Blue House squat at Sutton House – can you help?

Image couresty of John Bates and the All The Madmen website

Image couresty of John Bates and the All The Madmen website

Chas left this comment here earlier today – please help if you can:

The National Trust is planning an exhibition at Sutton House (squatted as the Blue House in 1985-6) in November-December 2015 called ‘The Human Quest for Home’. Part of the exhibition will be about the Blue House.

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: charles_loft@hotmail.com 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.

Cheers, Chas from flowers in the dustbin

(PS: we’re playing there on 14 November as part of the exhibition – see our page for details)

[Chas has previously appeared on this site talking about his time with Hackney Community Defence Association too]

Centerprise’s radical mailboxes

Centerprise, 1980

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…

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Box 1: Hackney Against the Cuts (early 90s)

Box 2: Anarchist Communist Association (late 70s)

Box 3: ?

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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.”

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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.”

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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).

Box 11: Hackney Jewish Socialist Group (1990s)

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Box 11: Hackney Trades Union Council (2000s)

Box 12: ?

Box 13: An Phoblacht – newspaper of Sinn Féin.

Box 14: News From Everywhere / Campaign For Real Life (1980s/1990s) Communist publishers of books, pamphlets and texts – with a tinge of the situationist / “ultra-left”.

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Box 15: London Psychogeographical Association / Unpopular Books / Workers Scud / East London Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1980s-1990s)

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’.”

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Box 17: Hackney Campaign for Equal Opportunities in Percy Ingle Shops.

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Box 22: ELWAR – East London Workers Against Racism

Box 24: Unity Group (1990s) “Promoting unity between anti-fascist groups.”

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Box 26: Spare Change Press (book publishers – punk fiction and others) / Mad Pride (anarchistic mental health protest group) (1990s/2000s)

Box 32: Between the Lines (1990s) Humorous and slightly heretical left-wing fanzine. Also organised “looney left football tournaments” and discussion meetings.

Box 33: Stop Thorp Campaign (1990s) Opposition to new nuclear waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

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Box 38: Stoke Newington Rock Against Racism (late 70s / early 80s)

Box 39: Hackney Anti-Deportation Campaign

Box 44: Melancholic Troglodytes (1990s/2000s) internationalist council communist pamphleteers.

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Box 48: Hackney Mental Patients Association (1980s)

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Box 48: Hackney Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) (late 90s, 2000s) Community politics in South Hackney. Later became Hackney Independent.

 

“Stand Up And Spit”: Tim Wells and Hackney ranting poetry

Attila The Stockbroker with Tim Wells

Attila The Stockbroker with Tim Wells

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).

A recent entry includes some excellent dub poetry by Hugh Boatswain on racist policing in Stoke Newington in the 1970s. Boatswain was part of a group of young people who met at Centerprise.

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Janine Booth

Also worth checking out is this piece by another Hackney resident, Janine Booth, on her time as a ranting poet, and why she gave it up to become a trade union activist. She has recently returned to poetry though, and has published an anthology called “Mostly Hating Tories”.

Stand Up And Spit events/gigs are happening in London too:

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Tim’s own anthology “Rougher Yet” includes a number of poems about growing up in Hackney and how the borough is changing…

A Radical History of Hackney Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1885 William Morris speaks at Victoria Park:

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

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

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

1887 Free speech demo in Victoria Park in March.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1990 Hackney residents burn Poll Tax bills in Clissold Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources/Acknowledgements

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

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

Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park

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

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

History Is Made At Night (Funk The Royal Wedding)

Past Tense (London Fields Lido)

Getting Involved

Hackney Council’s list of Park User Groups.

Further Reading: Modern

The Rise of the Friends Groups Movements, by Dave Morris

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

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

Further Reading: Older

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

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

Film: Hackney Anarchy Week 1996

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:

  • Alternative TV
  • Stewart Home
  • Anarchist Football
  • Mr Social Control
  • Small Press Book Fair
  • Class War
  • Reclaim the Streets & Critical Mass
  • McDonalds Picket in support of the McLibel Campaign
  • The Association of Autonomous Astronauts
  • Punx Picnic
  • 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.

hackney anarchy week vhs cover

Other HAW material on this site:

Champagne socialists and punk squatters at Sutton House

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.

Clive Jenkins

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.”

(From BBC obit)

Also: Guardian obit

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
  • Decadent Few
  • Another Green World
  • Antisect
  • Flowers In The Dustbin
  • Bad Dress Sense
  • Blyth Power
  • Splatterbabies
  • God Told Me To Do It
  • Disorder
  • Slave Dance
  • 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:

Sutton House is now a popular National Trust museum/venue/shop/tea room. Full info is available on the National Trust website.

Music events take place regularly, courtesy of the Sutton House Music Society. Punks may be slightly disappointed however.

With thanks to Transpontine.