For nerds like me there are a bunch of things that could be added – and it will be fascinating to see how the project develops now its been launched.
Tue 28 Feb, 18.30-19.30: Hackney History have a talk at Hackney Archives on “Serious Money and Hackney: Urban explorer Caroline Knowles explores how finance has taken up residence in Hackney & Shoreditch. What does this mean for those who live there?” (Free)
Join us at VFD for an insightful talk on the activism and human rights movements that have taken place in Hackney from the 60s onwards. We’ll hear from Richard Kirkwood who participated in many of these movements and from Kieran Kirkwood who builds upon their father’s work as an organiser for London’s Renters Union, climate activists Wretched of the Earth and saving culture movement Save Ridley Road.
We’ll talk about the link between the radical history and politics of Hackney, how that attracts queer arts communities which in turn attracts investment and gentrification which then means they are no longer welcome or can afford to live in the area.
Richard and Kieran Kirkwood Richard is a former senior lecturer of social science at London Met University is Hackney born and bred and was involved as a young man in the politics of the area and was a regular ‘space keeper ‘at Speakers Corner on Ridley Road Market in efforts to keep Nazi’s off the Corner. He was involved with many unions from the 70’s onwards as well as organising movements, groups and individuals. He is still an activist and has incredible knowledge and insights of Hackney’s history and can relate them to movements happening nationally and internationally.
Saturday 26th February 12pm/2pm: Guided Walking Tour with Queer Hackney Resident Lavinia Co-op
Come along to meet and hear from some of the women who used to live in a commune in Grosvenor Avenue, Stoke Newington.
This group famously demonstrated against the Miss World Contest in 1970 (which was watched by 100 million people worldwide).Their book, “Misbehaving”, told the fascinating true story behind the 2020 film about the protest, which starred Keira Knightley – and which was a hit with fans.
Saturday 12th March7:30pm: Hackney Downs: The School that Dared to Fight and Didn’t Deserve to Die Betty Hales and Jeff Davies, the last Head & Deputy Head of Hackney Downs School
St John’s Church Hall, next to the church opposite Matalan, High Road, Leytonstone, London E11 1HH
News From Nowhere Club was founded in 1996: “the club challenges the commercialisation and isolation of modern life and meets monthly on Saturdays.”
There is much of interest in its 2022 programme, but this forthcoming event is particularly of relevance to Hackney:
In July 1995, Hackney Downs School won a prolonged battle to stay open, against a corrupt, incompetent Local Education Authority, convincing the full council to vote against the recommendation of its own Chief Education Officer: an amazingvictory, yet just ten days laterit was taken over by the East London Education Association, a quango set up by the then failing Tory government, desperate to put the blame for all social ills on anyone but itself.
The school was closed with unseemly haste & callous cruelty to pupils, parents & staff. This is a story of loyalty and passion against injustice which set the scene for the negative blame culture of bureaucracy, target setting & over-testing that has plagued education for the past 25 years.
7.30pm Buffet (please bring an item if you can:vegetarian or vegan only.)
No entry before 7.30pm please.
8.00pm Talk and discussion till about 10pm
Leytonstone tube, exit left, two minute walk / Overground: Leytonstone High Road, turn left, ten minute walk / Buses 66, 145, 257, W13, W14, W15, W19 / Disabled access / car park in front of church / bikes can be brought in / Quiet children welcome / You can phone to confirm the talk will be as shown / Open to all; no booking, just turn up
There have naturally been some terrible takes from the usual right wing pundits about how the influence of Colin Jordan’s band of Nazis was overstated in the show and that they would never have seized power. This misses the point that neo-Nazi groups can make life miserable for ordinary people on a day to day basis – and they can shift the “overton window” of political discourse to the far right and influence mainstream parties that way.
History Workshop have produced an absolutely cracking podcast about the history and struggles of Ridley Road market:
It includes some great oral history about the fight against Oswald Mosley’s fascists, but the accounts from market traders about recent battles against regeneration are even more interesting. Interviewees include local resident Tamara Stoll, who has published a photo book on the social history of the market and was one of several people to work on the essential Rio Tape Slide Reel book.
Newington Green Meeting House has a couple of interesting things happening at the moment:
When proposals for Crossrail 2 (originally called the Chelsea to Hackney line) were first considered by Government Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and the plans were passed in front of her for approval. Her memorable (and deadly) response was reported to be: “Hackney! Hackney! – who wants to go to Hackney?”
Christian Wolmar, the celebrated railway historian and journalist, will talk about the long and tortuous battles for London’s railways.
(Online and also in person at Newington Green Meeting House – £11.25 or cheaper for Hackney Society members)
Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted sheds light on the under-explored overlap between the anarchopunk movement on the 1980s and the rave movement of the 1990s. It is extraordinarily comprehensive and there are a few references to gigs, squats raves etc in Hackney.
The new space outside the revamped Britannia Leisure Centre was named BRAFA square following extensive engagement with the local community. BRAFA was the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – a benefit single and live event inspired by Live Aid – or rather, the lack of black artists involved with Live Aid.
Hackney Museum have produced a useful film about the story of BRAFA and launch of the square:
In other Hackney reggae news, I thoroughly enjoyed the memorial event for veteran dancehall soundsystem operator Ruddy Ranks that Hackney Archives organised in October:
The evening at BSix College included the unveiling of a plaque for Ruddy, who attended school there when it was called Brooke House – as well as many memories of someone who was by all accounts a proper Hackney character. The Archives have some film of the event which I am sure they were upload in due course for people who couldn’t attend.
Hackney Slave Traders
The Museum of the Home has issued another statement about its statue honouring slave trader Robert Geffrye. Whilst this statement is an improvement on previous ones, it basically just says that the museum feels bad about the statue being there. It has been surprising to see how much praise this has generated.
I am firmly in camp Vernon on this one and would encourage people not to visit the museum until the statue is removed:
Meanwhile the Council has been quietly getting on with asking local people what they want to be done with the remnants of slave-trading – and then doing something about it. (Like most people I am hardly a fan of the council, but credit where credit is due!)
I was also pleased to see Tyssen Community School near Clapton Common (named after the slave-trading Tyssen family) was putting up some new signs to mark its renaming as Oldhill School:
Just nice things
It’s been a tough couple of years. I think we all need to be reminded that good people in the community have been doing their best to crack on and make things better with very little resources. These two films about grass roots sports in Hackney both cheered me up immensely.
Online talks relating to the radical history of Hackney I have enjoyed recently – and hope to enjoy soon…
(If I’ve missed any feel free to add a comment below…)
Earlier this week Newington Green Meeting House hosted Dan De La Motte’s superb presentation on Molly Houses – “spaces where gay and queer men, sex workers and the criminal underclass engaged in ceremonial ritual, sex parties and even spoke their own language.”
I especially enjoyed the revelation that the historical information we have on Molly Houses is thanks to the meticulous documentation by moralists of the era who were trying to close them down. Dan was fabulously entertaining (although the links with Hackney were… slightly… tenuous) but the recording is unfortunatey not online yet.
NGMH’s forthcoming events include Women and Work for International Women’s Day on 8th March (Free). Speakers include Dr Eleanor Janega on her research on the history of sex work and Professor Jane Holgate on the Fords women machinist strike in 1968 and how it led to the Equal Pay Act.
Abney Park Cemetery recently hosted a “virtual walking tour” about the Tottenham Outrage by Alan Gartrell:
It’s an action-packed tale of a 1909 botched wages heist by Latvian nihilist-anarchists leading to a police chase through North London. PC William Tyler and Ralph Joscelyne, a young boy, were both killed during the chase and are buried in Abney Park.
Details of forthcoming virtual events run by Abney Park are here, including their International Womens Day Event on March 8th on women buried in the cemetery (£6.00).
Hackney Society Trustee Wendy Forrest interviewed Alan Denney about his own photographs of Hackney in the 1970s and 1980s. (Alan has had a lot of attention recently because of his work on the Rio Tape Slide Project book, which features vintage photos of Hackney taken by others.)
There was slightly too much focus on building conservation in this for my tastes, but don’t let that put you off. The clip includes some incredible photos and Alan is a brilliant interviewee. Protest and general working class existence are covered admirably.
Unfortunately the Hackney Society doesn’t seem to have many of its previous events available online to view, but there are some stormers coming up:
March 4th: Mark Gorman: ‘Down With the Fences!’
The extraordinary growth of London in the Victorian age swallowed up huge areas of green space. Fields, commons and woods – the leisure spaces for ordinary Londoners – were built over at an unprecedented rate. Across east London, much loved and heavily used open spaces like Epping Forest and Hackney Downs were under threat, and local campaigns were started to save ‘the people’s playgrounds’. The story of these struggles usually concentrates on the actions of middle class ‘respectable’ campaigners, while the key role played by ordinary Londoners has been forgotten. This is their story.
March 25th: Sue Doe and Lucy Madison: Women from Hackney’s History
This new book from the Hackney Society, in collaboration with Hackney History, is published on 8th March, International Women’s Day. It was written and designed by Hackney women.
The book contains 113 brief illustrated biographies of women from Hackney’s history who lived or worked, were born or buried in today’s borough. Drawn from widely differing backgrounds, none of these women are still with us but their stories cover five centuries and show us how times have changed for women and for Hackney.
In this talk, Sue Doe and Lucy Madison take a few of these women, and tell their tales, showing some of the places they knew. A series of walks is being developed to explore more lives and more places.
Veteran anarchist Stuart Christie died back in August. He was probably most well known for his regrettably failed attempt to assassinate Spain’s fascist dictator Franco in 1964. But that was merely one aspect of a life dedicated to radical politics and publishing. His autobiography Granny Made Me An Anarchist is an essential read.
Stuart was also one of the people arrested in connection with the Angry Brigade bombings in the early 1970s – who became known as The Stoke Newington 8. However he did not live in Stoke Newington – he was picked up by the cops when visiting the flat at 359 Amhurst Road where several of the other defendants lived. He was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Some videos about his arrest and the trial have resurfaced after his death:
The Council website has a very boring web page about Black History Month 2020. Perseverence is rewarded by the discovery that this year’s events include a free online film screening of African and Caribbean History in Hackney on October 7th:
Join Hackney Museum for an online screening of a new film which gives an overview of African and Caribbean history in the local area. The film features stories from our collections, displays and exhibitions, creatively woven together by spoken word artist and performer, Bad Lay-Dee. Followed by a Q&A.
Local residents are being given the opportunity to vote on the name of new public square outside the new Britannia Leisure Centre and the options are… really good actually:
Bradlaugh Square – Charles Bradlaugh was an atheist and freethinkiner in the 19th Century who was prosecuted for blashphemy and (on a different occasion) for obscenity for republishing a pamphlet advocating birth control.
Humble Square – named after the Humble petition of Haggerston residents demanding votes for women in 1910.
BRAFA Square – British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – set up in 1985 as an afro-centric response to the Band Aid charity single.
McKay Square – Claude McKay was a Jamaican socialist, writer poet and activist.
Rab MacWilliam was editor of N16 Magazine which I have to say was never really to my taste (probably because it never strayed too far from Church Street). But he is by all accounts a good guy and his forthcoming book looks really interesting:
Stoke Newington has long been one of London’s most intriguing and radical areas. Boasting famous residents from Mary Wollstonecraft to Marc Bolan, it has always attracted creative types. In the 1960s and 1970s ‘Stokey’ was becoming a somewhat disreputable neighbourhood, but in recent years its appeal has led to its gentrification and the arrival of a wealthy middle class. The area’s history is a fascinating one. This book reveals, through a combination of anecdote, historical fact and cultural insight, how this often argumentative yet tolerant ‘village’ has become the increasingly fashionable and sought after Stoke Newington of today.
I mentioned Nottinghan’s Sparrows Nest Archive of anarchist material last time but hadn’t spotted that they had uploaded a PDF scan of newsletter from the Hackney Anti-Fascist Committee. I doubt it is too much of a wild leap to presume that this group was some kind of split from the main militant anti-fascist group of the day, Anti-Fascist Action.
While this blog has hibernated, others have been busy…
Rio Cinema Archiveis an Instagram feed that features scans of photographs from a community project based at the cinema in the 1980s. It’s a fantastic resource that shows Hackney in all its glorious colours and includes documentation of number of protests:
The scanning is being done by friend of this site Alan Denney and is an ongoing project – at the time of writing just under 700 photos have been posted. There is an article from the Hackney Gazette about the project here.
Tamara Stoll’s Ridley Road Marketis a lavish 248 page hardback book featuring archival and contemporary photographs.
“Ridley Road market is where the world meets. No one has captured its vibrancy and humanity better than Tamara Stoll. Her book is now the definitive record of one of the most historic and colourful street markets of London, if not the world.”
Ken Worpole, writer, social historian and Hackney resident since 1969
On a related note, Verso have published We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain by Daniel Sonabend. This is a very welcome account of the story of the Jewish ex-servicemen who fought British fascists on the streets of London after World War Two. It widens the scope of the Maurice Beckman’s seminal The 43 Group: Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism that Centerprise published in the 1990s. (Which remains essential and was the first book on the radical history of Hackney that I read).
Sonabend has done a great job of talking to other surviving members of the 43 Group who (understandably) sometimes had slightly different recollections to Beckman. There is a whole chapter of the book given over to 1947’s “The Battle of Ridley Road” in which The 43 Group (and Communist Party of Great Britain) fought physically with the fascist League of Ex-Servicemen for speaking pitches on Ridley Road over several weeks.
You can hear the author discuss the book and his research in this episode of the thoroughly recommended 12 Rules For What anti-fascist podcast:
Ken Worpole has kindly alerted me to the publication of A New World In Essex: The Rise and Fall of the Purleigh Brotherhood Colony 1896-1903 by Victor Gray:
“A story of disappointed idealism set in late-Victorian rural Essex where a group of Christian Socialists from Croydon, inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, went ‘back to the land’ to create a Utopian colony. This detailed study of an influential experiment in community living tracks their struggle to survive and the reasons for its ultimate failure.”
Ken is also interested in any information that might confirm that Kenworthy Road in Homerton is named after J.C. Kenworthy (as am I – now that I know about it!)
You can find our more about A New World In Essex – and order a copy – from Campanula Books.
Finally, I have failed to get to the Hackney’s Got Style: Celebrating the History and Impact of African and Caribbean Fashion and Hair exhibition at Hackney Museum so am relieved that it has now been extended to Saturday 21st March. Free entry, looks very cool, be rude not to:
I also have a bunch of unfinished posts sitting here that hopefully will get done… sometime.
Meet at Hackney Archives, Dalston Square, E8 3BQ. Arrive early for a prompt start at 7. Refreshments from 6:30pm, following the Friends of the Archives AGM which begins at 6.
Please book places following the link on Eventbrite.
Wayne Asher tells the story of the Ringways – a set of urban motorways planned in the 1960s and 70s, which would have made 100,000 people homeless, devastated the environment and prevented the 21st century rebirth of public transport in the capital.
What would have been the impact here in Hackney? What sort of local opposition was there?
Stella Bland takes us to 1988/89, when the East London Assessment Study proposed new roads that cut through housing, heritage buildings and green space from north to south and east to west across Hackney.
The local response was the Hackney No Through Road campaign, involving people from many different communities in our borough.
How could Hackney inspire such plans for its destruction? What did this say about our society, culture, and politics in the late 80’s?
We hope that the evening will end with a good discussion, perhaps exploring current attitudes to transport and traffic.
This is a joint event from the Hackney Society and Friends of Hackney Archives and is free to all, with donations accepted to cover cost of refreshments. Please sign up and come along.