A “Bash The Rich” march in 1900s Hackney?

Walter Southgate was a member of Hackney Trades Council and the Social Democratic Federation at the turn of the Century. He remembers:

“We wanted to stir up the middle classes. So we organised a corps of men; we all put on masks and with George Oram, who was a very tall painter, leading us with a red flag on a long pole, we walked all around the toffee-nosed areas of Hackney”. Many carried placards with various slogans on while “one bloke had a kettle drum and another had a bugle.”

(From Rebels With a Cause: The History of Hackney Trades Council 1900-1975 by Barry Burke)

Walter expands on this in his excellent autobiography “That’s The Way It Was” (New Clarion Press, 1982):

In a local effort at Hackney during this pre-war period, I remember the local socialists decided that only shock tactics would frighten the smug middle class voters out of their skins. It was an easy salve to their consciences by constantly saying that the unemployed were work shy; therefore, shocks would get some at least to appreciate the dangers and explosive nature of social discontent.

George Oram, a veteran of the Boer War, was to lead a poster parade through the wealthier parts of Hackney and I was deputed to prepare the posters, the markings on which would be skull and cross bones, skeletons, starving children and other macabre stuff.

There were 12 of us, with George at the head wearing his medals and carrying a large red flag, the latter calculated to send shivers down the spines of comfortable drawing room viewers. Each sandwichman carried a poster fore and aft and wore a mask for fear of victimisation. At the rear of the procession a comrade blew a blast on his bugle at intervals.

In the meanwhile any unemployed fellows were ostentatiously busy ringing at door bells and pushing handbills into letterboxes explaining that unemployment was a social responsibility and could not be salved or solved by charity and soup kitchens but by government action. We carried no collection boxes as a sign of our sincerity.

As a publicity stunt, with a moral and educational purpose, this was something new and it brought us many recruits from this quarter of the borough.

There is a brief and very interesting biography of Walter Southgate by our comrades at Hayes Peoples History here.

I’ve not been able to find out more about George Oram or the slogans, yet…

(The UK anarchist group Class War organised “Bash The Rich” marches in the eighties, commencing with one on Kensington on May 11th 1985 – and the revived the tactic in 2007 with a march through Notting Hill. Class War’s inspiration was from the American anarchist Lucy Parsons though.)

Film: Hackney Anarchy Week 1996

edit Jan 2015: This is now available in better resolution:

Or worser resolution as orginally posted here:

Some kind soul has uploaded the Hackney Anarchy Week film to Youtube. You might want to view it as “full screen” though, as it’s slightly low resolution.

The film includes:

  • Alternative TV
  • Stewart Home
  • Anarchist Football
  • Mr Social Control
  • Small Press Book Fair
  • Class War
  • Reclaim the Streets & Critical Mass
  • McDonalds Picket in support of the McLibel Campaign
  • The Association of Autonomous Astronauts
  • Punx Picnic
  • Ken Loach at the Rio – Interview

and a host of others. The film necessarily focuses on the more visual and social aspects of the festival (demos, gigs, performances etc) rather than the meetings and discussions.

It was shot throughout the festival and then shown as a rough cut on the last night in the small theatre above the Samuel Pepys pub (next door to the Hackney Empire). A VHS video was available for sale shortly after the festival had finished.

It’s good to see a number of familiar faces appear, many of whom are still active in 2013 and a couple of whom have sadly passed away over the last 17 years.

hackney anarchy week vhs cover

Other HAW material on this site:

FILM: The Strange Death of Harry Stanley

Harry Stanley 1953-1999

Harry Stanley 1953-1999

On 22nd September 1999, Harry Stanley was fatally shot by police in South Hackney. A short film about his death has just been made available on Youtube:

Facebook page for the film

Coverage of the film in the Hackney Gazette

INQUEST’s briefing on the death of Harry Stanley [pdf]

Harry Stanley Wikipedia page

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Harry Stanley’s widow Irene and other friends and family organised as the Justice for Harry Stanley campaign.

The campaign succeeded in getting the initial inquest’s “open verdict” overturned. In November 2004 a new jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”.

The two officers who shot Harry Stanley were then suspended from duty. This resulted in a protest from fellow armed Metropolitan Police officers, 120 of whom handed in their gun permits. This lead to a “a review of procedures for suspending officers” concluding that the two officers could return to work, although on for “non-operational duties”.

In May 2005 the verdict of “unlawful killing” was itself overturned in the High Court, reinstating the original “open verdict”.

The two officers were arrested and interviewed, but in October 2005 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges because there was insufficient evidence to contradict the officers’ claims that they were acting in self-defence.

The investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission also recommended that no further disciplinary action be taken against the two officers, but was critical of the way that they had conferred in the process of making their notes about the shooting. Indeed the IPCC recommended that police officers should give video recorded statements immediately after events rather than making their own notes in collaboration with others.

Stanley-Campaign-Statement-9th-February-2006 [pdf]

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Interview from Class War issue 81, Summer 2001:

JUSTICE FOR HARRY STANLEY

On 22 September 1999 a middle-aged Scottish man, Harry Stanley, was shot dead by the police in east London, a short distance from his home. He was unarmed, and his shooting caused considerable anger locally. Class War spoke to a friend of Harry’s who has been involved in the campaign to obtain justice for both Harry and the Stanley family.

Can you tell us the circumstances of how Harry Stanley died?
Harry, not long out of hospital after having a tumour removed was returning from his brother’s house with the now famous table leg. He stopped for a drink in the Alexandra pub. When he left somebody phoned the police to say an Irish man had left the pub with a sawn off shot gun. Harry is then challenged by the cops and shot once in the hand and once in the head.

Although this took place less than 100 yards from his home it took 18 hours for the police to inform his family, even though he had clear identification on him. A postmortem was carried out without the consent of the family, which is illegal.

What have your relations been like with the Metropolitan Police since the shooting? Have they offered an apology and compensation?
Our relations have been hostile. No apology or compensation has been offered, whilst the officers concerned remain unnamed and on the beat.

At one stage letters strongly criticising the campaign started appearing in the local media. What was all that about?
A bloke called Yasmin Fyas had been slagging off the campaign in the Hackney Gazette letters page. No one called Yasmin Fyas lives at the address given – the campaign believes the police were using this as an alias to slag us off.

Has there been a lot of support from local people?
Yes all the demonstrations we have organised have been well attended and with ‘real people’ from Hackney, not just the usual leftie types.

What are your objectives? What can be achieved in that for any conviction to occur the police will not only have to investigate but charge and then get a conviction of fellow officers?
We have three main demands:

  1. A fully independent public enquiry
  2. The police officers responsible sacked and charged with murder
  3. Armed Response Units taken off the streets of Britain

If the campaign is strong enough it is possible to get charges laid – other campaigns like the Jim Ashley campaign show this.

Twenty years ago if something like this had happened there would have been a riot. Do you think the working class has now accepted police violence to a certain extent?
The police had phoned Diane Abbot MP before they even told the family. That shows they were scared of the community response. People think everybody kicked off all the time in the 1980s but that was not always the case.

Given that this is one case amongst many historically – is it worth putting pressure on people with power because they have never shown any indication of changing for the better? Don’t you think an eye for an eye is a principle response?
We need to fight for justice and to expose the system like the Stephen Lawrence case did. Revenge would not work – if they lose one cop they just replace them with another.

Are there any similarities between the police’s role in say industrial disputes and their wider role in working class areas of the big cities?
Yes there is. If you look at the way drugs raids are used to put on a show of the police’s force in working class areas. They could easily go off to rich areas and arrest people with cocaine, instead of teenagers with a bit of dope.

If what the police are about is discipline and oppression, surely we should be opposing their very existence?
Yeah, but not everybody in the campaign would agree – especially the Vicar from Bethnal Green!

What support have you had from the families of other people killed or framed by the police?
Loads! I can list the names Paddy Hill, Delroy Lindo, the [Roger] Sylvester family, Christopher Alder. The list could go on and on.

What advice would you give to other families who go through this type of terrible trauma?
The best way to get over it is to fight and organise. Link with other campaigns but make sure you involve the unions to get money!

Nearly two years down the line – where does the campaign go next?
Legally a Judicial Review of the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute the officers concerned. Harry’s family are going on a national speaking tour with with other families campaigning for justice. This will lead up to a huge demonstration in October/November time. We don’t want to give too many details away right now but it will be lively!

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Hackney’s Anarchic Nineties

Text accompaning the Timeline in the Hackney Anarchy Week Programme.

Rough and Ready

The last ten years and beyond

In the past twenty or so years Hackney has acquired what’s possibly the largest concentration of Anarcho types in the UK.

The London Borough Hackney’s Labour council is largely to be thanked for this. Their inefficient and poorly managed housing department and lack of resources have ensured that several thousand homes are always left empty. The corruption and complacency of Hackney’s Labour Party is a clear manifestation of the failure of the country’s “democratic” system.

The only viable opposition is coming from radical action outside of the establishment. The infamous and murderous activities of the Stoke Newington Police are an obvious demonstration that the state is not  interested in maintaining a harmonious community but in criminalising and oppressing those at the margins of mainstream society.

A decade ago Anarchists from Hackney were involved in the anti-apartheid campaign and anti-racist issues, the riots at Wapping (which turned a lot of people off non-violence) and squatting actions.

Animal rights issues have been of consistent interest, with actions against fur shops, the anti McDonalds campaign, hunt sabbing, the live exports protests and other more underground activities receiving considerable support.

In the second half of 1987 what became labeled as “Hackney’s Squatters Army” disrupted every monthly council meeting demanding an end to evictions while 3-4,000 council homes remained empty. Links were developed with unions, while direct actions were carried out, such as against workers attempting to steel plate empty fiats. A squat centre was opened on Northwold Road. N16, a minibus purchased and a fairly well organised network established.

By March 1988, with over 120 flats squatted on the Stamford Hill Estate alone, the council brought in riot cops to attempt a mass eviction. After a three day stand off, with burning barricades, hundreds of masked squatters and local supporters, the estate was finally lost.

The Town Hall was again invaded and the former Salvation Army Hostel opposite occupied as emergency accommodation. Brynley Heaven, the Chair of Housing, was hounded out of Hackney and squatting continued to increase.

At the end of 1988 there were weekend gigs and parties at the squatted Club Mankind, Hackney Central and Lee House in Rectory Road N16 was occupied as a cafe/ bookshop/ meeting space and an unforgettable 7 feet half pipe skateboard ramp!

Support continued for outside issues with Hackney Anarchos making lively contributions all the main demos, the Troops Out campaign, the development of the Hackney Community Defence Association and the annual “We Remember” marches in respect of all the people killed by Hackney police. The Hackney Solidarity Group was formed and the controversial “Hackney Heckler” published and distributed free throughout the borough.

In 1990 when the poll tax was introduced there had been disturbances all over the C0untry and trouble was expected the night Hackney set its poll tax. Several thousand people gathered outside the Town Hall, the police lost control and were chased up Mare Street, cop cars were overturned and rioting and looting ensued. (A lot of local people were involved in looting Radio Rentals etc.) “Outside agitators” waving black flags were blamed for the trouble…

A few weeks later there was not surprisingly a massive contingent of Hackney rent-a-mob at Trafalgar Square taking the cops on and smashing up the West End. Police raids followed and a number of Hackney Anarchos ended up in jail. Andy Murphy, a Class War member who had appeared on television, was suspended from his council job (but later reinstated). The following year the council launched a new campaign against squatting using PIOs (Protected Intended Occupier forms). Holmleigh Road estate, N16, which had for years been a hotbed of Anarchist activism including the Rock against the Rich tour, Hackney Solidarity Group etc was evicted.

Hackney has always had a number of combative anti-fascists. Activists from Hackney have been involved in confronting the fascists: in the Kings Cross area and at the annual Remembrance Day commemorations, thwarting the Hitler’s birthday celebrations at Hyde Park in 1989, closing down Nazi shops in the West End, the Battle of Waterloo Station in 1992, and at Hoxton Market, Brick Lane, in the fighting at Welling (formerly home of the BNP headquarters) in 1993 and challenging the BNP on the Isle of Dogs.

There have been numerous squatted party spaces, in warehouses, factories etc. as well as more serious centres such as at 149 Amhurst Road and the Neville Arms. Support has been given to industrial disputes, occupations and actions against cuts in services. In 1988, several libraries were occupied and kept open until they were finally evicted. In 1993, the same happened with various wards of the University College Hospital.


Hackney has a thriving cultural scene (see over!) with lots of bands, sound systems and party organisers. An estimated 30,000 people attended the last Hackney Homeless Festival in Clissold Park in 1994 despite obstructions by the council. Naturally, Hackney produced a lot of opposition to the Criminal Injustice Act with active participation in the different actions and demos culminating in the Hyde Park riot in 1994.

In 1993, the council started a vicious anti-squatting campaign in Hackney, leading to the destruction of many communities. The heavily squatted Pembury Estate, where a feeling of togetherness between tenants and squatters prevailed, became one of the first causalties.

In 1994, the council managed to evict Glading Terrace, Church Crescent and the Spikey Thing with Curves (the old Salvation Army building empty again) in Mare Street. Large numbers of former squatters also began taking up offers of council tenancies on “hard-to-let” estates (for good or for bad).

Hackney Anarcho types had been involved in direct action concerning environmental issues for years and have notably been present at the road protests, in particular the long running M11 campaign and the 1995 Reclaim the Streets actions. New centres have been squatted, the New Pigasus, 75A Mildinay Park, which lasted over a year and provided a vegan cafe, creche, video and poetry nights, circus nad meeting space etc. and the current squat cafe in Stoke Newington.

At the beginning of 1996, the former North London Magistrates Court was squatted to provide accommodation for refugees. As well as combating the government’s racist immigration measures (by means of the autonomous refugee centre ARCH), another issue that is being taken up is the proposed introduction of the Job Seekers Allowance.

Hackney Poll Tax Riot, March 1990

Did you know that Hackney had its own Poll Tax Riot, a few weeks before the Trafalgar Square one?

Early Day Motion from Diane Abbott in Parliament:

“That this House notes the urban disorder that took place in Hackney on Thursday 8th March, that at least 38 people were arrested and there was violence and looting and that the people of Hackney are united in condemning the disorder and looting; but further notes that the blame for this disorder ultimately lies with the Government and its unjust poll tax; notes that very large numbers of Hackney residents will not be able to pay this tax; and further notes that in the matter of the poll tax the people of Hackney know who the real Urban Terrorist is.”

Another view:

 

Hackney Community Defence Association published A People’s Account of the Hackney Anti-Poll Tax Demonstration on March 8th 1990. This is one of the many things I don’t have that I would like to add to the site.