Roger and The Gang seek “chicks” in Dalston (1972)

A letter to underground magazine International Times, 1972.

Gender balance seems to have been a serious issue for Hackney communes in 1972. I have previously posted a similar notice from the same year by a gay collective in nearby Abersham Road E8. The difference is that Abersham Rd notice explicitly mentioned “we are into smashing our male patriarchy” whereas this would not appear to be a concern for Roger (and/or “the gang”).

For me this speaks to a clash of subcultures – on the one hand the hedonist druggies of 86 Sandringham Road. On the other the hard-edged feminist political milieu that would host figures like the Angry Brigade, Astrid Proll and Dalston Men’s Group. The hedonist faction is less well documented, for obvious reasons… I’d love to speak to Roger and the gang about their time in Hackney if they are still around.

With thanks to Pocock Rare Books on Instagram for posting this. And Paul STN for bringing it to my attention.

See also:

History Workshop Journal: Feminist squatting in Hackney

E. Michaels – a Jewish Anarchist in Stoke Newington

The obituary above appeared in Direct Action vol 7 #3, in March 1966. Direct Action was the newspaper of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which operated from 1950 until the late 1970s. The SWF then became the Direct Action Movement before changing into the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – an organisation which is still active today.

A brief death notice in Freedom February 19th 1966

Who was he? Everything starts with an “E.”

It’s easy to understand that a Jewish immigrant revolutionary might want to keep their personal details secret. Googling “E. Michaels” produces some good results in the anarchist archives, but that is only half of the story…

Fortunately there is only one “E. Michaels” listed in the death records for Hackney for 1966:

Further poking about turns up this lovely bit of genealogy, which suggests that Emanuel:

  • Was born in Plock, central Poland on 25 Sep 1890 (near enough to 1891 listed above?)
  • Emigrated to England at the age of ten in 1900.
  • Married Rosie Kitman (3 Apr 1892 – 14 Jan 1963) at Mile End in 1914.
  • Had four children (including Harry, as in the Freedom clipping above, which is reassuring)
  • Worked as a Tailors Presser.
  • Died 12 Feb 1966.

This seems to fit quite well with what we know from the obituaries above and the sort of lives that radical Jewish anarchists would be leading at this time. But I’m not an expert, so if any historians or genealogists out there have spotted any errors, let me know!

Update: a comrade has kindly supplied a passport photo of the handsome Michaels.

Anarchy in the East End!

Most of comrade Michaels’ political activity seems to have been in the East End of London in the first half of the 20th Century. He was involved with setting up a “free school” at 62 Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, which also hosted The Worker’s Friend Club and the East London Anarchist Group. He was also the secretary of the prisoner support group the Anarchist Red Cross and is listed as a donor in a few issues of the London anarchist newspaper Freedom in the 1910s.

According to census data he lived at the following addresses too:

  • 1911: 25 Hungerford Street, Commercial Road
  • 1921: 73 Sutton Street
  • 1939: 163 Jubilee Street E1

But what about Hackney, eh?

Michaels seems to have remained active up until his death. Sparrows Nest Archive has scans of some his letters from 1958 to 1964. Most of these are addressed to Ken Hawkes, the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation. Many of them mention meetings at Circle House, 13 Sylvester Path, E8. I’ve written about the Workers Circle and Jewish radicals in Hackney previously.

Michaels’ letters are largely administrative – donations, exchanges of publications, details of meetings etc. But the letterheads are invaluable:

Firstly, they tell us that Michaels was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish radical organisations Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labour) and Rudolf Rocker Publishing Committee. (Rocker was a German Gentile who became heavily involved with the Jewish anarchist movement).

Secondly, the letters show us where Michaels lived in Hackney. (This is my assumption, based on the nature of the addresses listed and that meetings etc seemed to take place at Circle House and not those on the letterheads). So it looks like Michaels lived at 12 Cranwich Road in Stamford Hill during the 1950s and then moved to “Morley House” N16 in 1961. Which no longer exists…

But! According to this useful blog, Morley House was one of the council blocks at the east end of Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington and was renamed Nelson Mandela House in 1984. There is a quote from Mandela on the side of it which can be seen here.

A diversion down Cazenove Road

According to Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Morley House was built in 1937-1938 “with a meanly detailed exterior, although the planning of the individual flats was generous at the time”.

Fourteen years after Emanuel Michaels’ death, the flats and exterior would see further anarchistic action.

From Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press reported that Morley House was due for renovation, which meant that:

“All the council tenants were moved out between 1978 and autumn 1979, and the estate was left almost completely empty.”

Perhaps inevitably some tenacious local people seized this opportunity:

“In November 1979 the first squatters started to move in, even though vandalism and thieving had reduced the building to a dilapidated eyesore.

By February 1980 approximately 80 flats were occupied and some residents approached Hackney Community Housing Resource Centre to ask about licensing the house. (A licence to occupy premises does not imply tenancy as such but makes the occupation authorised by the Council.)

They suggested a direct approach to the Council, and three Council Officers were invited to visit the estate and talk to same of the residents. These officers submitted a report to the Housing Management Committee on 31st March this year, and suggested the granting of a license through Hackney Community Housing (HCH). The Committee however, rejected the recommendations and decided to evict the residents – offering the property to HCH as short term housing instead.”

What followed was a bit of a standoff, with the Council refusing to back down and the squatters getting more organised:

“They held weekly meetings, formed themselves into an Association, cleared up rubbish, and met a number of councillors to discuss the matter. They also formally presented a deputation to the Housing Management Committee asking once again for a licence.”

That all probably seems pretty amazing to people who’ve tried squatting recently, but even in 1980, this was simply delaying the inevitable:

From Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

Six months later, the Council’s heavy squad made the 200 squatters homeless:

“Following two dramatic dawn raids by police the Morley House squat in Cazenove Road has had all its electricity and gas supplies cut off. At least 25 people were arrested, mainly on charges relating to the stealing of gas and electricity, but the police indiscriminately smashed through the doors of all the tenants on two of the blocks on the estate.

The first raid took place on 14 January and was made by a large number of police, accompanied by police dogs and gas board officials. The police carried no warrants and yet made extensive searches for drugs and stolen goods. Many doors were broken down in the raid, while others had 6-inch nails driven into their hinges to prevent tenants from re-entering their flats. Whilst searching the rooms the police took many photographs, presumably to be used later in evidence.

Using the excuse that many of the tenants were not paying for gas, the supplies to the estate were cut off, although electric cooking rings were brought in by the Gas Board for those who complained that they were in fact paying their gas bills. But in the early hours of the following morning, the police arrived again, this time with Electricity Board officials, and electricity supplies were cut off under the pretext that all the wiring on the estate was in a dangerous condition.

As a result of these raids about half of the 150 people who lived in the squat have been intimidated into leaving. Speaking to residents of Morley House HPP has discovered that these raids follow several months of police harassment. It is estimated that some 50% of the residents had been picked up by the police prior to the raids. Morley House has been a licensed squat for over one year. In that time Gas and Electricity officials have visited the estate several times, but have not ordered any repairs.”

I hope that Emanuel would have approved of the squatters, but you never know. It’s interesting that the block was subsequently renamed Mandela House – Hackney Council in the 1980s was eager to promote social struggles thousands of miles away, but renaming the block after Emanuel Michaels or celebrating the courageous battle of the squatters was off-limits…

If anyone reading this has more information about either Emanuel Michaels or the Morley House occupation, please do leave a comment or drop me an email.

Sources and further reading

Special thanks to Neil Transpontine.

The Workers’ Circle – fighting anti-semitism in Hackney

Tom Brown – Story of the Syndicalist Workers Federation: Born in Struggle at Libcom, who also have an archive of the SWF’s Direct Action newspaper.

Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner – The Buildings of England: London 4: North, Yale University Press 1999.

George Cores – Personal recollections of the anarchist past (published by Kate Sharpley Library, available at Libcom)

Nick Heath – Echoes of Ferrer in an East End back street at Libcom

Albert Meltzer – The Anarchists in London 1935-1955. A personal memoir (online at Libcom, hardcopy from Freedom Press.)

Rob Ray – A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists (Freedom Press, 2018)

Philip Ruff – Book Review – The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid, 1923-1931 (KSL/ABSC, 2010) at Kate Sharpley Library

Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

“The only black and the only woman reporter…” Hackney Gazette in the 1970s

The following piece appears in the book It Ain’t Half Racist Mum: Fighting racism in the media edited by Phil Cohen & Carl Gardner and published by Comedia/CARM 1982.

It’s a remarkable account of a young black female reporter of working at the paper at the time, and what she had to overcome.

Juliet Alexander

Since this was published, Juliet has worked in a wide range of senior roles including Education Careers Manager at Hackney Learning Trust and with a huge number of local community and voluntary organisations. Her Linkedin profile will tell you more. She tweets at @julietshares

Two tokens in one: the only black and the only woman reporter…
Juliet Alexander interviewed

Juliet Alexander was a reporter on the Hackney Gazette in East London for five years. At her initial interview the editor said that taking her on meant that he was killing two minorities in one. He was joking. She is interviewed by Geoffrey Sheridan[1].

I started at 18, when most people in the office were young, left of centre, and anti-racist. Being black didn’t affect what I did at the beginning — that was in 1975. Being a junior reporter meant that I had to do all the crap that was going. Even after I had been on the paper for a few years, if a kid drowned or something like that, I was the one who went to see the family to get a picture of the kid. That was mainly because I was female. Yet in an area that is a quarter black there was no way I could cover all the black stories. And there was no reason why I should go out on those stories, with a few exceptions.

An obvious case was Maurice Hope, the light middleweight world champion, from Antigua. A reporter went out to interview him, and he couldn’t understand a word that Maurice said. His mother had an even heavier accent. So I was taken along. Maurice was anti-white before he won the world championship and the white press had ignored him. He said in the interview that the Hackney Gazette was the only paper that had given him any publicity, apart from the West Indian World.

Some blacks would only deal with me, such as Eddie Grant, who set up the first black recording studio[2], and Pastor Morris, who does the Finsbury Park Carnival. I covered news from the estates and word went round like wild fire that Juliet did housing stories, so there were lots of blacks there, but whites, too. They found it hard to separate the fact that I was a reporter from the fact that I was black, which is as it should be, I think.

Before I went on to the Gazette there had been trouble at Dalston police station. A black youth had his head flushed down the loo. It was felt it might do the police some good if they got to know a black person in a different way. I probably did very good PR work on behalf of black people. The only blacks the police met were those they arrested. Meeting a black person on professional terms was as much an experience for them as it was for me.

Sexism and racism

In fact their attitude was of a bunch of men to a woman, rather than to a black. They were incredibly sexist in some cases, and began with the attitude: ‘This silly little girl can’t do her job, so we’ll go out of our way to help her.’ Realising that not all blacks wear woolly caps, there was a slight shift in their thinking. With another reporter they’d say: ‘Two niggers were picked up for mugging an old lady.’ With me it was: ‘Two muggers were picked up…’ But sometimes they’d say ‘mugger’ meaning ‘nigger’. It was ingrained.

Racism came from outside the office, not inside. This man called Sid rang up one day complaining about blacks vandalising his estate. ‘He didn’t mind blacks,’ he said, but it was obvious he did. That’s what a lot of people who rang up said. ‘I’m not racist, but…’ I told Sid his experience was really awful — I was doing my middle-class Tory lady bit. I invited him over to the paper and met him at reception. He recognised my voice, dropped his head in his hands, and called himself ‘Sid the Shit’. We had a long talk. There was one of those phone calls every day.

The paper’s policy led to abusive phone calls. We followed the NUJ policy of not putting in someone’s colour unless it was material to the story, such as a black musician where his colour is part of the description of what he does. We would never put emotive terms into the headline or the introduction of an article. The North London branch of the NUJ was very militant and backed the union’s guidelines. The editor agreed with that. But if it was common knowledge that someone was black — if the evening papers had said so — we’d get abusive phone calls wanting to know why we didn’t call ‘a spade a spade’.

Striking against racism

We had a walk-out over racism. During the Greater London Council elections in 1977 a reporter noticed that an advert for a National Front meeting was due to go into the paper. The management said they couldn’t remove it. It was an immediate decision to go out on strike. I was doing the front-page lead article that day. I put it in my bag and walked out. We were out for three days, and picked up a hell of a lot of signatures supporting our action. We normally completely ignored NF meetings. The only time we mentioned them was in unfavourable terms — who they’d beaten up that week. In elections we gave details of all the candidates except the NF’s. We simply said they were standing two candidates, or however many it was.

Before I went to the Gazette it had given coverage to Derek Day[3] — a leading NF member — and to tenants in Hoxton, which was a fascist base. Things changed a bit. When Day’s address was published in the paper, because his son was involved in a court case, he came down to the office, distressed the receptionist, and demanded to see the editor. I volunteered to go down. He was ranting and raving. He came up to me, nose to nose. ‘I’m Derek Day,’ he yelled. `I’m racist and proud of it.’ He described the Gazette in unglowing terms, tore the paper in shreds, and threw it over me. I thanked him for his comment and excused myself.

As far as the NF was concerned, we were a ‘Nigger-loving Commie rag’, which is what they sprayed on the building. When flags were put up for the Jubilee, someone came into the office to lower them. ‘We had no right to fly the British flag,’ we were told.

(Juliet Alexander left the Hackney Gazette to work on the BBC Radio London programme Black Londoners. She now works in TV in the Midlands.)


Some new notes

1. Geoffrey Sheridan who interviewed Juliet also has Hackney Radical History connections. He was son of a tailor, and Communist party member and grew up in Stamford Hill. He was a member of the International Marxist Group and wrote for a number of radical and socialist publications, From 1987 until his death in the year 2000, he worked in business planning for Hackney council. Guardian obituary here.

2. The legendary Coach House Recording Studios, founded in 1972 and based at 81 Osbaldeston Road, London N16.

3. Derrick Day was a notorious racist thug and National Front member. He was in charge of security at the NF’s headquarters Excalibur House in Shoreditch in the late 1970s. Veteran anti-fascist Martin Lux described him thus:

“Times were much harder then and a lot of the NF were very hard, violent people. You just have to look at the head of the Hoxton NF back then, Derrick Day, a fuckin gorilla with a face covered with razor cuts.”

It should go without saying that it would be remarkably brave for a young black woman working as a junior reporter, to volunteer to meet a ranting and raving fascist bully. Derrick Day died in 1995 during a protest against live animal exports in Brightlingsea, where he then lived. It’s unclear whether he had recanted his support for violent white supremacy later in life.

Smashing Male Chauvinism in Dalston (1972)

From BIT International Newsletter #14 (July1972). Full PDF here as part of the Independent Voices Archive on JSTOR.

There is an article about the commune in connection with the Gay Liberation Front in Hackney Gutter Press #4 which can be read here.

4 Abersham Road was also listed in that issue of Hackney Gutter Press as a contact address for Hackney Squatters Union…

Needless to say, I am completely obsessed with this and would love to know more, especially from people who were involved or around at the time.

Of related interest: Dalston Mens Group (1977)

Text of the above for google searches:

Another commune wants people and writes:

“Sisters: There is a collective/Commune/Household, of gay people living in Hackney and we want some sisters to come and live with us. We are into smashing our male chauvenism and giving up our privileges as men over women. You do not have to be gay, just full of good energy and love, and if this society has fucked you up, maybe we will be able to work it out together. At the moment there are five men and we want about four more people….. please contact The People, 4 Abersham Road, Hackney, London, E8.”

A Conscientious Objector in Hackney in 1945

Tony Gibson was a registered conscientious objector during World War two. He worked initially at an ambulance station in London before heading off for agricultural work in South Wales. Tony made his way back to London in March 1945 (about six months before the end of the war):

“Then I got my cards from South Wales and obtained employment as a carpenter in a firm repairing the bomb-blasted houses in Hackney, East London.

Here again pacifist and anarchist contacts stood me in good stead, for the building firm belonged to pacifists, and most of its workers were Conscientious Objectors of one kind or another – Christian pacifists, members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, anarchists, fringe Trotskyists, and a few deserters from the forces who lived precarious lives without proper identity documents. When inspectors came round, the foreman told these latter characters to make themselves scarce for a while, since they didn’t appear on the firm’s books.

We even had one genuine Fascist, a mild little man who admired Mussolini (who had recently been killed). This fellow had a bad time in arguments with his work-mates, and was threatened with violence to drive him off the job, until a brawny young socialist declared that he would be his protector: ‘A man is entitled to his opinions, however daft'”

Tony Gibson – Burgess Hill School: A Personal Account
Photo of a bomb damaged housing in Ferncliff Road, Dalston courtesy of Hackney Archives

I thought this was a really interesting insight into the various strands of radical thought that were floating around in Hackney during the war. Anarchists are often seen as a chaotic destructive force, but this is a good example of one rebuilding people’s homes after they’d been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. This ties in with the hundreds of anarchist squatters in Hackney who would repair and redecorate derelict houses after the war right up to the 1990s.

Tony Gibson

Tony’s account above is the preamble to a longer piece about his work as a handyman at Burgess Hill Free School in Hampstead which was set up on anarchist-ish principles. This was published in the anarchist journal The Raven in 1987 and can be read on Libcom.

Whilst working as a labourer in Hackney, Gibson was also one of the temporary editorial team of the anarchist newspaper War Commentary, when most of the regular staff were imprisoned in 1945. He went on to some prominence in the field of psychology and remained an anarchist until his death in 2001. Libcom has also republished a Guardian obituary for him with more details of his life.

Police attack Hackney protest against repressive legislation (1994)

On 20th July 1994 a lobby of Hackney Council, held by trades union and community groups to protest at the Criminal Justice Bill and the Council’s plan to use the new powers to evict tenants and squatters, was attacked by riot police of the Territorial Support Group. Officers were seen head-butting, punching and kicking protesters, before arresting seven people, some of whom they injured badly.

“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network
Arrests outside the town hall – photo by Nick Cobbing for Squall magazine

What was the Criminal Justice Act?

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was incredibly wide-ranging and repressive (although it did also include lowering the age of consent for “homosexual acts” to 18). The legislation curtailed arrestees’ right to silence, increased police stop and search powers and infamously clamped down on the ability of squatters, hunt saboteurs and ravers to organise.

There were several large “Kill The Bill” demonstrations in central London throughout 1994, culminating in a riot at Hyde Park in October. For more information on this and wider resistance to the CJA, I recommend Neil Transpontine’s Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95 in Datacide magazine issue 13.

Summer 1994 in Hackney

In May 1994, Hackney Homeless Festival in Clissold Park had concluded peacefully, but revellers were attacked by the TSG afterwards outside the nearby Robinson Crusoe pub (now the Clissold Tavern). Alongside this, there was the day to day harassment of residents by the notoriously bent Stoke Newington police – and a general climate of cracking down on squatting.

All this meant that the demo was pretty lively:

A large demonstration outside Hackney Town Hall on July 20th ended up as a brief occupation inside. Over 250 squatters and supporters gathered to protest against the council’s ‘para-municipal’ eviction squad, the Tenancy Audit Team, and the worryingly right-wing (Labour) Chair of Housing, Simon Matthews. The occupation and disruption of the first full council meeting since the local elections, was broken up by the police, who violently intervened to eject the occupiers.

Hackneyed Hypocrisy – Squall magazine

Defend The Hackney 7

Those arrested now face serious charges, which could involve heavy fines or imprisonment. Those with the worst injuries have been charged with assaulting the police. All are denying the charges against them.

“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network

The contact address for the Hackney 7 Defence Campaign was the Colin Roach Centre. The charges included criminal damage (to the town hall doors) and obstruction. The Council wouldn’t leave it there though:

The response of Hackney Council to this attack has been to support the police. In an unprecedented move the Council took out injunctions against those arrested which banned them from council property and a named squat in the borough. This blanket ban would prevent the defendants from using public toilets or housing benefit offices, without written permission.

Likewise, those who work in Hackney would be unable to go to offices of their unions without written permission, or they too would be risking arrest.

“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network

The “named squat” was Park Crescent – on the south side of Clissold Park and featured in a Spin magazine article about squatting and Hackney Homeless Festival. The squat was evicted in August 1994.

The defendants successfully challenged the Council’s injunctions in court and that part of the case collapsed.

Two of those arrested worked for the Council – one was a teacher and the other worked for Hackney Independent Living Team (HILT) – and was also an active trade unionist. The Council applied political pressure to get these workers sacked before the charges got to court. The police also gave out information to HILT and the media about the arrests, breaching confidentiality.

Protest for reinstatement of Hackney worker – photo from Public Service Workers’ Network

It appears that John McArthur, the HILT worker, was sacked and I can’t find anything to suggest he was reinstated. It looks like he continued to play an active role in trade union matters in North London, later writing about his experiences with striking JJ Fast Foods workers in Tottenham.

The seriousness of the charges and Council’s victimisation was slightly lightened by the tragic/comic events of another protest later in the year:

“Week of Action” ContraFlow Nov/Dec 1994

Hackney 7 Trial

The trials of the seven people nicked on the Hackney Town Hall demo are now complete. They were arrested during the picket against attacks on squatters and tenants in the borough, and against the then impending Crimjustbill.

The bad news is one bind-over, one conditional discharge and one pleading guilty. The other four got off in exciting courtroom dramas. The cases against Ronnie and Mervyn ended, after a long and fairly positive week of disproving the cops’ stories, when one of our barristers collapsed, and the prosecution decided they couldn’t handle a retrial.

In the other case Simon got off when the magistrate disagreed that the four punches shown on video were ‘reasonable’ restraint as PC Moore claimed, and the prosecution gave up over Jake after the other police witness couldn’t explain his complete invisibility. Countercharges for assault, perjury and conspiracy are planned.

“Hackney Seven Results” – ContraFlow

Simon had been charged with assaulting a police officer, but video footage taken by activists at the protest showed that the reverse was true:

In two cases the judge recommended that video evidence of assaults by members of the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group (riot squad) be passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are not holding our breath.

“Council Conspires With Police To Sack Union Activist” – Public Services Workers’ Network

According to the Anarchist Communist Federation, some of the defendants were issued with fines of “up to £3,300”.

The Criminal Justice Act became law on 3rd November 1994. The Labour Party abstained.

Events last week in Bristol remind us that there is a fine tradition in this country of opposing the introduction of repressive legislation – and making it unenforceable if necessary when it is passed.

Thanks to Sparrows Nest Archive and to Steph.

Sources / Further Reading

Criminal Injustice In Hackney – Public Service Workers’ Network #5 October/November 1994 (PDF)

Hackneyed Hypocrisy – The Saga Continues in Squall magazine #8 1994 (PDF)

News From Occupied Hackney – ContraFlow September 1994 (PDF)

Fight The Criminal Justice BillAlien Underground #0 1994

Alternative Media Reveals The Truth And Saves Protesters in Squall magazine #9, Jan/Feb 1995

Fight The Criminal Justice Act – Organise #38 April-June 1995 (magazine of the Anarchist Communist Federation) (PDF)

Council Conspires With Police To Sack Union Activist – Public Service Workers’ Network #6 Spring 1995 (PDF)

Neil Transpontine – Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95 in Datacide magazine #13 2013

Neil Transpontine – These Laws: Up Yours! – Documents Relating to “Revolt of the Ravers”

Past Tense – A Short History of UK Public Order Acts

ARCH: Hackney Autonomous Refugee Centre (1996)

For squatters this is a simple extension of the logic of turning empty buildings into homes. Here are people in a strange country with very simple and urgent needs: somewhere to live and something to eat. Here is a borough with a record for keeping properties empty and here are some activists willing to crack a few buildings. Simple.

Squall Magazine

82-90 Stoke Newington Road was a Magistrate’s Court from 1889. Barbara Windsor may have attended with Ronnie Kray when he was done for receiving stolen goods. The court would naturally be one arena where the oppression of working class residents of North London played out and it is gratifying to see that it was also a site of resistance to this:

The building is now St John’s Court (flats). As Alan Denney notes – a large “Police Court” sign was removed before the conversion, as presumably state-sadism is not a good selling point. St Johns Court is now a listed building. A one-bed flat can be rented there for £1,321 a month at the time of writing.

But… between the building being a court and becoming ‘luxury” flats, it was put to better use…

1996 was the last gasp of John Major’s Conservative government before New Labour were elected in the following year. On February 5th 1996 the Tories cut off benefits to asylum seekers who did not apply for asylum at the port of entry, and to those who lost their application but were awaiting an appeal.

Contrary to the bullshit spouted about asylum seekers “taking our jobs”, they were actually legally prevented from working. As London freesheet ContraFlow put it:

With no possibility to work legally, and now no way of getting any other money, increasing numbers will be left to starve, in the hope that they’ll return to wherever they had to flee from, unless we do something about it. Because of this situation, and the fact that the Refugee Council, who had money to open a hostel, hadn’t, a large squat was opened up in Hackney as an emergency shelter, and to highlight the situation, a squat called ARCH – Autonomous Refugee Centre Hackney.

The building was the old Magistrates Court in Stoke Newington Road, empty for years and with steel doors and windows but with an open window on the first floor that had been tempting the locals for ages.

According to anarchist magazine Black Flag, ARCH “was set up by local squatters, The Refugee Support Group from the Colin Roach Centre and others” and was supported by “local Kurdish and Turkish Groups, some churches and local shops”

Squatters’ magazine Squall interviewed some of the organisers:

Chris Locke of ARCH explains: “We wanted to provide homes for refugees affected by the Social Security changes. On the way we found lots of other stuff to do; ranging from getting decent solicitors for people to finding them clothes and food.” Warren, another member of ARCH, states the group’s intention to create alternative solutions: “We understand these people are alienated, some come from war zones and oppressive regimes to the big city. Providing bedding, conversation and a good meal is enough to give the basis of what they need; the dignity to keep their sanity and keep on living.”

ContraFlow went into more detail on the logistics:

The first mistake was going in before checking who owned it – it was assumed that as it was still for sale it still belonged to the state, which would’ve made it appropriate and make procedings predictable.

In fact it had been bought by Harinbrook Properties, a small property company connected to Eugena, a building outfit, who liked to pose as security guards, bailiffs and anything else. They tried three illegal evictions, which were foiled by physical force, with great assistance from the local Turkish and Kurdish community, and the cops. The cops only tried once to force their way in, but were eventually convinced that their legal position was rather dubious.

All this made the situation rather stressful and tiring, as 24-hour watches were kept until the owners finally decided to go to court.

ARCH Newsletter logo reproduced in “Squatting is part of the housing movement”

After ARCH was evicted, Squall spoke to some of the people that needed its help:

Meanwhile in a Stoke Newington pub, two ARCH volunteers stroll in with a couple of young refugees; Varben from Kosovo in former Yugoslavia and Antonio from the Angolan enclave of Cabinda.

Antonio, a doctor from Cabinda, tells his story: “I left because of the civil war. I was afraid I would be killed. I had many problems because I was treating people from all the different parties who are at war. Some parties didn’t like me helping all sides but I am a doctor, I must help anyone who needs it. They put me in prison for a long time. Then I escaped and came here.” Antonio had no idea he had to apply for asylum as soon as he arrived and is currently waiting for the Home Office to process his asylum application. On average this takes nine months.

Varben hitch-hiked to England in a lorry from Macedonia: “When I got to London I slept out on the streets at Victoria Station for three days. I met an African who told me to go to the Home Office.” Varben says there were at least ten other refugees sleeping at Victoria whilst he was there: “I don’t know what happened to them, they didn’t speak English.” The Refugee Council referred him to a hostel for five days and then on to a church. He believes that squatting is a logical solution: “Why have houses empty? Why have people sleeping in the church?” He is looking forward to an English course organised for him by ARCH and the Churches Refugee Network. He too awaits a Home Office decision.

The ARCH crew eventually squatted a house for refugees further north in Stoke Newington. I vaguely recall from a radical history walk a few years back that this was somewhere around Manor Road/Lordship Park?

Before that, there were some lessons learnt and some reflections to be had, as ContraFlow put it:

The second mistake was thinking that the problem of accomodation could be dealt with separately to all the other problems faced by refugees. It was assumed that other groups and networks would step in and take over all the social work stuff, but the first refugee showed that it wasn’t so easy, and that being in a strange country with a strange language makes it pretty damned hard to do anything for yourself, apart from whatever stresses and depression you might bring with.

Anyway, a few people found themselves taking on a whole lot of social work, and running around finding groups that might be able to help out. After three weeks the centre was evicted and plans to move on to a new place immediately were postponed to give time to work out what was actually needed next, and because the squat centre, where some of those involved lived and which was generally used as a base, was also being evicted.

But work continued, with a local church network and community groups, sorting out places for people to stay as well as working on other aspects of the struggle, and support for those refugees who found their way to the network.

The Refugee Council, who had been desperately calling for churches to make space available, stopped referring refugees to the church network because of their connection with ARCH, but the churches remained supportive, and a house was eventually opened up. which is now housing a number of refugees, and one non-refugee for support. Many contacts were made, and networks are being organised around London to try to open up houses and centres in other areas, but it isn’t easy.

One of the vague ideas behind ARCH was that it would take off and become autonomous, that space would be created for refugees to take up their own fight. It hasn’t happened yet. partly because of the low numbers involved so far, and because it will always be easier for activists, who will always have to be around, to give support. The skills are out there, to find and provide what’s needed, if we can bring them together.

This isn’t just another benefit attack to be tagged on to our fight against the JSA. It’s not just another attack on housing adding to homelessness. It’s an attack on the ability of ordinary people like us to escape unbearable conditions created by the global (but still hierarchical) squeeze on our conditions, by local states’ attacks on behalf of global, asylum seeking capital. If money is going to zap around the world looking for cheaper labour and better investments, it can’t allow us to wander off looking for higher wages and better conditions. At best we’ll be allowed to be guestworkers, with our families and the costs of reproduction left behind, and with no rights to settle, organise.

This is an attack on London and its beautiful cosmopolitan mix of cultures and people, an attack on the communities here and on our history of refuge and struggle. In a way it’s a last chance for us to act locally and globally at the same time, to carry out direct actions that make us part of the world instead of just acting against increasingly localised political structures, with occasional solidarity actions to protest at the nastiness of other states. It is also a chance for us (the vast majority of ContraFlow readers, and writers) to break of our ghetto of our European “alternative” scene, and discover the world that is collected together in our cities.

For me ARCH is an inspiring example of practical solidarity being provided to those most in need by people with scant resources. For all its problems, this was direct action at its best. Since 1996 the pace of gentrification in Hackney has accelerated to the point where there are very few empty properties and this increase in value has been reflected in some changes to the law on squatting too. Nevertheless squatting is still happening, but generally in a less open manner. The veterans at the Advisory Service for Squatters are still doing a excellent work in difficult circumstances.

The support mechanism for migrants in the borough have been professionalised and there are obvious advantages to that, although I am sure that the constant worries about funding and simply not having the resources to do what needs to be done must be very stressful: Hackney Migrant Centre is seeking donations and volunteers.

Benefit fundraisers for ARCH and other causes, listed in ContraFlow

Sources/Further reading

ARCH Bulletin #1 February 1996 – pdf

“Desperately Seeking Asylum” ContraFlow #18 Mayday 1996 pdf

“Asylum Seekers Attacked” – Black Flag #207 1996 pdf

“Desperately Seeking Asylum”Squall Magazine #13 1996

x-chris – Squatting is part of the housing movement: Practical Squatting Histories 1969-2019 pdf

October 2020 updates

Photo by STN

The controversry about the Museum of the Home’s racist memorial to slave trader Robert Geffrye continued this month. The Hackney Citizen reported that:

Of the 2,187 respondents to the [museum’s] consultation, 71 per cent voted to take the statue down, with 29 per cent saying to leave it up. Four per cent did not respond to the question.

Protests have been taking place regularly outside the still-closed museum and persons unknown have upped the ante with some radical redecoration to the exterior wall as can be seen in the photo above. Police are apparently investigating this as well as the impressive makeover of the statue itself:

Photo by Hackney Citizen

Having steadfastly ignored the wishes of the community, the PR geniuses at the museum raised hackles across the borough with a tweet inviting people to implicate themselves in the ongoing shitstorm:

Their claim about reflecting the communities they serve seems at variance with the position of the Museum’s former Director David Dewing who is said to have stated that he had “no interest in the culture of the labouring classes”.

Out now

In happier news, the The Rio Tape/Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 80s book has now been published and if you like this blog you should get it. It’s a lavish production with 254 pages filled with amazing photos and some great commentary from participants in the original Rio Tape/Slide project as well as Michael Rosen and Hackney photographer Alan Denney.

My copy arrived a few days ago and the few pages I have managed so far have already piqued my interest for some future entries here.

The book is £26 direct from Isola Press (and I think from the Rio itself and Artsword bookshop on Broadway Market) and is apparently going quick. If you can’t afford that, then check out the related free exhibition at the newly opened Hackney Museum (the museum that knows how to do things properly in Hackney).

The exhibition online launch event is online with some great presentations about Hackney in the 1980s and the background of the production of the book:

Alan Denney is also in conversation with the Hackney Society on 10th December. This free online event will cover his own incredible photos of Hackney in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some great 1980s posters from the Hackney Empire were unearthed this month. The poster on the left was tweeted by Hackney Museum who had this to say:

Opposition to South African Apartheid was widespread in 1980s Hackney In 1985 workers at the British Tyre & Rubber factory (SA) went on strike over rights, pay and conditions. Within 72 hours they were dismissed.This play was put on to raise money for the strikers #bhm2020

The poster on the right was posted by Hackney ranting poet and author Tim Wells on his excellent Stand Up and Spit blog. Tim’s skinhead werewolf pulp horror shocker of a novel Moonstomp was a highlight of last year and was mainly set in late 1970s Hackney. This month he announced his second novel Shine On Me which promises “Skinhead werewolf, mod witches, dead Crass fans!”

Mick Hugo

Veteran radical Hackney historian Ken Worpole wrote a fascinating obituary for his friend Mick Hugo in the Guardian this month, covering his work as a merchant seaman and his time in Hackney the 1970s as a squatter, housing activist and Centerprise volunteer amongst many other things.

Photo by @happymantree on Twitter

Meanwhile in horticultural history, The Happy Man Tree was voted “Tree of the Year”. It’s a 150 year old grade A London Plane street tree near Woodberry Down which is (still?) slated for demolition by Berkeley Homes.

Hackney Archives is sadly still closed but Friends of Hackney Archives are going strong and have unusually published a copy of their newsletter online with an update on the archives and articles including Philip Twells MP (a slave owner who lived on Stoke Newington Church Street), the campaign to restore the Hackney stocks, Hackney in London Parish maps circa 1900 and more.

Hackney Account is an inspiring youth-led police monitoring group launched earlier this year. They just published their report Policing in Hackney: Challenges From Youth In 2020 with some excellent statistics and commentary about stop and search and other recent policing issues in the borough. I was struck by the title and its resonance with the essential book published by Karia Press in 1988 and how some things have improved since then, while some things have stayed the same.

In the September update I mentioned the public vote to choose the name of the new public square by Britannia Leisure Centre. There are four contrasting radical Hackney options to choose from and the deadline is November 11th.

Finally it was lovely to hear some praise for this site during Mayday Rooms’ online session on “Archiving Radical Spaces” at the London Anarchist Bookfair event.

August 2020 updates

The rigid conservatism of the Museum of the Home has thankfully been outpaced by East London’s Sir John Cass Redcoat School which has now been renamed Stepney All Saints CofE Secondary School. The name change recognises the role John Cass played in the slave trade.

This summer statues of John Cass were removed from St Botolph’s Church (Aldgate High Street) and the Sir John Cass Institute (Jewry St). Cass’ connections to Hackney are documented in a previous post here.

Mark Metcalf, formerly of this parish – and Hackney Community Defence Association, Colin Roach Centre and many other great initiatives – has uploaded scans of some relevant documents to his website.

These include PDFs of Hackney Union News from the late 1980s, a number of Hackney Community Defence Association pamphlets and three issues of Revolutions Per Minute – a cultural magazine produced by the Colin Roach Centre.

Sparrows Nest in Nottingham have subsequently also uploaded the October 1993 issue of Hackney Trade Union News as part of their huge online archive too.

I am conscious that personal websites can get hacked or go offline for various reasons, so have taken the liberty of arranging for these documents to be added to the archive.org site alongside dozens of other radical Hackney documents from the seventies to the noughties.

Radical History of Hackney tentacles also extend to a Soundcloud page with audio content or a Youtube channel if you prefer that.

The comrades at Libcom have uploaded an article about gentrification in Hackney at the turn of the century from the anarchist Black Flag magazine: “You Can’t Live On A Web Site” – Privatisation and Gentrification, Reaction and Resistance, in Hackney’s ‘Regeneration State’ – Libcom’s “Hackney” tag is well worth a browse through also.

Astrid Proll – on the run in Hackney

Astrid Proll: under arrest in Germany

In Germany

Astrid Proll was a household name in the 1970s along with her comrades Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and other members of the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction – aka The Baader-Meinhof gang).

Astrid’s older brother Thorwald Proll introduced her to the circle of radicals that would become the RAF – indeed, she would be one of its founders. The group’s politics were broadly anti-imperialist: opposed to the Vietnam war and outraged by the prominence of former Nazis in West Germany. The state would brand them “anarchist violent offenders”, but most anarchists I know would categorise them as Maoists (and point out that urban guerilla movements with no connection to the working class do not end well).

On 2nd April 1968 (before becoming the RAF), the group had organised arson attacks on two Frankfurt department stores. This was in revenge for the killing of Benno Ohnesorg (a protestor shot by a policeman during a demonstration opposing the Shah of Iran’s visit to West Berlin. The killer would eventually be revealed as an East German Stasi agent) – and also against the ongoing Vietnam war. Days later, Baader and several others including Thorwald Proll were caught by the police and imprisoned.

Baader was eventually freed by armed members of the group during a staged interview with Ulrike Meinhof at a library on 14 May 1970. Astrid Proll was the getaway driver. She was also involved in bank robberies around this time to raise funds for the RAF’s operations and underground existence. She became one of the most wanted women in West Germany.

Proll and RAF member Manfred Grasho were stopped by the cops on 10 February 1971 but managed to get away under police gunfire. It was falsely claimed that she had shot at the two officers attempting to arrest her. However in Hamburg on 6 May of the same year, Astrid was finally caught after a pump attendant at a petrol station recognised her from a wanted poster and alerted the authorities. She attempted to flee but was surrounded by armed officers and arrested – and then charged with offences including attempted murder and robbery.

In November 1971, Astrid Proll became the first of several RAF members to be held in solitary confinement in the new “dead wing” of Cologne-Ossendorf prison. She was 24 years old. The “dead wing” or “silent wing” was an ingenious facility of six cells in which the walls and furniture were painted entirely white. A bare neon light turned on 24 hours a day was supplemented by meagre daylight through a narrow slit too high to see out of. The cells were designed so that no external sounds could penetrate them. It was forbidden for prisoners to hang pictures on the walls.

These conditons amount to torture and would be one of the factors that led subsequent RAF prisoners to go on hunger stirke. Proll spent two and half years in solitary confinement (four and half months of which were in the dead wing). She developed circulatory problems, difficulty breathing, panic attacks and was sometimes unable to walk.

On February 4, 1974 Astrid’s trial was adjourned because of her ill health, and she was granted bail. Shortly after this she fled West Germany under a false passport. After spending some time in Italy, she arrived in London in August 1974.

Astrid in London

I fled to Britain […] and realised how overtly ideological and misguided the German left had become. In Britain the left was more pragmatic and had more realistic goals; it was also more tuned into the real world. A concept as deluded as “armed struggle” would never have come to pass here.

Astrid Proll, The Matured Spirit of ’68

Precise details of Astrid’s early time in London are hard to pin down. She seems to have moved around a lot, living in Holland Park, Mile End and Kilburn as well as several addresses in Hackney. In interviews she has mentioned the support she received from feminists, squatters and Hackney members of the libertarian marxist group Big Flame.

Using her false passport, Astrid got married to Robin Puttick at Stepney registry office on January 22, 1975. She took the name Anna Puttick. This is generally believed to be a marriage of convenience as she was on the run – and a lesbian. As she told Iain Sinclair “I had to have papers, I was so German.”

Living in Hackney

“Solidarity was the precept of the counterculture. The squats were the material basis and preconditon for the emergence of political activism, art and alternative life. These houses, removed from the circulation of capitalist valorisation, were open spaces for experimentations of all kinds towards a life lived without economic constraints”

Astrid Proll, Goodbye To London

So where did she live?

Several contributors to the Kill Your Pet Puppy website mention her being hidden away in the squats of Brougham Road near Broadway Market (the street would later be an epicentre of anarchist punk activity in the 1980s).

Court documents from the time mention her “first squat” at the end of 1974 being 25 Marlborough Avenue E8. Astrid herself in Goodbye To London recalls “squatting with a female friend in a former shoe store in Broadway Market” and she told Iain Sinclair:

“When I heard about the death of Ulrike Meinhof in Stammheim Prison, I lived in a street that no longer exists, Lamb Lane. Beside London Fields. I lived around Broadway Market a lot. There was a huge women’s movement thing, a whole scene.”

Meinhof died in mysterious circumstances on 9 May 1976. The general trajectory of the RAF after Astrid left Germany had been increasingly desperate. Life in exile would have been stressful, but must have seemed like the better option.

There was a thriving alternative scene in the capital at the time and Astrid mentions attending women-only dances as well as suppoting the striking Asian women workers on the picket lines at the Grunwick dispute in West London. But the past was never far away…

Writer Philip Oltermann suggests that Proll and “a group of lesbians from Bow” were in the crowd of 80,000 at the free Rock Against Racism / Anti-Nazil League gig in Victoria Park on 30 April 1978. He mentions her “panic rising” when she saw the RAF logo onstage on the t-shirt worn by Joe Strummer of The Clash:

Joe Strummer’s Red Army Faction t-shirt at Victoria Park Rock Against Racism gig 30 April 1978

(Incidentally the burgeoning “punkademic” industry seems inexorably drawn to making connections between the RAF and punk. Personally I think it’s clear that Strummer was a poseur with a nice turn in protest music and social observation, but he was sorely lacking in political analysis. Tom Vague concludes his RAF book with a fantastic photo of Sid Vicious and John Lydon posing in front of a Baader-Meinhof wanted poster in Berlin in 1977. In the same year anarchist punks Crass pasted up a poster near Covent Garden’s Roxy club with the slogan “Germany got Baader-Meinhof, England got punk but they can’t kill it”. I’d say one t-shirt, one photograph and one poster were slim evidence, but I’m not a lecturer with a quota of publications to fill. I’d be much more interested to hear about what other gigs Astrid Proll and her social circle were going to in mid-70s London…).

“I always knew that a photo of me could give me away and destroy my London life. So I avoided being photographed. When the book ‘Hitler’s Children:The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang’ was released, female friends went out and stole the book off bookstore shelves or tore out the pages with my photograph”

Astrid Proll, Goodbye To London

Friends from the time mention her being a good neighbour and putting down roots:

“The children would be in and out of her house at the weekends, she’d be delighted on the occasions they stayed the night there because she revelled in their company and because it left me free. [She put] all her energy into her work, into friendships, into the squatting and local communty as a whole.”

Anonymous friend quoted by Friends of Astrid Proll

This lifestyle and support network would do a fine job of keeping Proll out of sight of the authorities… for a while.

“Women Work In Hackney”

Astrid’s work in London is better documented than where she lived. Each of her three jobs had a Hackney connection.

In the Spring of 1975 she was employed as a gardener by the council:

“I went to get a job with Hackney Council. I was a park keeper. In Clissold Park, my favourite park. I was working with an Irish guy, raking, mowing. They threw us both out, him and me. After six months. […] I had Clissold Park. I had London Fields. I had a little park which was in Shoreditch. It was around a church, a little garden. I had to go out in the morning and open it.”

Quoted by Iain Sinclair

Hackney Council also paid for Astrid to train as a car mechanic:

[…] in 1976 [she] enrolled on a government training course in car mechanics at Poplar Skill Centre. She left the course with a City and Guilds Certificate and, [had] taken an evening class in welding […] She had obtained all the necessary qualifications; national insurance card, union card and driving licence in the name of Senta Puttick.”

Court documents

She was apparently the only woman on the training course. Car mechanic was an unusual profession for a woman in the 1970s and especially one trying not to attract attention. Not to mention being photographed for an exhibition:

Alleged photo of Astrid Proll by The Hackney Flashers

I’ve used this image before in a piece about radical photography collective The Hackney Flashers and hadn’t noticed the connection. The exhibition was in 1975 and is interesting as it connects Astrid Proll with the radical feminist groups of the time.

“I did not live underground in England,” she insists. “I lived with other youths who also read Marx and idealised the working classes. I worked on the shop floor and as a car mechanic. This attitude was very admired in the Seventies.” 

Quoted by Tina Jackson

Her new skills got her nicknamed “Anna the Spanner”. She put them to good use, running a car maintenance class for women and in 1977 got a job at the iconic Lesney factory next to Hackney marshes. Lesney’s made “Matchbox” toy cars and was a big employer in the borough. She started as a fitter’s mate and was eventually promoted to be a supervisor. She was a member of the Amalgamated Electrical union. (Speculation – the Big Flame group were quite big on this sort of shop floor activity?)

“At work, Anna had to cope with the suspicion, ribaldry and loneliness that comes with being the only woman in a traditionally male job. At Lesney’s some of the men wouldn’t work with her because she was a woman, and one of the supervisors was always really down on her. Anna is an inspiration to me, and to other women, in her determination to fight this sex discrimination and not let herself be discouraged.”

Anonymous friend, quoted by Friends of Astrid Proll

In late 1977 she got a job training young offenders as mechanics at Camden Enterprises on Finchley Road, West Hampstead. Accordng to journalist Tina Jackson she subverted the training programme by “showing some of her students how to use the skills she’d taught them to steal cars”.

It would be her last job in London for some time…

Arrest

On 15 September 1978 a couple of uniformed policemen visited the Camden Enterprises workshop. Astrid’s manager Vincent Wilcox assumed they wanted to speak to him about a motoring offence. He soon realised he was off the hook:

“The next moment about ten plain clothes officers from Scotland Yard came in and took her up to the recreation room, pushed her up against the lockers and searched her.”

Quoted in BBC: On This Day

Proll did not resist arrest. It is heartening that she doesn’t seem to have been grassed up by anyone in the London counterculture:

“I was most likely recognised by a policeman when I accompanied a young man who was always stealing cars and getting into trouble to the police station. As the officials from Scotland Yard took me away from the garage, the young men looked at me, stunned. I just said ‘I won’t see you again’.”

Astrid Proll, Farewell To London

She quickly released a statement through her solicitor: “I have lived in England for the past four years – I have no contact with the Red Army Faction and I have tried to settle down as best I could in the circumstances.”

The RAF women had long been salivated over by the media and so Astrid’s arrest was predictably sensationalised. Her contacts were interrogated by reporters and every aspect of her lifestyle picked over:

Tabloid press cutting reproduced in Tom Vague’s Televisionaries: the Red Army Faction story

Proll would later tell journalist Kate Connolly “The British tabloids were one of the most terrifying things I have experienced.”

Campaign

"Free Astrid Proll" graffitiin West London from Christopher Petit's film "Radio On"
“Free Astrid Proll” graffiti in West London from Christopher Petit’s film “Radio On”

Whilst Proll was being held and questioned at Paddington Green police station, her support network sprang into action:

Graffiti backing her rapidly appeared. Lee Nurse and a friend cycled late one night down to Old Street where they painted ‘No extradition for Astrid Proll’ across the top of the large ventilation shaft in the centre of the roundabout. It remained in place for many years and only disappeared when the new ‘silicon roundabout’ appeared as part of the transformation of the area into a ‘technology hub’

Christine Wall

One of the most remarkable things about the story of the RAF is the widespread support they seemed to have had in West Germany at the time – with some estimates suggesting 10,000 sympathisers. Similarly in London, the “Friends of Astrid Proll” solidarity campaign appears to have been sizeable and multifaceted.

Poster for November 1978 benefit gig

“The Passions and the Nips, Shane MacGowan’s pre-Pogues group, appeared at a Rough Theatre benefit for the defence fund of Astrid Proll of the Baader-Meinhof gang”

Tom Vague

“We actually helped to organise the Astrid Proll thing because she was a friend, we knew her as Anna and she worked as a mechanic teaching young people at a youth project in North London. I remember her being very interested in my old Vauxhall and then later reading about her Baader Meinhof exploits, it seems she was their getaway driver! I also remember Crass phoning up and desperately wanting to play at the gig (being anarchists I suppose they would), but there wasn’t space on the bill for them. They were very disappointed. It was a good gig, well attended if I remember correctly.”

Richard Williams, drummer for The Passions

The gig was followed by a discussion at the Scala Cinema and a film benefit at the Womens Art Alliance, showing “Shirin’s Wedding” – which is about the unfortunate life of a young female Turkish migrant to West Germany:

Discussion advertised in anarchist newspaper, Freedom 14 October 1978
Benefit notice from feninist magazine Spare Rib #77
A further benefit event from March 13th 1979. Photo from Hackney Museum’s “Making Her Mark: 100 years of women’s activism” exhibition

Singer Nik Turner (most famous for his time in Hawkwind) was inspired by Proll’s plight (and apparently her time squatting in Brougham Road?). The first single by his new band Inner City Unit was originally called “Solitary Astrid”. However “to avoid controversy” the song was given the title “Solitary Ashtray”. Which does beg the question why the b-side was called “SO T RY AS I D” (“so try acid”)?

Before performing the song in Bristol in 2016, Nik told an amusing tale of donating to the Friends of Astrid Proll support fund – and because of all this being raided himself by Special Branch for drugs and terrorist materials.

This cultural solidarity provided the funding and wider context for the political work being done. Astrid was transferred to Brixton prison shortly after her arrest. Friends of Astrid Proll organised pickets of the prison and protests at Bow Street Magistrate’s Court where her case was being heard:

The Times 10 April 1978
Demo notice in Freedom, December 1978.

Brixton was – and remains – a male prison. There were two other female prisonsers at the time: Iris Mills (an anarchist arrested as part of the “Persons Unknown” case – who would be acquitted) and young Palestinian activist Khloud al Mugrabi (who may have been Iraqi or Lebanese? And spoke no English). All three were “Category A” prisoners – requiring maximum security.

Proll was allowed visitors though – and was able to write letters to supporters that were used in their literature.

Naturally one of the objectives of the campaign was that Astrid be transferred to the female Holloway Prison in North London. Alongside this the main demand was that she should not be extradited on the grounds that she would not get a fair trial in West Germany and that the new anti-terror laws there were draconian.

She was understandably terrified of returning to Germany as she was still suffering from the trauma resulting from her imprisonment in the “dead wing”:

“Not even today, six years later, have I completely recovered […]. I can’t stand rooms which are painted white because they remind me of my cell. Silence in a wood can terrify me, it reminds me of the silence in the isolated cell. Darkness makes me so depressive as if my life were taken away. Solitude causes me as much fear as crowds. Even today I have the feeling occasionally as if I can’t move.”

“I do not expect to survive if I return to Germany.”

Astrid Proll quoted in Friends of Astrid Proll literature

Three leaflets from Friends of Astrid Proll are available as PDFs here.

Extradition and Trial

Various attempts were made to thwart the extradition process including Astrid applying to be a British citizen by dint of her marriage and several years of residence. This was a longshot – complicated by her using false papers to get married and the lack of affection for her by the British state and media. The case is still cited today in legal textbooks.

The legal battles were eventually exhausted and Astrid returned voluntarily to Germany in June 1979. Her trial there commenced in September and went a great deal better than anyone was expecting.

The most serious charge was of the attempted murder of police officers during an attempted arrest back in February 1971. This was dropped when it emerged that the state had evidence all along that she hadn’t opened fire.

Astrid Proll leaving her trial in Germany 1980.

In February 1980 Astrid Proll was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for bank robbery and falsifying documents. But as she had already spent more than two thirds of her sentence in British and West German jails she was released immediately. She was 32 years old.

Freedom and aftermath

The British Home Secretary banned her for life from entering Britain. After a lengthy legal battle she was allowed to return in 1988.

She studied film and photography in Hamburg and subsequently worked as a picture editor for the German magazine Tempo and The Independent newspaper in London.

Her 1998 book Baader-Meinhof: Pictures on the run 67-77 apparently documents the pre-London years (and is now prohibitively expensive).

In 2010 she contributed to the exhibition “Goodbye To London: Radical Art & Politics in the 70s” and edited the accompanying book which includes some excellent material about squatting, LGBT culture, Hackney Flashers, Grunwick etc – as well as an essential foreword by Proll that is quoted above.

Sources / Plagiarism / Further Reading

Anon – The Passions: Frestonia, Fiction and Friction (The Passions website)

Jean Barrot – Letter on the use of violence (1973)

BBC “On This Day: 15 September” – 1978: German terror suspect arrested in UK

Kate Connolly – Astrid Proll’s journey to Terror Chic (The Guardian 6 October 2002)

Friends of Astrid Proll – The Court Situation (1978)

Friends of Astrid Proll – Freedom For Astrid Proll (1978)

Friends of Astrid Proll – The Case Against Her Extradition (1978)

A. Grossman – “State-Fetishism”: some remarks concerning the Red Army Faction (1979/1980)

Tina Jackson – The Terrorist’s Family Album (The Indepedent 8 October 1998)

Andre Moncourt & J. Smith – The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History volume 1 Projectiles For The People (Kersplebedeb & PM Press 2009)

Philip Oltermann – Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters (Faber & Faber 2012)

Astrid Proll (ed) – Goodbye To London: Radical Art & Politics in the 70s (Hatje Cantz 2010)

Astrid Proll – The Matured Spirit of ’68 (The Guardian 19 March 2011)

Iain Sinclair – Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report (Hamish Hamilton 2009)

Nik Turner / Inner City Unit performance, The Louisiana, Bristol 25 August 2016 Youtube

Tom Vague – Euroterrorism: Well It’s Better Than Bottling It Up (Vague #201988)

Tom Vague – Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story 1963-1993 (AK Press 1994)

Tom Vague – Westway Psychogeography Report 3 (Colville Community History Project #13, October 2015)

Christine Wall – Sisterhood and Squatting in the 1970s: Feminism, Housing and Urban Change in Hackney (History Workshop Journal #83 Spring 2017)

Various – Brougham Road, Hackney, London E8 (Kill Your Pet Puppy 15 May 2008)

Legal documents

Puttick v. Attorney-General and Another 1979 April 30; May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 http://uniset.ca/other/cs4/puttick1.html

Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Puttick 1980 Oct. 31; Nov. 14 http://uniset.ca/other/cs4/puttick2.html

Puttick Orse Proll v Secretary of State for the Home Department Immigration Appeal Tribunal 9 August 1984 https://www.refworld.org/cases,GBR_AIT,3ae6b6571c.html