At the vigil for Brianna Ghey in Soho Square we were encouraged to turn to the people next to us and tell them that they were loved. This was an important demonstration of solidarity at a time when most trans people in the UK will be feeling even more persecuted than usual. But it may not surprise you that my middle-aged cis-hetero English repression prevented me from participating.
That said, I have been thinking about my trans friends and comrades a great deal this last week. Young people talk about their “love language” and I guess, if that is a thing, then I will express my love through writing about the radical history of Hackney.
And radical history brings us nicely to the elders of the British trans community and what we can learn from them.
Roz Kaveney was born in 1949 and transitioned in her late twenties. She is a writer, critic poet and activist. Roz was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, helped found Feminists Against Censorship and is a past deputy Chair of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties). Her life in London in the 1980s features in the superb Rebel Dykes documentary, which I would recommend to anyone without hesitation.
Roz moved to London in 1974 and “lived in various flats in the borough [of Hackney], in the middle and late 1970s.”. As she told Hackney Museum:
“My living in Hackney is very much a function of the housing situation for young queer people in late 1970s and early 1980s. It was possible to get a tenancy in Hackney, if you were young and vulnerable, and I got one.”
Roz’s collection of poems The Great Good Time (2022) reflects on her early time in Hackney, as she explains in the foreword:
“Back in the late 70s, when I transitioned, I acquired as my peer group a bunch of slightly younger trans women who I met around Soho, and for a short while became their landlady, bail person and wailing wall. I had middle class and education privilege and they didn’t – I hope I used it for the greater good… It taught me a lot about solidarity.”
It’s clear from these poems that life was far from easy for trans people in this period (when has it been?), and that the mutual solidarity the group provided took many forms. There is a lot of help with recovery from violence, from police and doctor induced trauma and some often comical examples of simply navigating existence together as complicated and difficult people.
The final poem “Ridley Road 1981” is a beautiful evocation of Roz and her friends styling it out in Dalston, on the way to buy a late night kebab “protected by the nothing left to lose”.
Alongside everyday psychological and material support, a very concrete form of solidarity was providing a home:
“So, in 1979 I lived, first of all on the Hackney end of Amhurst Road and then on Colvestone Crescent in Dalston. This will be one of the things that will interest you most, because that’s the period when, because I had a licensed squat, I filled it up with a number of very slightly younger trans club workers that I knew from the trans community in Soho. There was briefly, first of all on Amhurst Road and then on Colvestone Crescent, The Dalston Trans Commune.
Looking back it only lasted a few months, because I think it lasted a while after I left, because there was a point when I got my flat on the Kingsmead, I tossed people the keys and said “You are on your own kids, I am out of here.” Because I didn’t much relish being everyone’s parent. That whole thing I was, what, 28 or 29 and they were 24 or 25 I mean, one of them was a bit younger, one of them was 19 or 20. Mostly they were people in the 23, 24, 25 area. But I nonetheless had to be the responsible adult.”
Hackney Museum interviewer: What led you to be the grown up in there?
“It wasn’t particularly a plan. […] One of my friends got out of jail, so I let her stay, while she was between engagements in jail. She had been evicted while she was in jail, so she needed somewhere to stay, so I let her stay, and then she went back to jail for a short period, only a couple of months.
While she was in jail along with one of her friends, two slightly younger trans women, who had been living with the friend who went to jail at the same time that she went to jail, got thrown out of the flat where they were living in the middle of the night. Basically [their flatmate’s] boyfriend, decided to make a pass at the pair of them, in the middle of the night, and they walked out, and then realised they had nowhere to go. Literally, I mean, at 1 o’clock in the morning I found two drowned rats on my doorstep. Obviously, I let them stay and there was nowhere else for them to go immediately and I thought, “Oh what the hell.” Then they moved with me from Amhurst Road to Colvestone Crescent, and then Maz, and for a while Bieber, came out of jail, needed somewhere to stay. Yeah I mean it was a big house.
Suddenly, there were all sorts of people wandering in, it became a crash base as well. It was a matter of very much policing people because, well, the border of Amhurst Road and Sandringham Road which is the first one, was in those days a front-line for drug dealing. So, I made an executive decision that this was a drug-free house, otherwise we would be people of interest, which meant being quite firm about dope. But also it meant, one of them, Vivian, had, I won’t say an addiction problem, but certainly a barbiturate habit, I had to tell her, “what you do when you are not here, is your concern, while you are in the house, you are clean”, and that meant that she didn’t get a key.
And it’s these things that everyone who finds themselves in that kind of alternative housing has to learn quite fast. You make people pay some rent, because otherwise they don’t feel a commitment. You make people contribute to a food kitty, because otherwise they take advantage. It’s all token things and you have to be prepared to throw someone out if they do something wrong, which I found myself having to do on one occasion, but I won’t mention the specific thing, because it was something quite hard. Someone else who lived in the flat briefly did something extremely criminal and I evicted them on the spot. Again, you have to be prepared to do this. I mean, I then went to a house and called a house meeting and said, “I have just done this, any objections?”
“So, and then I moved up to the Kingsmead, where I was fine for a while, because on a different floor of the same building was a gay male commune made up of reformed skinheads. Which meant that they dyed pink triangles on to their scalps, and adopted anti-fascist politics, having had fascist politics, but were still quite scary people. On the other hand, they were on my side… there were a couple of times I got into arguments in clubs in the West End, and they appeared sort of out nowhere and said, “She is our mate,” which was nice, but then they moved off to a farm in Wales or something. Farm or what, I don’t know. I don’t ask.
At that point, things on the Kingsmead got a little less pleasant. There was a very speed addled gang on the Kingsmead in those days, and I’ve made the mistake of ringing the police when I saw them doing a burglary. As a result of which, the police came around to my flat to take a statement, rather than ask me into the station to take a statement. What kind of idiot does that? As a result of which, I got threatened with being firebombed, and this is how I ended up living down in Haggerston, but I had to move out fairly quickly and go on paying rent in a flat I couldn’t live in, because the police had fingered me.”
Roz survived all this – and more – and remains a Hackney resident to this day. She mentions the current climate of hysteria about trans people in The Great Good Time:
“I noticed a lot of bleakness creeping into trans social media and thought it my job as a community elder to remind young people that things had been, if not worse, at least as bad in different ways… The important thing about life in an embattled community is to have each others backs.”
I hope that’s useful and perhaps inspiring context and perspective for anyone who has read this far, but especially to younger trans people. You should know that you are loved and wanted and that there is a place in this world for you.
Sources and further reading
The full transcript of the excellent interview for Hackney Museum is here.
Roz was interviewed at length about her life in a recent episode of the recommended What The Trans podcast. (Starts 37:30)
Her collection of poems about trans life in the late 1970s and early 80s, The Great Good Time is published by Team Angelica and can be ordered by your local independent book shop. Or from Amazon if you must.
The header image is a photograph of Colvestone Crescent during the “winter of discontent” of 1979 and is by Alan Denney. I have taken some liberties with it.
This events programme for Hackney Women’s Centre Lesbian Group is typical of some of the social events programmes and flyers which we have throughout the archive. It illustrates the wide range of social activities that these groups promoted amongst the women that used those spaces. Flyers like this are often interesting because they can often underline the intersectional approaches to organising that feminist and lesbian spaces often tried to institute around building access for wheelchair users, childcare facilities and language interpretation.
Glasgow women’s library
I also like that the events are social rather than overtly political – precisely because in the 1980s lesbians socialising together would haven been a political act in itself in many ways.
Hackney Women’s Centre appears to have been based at 27 Hackney Grove E8 and then at 20 Dalston Lane E8 around 1984/5.
The Centre’s origins stretch back to at least 1981, with this call to action in Hackney People’s Press:
The group seems to have prioritised a feminist approach to the entire project – the commitment in the article above was matched by ensuring the premises were accessible to disabled women.
Similarly, the renovation of the Dalston Lane property was overseen by Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative – an feminist architecture co-op who were also based in Dalston at the time:
There is an interesting post about their work on Hackney Women’s Centre at Matrix Open Feminist Architecture Archive including a scan of some pages from a brochure about the renovations needed at the 20 Dalston Lane building.
In “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne note that not all of the GLC funded women’s centres were as successful as the Hackney one:
Matrix was involved in projects for Hackney, Brixton and Bermondsey. Of these, only one, Hackney Women’s Centre, was built. The borough council had made a rundown shop building on Dalston Lane available, and much of the limited funds for building work went into repairing it before it could be converted for use: here the kitchen, built by women joiners, was at the heart of the social space, and as much of the building as possible was made accessible for disabled people.
Alongside the technical renovations and building work, the Centre commissioned some lovely stained glass by femalie artist Anna Conti and the photos on her site are the only tantalising glimpse of the interior of the Centre I have been able to find:
The flyer below gives a flavor of the sort of activies that the organising group were hoping the Centre would be able to offer. And of course there is the inevitable mail box at Centerprise!
Aside from the Hackney Lesbian Group flyer at the top of this post, I’ve not found a huge amount of material on what actually happened at the Centre after it opened. There are some interesting adverts in the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter from 1988 and 1990:
The longevity of these events suggest that the Centre was able to maintain the commitment to intersectionality noted by Glasgow Women’s Library.
Inevitably it was not all plain sailing, as is evident from this unpleasant exchange of letters between the Pan African Congress Group and the Centre. They concern an argument over a group obtaining a Malcolm X tape which is mainly about homophobia in the black community:
It appears that Hackney Women’s Centre was in operation until at least 1993. A lot of organisations that had been supported by the GLC struggled to maintain funding beyond this point. (Although it is worth noting that London Irish Women’s Centre was at 59 Stoke Newington Church Street until 2012).
The Centre appears in several novels: “Calendar Girl” by Stella Duffy (1994), “Hello Mr Bones” by Patrick McCabe (2013) and “All Girl Live Action” by Sara Faith Tibbs (2015)
If you have any memories of Hackney Women’s Centre – or access to archival material, stories, people relating to it, please leave a comment below.
Sources and further reading
Petrescu, D. (ed.) (2007) AlteringPractices: Feminist Politics and Poetics ofSpace, New York and London: Routledge – includes “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne.
Grace Quah – Beyond the Home: Re-evaluating feminist representations of domestic space through contemporary cinema (Thesis for Bartlett School of Architecture, 2017) – available on academia.edu
Write Women Into History: Recollections by older Hackney Feminists was published last year as part of the HOWL (History of Women’s Liberation) project.
HOWL was established in 2019 to mark 50 years since the earliest UK Women’s Liberation Groups were formed and to:
“reveal and collect the wealth of stories by grassroots women from diverse backgrounds who were part of this important movement”
The fourteen contributors met online during the lockdown to discuss their lives, their writing and to draw each other for the cover artwork.
The resulting booklet is nicely produced with a great variation of styles from diverse contributors and numerous photographs and illustrations. I especially enjoyed Sue O’Sullivan’s recollections of the Sheba feminist publishing collective in 1980s Dalston, BJ & MJ’s dialogue about their mother/daughter relationship and Gilli Salvat on the first UK black lesbian support group – but there is something of interest on every page. (I was also excited to see a chapter by my next door neighbour – hello!)
The concise (and very readable) contributions tend to focus on the positive (and frankly we all need a bit of that). So this isn’t the place for extended accounts of fallings out and schisms. There are some simply stated differences though. For example Stephanie Henthorne’s “political lesbians (what was that all about?)” is perhaps affectionately at variance with Jan S’s “For me, heterosexuality seems incompatible with feminism”.
I think the most striking aspect of the book is the general impression it gives of the oppressions women faced in the late 20th Century in the UK, the courage it took to join a movement that was battling them – and the fun that could be had being part of that. Of course, some progress has been made since – not least because of the hard work done by the contributors and their allies in the feminist movement. But if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’d agree that there is still a long way to go – so it’s gratifying to see that many of the Hackney HOWLers are still active in a number of radical projects today.
“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.”
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:
(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.”
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:
“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…
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:
Proll would later tell journalist Kate Connolly “The British tabloids were one of the most terrifying things I have experienced.”
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’
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.
“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”
“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:
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:
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.
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.
The comrades at Lesbian History Group have uploaded the annual reports of Dalston Children’s Centre from 1982 and 1983 as PDFs.
The text below sums up its radical ethos:
The Centre was based firstly at 80 Sandringham Road and then latterly 112 Greenwood Road (near Dalston Lane). They also used a number of other venues for activities including St Marks church hall.
The reports are an interesting combination of the expected problems with funding (and the usual tussles about compromising the radical aims of the group to meet funders’ objectives) as well as accounts of the activities of the group, letters from Centre users etc.
The 1983 report includes an appendix of Centre policies, including anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism and anti-authoritarianism – and how these might be applied to education, training and food.
An excerpt from the book Making Space: Women and the Man-Made Environment by Matrix – a feminist architecture firm who also helped with Hackney Women’s Centre. The book is available as a PDF at monoskop.
There is a particular focus on the area around London Fields / Broadway Market:
By the late 1970s an estimated fifty women-only households were scattered throughout the streets behind Broadway Market, including one continuous terrace of seven women’s squats on Lansdowne Drive. The majority of these women identified as lesbians.
But squatting communities in Ivydene Road and Amhurst Road are also mentioned, as well as some very readable recollections of feminist squatting culture and activism.
The next meeting of the Radical History Network of NE London group will focus on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) struggles.
During the last half of the twentieth century LGBT people in the UK moved from being invisible and illegal to being a campaigning force for equality to be reckoned with. Tonight’s meeting will look at the history of these struggles, including Clause 28, the age of consent and the everyday battle for survival.
Come along and share your experiences, and discuss how this history connects with campaigns today.
Speakers will include:
Vince Gillespie, a former Tottenham Labour Party Councillor who was a key figure in the Haringey Positive Images gay rights campaign in the mid-1980s. (Vince later got into trouble with Labour Party bigwigs for his support for the local anti-Poll Tax campaign).
Plus discussion and exchange of news & views.
Free to attend, all interested people welcome.
Wednesday 25th February 7.30 p.m.
Wood Green Social Club 3 Stuart Crescent, N22 5NJ
(off the High Rd, near Wood Green tube)