There have naturally been some terrible takes from the usual right wing pundits about how the influence of Colin Jordan’s band of Nazis was overstated in the show and that they would never have seized power. This misses the point that neo-Nazi groups can make life miserable for ordinary people on a day to day basis – and they can shift the “overton window” of political discourse to the far right and influence mainstream parties that way.
History Workshop have produced an absolutely cracking podcast about the history and struggles of Ridley Road market:
It includes some great oral history about the fight against Oswald Mosley’s fascists, but the accounts from market traders about recent battles against regeneration are even more interesting. Interviewees include local resident Tamara Stoll, who has published a photo book on the social history of the market and was one of several people to work on the essential Rio Tape Slide Reel book.
Newington Green Meeting House has a couple of interesting things happening at the moment:
When proposals for Crossrail 2 (originally called the Chelsea to Hackney line) were first considered by Government Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and the plans were passed in front of her for approval. Her memorable (and deadly) response was reported to be: “Hackney! Hackney! – who wants to go to Hackney?”
Christian Wolmar, the celebrated railway historian and journalist, will talk about the long and tortuous battles for London’s railways.
(Online and also in person at Newington Green Meeting House – £11.25 or cheaper for Hackney Society members)
Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted sheds light on the under-explored overlap between the anarchopunk movement on the 1980s and the rave movement of the 1990s. It is extraordinarily comprehensive and there are a few references to gigs, squats raves etc in Hackney.
The new space outside the revamped Britannia Leisure Centre was named BRAFA square following extensive engagement with the local community. BRAFA was the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – a benefit single and live event inspired by Live Aid – or rather, the lack of black artists involved with Live Aid.
Hackney Museum have produced a useful film about the story of BRAFA and launch of the square:
In other Hackney reggae news, I thoroughly enjoyed the memorial event for veteran dancehall soundsystem operator Ruddy Ranks that Hackney Archives organised in October:
The evening at BSix College included the unveiling of a plaque for Ruddy, who attended school there when it was called Brooke House – as well as many memories of someone who was by all accounts a proper Hackney character. The Archives have some film of the event which I am sure they were upload in due course for people who couldn’t attend.
Hackney Slave Traders
The Museum of the Home has issued another statement about its statue honouring slave trader Robert Geffrye. Whilst this statement is an improvement on previous ones, it basically just says that the museum feels bad about the statue being there. It has been surprising to see how much praise this has generated.
I am firmly in camp Vernon on this one and would encourage people not to visit the museum until the statue is removed:
Meanwhile the Council has been quietly getting on with asking local people what they want to be done with the remnants of slave-trading – and then doing something about it. (Like most people I am hardly a fan of the council, but credit where credit is due!)
I was also pleased to see Tyssen Community School near Clapton Common (named after the slave-trading Tyssen family) was putting up some new signs to mark its renaming as Oldhill School:
Just nice things
It’s been a tough couple of years. I think we all need to be reminded that good people in the community have been doing their best to crack on and make things better with very little resources. These two films about grass roots sports in Hackney both cheered me up immensely.
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.
If you lived there, visited, played etc and have any photos or flyers or other relevant bits and pieces, or if you would be willing to be interviewed for the exhibition about the House and squatting in Hackney at the time, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org or post here.
Photos etc can be scanned and returned, interviews will be audio only and can be anonymous if you want. The exhibition will include restoring one room as a squatted bedroom, so anything relevant to that you can lend would be great.
This is a chance to present a positive story about squatting (which led to the house being restored by the NT and opened to the public) to school kids and others for whom this is all ancient history, so if you have anything to offer please get in touch.
As well as being a meeting space, café and bookshop, Centerprise allowed community, and political groups to use the building as a mailing address.
“Box X, 136-138 Kingsland High Street, London E8” would appear regularly in radical publications from the seventies until the shop closed a few years ago.
Below is an incomplete list of groups that used Centerprise as a contact address throughout its life. (Some boxes were used by different people at different times – where I believe this has happened I have given each user a new line.)
Please comment below or send an email if you can fill any of the gaps or have anything else to add…
Box 4: The Apostles (controversial anarchist punk band, 1980s) / Academy 23 (experimental music group, 1990s) / UNIT (prog rock, pop and improvisational music, 2000s) also SMILE magazine and other publications.
Box 5: The Black Women’s Network (1990s) “is organizing SOJOURN II, sponsoring visits by black activists to Zimbabwe, India and Nigeria. Sojourners will study the role of women in relation to land use and ownership, and network with health workers (in order to better understand issues like AIDS, female genital mutilation, and nutrition). The Black Women’s Network publishes a regular international magazine called Linkages.”
Box 6: Theatre of Black Women (1980s) “Theatre is a powerful mode of communication and Theatre of Black Women is the only permanent Black women’s theatre company in Britain. As such we concern ourselves with issues such as Black women in education, health housing, feminism in history and in the Arts. Our theatre is about the lives and struggles of black women and provides an opportunity for Black women’s voices to be heard positively through theatre. We use theatre to promote positive and encouraging images of Black women as individuals, examining and re-defining relationships with men, living independent lives, giving and receiving support from other Black women, discovering their own Black identity, celebrating their Black womanhood.”
Box 7: Hackney Broadcasting Authority – community pirate radio on Saturday afternoons. (late 1986)
Box 7: Hackney Not 4 Sale (2000s) opposition to Hackney Council’s post-bankruptcy sell-offs of property and community facilities.
Box 8: ?
Box 9: North Hackney Anti-Nazi League (late 1970s)
Box 10: Anti Racist Action (early 1980s) “An organisation not run by trendy middle class lefties or by guilty patronising farts. Or even by political parties.” – from the sleeve notes to the 1982 “Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It ‘Til It Breaks” EP by The Apostles (see Box 4 above).
Unpopular Books: “Purveyors of proletarian literature since 1983. Peculiarly pertinent portrayals of proletarian pressure to usher inouternational notions that negate normal ideological identifications in a no nonsense way. In particular, publishers of London Psychogeographical Association material along with such gems as ‘Black Mask’ and Asger Jorn’s ‘Open Creation and Its Enemies’.”
Box 17: Hackney Campaign for Equal Opportunities in Percy Ingle Shops.
Box 22: ELWAR – East London Workers Against Racism
Box 22: Tube Watch (1988-?) – Class struggle and public transport in London.
Box 24: Unity Group (1990s) “Promoting unity between anti-fascist groups.”
Box 26: Spare Change Press (book publishers – punk fiction and others) / Mad Pride (anarchistic mental health protest group) (1990s/2000s)
Box 31: Hackney Police Monitoring Group (early 1980s).
Box 32: Between the Lines (1990s) Humorous and slightly heretical left-wing fanzine. Also organised “looney left football tournaments” and discussion meetings.
Box 33: Hackney Big Flame (early 1980s) (socialist group influenced by Italian autonomism)
Stop Thorp Campaign (1990s) Opposition to new nuclear waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield.
Box 38: Stoke Newington Rock Against Racism (late 70s / early 80s)
Long-time Hackney resident Tim Wells is heading up a project to document the ranting poetry movement of the 1980s. This was poetry done by working class people inspired by the DIY snottiness of punk.
His Stand Up And Spit blog is a great collection of documentation of ranting poetry, including 1980s fanzines and music press excerpts and some current interviews and reminiscences from former ranters (and some that never stopped).
“The Park is called the People’s Park
And all the walks are theirs
And strolling through the flowery paths
They breathe exotic airs,
South Kensington, let it remain
Among the Upper Ten.
East London, with useful things,
Be left with working men.
The rich should ponder on the fact
Tis labour has built it up
A mountain of prodigious wealth
And filled the golden cup.
And surely workers who have toiled
Are worthy to behold
Some portion of the treasures won
And ribs of shining gold.”
The text below was originally published as a pamphlet, bashed out for the Radical History Network meeting on “Community Empowerment and Open Green Spaces”, July 10th 2013. (I have a couple of the pamphlets left – drop me an email if you want one.)
It’s full of holes, a work in progress. Get in touch with additions, criticisms, comments.
1275 The area that is now London Fields was recorded as common pastureland adjoining Cambridge Heath. In 1540 the name London Field is found recorded as a separate item consisting of around 100 acres in changing ownership of land. London Field was one of the many “commonable lands” of Hackney where the commoners of the parish could graze their livestock on the fields from Lammas Day (Anglo Saxon for bread mass), August 1st, celebrating the first loaf after the crops had been harvested, to Lady Day, March 25th. This arrangement was known as Lammas Rights and was protected by law. (from here)
1700s In the Marshes towards Hackney Wick were low public houses, the haunt of highwaymen. Dick Turpin was a constant guest at the “White House” or “Tyler’s Ferry” and few police-officers were bold enough to approach the spot.
1750 onwards Clissold House (originally named Paradise House) was built, in the latter half of the 18th century, for Jonathan Hoare, a City merchant, Quaker, philanthropist and anti-slavery campaigner. (His brother Samuel was one of the founders of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.). The grounds of the house went on to become Clissold Park.
1793 Big open-air demonstration on Hackney Downs, in support of the revolutionary gains in France. The tutors Richard Price, Joseph Priestley and Gilbert Wakefield organised lectures on the French Revolution at the New College, a non-conformist academy (“by-word for revolutionary opinion”) at Lower Clapton.
1840 Abney Park Cemetery opens as the first fully non-denominational burial ground in Europe (where anyone could be buried, but especially non-conformists, dissenters etc). Many anti-slavery campaigners are buried there.
1845 Victoria Park is opened following a petition by 30,000 local people to Queen Victoria. “There was no bathing pool provided and local youths were in the habit of bathing – naked! – in the adjacent Regent’s Canal. Attempts to police such shocking behaviour were unavailing and within a few years a pool was provided in the park itself.” – Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park
1848 Chartists meet at Bonners Park (near Victoria Park) to march on Parliament.
1860s Hackney Downs open space (originally common land) preserved as parkland as a result of pressure by the Commons Preservation Society.
1866 Widespread pickets and demonstrations for universal male suffrage as advocated by the Reform League during summer. After disorder at Hyde Park the Tory government banned all protest meetings throughout London. The ban was widely ignored; a huge “illegal” rally took place in Victoria Park.
1872 180 acres in Hackney are preserved as public open space and protected from the encroachment of development. Including Clapton Common and Cockhanger Green (now boringly called Stoke Newington Common).
In the 1880s the grounds of Clissold House and the adjacent Newington Common were threatened with development, and two prominent campaigners, Joseph Beck of The City of London and John Runtz of The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) persuaded the Board of MBW to buy the land and create a public park. (from Clissold Park User Group, as was the image above)
1885 William Morris speaks at Victoria Park:
The political culture of the day was not simply confined to the clubs and indoor meeting places. The open-air meeting, whether in the park, or on the street corner, remained the principal forum for addressing the uninitiated, convincing the unconvinced, spreading the word. William Morris was one of the mast well known public speakers for socialism of the period, and visited Hackney often. There is a fine portrait of him speaking to a crowd in Victoria Park in 1885 in Tom Mann’s Memoirs:
He was a picture on an open air platform. The day was fine, the branches of the tree under which he was speaking spread far over the speaker. Getting him well in view, the thought came, and has always recurred as I think of that first sight of Morris – “Bluff King Hal”. I did not give careful attention to what he was saying, for I was chiefly concerned to get the picture of him in my mind, and then to watch the faces of the audience to see how they were impressed…. Nine-tenths were giving careful attention, but on the fringe of the crowd were some who had just accidentally arrived, being out for a walk, and having unwittingly come upon the meeting. These stragglers were making such remarks as: ‘Oh, this is the share-and-share-alike crowd’; ‘Poverty, eh, he looks all right, don’t he?’ But the audience were not to be distracted by attempts at ribaldry: and as Morris stepped off the improvised platform, they gave a fine hearty hand-clapping which showed real appreciation.
1889 Clissold Park was opened by the newly formed London County Council (LCC). The two ponds in the park are named the Beckmere and the Runtzmere in honour of the two principal founders.
1926 Victoria Park is the site for some enthusiastic speeches in support of the General Strike. The park is closed briefly to the public during the strike when the army is stationed there – for reasons which seem to be unclear.
1930s Hackney Red Radio (a branch of the Workers Theatre Movement) perform agit prop and pro-working class skits and plays. The group performs in parks, streets etc, including London Fields, where they are pelted with over-ripe tomatoes by an unappreciative audience on one occasion.
“We are Red Radio,
Workers’ Red Radio,
We Show you how you’re robbed and bled;
The old world’s crashing,
Let’s help to smash it
And build a workers’ world instead.”
1936 British Union of Fascists holds regular rallies in Victoria Park including clashes with anti-fascists.Also a large anti-fascist meeting in July organised by the Trades Councils of North and East London: “A mile long procession headed by a brass band culminated in a large public meeting which declared its unalterable opposition to fascism and to the war which it would inevitably lead.” Fascists attempt to march through East London in October for another Victoria Park rally, but are prevented from doing so by anti-fascists: The Battle of Cable Street. They did not pass.
1939 Trenches are dug in Hackney Downs, Victoria Park and other open spaces at the outset of the 2nd World War.
(There is a bit of gap here! Can you help fill it? What happened between the 1930s and the 1970s?)
1981 Funk The Wedding concert takes place in Clissold Park on the day of the marriage of Charles and Di. (from History Is Made At Night, as is the image above)
1983 Clissold Park Free Festival, August?! (mentioned here, any further info welcome)
1990s The demolition of London Fields Lido is resisted by the people of Hackney, including standing in front of the bulldozers. Local people led campaigns to reopen the Lido and cleared away vegetation. The children’s paddling pool which was closed in 1999, was reopened by local people for summer seasons. In 1998 the Lido was squatted for housing, a café and communal events. In August 1998 there was the Carnival of the Dispossessed, a benefit for Reclaim The Streets. The Lido was squatted for a second time 2002-2005. (From Past Tense)
1990 Hackney residents burn Poll Tax bills in Clissold Park.
1991 Anti-Fascist Action sponsor Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs:
“AFA had surprised everyone by organising the biggest anti-fascist event for over a decade, drawing 10,000 people to the Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs. Supported by a wide range of organisations, from the Hackney Joint Shop Stewards Committee, to the Fire Brigade Union, the Carnival programme again drew attention to rising levels of race attacks and urged people to become pro-active: ‘We have organised today’s event to draw attention to the growing number of racist attacks especially in east London. The fact that some sections of the community virtually live under siege is unacceptable and we hope you are prepared to do more than just come to this symbolic show of unity. Support the activities on the back of this programme to get organised and do something to stop racist attacks.'”
Sean Birchall – Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (Freedom, 2010) p250
1996 Hackney Anarchy Week, a ten day festival including a punks’ picnic and 3-sided football match in Clissold Park.
2007 After much resistance and protest, the Manor Garden Allotments (near Hackney Wick, but apparently not technically in Hackney!) are demolished to make way for the Olympics. Similar struggles take place on Hackney Marshes (where football pitches are closed to make way for a coach park)
edit Jan 2015: This is now available in better resolution:
Or worser resolution as orginally posted here:
Some kind soul has uploaded the Hackney Anarchy Week film to Youtube. You might want to view it as “full screen” though, as it’s slightly low resolution.
The film includes:
Mr Social Control
Small Press Book Fair
Reclaim the Streets & Critical Mass
McDonalds Picket in support of the McLibel Campaign
The Association of Autonomous Astronauts
Ken Loach at the Rio – Interview
and a host of others. The film necessarily focuses on the more visual and social aspects of the festival (demos, gigs, performances etc) rather than the meetings and discussions.
It was shot throughout the festival and then shown as a rough cut on the last night in the small theatre above the Samuel Pepys pub (next door to the Hackney Empire). A VHS video was available for sale shortly after the festival had finished.
It’s good to see a number of familiar faces appear, many of whom are still active in 2013 and a couple of whom have sadly passed away over the last 17 years.
Sutton House on Homerton High Street was “built in 1535 by Sir Ralph Sadleir, Principal Secretary of State to Henry VIII. It is the oldest residential building in Hackney”. (Wikipedia). I doubt that Sadleir mixed up the mortar and laid the bricks himself, but details of the names of the actual builders have not been recorded for posterity.
The house has been used variously as a school, a centre for fire wardens during the 2nd World War blitz, and the headquarters of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS) trade union.
I’m not going to lie – labour movement history is not something that particularly excites me. The ASTMS are notable for being a “white collar” union which later merged with others to become MSF, then Amicus, now Unite.
Having said that, Clive Jenkins – the General Secretary of the ASTMS sounds entertaining. For example he listed “organising the middle classes” as a favourite recreation in Who’s Who.
His scepticism about the sixties “I’m Backing Britain” campaign was admirable: “When the British ruling class is in trouble it wraps itself in the Union Jack.”
Jenkins went on to join the ruling class by becoming a millionaire. He died in 1999. The obituaries were effusive:
“He had a reputation as a champagne socialist. He used to go to Blackpool to the various conferences and you would find him in a fish and chip shop not far from the Imperial Hotel with a bottle of Chablis. He was quite a character.”
After the ASTMS vacated Sutton House in the early eighties it fell into disuse and disrepair before being rescued by squatters:
Image couresty of John Bates and the All The Madmen website
The squatters named it The Blue House. This remarkable bit of footage on Youtube shows the exterior and interior of the Blue House and some of its residents:
The space was used as a social centre and music venue as well as a home:
(Flyers above from the Blue House album on facebook – click to enlarge).
Bands which played the Blue House included:
Band of Holy Joy
Brain of Mobius
Another Green World
Flowers In The Dustbin
Bad Dress Sense
God Told Me To Do It
Sons of Bad Breath
The last three played a benefit gig for the anarchist group Class War’s “bust fund” on 21st September 1985. This event followed the “Bash The Rich” march from Camden to Hampstead earlier on the same day.
There’s some confusion around the web about whether My Bloody Valentine and Shake Appeal (who went on to be Swervedriver) played The Blue House, but it seems that this gig was actually at Kerouacs/Club Mankind nearby in Hackney Central.
Towards the end of 1985 a benefit gig for the Blue House took place at Stoke Newington Town Hall:
image courtesy of Penguin / Kill Your Pet Puppy
(“The Angels Ov Light” were Hackney group Psychic TV under an alias).
There are some great reminiscences about gigs at The Blue House on the excellent Kill Your Pet Puppy site. (See the comments sections here, here and here.)
The squatters were evicted at some point in 1986/7. If you know when or have any other info or memories please leave a comment below or get in touch!
In his book A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London, Patrick Wright goes into some detail about the subsequent wrangles between the squatters, other local residents (who wanted the house to be restored and/or a community facility) and the National Trust and a property developer (who wanted to turn Sutton House into five private flats).
The National Trust eventually saw sense and kept Sutton House, reopening it in 1994 after a great deal of rennovation. Artwork by the squatters has been retained (and images of it are now being sold), which on balance is a gratifying example of the importance of radical history being recognised by mainstream organisations: