Flashing the peace sign in Finsbury Park

blue-plaq

I have mixed feelings about blue (and other colour) plaques.

On the one hand, they are a handy resource for local historians and can highlight hidden aspects of buildings and places to passersby.

On the other hand they generally promote a point of view where history is made by individuals rather than groups, movements and so on.

Furthermore their official status tends to favour respectable (or very old) radicals. So Stoke Newington boasts a placard for peace poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld at 113 Church Street, but there isn’t one at 359 Amhurst Road, site of the infamous police raid that lead to the Stoke Newington 8 trial.

But also… most of the statues and monuments in London are for bastions of the establishment and not those fighting against it. So maybe the more modern plaques can balance things out?

Despite all that I was intrigued to see this tweet from the Council recently:

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Not least because I’d assumed that Blackstock Road was well outside the borough, but it turns out the eastern side of the street is Hackney and the western side is the badlands of Islington. Which means the site of the new plaque is the furthest Western point in Hackney:

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Who Was Gerald Holtom? And what was he doing in Hackney?

Gerald-Holtom

Gerald Holtom 1918-1985

Holtom graduated from the Royal College of Art shortly before becoming a conscientious objector during World War Two. In 1958 he was invited to design artwork for use on the first Aldermaston March, organised by the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War (DAC).

There are various conflicting stories about the artwork’s creation but most people seem to agree that Holtom actually designed the logo at his home in Twickenham (and not in Hackney as per the Council tweet above).

It was a composite of the semaphore for the letters N and D (Nuclear Disarmament):

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On the evening of 21 February 1958 Holtom presented the logo to a meeting of DAC at the offices of Peace News* at 3 Blackstock Road. The group accepted the logo and it had its first outing at the Aldermaston march on 4-7 April:

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Holtom’s logo on the first Aldermaston march, 1958.

Direct Action in Aldermaston

The four day march from Trafalgar Square to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston attracted several thousands.

It’s worth noting that DAC have been described as the “direct action wing” the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (which had also formed in 1957) with some overlap in membership. Alan Lovell describes how DAC’s work in Aldermaston did not stop with the march:

Some months after the march, the Committee returned to Aldermaston for an eight-week picket. The aim of the picket was to make people in the area aware of what was happening at the Aldermaston establishment, to get trade unions to black work on the establishment, and to get individual workers to leave the place.

During the eight weeks, the Committee visited trade unions, distributed leaflets and held factory gate meetings, and canvassed in the surrounding villages. As a result of these activities, five people have actually stopped work at Aldermaston ; three men who were going to apply for work at the base changed their minds ; and five lorry drivers said that they would not drive any more loads to the base.

The pickets were well received by the workers — when a new leaflet was produced the workers often stopped to ask for a copy.

DAC wound up in 1961, with most of its members getting involved with the larger Committee of 100. CND took over the organisation of the Aldermaston marches from 1959. Both of these organisations also adopted Holtom’s logo, which is now globally recognised as a symbol of peace and nuclear disarmament.

The first clip below shows some of Holtom’s original artwork and includes an interview with his daughter, Anna Scott:

The plaque in place

The campaign to get a plaque on Blackstock Road originates with this very readable article by Guardian journalist Ian Jack in 2015:

He gave his unforgettable work for nothing. Shouldn’t the designer of the peace symbol be commemorated?

As it says, the logo has proliferated so much because Holtom did not wish it to be trademarked or copyrighted.

I wasn’t able to make the plaque unveiling last weekend due to a hangover and the fact that it was absolutely pissing it down with rain. It is worth having a look for if you are passing, but you will need better eyesight than me if you want to actually read it…

NB: There is a load of guff on the internet about the symbol being anti-christian or satanic because it is supposedly either an upside down broken cross or an inverted Algiz rune, which symbolises death. As it says above, Holtom combined the semaphore letters N and D to create the logo. In a number of (non-bonkers) accounts he is described as being a Christian himself, and had originally considered using the christian cross as part of the logo (presumably the right way up!).

*Peace News was based at Blackstock Road from 1948 to 1958. It shared premises with Housmans Books which was then primarily a mailorder operation. In 1959 both organisations moved to 5 Caledonian Road where the excellent (and fully endorsed by me) Housmans Bookshop is still based today.

Enoch Powell in Dalston

Enoch Powell’s infamous racist “rivers of blood” speech was delivered in Birmingham in 1968.

Despite, or perhaps because of this, he was President of Hackney South and Shoreditch Conservative Association in 1973. It seems like the presidential position was elected, so he was clearly popular with Hackney’s Torys at the time (if not with the party leadership).

The borough’s Torys invited Powell to deliver a speech in 1976 – even though he had left the Conservatives to join the Ulster Unionists two years previously:

powell

Powell would later inspire the “Enoch Powell is Right” Party – a split from the National Front which stood in Hackney Council elections in 1981.

Hackney Fascists: “Enoch Powell Is Right” Party – 1981

The National Front and its several disputatious progeny fought a minimal election campaign in the May 1981 County Council and Greater London Council elections […]

A further [NF] splinter group labeling itself “Enoch Powell Is Right” fought the three seats of the Borough of Hackney and also Stepney and Poplar. At least two of these four candidates had fought seats for the NF in the 1977 GLC and 1978 borough elections […]

The four “Enoch Powell Is Right” candidates averaged 2.6% [of the vote].

from: Racial Exclusionism and the City: The Urban Support of the National Front
by Christopher T. Husbands (Routledge, 1983)

You can see from the results below that the Enoch Powell Is Right (EPR) candidates actually stood against the National Front (NF) ones, splitting the fascist vote cleanly in two:

EPR

Robin May went on to form the British National Party with John Tyndal in 1982.

Enoch Powell himself was intimate with Hackney Conservatives in the 1970s.

See also: The National Front’s Hackney HQ

Hackney number one for squatters, says Parliament (1993)

This is from Hansard, December 17th 1993:

Mr. Pike To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the cost to local authorities of dealing with squatters in the last 12 months for which figures are available.

Mr. Maclean I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that this information is not recorded centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Mr. Pike To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimates he has as to the number of squatters there are currently in England; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean The nature of squatting makes it impossible to assess the number of squatters with any degree of accuracy, but estimates as to the total number of people squatting in England and Wales generally range between 30,000 and 50,000. More precise information is, however, available about the number of local authority dwellings under unauthorised occupation: on 1 April 1993 there were 2,963 local authority dwellings so occupied, of which 88 per cent. were in inner London: Hackney—1,152; Lambeth—327; Tower Hamlets—232; Camden—153; and Islington—135—being among the areas worst affected.

David Maclean is a Tory who campaigned vigorously for fox hunting, and against the Freedom of Information Act applying to Parliament. Oh, and for keeping MP’s expenses secret, which would have meant we never knew about his tax-payer funded flat screen TV and quad bike). He stepped down as an MP in 2010 and was made a life peer shortly afterwards.

Peter Pike was the Labour MP for Burnley from 1983-2005. It’s unclear what he had against squatters, but I’ve not been able to find any expenses scandal linked to him.

Another source estimated a total of 3,500 squatted properties in Hackney in the late 80s / early 90s. (i.e including council property and other types).

It’s probably worth pointing out that the high point of squatting in Hackney would have been the mid 1980s. Any more statistics welcome.

ITN: raw footage of Hackney poll tax protest

Woo! Check this out

http://www.itnsource.com/en/shotlist/ITN/1990/03/08/CR0803900002/

It’s not possible to embed the films on the ITNsource site, but I have taken some screenshots. This is a 73 minutes of unedited footage of anti poll tax protests outside English Town Halls in March 1990.

The last half an hour is all from the Hackney protest. It includes the police setting up as well as a lot of pushing, shoving and chanting during the protest itself. There are arrests and de-arrests. Paddy Ashdown is called a wanker during an interview – and a more reasonable protestor remonstrates with him about police violence.

There are also shots of the much missed Samuel Pepys pub and the Narrow Way etc as you haven’t seen them for some time…

It’s not brilliant quality but it is still an amazing thing to see.

Below is the index text from the ITN site (with some TV jargon included) – you can scroll through the footage to get to the timings indicated:

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41.13 Bus full of police along; police load crowd control barriers into van; bus carrying police along past Town Hall; police off bus; another bus full of police along; police carrying barriers along road; man along road with placard; pile of anti poll tax placards on pavement; large group of police along pavement;

44.02 GV Town Hall; police outside Town Hall; boarded up windows; policemen on roof; CS ‘London Borough of Hackney’ logo PULL OUT to boarded up windows of Housing Office; security officers at entrance door to Town Hall; man enters Town Hall after showing police ID card; line of police outside Town Hall; NIGHT/EXT

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46.19 Demers with placards outside Town Hall; demers chanting; Green Party anti poll tax banner; demers chanting; police standing on steps of town hall facing chanting crowds; crowds trying to push past police as anger builds and chants of ‘Maggie Thatcher’s Boot Boys’ become louder; crowd surge forward trying to push past police; two policemen discussing tactics; crowds throwing missiles at police as scuffles begin; police making arrests;

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54.05 Intvw Paddy Ashdown outside Town Hall; young man begins to argue with Ashdown;

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56.27 GV crowd outside Town Hall ZOOM IN to police in midst of crowds as scuffles occur; police making arrests; fight breaks out as police and crowds clash; missiles thrown at police; man appears on balcony to cheers from crowds below; man on balcony unfurls flag ‘Pay No Poll Tax’ and waves it to crowds below;

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63.10 Crowd throwing missiles at police, police pursue offenders; ambulance along road; police retreating as mass crowds throw missiles and placards at them; police rush towards crowds who speedily retreat; police make arrests;

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66.12 GV police under seige at entrance to Town Hall; scuffle breaks out (good clear shots) and police make arrests; injured man with blood on forehead helped by crowds; blood spattered on ground; police making arrests;

68.21 CS poster advertising “People First Rally” with Paddy Ashdown as main speaker;

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68.32 Arrested man led away by police; CS broken window of Town Hall; INT: officials inside Town Hall; intvw Paddy Ashdown inside Town Hall as shouts of “We Wont Pay the Poll Tax” heard in b/g; EXT/NIGHT

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70.40 Injured man on stretcher lifted into ambulance; crowds cheer as ambulance away; police making arrests; crowds dispersing as demo ends; VS EXT Woolworths and pavement outside strewn with broken glass; EXT McDonalds with smashed windows; EXT Midland Bank and broken windows; man sweeping up glass; CONDENSED RUSHES CR2128

ENDS:74.24

November 1990: Hackney leads poll tax non-payment league

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After the riots, Hackney was the number one borough for non-payment of the Poll Tax too.

An article in the Guardian on 1st of November 1990 stated:

The latest survey by the Guardian shows almost half of eligible residents in Hackney have not paid the poll tax.

The east London borough of Hackney has replaced Liverpool as the bastion of non-payment in the Guardian’s latest monthly survey of the community charge in 20 local authorities.

Forty-four per cent of residents liable for the poll tax have so far paid nothing, compared with 42 per cent in Liverpool.

But Hackney has managed to obtain more revenue than Liverpool, which has pulled in only 30 per cent of the money it ought to have received by now, and is heading for severe financial problems.

Hackney has reached 55 per cent of the target.

This is partly because Liverpool, after political and printing delays and an industrial dispute in the poll tax department, has only just started to issue 93,000 final notices to non-payers and has not yet started taking people to court.

Hackney, however, has obtained more than 4,000 liability notices from magistrates, and has already asked bailiffs to take action in 2,000 cases. Some other Labour authorities, by contrast, are using bailiffs as a last resort, or not at all. […]

Poll Tax

A proud legacy!

People burning their bills, Clissold Park

People burning their bills, Clissold Park

HCDA on the Hackney poll tax riot, 1990

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I’ve now added this document in a more readable format to the Hackney Community Defence Association section of the site:

A peoples’ account of the Hackney anti-poll tax demonstration on March 8th 1990.

Lots of eye-witness accounts of conflict with the police outside the town hall, shops being vandalised on the Narroway and even an attack on Hackney police station. With guest appearances by Paddy Ashdown and Glenys Kinnock.

(Not to mention the usual sterling work by HCDA in assisting people who were falsely arrested and fitted up).