Crescent and Cranwich Road, Stamford Hill (previously inhabited by anarchist Emanuel Michaels).
The author is not someone who thinks that all criminality is radical by nature and there are a number of amusing sideswipes at anti-social scumbags throughout the book. But by all accounts Ray Jones sustained a successful career as a cat burglar over several decades – and robbed purely from upper class poshos. In Home’s hands our hero becomes an entirely plausible class warrior – hellbent on revenge against a system that persecuted him and the working class as a whole. Ray even makes anonymous donations of wads of filthy lucre to causes like a miners’ benevolent fund back in South Wales.
There are a number of vivid accounts of daring raids on country mansions and even a couple of nail-biting prison escapes. This – along with some wry observations on London’s criminal subculture in the 1950s-1970s – is the heart of the book. It’s a proper page turner.
Jones went straight in 1972 at the age of 52 and set himself up as a market trader on Ridley Road. Throughout the story we are treated to a number of passing thoughts on world and political affairs and I found the juxtaposition of a reflective Ray and the unfolding political turmoil of 1980s London to be a ripping read. He even joins Hackney Anti-Poll Tax Union…
Home’s treatment of the subject matter is done sensitively and affectionately but without the cloying nostalgia that bogs down many a gangster memoir. He doesn’t shy away from some of Jones’ mistakes and regrets. At the other end of the spectrum there are some excellent demolition jobs on the scumbags of the aristocracy and judiciary who find themselves light of some jewelry or other luxury items after a daring visit from “the cat”.
Raymond Jones died in Homerton Hospital in February 2001 at the age of 84. One of his last wishes was for his life story to be published as a book and a film. The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is certainly a fitting tribute to the man.
“Daughters of Amazon” attack Hackney porn shop (1983):
Anti-Apartheid activists attack Barclays Bank on Green Lanes (1986).
Damage to property as direct action was reasonably common in the 1970s and 1980s. It had a dual function of “propaganda by deed”, where the business owner (and the community) were left in little doubt about the strength of feeling against them – and of course there was economic damage to the business too.
Furthermore, activists were able to claim responsibility anonymously through the underground and anarchist press via their political statements. The Angry Brigade excelled at this in the 1970s, with some very powerful manifestos – and one of their early targets was Barclays Bank on Stoke Newington High Street (now Stoke Newington Books) which was firebombed on October 26th 1970.
But most damage to property was far less spectacular than that meted out by the Angry Brigade. Indeed, the attraction of low level vandalism was precisely its accessibility – it was cheap and could be done by one or two people at night, etc.
In the 1980s Animal Liberation Front activists must have damaged thousands (if not tens of thousands) of butchers shops and other properties involved with animal exploitation in the UK. Common actions would be anything from graffiti, to glueing up the locks so that the building could not be accessed the next day.
Hackney based anarchopunk band The Apostles (who lived at Brougham Road E8, off Broadway Market) captured the spirit of this particular direct action subculture in their 1983 song “Pigs For Slaughter”:
“Glue the locks of all the banks and butchers – or kick them in, Spray a message of hate across a Bentley – or smash it up, Sabotage the meat in supermarkets – poison them all, Go to Kensington and mug a rich bastard of all his cash.
We’re knocking on your door, We’re taking no more, For this is Class War.
Put sugar in the petrol tank, Deflate the tyres with six inch nails, That’s the way to wreck a Rolls, So get stuck in it never fails. We’ll smash it up and we’ll bum it all down.”
The Apostles – pigs for slaughter
This kind of politically motivated damage to property seems far less common now, mainly because of the increased prevalence of CCTV, but also the laws around incitement are much harsher, so I think people that published manifestos or seemed to be encouraging this sort of thing might find themselves in far greater trouble with the law…
There’s probably a lot more to be written about this area, so any pointers about direct action generally in Hackney or Animal Liberation / animal rights activity in the borough would be welcome.
The obituary above appeared in Direct Action vol 7 #3, in March 1966. Direct Action was the newspaper of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which operated from 1950 until the late 1970s. The SWF then became the Direct Action Movement before changing into the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – an organisation which is still active today.
Who was he? Everything starts with an “E.”
It’s easy to understand that a Jewish immigrant revolutionary might want to keep their personal details secret. Googling “E. Michaels” produces some good results in the anarchist archives, but that is only half of the story…
Fortunately there is only one “E. Michaels” listed in the death records for Hackney for 1966:
Was born in Plock, central Poland on 25 Sep 1890 (near enough to 1891 listed above?)
Emigrated to England at the age of ten in 1900.
Married Rosie Kitman (3 Apr 1892 – 14 Jan 1963) at Mile End in 1914.
Had four children (including Harry, as in the Freedom clipping above, which is reassuring)
Worked as a Tailors Presser.
Died 12 Feb 1966.
This seems to fit quite well with what we know from the obituaries above and the sort of lives that radical Jewish anarchists would be leading at this time. But I’m not an expert, so if any historians or genealogists out there have spotted any errors, let me know!
Update: a comrade has kindly supplied a passport photo of the handsome Michaels.
Anarchy in the East End!
Most of comrade Michaels’ political activity seems to have been in the East End of London in the first half of the 20th Century. He was involved with setting up a “free school” at 62 Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, which also hosted The Worker’s Friend Club and the East London Anarchist Group. He was also the secretary of the prisoner support group the Anarchist Red Cross and is listed as a donor in a few issues of the London anarchist newspaper Freedom in the 1910s.
According to census data he lived at the following addresses too:
1911: 25 Hungerford Street, Commercial Road
1921: 73 Sutton Street
1939: 163 Jubilee Street E1
But what about Hackney, eh?
Michaels seems to have remained active up until his death. Sparrows Nest Archive has scans of some his letters from 1958 to 1964. Most of these are addressed to Ken Hawkes, the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation. Many of them mention meetings at Circle House, 13 Sylvester Path, E8. I’ve written about the Workers Circle and Jewish radicals in Hackneypreviously.
Michaels’ letters are largely administrative – donations, exchanges of publications, details of meetings etc. But the letterheads are invaluable:
Firstly, they tell us that Michaels was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish radical organisations Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labour) and Rudolf Rocker Publishing Committee. (Rocker was a German Gentile who became heavily involved with the Jewish anarchist movement).
Secondly, the letters show us where Michaels lived in Hackney. (This is my assumption, based on the nature of the addresses listed and that meetings etc seemed to take place at Circle House and not those on the letterheads). So it looks like Michaels lived at 12 Cranwich Road in Stamford Hill during the 1950s and then moved to “Morley House” N16 in 1961. Which no longer exists…
But! According to this useful blog, Morley House was one of the council blocks at the east end of Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington and was renamed Nelson Mandela House in 1984. There is a quote from Mandela on the side of it which can be seen here.
A diversion down Cazenove Road
According to Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Morley House was built in 1937-1938 “with a meanly detailed exterior, although the planning of the individual flats was generous at the time”.
Fourteen years after Emanuel Michaels’ death, the flats and exterior would see further anarchistic action.
Hackney Peoples Press reported that Morley House was due for renovation, which meant that:
“All the council tenants were moved out between 1978 and autumn 1979, and the estate was left almost completely empty.”
Perhaps inevitably some tenacious local people seized this opportunity:
“In November 1979 the first squatters started to move in, even though vandalism and thieving had reduced the building to a dilapidated eyesore.
By February 1980 approximately 80 flats were occupied and some residents approached Hackney Community Housing Resource Centre to ask about licensing the house. (A licence to occupy premises does not imply tenancy as such but makes the occupation authorised by the Council.)
They suggested a direct approach to the Council, and three Council Officers were invited to visit the estate and talk to same of the residents. These officers submitted a report to the Housing Management Committee on 31st March this year, and suggested the granting of a license through Hackney Community Housing (HCH). The Committee however, rejected the recommendations and decided to evict the residents – offering the property to HCH as short term housing instead.”
What followed was a bit of a standoff, with the Council refusing to back down and the squatters getting more organised:
“They held weekly meetings, formed themselves into an Association, cleared up rubbish, and met a number of councillors to discuss the matter. They also formally presented a deputation to the Housing Management Committee asking once again for a licence.”
That all probably seems pretty amazing to people who’ve tried squatting recently, but even in 1980, this was simply delaying the inevitable:
Six months later, the Council’s heavy squad made the 200 squatters homeless:
“Following two dramatic dawn raids by police the Morley House squat in Cazenove Road has had all its electricity and gas supplies cut off. At least 25 people were arrested, mainly on charges relating to the stealing of gas and electricity, but the police indiscriminately smashed through the doors of all the tenants on two of the blocks on the estate.
The first raid took place on 14 January and was made by a large number of police, accompanied by police dogs and gas board officials. The police carried no warrants and yet made extensive searches for drugs and stolen goods. Many doors were broken down in the raid, while others had 6-inch nails driven into their hinges to prevent tenants from re-entering their flats. Whilst searching the rooms the police took many photographs, presumably to be used later in evidence.
Using the excuse that many of the tenants were not paying for gas, the supplies to the estate were cut off, although electric cooking rings were brought in by the Gas Board for those who complained that they were in fact paying their gas bills. But in the early hours of the following morning, the police arrived again, this time with Electricity Board officials, and electricity supplies were cut off under the pretext that all the wiring on the estate was in a dangerous condition.
As a result of these raids about half of the 150 people who lived in the squat have been intimidated into leaving. Speaking to residents of Morley House HPP has discovered that these raids follow several months of police harassment. It is estimated that some 50% of the residents had been picked up by the police prior to the raids. Morley House has been a licensed squat for over one year. In that time Gas and Electricity officials have visited the estate several times, but have not ordered any repairs.”
I hope that Emanuel would have approved of the squatters, but you never know. It’s interesting that the block was subsequently renamed Mandela House – Hackney Council in the 1980s was eager to promote social struggles thousands of miles away, but renaming the block after Emanuel Michaels or celebrating the courageous battle of the squatters was off-limits…
If anyone reading this has more information about either Emanuel Michaels or the Morley House occupation, please do leave a comment or drop me an email.