Dalston riot, July 1981

insideinnercov

Below is an eyewitness account by journalist Paul Harrison on disturbances in Hackney. This is followed by some reports from Hackney People’s Press about the riot and its aftermath.

Harrison tries to be even-handed about the police throughout the book this is taken from, even spending some time with them on the beat as part of his research. The police’s side of the story was believed by fewer and fewer people throughout the eighties. The credibility of cops at Stoke Newington police station was severely undermined in the 1990s after numerous exposés by Hackney Community Defence Association and the police’s internal investigation “Operation Jackpot”.

But before the written account, here is a brief bit of oral history about the beginning of the riot by anti-racist campaigner Claire Hamburger, including an amusing anecdote about the non-rioting community and the police:

THE ROUGHEST BEAT: POLICING THE INNER CITY
Paul Harrison

The peacemaker gets two-thirds of the blows.

He who lights a fire should not ask to be protected from the flames.

Arab proverbs

In 1981 a Conservative government that had promised a strong approach to law and order presided over one of the most serious breakdowns in law and order in mainland Britain of this century.

On 10 April, the first Brixton riots erupted. On 3 July came disturbances in Southall, followed in rapid succession by major troubles at Toxteth in Liverpool, Moss Side in Manchester, and again in Brixton. There were smaller-scale disorders in Bristol, Southampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Preston and Teesside, and across London from Acton to Walthamstow and from Haringey to Clapham. The list was a catalogue of Britain’s inner cities, finally forcing themselves dramatically into the nation’s consciousness.

Hackney, too, had its say. The year had already seen the earlier emergence of an ominous phenomenon of law-breaking by large groups of black youths. On 20 April, towards the end of a bank-holiday fair at Finsbury Park, hundreds of youths went on the rampage with sticks and bars, smashing up stalls and mugging people.

On the night of Tuesday, 5 May, about a hundred youths, most of whom had just come out of Cubie’s, the popular Afro-Caribbean disco off Dalston Lane, gathered round while some of them ripped out a jeweller’s window and stole jewellery worth £500. The retreating crowd threw bottles at the police.

In the early hours of Wednesday, 24 June, gangs of youths roaming the streets, again after chucking-out time at Cubie’s, smashed the windows of a travel agency and a fish-and-chip shop, grabbed the till of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Kingsland Road, and mugged three pedestrians.

Part of the problem was that London Transport bus crews, fearful of trouble, had been refusing to pick up passengers from Cubie’s for some months, thus leaving large gangs of black youths to walk home, along streets lined with shops, in a mood of anger and frustration.

It was not until Wednesday, 8 July, that the first attacks on police occurred [apart from chucking bottles at them on 5th May? Ed]. That night two officers on patrol in Stoke Newington were stoned [insert joke here about Stoke Newington police and drugs – Ed] and towards midnight four police cars were damaged by missiles. The next evening, police were out in force, on foot, in the Dalston area, keeping a couple of hundred youths on the move. Five shop windows were smashed and one policeman injured by missiles.

The worst disturbances occurred on 10 July. The location: the junction of Sandringham Road and Kingsland High Street. There was a certain inevitability about the site. Sandringham Road leads down into the heart of some of the worst private rented housing and the densest settlement of people of West Indian origin in Hackney. At the top, on the left, the Argos showroom windows gleam with consumer products. On the right, Johnson’s cafe, a haunt favoured by young blacks, the scene of frequent drug busts and raids in pursuit of ‘dips’ (pickpockets) escaping from their favourite hunting-ground of Ridley Road Market (a quiet back alley, Birkbeck Road, leads between Ridley and Sandringham). At the junction of Sandringham and Kingsland, there are permanent pedestrian barriers lining the road, offering support and, if necessary, shelter against attack.

johnsons

Johnson’s Cafe, Sandringham Road, from the 1976 UK reggae documentary “Aquarius”

The trouble that day began around 5 p.m. when a group of youths robbed a jewellers’ shop in Kingsland High Street. The police closed down Johnson’s cafe and moved on groups that formed outside: a few bricks and bottles were thrown. Then larger groups of blacks began to congregate. At around 7.30 p.m. two fire-bombs were thrown: one at the Argos showrooms, followed by looting; and one at a policeman in Arcola Street, site of the main social-security office in Stoke Newington. The police charged down Sandringham Road, but were pushed back by the youths for a distance of about 40 metres before making a successful counter-charge. Just before midnight bricks were thrown at the police stationed at the mouth of Sandringham Road, from the barrier railings outside the Rio cinema, opposite. Under attack, exhausted from working days of fourteen and sixteen hours around London’s riot areas, some officers lost their cool. A unit of helmeted police charged across the road, truncheons drawn, and used them to `disperse’ the crowd at the railings. One girl suffered a head wound and was rushed to hospital.

I arrived on the scene just after midnight. There was an atmosphere of Sweeney and Starsky and Hutch. It was just after the stoning incident, and police Rovers, Escorts and blue-and-white vans packed with men were using Kingsland Road as a race-track, hooters wailing and lights flashing, in pursuit of the suspected assailants. For the meanwhile, the protection of property took a back seat, and I watched for half an hour as menswear shop, Mr H, was looted down to the last button and buckle. The window smashed a few seconds after I had walked past it: there was no one in sight but a young black boy of about thirteen, looking a picture of innocence. A few minutes later five or ten youths, black and white, began to arrive, clambering over the railings from the road, then leaning against them and looking around themselves with great caution before acting. One boy set the example, snatching a white sweatshirt and stuffing it down the front of his jacket. The others helped themselves, each one walking away in a relaxed manner calculated to allay suspicion. Mr H’s alarm was ringing noisily: but so were many others. After a lull more wardrobe hunters arrived, and some of the first wave returned for second helpings. The first time they’d snatched anything that came to hand. This time they were more discriminating, checking sizes and colours and discarding unsuitable ones.

Three whites in their late twenties stood opposite, smiling benevolently and shouting ‘Police’, with the accent on the first syllable, whenever men in blue came near. A skinhead in a long Edwardian jacket, attracted by the Victoria Wine off-licence next door to Mr H, wrapped a brick in a paper bag and hurled it at the window with all his might. It bounced off. A boy slipped on the glass outside Mr H, and cut himself badly, and the others gathered round to help. The looting proceeded, while at the back, thieves were smashing their way through security bars and looting the racks inside. Some of the earliest looters had the opportunity to saunter by five or six times, while the skinhead persisted in his increasingly desperate attempts to smash the off-licence window, the only effect being to leave a dusting of brick powder on the glass.

At about 1 a.m. a big black bearded youth in a long leather raincoat took out a pair of model legs from the window and threw them into the middle of the road. Police vehicles had passed the scene at least forty or fifty times, but this act finally attracted their attention. A van screeched to a halt, a dozen officers leapt out, and one of them stayed behind to stand guard over what, by now, was a totally empty window.

The whole evening had been, by the standards of Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side, a mere affray, but it was a disturbing pointer to what could happen when police attention was diverted and the thin veneer of ice that caps Hackney’s troubled waters was cracked. In all forty premises were damaged that night and sixty arrests were made. The score of injuries was even: twenty-three police, twenty-three members of the public.

High Noon in Dalston

The following day, Saturday, 11 July, far worse was expected. Shoppers stayed away from the High Street and the Wimpy Bar owner complained of his worst Saturday for business in twenty years. But the shopkeepers had their minds preoccupied in other ways. From Dalston Junction to Stamford Hill, they were measuring and sawing, drilling and screwing, fitting and hammering. According to means, great panels of corrugated iron, wood, plywood, chipboard, hardboard and cardboard were being battened up by those who did not already have armour-plated glass, grilles and shutters. Builders’ merchants were running out of supplies, security firms doing more business than they could cope with, employees and friends and relatives were dragooned into a frenetic race against time to put up their protective walls before the expected confrontation of the late afternoon and evening.

The media came sniffing for trouble. One camera crew arrived and interviewed people on the street. Another crew filmed a festival at London Fields where trouble had been predicted. People threw darts at images of Thatcher, drum majorettes twirled, and the Marlborough pub heavies won the tug-of-war match. But there was not a stir of trouble. When one of the organisers phoned the television company to ask why the festival had not been televised, she was told it was because ‘nothing happened’.

Up at the end of Sandringham Road, the atmosphere was High Noon. The police were scattered, in twos and threes, all down the High Street. About fifty black youths, with the merest scattering of whites, were sitting along the railings and on the wooden fence of the petrol station and crowding outside Johnson’s cafe. I talked to many of them and the grievances bubbled out, against unemployment, racialism, but above all against the police.

A pretty girl of seventeen, with four grade ones in the Certificate of Secondary Education, out of work for ten months, said:

‘I go down the temp agency every morning. There’s only been two jobs going there all week. Since Thatcher’s come in, everything’s just fallen. She needs a knife through her heart.’

Her nineteen-year-old friend continues:

‘I got three O-levels and that’s done me no good at all. A lot of my friends are having babies. If you haven’t got a job, you might as well have a baby.’

Vengeance for colonialism and slavery, rebellion against discrimination, redress for police abuses, all mingled together as a group of boys pitched in. They were angry, agitated.

‘You can’t win,’ said a tall youth worker:

‘If a black person drive a nice car, the police say, where you get the money to drive that? You wear a gold chain, they say, where you thief that? We like to gather in a little place and have a drink and music, so what the police do? They like to close it down, so we all on the street instead. And what happen when they get hold of you? They fling you in the van, they say, come on you bunnies [short for ‘jungle bunnies’]. They play find the black man’s balls. They treat us like animals, man, they treat their dogs better than they treat us. They kick the shit out of us and put us inside to rot. They think they are OK in their uniforms. But if that one there was to walk over here naked now, we’d kick the hell out of him. Somebody said, black people will never know themselves till their back is against the wall, well, now our backs is against the wall. I’m gonna sit right here, and I ain’t gonna move.’

A boy of eighteen in a flat corduroy cap said:

‘I was driving down from Tottenham to Hackney once, I got stopped seven times on the way. Four years ago, they came to my house searching for stolen goods and asked me to provide a receipt for everything in my house. We’ve been humiliated. It’s time we show them that we want to be left alone.’

‘We’re fighting for our forefathers,’ said the seventeen-year-old secretary:

 ‘We’ve been watching Roots [the film series on American slavery]. They used us here for twenty years, now they got no use for us, they want us out.’

An eighteen-year-old boy in a green, red and black tea-cosy hat went on:

‘The police can call you a fucking cunt, but if you say one word at them they’ll take you down. They don’t even like you to smile at them. You try to fight them at court: you can’t fight them, because black man don’t have no rights at all in this country.’

There was a lot of military talk, for this was not seen as a challenge to law, but a matter of group honour: the police, as a clan, had humiliated young blacks, as a clan, and clan revenge had to be exacted.

‘Since they got these riot shields,’ said a boy of twenty, ‘they think they’re it. We can’t stand for that. Tonight we have to kill one of them, and now there’s a crowd of us, we’re gonna do it. If they bring in the army we’ll bring in more reinforcements and kill them.’

One boy in sunglasses, sixteen at the oldest, launched into a lecture on guerrilla tactics:

‘If you come one night and they make you run, then the next night you bring enough stones, bottles and bombs that they can’t make you run: you don’t run, they run.’

He smirks, as if he has just stormed their lines single-handed:

‘But look at everyone here. They’re all empty-handed. Last night they were wasting their petrol-bombs, throwing them on the street. It’s no use throwing one without a specific target. Look at that police bus: one bomb at the front, one at the back, and that would be thirty-two or sixty-four police less. You got to have organisation, like they got.’

There were moments of humour, too. One drunken man in a leather jacket was straining to have a go at the police. ‘What can you do?’ his girlfriend asked him, holding him back by the jacket.

‘I can at least fuck up two of them. I can take the consequences. They ain’t gonna kill me.’

‘They will kick the shit out of you,’ says his girl-friend. She pacifies him for the moment, but he eludes her and stands, slouched on one elbow, against the railings, awaiting his moment of glory. Levering himself up he staggers half-way across the road towards the main police gathering, shouting, ‘You’re all a load of fucking wankers.’ Before he has got five metres he is arrested by the district commander in person.

In the end, the brave talk remained talk. At 6 p.m. the police decided to clear the crowds that had assembled. They moved on the group on the petrol-station fence, pushing them down Sandringham Road. At the same time another cordon of police began to walk up Sandringham Road from the other end. An escape route was deliberately left open — the alley of Birkbeck Road — and the cordons let through most of those who wanted to get by.

But many of the youths believed the police had trapped them in a pincer with the intention of beating them up. Several of them started to break down the wall next to Johnson’s café to use the bricks. As one young boy explained:

‘When they come smashing you over the head with a baton one night, the next time you know you’ve got to get something to defend yourself with.’

But this misinterpretation of police intentions itself brought on the attack it was intended to prevent. The police closed in to forestall the brick-throwers, there were scuffles, one policeman was injured, and five arrests were made.

And that was it. The expected explosion did not occur. The proceedings ended not with a bang but with a whimper. It is perhaps typical of Hackney that, although more deprived than Lambeth and most of the other scenes of disturbance, it couldn’t get together a full-blooded riot. The reason lies in Hackney’s fragmentation: it has no single core like Brixton has, where blacks predominate and congregate, no ghettos without their admixture of poor whites, Asians and Mediterraneans. The sheer numbers required to start a large-scale disturbance never came together. Police tactics, too, were flexible and effective: with the experience of Brixton to learn from, they did not offer a static, concentrated defensive line that was a sitting target for missiles. And they split up the opposition into smaller groups and kept them moving down separate side roads, preventing any larger crowds from forming.

Nevertheless, there was rioting and there was looting and there was violence. It is important to understand why. These were not the first skirmishes in the revolution, nor were they an organised protest against monetarism or mass unemployment. Many of the rioters were at school, some had jobs. The conscious motivation of those who were not just in it for the looting was, quite simply and straightforwardly, hatred of the police among the young and the desire to hit back at them for humiliations received. Monetarism and recession were, however, powerful indirect causes. The strains produced by loss of hope and faith in a society that seemed to have lost all charity certainly provided emotional fuel for the troubles. More specifically, recent recessions, each one deeper than the last, pushed up levels of violent theft and burglary, and therefore led to a greatly increased pressure of policing in the inner city, bringing police into unpleasant contact with increasing numbers of whites and blacks, guilty and innocent alike.

BLUE IS THE COLOUR: VIOLENCE IS THE GAME
Hackney People’s Press issue 71, August 1981

The clashes in Dalston and Stoke Newington between police and local people on the weekend of 10-12 July were the culmination of several days of tension, caused mainly by police tactics.

Local traders had been told repeatedly to board up shops because the police were expecting trouble, and this created an unreal siege-like atmosphere in both Kingsland and Stoke Newington High Streets. There were also a number of raids on Johnson’s, a West Indian cafe in Sandringham Road, which was to become the focus for the worst disturbances.

Our reporter was threatened by this policeman with getting his camera smashed. Shortly after, he was clubbed to the ground by another, and  had to have stitches put in a head wound.

Our reporter was threatened by this policeman with getting his camera smashed. Shortly after, he was clubbed to the ground by another, and  had to have stitches put in a head wound.

After groups of youths had gathered on various street corners police presence in the area was increased dramatically throughout the week. Trouble became inevitable when the police tried to prevent people going down Sandringham Road, to gather outside Johnson’s. On the Friday night, there were at least two baton charges by police to clear Sandringham Road. Policemen were lashing out wildly with truncheons – aiming at the head, in direct contravention of the Metropolitan Police Standing Orders – and many people were injured, including a Hackney People’s Press reporter, who was standing in the doorway of the Rio Cinema. He was taken to the Hackney Hospital, and had three stitches in a scalp wound. Our reporter writes:

“The casualty ward of the hospital was like a battle-field. A number of people were being treated for head wounds. I spoke to two 16-year old white youths who had been attacked. One of them had been truncheoned and kicked while outside the Rio, at the same time as me. Another had been attacked with a group of friends while on his way home to Stoke Newington. With his head bleeding from a wound, he and his friends walked all the way from Sandringham Road to Hackney Hospital. While at the hospital I saw uniformed and plain-clothes police writing down the names and addresses of people being treated. They were being helped to do this by at least one member of the administrative staff.”

In Stoke Newington on the same night there was repeated use of violent police tactics to clear the streets of people, many of whom were innocent bystanders and spectators. Several times Transit vans full of police were driven very fast down narrow roads and up onto pavements. Coachloads of police would suddenly rush out of their buses and chase off local people, lashing out wildly with their truncheons. HPP knows of a number of people who were attacked and arrested on that evening.

In most of these cases criminal charges are now pending, which makes any comment on them at the moment difficult, but it is quite clear that random attacks and arrests were being made, on the assumption that anyone around on the streets deserved what they got. On the Saturday, there were further disturbances during the afternoon, particularly in the Sandringham Road area. A pincer movement by police to try and clear the streets led to further violence and a number of arrests. Residents of St. Mark’s Rise were disturbed during the afternoon by groups of police chasing youths through their gardens. In one incident the police commander himself, Commander Howlett, arrested a man outside the Rio Cinema, during a conversation with a Hackney Councillor and the Secretary of the Hackney Council for Racial Equality. The man has now been charged with insulting behaviour after he had shouted at the group of people talking.

By the Sunday, the situation was a lot calmer, but there was still a massive police presence on the streets. Coachloads of them seemed to be permanently parked in Sandringham Road, and a new style of Transit van, with iron grids over the windscreen to prevent it being smashed, was seen outside Stoke Newington police station.

The organisers of two local festivals held that weekend at London Fields and Stoke Newington Common, were asked by the police to cancel their festivities. Both of these refused and, of course, there was no trouble at all. Since that weekend the inquests have started. A Hackney Legal Defence Committee has been set up and has started helping those arrested and attacked by the police during the various incidents. Already more than 50 people have been contacted by the Committee, most of whom will appear in court during August. The Borough Council, Hackney Council for Racial Equality and Hackney Community Action have all come forward in condemning police behaviour on Hackney’s streets that weekend. Below we report on a number of these initiatives. [an article on proposals for community control of the police, not included here – Ed]

UPRISING AFTERMATH
Hackney People’s Press issue 72, September 1981

Over 100 people were arrested after the uprising in July when youth took to the streets and clashed with the police. Many of them have now appeared in court, and some very severe sentences have been imposed by the magistrates. The Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HDLC) has been set up to assist those arrested during the uprising. Below we summarise what they are trying to do. First, we print an account of some reactions in the month following the uprising.

Along Kingsland and Stoke Newington High Streets, local traders were still repairing damage done to shops. I called in at Johnson’s cafe in Sandringham Road and asked about the baton charges and damage done to the West Indian cafe. I was told:

“All the glass wall and glass door at the front of the shop was kicked in, kicked in by the police – bash! and smash!”

Not doubting the fact that the police had lashed out wildly, zooming with their batons and cracking scalps, I said: “What’s your opinion of the riots that took place between the black youths and the police in the Dalston area in July?” The woman in the cafe said:

“Police came into the cafe using truncheons, slashing them in…a them head, using all their strength in murderous attacks on defenceless people. They was not concern about the frighten state of the people’s mind.”

I asked if there had been anything missing or stolen. She exclaimed: “No. Blood! Blood! Spilled by police tactics. They batter them, batter them in a tha head.”

Then I interviewed two administrative officers at the Town Hall, Mare Street. They suggested that the local authorities hadn’t any direct links with the action and movement of the local police force. They are only concerned in the parking sector and community work, and have a liaison committee with the police.

Nonetheless, I thought these questions were vital. At the time of the Civil Service dispute, the Town Hall was relied upon to share the work to help the unemployed. So I continued to ask their opinion on the riots and terrorism people suffered by the serious violence inflicted by the troops of armed police leaping from their vans, causing breach of the peace with unnecessary provocation.

One said:

“The government, in general terms, is giving the local authorities less and less money, therefore their plans for central facilities on programmes for work become fewer.”

He added:

“The riots in Hackney are minor compared with, say, Manchester or elsewhere.

“The disturbances should not cause great alarm, with the number of people who were involved. The local authorities are presently having committee meetings regarding additional educational courses. Benefits may be gained from self-organisation.”

I approached Stoke Newington Police Station enquiring about the clashes and police tactics, and asked to talk to the local home beat officer informally. I was told to write to the superintendent of police. Hercules [“Hercules” being the pseudonym of the reporter – Ed]

HOW YOU CAN HELP THE HACKNEY LEGAL DEFENCE COMMITTEE

If you are one of the arrested and require legal or financial assistance, or if you are a witness to any arrest or have any information which would help us in the legal defence of those charged, or if you received any injuries (or witnessed anyone receiving injuries) or have photographic evidence which would assist in our work, please contact us immediately at the address below.

We need financial contributions to pay for legal costs and fines, to ensure the best possible defence.

HLDC also needs your active participation in visiting courts and collecting information from those charged, those who witnessed incidents, those who were beaten up, etc.

If you want to contribute to the work of HLDC or require any further information, con-tact us at: The Co-ordinator, Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HLDC), c/o 247 Mare Street, E8; tel 986 4121.

HLDC meets every Friday evening. Contact the above for further details.

Finally, there is a suggestion on the Hackney Buildings site that the Hackney Peace Carnival mural was partly inspired by the riots of 1981, presumably including our own riot around the corner…

7th May: A Hackney Biography app and book launch

This just in from the organisers:

You are invited to the launch of the
A Hackney Autobiography mobile app & book
Sunday 7 May

You are invited to celebrate the launch of A Hackney Autobiography: a mobile app and website and the publication of The Lime Green Mystery: An oral history of the Centerprise co-operative.

When: Sunday 7th May, 5 – 7 pm

Where: Sutton House, 2 and 4 Homerton High Street, London E9 6JQ. Map here.
Booking essential.

Contact: info@on-the-record.org.uk to reserve your place.

Before the party, there’s a unique chance to preview one of the audiowalks featured on the app as a group. Meet at 3:30 at Homerton station and RSVP asap as places are booking up quickly.

What: hear a roundtable of speakers who are engaged in cultural and community activities in related fields, reflect on the history of Centerprise as re-presented by a hackney autobiography and join the discussion. Receive a free copy of The Lime Green Mystery, preview the app and get help downloading it.

Speakers include: Toyin Agbetu from Ligali, Vivian Archer from Newham Bookshop, Nana Fani Kayode, teacher and radio producer, Gary Molloy from Core Arts, Marie Murray from Dalston Eastern Curve Garden and representatives from the Young Historians’ Project.

Event organised in collaboration with Pages bookshop

More details on the app, book and audiowalk below.

790230ee-8dba-494a-8f39-c21f94ed99fe

Through the memories and reflections of many of the people involved, The Lime Green Mystery charts how the Centerprise co-operative (1971 – 1993) attempted to put radical ideas about education, culture and community work into practice. It explores issues of representation, power and collective management and will appeal to those interested in radical community organisations, grassroots bookselling and publishing, the adult literacy movement, London’s social history, and to people involved in community-based cultural and co-operative initiatives today.

Pre-order your free copy now by emailing us with your address. Limited numbers available, pre-ordering is encouraged to avoid disappointment. Donations to cover the cost of postage appreciated but not essential.

The Inside Out Homerton Audiowalk

The walk explores birth, madness and creativity, inside and out of The Institution. This 45 minute immersive audio walk blurs boundaries between auditory hallucination and external sound. This is a unique opportunity to experience a hackney autobiography, with the people featured in it.

To book a place on the Inside Out Homerton audiowalk, please contact us by 21 April. Later bookings will be accepted if places remain available.People who don’t like smart phones are welcome!

A Hackney Autobiography app

Poetic sat-nav, mapping Hackney through the writing and memories of its people. A hackney autobiography features:

  • four audio walks, each with original illustrations and music
  • over fifty bite-sized stories about creativity, education and resistance in Hackney.

All content was published or inspired by Centerprise, a radical cultural and community project (1971-2012).

The app and website will be launched at the end of April and will be at http://ahackneyautobiography.org.uk

Hackney Peoples Press, 1975 + Hackney Mental Patients Union

My HPP archive is missing the issues between the debut in 1973 and the ones below, but a previous post highlights an edition I don’t have from 1974.

hpp17cov

Both of these issues are about 3 quarters A4 size. The May issue is 12 pages and the July one (below) is one sheet bigger at 16 pages.

The May issue is essentially “the health special” with pieces including:

hpp17ab1 hpp17ab2

Abortion – opposition to a private members’ bill seeking to disallow abortions except where a doctor agreed that there was a risk to a woman’s life or health. (Like a lot of these bills, it didn’t go anywhere. Hard to say whether that is through resistance or lack of support). Also the lowdown on the difficulties faced by women seeking abortions in Hackney.

Hackney Helps Hoteliers – on the huge subsidy (£450,000 a year) paid by the council to the owners of bed and breakfasts so they could house 155 homeless families. Hackney was the top borough in London for this at the time. The article rightly points out that the money would be better spent on building or acquiring council houses. Nearby Camden had purchased several thousand homes for this purpose over the previous few years, compared to 189 by Hackney in 1974 – and 37 in 1973.

Hackney Reading Centre – a new joint adult education venture between Centerprise and City and East London College.

Centerprise – funding difficulties and a deficit had built up. The council had refused to increase its £1000 a year grant.

Hackney Health Guide – a four page feature on health facilities in the borough – and also the issues they faced.

Stop The Road – opposition to proposals for a huge new road from Dalston to Hackney Wick.

Marsh Festival – taking place in July with a “Hackney Marsh on Sea” theme – Punch and Judy, donkey derby, etc.

Groups / Contacts – everything from Gamblers Anonymous to playgroups and 3 branches of Hackney Young Socialists.

Also a feature on Hackney Mental Patients Union, which was then based in a “democratic community”-run house at 37 Mayola Road, Lower Clapton. The group named the building “Robin Farquharson House” after the mental health activist of the same name who had recently died as the result of an arson attack on his home in Kings Cross:

hpp17mh

Photo of Andrew Roberts at doorway of Farquharson House

Photo of Andrew Roberts at doorway of Farquharson House

There is a wealth of information about Hackney based mental health campaigning at Andrew Robert’s website:

http://studymore.org.uk/mpu.htm

(There is quite a lot of text on the page so you will need to press CTRL + F on your keyboard and do a search for “Hackney” – or anything you fancy…). The following is of interest:

Friday 6.5.1974 4.30pmFirst meeting of Hackney Hospital MPU

“Alan Hartman explained what kind of things the mental patients union does. Refusing treatment, cruelty to patients, clothes grants, fighting against being discriminated against in jobs… Alice ill-treated by nurses…”

“Resolved that a branch of the Mayola Road M.P.U. be formed in Hackney Hospital. proposed Alan Hartman, seconded Alice. 15 for – none against. Alan Hartman elected chairman..”

The meeting was adjourned after the senior nursing officer attempted (unsuccessfully) to break it up.

Hackney Gazette 6.8.1974 MENTAL PATIENTS UNION IS NOW RECOGNISED

The Hackney hospitals branch of the Mental Patients Union is the first in the country to achieve recognition. Psychiatric wings in both the German and Hackney Hospital are affected.

The MPU aims to bring about a better deal for patients in mental hospitals, and improved status.

Mr Andrew Roberts, of the Hackney branch, claims that several patients in Hackney Hospital psychiatric wing had spoken of better treatment by staff since the branch was recognised on July 18.

People’s News Service 1.6.1974 “MENTAL PATIENTS’ UNION MEMBER ESCAPES COMPULSORY DRUG TREATMENT.

Last week Tony O’Donnell moved into the house of the Mayola Road Mental Patients Union in East London after a long struggle to find a place where he could live without having to undergo injections of modicate, an extremely strong drug used on people diagnosed as schizophrenic…”.

MPU

Joan Hughes recalled Robin Farquharson House in 2006:

We ran the Robin Farquharson House in Mayola Road for three years. This was divided into individual rooms that were entirely under resident’s control, but it also had an office which served as a crash pad in emergencies. We often had people staying who were going through a crisis and who were supported by other residents. We also helped and advised people by telephone and letter, and there were any visitors from all over the country as well as from abroad.

hpp18cov

The July issue is still a bargain at 5p – especially with the extra pages! Features this time on:

Hoxton Hall – 80 years of its role as a hub for working class culture and education.

Stop The Road – the proposed Dalston to Hackney Wick road was refused by the council, but there was concerns it could still be pushed through by the GLC.

Barbauld Road: Cheaper to Stop the Bulldozers – Opposition to the demolition of houses in south Stoke Newington. The argument was that it would be £2million cheaper to renovate the existing homes. (I assume that this advice was ignored and that the estate on Barbauld Road is what happened?)

Health on the Cheap – a critical article about the reorganisation of Hackney hospitals by an anonymous doctor who had worked in them.

Abortion: the fight goes on – report on a demonstration against the proposed amendments to abortion law covered above. And the general lack of access to abortions for women in Hackney even without it.

Hackney Women’s Aid – short feature on women’s refuges etc. The absence of funding from Hackney Council is very troubling.

Nursery Nurses Win – negotiations culminate in an agreed 36 hour week and backdated pay rise.

Repairs: Who carries the can? – The state of the 26,000 council homes in Hackney. HPP conducted surveys amongst tenants in De Beauvoir and Stonebridge – a number of issues were identified.

Also groups and contacts (pretty much as above, but now includes Hackney Committee Against Racialism), a call for help with the paper, various upcoming events.

and:

A round up of housing news including housing association / council skullduggery and some properly horrible stories about housing situations people in Hackney had to endure.

hpp18hou1 hpp18hou2

Plus! Music on the back page!

Music makes money. The star system produces glamorous performers on the one hand and passive consumers on the other. It’s not just that the music industry is a business – ruled by profit – the star system corrupts everybody learning or creating music. The motivation for learning or making up music is too often dreams of fame or fortune, not creating something for our friends, workmates or comrades to express the realities of our lives.

I’m not sure they would have been fans of the X-Factor… I should point out that I don’t agree that music fans are necessarily passive consumers (some of them put quite a lot of effort into it, whether “it” be active listening, involvement in fan communities or simply dressing the part when they go out). I also think that whilst music that expresses the “realities of our lives” is needed, that it would be quite boring if that was the only music around. Sometimes we need sounds that help us escape, or imagine new realities…

Having said all that, Hackney Music Workshop looks like it did great work!

(At some point I would also like to cover the Hackney Musicians Collective and their now unaffordable 1981 LP – any info welcome…)

hpp18bak

Issue 19 would appear in May 1976…

Hackney Peoples Press – the first three issues, 1973

Hackney People’s Press was a local left-leaning community newspaper published regularly from 1973 until 1985.

An interview with HPP contributor Charles Foster is available elsewhere on this site. As you can see from the masthead below, HPP was formed by the merger of Hackney Action and Hackney Gutter Press, who were both publishing in the early 70s and have also been covered here previously.

Charles has very kindly donated his archive to this site. The plan is to gradually upload an overview of Hackney People’s Press, year by year, alongside the many other things I want to cover.  I won’t have time to scan every single page, and the combination of oversized tabloid pages and the scanner I have occasional access to will mean that some details are missed out. Nevertheless I hope this gives a good flavour of the HPP project and the radical culture of Hackney in the late 20th Century…

The issues below are all large tabloid format – click on the images for a full size version.

hpp01cover

The debut issue – 5 pence, worra bargain! As you can see from the introduction on the cover, the plan was to publish monthly and to hold open public meetings for contributors. The issues I have from 1973 suggests that this schedule was kept to initially. (Although the page count went down from 12 to 8).

We kick off with an excellent lead story on parents in De Beauvoir seizing some vacant land to use as an adventure playground for kids. The author, Crispin Aubrey, was an interesting figure who was later prosecuted under the official secrets act for interviewing a former GCHQ worker.

(The De Beauvoir Association has published an archive of the “De Beaver” newsletter from the 1970s and 80s which is well worth a look and also covers this).

Other contents:

A critical account of a Hackney Trades Council meeting, in which various union leaderships are criticised for not seeing the wisdom of bringing down the Tory government and establishing socialism via the Labour Party. The meeting “erupted into what was at times an extremely violent violent argument between a small contingent from the Socialist Labour League (Trotskyist) and a much larger number of Communist Party (Stalinist) members.”

Learning Exchange: a free service which puts people interested in learning the same subject in touch with each other. (c/o Centerprise).

Support for striking teachers campaigning for an increase in the London Allowance (and concern that rising housing, prices etc mean that teachers were leaving London – just like now).

After Six in Hackney: full page piece on an advice service for homeless people, operating after 6pm every evening.

An article on closing cinemas with the overly dramatic title “Who Raped Our Screens?” – “Hackney now has only 6 cinemas amongst a population of over 200,000, and one of those, the Dalston Tatler, is for members only. The Stamford Hill Odeon closed only a few months ago, largely on the pretext that the Dalston Odeon has been converted into 3 separate screens. At the same time, prices at Dalston have gone up to a minimum of 55p…”

Homes Saved From Ringway: 1,000 properties no longer being demolished because of the collapse of plans for a big road through Dalston and Hackney Wick following protests.

A double page spread on Kingsmead Estate which is critical of the Tenants Association, but more positive about the work of the Claimants Union on the estate – a representative is quoted on their work to get people the right benefits, help make sure repairs are done by the council and demands for police patrols to sort out menacing kids with airguns attacking people. Also: “We would not let anyone on the estate be evicted without one hell of a fight. We will organise barricades, cordon off the estate if necessary. The days when they could come in and evict someone in relative peace are all over.” (did this ever actually happen though?)

Also interesting to see the council criticised for making Kingsmead into a ghetto, concentrating black people, OAPs and benefit claimants there, the implication being that other estates were reserved for white, relatively more affluent types?

Haggerston Food Co-Op is introduced (but more on them below).

Perhaps slightly jarring with the community articles is a press release about the Stoke Newington 5 (originally the Stoke Newington 8).

Tony Soares (who ran the Grass Roots bookshop in Ladbroke Grove) writes about being convicted for “incitement to murder persons unknown“. Which is as mad as it sounds. Turns out Tony had reprinted the Black Panther Party’s “On organising self-defence groups” article: “The police conceded that there probably would have been no prosecution had it not been for a complaint from Jack Backsi, the Community Relations Officer for Hackney”. Backsi apparently referred the publication to Hackney’s then MP Stanley-Clinton David, asking him to raise it in parliament. Soares was sentenced to 200 hours of community service, which suggests that everyone agreed that the threat he posed was minimal – but that this sort of politics was not welcome in the UK.

There’s a story about some black youths being hassled by the police because one of them was carrying a walking stick – and how this was falsely reported as “Mob Storms Police Station” by the Hackney Gazette.

Also two pages of contact info for community and political groups, and a back page piece by Ken Worpole on William Morris and the meaning of May Day.

hpp2cov

Issue 2 leads with a story about a mother and 4 young kids being evicted from an empty house that they had squatted after waiting for 4 years on the council list. The 3 other squatters who helped her to re-occupy the property were charged with assaulting the police.

Hackney Playbus: Fran Crowther on why it’s needed and an appeal for drivers. (Previousl also covered in an issue of Hackney Action, see here for a scan.)

Unhealthy Health Report – NHS understaffing, infant mortality 33% higher in Hackney than the average for England and Wales, drop in ante natal care sessions, criticism of factory inspectors (2,546 factory premises in Hackney!), etc.

Hackney School Students: participated in a demonstration about democratising school councils. Also uproar at Cardinal Pole school about a DIY students magazine called “Vision” – four of the student contributors were suspended. (Any more info on that would be greatly received!)

“1972 – A Year of Increased Repression”: Overview of The National Council for Civil Liberties annual report, with references to state attacks on the underground press (Oz and IT magazines), republican sympathisers, the Angry Brigade trial, prisoners rights, moves to restrict jury trials and the right to protest, increased arming of the police, etc:

1972repress

Mike Knowles of Hackney Trades Council is given a full page right of reply to the drubbing they got in the first issue. Alongside the correction of some errors in the original article, the general tone is that it’s alright for lefty activists to hold forth about a general strike and socialism but the real issue is how to actually get there – especially if it’s not possible to organise a one day strike on May Day as was being mooted.

Also groups and contacts:

groups

The back page is a heartwarming story about some guerrilla street theatre performers and how they were received around the borough:

theatre

hpp3cov

Issue 3 leads with the a story on the closure of the inspiring Haggerston Food Co-op which has been previously covered on this site by this excellent video:

There is an edge of bitterness to the story, the obvious frustration of not being able to get the community sufficiently involved to keep the co-op going when the activist who ran it solo was rehoused elsewhere. (An all to common problem with community politics but getting all narky about it in print isn’t the solution eh?)

Page 2 covers the trial of the squatters featured on the cover of issue 2. Five charges of breach of the peace were dropped as the cops couldn’t produce their lead witness. Two women were found guilty of obstructing the police (the sentence/fine isn’t mentioned). More happily it’s also reported that Anita Keating, the mother who was evicted, was now squatting successfully in Islington with her kids.

Page 3 reports on a Hackney Young Teachers Association meeting on “West Indian Problems” i.e. racism and cultural differences and the detrimental effect they were having on the education of black kids: “The condescending attitude of some middle class educationalists towards the language of working class children and parents, black and white is partly due to a misunderstanding of the theories of Basil Bernstein, which then makes the sad equation that poor language equal working class impoverishment in a never ending circle. This attitude is doubly tragic because it helps to maintain the exam system in all its immorality and because it checks the child-centred advances made so bravely by our infant and nursery schools.”

The centre pages contrast the Matchgirls strike of 1888 with a strike by Ministry of Defence contract cleaners in 1972.

Also:

  • A report on a family of squatters who have had to move 11 times in the last 8 years.
  • An update on De Beauvoir playground which seemed to be doing well despite council indifference.
  • Hackney and Islington World Development Group – concerned with global poverty, development, trade.
  • Workers Education Association music workshop, Learning Exchange, listings.

The back page reports on some incredible community direct action. After getting nowhere with the police or the council, Stonebridge residents move cars which have been dumped on their estate into the middle of Kingsland Road, causing a traffic jam, but resolving the issue!

Echoes of this sort of thing were later seen with Reclaim The Streets, where old bangers were driven into the middle of big roads as a way of blocking them off before a party commenced. Hackney Independent Working Class Association were still shaming the council about dumped cars in the south of the Borough in the early 21st Century.

hpp3back

Hackney Archives and the struggle for equality at Percy Ingle

I spent a great afternoon in November at the Hackney Archives’ “Occupy The Archives” event as part of the Antiuniversity series.

IMG_2559

I was very impressed with the dedication of the staff, the contributions of other attendees and the general atmosphere. It was great to meet some people who’d seen this site too.

There was perhaps predictably too much stuff to take in, but my eye was drawn to a particular file which included notes, minutes and letters from various protest groups – many of which had postal addresses courtesy of Centerprise:

IMG_2564 IMG_2563 IMG_2562

IMG_2566  IMG_2565.
This material has been used to update a previous post on Centerprise’s radical mailboxes.

If I get another spare afternoon then I’ll be straight back to Hackney Archives to do some more digging for this site…

The archives do good twitter too, if that is your thing: @archiveshackney

In the meantime, drop me a line or leave a comment below if you were involved with any of the above – particularly the Percy Ingle campaign.

 

Reprinted: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900

hackprop

This inspiring pamphlet was originally published by Centerprise in the 1980s but has just been reissued in a lovely facsimile edition. It’s available in Pages of Hackney and Stoke Newington Bookshop, direct from the authors on Amazon and presumably other places (let me know?).

Five quid gets you an eminently readable and well researched look into the radical working class culture of the era.

Pages are also organising an event with both the authors – here is the blurb from their site:

Working Class Club Life and Politics in
Hackney 1870 – 1900
Tuesday 17th November, 7pm
Pages of Hackney
70 Lower Clapton Road
E5 0RN
Tickets £TBA

In the heady days of late Victorian London, Hackney was regarded as the most radical – even revolutionary – district of London with a large number of liberal reform and socialist clubs and organisations across the borough. These clubs organised lectures, demonstrations, musical concerts, outings, and education classes, and famous radicals such as William Morris were regular speakers.

Barry Burke and Ken Worpole recreate the world of radical Hackney, to mark the publication a new edition of their original 1980 study.

worpole.net

Centerprise, An Phoblacht – and a suspect package

Former Centerprise worker Maggie Hewitt writes about our Centerprise mailboxes entry:

I would like to add that Box 13 was for An Phoblacht, the newspaper for [Sinn Féin -ed] the political wing of the IRA.

archives-650

In December 1980 or 81, a time when there were quite few IRA bomb scares, there was an incident when just before Xmas we received a package that was clearly not newspapers but  much heavier and box like.

We carried it out of the building and put in in the outhouse at the back of the courtyard outside our building.

The next morning was the Saturday before Xmas, our busiest day for the bookshop, so before opening we contacted the police who arrived within minutes who then contacted the bomb squad who then evacuated the building so we were standing outside the Rio  while they cordoned off the street.

It turned out the possible bomb was a box of  tapes by Christy Moore,  a very political Irish singer who often performed at the Hackney Empire. I think he would have appreciated the story.

Maggie has also contributed some recollections to the excellent A Hackney Autobiography project which is documenting Centerprise.

There’s a lot more to be said about the radical history of the Irish in Hackney. More posts on that eventually I hope – any pointers welcome.