Ishaque Ali and his nephew Faruq ed-Din were walking down Urswick Road in the early hours of Sunday morning, 25th June 1978. A white youth approached the pair and asked them for a match. And then for money. He then kicked Ishaque and was joined by two other white youths who attacked both Bengali men. By some accounts Ishaque was also strangled with bootlaces belonging to one of his assailants.
Ishaque Ali died of a heart attack in Hackney Hospital shortly after the assault. He was just 45 years old and had lived with his family in nearby Coopersale Road. Mr Ali had come to London from Bengal nine years previously and worked as a tailor. He had five young children.
Detective Chief Superintendent George Atterwil led the investigation into the killing and told The Times that “the motive here is theft and robbery” – i.e. not racism.
Others, including the bereaved family, took a different view. Ishaque’s cousin Sofar ud Din told the Hackney Gazette:
“He was attacked because of his colour. There was no money taken. It happens all the time in the East End.”
Alok Biswas of Socialist Worker knew the family:
“Faruq, who is recovering in hospital from his severe beating told me that the white youths called the two Bengalis ‘Paki bastards’ and ‘stinking blacks’. Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about this: Ishaque Ali was murdered. Had it not been for a West-Indian man who came to their assistance, Faruq would also be dead.”
Biswas also noted that the family was not aware of Ishaque having any heart problems.
I’m sure that people will come to their own conclusions about this, but given what we now know about the policing in the late 1970s and the general culture of the time, it seems unbelievable that racism played no part in the incident.
Two months previously, another Bengali – Altab Ali – was stabbed to death in a racist attack in St Mary’s Park, Whitechapel (the park was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998). And two weeks later, the front page story in the Hackney Gazette was “State of siege for us – protest Asians” following an unprovoked attack on eight Bengalis by three car loads of youths in Bow. Alongside all this, the fascists of the National Front were antagonising the community in Brick Lane with their large paper sales there each weekend.
The police and community respoonse
Patrick Kodikara of Hackney Council For Racial Equality told the Hackney Gazette:
“We are fast losing confidence in the police’s ability to defend the ethnic minority communities. If that means black self-defence groups, so be it.”
The Gazette’s editorial suggested more black and asian police officers as an alternative solution and deplored suggestions of vigilantism. A later editorial continued this theme, rebuking the “hysterical prodding that certain hot-heads are resorting to for reasons best known to themselves”
Roy Hiscock from Hackney South and Shoreditch Labour wasn’t having any of it:
“A history of the defence of the victimised and the most vulnerable will not be ignored because some well heeled editor, safe from being stabbed, shot at or otherwise attacked makes hysterical cries of ‘gun law’.”
A letter from Hackney Muslim Council attempted to find some middle ground:
“The principle and the manner of self-defence need to be examined within and outside the ethnic groups. While rash and violent langauge will be dangerously irresponsible, to sit back and do nothing would be criminal and immoral.”
Doomed Conservative parliamentary candidate Tim Miller felt that more police on the street and harsher penalties for criminals was the answer. Instead, the community got out on the street:
On Friday 30th June, 300 people marched with black flags and black armbands from the site of Ishaque’s attack to Hackney police staton. The protest was organised by Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee. The group announced a day of action for Monday 17th of July:
On the day 70 percent of Asian shops in Hackney were closed and many children did not attend school. A number of pupils from Clapton School attended a rally at Hackney Town Hall and spoke out against the police and SUS laws alongside trade union and other community leaders. The day culminated in a three hour sitdown demonstration outside Bethnal Green police station in protest at three arrests of protestors.
The attackers and investigation
Ishaque’s attackers were described as white and between the ages of 18 and 20. They were reportedly casually dressed and between 5 foot 5 and 5 foot 7.
Three young men were eventually arrested for the attack and charged with murder: James Mitchell (17 years old, a cabinet maker from Kentish Town Road, Camden) and two sixteen year old males from Homerton.
All three were granted bail at Old Street Court on Friday 30th June 1978 (the same day as the community marched) and were required to live outside London until the hearing, which was scheduled for September 6th.
I’ve not been able to find out definitively if they were convicted but this tweet from Searchlight Archive suggests that they were, albeit one year later in September 1979:
In an article for the Altab Ali Foundation, Rajonuddin Jalal cites Ishaque Ali’s death as being a key factor in the emergence of the anti-racist organisation the Bangladesh Youth Movement (BYM):
“I was involved in the formation of the BYM, which was a crucial youth organisation organising against the then National Front (NF) from back in 1978. I was involved in setting up many cultural projects in Tower Hamlets, for example The Kabi Nazrul Centre. The youth movement played an important role, against the fascist when they became organised and active in Brick Lane area, following the murder of Altab Ali and Ishaq Ali back in 1978.
BYM was one of the leading organisations that organised the first protest march that involved about 2000 of Bengalis coming out in the streets of London, marching from Whitechapel to the House of Commons and back. And the slogan was ‘Here to stay, here to fight”.
In Hackney the National Front became increasingly active in the summer of 1978 and even opened their Nartional HQ in Hoxton in September. In December a black teenager named Michael Ferreira was fatally stabbed by an alleged National Front supporter in Stoke Newington, his injuries greatly exacerbated by the indifference of police officers who were asked to help.
Several hundred people attended Michael’s funeral procession.
Michael’s death and the general climate of violent racism led to the formation of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation. This set the scene for the community response to Colin Roach’s death from a gunshot wound inside Stoke Newington police station in 1983 and various police scandals unearthed by Hackney Community Defence Association throughout the 1990s.
Notes and a plea for corrections
Ishaque Ali’s death is under-reported online. Usually it appears in passing as part of an article about the murder of Altab Ali in Whitechapel.
Most online reports say Ishaque was attacked on the 26th of June 1978, whereas it’s clear from my research that it was the early hours of the 25th. Ali is also described as young throughout the internet, but was 45 years old.
I think it’s important to try and get these things right – we’re talking about someone’s Dad or husband who was killed in an unprovoked racist attack.
So, for full transparency, I should say that I’ve struggled with which names to use. I suspect this is because of transliteration issues, but I am happy to be corrected. Ishaque Ali (The Times and internet reporting) is also described as Ishakh Ali in Socialist Worker and Ashiq Ali in the Hackney Gazette.
Similarly Ishaque’s companion and nephew Faruq ed-Din is also described as his brother in law. Faruq’s name is also given as Faqruddin (Socialist Worker) and Farique Ud Din (Hackney Gazette).
Press cuttings, sources and further reading
Julie Begum – How a racist murder of Altab Ali changed the way the Bengalis saw themselves in Britain (Altab Ali Foundation PDF)
As moral panics go, Acid House was pretty enjoyable all round. On one side, the press, politicians and police were able to whip themselves up into a frenzy about thousands of young people taking drugs and losing all respect for the laws of private property. On the other side, thousands of young people took drugs and lost all respect for the laws of private property…
Here is not the place to get into a comprehensive history of Acid House, so let me just say it was invented by Afro-American DJs in Chicago in the late 1980s. It was popularised in London from 1987 onwards by clubs like Shoom in Bankside, Southwark and Trip in the West End.
The appeal of the music, and the culture of its parties, smiley face t-shirts and use of drugs like 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA aka Ecstasy) was such that the summer of 1988 was dubbed “the second summer of love”.
By September 1988, the anxiety about Acid House had reached Hackney, with the cops going into conniptions about “a wave of warehouse parties” they claimed were “dangerous drug dens”:
This first press cutting mentions a party in Commercial Road, Shoreditch – and an attempt by ravers to resist the police spoiling their fun. This sets the tone for the next few years, when rave organisers played cat and mouse with the cops – so clubbers were never certain if advertised events would actually take place or not, which some would say added to the underground illicit vibe…
It’s interesting that the event above was shut down before it started “thanks to a tip-off from a neighbour”. The tensions between illegal raves (and to a lesser extent, pirate radio stations) and the working class communities where they took place, is under-explored in the literature about the heroic history of the music.
“…the area around Old Street and Hoxton was effectively “a desert” at the time, making it the best spot in London for warehouse parties, with plenty of suitable venues and barely any neighbours to upset.”
“Barely any” suggests that perhaps there were some – and I’m aware of several people living on estates in Hoxton and Shoreditch more recently who have been upset by clubbers making nuisances of themselves in the early hours. But that is London, really. Which of has hasn’t been woken up by a police helicopter, road rage, the neighbours having a wild one, or whatever…
By October, the police had used the Acid House hysteria to get funding for a task force “to break a suspected ring of drug pushers they believe are organising the illegal parties in Hackney” after “a surge” of events in the borough. Sounds fun!
The first victory for the task force would follow in November, when a curiously unspecified amount of drugs was seized in a car park in Wheler Street E1. 18 people were arrested, but it’s unclear what – if anything – they were charged with:
Once again, the piece above demonstrates the tenacity of the ravers in fighting for their right to party. Venue shut down? Screw it, let’s have a rave in this car park…
In a bizarre twist, by November the drugs squad were trying to play down the “hype” about Acid House in Hackney pointing out that there had been “no large scale seizures” of Ecstasy. It appeared that local residents were more bothered by smackheads in Haggerston than ravers.
This November clipping is also interesting because of the downplaying by the cops of the crack cocaine menace, which was also being hyped up in the press at the time. This is deeply ironic because Hackney police would soon become very familiar with crack:
In 1990, Hugh Prince was in a Dalston shebeen when it was raided by police. An officer ordered Prince into an empty, unlit room to be searched. When he refused, PCs Christopher Hart and James Havercroft threatened Prince with a sledgehammer and planted eight rocks of crack cocaine in his cigarette packet.
Danny Bailey is serving three-and-a-half years for intent to supply crack. He was planted with one rock by DC Peter Popham in Sandringham Road in 1991.
In 1992 Pearl Cameron would be sentenced to 5 years for conspiracy to supply crack cocaine. She revealed in court that she was supplied by a serving Stoke Newington police officer, later to be identified as DC Roy Lewandowski.
Maxine Edwards, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Beinard Gillan and PC Gerrard Carroll.
Cecil Forbes, who claims he was planted with crack by PC Chitty.
Val Howell, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Peter McCulloch.
Mohamadou Njie, who claims he was fitted up by PC Chitty and DC McCulloch for intent to supply crack.
By December, the cops were at pains to say that parties they had raided were not Acid House raves:
But little did the police know that this was only the beginning. The year would end with a bang…
Hackney wide-boy Wayne Anthony had taken Ecstasy while on holiday in Ibiza in 1987. He and his mates had then got the Acid House bug during a night at central London’s Heaven nightclub and set about organising their own parties in underused warehouses under the “Genesis” banner. These would be audacious occasions – some of the first large scale Acid House events. Their key dates were held in Hackney towards the end of 1988.
Anthony’s autobiography Class of 88: The True Acid House Experience is a wild ride that juxtaposes loved up ravers with a terrifying array of gangsters and ex-military security firms trying to muscle in on the action.
Discovering an empty warehouse with a capacity of 5,000 by the canal on Leaside Road E5, the crew set about preparing for a series of festive events. But things did not go smoothly:
The printer did us 500 flyers and we spent the whole weekend promoting the Christmas Eve gig. Then one morning, just as we were back in the warehouse slogging our guts out to get it finished in time, we were having a spliff break when the entrance door was booted in. It was the big skinhead bloke we’d met on our first visit there.
He had a sawn-off shotgun in his hand and was going berserk. ‘You nicked my venue, you cunts,’ he said. ‘Hold on a minute, mate. You either use that shooter or listen to what we have to say,’ I answered. ‘No, you fucking listen: this place is mine, do you understand?’ He walked up to me, pointing the gun at my head. ‘Look, calm down. You were meant to pay the deposit last week but never showed. What did you expect us to do?’ asked ANDY. ‘Where’s the owner?’ the skinhead said, lowering the gun. NUTT! I head-butted him square on the nose and grabbed the arm which held the shooter. Andy took a run and whacked him over the head with a lump of wood. He fell to the floor, dropping the shooter in the process.
Andy quickly picked it up and shoved it in his face. ‘Now you listen and you listen good. We don’t want any trouble. It’s your own fuckin’ fault you lost the gaff, not ours. If you want to see anyone about it see the guvnor.’ He nodded, and we slowly let him up. ‘You’re right, I’m sorry, mate. It’s just when I heard you were in here I thought you were taking the piss’ he said. ‘OK,’ I answered. ‘Look, you better go and not come back unless you want to start a war.’
Wayne anthony – class of 88
The parties were by all accounts an amazing experience for clubbers. Genesis used thousands of old car tyres that littered the building to build a UV lit entrance tunnel and bar area. Other decor included a huge Christmas tree, parachutes, netting, inflatables & some new white canopies stolen from a nearby building site. Wayne Anthony admits in his book to playing fast and loose with fire regulations and some physical confrontations with local gangsters though.
You can’t stop the music: 1989 onwards
Above: Genesis flyers – NYE 1988, 7th Jan 1989 (both Leaside Road) and 14th Jan 1989 (Waterden Road, Hackney Wick).
Genesis continued to organise raves throughout 1989 and 1990, many of them in Hackney. Wayne’s book explains the increased hassle that the crew faced as they became more successful and well-known.
Other promoters also came to the fore, so here is a random selection of their flyers too:
And the cops continued to play their part in the unfolding drama…
Hackney played its part in the subsequent evolutions of Acid House music too.
Hackney’s reggae soudsystem artists combined with the rave and hip hop scenes through producers like Shut Up and Dance to form the new genre ‘Ardkore, which then mutated into Jungle. Dalston’s legendary reggae nightclub the Four Aces transformed into Labyrynth in 1990 – one of the most legendary rave venues.
Anarchist squat punks took an interest in the new electronic sounds and got on board with acid techno and the free party scene:
But these other stories need to be told at greater length at some other time. It all started in 1988…
All Hackney ravers are welcome to leave comments below if they have memories of those times.
Teacher, writer and activist Chris Searle later explained that the play had been written collectively by his pupils at Langdon Park School in Tower Hamlets:
“We acted out the play in the classroom, and as the campaign grew in East London, to publicise and protest against the circumstances of Michael Ferreira’s death, we decided to use the play in whatever way we could to make a contribution.
I had already met Michael’s mother and told her about the project, and she too thought it would be a useful idea to publish the short play as a pamphlet for young people. I interviewed her and learned some information about her son… and this became the basis for a short introduction.
The play… became a useful vehicle for informing people, in a narrative and dramatic form, about what happened to Michael and his friends.”
Searle had previously caused a furore in 1971 when he published a collection of poems by pupils at John Cass Foundation and Red Coat School in Stepney. The poems were deemed inappropriate and Searle was sacked. Kids at the school then went on strike, which along with some pressure from the National Union of Teachers, led to his reinstatment.
So that probably explains the anonymity of this play’s publication, which appears to have been well justified. When “Who Killed Michael Ferreira?” was included in an anthology in the 1980s, Searle was denounced in Parliament and the play was mischaracterised as being about “a gang of black youths”.
The full text of the booklet follows below. The biography of Michael and a related newsclipping from the last page are placed at the beginning here instead. A scan of the booklet is available at archive.org.
As Chris Searle says, the play was written by “a multi-racial group of 14 year olds” in 1979 and the words used by the protagonists reflect this: “their dialogue is steeped in sexist banter, there is no attempt to idealize them as characters or sanitize their speech.”
Much of the information above is taken from Chris Searle – None But Our Words: Critical Literacy in Classroom and Community (Open University Press, 1998). This also includes many interesting insights into how the pupils worked together to create the play (and a fascinating chapter on the Stepney incident too, amongst others).
With thanks once again to Alan Denney.
There are a couple of references in the text that warrant further explanation in 2022:
Chapel Street Market, Islington – This was one of the National Front’s main pitches for selling their literature – as well as intimidating the local community – at the weekend (another pitch being Brick Lane). There is more informaton about this (and the effective physical resistance to it) in Anti-Fascist Actions’s The Battle For Chapel Market, republished at Libcom.
‘SUS’ – legisation that allowed the cops to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. It was widely used against black youth, and this is often cited as one of the factors that led to widespread rioting in the UK’s urban areas in 1980 and 1981.
MICHAEL FERREIRA, 1959-1978
Michael Ferreira was born in Stanleytown, Guyana in 1959. He died after being stabbed in the liver by a white youth along Stoke Newington Hight Street in December 1978.
Michael, the third child, grew up with his three sisters in the region of Berbice, the scene of a great slave revolt in the eighteenth century. Guyana is drained by huge rivers and covered in tropical forests and savannah, with a cleared coastal area of cultivated land, rice fields and small villages. In the yard of Michael’s parents’ house there were chickens, turkey and hogs, paw-paw and coconut trees- a far cry from the brick and concrete of his later home, Hackney, East London.
When he was six his mother emigrated to Britain, and gradually other members of the family, including his three sisters, left to join her. Michael went to live with his aunt in McKenzie, a mining town inland in Guyana, hacked out of the thick equatorial forest. There he continued his childhood, living near the bauxite mines and spending many happy hours fishing in the rivers and streams that abound there.
His family say that he was a happy, open, fun-loving boy at this stage of his life, even though he was always very small for his age. He never grew much higher than five feet, even when he reached his late teens. But his childhood in McKenzie was cut short in 1971, when he left Guyana to join his mother and sisters in Hackney. When he arrived in such a new environment his personality seemed to close up, and he became quieter and much more shy and withdrawn. It was only after he finally left school and in the last three years of his life that the liveliness and self-confidence of his childhood began to emerge again.
His years at Downsview School, Hackney, were marked by a growing interest in mechanics and practical subjects, and when he left school at 16 he went straight into a job as a motor mechanic. He had a dream of one day opening his own garage. He was never involved in any violence and had a pacific character that always sought to heal conflict rather than provoke it. Even when faced with the knife of the racist attacker he did not think of fighting, but stood his ground trustingly.
Michael’s horrific death, in the face of police connivance and delay, was not an isolated incident. We remember the brutal hounding of David Oluwale, West African, in Leeds in 1969, and the racist gibes and fists of the Leeds police that caused his persecution and death. We remember the young London Irishman, Stephen McCarthy, his head smashed by police against a steel bus stop in Islington in 1971. We remember the lack of inclination of the East London police to defend and support Asians like Altab Ali – murdered on the streets of Spitalfields last year. And we remember Kevin Gately, killed at Red Lion Square, and Blair Peach, an anti-racist teacher from a Bow school, clubbed to death at Southall by the Special Patrol Group.
How much of the reality of a peaceful, five feet one inch black teenager knifed by young white thugs who towered over him and left to bleed to death by London police, truly emerged in the courts? Clearly very little. The truth is still clear: despite a toothless and impotent Race Relations Act, overtly racist groups like the National Front and British Movement give open encouragement to white youths to attack and kill black people on the streets, and they still have the full freedom and protection of the law to continue to prompt them. British racists who publically talk of genocide and ‘one down down, a million to go’ after the murder of an Asian youth are acquitted and congratulated by British judges. The mentality of gas-chambers is upheld and promoted. Michael’s assassin, from the evidence presented in court, carried a knife for the express purpose of ‘having a go at coloureds’ and was a known associate and newspaper seller of the National Front. And yet the court and all-white jury declared that there was no racist motive for the killing.
This short play was written collectively by secondary school children shortly after Michael’s death. They never knew Michael or his friends or his killers, and so clearly the play is their attempt, through their imaginations, to understand the incident and and the characters, rather than a strict documentary drama. The children who wrote the play have their family origins in England, Scotland. Ireland, St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados, Jamaica, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Somalia, Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus and Mauritius. They are a part of the British People who will live and work to carve out a new life in London, and carve through the bigotry and racism that exploits and threatens us all.
“There is no justice in this land for Black people.” That’s the way Mrs Ann Moses, the mother of 18 year old Michael Ferreira of Hackney, East London who was stabbed to death by a white thug late last year, reacted to the 5 year sentence passed against her son’s killer by Justice Stephen Brown at the Old Bailey Court, last week.
All White Jury
An all-white jury sitting in judgement of the two accused men, Mark Sullivan, 17 years old and a market street trader of Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, East London and 18 year old James Barnes a meat porter of William Penn House, Shipton, Bethnal Green, returned a guilty verdict on Sullivan and set free his accomplice, Barnes,
The court was told that both men had been involved in a fight with Michael and a group of his friends in Stoke Newington Hight Street late last year when Michael was fatally stabbed by Sullivan. Half an hour after the stabbing Sullivan and Barnes were picked up by the police for questioning and admitted that they had committed the crime. A few minutes after Michael was stabbed, he was taken to St Leonards Hospital in Hackney where we was announced dead on arrival by doctors.
A mass demonstration was organised by the Hackney Trades Council and Black organisations in the area following this and other murders of Black people in East London, with the protestors claiming that supporters of the racialist party, the National Front, were responsible for Michael Ferreira’s death. In the trial however, the judge dismissed any connection with the National Front in the murder and in passing sentence on Sullivan said:
“You used a deadly weapon on a completely harmless young man who had done you no wrong.”
“It must be made plain to all those who go forth with weapons of this kind that they can expect serious punishment if they use them.”
I interviewed the bereaved mother at her home in Rushmore Road, Lower Clapton, last Saturday, and with tears streaking down her cheeks, she said: “I am completely flabbergasted with the sentence. I cannot see Black people given proper justice in the courts of this land. I myself felt like dying when [I] heard that the judge had sent that “murderer” down for just five years. I expected that Sullivan deserved to get 14 years for killing my son.”
Mrs Ann Moses was also very critical of the racial composition of the jury and cast doubts on the integrity of the judiciary for their failure to include a black in judgement in cases of this nature.
After the trial in which the public gallery was filled with supporters of the National Front, a roar whent up in the court room when the judge announced the verdict.
Who killed Michael Ferreira?
Michael Ferreira, a West Indian youth, died during the early morning of December 10th, 1978, in Stoke Newington, East London.
This short play is a collective attempt, written by a class of third year school students from an East London secondary school, to trace the events leading up to his death.
West Indian Youths:
Mr and Mrs Daniels: Parents of Tony and Leroy
Mr and Mrs Ferreira: Parents of Michael
The evil wings of racism have once again spread over this country, The evil that has brought fear— and I warn my black brothers stay clear! The police are racist the employers are racist the bosses won’t give you a job if you’re an Asian called Abdul or even a West Indian named Bob! The police pick on us because we’re black, they nick us on ‘SUS’ they beat us up insult us… Now, there’s a dirty word—N.F. and when the racists insult us we have to act deaf. But we’re not going to act deaf no more because we know the N.F. are rotten to the core!
There have been demonstrations against the N.F. but that won’t do no good! The racists are cowards, they’ve got no sense— just young hooligans. If you’re black, brown or even colourless but red— the N.F. want you dead! Get together, let the people know, there’ll be no fun if the Nazis grow!
WHO KILLED MICHAEL FERREIRA?
SCENE 1: Stoke Newington High Sheet
NARRATOR: The time is 1.15am. A group of youths are walking home down Stoke Newington High Street from a late night disco. The date is December 1978.
Enter George, Dexton, Michael, Delroy, Leroy and Tony. They walk a group down the street, talking together and sometimes staring into lighted shop windows.
LEROY I can’t wait to get home.
MICHAEL Hey—did you see those girls in the corner?
DEXTON Yeh, did you see that one with the big tits?
GEORGE Yeh—weren’t they massive?
DEXTON Monica looked great, didn’t the?
TONY She’s really good-looking—I could fall for her myself.
DELROY Keep your eyes off man, she’s mine!
GEORGE What about that girl with the red straights on – she had a right old pair of knockers.
LEROY But it was a great disco—wasn’t it?
GEORGE Hmmm…. not bad.
LEROY What do you mean ‘not bad’—it was brilliant.
GEORGE It was quite good, but the beer was too dear.
TONY Well—maybe the disco wasn’t very good, but the birds were.
Delroy stops at a shop window.
DELROY Hey, look in this sports shop here. They’ve got those new Adidas boots – hey George, what do they call them now?
GEORGE I don’t know!
TONY They’re called ‘World Cup’ 78′.
MICHAEL Hey—Tottenham lost 7-1 today.
LEROY That’s a lie—who was it against then?
MICHAEL The greatest team in the world.
LEROY Who’s the greatest team in the world then? I thought it was Tottenham?
MICHAEL Tottenham? Bunch of wankers! Liverpool are the best team in the world!
DELROY Hey- I like that track suit.
LEROY Do you lot know what the time is? It’s ten past one already.
MICHAEL Is it? God, my mum’s going to be worried about me man.
DELROY Look-I’m running, otherwise I’m going to get hit man. You coming?
TONY Yeh—I’ll come on with you.
LEROY Me too.
MICHAEL All right, we’ll walk on behind you then.
TONY Okay—see you!
Delroy, Leroy and Tony walk on ahead.
Enter three white youths, walking along the other side of the road, opposite George, Dexton and Michael.
Mark, John and Peter begin to signal and hoot at the boys opposite them.
LEROY Hey, who are that lot over there?
GEORGE I don’t know them, do you?
MARK (Shouting across to the other side of the road.)
Hey, look at that one (pointing to Michael) he must have come from the deepest part of the jungle by the looks of it.
PETER Pity there’s no trees here for him to swing on!
JOHN Ahhhh—there’s no bananas neither.
PETER Funny—I’ve never seen a monkey fight, have you?
MICHAEL (Shouting back to them) Come on then you….
DEXTON No it’s not worth it, Michael. We’ve already had that trouble with the police.
GEORGE Yeh, we don’t want no trouble with them.
DEXTON All right then, let’s move on a bit.
GEORGE (Pointing) I know them boys. I’ve seen them down Chapel Street Market giving out National Front leaflets.
MARK Oi-you black bastards! Get back to your own country before I kick you there!
DEXTON You know, I feel like going over there and smashing their faces in.
GEORGE No, we can’t do that. That’s asking for it. We’ve had enough trouble with the cops – you remember that SUS business?
PETER All you blacks are chickens! If you had any guts you’d come over and fight, you bloody monkey-chasers!
DEXTON Why don’t we go and do them?
GEORGE Cool it man—the Babylon shop’s just down the road.
DEXTON No—let’s go and teach them a lesson.
MICHAEL Look—it’s not worth it, is it? They’ve done us enough times for SUS, we don’t want no more trouble.
MICHAEL But don’t walk any faster because of them or they’ll think we’re a bunch of shitters.
George, Michael and Dexton walk on up the street.
JOHN Yah, look at you lot, running up the road already.
Going home to your mammies are you?
GEORGE Come on, let’s let it.
MICHAEL No, don’t run – just ignore them.
DEXON But they’ve got to learn not to provoke us like this, man.
MARK You bloody niggers! Come and fight us you load of wankers!
GEORGE Come on, don’t take no notice, we don’t want no trouble.
MICHAEL Look – we’ve had enough of the SUS, haven’t we? Just keep walking normally.
The three white boys cross over to their side of the road. They start to sing ‘Go Home You Blacks, Go Home!’
MARK Hey, come on! Three onto three’s a fair fight.
JOHN Yeh, come on you peanut-heads!
DEXTON (Turning) Come on then, come on!
MICHAEL Knock it off Dexton! Keep on walking.
DEXTON No man! They want a fight so they’re going to get a fight – I’m not chickening out of this one.
MICHAEL You’re giving them just what they want, you berk! They’re trying to get you into trouble. Don’t take no notice of them.
DEXTON We could beat them easy.
MICHAEL Look—we’re not chickens, we just don’t want no more trouble.
MARK Come on peanut-heads, what you waiting for?
PETER What? Expect a black to fight back? You must be joking!
JOHN Right—come on, let’s get them!
John, Peter and Mark jump on George, Dexton and Michael.
DEXTON Right—you started it, now you’re going to get it.
GEORGE Watch that one there—he’s got a knife.
JOHN (To Mark) Come on, put the knife away Mark!
DEXTON Look out Michael, he’s coming at you!
JOHN Put that bloody knife away Mark. We don’t need that.
DEXTON Michael, look out!
Mark runs at Michael with the knife. He stabs him in the liver.
DEXTON George—he’s bloody knifed him!
GEORGE Bloody hell—Michael!
JOHN (To Mark) I told you to put that bloody thing away. Now look at what you’ve done. Let’s get the hell out of here!
MARK Yeh, you’re right—let’s split!
Mark, John and Peter run off up the road. Michael collapses on the pavement.
DEXTON Michael—come on, you’re all right really, get off the floor.
GEORGE Come on, get up Michael.
DEXTON Bloody hell, that’s all we need now.
GEORGE Dexton, help me get him up. (They support him on to his feet.) We’d better get him to the hospital.
MICHAEL Bloody hell, it hurts…. I’m bleeding all over.
Delroy, Leroy and Tony tun back to see Michael.
TONY What’s going on?
DELROY Hey, what happened to Michael?
GEORGE One of them bloody skinheads knifed him.
TONY Don’t muck about—now, what happened?
GEORGE They stabbed him, I tell you!
DEXTON Don’t stand there chatting—look, he could be bleeding to death.
TONY Where’s the nearest call box? He needs an ambulance.
DELROY It’s just round the comer.
TONY Let’s go then. (Tony and Delroy run off.)
DEXTON (Supporting Michael) It’s all right Michael, we’re going to get the ambulance for you.
GEORGE Yeh, it’ll be here in no time.
MICHAEL Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h it really hurts now.
Tony and Delroy run back, breathless.
TONY The bloody ththg was broke.
DELROY Some vandals smashed the phone in.
DEXTON That’s all we need, isn’t it?
Michael groans, almost continuously.
GEORGE What are we going to do then? He’s really hurt.
LEROY The nearest phone’s in the police station.
GEORGE What—take him to the Babylon shop? Once we’re in there we’ll never get out.
LEROY What choice have we got—look how he’s bleeding.
GEORGE All right then, let’s get him down there.
MICHAEL (Almost delirious) Yeah…. come on…. take me there.
DEXTON Oh Christ, I suppose we’ll have to.
LEROY Bloody hell, I hope it’s all right.
They support Michael to the steps of the police station. They half lift and half drag him up the steps.
GEORGE Come on all of you. Let’s get him up here and find a phone.
End of Scene I.
SCENE 2 In Stoke Newington Police Station
The boys enter the police station. There are two uniformed policemen behind the desk.
POLICEMAN 1 What do you lot want?
POLICEMAN 2 What have you been up to?
POLICEMAN 1 Yeh—what’s going on?
GEORGE Please…. look, our friend’s bleeding. Can we call an ambulance?
POLICEMAN 1 Hold your horses, I want to know exactly what’s going on here.
GEORGE There ain’t time for that—look how he’s bleeding.
POLICEMAN 1 Shut up – now first of all, give us your names and addresses.
GEORGE Look, just phone for an ambulance first, we’ll tell you all about it afterwards.
DEXTON Yeh, he’s hurt, you know.
MICHAEL Please…. help me…. phone for an ambulance.
POLICEMAN 2 Keep quiet son, we’ll attend to you in a minute. I’ve got to take a statement first.
DEXTON Look, I can tell you very quickly. In a few simple words. We were jumped on by three white kids. One of them stabbed him.
OFFICER 1 Where was this?
DEXTON Opposite the park.
POLICEMAN 1 Did you recognise any of them?
DEXTON No, but we’ve seen the all down Chapel Street handing out National Front leaflets. Now come on, please call us an ambulance.
MICHAEL (Groaning) Please…
Enter a third policeman.
POLICEMAN 3 What’s going on here?
OFFICER 2 These boys have been starting trouble.
DEXTON What? We didn’t do nothing, they set on us. Now are you going to phone for a bloody ambulance?
POLICEMAN 3 Watch your language with me Sonny. Now, have you lot been in any trouble before?
DEXTON We were picked up once for SUS.
POLICEMAN 3 Ahhh! So you started a fight eh? Picked on some white boys eh? Then you got the worst of it and come here with your lies about other kids?
GEORGE (Pushing forward) Look – can’t you see how our friend is bleeding. Send for an ambulance!
TONY Yeh—if he gets any worse, you’re to blame copper!
POLICEMAN 3 Be very careful son. Now, what time did this so-called attack occur?
DEXTON I don’t know—about half-past one.
POLICEMAN 3 Oh yeh? And what were you little boys doing out at that time of night?
MICHAEL (Groaning) An ambulance….
DEXTON Look, for the last time—are you going to help him?
POLICEMAN 3 Just answer the questions.
DEXTON Look, we’re not the bloody criminals – they set on us, they knifed our mate. Why all the questions?
POLICEMAN 3 Just answer the questions.
DEXTON All right, we were coming home from the disco.
POLICEMAN 3 A likely story.
DEXTON It’s true for Christ sake, it’s true.
POLICEMAN 3 I don’t want no lip from you Sambo. Now, what street did this happen?
DEXTON This street.
POLICEMAN 3 What street’s this then?
DEXTON Stoke Newington High Street – you bloody well know! Now phone the bloody ambulance.
POLICEMAN 1 (Stepping from behind the desk with Policeman 2) Who do you think you’re bloody swearing at? Up against the wall!
GEORGE Leave him alone!
POLICEMAN 1 You too, up against the wall! (The two policemen throw Dexton and George up against the wall.)
LEROY Look—our mate, been knifed, and you’re not doing nothing to help him.
POLICEMAN 3 There’s nothing wrong with him, just a bloody scratch—you can’t have us on.
TONY Well, let’s phone for an ambulance, then.
POLICEMAN 2 Look, the quicker you tell us what happened, the quicker your mate will see a doctor.
DEXTON That’s bloody blackmail.
POLICEMAN 2 Well, I’m using it on the right people then, aren’t I?
POLICEMAN 3 So where were you when he got stabbed?
DEXTON We’ve said already—Look, can’t you see he’s getting weaker?
POLICEMAN 3 Have you even been in trouble with the police before?
DEXTON I told you- I was picked up on SUS once.
POLICEMAN 3 Ah-well that throws a different COLOUR on it, then, doesn’t it? So you could have been out nicking tonight for all we know.
Michael does a terrible scream, followed by low groans.
DEXTON For Christ’s sake, can’t you see the blood on the floor?
POLICEMAN 3 All right Jack—phone for the ambulance.
Policeman 1 phones. The action freezes.
NARRATOR The boys were interrogated for ten minutes by the police before they called an ambulance for Michael. It took another fifteen minutes for the ambulance to arrive. All this time Michael’s condition was getting worse and his blood was dripping on the floor.
GEORGE Look—can we phone Michael’s mum to tell her what’s happened?
POLICEMAN 1 No telephone calls!
DEXTON Look, come on man, all our mums will be worried sick.
POLICEMAN 1 Are you deaf? I said no telephone calls, do you hear?
LEROY Look, it’s our right to let our parents know what’s happened to us.
POLICEMAN 1 Sonny—you black bastards have got no rights in this country. Just shut up.
Enter two ambulancemen with a stretcher.
DELROY Christ, what kept you—look at our mate.
AMBULANCEMAN 1 Come on, get out of the way. Let’s see him.
AMBULANCEMAN 2 Got him Bill? Okay, let’s have him.
Michael is put onto the stretcher, stiil groaning. The other boys move as if to get into the ambulance with him.
POLICEMAN 1 Where do you think you’re going?
DEXTON We’re going with him to the hospital.
LEROY Yeh—he’s our mate, we want to go in the ambulance with him.
POLICEMAN 3 Oh no you don’t! You’re staying here, I’ve got some more questions for you lot.
DEXTON All right—then let just one of us go then.
POLICEMAN 2 Sit down Sonny—you’re staying here, you’re not going anywhere.
DEXTON For Christ’s sake, he’s our mate! We can’t leave him alone.
POLICEMAN 2 All of you! You’re staying here with us for the night.
POLICEMAN 3 Yeh, you’re holding your mate up now, aren’t you? I thought you said he was bleeding to death?
POLICEMAN 2 (To the ambulanceman) All right, take him away.
The ambulancemen take out Michael as the boys look on. The Action freezes again.
NARRATOR It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to reach the hospital which was only a few minutes drive away. Michael was dead when he arrived at the hospital. Who killed Michael Ferreira?
End of Scene 2.
SCENE 3 Leroy and Tony’s House
It is 7.15am. Mr and Mrs Daniels are eating the. breakfast. They are both very worried.
Leroy and Tony enter, puffed out.
MR DANIELS Where the hell have you been? Your mother’s worried sick. (He stands up at the table).
MRS DANIELS Boys, I was so sick worrying about you.
MR DANIELS Look-it’s breakfast time. You could have been knocked down, robbed, dead on the streets-how were we to know?
MRS DANIELS I was going to phone the police about you.
TONY Sorry mum, look day, it’s a long story—but to cut it short, Michael got stabbed by a white boy last night, and we’ve been in Stoke Newington police station all night.
MR DANIELS What did you say?
TONY And we only went in there to phone for an ambulance for Michael.
LEROY And they wouldn’t even let us phone you up, or Michael’s mum.
MRS DANIELS What…. Michael stabbed?
LEROY And they kept him in the police station for ages before they called an ambulance.
MR DANIELS Have you told Michael, parents yet?
TONY No—Dexton was going to go round there, but he’s dead scared to go.
MR DANIELS Did you say they kept him there bleeding without even calling an ambulance?
The action freezes
End of Scene 3
SCENE 4 Outside the Mortuary
Mr and Mrs Ferreira are waiting to see the body of their son.
ATTENDANT (Opening the door) I’m sorry, but you can’t come in.
MR FERREIRA Look, we want to see our son’s body, that’s all.
ATTENDANT Well, you can’t come in. The coroner said that no one, only the police, can see the body yet.
MRS FERREIRA (Passionately) I want to see my son…. please let me see my son.
ATTENDANT I’m sorry madam, I can’t let you in.
MRS FERREIRA I brought him into the world-now I can’t see him now he’s dead?
POLICEMAN 1 (Entering) Move along please, we don’t want any more disturbances here.
MR FERREIRA You’ve got our son in there. We want to see him!
POLICEMAN 1 Well you can’t, now move along home or have to nick you for obstruction. (He tries to take Mrs Ferreira’s arm.)
MRS FERREIRA Don’t you touch me! You were the ones who killed my boy. You’ll never hear the last of this.
POLICEMAN 1 You don’t know what you’re on about, you blacks are all the same.
MR FERREIRA You! Racist! Listen to me—we’re going to get all our people together and we’re going to fight your dirty racism! We’re as much a part of country as anyone.
MRS FERREIRA We’ll make a movement to help all the black people, and we’ll clear racism right off the streets of this country!
The action freezes.
End of Scene 4
THE NARRATOR reads his final poem:
The boys were coming home, They had been to the disco in Stoke Newington— Delroy, Gocrge, Leroy, Tony, Michael and Dexton. Along came the blokes looking for trouble The racists jeered and insulted, They crossed the road and used the knife, the lethal weapon which took poor Michael’s life. The thugs shouted ‘Let’s run!’ Poor Michael He was bleeding but nothing could be done.
His friends took him to the police station, the cops kept him there— against his will as if he was the criminal, as if they were pulling his hair. They kept him there for quite a bit— they treated him like shit. They killed that kid just like the police in Ireland, or Hitler with the yids.
The ambulance took half an hour, the ambulancemen could have been having their dinner or taking a shower. By this time he’d lost a lot of blood, they said they did all they could. Michael is gone now but we’ll remember him. We hate the one who killed him- he’s a slut.
After this, there’s no turning back, Black and white unite and together we will fight! To stop these rats from roaming the streets.
The usual update of recent radical Hackney films, books, campaigns and other things that have caught my eye over the last month…
Above is a lovely life-affirming film of John Rogers‘ walk from Hackney marshes to Stoke Newington earlier this year. John is the author of The Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City and worked with Iain Sinclair on his London Overground film. The walk includes his compelling commentary about the areas he is navigating and his Youtube channel has a bunch of great films to check out.
This month I have also been enjoying two beautifully produced publications from Rendezvous Projects:
Lightboxes and Lettering: Printing Industry Heritage in East London looks at the premises, processes and people who printed all sorts of things in Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Clerkenwell. There are excellent chapters on radical and community presses (inlcuding Hackney’s Lenthal Road and Calverts) as well as a look at the changing gender roles in the industry. More generally the book is an intriguing overview of the changing face of work in East London.
Sweet Harmony: Mapping Waltham Forest’s dance radio stations, record shops & venues, 1989-1994 is obviousy less focussed on Hackney, but should be of interest to ravers old and new. Many of the pirate stations covered will have had listeners in Hackney and the Dungeons venue on Lea Bridge Road was the site of many a messy night for Hackneyites.
Both publications include a tonne of quotes from people and are lavishly illustrated wth maps, photos, graphics etc. You can order them here.
The Happy Man Tree on Lordship Road is under threat of destruction by property developer Berkeley Homes. The tree appears on the Ordinance Survey map of the area from 1870 and so is at least 150 years old.
As the community campaign to save it points out:
This beautiful London plane tree grows on the public pavement on the North End of Lordship Road on Woodberry grove London N4.
It has survived a century and a half of building development, two world wars, road widening schemes with the arrival of the motor car and, so far, Berkeley Homes. But now, in this latest intervention, this majestic and much – loved tree has been condemned to be cut down by Berkeley homes & Hackney Council.
There is an alternative plan.
Viable alternative plans developed with local people would have allowed the development to go ahead whilst keeping the tree. These were rejected by Berkeley Homes as either too expensive or too complicated.
I’d certainly recommend a visit to the tree and a conversation with the campaigners – or a visit to https://www.thehappymantree.org/ where you can add your name to the petition and find out other ways give your support.
There is currently a petition, a legal challenge and perhaps the prosect of more direct action orientated protest, judging by the nice tree house.
Hackney Museum have unearthed an incredible community film project from 1988:
Living On The Welfare Estate is an excellent snapshot of the lives and issues of residents on Clapton Park Estate. There is some homegrown hip hop, reggae and soul music of varying quality as well as general commentary and footage of the area.
From 6:45 onwards there is a section on police aggravation and how resident Peter Richmond was wrongly convicted purely on the basis of statements of the notoriously corrupt Hackney police in 1984.
Friends of Hackney Archives‘ twitter account Hackney History is well worth a follow. They are contributing to the wider Layers of London project and these two recent entries caught my eye:
There is a tonne of other stuff on the site of interest, with a great deal about different areas of the borough and their portrayal in fiction, various addresses profiled etc. You can see the lot here.
Hackney Archives themselves are doing a Friday Feature on Facebook which seems to be generally reprints from “Council Pravda” Hackney Today (no disprespect to the Archives – their bit was usually the only thing worth reading in there!). Appropriately enough the May Day feature was on socialist pharmacist Israel Renson who dispensed medicine from his shop on Well Street and called for the abolition of money using the pseudonym “Philoren”.
The Life In Dub podcast is a series of interviews with reggae artists conducted by Steve Vibronics. A recent episode features Hackney soundsystem operator Abashanti-I. It includes some great anecdotes about black history and music in the borough. Seeing Jah Shaka at the Four Aces in Dalston is cited as a defining inspiraton that lead Abashanti-I to start his own soundsystem – which itself became a fixture at “blues dances” (house parties) in Stoke Newington. Prior to this Shanti had been the MC for Hackney’s Jah Tubbys soundsystem in the mid 1980s.
“I can’t help feeling that Freddy has had great injustice all through his life.” – Eleanor Marx
Frederick Demuth 1851-1929
Frederick’s Demuth’s story is a convoluted one which is contested by a number of historians – and tainted by hostility or deference to his alleged father. This bias makes it difficult to do justice to Demuth himself.
People have strong feelings about Karl Marx, so I’ll put my cards on the table from the outset and say that reading his books has helped me to understand the world. I would thoroughly recommend David Harvey’s lectures about Capital which can be viewed on Youtube or downloaded as mp3s. As an individual Karl seems as charming and annoying and brilliant and messed up as the rest of us – if not more so. More on that later.
We have some travelling to do before we reach Hackney, so please bear with me…
Marx – married and on the move
Karl Marx married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. They had been engaged for seven years and had known each other since childhood. In October 1843 the Marxes moved from Jenny’s family home in Kreuznach (near Frankfurt) to Paris. It was a busy time. Karl wrote for a radical journal, met lifelong comrade Friedrich Engels for the first time and began his expansive study of political economy that would be the basis for Capital. The couple’s first daughter Jenny Caroline was born in 1844 (the convention is to use the second name to avoid confusing the Jennys, as we will see).
The Marx family were kicked out of France in 1845 and headed to Brussels. Jenny Marx’s mother was worried about them and sent her housekeeper Helene ‘Lenchen’ Demuth to help. Lenchen stayed with the Marxes for the rest of their lives.
Jenny Laura Marx was born in Brussels in 1845. The Marx family and Lenchen decamped to London in 1849. The two junior Jennys were followed by Edgar (1847); Henry Edward Guy (1849); Jenny Eveline Frances (1851) and Eleanor (1855). That’s six children born to Jenny senior in 11 years. But that wasn’t quite the end of it…
Helene Demuth gave birth to Frederick Demuth on 23 June 1851 in the Marx home of 28 Dean Street, Soho. She was not apparently in any kind of “respectable” relationship at the time, so young Freddy was fostered out. The Marx children assumed (or rather, were helped to believe) that frequent visitor Engels was responsible. But Helene never spoke about her son’s father.
It is now generally (but not universally) believed that Karl Marx was actually Frederick Demuth’s father. This means Karl was shagging Helene whilst his wife was pregnant with Jenny Eveline. His letters from the time mention that he went into hiding in the British Library for many days when Lenchen’s pregnancy would have been discovered.
Frederick Demuth in Hackney
Freddy Demuth as a dashing Hackney lad
Frustratingly little is known about Frederick Demuth’s life compared to his birth. (If you know more, or where to find out more, please leave a comment!)
Freddy was fostered by a family named Lewis in East London. He trained as a skilled fitter and turner (lathe operator – possibly gun-smithing) and left his foster family and “rough childhood” as early as possible.
In January, February or March 1873 Demuth married the Irish gardener’s daughter Ellen Murphy (b 1854). The couple lived in Hackney in the early 1880s and had a son, Harry (aka Frederick confusingly) in 1882.
The tomes of Marxological correspondence show that Eleanor Marx maintained a friendship with Freddy from at least the 1880s onwards.
When Karl Marx died in 1883, Helene Demuth became Engels’ housekeeper (Jenny Marx senior had died a few years previously). Harry Demuth would later recall his father taking him to visit granny Helene at Engels’ Regents Park Road home.
Eleanor continued her efforts to bridge the gap between Freddy and his presumed father Engels:
“Freddy has behaved admirably in all respects and Engels’ irritation against him is as unfair as it is comprehensible. We should none of us like to meet our pasts, I guess, in flesh and blood.”
Perhaps because of this Freddy was invited to Engels’ 74th birthday party in November 1894. But there was no time to develop things further – Engels died the next year. He left nothing in his will for Freddy, but the “legitimate” Marx children were included and are said to have given him regular support. There are contested suggestions that Engels confessed that Marx was actually Freddy’s father on his deathbed.
One account states that Eleanor Marx introduced Freddy to Clara Zetkin as “my half brother” during the Second International’s Congress of 1896 in London’s Queen’s Hall, Langham Place.
In February 1888 Freddy joined the Kings Cross branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers as a skilled fitter. The ASE would shortly become the third largest union in Britain and embark on a lengthy strike for an eight hour day. (Workers’ struggles around the length of the working day was one of the themes Karl Marx tackled in volume 1 of Capital which had been published in English in 1887.)
When Helene “Lenchen” Demuth died of cancer in 1890 she left all her worldly goods – including ninety-five pounds – to Frederick Lewis Demuth of 25 Gransden Avenue, Hackney.
The site of 25 Grandsden Avenue
That side of Gransden Avenue is now a building site, but our comrades at Past Tense have written about the area as part of their essential Hackney Walk:
Sidworth Street was the site of a V2 bomb during the war and in the 1960s and 1970s industrial unties built.
In 2010 one block (13018) was squatted as Urban HapHazard Squat. Some buildings around Sidworth Street and Mentmore Terrace are currently squatted, some with the knowledge/permission of the property owners.
Properties round here bough by local council after WW2 (bomb damage & slum clearance) and in the 1970s. During this time there were several traveller sites on Lamb Lane, Gransden Avenue and Mentmore Terrace. In the 1980s a site on Gransden Avenue/London Lane was being considered as a permanent local authority traveller site.
Freddy’s son later recalled that they inhabited the first floor of the “ramshackle” house, with the Clayton family on the ground floor. Henry Clayton worked with Freddy at Paterson and Cooper, a firm of electrical engineers and scientific instrument makers based at Telegraph Works, Pownall Road, Haggerston.
The 1891 census has the family of Frederick, Ellen and Frederick jnr still at Gransden Ave. Freddy is listed as engineer and fitter. But by the 1901 census only the father and son remained.
In 1892 Freddy’s wife Ellen had left him to run away with a soldier. She also nicked most of his possessions, as well as £29 belonging to a workers’ benevolent fund that comrade Demuth had been entrusted with. Ouch. Eleanor Marx pulled some strings and bailed him out with the assistance of her siblings.
Freddy posing with Hackney Social Democratic Federation comrades
Harry Demuth told journalist David Heisler about his father’s political activity increasing around this time, including being an avid reader of the socialist newspaper The Clarion and his membership of the Hackney Social Democratic Federation, attending their meetings at the Rendezvous Cafe at 155 Mare Street and the British Oak Tavern on Lea Bridge Road. There is also mention of Freddy being one of the founders of the Clapton Park and District Co-Operative and Industrial Society at 28 Brooksby’s Walk in Homerton. Harry recalls his father studying the works of Marx and Engels and having their pictures on the walls of their family home.
We also know that Freddy was a founder member of the Hackney Labour Party. (When was this? The Labour Party was founded in 1900, but its first showing in Hackney parliamentary and council elections is 1922. Separate Hoxton ran a Labour candidate in the 1919 council elections though).
54 Reighton Rd
By 1911 Freddy was boarding at the slightly more upmarket 54 Reighton Road in Upper Clapton. `His profession is listed as mechanical engineer – working with fountain pens. He was boarding with the Payne family. Alfred Payne had also been a founder member of Hackney Labour Party and went on to become mayor of Hackney between 1919-20.
Harry lived elsewhere at this point, working as a cab driver before briefly emigrating to Australia.
Freddy (front and centre) convalescing from a period of illness, 1912
In 1914 Freddy started working at the Bryant and May factory in Bow, initially as a fitter and then as a foreman. He’d previously had roles at Gestetner (Lea Valley) and stamp printers De La Rue (Bun Hill Row). In 1924 he retired at the age of 73. He was still a member of the Hackney branch of Amalgamated Engineers Union.
Freddy died of heart failure in Upper Clapton in 1929, outliving all the other Marx children. At that point he shared a house with Ellen “Laura” Payne, the widow of Alfred Payne. Freddy’s son Harry was for some reason named as his nephew in his will – he got the surprisingly large sum of £1971 12s 4d. Rachel Holmes suggests that this inheritance may have been a product of the financial support Freddy had received from the Marx siblings.
Yvonne Kapp has Frederick Demuth’s last address as 13 Stoke Newington Common:
13 Stoke Newington Common
The hazards of moral judgements and historical perspective
“[Karl] did not love the boy, the scandal would have been too big.” – Louise Kautsky
There are two very polarised perspectives on Frederick Demuth and they are both entirely wrong.
Socialists and Communists generally gloss over Freddy’s existence as an unfortunate event that is either an interesting footnote or something that demonstrates the steps that the workers’ movement had to take to defend itself from attacks in the media.
Generally, if he is ever mentioned at all, Freddy is one weapon in an arsenal of tools used to attack his father. If you listened to conservative commentators you would know that Karl Marx was a terrible person who never worked a day in his life (in fact he was paid as a journalist and author) sponged off factory owner Engels (partly true – although Engels was more than willing to help out his objectively more talented comrade) and more seriously raped his servant. The latter claim is of course impossible to prove or disprove now.
The few accounts we have of life in the Marx family household seem to indicate that there was a great deal of mutual affection between Karl, Jenny senior and Helene. That said, there is clearly a power imbalance between employer and employee which makes it difficult to know how complete consent can be in a sexual relationship which takes place in that context.
We also know from accounts of the Marx household and the wider historical context that finances were tight (and often desperate) – and that “respectable” families did not include children born out of wedlock.
Karl Marx shouldn’t have shagged his housekeeper. But he did. Is this a stain on his character? Yes it is. Does it undermine his ideas? Not really, but it is a black mark for sure.
They think only of two individuals and forget the family. They forget that nearly every dissolution of a marriage is the dissolution of a family and that the children and what belongs to them should not be dependent on arbitrary whims, even from a purely legal point of view.
On a Proposed Divorce Law, 1842
The change in a historical epoch can always be determined by the progress of women toward freedom, because in the relation of woman to man, of the weak to the strong, the victory of human nature over brutality is most evident. The degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation.
The Holy Family, 1844
The nucleus, the first form of [property] lies in the family, where wife and children are slaves of the husband. This latent slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property …
The German Ideology, 1846
In the above quotes, Marx recognises the unequal status of women in capitalism and the effect that the dissolution of a family can have on children. He would also have been only too aware of the differences in class between him and his housemaid – and the consequences of their relationship being discovered.
Marx and Engels’ vision for a new world included some laudable words about women and relationships:
It [communist society] will transform the relations between the sexes into a purely private matter which concerns only the persons involved and into which society has no occasion to intervene. It can do this since it does away with private property and educates children on a communal basis, and in this way removes the two bases of traditional marriage, the dependence, rooted in private property, of the woman on the man and of the children on the parents.
Communist Manifesto, 1848
But the world of 1848 (and 1851 when Freddy was born) was even further away from that than we are now. Marx fostered out Freddy because that is what most people in that situation would have done at the time – and because a public scandal about his family would undermine the work he was doing. He behaved in accordance with his class, which meant oppressing his servant even more than usual when the chips were down.
I am not married. I am writing this whilst my daughter does her school homework at the same table. I am able to do this without controversy because of the work done by feminists and the workers’ movement over the last 167 years to loosen the strange-hold of conservative values on the family and child rearing. Marx’s contribution to this process of social change cannot be ignored.
The personal remains political. Which brings us back to Frederick Demuth.
If you subtract the question of his father from the equation, Freddy’s life remains interesting and worth celebrating. He escaped a harsh childhood and a horrendous marriage breakup and still managed to retain his humanity – his capacity to care for others. His years of union work and political activism are the quiet, patient building blocks out of which we will construct a better world.
Notes and sources
I first heard about Frederick Demuth during a talk given by Barry Burke and Ken Worpole at Pages Bookshop in 2015. So thanks as ever to them for all the work they did on Hackney’s radical history before I even got started.
I have used the following for this piece:
Eduard Bernstein – What Drove Eleanor Marx to Suicide (1898) – includes a number of letters from Eleanor `Marx to Freddy that demonstrate he was her main confidante towards the end of her life.
Paul Harrison was a journalist whose first books were on the Third World. His 3rd book is concerned with the London Borough of Hackney based on his research between May 1981 and July 1982.
It includes a lot of depressing detail on the deprivation which was prevalent in Hackney at that time. The statistics can be a bit wearying, but this is compensated by the numerous personal interviews which are included and the general insights the author provides.
Harrison’s book is a good counterbalance to the romanticism some people have about the “good old days” in Hackney. The intensity of the poverty, horrendous working conditions, terrible housing, violence and racism is remarkable – the author makes a compelling case that the Borough was the worst place to live in the UK (although neighbouring Tower Hamlets was also a contender by many measures).
I am obliged to say that wherever there is oppression you will also find resistance (something I definitely believe… in my more optimistic moments…). Alongside the crime and crumbling infrastructure of 80s Hackney, the book also includes some brief pieces on community organisation and a really good report on a dispute at the Staffa Products factory in the Lea Valley which included an occupation of the premises by striking workers. I got quite excited about that before I realised Staffa Products was in Leyton rather than Hackney and therefore slightly out of scope for this blog.
There is also a great first person account of a riot in Dalston in 1981 which I will post up here soon.
Paul Harrison went on do work for the UN and publish a further book on “pantheism”. He has a website here.
I found my copy for a quid in the basement of Housmans, London’s leading radical bookshop. You can also buy second hand copies of the book cheap online.
Below is a section from the prologue of the book which gives a reasonable overview of Hackney’s grimness at the time:
The Breaker’s Yard
Hackney, like most urban settlements of any size, is a patchwork. It exists as a unit only as a local-government entity. It possesses an aorta: the long straight road, once the Romans’ route to Cambridge, that begins in the south as Shoreditch High Street and ends in the north at Stamford Hill, changing its name half a dozen times along the way, from Kingsland Road to Kingsland High Street, and from Stoke Newington Road to Stoke Newington High Street.
But Hackney is a place curiously without a heart, an uneasy amalgam, still only in its late teens, of three older boroughs —Shoreditch, Hackney and Stoke Newington — themselves formed by the fusion of several parishes. Hackney is an archipelago of islands, each with its own distinctive geo-morphology and ecology. In Shoreditch, atolls of dilapidated small factories, warehouses and offices, cut off by a sea of metropolitan traffic.
To the north, Hoxton, a concrete forest of council blocks, still largely inhabited by Cockneys, one of the few places in the borough’s boundaries where some networks of community and kinship survive, albeit much weakened and frayed. Further north again, De Beauvoir, whose stately terraces — by far the best built and best laid out in Hackney — increasingly house the upper-middle and professional classes.
East of that, Haggerston and Queensbridge wards, more than three-quarters council tenants, and planning-blighted London Fields and Broadway Market, with shops boarded up or burnt out and streets of houses either empty, with doors and windows breeze-blocked up, or housing squats of radicals and feminists: Why pay rent when they don’t give a damn about you? reads one painted slogan.
East again, Homerton and Lower Clapton, streets of humble Victorian terraces, many of them not much above the level of the Hackney Marshes and the River Lea that bound the borough’s eastern limits. The Marshes, Hackney’s only area of ‘natural’ wildlife, are marred by motorbike scramblers, electricity pylons and what little exists of large-scale industry in Hackney — Lesney’s Matchbox Toys (closed down in 1982), Metal Box, James Latham Timbers.
Inside the bend of the river, stretching from Stamford Hill down to the flyovers of Eastway, a long succession of council estates, each cursed with its own subtle combination of torments: the rain-penetrated towers of Trowbridge; Kingsmead with its air of a high-security prison; crime-plagued Clapton Park; and a row of grim blocks — like Wren’s Park, Wigan House, Lea View and Fawcett. Along the borough’s northern edges, bounded by Seven Sisters Road and Amhurst Park, lie the more desirable wards of Hackney, becoming fashionable among radical professionals and long the home of most of Hackney’s large Jewish population, including members of the revivalist Hasidic sect whose bearded men wear broad-brimmed black hats, long black coats and hair in ringlets.
And in the heart of Hackney lie terraces of the worst Victorian housing, originally dominated by cheap rooming houses, now in the process of changing over to gentrification, housing associations and infill council housing: a chaotic mixture of races and classes where whites, West Indians, Asians, Africans and Cypriots are shuffled like the suits in a pack of cards.
Even a superficial tour would show that most of Hackney is not healthy or prosperous. There are piles of refuse in ‘many streets, and run-down shops with safety grilles left up even when they are open. There is an air about people in the street or in the bus queues: of patience adopted not out of a tranquil mind, but out of necessity, holding in a tense bolus of sufferings. An air, not of open despair, but of lack of hope; not of misery, yet of an absence of joy. An air of aggravation and diffuse anxiety. For Hackney is a sump for the disadvantaged of every kind, a place to which those with the fewest resources sink, and from which those who gain any freedom of choice escape. It is a place of deprivation, of poverty, of toil and struggle and isolation, a knacker’s yard for society’s casualties,
a breaker’s yard where the pressure of need grinds people against each other and wears them down.
You can get a glimpse of the problem from the statistics. Even by Inner London standards, Hackney is an unusually underprivileged place. It has the second highest proportion of overcrowded households in Inner London, the second highest proportion of manual workers (two-thirds), the second highest proportion of households with no car (two-thirds), the second highest male unemployment rate (22 percent in January 1982), and the second highest proportion of children in care (one child in forty). On all these criteria, Tower Hamlets, usually known as London’s East End, pips it to the post. But Hackney leads Tower Hamlets in other indicators: it has the second highest proportion (after Haringey) of people living in households with a New Commonwealth head (27 per cent), the second highest incidence (after Lambeth) of violent street crime. And Hackney leads the field for a string of other factors. It has the highest female unemployment rate in London and the highest proportion of single-parent families (with 15 per cent of children under sixteen). It has by far the highest proportion of dwellings unfit for human habitation — one in five — and by far the lowest educational attainments in London. It has the highest proportion of registered disabled in London. It has the highest level of smoke pollution. And it has the honour of being the only Inner London borough without a tube station. Incomes in Hackney are the lowest in London, and well below the national averages despite much higher than average housing and transport costs. In April 1981, average weekly earnings were £133.50 for men and £94 for women — bottom of the Greater London league in both cases. One in three male manual workers earned less than £100 a week, one in ten earned less than £72.30. These figures are for full-time workers whose earnings were unaffected by absence: average incomes in Hackney, dragged down by high levels of part-time or short-time working, by lay-offs and absenteeism, and by unemployment, are far lower.
There is no objective way of weighing one type of misery against another. No one can construct an unchallengeable index of total deprivation that would enable us to rank locations in the lower reaches of hell. There are, of course, subjective measures. In 1978 the National Housing and Dwelling Survey asked people in inner-city areas what they thought of their neighbourhood. The proportion of respondents in Hackney who were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the area was 42 percent, by far the highest in the country — a full 11 percent ahead of Tower Hamlets, the nearest London rival, and almost double the highest figure outside London (22 percent for Manchester).
It is invidious to make comparisons, but I believe that Hackney is one of two or three contenders for the title of the Most Awful Place in Britain.
There are many people who live in Hackney who will deny this: middle-class owner-occupiers will tell you aggressively that it is not at all such a bad place to live. And probably it is not, for people with cars, telephones, bank accounts and self-contained dwellings. They do not have to walk along dangerous streets with all the money they possess in their pockets, or queue for hours at bus stops, or search for unvandalized phones when someone falls ill. They do not have to share toilets or baths. They do not have to wrestle shopping and pushchairs up stairs or into lifts that often do not work. They do not have to suffer damp and cold. They do not have to be humiliated in social-security offices or wait months for essential repairs. Above all they are there by choice, not by compulsion. They can leave at any time they want: they do not have the sense of imprisonment, of closed options, that plagues those without the incomes or the saleable skills that would enable them to get out. Whether a place is tolerable to live in, or intolerable, depends on your income; that is as true of Britain as a whole as it is of Hackney.
For the poor, Hackney is something akin to the Slough of Despond, a place so terrible that the only recourse seems to turn tail and run. Yet most of them lack the means of escape — the money to buy a house elsewhere, the skills or certificates to get a job elsewhere.
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:
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:
There is a wealth of information about Hackney based mental health campaigning at Andrew Robert’s website:
(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 4.30pm: First 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…”.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
Please join friends and ex-colleagues of Mike Gray at Chats Palace at this private view of ‘Mike Gray – in Black & White’
This collection of Mike’s photographs celebrates his great contribution to the community arts scene of Homerton and Clapton, most notably, his unique roles in establishing Hackney Marsh Fun Festival, Chats Palace and the ‘Save Sutton House’ campaign.
UpdateJan2020: a full PDF of this issue can be viewed here.
Cover story on council rent increases.
Dock strikes – dockers sold out by the union.
A Cautionary Tale – The eviction of a family squatting on Sandringham Road E8. “There is no such thing as squatters rights” […] “if we organise ourselves, the sky’s the limit: we can defend whole streets of squatters, as they started to do in Bride Street Junction: we could take over blocks of flats, new hotels, as they have done in Italy (and did in England after the war). We could stop communities like De Beauvoir and Mapledene being ‘redeveloped’ into luxury flats, and the poor being pushed out into new towns…
“Many of us have squatted ‘successfully’ – without being evicted – for a long time now. But it’s not enough: we haven’t won until there’s no more homeless, until the system that made us homeless and makes profit out of empty houses, that puts the rich in palaces and the poor in overcrowded ghettoes is TOTALLY OVERTHROWN.”
“There are squatters meetings every week in a different house: contact CENTERPRISE to find out when and where the next one is. CENTERPRISE, 34 Dalston Lane E8”
A Living Income For All – “I’m not interested in the right to work, what must come is the fight for a share of the wealth that’s going”
Shitting Bricks – builders’ strike.
Strikers and the SS – “The Social Security is the biggest strike fund of them all! Strikers are beginning to realise this on a large scale and organising with Claimants Unions to make sure they get their benefits”
Antisocial Insecurity – on how protest movements have forced welfare concessions from the state.
Courting the Union – the continuing saga of three Claimants Union members who were charged with criminal damage after a protest at the Lower Clapton Social Services office the previous February. The three defended themselves and challenged the jury selection process (rejecting managers from standing and challenging the lack of black jurors).
The main allegation was that the defendants “smashed up two cubicles and kicked open the door separating staff from claimants”.
The defendants countered this by highlighting discrepancies in the prosecution witnesses testimony and pointing out that “people had been waiting for over four hours, how the office was packed with about 80 claimants, how many of these claimants had been deprived of their rights, how the SS clerks stopped working apparently because of the noise and how one SS clerk, John Fawcett, hit a claimant in the face and smashed his camera. They all said that [defendant] Chris Ratcliffe had been sitting in the waiting area at the time of the damage and [defendant] Eddie Rose didn’t arrive until well afterwards. The defence witnesses described how the cubicles were smashed up by about 20 or 30 angry claimants.”
One defendant was acquitted, the other two were found guilty and conditionally discharged and ordered to pay £20 costs each.
Laughter in Court – another set of Claimants Union activist on trial, this time following a demonstration at Bonhill Street Social Security the previous March. 3 of the 4 defendants were women. One of them was pregnant and asked for an adjournment because she felt ill. This was refused and resulted in the defendants disrupting proceedings until an adjournment was granted.
Women and the Tory Rent Act – being disproportionately effected by rent increases.
Asian Invasion – against the Powellite racism against immigrants from Idi Amin’s repression against Asians in Uganda.
Plus updates on the Stoke Newington 8, attempted eviction of squatters by Acetel Housing Association and the usual classified ads (click to enlarge):
Despite the “this could be the last time” story on the back page (see above,) there was at least one further issue of Hackney Gutter Press.