The Undercover Policing Inquiry into the unethical and illegal practices of spycops is ongoing. It’s well worth keeping an eye on and has revelaed huge amounts of information about police infiltration of radical campaigning groups and political organisations. This can all be harrowing and difficult to keep track of. The fact that the investigation is happening at all – and is being conducted so comprehensively – is a testament to the tenacity and resilience of the victims of spycops.
Inevitably the Inquiry has shed light on police monitoring of and covert involvement in radical movements in Hackney. Previous coverage here is now handily collected together under the spycops tag. The large volume of written and audio testimony means that I can only really skim the surface, but a couple of recent hearings caught my attention.
On 23rd of April the Inquriy heard about the police spying on children. A previous post on this site looked at the inspiring and joyous Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis – children opposing the National Front in the 1970s.
As you can see from the clip below featuring Barrister Kirsten Heaven, it has now emerged that the police spied on these children:
The hearing includes a showing of the Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis newsclip from this website (after some technical difficulties). I was delighted to play a small part in helping the campaign in this way:
That police would routinely spy on children in a democratic society is chilling. But it is even more disturbing that children campaigning against a violently racist and neo-Nazi organisation were treated in this way. The Inquiry has found that about 1000 left wing political organisaitons were spied on, but there is scant information about any far right organisations getting the same treatment from the Special Demonstration Squad. (With the notable exception of one policeman who infiltrated a left wing organisation, which then tasked him with infiltrating a fascist group!)
Even on its own terms, the actual reporting is creepy as fuck in many instances:
One of the features of this phase is the number of reports on school children.142 ‘Gray’ reported on more children than any other officer. Recording the minutiae of their lives and sending them on to MI5. Almost all of these reports have photographs of the children attached. He reports on a 15 year old school-girl, 15 and 13 year old schoolgirls and their parents. In two separate reports he describes the photographed school-boys as “effeminate”. In one report he comments on how much time a school-boy spends at his girlfriend’s house.
The closest ‘Gray’ ever comes to reporting on violence is his note that a school-boy had a fight with his brother.
These children were either the children of Socialist Workers Party members or children who were engaged enough with their society to be part of the School Kids Against the Nazis.
And to justify this he reverts to type and suggests that these children were either subversive or violent. On behalf of Lindsey German and John Rees, who were well aware of the actual activities of School Kids Against the Nazis, we dispute that entirely.
Opening Statement in Tranche 1 Phase 2 on behalf of Richard Chessum and ‘Mary’
This statement goes on to note that whilst the police were spying on innocent school kids, fascist organisations were committing and threatening to commit serious crimes:
In the course of ‘Paul Gray’s’ deployment, Column 88 were threatening to burn down the homes of SWP members. The National Front were attacking Bengalis in Brick Lane, smashing up reggae record shops and graffitiing mosques. They were burning down Indian restaurants and murdering young men like Altab Ali and Ishaque Ali in Whitechapel and Hackney. Whilst they were doing that, Gray and his so called “exemplary” SDS colleagues were writing about what they refer to as “jewish” finance of the Anti-Nazi League, a “negress” activist, an activist with a “large jewish nose” and “coloured hooligans”. Language and views that are beneath contempt.
Instead of investigating the racist firebombing that killed 13 young black people in New Cross, the Special Demonstration Squad were reporting on school children and providing MI5 with copies of Socialist Workers Party baby-sitting rotas.
The full statement that the above is taken from can be read here.
Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance’s summary of the proceedings of April 23rd can be read here.
There was a poll for Hackney residents to vote on options for a new name for the space. The Council’s Review, Rename, Reclaim initiative crowdsourced some suggestions and identified four black former residents of Hackney to choose between:
S.J. Celestine Edwards (1857/8-1894) – activist, editor and campaigner on anti-colonial and anti-racism.
Kathleen ‘Kit’ Crowley (1918-2018) – respected Cassland Road working class resident.
Francis ‘Frank’ Owausu (1954 – 2018) – arrived in Hackney as a child political refugee. Teacher and co-founder of the African Community School (a “supplementary school” similar to the one shown in a recent episode of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” TV series).
Ralph Adolphus Straker (1936 – 2013) – union activist, anti-SUS law campaigner, Hackney Community Relations Council, African and African Carribbean arts patron.
There is a nice PDF with photos and biographical information about the four people here.
Voting on this has now closed and the new name will be announced in May.
(After a similar consultaiton and poll, the square outside Britannia Leisure Centre will now be renamed BRAFA Square after the Hackney-based 1980s British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal.)
#GeffryeMustFall/ Museum of the Home
In other racist memorial news, I was amused to see the Museum of the Home on the scrounge for cash for a new green roof:
The roof of the museum also features its infamous statue of slavetrader Robert Geffrye. If the Museum thinks that sticking some flowers up there will distract us from Geffrye’s blood-stained stone hands, then they are sadly mistaken. Far be it for me to suggest that getting up on the roof is an opportunity for an unfortunate masonry based accident…
The Board and Museum team are continuing to review, discuss and explore options for the statue.
In the meantime we will reinterpret the statue honestly and transparently to tell the history of Geffrye’s career and his connections with the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. And we will acknowledge that the statue is the subject of fierce debate.
We will confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the Museum buildings, and fulfil our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
My position remains that the statue should be removed and that people should not visit the museum until it is.
This is due to the dubious past of the Tyssen family; who the school is currently named after. As part of the Review, Rename, Reclaim Project, Hackney Education informed the school that the Tyssen family played a part in the slave trade. The local authority has, consequently, supported the school to change their name. After consultation with our families and the local community, we decided on the new name Oldhill Community School and Children Centre.
The link above includes a crowdfunder to help with the changes, including new uniforms and tablets for pupils in need.
There is more information on the Tyssen family and its connections to Hackney and the slave trade in a previous post.
Robert Aske and Hackney
Aske Gardens (Pitfield Street, Hoxton) is laid out on land bought in 1690 by the Haberdasher’s Company with money left by Robert Aske.
And where did Aske get his money from? Well, as our colleagues at Reclaim EC1 note, a large portion of his fortune came from his significant investments in the slave-trading operation known as the Royal Africa Company.
According to historian William Pettigrew, the RAC ‘shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade’ (Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752, 2013) including more than 150,000 slaves forcibly transported to the British Caribbean.
Geffrye, Tyssen and Cass are identified as “contested figures” as part of the Council’s Review, Rename, Reclaim initiative. But Robert Aske is not mentioned.
More promisingly, schools named after Aske in New Cross and Elstree are reported to be considering a change of name. A statement issued by the schools’ sponsor, the Haberdashers Company, states:
‘The Haberdashers’ Company and its Schools in Elstree and South London have become aware that Robert Aske was a shareholder in the Royal African Company (RAC). All are clear that the role of the RAC in the slave trade was deplorable and sits in stark contrast with the values which underpin the activities and philosophy of the Company, its schools and beneficiaries today. The schools are already engaged in comprehensive reviews of culture, values and their brands and this matter will be included. The outcome of these fully consultative deliberations, including the future use of the Aske name, will be communicated when conclusions are reached and decisions made. The Haberdashers’ Company is proud of its ethos of benevolence, fellowship and inclusion, and the diverse nature of its membership’.
I hope this sensitivity and momentum can be maintained and that a more appropriate name for Aske Gardens can be found – as well as for the other memorials to Aske in Hackney identified by Reclaim EC1:
Obviously the name of Aske Gardens requires change. It seems likely that nearby Aske Street (N1 6LE postcode) is also named for the merchant Robert Aske and if this is the case it should be changed too.
Likewise, given Aske’s strong association with the Haberdashers’ Company we’d like to see the names of the nearby Haberdasher Estate and Haberdasher Street changed – it should also be noted that the Haberdashers’ Company is closely associated with slave trade figures such as the lord mayor Sir Richard Levett, who will be addressed in part 8 of this series.
A Zen internet page dedicated to Aske’s Hospital and Almshouses is among the places that note this listed building has been converted into flats and is now called Hoffman Square (N1 6DH), but there are stone panels at the front entrance detailing its history (relevant webpage here) that should be removed or at the very least amended to record Aske’s investment in the slave trade.
Latest Salvo in the Culture Wars
Toyin Agbetu is one of the participants in the removal of the Cassland Road sign shown at the top of this post. As a representative of the Ligali organisation he has talked a great deal of sense on Hackney’s colonial legacy and how this might be addressed. Hence him being invited by the Council onto their Review, Rename, Reclaim initiative and Sadiq Khan’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. He also has a fascinating history in music as a street soul artist.
The Conservative Party is rabidly opposed to any nuanced consideration of colonialism. A previous post on this blog looked at Minister for Culture Oliver Dowden’s interference with the Museum of the Home’s public consultation on the future of the Robert Geffrye statue. So it is hardly surprising that the Tories have subjected individuals on the Mayor’s Commission to intense scrutiny.
Initially Toyin came under fire for having heckled the Queen back in March 2007, during a Westminster Abbey church service held to recognize the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Reader, it may not surprise you that this only made my affection for Mr Agebtu grow.
We all have skeletons in our cupboards and perhaps inevitably the Tories kept going until they found something more damning. Some brief comments by Toyin about the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine, which were unwise in my view, were blown out of proportion in the right wing press.
Some comments discovered by Jewish News are very troubling however, and have led to Mr Agbetu resigning from the London Mayor’s Commission. Toyin’s statement to the Hackney Citizen gives his side of the story and announces that a more developed response will be forthcoming after the elections in May.
This short news clip shows a group of kids leafletting outside a school (I’m not sure which one?) and discussing racism and the National Front with fellow pupils. You can also see a march by school children across Hackney Downs.
Heartwarming stuff – I’m very grateful to Louis Allday for posting this to Twitter (and to the comrade who brought it to my attention).
School Kids Against The Nazis was an initiative by the Anti-Nazi League, but as you can see from the clip this incarnation in Hackney was a very grassroots affair with distinctly homegrown leaflets (and accents!).
There was a battle for the hearts and minds of schookids taking place in the late 1970s, with the National Front publishing its own youth paper Bulldog to pollute children’s minds with its fascist ideas. The NF also produced its infamous “How To Spot A Red Teacher” leaflet in 1978 which led to some physical attacks on teachers. The Front was especially active in Hackney in this period – its National HQ Excalibur House in Great Eastern Street in the south of the borough opened in 1978 also.
Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis was formed shortly after the ANL’s Carnival Against The Nazis in Victoria Park on April 30th 1978.
The clip is taken from a longer Thames Television documentary which you can see here:
There is a tonne of great Hackney-related footage in the full piece (but the school kids segment is the highlight for sure):
00:00 ANL march from Traflagr Square to gig in Victoria Park, including interviews with marchers
03:07 Patrick Kodikara of Hackney Campaign Against Racism
03:52 Leafletting session on Hackney estates
04:45 Leafletting Ridley Road market: “Remember to bombs on Hackney, we remember in Ridley Road, we remember Mosley’s fascists”. As Charles points out in the comments below, this includes Monty Goldman – one of Hackney’s most prominent Communist Party candidates.
At an early 62 Group encounter outside Hackney town hall, Maurice charged at a huge fascist bruiser and smashed him to the ground. He then grabbed his jacket with such force that the lapels came away in his hands. “Next time you buy a suit,” he advised, “go to a proper Jewish tailor.”
“The British National Party has a meeting on John Campbell Road. We formed up a flying wedge and charged at them. There were only about twenty or thirty of them and we kicked the shit out of them. They took their walking wounded to the Metropolitan Hospital in Kingsland Road, where there was a black doctor in charge in casualty, so they all came limping out again. We were waiting outside and helped them on their way again.”
62 Group member Tony Hall in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann
This week the BBC announced a new TV drama had gone into production:
Introducing Aggi O’Casey and Tom Varey who lead in gripping new thriller “Ridley Road” for BBC One…
Ridley Road tells the story of a young Jewish woman, Vivien Epstein, played by Aggi O’Casey, in her first television role.
After falling in love with a member of the 62 Group, she rejects her comfortable middle-class life in Manchester and joins the fight against fascism in London, risking everything for her beliefs and for the man she loves.
Inspired by the struggle of the 62 Group, a coalition of Jewish men who stood up against rising neo-Nazism in post-war Britain, Vivien is working with them when she realises that Jack, her missing boyfriend (played by Varey) has been badly injured. Vivien infiltrates the NSM, a neo-Nazi movement which is becoming increasingly prominent in London. As Vivien descends further into the fascist organisation her courage and loyalties are challenged.
The series is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Jo Bloom, who explained the idea behind her book to the Hackney Gazette:
“I attended a funeral of one of my mum’s oldest friends,” Bloom says. “My father and I were about to leave when we were asked to give a lift to an elderly man who had a problem with his hip.”
The man in question turned out to be Monty Goldman, a notable communist activist, who stood for election for Mayor of Hackney in 2002 and 2010 and for Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch in 1997 and 2005.
“In the car on the way to the nearest station, he and my father started talking about post-war east London where they both grew up,” she says.
The two men discussed the 43 Group, the anti-fascist group set up by Jewish ex-servicemen after World War II, as well as the 62 Group which was founded to fight the resurgence of fascism in Britain in the sixties. Whilst her father had not been a member of either group, he knew lots of people who had. And Monty had fought alongside both groups.
Mony Goldman is a Hackney fixture who has stood as the Communist candidate in more local elections than most people have voted in. He’s got his hands dirty with street poltiics too:
“I always tried to keep out of getting hurt. I was sensible. If I missed our crowd of people, I wasn’t going to be a hero and fight ten blackshirts on my own. I didn’t mind one to one, there was nothing barred. You kick ‘em where it hurts!”
The 62 Group were the successor organisation to the more well known 43 Group, who fought Oswald Mosley’s fascists after the 2nd World War. The 43 Group are reasonably well known with two excellent books and several documentaries available. The 62 Group are less well known but hopefully that can change now.
The 43 Group wound down in 1950, having smashed Mosley’s fascist Union Movement off the streets and given them a good hiding on several occasions at Ridley Road market in Dalston.
But as recent history shows, fascism rarely disappears for long:
“…within a few years, Mosley had already chosen London’s black community as a new prime target, while in 1962, the neo-Nazi activist Colin Jordan felt comfortable enough to hold a rally in Trafalgar Square beneath an eighty-five-foot-long, eight-foot-high banner reading ‘FREE BRITAIN FROM JEWISH CONTROL.’ This prompted the creation of the 62 Group, which intended to carry on the job of their predecessors.”
Marcus Barnett reviewing Daniel Sonabend’s 43 Group book for Jacobin
As Past Tense point out, the rally was disrupted by anti-fascists, some of whom had been members of the 43 Group. This would lead to the formation of the 1962 Committee, more commonly known as the 62 Group. In another post Past Tense also note the differences between the 43 Group’s membership and the new organisation:
While similar to the 43 Group in some ways, there were some marked differences. Britain in the 1960s was a different place to Britain at the end of the Second World War, and so the composition of the new group was different. As with the earlier organisation, the left and the Jewish community remained leading players in the wider anti-fascist movement; but the left’s influence in the Jewish community was beginning to wane. International events and demographic shifts were changing the nature of London’s Jewish community in particular. Thus the 62 Group was not dominated by the left in the same way that the 43 Group had been. Although some of those who set up the 62 Group had been involved in the 43 Group, a new generation was also becoming involved.
This is mildly disputed by at least one former 62 Group member:
“Don’t let anyone kid you that the 62 Group was an exclusively Jewish organisation, because it wasn’t. There were all sorts in it. The backbone of our part of it was the Stoke Newington branch of the Communist Party. They weren’t all members of the CP, but people associated with it, sympathisers, friends, villians, all sorts of people”
Tony Hall, quoted in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann
Having said that, the group’s composition certainly created some problems for Hackney anti-fascist Gerry Gable:
“In Hackney, which had been a focal point of fascist and anti-fascism activity in the 1930s and postwar, people were getting together to prepare to resist the gathering storm. And it became my job to bring people from all sorts of backgrounds to cleanse the streets of the enemy.”
“I was chief steward of the North and East London Anti-Fascist Committee, a multi-racial group that included members from most of the political parties, including even some Young Tories from Stepney… Lots of us were workmates – I was a sparks [electrician] in the building trade as were some of my black mates. We would police building sites where racists were at work and clear them off the sites. Fascists had even been allowed to attend trade union meetings wearing their badges; we went along and tossed them out.”
“A new activist anti-fascist group, The 62 Group, was formed after Jordan’s National Socialist Movement rally in Trafalgar Square in 1962, but some of us could not, or would not, join as it was solely a Jewish organisation […] Although I qualified as Jewish because my mother was Jewish, my dad was a non-practising Anglican and I decided not to join. Nevertheless, the Leadership of the Group invited me to become one of its two Intelligence Officers, although I insisted on selecting my own team of people to engage in ‘special operations’.”
Gerry Gable, quoted by Past Tense
Gable would later be one of the founders, and longest serving editor, of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.
The 62 Group was even more clandestine than the 43 Group and did not publish a newspaper or make public statements unlike its predecessor. By 1963 the police estimated that the group had 200 members, with 70 in London (Nigel Copsey, Fascism in Britain).
Fascist rallies recommenced in Hackney in the early sixties along with racist graffitti, violent assaults on black and Jewish people and even an arson attack on a synagogue. Hackney police provided protection for fascist rallies and were unenthusiastic about investigting racist crimes.
I have so far discovered the following examples of 62 Group (and related militant anti-fascist) activity in Hackney from this era:
31st July 1962: Former fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley has been assaulted at a rally in London’s east end. He and members of his anti-Semitic Blackshirt group were punched to the ground as soon as his meeting opened at Ridley Road, Dalston. Police were forced to close the meeting within three minutes and made 54 arrests – including Sir Oswald’s son Max.
A crowd of several thousand had gathered in the area, where Sir Oswald, leader of the Union Movement formerly known as the British Union of Fascists, planned to speak from the back of a lorry. As soon as he appeared from between two police buses the crowd surged forward and knocked Sir Oswald to the ground. […] He was met by a hail of missiles including rotten fruit, pennies and stones and people tried to storm the platform.
His speech was drowned out by continuous boos and a chorus of “down with the fascists”. Scuffles continued as Sir Oswald was shepherded to his car and his vehicle was punched and kicked as it drove off though a gangway cleared by mounted police. (BBC “On This Day”)
3rd August 1962: Despite a TV appeal by the Mayor for Hackney residents to keep away from Ridley road, by 7.30 about 1500 people had gathered at the corner of Ridley Road. Immediately he appeared, the crowd pressed in on Sir Oswald. He was pulled to the ground, punched and kicked. Fierce fighting then broke out, combined with shouts of “Down with Mosley, Down with Germany.” Mosley disappeared under a group of struggling, punching men and women, only to reappear and start hitting, fighting his way to a loudspeaker lorry. His words were drowned by the shouts of the crowd and the sudden cry of “Sieg Heil”– the victory cry of Hitler. Coins and tomatoes were thrown at the lorry, and Sir Oswald fought his way to a green car, just as the police stopped the meeting. Abuse was hurled at Mosley, but he forced his way into the back seat with a bodyguard on each side. The lorry of his supporters, surrounded by mounted police, made its way into Kingsland High Street. People on board were shouting “Two-Four-Six-Eight, who do we appreciate?” The ensuing cry of “MOSLEY” incensed the crowd, which chased the lorry. Shop windows in the High Street were broken as men and youths, chasing the lorry, clashed with police. (Hackney Gazette 3/8/1962 – quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action).
2nd September 1962: Hundreds of angry East Enders gave a stormy reception to Fascist meetings at Hertford Road, Hackney and Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green. Both meetings were broken up the police, before they got out of hand. Sir Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement meeting at Victoria Park Square collapsed under a hail of stones, eggs and fruit, and resulted in over 40 arrests. Mr Jeffrey Hamm started the meeting with a few supportes. When Sir Oswald arrived about an hour later, the crowd had increased and eggs were being thrown. He climbed onto the speaker’s ‘platform’ – a lorry – and spoke for two minutes, but his speech was drowned by shouts of “Six million Jews! Belsen, down with Mosleyl” Then the police ordered the meeting to close. As Mosley moved away the crowed advanced towards his car and hammered on the windows with their fists. He was followed by his suporters, mainly teenagers, in the speakers lorry. Later, Mosley was reported to have said that he intended to hold more meetings. At Hertford Rd, the British National Party meeting, led by Mr John Bean the party’s acting secretary, was met with strong opposition by a large crowd of mostly Jewish people, and the twelve supporters were told to stop the meeting. In an address, Mr Bean, who was guarded by mounted policemen, said his speaker system had been ‘smashed’ and a Land Rover had been wrecked. Most of what he said was inaudible because of the heckling. Two of his supporters stood in front of him with bandaged heads. They had earlier been in a scuffle with anti-fascists in Kingsland Rd. Yellow Star held a marathon fillibuster meeting at Ridley Rd., Dalson, which 26 lasted all day, forcing the British National Party to hold it’s meeting a quarter of a mile away at Hertford Rd. (Hackney Gazette, 4/9/62 – quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action)
12th September 1962. 400 young people marched from Ridley Road to Whitehall to demand that incitement to racial hatred be made a crime. They walked in silence, some wearing the yellow Star of David, some carrying barriers urging “Black and White Unite”. (Layers of London)
16th September 1962: Followers of Sir Oswald Mosley fought a series of running battles with Hackney Young Socialist supporters and others in the Ridley Rd., Dalston, area on Sunday. The scuffles spread along Ridley Rd.l into Kingsland Rd. and nearby side streets as 50-60 police moved in and arrested 14 people, amomg them two juveniles. Sir Oswald’s plans to hold a rally were thwarted by Hackney Young Socialists who staged a day long meeting in the weekday market place. Instead, the Union Movement leader addressed followers in Hertford Rd., Dalston, a few hundred yards away. He spoke for some 25 minutes to an audience of his own supporters hemmed in by a tight cordon of police. This meeting passed off without incident. Then about 20 of his audience moved off to Ridley Rd. Shortly afterwards fighting broke out at the previously peaceful Ridley Rd. meeting. Police who were disbanding after the Mosley meeting were quickly called to Ridley Rd., as anti-fascists began actively protesting against the heckling Union Movement men, among them Mosley’s 22 year old son, Max. One young man wearing the Union Movement badge was chased along Kingsland High Street by other men, then trapped in a doorway 27 and pulled to the ground and pummelled before being rescued by police. Other clashes broke out in sidestreets as the Fascist supportes left the area. As the main party of hecklers tried to drive off in their car, other cars attempted to hem them in. More scuffles followed all over the road.” (Hackney Gazette, 18/9/62 quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action)
1963: Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement withdraws from street activity. The British National Party adopt a “flash mob” mentality for rallies and paper sales, avoiding publicity to minimise physical attention from anti-fascists.
January 1965: The Greater Britain Movement attempts to hold an evening rally at Ridley Road. Both the police and the 62 Group are attacked with pick axe handles and knives. Later that night GBM members are attacked at their Norwood Headquarters. (Searchlight’s History of the 62 Group by Steve Silver, available on Libcom.)
It’s worth mentioning that the 62 Group and other organsations were the militant tip of the iceberg of resistance to fascism in Hackney in the 1960s:
“I remember seeing Mosley at Ridley Road on the back of a tipper truck and everyone was throwing stuff at him. Not just your normal anti-fascist protestors but old mums, shoppers, everybody. I saw one woman take off her shoes and throw them at Mosley because that’s all she could find to throw. Other people were throwing eggs, pennies, organges off the stalls, anything they could lay their hands on.”
62 Group member Tony Hall in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann
Tony also mentions some rather more clandestine operations including home visits for people found doing racist graffitti, plumbing alterations to pubs that wouldn’t serve black people and covert mechanics on a Union Movement van on Balls Pond Road the night before a rally. He is also suitably sanguine about the results of the group’s hard work:
“There was a period when every Sunday morning they would turn up, get a punch on the side of the ear, have their papers thrown all over the pavement. They stopped trying after a while. Nobody could sustain that. This was done on the basis that violence worked. They were not going to come back to Hackney if they got a good kicking every time they showed their faces”
62 Group operations decreased in the late 60s, mirroring the downturn in far right activty. The group attempted to disrupt the inaugural meeting of the National Front in 1966 and the relaunch of the National Socialist Movement as the British Movement in 1968. These two fascist organisations, and Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968, would lay the foundation for the British far right in the 1970s, which would be opposed by different militant anti-fascist organisations….
It’s hard to know how the Ridley Road TV series will treat the heroic legacy of the 62 Group – it is after all just one element in the plot alongside the more romantic or mundane aspects. Hard to know also how the portrayal of militant anti-fascism will play out in the tedious culture wars we are living through. People upset by “cancel culture” may raise an eyebrow at what the good people of Hackney were doing to drive fascists off our streets in the 1960s…
It has emerged that shortly after the community clean-up of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, Oliver Dowden (Her Majesties HM Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) wrote to the Museum of the Home to say:
“You play a crucial role in conserving our heritage assets, caring for our national collections, providing access to knowledge and leading efforts to offer cultural education to all.
“I am aware that the issues of contested heritage provoke strongly held views, and that right now these issues will be in the forefront of your minds. I therefore wanted to share with you the government’s position on these issues.
“The government believes that it is always legitimate to examine and debate Britain’s history, but that removing statues, artwork and other historical objects is not the right approach.
“Confronting our past may be difficult at times but, as the prime minister has stated, we cannot pretend to have a different history. Historical objects were created by previous generations, who often had different perspectives and different understandings of right and wrong.”
“As a government-funded organisation,I would expect you to be mindful of the above approach, which has been agreed with Historic England. If you plan to make any statements or actions in relation to this issue, please contact DCMS in advance of doing so.”
The reference to funding can only be seen as a not-so-veiled threat in the current climate.
Dowden’s minsterial duties include appointing three of the Board members at the Museum of the Home and its Chair.
He is MP for well-to-do Hertsmere in Hertfordshire. According to They Work For You, he has “Generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights”. Dowden’s interference in Hackney is unwelcome.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport backed their minister:
“Whilst it is always legitimate to examine Britain’s history, removing statues, artwork and other historical objects is not the right approach. Instead, we should aim to use heritage to educate people about all aspects of Britain’s complex past, both good and bad.”
“Publicly funded museums must not remove statues that form part of a listed building or other heritage objects in their care for political or campaigning purposes. They must be seen to be acting impartially, in line with their publicly funded status.”
“Impartiality” is great cloak here for keeping everything the same forever – which is I guess the definition of “conservative”. But there are no plans to reintroduce statues of Jimmy Savile, oddly.
But yes, we will continue to educate people about Britain’s history. And perhaps create some history ourselves in doing so, as the people of Bristol have shown.
Hackney Citizen approached Ligali’s Toyin Agbetu for his charateristically spot on comment:
“As I read the communications between the Geffrye and government, it revealed that the culture minister Oliver Dowden was more concerned with preserving a monument that literally celebrates the history of Britain’s slaving past than developing assets that accurately reflect the reality of British society and culture as it exists today.
“It’s a backward-looking form of bourgeois cultural purism normally practiced by racists who feel threatened by the call for progressive change made by movements like Black Lives Matter.
“I interpret the statement, which explicitly highlights the fact that the Geffrye as a government-funded organisation is expected to be mindful of choosing to remove the statue, as a threat. The instruction telling the Geffrye staff to contact the government first if they go against its dictates was chilling.”
Others including Diane Abbot have been similarly outspoken:
Still no comment from Meg Hillier, the MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch where the Museum is based though?
The museum is yet to announce a reopening date (September had been mooted). There is talk of “further reflection” by the Board. But talk and reflection are not enough.
The reopening of The Museum of the Home will be an excellent opportunity to “educate people about all aspects of Britain’s complex past, both good and bad.” And if the museum will not do that, then the community will.
The Museum of the Home has gone very quiet since announcing last week that it would defy public feeling and keep its memorial to slave-trader Robert Geffrye. Its usually very responsive Twitter account has not posted anything since 31st July. They haven’t answered my questions.
Alongside narky radical historians and the usual lefties, the museum’s decision has been condemned by the Mayor of Hackney, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Diane Abbott as well as several local councillors. (I have not yet seen any comment from Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch?)
I was also very pleased to see this statement from artist Maria Fusco who was commissioned by the museum to produce an artwork for its reopening.:
On Wednesday the Board of Trustees of the museum wrote to me with the outcome of the consultation:
Thank you for taking part in the consultation about the future of the statue of Sir Robert Geffrye at the Museum of the Home.
Alongside many other cultural organisations across the UK, we have a responsibility to act against injustice, and this includes acknowledging the legacy of colonialism and slavery within our history.
The statue of Sir Robert Geffrye on our building is a symbol of the historic connection the Museum buildings have to an English merchant whose wealth was partly derived from the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. Geffrye donated the funds to build the almshouses in which the Museum is housed.
Following a process of reflection, debate and research, and a consultation conducted in partnership with Hackney Council, the Board of Trustees of the Museum has taken the decision not to remove the statue from the Museum’s buildings.
The Board believes that the Museum should respond to the issues raised by this debate by continuing with its vision of change at a fundamental level, by diversifying the Museum’s workforce, creative partners, content and programming to become more representative and inclusive.
The Board feels that the Museum should reinterpret and contextualise the statue where it is to create a powerful platform for debate about the connection between the buildings and transatlantic slavery.
The Museum has a responsibility to reflect and debate history accurately and in doing so to confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the Museum buildings.
Many people took time to share their views in the public consultation. Overall, the response was in favour of removing the statue. However, feedback showed that what to do with the statue is a complex debate, full of nuance and different opinions.
The Board has taken the view that the important issues raised should be addressed through ongoing structural and cultural change, along with better interpretation and conversation around the statue.
When the Museum of the Home reopens – as a place to reveal and rethink the ways we live in order to live better together – we will also be addressing, in our galleries and programming, the connections between the British home and exploitative trade, value systems and physical objects, both historically and today.
We are committed to continuing to develop our programming and policies on anti-racism and equity to create greater diversity and representation at the Museum.
The Board has chosen to ignore the wishes of local residents and has instead opted for the tiresome conservative position that having a memorial to a racist on prominent display is a good thing to stimulate a conversation about history.
The Museum’s website now also includes, incredibly, a statement in support of Black Lives Matter:
Black Lives Matter
We strongly believe that museums should not be neutral. As a sector we have a responsibility to be inclusive and accessible.
We are committed to anti-racism and equity, and to working harder to make our organisation more representative.
We will learn from history and ensure our staff, programme and collection tell diverse stories and represent Black voices, artists, visitors and communities.
BLM has been consistent in calling for these types of statues to be taken down. Not taking the statue down is against the aims of BLM. It is not “neutral” – it is against Black Lives Matter.
The Board’s decision is so wrongheaded that ITV News has weighed in to make them look stupid:
In that clip Mayor Phil suggests that the Board are “out of touch” and Jermain Jackman (Hackney born and bred winner of The Voice UK) is clear about his anger at the decision.
Former councillor, writer and general comrade Patrick Vernon has called for a boycott (and he is right!):
From that account I discovered that the first protest against the decision took place yesterday:
I think that the Board have groslly underestimated the strength of feeling about this in the community and will regret their decision.
My questions for the Board are:
The Museum’s Director has stated previously that “Homes should be welcoming places of shelter and security, love and comfort. This is what we want our museum to represent We know that for many the statue of Robert Geffrye on our building represents abuse, oppression and the history of thousands of enslaved people torn from their homes and families and forced to work in appalling conditions.” Is this view shared by the Board? Is this still the view of the Director?
Why was it the right to change the name of the museum from The Geffrye Museum of the Home to The Museum of the Home – but it is not right to remove the memorial statue to Robert Geffrye?
How successful do you think you will be in “diversifying the Museum’s workforce, creative partners, content and programming to become more representative and inclusive.” when there is a massive statue of a racist slave-owner looming over the grounds? Why should the museum’s workforce have to face that every day?
Given that none of the Board members are black, was your decision to retain the racist statue against residents’ wishes discussed by the museum’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group?
In the ITV News clip above, the Mayor of Hackney suggests that the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport may have influenced the Board’s decision. Is this true and if so what was their input?
You say on your website that “The feedback from the consultation was considered alongside other information when the Board discussed the future of the statue.” What was this “other information”?
When will you be removing the statue of Robert Geffrye?
The usual update of recent radical Hackney films, books, campaigns and other things that have caught my eye over the last month…
Above is a lovely life-affirming film of John Rogers‘ walk from Hackney marshes to Stoke Newington earlier this year. John is the author of The Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City and worked with Iain Sinclair on his London Overground film. The walk includes his compelling commentary about the areas he is navigating and his Youtube channel has a bunch of great films to check out.
This month I have also been enjoying two beautifully produced publications from Rendezvous Projects:
Lightboxes and Lettering: Printing Industry Heritage in East London looks at the premises, processes and people who printed all sorts of things in Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Clerkenwell. There are excellent chapters on radical and community presses (inlcuding Hackney’s Lenthal Road and Calverts) as well as a look at the changing gender roles in the industry. More generally the book is an intriguing overview of the changing face of work in East London.
Sweet Harmony: Mapping Waltham Forest’s dance radio stations, record shops & venues, 1989-1994 is obviousy less focussed on Hackney, but should be of interest to ravers old and new. Many of the pirate stations covered will have had listeners in Hackney and the Dungeons venue on Lea Bridge Road was the site of many a messy night for Hackneyites.
Both publications include a tonne of quotes from people and are lavishly illustrated wth maps, photos, graphics etc. You can order them here.
The Happy Man Tree on Lordship Road is under threat of destruction by property developer Berkeley Homes. The tree appears on the Ordinance Survey map of the area from 1870 and so is at least 150 years old.
As the community campaign to save it points out:
This beautiful London plane tree grows on the public pavement on the North End of Lordship Road on Woodberry grove London N4.
It has survived a century and a half of building development, two world wars, road widening schemes with the arrival of the motor car and, so far, Berkeley Homes. But now, in this latest intervention, this majestic and much – loved tree has been condemned to be cut down by Berkeley homes & Hackney Council.
There is an alternative plan.
Viable alternative plans developed with local people would have allowed the development to go ahead whilst keeping the tree. These were rejected by Berkeley Homes as either too expensive or too complicated.
I’d certainly recommend a visit to the tree and a conversation with the campaigners – or a visit to https://www.thehappymantree.org/ where you can add your name to the petition and find out other ways give your support.
There is currently a petition, a legal challenge and perhaps the prosect of more direct action orientated protest, judging by the nice tree house.
Alongside the generalised anti-racism of the Black Lives Matter protests, it has been great to see specific demands emerge. Some of these have been very practical, such as the removal of colonial or racist statues or support for campaigns around deaths in custody such as the United Friends and Family Campaign. Others, such as defunding the police, would appear on the surface to be much more idealistic or longterm.
For some people, challenging the role of the police is strictly off-limits. A token reform here and there, alongside a rabid competition to give the cops as much money as possible, is what mainstream political debate looks like in the UK in the 2020s. But a growing number of people are not satisfied by that. Here is a handy four minute introduction:
Defunding the police is not a new demand and perhaps previous campaigns can inform the current debate.
In February 1983, Hackney Council’s Police Committee resolved to withold the Council’s £4 million donaton towards the cost of the Metropolitan Police – “the precept”. This was put to a full meeting of the Council on 23rd of February which adopted the following motion:
That the Council take whatever steps are open to it to withold the payment of the police precept both as an expression of anger at the state of policing in Hackney and with a view to bringing home to the Government the community demands for an independent inquiry into policing in Hackney.
Quoted in Policing in Hackney 1945-1984
Hackney People’s Press (#87 Feb 1983) quoted Councillor Patrick Kodikara:
“30 per cent of the ratepayers of Hackney are black. Why should the Council pay the police to practise repression on us?”
The motion was passed – with all of the Labour and Liberal councillors voting in favour – and all of the Conservative councillors voting against.
The next issue of Hackney Peoples Press (#88 March 1983) was a bit more cynical:
“The Council’s statement of intent not to pay the precept of £4 million this year is just a gesture. The law does not allow them to withold the money, and, this year at least, they are not going to break the law. But by making the gesture they are indicating that they are paying up under protest, and are joining other London boroughs who have already reached the same conclusion: they pay over ratepayers money each year to the police yet London is unique in the country in not having an elected police authority”
And sure enough, the Council was told by its legal advisers in March that it could not legally withold the money and the precept was paid – I assume in time for the next financial year in April 1983.
The Policing in Hackney book mentions the Council’s decision generating a great deal of media attention, which I’ve not yet been able to track down, but imagine was suitably unsupportive and outraged.
This was all spun by Hackney Central MP Clinton Davis in Parliament:
“My own local authority may be very frustrated—sometimes with justification—by some of the actions, or the inaction, of the local police. The suggestion of the withdrawal of the police precept is, however, an empty but unacceptable gesture which increases the anxiety of many of my constituents—particularly the elderly—that the police are suddenly to be withdrawn. But of course that will not happen.
When I spoke to Councillor [Brynley] Heaven, the chairman of the police liaison committee, he readily agreed that it would not happen. It is a gesture—a vote of no confidence in the police—but I do not believe that such a gesture is justified by the circumstances. If we are to make constructive criticisms about the police, as sometimes we must and as I do today, it does not add to the authority of those who support such criticism to join in every meaningless gesture and every attack on the police.”
Two years later, Hackney Council would verge closer to breaking the law when it refused to set a “rate” (essentially the equivalent of Council Tax now) in response to the Thatcher government’s efforts to restrict local government spending.
This incident of almost defunding the police did not emerge spontaneously from a “loony left” council with nothing better to do. It was the culmination of years of terrible policing resulting in a number of community campaigns…
Background to the motion to defund the police
(This timeline covers the most significant events. Examples of the much more common day to day police corruption and harassment are covered in Chapter 8 of Policing In Hackney).
December 1978: Black teenager Michael Ferreira is stabbed during a fight with white teenagers in Stoke Newington. His friends take him to the nearby police station, where the cops seem more interested in questioning them than assisting Michael, who dies of his wounds before reaching hospital.
24th April 1979: Hackney resident Blair Peach is killed during a protest against the National Front in Southall. 14 witnesses saw him being hit on the head by a policeman. It was generally understood then, and is widely believed now, that Peach was killed by an officer from the notorious Special Patrol Group. The SPG’s lockers were searched as part of the investigation into the death, uncovering non-police issue truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather cosh. One officer was found in possession of a collection of Nazi regalia.
The failure of the police to properly investigate the murder of Blair Peach – and their general harassment of youth, led Hackney Teachers’ Association to adopt a policy of non-cooperation with the police. This is documented in the excellent Police Out of School which is available in full on elsewhere on this site.
November 1979: A conference of anti-racist groups in Hackney calls for the repeal of the “sus” laws that allow police to stop and search anyone they are suspicious of. In 1977 60% of “sus” arrests in Hackney were of black people – who made up 11% of the borough.
February 1980: Five units of the Special Patrol Group began to operate in Hackney with no consultation. When the Leader of the Council criticised the police for this, Commander Mitchell responded by saying “I don’t feel obliged to tell anyone about my policing activities”.
July 1981:Riot in Dalston. Searchlight magazine blamed Commander Mitchell’s hardline policies for the incident.
Also in 1981: Lewisham Council threatened not to pay the police precept.
December 1981: Newton Rose falsely convicted for the murder of Anthony Donnelly, a Clapton resident with National Front connections. A successful campaign results in Rose being freed in 1982 becaue of a “grave material irregularity” in the trial.
April 1982: David and Lucille White, an elderly black couple, are awarded £51,000 damages for “a catalogue of violent and inhuman treatment” by Stoke Newington police.
July 1982: First meeting of Hackney Council’s new Police Committee, set up to consider and monitor policing in the borough – and make the police more responsive to local needs. The committee replaced an informal police liaison group which met in private and alternated its chair between the police and the council. The committee’s meetings were public and chaired by its members. A Support Unit was also established which monitored crime and policing and published reports critical of police powers.
12 January 1983: Death of Colin Roach by gunshot in the lobby of Stoke Newington police station.
Roach’s parents are treated appallingly by the police. Demonstrations organised by the Roach Family Support Commttee (RSFC) outside the police station result in numerous protestors, including Colin’s father, being arrested.
Ernie Roberts, Hackney MP, made a statement on the public’s concern about the breakdown of community/police relations as well as his support for a public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach. The Greater London Council funded the Roach campaign to the tune of £1,500 shortly afterwards. There was outrage in the press at this use of public money to fund what they saw as “cash to fight the police” and “fostering discontent among black people”.
February 18 1983: Colin Roach’sfuneral.
RFSC instigates its “break links campaign” and writes to all Hackney Councillors asking them to:
vote to withold the police precept
hold a vote of no confidence in Stoke Newington police
agree to break all links with the police unless and until an independent public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach was held.
Hackney social services workers put pressure on thier union – Hackney NALGO, which passes resolution calling on members to “break links” with the police.
Meanwhile, slightly east of Hackney:
“Tower Hamlets Council is to be asked on Tuesday to follow the Hackney Council example and consider witholding the Metropolitan Police rate precept. The Newham Monitoring Project is to call upon the local council to do the same unless an independent inquiry into Forest Gate police station in Newham is set up.
Mr Unmesh Desair, the project’s full time worker, yesterday described the station as a “torture chamber”.
The Times, February 24, 1983
Afer the fuss about non-payment of the precept had died down, other aspects of the campaign were still live issues.
In May 1983 Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Ronald Brown, bemoaned the continuation of the “break links” campaign in Parliament, singling out Hackney Council for Racial Equality:
Since 10 January, the new police commander has tried desperately to establish contact between the police and that organisation. Recognising the complaints about the police in London, particularly in Hackney, as well as the difficulties in Hackney as a result of the tragedy that occurred, he has endeavoured to re-establish a relationship with the community. He has approached every group in an attempt to get a dialogue going.
What kind of response did he get from the Council for Racial Equality? In a letter of 21 February it said: I am writing on behalf of Hackney Council for Racial Equality Executive”— not the council, but the executive— who have asked that you give instructions that the local home beat officers covering the HCRE Mare Street office, the HCRE Family Centre, Rectory Road, no longer call”— that phase is underlined— at either of these offices unless HCRE gives a specific call to the police.I trust this will be acted on with dispatch. That was signed by the community relations officer. That destroyed the relationship between the beat policemen and the community in the two areas. By common consent, that relationship had proved valuable. That one letter wiped out that relationship.”
The publication of Police out of School in 1985 generated a further furore and also a PR campaign from the police. The campaign and police response are covered in this great news report from the time:
Calls to defund the police in the 1980s need to be seen as the tip of the iceberg of wider community resistance. This made it much harder to dismiss the idea of defunding as “gesture politics”.
In Hackney, the antagonism between the police and community only intensified after this, with corruption at Stoke Newington police station expanding to include further deaths in custody and police officers getting involved with drug dealing, amongst other crimes. In the 1990s this would be met head on by Hackney Community Defence Association.
Total council tax donations to Greater London Authority for the year 2020/2021: £1,010,907,032.68
Amount of this which goes to Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime: £767,054,360.26
So that’s about 75% of the total.
Hackney’s donation to the GLA would seem to be £24,701,359.02
75% of that is roughly £18 million.
(A purely inflationary rise from the £4m in 1983 to now would be £11.59m, but you would also need to factor in the expanding population of Hackney in that time – according to Wikipedia it was 179,536 in 1981 and 280,900 in 2020 which is an increase of 56%.)
A question worth asking is: would spending this £18 million of our money on other things be better at reducing crime and harm?
Newington Green Meeting House published a short video about Anna Laetitia Barbauld to celebrate her birthday on 20th June:
They have also published a calendar of forthcoming online events, including an “Alternative Statue Tour” on 7th July which takes in some of the Borough’s more progressive residents – old and new -that might be good subjects for future statues. This is followed on 21st July by an event on the Meeting House’s roots in Unitarianism and its connection with dissenters.
Horrid Hackney is a new site by Lucy Madison that promises “a new blog entry every day”. Which sounds exhausting. Entries posted already include some overlap with topics covered here, such as the IRA “bomb factory” on Milton Road, the 43 Group duffing up fascists in Dalston and the Angry Brigade arrests in Stoke Newington. Indeed, the site’s post on the 43 Group coincidentally includes exactly the same video interviews as our one from 2018.
The difference between “horrid” and “radical” is that Lucy’s site includes a lot more about grisly crimes, their victims and perpetrators. Generally these entries are pretty good, but I guess there is a risk of sensationalising murders and murderers and flattening all kinds of activity into an amorphous “extreme” history. It’s unclear, for example, why Lucy feels the 43 Group were “horrid” rather than heroic..
There is a dispute at the Rio Cinema with the Save The Rio group accusing the Board of pursuing unnecessary restructuring amongst other issues. The group has proposed an alternative temporary Board to be convened before an AGM can be called at which members would vote for a new Board. Members of the Rio are being asked to thrash this out via proxy voting. There is a petition for non-members.
Finally our south London comrades at History is Made at Night posted this video of Luton’s Exodus Collective running a soundsystem on Hackney Marshes as part of a larger free festival in 1998. I assume I was at this, but my memories of that summer are a bit foggy for reasons that are probably best not speculated about…