Kick Over The Statues: Slavery and Hackney campaign

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, but recent events have reinforced the need to. (My usual caveats apply even more – I am not an expert, I am still learning, doing this is part of my process of learning. Comments and criticisms are welcome.)

There are decades where nothing happens;
and there are weeks where decades happen

The headlines are in this superb two minute plea to the Council by Toyin Agbetu from Pan African, human-rights centred organisation Ligali:

Don’t read anything below until you have watched that.

I support this campaign and appreciate the conversations about the legacy of slavery in the borough that it will deepen.

The day after this video was uploaded, Hackney Council announced its review into landmarks and public spaces. The Council followed this up with a further announcement of a listening exercise on future of the Sir Robert Geffrye statue in the grounds of the Museum of the Home. As noted on the museum’s website, Geffrye made his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company. (The museum changed its name last year from the Geffrye Museum of the Home.)

Also this week, a sign bearing former Hackney resident John Cass’ name was removed from student accomodation Sir John Cass Hall on Well Street E9.

Elsewhere in London this week:

Finding out more about Hackney’s connections with slavery

The abolitionists buried in Abney Park Cemetery and other Hackney residents who campaigned against slavery are well documented (although not by me, yet!). But as singer Dennis Brown put it: `”what about the half that’s never been told?”

As we will see, Hackney significant numbers of residents who profited from slavery alongside those who actively campaigned against it.

Some excellent work has been done on this already by Hackney Museum and Hackney Archives (on whose coat-tails I trail – and not for the first time). Local Roots / Global Routes is a great portal with a number of articles and teaching resources.

Martha Rose McAlpine’s 15 minute film is an excellent primer on English colonialism, African slavery, its legacy and how this applies to Hackney:

Kate Donnington’s article The Slave-Owners of Hackney: Re-thinking Local Histories of Abolition and Slavery is recommended. She has expanded on this in a chapter of the book Britain’s History and Memory of Transatlantic Slavery: Local Nuances of a ‘National Sin’ (Liverpool University Press 2016) – some of this can be read via Google Books. Otherwise it’s £85, so order it from a library when that is possible again. (Update – Katie has been in touch to say that the draft chapter can be read for free here.)

Madge Dresser’s – Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London (History Workshop Journal, Volume 64, Issue 1, Autumn 2007) is very topical but not Hackney specific. It includes useful summary of London’s slavery-related statues.

Radical History + Ropes = Splash

Bristol leads the way

Sometimes this site can seem a bit esoteric or nostalgic. I think the real value in radical history is in inspiring people to act and to show the links between the past and the present. Until last weekend the suggestion that we should get rid of memorials to slave traders was an impossible fringe idea held by a few long term dedicated law abiding campaigners.

But then the people of Bristol took matters into their own hands and dumped a statue of Edward Colston in the river. And now it all seems like common sense. Suddenly loads of people are thinking about the legacy of colonialism and slavery – and what history is. It’s notable that Bristol has a very active radical history group which has campaigned about Colston’s presence for many years as well as documenting WW1 conscientious objectors and building a memorial for inmates of Eastville Workhouse.

Of course, some of my more cynical comrades will argue that the removal of statues and other memorials is window dressing, a token effort that does nothing to really address the enduring legacies of colonialism, slavery and the racist ideology that underpinned them. I would argue back that starting with the simple stuff, the low hanging fruit, is a necessary step to get to the other issues. Or at least it will have to do in the absence of a more militant revolutionary alternative. The conversations we have about this are just as important as the physical removal of the items from the public realm.

Hackney Council’s “review of statues, buildings and public spaces named after slave & plantation owners” is a great initiative. But as events at Bristol have shown us, people will not wait forever…

Three Slave-Owners still memorialised in Hackney

This is starting point that summarises what I’ve been able to find out so far (something that has only been possible because of work done by many others). Its focus is on people connected to Hackney who profited significantly from the slave trade and who still have tributes in public spaces here as of June 2020. There may be more.

Sir John Cass (1661-1718)

Soon to be removed statue of John Cass on Jewry Street from London Remembers

John Cass was also a City Alderman, but in the Tory interest. Though never Lord Mayor, Cass served as Sheriff then as Member of Parliament for the City of London and became a Knight of the Realm. He too was involved in the slave-trade, being a member of the Royal African Company’s Court of Assistants from 1705 to 1708. The Company records show him (then ‘Colonel John Cass of Hackney’) to have been on their ‘committee of correspondence’ which directly dealt with slave-agents in the African forts and in the Caribbean. We know too that Cass retained shares in the Royal African Company until his death. Cass […] also seems to have been linked by family and friends to colonial plantation interests, in his case to Virginia.

Madge Dresser

Cass lived in Grove Road, South Hackney – which looks to now be the north end of Lauriston Road E9. His legacy in the borough includes:

  • Cassland Road (runs between Well Street and Wick Road)
  • Cassland Crescent E9
  • Cassland Road Gardens (a park in E9)
  • Sir John Cass Hall (student accomodaton E9 – sign removed June 2020)

The Tyssen family and William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney (1835 – 1909)

The Baron

According to Wikipedia “Tyssen-Amherst is chiefly remembered as a collector of books, manuscripts, antique furniture and other works of art. He became famous for his Egyptian collection.” Which sounds lovely, but the shine wears off when you find out where the family wealth came from. (Also rich Europeans “collecting” things from Egypt is a whole other colonial story…)

The family seems to have a weird fetish for naming all their male children the same names, which makes things slightly confusing. (Perhaps this was a commonplace posh person thing then?) Of particular interest are:

Francis Tyssen the elder (1624 – 1699). “Came to England from Flushing in Holland in the 1640s and settled in London. He owned plantations in Antigua in the West Indies, from leasing which he accumulated sufficient capital to purchase the Shacklewell estate at Hackney in 1685.” (source)

Francis Tyssen the younger (1653 – 1710). Wealthy London merchant, owned property in Hackney, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Stepney, Whitechapel, Essex and Huntingdonshire. Also owner of Bridges plantation in Angitua, inherited from his father Francis the elder. From his will, it does not appear that the Antiguan property was his principal asset.

Samuel Tyssen the elder (1698 – 1749). Younger son of Francis Tyssen the younger and his second wife Mary nee Western. Inherited Bridges plantation in Antigua and property in Huntingdonshire under the will of his father.

The wealth that the family accumulated from slavery was put to good use. William George Daniel-Tyssen (d. 1838) was the parish of Hackney’s largest landowner in 1831.

The Tyssen famly lived at The Old Manor House, Shacklewell, which was Hackney’s largest dwelling in 1672. Not satisfied with this, they purchased the New Mermaid Tavern on Church Street (now Mare Street) and demolished it so that their new house coud be built there in 1845. Whilst this is hardly the worst of their crimes, I would argue that buying up a pefectly decent pub and turning it into your family home is the mark of a scoundrel. The plaque above currently nestles between Shoe Zone and Admiral Casino on the Narrow Way, so the building has at least returned to more proletarian purposes, whatever we might think of them.

Many of the family are buried at the nearby Church of St John at Hackney.

It looks like William’s eldest son (also called William, what is it with these people?) became William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney in 1892. (I’m not 100% on this because the genealogy of noblemen is not my forte especially when they all have the same forenames).

According to the extremely comprehensive entry on the Tyssens at the Landed Families of Britain and Ireland blog “The family remain the lords of the manor of the three Hackney manors, although most of their estate there has now been sold off.”

The Tyssen family is memorialised in Hackney to this day by the following:

  • Tyssen Street E8
  • Tyssen Road N16
  • Tyssen Community Primary School, Oldhill Street N16

Perhaps Amhurst Road, Amhurst Park and Amhurst Terrace could also be named after The Baron?

Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1703)

Statue of Robert Geffrye at the Museum of the Home

As noted above Geffrye made his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company. He did not live in Hackney, instead spending much of his life at Lime Street in the City.

His relationship with Hackney began when he died in 1703:

The residue of his estate was to be devoted to the erection of almshouses in or near London. The company accordingly purchased a piece of ground in Kingsland Road, on which they built fourteen almshouses and a chapel, and appointed rules for their government on 17 Nov. 1715 (Nicholl, pp. 569–73). There are now forty-two pensioners, each of whom receives 12/. per annum. In the foreground of the building is a statue of Geffrey, executed for the Ironmongers’ Company in 1723 by John Nost, and […] in 1878, Geffrey’s remains and those of his wife were re-interred in the burial-ground attached to the almshouses (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 57).

Charles Welch – Geffrey, Robert in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21

His statue in the grounds of the Museum of the Home is under review. But nearby you also have:

  • The Geffrye Almshouses (in which the museum is hosted)
  • Geffrye Street N1
  • The Geffrye Estate (owned by Hackney Housing)
  • Geffrye Court (a block on the estate)
  • Geffrye Court (also a street name)

And the rest

The Boddington family – Boddington & Co

The Boddingtons were a powerful merchant and planter family whose involvement in the slavery business spanned three generations. Benjamin Boddington (1730-1791) and his brother Thomas Boddington (c.1735-1821) were West India merchants. Both men were involved with the South Sea Company and Benjamin was a Director. The Company won the right to something called the Asiento following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This gave the company the sole right to sell enslaved Africans to the Spanish.

Samuel and Thomas the younger were eventually awarded £39,712 in compensation for 2100 enslaved people in Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Vincent and Jamaica. Some of their plantations were owned by the family because they had lent money to their business contacts in the Caribbean and when those people couldn’t pay them back they took their property as a forfeit for the loan. In this sense their ‘property’ could include both enslaved people as well as the plantation.

In 1766 the senior Boddingtons were residing in Hackney; Benjamin was living in Clapton and Thomas in Upper Homerton.

Hackney, Sugar and Slavery: Teachers Resource – Local Roots / Global Routes

The Boddingtons were also a Dissenting family which suggests that religious radicalism did not always go hand in hand with abolitionist beliefs.

When slavery was abolished in parts of the Briitsh Empire in 1833, it was the slave owners who were compensated by the government for the loss of their “property”. The total sum given to them was £20 million, which was 40% of the national budget, equivalent to some £300 billion today. The British tax payer helped to pay back the loan required for this – a debt that was only settled in 2015.

These payments have left a paper trail, which has been used to create the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership database at University College London.

Entering keywords Clapton, Dalston, Hackney, Hoxton, Shacklewell, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington into the database gives results for a total of 43 recipients of compensation (including those listed above). So there is more work to do on this…

Hackney Gutter Press issue 4, Summer 1972

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(the yellow and red contrast on the cover didn’t scan at all well, so here is a photo)

Update January 2020: you can now view this issue (and others) as a complete PDF at the Sparrows Nest Archive.

Who Killed Aseta Simms?

Readers of the Gutter Press No. 2 will have seen the article on Stephen McCarthy who died at the hands of the Upper Street Police in Islington. They may not be aware that there are also a number of murderers in blue uniforms wandering freely round the streets of Hackney.

On 13th May 1971 a black woman, Mrs Aseta Simms of 47 Brighton Road, Stoke Newington was taken to Stoke Newington police station. She never came out alive.

This is what her cousin Faye remembers of the incident:

“I was with Aseta most of the day and till the time she left me she was perfectly healthy and normal. Mrs Simms was the landlady of Brighton Road and I went with her to a rent tribunal in Archway in the afternoon. She had been taken to the tribunal by Mrs Archer, the tenant upstairs – they never had very good relations.

“After that we went to my home. We didn’t have anything to drink but when Aseta left about 9:00pm she took with her a bottle of whiskey three quarters full which she’d bought the previous day. She went home to look after her kids..

“The next thing I heard about my cousin was about 2 o’clock in the morning when two policemen knocked on my door. They asked me a lot of questions about Aseta – how many kids? Who was looking after them? Where was her husband? But they wouldn’t tell me why they were asking. They said I had to come to the police station. They told me she was dead. The sergeant said they’d found her lying on the pavement near Stamford Hill. P.C King said she couldn’t sit up or stand up on her own and she had to lie down in the police station. He also said she was struggling and fighting and screaming. How could she do that if she was nearly unconscious? I have never seen Aseta drunk.”

Inquest Whitewash

AT THE INQUEST
Mrs Archer, the tenant who had taken Mrs Simms to the rent tribunal and had been given a week to get out said she had seen Mrs Simms very drunk earlier in the evening. Mrs Archer who admitted “Mrs Simms and I never did get on”, was taken to and from the coroners court in a police car.

PIG SWILL

G. 196 P.C. King testifies:
“I saw a coloured woman lying on a forecourt in Manor Road N16. I went to pick her up; she became terribly violent, grabbed my belt and began twisting it. After a struggle we got her into the van. We lifted her into the van and laid her out onto the floor. I then held her, both her wrists and P.C. 277 held her ankles.

AT THE STATION
“She was not capable of standing, her knees were badly bruised. I didn’t see any bruising over her eyes; come to think of it, I did see bruising over her head. We then put her on the floor in the cell. She was calm and snoring quite loudly. While in there the snoring began to diminish, I thought she was asleep.”
Where did all the bruises come from?

Pig G. 277
“She was lying between cars and swearing, she appeared to be drunk even from a distance… Two hours later I went back to where we had picked her up and found a whiskey bottle leaning against a wall with some whiskey in it.”The pig says there was some whiskey left in the bottle therefore Mrs Simms drank less than three quarters of a bottle.

Sergeants 6.81 and 6.78 duly testified that they saw her struggling and shouting when taken into the van and into the police station, where she suddenly became semi-conscious presumably as a result of usual police pacifying tactics. As 6.78 says when they got her into the cell “Mrs Simms was incapable of doing anything – I returned later and saw G196 sitting outside on the stairs with head in hands and he told me that Mrs Simms had stopped breathing.”

Police Doctor

“There was swelling above the right eye and bruising below. There was deep bruising over her head but no fracture, but the brain was swollen. There was alcohol in the blood stream. It is arguable that some people might die with this level of alcohol in the blood stream but we have had people with much higher levels who are still alive today. The bruising was consistent with someone falling about or with someone who had been beaten. I cannot truthfully say what was the cause of her death.”
If she didn’t die from alcohol presumably it was from a beating.

The coroner, Douglas Chambers said “The Home Office says that the coroner has a choice to sit or not sit with the jury in special circumstances. There are special circumstances in this hearing, therefore under the Home Office rules for coroner’s courts, I shall sit with the jury.”

What the special circumstances were he didn’t say but they were presumably that the police might have been accused of murder. The verdict of the judge and the jury was Death by Misadventure. What WAS the coroner doing by going with the jury?

As far as we know the pigs involved with the death of Aseta Simms, G.196.G, G227, G.81 and G.78, are still wandering round Stoke Newington. They’ve probably been promoted.

Why no Inquiry?

Mrs Simms family and friends and the Black Unity and Freedom Party have been trying to get a public inquiry into the affair for over a year without success. It seems that the verdict of Death by Misadventure was true in a way. The pigs probably didn’t intend to kill Mrs Simms. It seems like the usual form of police harassment of black people and any others they don’t like. Black people, young people, longhaired people, are regularly stopped by the pigs at night, questioned, abused, pushed around, and if there is any reaction dragged into a van to be charged with assaulting the police or some such crap. On the way the pigs pass the time bashing them around. With Mrs Simms they made a mistake. She died. Remember Oluwale in Leeds?

[the Black Unity and Freedom Party published a pamphlet entitled “Who Killed Aseta Simms” which is available elsewhere on this site]

Also in this issue:

Dockers Still Picketing Hackney Depot – more on the picket of Midland Cold Storage co, Waterden Lane.

Islington Squatters, the story so far (cartoon)

Hackney Squatters Union Demands Free Housing For All“…Houses are money. With house prices rising 40% a year, the bosses are investing their ill-gained loot in property. Whether there are tenants or not is not really important. Either way they make money.

We are occupying an increasingly large number of empty homes in Hackney and are rebuilding them in the way we want. Our only chance of winning is when there are so many of us that it is physically impossible to remove us. If you are sick of paying high rents for poky little rooms. If they won’t even give you a poky little room. THEN COME AND JOIN US.

We are going to stand by each other and help each other in more ways than one. We plan to have play groups for our kids, food co-ops, transport available to us all and to share skills like knowledge of electrics, plumbing etc.

We are not a social service and we don’t plan to solve Hackney Borough Council’s housing policy for them. We are taking back what is rightfully ours. We are a union and we will help each other…”

[includes five contact addresses at the end – four in E8 and one in N1]

Hackney Gay Liberation Front:

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[click the image to enlarge]

Campaigning against the Rents Bill:

4rent

Mad McElligott Gives In – more on Hackney Claimants Union members occupying Lower Clapton dole office as part of a campaign to get an old man a payment for slippers and a dressing gown so he could go into hospital. Two female HCU members were charged with threatening behaviour (knocking on the dole office door after they were removed) and assault. They both defended themselves in court in front of Magistrate McElligott. Laughter in the gallery and blustering from the police lawyers. One case dismissed, one adjourned.

The Best Form of Defence is Attack – on representing yourself in court, what to do when arrested, etc.

And: poems, classified ads, letters, brief news item about social security snoopers spying on women to see if they have boyfriends (so that their dole can be cut off!)

Hackney Gutter Press issue 3, June 1972

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Update January 2020: a full PDF of this issue can be viewed here.

Issue 3 included a cover story about some Irish republicans being arrested in Hackney, extradited to Belfast for interrogation and then returned to London where they were charged with possession of arms and ammunition. After the four had been in prison on remand for eight months, the charges were dropped as it turned out they had been fitted up by a special branch spy cop.

Also:

A one page article on the the beginning of the trial of the Stoke Newington 8. Apparently there were 137 other “Angry Brigade” suspects.

A report back from a meeting of “between two and three hundred women… at the London College of Furniture in Commercial Street in Stepney”. Topics included wages for housework, campaigns to get better wages for cleaners, abortion, contraception, housing struggles.

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“If he dies it will save us the expense” – apparently the words used by social security staff in response to a campaign to get a 74 year old man some essentials like a dressing gown in readiness for a hospital visit. You can read the full text of the article above.

Kick The Bastards Out – on dole snoopers.

Black Tenants Fight Back – on racist attacks against black families on Haggerston Estate, and a call for white tenants to show solidarity.

Squatting:

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The Story of One Man’s House“Hackney, it seems, has become the centre of interest for the mobile middle class. As everyone who has walked along the streets of the area in the last few months is aware, houses in Hackney have become the latest in fashion. The news has even got as far as the pages of the ‘Sunday Times’ who ran a story in the Magazine several weeks ago in which Stoke Newington, Hackney and Dalston were named as areas that are likely to become fashionable in the next few years. This is even more amazing in that the area has not got a single tube line going through the area, and if the GLC and British Rail have their way there will be one more motorway and one less rail line. The area is however beside the fashionable Islington and it is in direct line between the West End and the proposed new airport.”

The article goes to relate the story of someone trying to purchase a house on their road for £3,400 but getting gazumped by a developer who gives it a lick of paint and puts it back on the market for £13,000. Google says the same house is currently valued at £600,000…

Dockers and Containers – on the dockers’ strike and continuing picket of the Midland Cold Storage co, Waterden Lane (Hackney Wick, now slap bang in the Olympic Park).

Also poems, details of folk clubs, letters (including one of the Grosvenor Avenue arrestees referred to in the previous issue, who got a one year suspended sentence), small ads, an appeal for more people to get involved with laying out and distributing the paper.

A Radical History of Hackney Parks

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“The Park is called the People’s Park
And all the walks are theirs
And strolling through the flowery paths
They breathe exotic airs,
South Kensington, let it remain
Among the Upper Ten.
East London, with useful things,
Be left with working men.

The rich should ponder on the fact
Tis labour has built it up
A mountain of prodigious wealth
And filled the golden cup.
And surely workers who have toiled
Are worthy to behold
Some portion of the treasures won
And ribs of shining gold.”

An ode to Victoria Park, 1872
(from Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park)

The text below was originally published as a pamphlet, bashed out for the Radical History Network meeting on “Community Empowerment and Open Green Spaces”, July 10th 2013. (I have a couple of the pamphlets left – drop me an email if you want one.)

It’s full of holes, a work in progress. Get in touch with additions, criticisms, comments.

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1275 The area that is now London Fields was recorded as common pastureland adjoining Cambridge Heath. In 1540 the name London Field is found recorded as a separate item consisting of around 100 acres in changing ownership of land. London Field was one of the many “commonable lands” of Hackney where the commoners of the parish could graze their livestock on the fields from Lammas Day (Anglo Saxon for bread mass), August 1st, celebrating the first loaf after the crops had been harvested, to Lady Day, March 25th. This arrangement was known as Lammas Rights and was protected by law. (from here)

1700s In the Marshes towards Hackney Wick were low public houses, the haunt of highwaymen. Dick Turpin was a constant guest at the “White House” or “Tyler’s Ferry” and few police-officers were bold enough to approach the spot.

1750 onwards Clissold House (originally named Paradise House) was built, in the latter half of the 18th century, for Jonathan Hoare, a City merchant, Quaker, philanthropist and anti-slavery campaigner. (His brother Samuel was one of the founders of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.). The grounds of the house went on to become Clissold Park.

1793 Big open-air demonstration on Hackney Downs, in support of the revolutionary gains in France. The tutors Richard Price, Joseph Priestley and Gilbert Wakefield organised lectures on the French Revolution at the New College, a non-conformist academy (“by-word for revolutionary opinion”) at Lower Clapton.

1840 Abney Park Cemetery opens as the first fully non-denominational burial ground in Europe (where anyone could be buried, but especially non-conformists, dissenters etc). Many anti-slavery campaigners are buried there.

1845 Victoria Park is opened following a petition by 30,000 local people to Queen Victoria. “There was no bathing pool provided and local youths were in the habit of bathing – naked! – in the adjacent Regent’s Canal.  Attempts to police such shocking behaviour were unavailing and within a few years a pool was provided in the park itself.” – Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park

1848 Chartists meet at Bonners Park (near Victoria Park) to march on Parliament.

1860s Hackney Downs open space (originally common land) preserved as parkland as a result of pressure by the Commons Preservation Society.

1866 Widespread pickets and demonstrations for universal male suffrage as advocated by the Reform League during summer. After disorder at Hyde Park the Tory government banned all protest meetings throughout London. The ban was widely ignored; a huge “illegal” rally took place in Victoria Park.

1872 180 acres in Hackney are preserved as public open space and protected from the encroachment of development. Including Clapton Common and Cockhanger Green (now boringly called Stoke Newington Common).

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In the 1880s the grounds of Clissold House and the adjacent Newington Common were threatened with development, and two prominent campaigners, Joseph Beck of The City of London and John Runtz of The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) persuaded the Board of MBW to buy the land and create a public park. (from Clissold Park User Group, as was the image above)

1885 William Morris speaks at Victoria Park:

The political culture of the day was not simply confined to the clubs and indoor meeting places. The open-air meeting, whether in the park, or on the street corner, remained the principal forum for addressing the uninitiated, convincing the unconvinced, spreading the word. William Morris was one of the mast well known public speakers for socialism of the period, and visited Hackney often. There is a fine portrait of him speaking to a crowd in Victoria Park in 1885 in Tom Mann’s Memoirs:

He was a picture on an open air platform. The day was fine, the branches of the tree under which he was speaking spread far over the speaker. Getting him well in view, the thought came, and has always recurred as I think of that first sight of Morris – “Bluff King Hal”. I did not give careful attention to what he was saying, for I was chiefly concerned to get the picture of him in my mind, and then to watch the faces of the audience to see how they were impressed…. Nine-tenths were giving careful attention, but on the fringe of the crowd were some who had just accidentally arrived, being out for a walk, and having unwittingly come upon the meeting. These stragglers were making such remarks as: ‘Oh, this is the share-and-share-alike crowd’; ‘Poverty, eh, he looks all right, don’t he?’ But the audience were not to be distracted by attempts at ribaldry: and as Morris stepped off the improvised platform, they gave a fine hearty hand-clapping which showed real appreciation.

(From Hackney Propaganda: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900)

1887 Free speech demo in Victoria Park in March.

1889 Clissold Park was opened by the newly formed London County Council (LCC). The two ponds in the park are named the Beckmere and the Runtzmere in honour of the two principal founders.

1926 Victoria Park is the site for some enthusiastic speeches in support of the General Strike. The park is closed briefly to the public during the strike when the army is stationed there – for reasons which seem to be unclear.

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1930s Hackney Red Radio (a branch of the Workers Theatre Movement) perform agit prop and pro-working class skits and plays. The group performs in parks, streets etc, including London Fields, where they are pelted with over-ripe tomatoes by an unappreciative audience on one occasion.

“We are Red Radio,
Workers’ Red Radio,
We Show you how you’re robbed and bled;
The old world’s crashing,
Let’s help to smash it
And build a workers’ world instead.”

1936 British Union of Fascists holds regular rallies in Victoria Park including clashes with anti-fascists. Also a large anti-fascist meeting in July organised by the Trades Councils of North and East London: “A mile long procession headed by a brass band culminated in a large public meeting which declared its unalterable opposition to fascism and to the war which it would inevitably lead.” Fascists attempt to march through East London in October for another Victoria Park rally, but are prevented from doing so by anti-fascists: The Battle of Cable Street. They did not pass.

1939 Trenches are dug in Hackney Downs, Victoria Park and other open spaces at the outset of the 2nd World War.

(There is a bit of gap here! Can you help fill it? What happened between the 1930s and the 1970s?)

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1978 80,000 attend huge Anti-Nazi League concert in Victoria Park (apparently the stage was in Hackney but the audience was in Tower Hamlets!).

1980s Three GLC-organised festivals in Victoria Park. Two are themed around peace / against nuclear weapons – including one on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 1983.

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1981 Funk The Wedding concert takes place in Clissold Park on the day of the marriage of Charles and Di. (from History Is Made At Night, as is the image above)

1983 Clissold Park Free Festival, August?! (mentioned here, any further info welcome)

1990s The demolition of London Fields Lido is resisted by the people of Hackney, including standing in front of the bulldozers. Local people led campaigns to reopen the Lido and cleared away vegetation. The children’s paddling pool which was closed in 1999, was reopened by local people for summer seasons. In 1998 the Lido was squatted for housing, a café and communal events. In August 1998 there was the Carnival of the Dispossessed, a benefit for Reclaim The Streets. The Lido was squatted for a second time 2002-2005. (From Past Tense)

1990 Hackney residents burn Poll Tax bills in Clissold Park.

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1991 Anti-Fascist Action sponsor Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs:

“AFA had surprised everyone by organising the biggest anti-fascist event for over a decade, drawing 10,000 people to the Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs. Supported by a wide range of organisations, from the Hackney Joint Shop Stewards Committee, to the Fire Brigade Union, the Carnival programme again drew attention to rising levels of race attacks and urged people to become pro-active: ‘We have organised today’s event to draw attention to the growing number of racist attacks especially in east London. The fact that some sections of the community virtually live under siege is unacceptable and we hope you are prepared to do more than just come to this symbolic show of unity. Support the activities on the back of this programme to get organised and do something to stop racist attacks.'”

Sean Birchall – Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (Freedom, 2010) p250

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1994 Hackney Homeless Festival, Clissold Park – 30,000 people. Clashes with police afterwards. (image by Jamie from tribe.net)

1996 Hackney Anarchy Week, a ten day festival including a punks’ picnic and 3-sided football match in Clissold Park.

2007 After much resistance and protest, the Manor Garden Allotments (near Hackney Wick, but apparently not technically in Hackney!) are demolished to make way for the Olympics. Similar struggles take place on Hackney Marshes (where football pitches are closed to make way for a coach park)

2012 A small “Occupy London” camp sets up briefly in Haggerston Park.

Sources/Acknowledgements

http://www.londonfieldsusergroup.org.uk/

http://www.clissoldpark.com/park-history/

Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park

Barry Burke and Ken Worpole – Hackney Propaganda: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900 (Centerprise, 1980) (William Morris)

Barry Burke – Rebels With A Cause: The History of Hackney Trades Council (Centerprise. 1975)

History Is Made At Night (Funk The Royal Wedding)

Past Tense (London Fields Lido)

Getting Involved

Hackney Council’s list of Park User Groups.

Further Reading: Modern

The Rise of the Friends Groups Movements, by Dave Morris

Finsbury Park: A History of Community Empowerment, by Hugh – Friends of Finsbury Park

The Community-Led Transformation of Lordship Rec, by Friends of Lordship Rec

Further Reading: Older

Down With The Fences: Battles For The Commons In South London, by Past Tense

Subversive of Public Decency: Open Space In North / North East London: radical crowds, immorality, and struggles over enclosure, by Past Tense (not online yet)