When Hackney (almost) defunded the Police

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.

A recent image produced by Autonomous Design Group

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.

Colin Roach

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’s funeral.

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:

Conclusion

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.

I am shit at reading budgets, so please laugh at me, but it looks to me like:

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?

Sources and Further Reading

Hackney Peoples Press (various issues)

Police Out of School (Hackney Teachers Associaton, 1985)

Policing In Hackney 1945-1984: A Report Commissioned by the Roach Family Support Committe (Karia Press & RFSC 1989)

Policing London #2 September 1982 (GLC in the Police Committee Support Unit)

John Eden – “They Hate Us, We Hate Them”: Resisting Police Corruption and Violence in Hackney in the 1980s and 1990s (Datacide #14 2014)

Paul Harrison – Inside The Inner City (Penguin , 1983)

Michael Keith – Race, Riots and Policing: Love and Disorder in a Multi-racist Society (UCL Press, 1993).

Kick Over The Statues: Slavery and Hackney campaign

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, but recent events have reinforced the need to. (My usual caveats apply even more – I am not an expert, I am still learning, doing this is part of my process of learning. Comments and criticisms are welcome.)

There are decades where nothing happens;
and there are weeks where decades happen

The headlines are in this superb two minute plea to the Council by Toyin Agbetu from Pan African, human-rights centred organisation Ligali:

Don’t read anything below until you have watched that.

I support this campaign and appreciate the conversations about the legacy of slavery in the borough that it will deepen.

The day after this video was uploaded, Hackney Council announced its review into landmarks and public spaces. The Council followed this up with a further announcement of a listening exercise on future of the Sir Robert Geffrye statue in the grounds of the Museum of the Home. As noted on the museum’s website, Geffrye made his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company. (The museum changed its name last year from the Geffrye Museum of the Home.)

Also this week, a sign bearing former Hackney resident John Cass’ name was removed from student accomodation Sir John Cass Hall on Well Street E9.

Elsewhere in London this week:

Finding out more about Hackney’s connections with slavery

The abolitionists buried in Abney Park Cemetery and other Hackney residents who campaigned against slavery are well documented (although not by me, yet!). But as singer Dennis Brown put it: `”what about the half that’s never been told?”

As we will see, Hackney significant numbers of residents who profited from slavery alongside those who actively campaigned against it.

Some excellent work has been done on this already by Hackney Museum and Hackney Archives (on whose coat-tails I trail – and not for the first time). Local Roots / Global Routes is a great portal with a number of articles and teaching resources.

Martha Rose McAlpine’s 15 minute film is an excellent primer on English colonialism, African slavery, its legacy and how this applies to Hackney:

Kate Donnington’s article The Slave-Owners of Hackney: Re-thinking Local Histories of Abolition and Slavery is recommended. She has expanded on this in a chapter of the book Britain’s History and Memory of Transatlantic Slavery: Local Nuances of a ‘National Sin’ (Liverpool University Press 2016) – some of this can be read via Google Books. Otherwise it’s £85, so order it from a library when that is possible again. (Update – Katie has been in touch to say that the draft chapter can be read for free here.)

Madge Dresser’s – Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London (History Workshop Journal, Volume 64, Issue 1, Autumn 2007) is very topical but not Hackney specific. It includes useful summary of London’s slavery-related statues.

Radical History + Ropes = Splash

Bristol leads the way

Sometimes this site can seem a bit esoteric or nostalgic. I think the real value in radical history is in inspiring people to act and to show the links between the past and the present. Until last weekend the suggestion that we should get rid of memorials to slave traders was an impossible fringe idea held by a few long term dedicated law abiding campaigners.

But then the people of Bristol took matters into their own hands and dumped a statue of Edward Colston in the river. And now it all seems like common sense. Suddenly loads of people are thinking about the legacy of colonialism and slavery – and what history is. It’s notable that Bristol has a very active radical history group which has campaigned about Colston’s presence for many years as well as documenting WW1 conscientious objectors and building a memorial for inmates of Eastville Workhouse.

Of course, some of my more cynical comrades will argue that the removal of statues and other memorials is window dressing, a token effort that does nothing to really address the enduring legacies of colonialism, slavery and the racist ideology that underpinned them. I would argue back that starting with the simple stuff, the low hanging fruit, is a necessary step to get to the other issues. Or at least it will have to do in the absence of a more militant revolutionary alternative. The conversations we have about this are just as important as the physical removal of the items from the public realm.

Hackney Council’s “review of statues, buildings and public spaces named after slave & plantation owners” is a great initiative. But as events at Bristol have shown us, people will not wait forever…

Three Slave-Owners still memorialised in Hackney

This is starting point that summarises what I’ve been able to find out so far (something that has only been possible because of work done by many others). Its focus is on people connected to Hackney who profited significantly from the slave trade and who still have tributes in public spaces here as of June 2020. There may be more.

Sir John Cass (1661-1718)

Soon to be removed statue of John Cass on Jewry Street from London Remembers

John Cass was also a City Alderman, but in the Tory interest. Though never Lord Mayor, Cass served as Sheriff then as Member of Parliament for the City of London and became a Knight of the Realm. He too was involved in the slave-trade, being a member of the Royal African Company’s Court of Assistants from 1705 to 1708. The Company records show him (then ‘Colonel John Cass of Hackney’) to have been on their ‘committee of correspondence’ which directly dealt with slave-agents in the African forts and in the Caribbean. We know too that Cass retained shares in the Royal African Company until his death. Cass […] also seems to have been linked by family and friends to colonial plantation interests, in his case to Virginia.

Madge Dresser

Cass lived in Grove Road, South Hackney – which looks to now be the north end of Lauriston Road E9. His legacy in the borough includes:

  • Cassland Road (runs between Well Street and Wick Road)
  • Cassland Crescent E9
  • Cassland Road Gardens (a park in E9)
  • Sir John Cass Hall (student accomodaton E9 – sign removed June 2020)

The Tyssen family and William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney (1835 – 1909)

The Baron

According to Wikipedia “Tyssen-Amherst is chiefly remembered as a collector of books, manuscripts, antique furniture and other works of art. He became famous for his Egyptian collection.” Which sounds lovely, but the shine wears off when you find out where the family wealth came from. (Also rich Europeans “collecting” things from Egypt is a whole other colonial story…)

The family seems to have a weird fetish for naming all their male children the same names, which makes things slightly confusing. (Perhaps this was a commonplace posh person thing then?) Of particular interest are:

Francis Tyssen the elder (1624 – 1699). “Came to England from Flushing in Holland in the 1640s and settled in London. He owned plantations in Antigua in the West Indies, from leasing which he accumulated sufficient capital to purchase the Shacklewell estate at Hackney in 1685.” (source)

Francis Tyssen the younger (1653 – 1710). Wealthy London merchant, owned property in Hackney, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Stepney, Whitechapel, Essex and Huntingdonshire. Also owner of Bridges plantation in Angitua, inherited from his father Francis the elder. From his will, it does not appear that the Antiguan property was his principal asset.

Samuel Tyssen the elder (1698 – 1749). Younger son of Francis Tyssen the younger and his second wife Mary nee Western. Inherited Bridges plantation in Antigua and property in Huntingdonshire under the will of his father.

The wealth that the family accumulated from slavery was put to good use. William George Daniel-Tyssen (d. 1838) was the parish of Hackney’s largest landowner in 1831.

The Tyssen famly lived at The Old Manor House, Shacklewell, which was Hackney’s largest dwelling in 1672. Not satisfied with this, they purchased the New Mermaid Tavern on Church Street (now Mare Street) and demolished it so that their new house coud be built there in 1845. Whilst this is hardly the worst of their crimes, I would argue that buying up a pefectly decent pub and turning it into your family home is the mark of a scoundrel. The plaque above currently nestles between Shoe Zone and Admiral Casino on the Narrow Way, so the building has at least returned to more proletarian purposes, whatever we might think of them.

Many of the family are buried at the nearby Church of St John at Hackney.

It looks like William’s eldest son (also called William, what is it with these people?) became William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney in 1892. (I’m not 100% on this because the genealogy of noblemen is not my forte especially when they all have the same forenames).

According to the extremely comprehensive entry on the Tyssens at the Landed Families of Britain and Ireland blog “The family remain the lords of the manor of the three Hackney manors, although most of their estate there has now been sold off.”

The Tyssen family is memorialised in Hackney to this day by the following:

  • Tyssen Street E8
  • Tyssen Road N16
  • Tyssen Community Primary School, Oldhill Street N16

Perhaps Amhurst Road, Amhurst Park and Amhurst Terrace could also be named after The Baron?

Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1703)

Statue of Robert Geffrye at the Museum of the Home

As noted above Geffrye made his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company. He did not live in Hackney, instead spending much of his life at Lime Street in the City.

His relationship with Hackney began when he died in 1703:

The residue of his estate was to be devoted to the erection of almshouses in or near London. The company accordingly purchased a piece of ground in Kingsland Road, on which they built fourteen almshouses and a chapel, and appointed rules for their government on 17 Nov. 1715 (Nicholl, pp. 569–73). There are now forty-two pensioners, each of whom receives 12/. per annum. In the foreground of the building is a statue of Geffrey, executed for the Ironmongers’ Company in 1723 by John Nost, and […] in 1878, Geffrey’s remains and those of his wife were re-interred in the burial-ground attached to the almshouses (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 57).

Charles Welch – Geffrey, Robert in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21

His statue in the grounds of the Museum of the Home is under review. But nearby you also have:

  • The Geffrye Almshouses (in which the museum is hosted)
  • Geffrye Street N1
  • The Geffrye Estate (owned by Hackney Housing)
  • Geffrye Court (a block on the estate)
  • Geffrye Court (also a street name)

And the rest

The Boddington family – Boddington & Co

The Boddingtons were a powerful merchant and planter family whose involvement in the slavery business spanned three generations. Benjamin Boddington (1730-1791) and his brother Thomas Boddington (c.1735-1821) were West India merchants. Both men were involved with the South Sea Company and Benjamin was a Director. The Company won the right to something called the Asiento following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This gave the company the sole right to sell enslaved Africans to the Spanish.

Samuel and Thomas the younger were eventually awarded £39,712 in compensation for 2100 enslaved people in Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Vincent and Jamaica. Some of their plantations were owned by the family because they had lent money to their business contacts in the Caribbean and when those people couldn’t pay them back they took their property as a forfeit for the loan. In this sense their ‘property’ could include both enslaved people as well as the plantation.

In 1766 the senior Boddingtons were residing in Hackney; Benjamin was living in Clapton and Thomas in Upper Homerton.

Hackney, Sugar and Slavery: Teachers Resource – Local Roots / Global Routes

The Boddingtons were also a Dissenting family which suggests that religious radicalism did not always go hand in hand with abolitionist beliefs.

When slavery was abolished in parts of the Briitsh Empire in 1833, it was the slave owners who were compensated by the government for the loss of their “property”. The total sum given to them was £20 million, which was 40% of the national budget, equivalent to some £300 billion today. The British tax payer helped to pay back the loan required for this – a debt that was only settled in 2015.

These payments have left a paper trail, which has been used to create the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership database at University College London.

Entering keywords Clapton, Dalston, Hackney, Hoxton, Shacklewell, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington into the database gives results for a total of 43 recipients of compensation (including those listed above). So there is more work to do on this…

Dalston Children’s Centre 1982/3

The comrades at Lesbian History Group have uploaded the annual reports of Dalston Children’s Centre from 1982 and 1983 as PDFs.

The text below sums up its radical ethos:

dcc-1

The Centre was based firstly at 80 Sandringham Road and then latterly 112 Greenwood Road (near Dalston Lane). They also used a number of other venues for activities including St Marks church hall.

The reports are an interesting combination of the expected problems with funding (and the usual tussles about compromising the radical aims of the group to meet funders’ objectives) as well as accounts of the activities of the group, letters from Centre users etc.

dcc-collectively

dcc-easter

The 1983 report includes an appendix of Centre policies, including anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism and anti-authoritarianism – and how these might be applied to education, training and food.

Direct links to the PDFs are here:

https://lesbianhistorygroup.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/dalston-cc-1982.pdf

https://lesbianhistorygroup.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/dalston-cc-1983.pdf

Also of interest might be this report of a recent meeting of the Radical History Network on radical childcare struggles in North London.

 

Communist Plan for Life in Hackney (1930s)

commplancov

This pamphlet was produced by Hackney Communist Party, probably in 1937 – prior to the London County Council elections that year. This page in the Amiel Melburn Trust Internet Archive suggests that similar pamphlets were produced for 28 London boroughs.

1937 was twenty years after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and one year into the Spanish Civil War. But there is a disappointing lack of revolutionary zeal (or even mention of communism) in the text below – the focus is on critical support for the Labour Party and commendable bread and butter working class issues like health, housing and wages instead. This is partly down to Lenin, whose “Left Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder encouraged British communists to work with the Labour Party rather than taking a hardline extra-parliamentary position as suggested by Sylvia Pankhurst and others.

So, whilst the General Strike of 1926 gets a mention, the Battle of Cable Street which had taken place in the previous year does not – even in the section on combatting fascism.

Some of the demands have resonances with today – landlords exploiting tenants with high rents and poor conditions, a lack of social housing or affordable childcare, poor people struggling to make ends meet etc.

But there are also some differences, which are arguably as a result of past campaigning victories – paid holidays for employees, raising of the school leaving age to 16 and decent maternity facilities in Homerton Hospital. Until fairly recently we also gained access to free education up to University standard and free milk for school children…

All the Hackney constituencies and Stoke Newington (which was then a separate borough) returned Labour councillors in the 1937 elections.

The future development of Hackney Communist Party is covered elsewhere on this site:

Bob Darke’s disaffection from the Hackney CP in the 1950s.

A Hackney Communist Party banner from 1952.

Hackney Needs Socialism – a similar pamphlet from 1978

Of related interest is a look at Lenin in Hackney.

The full text of the pamphlet follows below. I have amended some of the grammar, particularly some hyphenation that annoyed me. Scans of the original text are included too – you can click on the images to see a bigger version.

If anyone has a copy of Communist Plan for Life in Stoke Newington, please get in touch!

commplan1

WHO OWNS HACKNEY?

Hackney’s nearness to the City of London has influenced its development from a country manor to a suburban town and finally to a part of London. With the growth of the City of London and the rise in influence of city merchants we see a change taking place also in Hackney. The ownership of Hackney passes from the landed aristocracy into the hands of the city merchants, with the result that [in] about 1700 Mr. Tyssen, one of the merchants, became the Lord of the Manor. Today, descendants of this Mr. Tyssen still own large parts of Hackney. Among other large landowners of Hackney today are of course the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, St. Thomas’ Hospital Estate and the Spurstowe Trust.

Our Fine Record
With the growth of London we see workshops and factories rising in Hackney. Among the earliest known industries in Hackney were paint, and boot and shoe manufacturing, and as industry developed, so did working class activity! Hackney played its part in the famous Chartist Movement. Our workers providing a fair quota of Chartists, while the Lord of the Manor and his brother helped the Government to organise special constables in the attempt to prevent the demonstration of April 10, 1848. But this demonstration did meet – and elected delegates to present to Parliament the famous “Six Point Charter”, claiming political rights for the workers.

commplan2

The working people of Hackney were among the pioneers in the trade union organisation, some of London’s oldest trade union branches being in Hackney. Just as in the past, so today the people of Hackney are in front wherever there is a need to defend the people’s rights. They actively participated in the General Strike in 1926. They helped the miners both morally and financially. They assisted the famous Hunger March in 1934 by providing shelter to the Tyneside marchers. There isn’t a single working-class activity in London from which the workers of Hackney are absent.

Overcrowding
Growing industry and the rise of factories and workshops have changed Hackney from an area of open spaces to a densely built-up town. It has also brought a big rise in the population. In 1807 there were, in Hackney, four persons per acre, whilst now we have an average of 64.5 persons per acre! This growth has been chaotic and unplanned, causing very serious hardships for the workers and people of Hackney. It is the object of the Hackney Communist Party to discuss some of the more important questions concerning the life of the people in Hackney, and to give some positive proposals for the solution of these questions.

Win Better Factory Conditions !
Looking at Hackney today one sees a large industrial centre with 1,268 factories and workshops, some factories of worldwide repute, employing many hundreds of workers. There are firms in Hackney which have expanded from small beginnings to large millionaire establishments. Lewis Berger is a good example. This firm originated in Hackney and today is a worldwide firm whose profits for the last five years amount to £470,000. (The chairman of this company is Viscount Greenwood, who, as Sir Hamar Greenwood, let loose the Black and Tans in Ireland just after the war.)

commplantrans
There are many other factories, particularly in tailoring, where conditions are absolutely appalling. Speed-up is the predominant factor in production, and the conveyor belt, known among the workers as the ” chain-gang,” is in operation. Labour [i.e. the workers] is mainly juvenile owing to its cheapness, one particular factory connected with Hector Powe [tailors] has been a source of grievance not only to the workers in the factory but to the clothing workers in general.

A large number of factories have sprung up in the last few years in the Hackney Wick area where trade union organisation hardly exists and juvenile labour is predominant. The conditions are such that last year we had strikes taking place at Ingrarns, Bouts Tillotson, Morris’s, Bloom & Phillips, and other factories. Only complete trade union and shop organisation can secure improvement. Every year a large number of young people are crippled through accidents whilst working without proper protection. This barbaric system could be prevented if an adequate number of factory inspectors were maintained.

commplan3
Organise the Out-workers!
Whilst the conditions of the workers in factories are very bad, the conditions of ‘the workers who subcontract out and take the work home is far worse. This out-work is largely seasonal and even at the height of the season very few earn a decent wage for a working week of anything up to 100 hours. According to the Medical Officer of Health’s Annual Report for 1936 there are 1,565 out-workers in Hackney. These are on the register, but in reality this number can safely be doubled. Apart from the large factories and workshops there are, of course, a very large number of workshops employing a few workers each where exploitation is again very high, because of the lack of organisation.

Make the Transport Combines Give Us Better Travel!
Thousands of our workers have to travel long distances to work. Their life is made a bigger burden by the lack of trains, buses, and trains. In many cases they have a 10 or 20 minutes walk to get to one of these services and then they are invariably dangerously and unhealthily overcrowded.

The transport problem would not be difficult to solve were it not for the monopolist control by the London & North Eastern Railway and London Transport Board. These companies, anxious to maintain their profits, prevent any improvement being made in this vital service. The people of Hackney are entitled to better travelling facilities. This can be achieved by building an underground railway to the city, by adding more buses on existing services as well as by introducing new services where needed. There is now a favourable opportunity through the present extension of the underground railway from Liverpool Street to Woodford, passing through Bethnal Green, for Hackney to have a branch line giving speedy travel to the city and other parts of London.

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Housing
We often hear it said that in Hackney the housing conditions are not so bad as in other boroughs. There is some truth in this. But we say, without fear of contradiction, that in Hackney housing is still in a deplorable state. Here are some facts from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health:

(a) Overcrowding. The Public Health, Department discovered that at the end of 1936 out of 61,615 families visited, 2,876 families were living under overcrowded conditions;

(b) Unfit Houses. Out of 11,380 houses inspected for defects under the Public Health Act 5,067 were “found not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation,” and in addition there were 344 houses found to be in a state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation (suitable for demolition). 5,511 of 11,380 unfit for human habitation! If this is not bad we would like to know what bad housing conditions are!

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Landlords
Many thousands of houses in Hackney are nothing more than boxes placed one upon the other. These are the kind of “houses” that our landlords want us to live in and pay high rents for. At the Local Housing Inquiry the landlords’ agents put up a strong resistance against any clearance schemes of the Borough Council. Here are some arguments used against the demolition order:

“To demolish these houses will be a most wasteful proceeding, the families who are now happy and comfortable under quite good sanitary conditions will have to be rehoused, and they cannot afford to pay the rents charged by Local Authorities.”

“These small houses each contain a living room, a bedroom, and a scullery. They are ideal homes in a neighbourhood like Hackney, in the centre of London, for a married couple with one or two children. It is true that the heights of the rooms are not so much as the present regulations require, but that is really a very, unimportant detail.”

“The houses are quite equal to the standard prevailing in the district. The drains have been reconstructed and are quite sanitary.”

“There is only one defect that can be alleged against them—they have no backyard and no back windows. As to this, it is counteracted by the fact that if the front door is opened and the front window on the upper storey is opened, a current of fresh air is at once set up, and this operation can be put in motion as often as possible.”

The Labour Borough Council have made a good start, during the last three years they have cleared some of the blackest spots. Their 1935 Housing Programme provides for clearance of 31 acres containing 570 buildings and further clearance schemes are in hand. Compare this with. the Municipal Reform (Conservative) record. Their 1930 five-year programme provided for the clearance of 16 areas containing 277 buildings. The Labour Borough Council has built new flats at Clapton Common and Rossington Street. The new Hindle Street scheme provides for 205 flats to be built in blocks with perambulator and cycle sheds, also a communal laundry fitted with electric washing machines. A communal hall is provided for the use of residents. The rents of the Borough Council Flats compare very favourably with rents for private houses and they are much lower than those rents originally fixed by the Conservatives for their Council flats. For example the rents of the new Rossington Street flats are: 4s. 6d. one room; 7s. 6d. two room’s; 10s. 6d. three rooms.

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Keep the Rents Down!
Rents today are too high. But now every tenant is threatened with rents actually being put up! For the Rent Restrictions Act, which protects tenants from profit-grabbing landlords ends early in 1938! This Act must be renewed, and extended to protect every working-class house. But will the landlords’ National Government do this? Not unless the people themselves act, in support of our Council. Tenants’ Defence Leagues in many parts of London have won better conditions from landlords. Hackney needs such a League, if the coming struggle for rent control is to be successful, and we urge our Borough Council, with other Boroughs, to bring immediate pressure on the National Government.

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Labour’s Good Start
The Communist Party fully appreciates the advance made by the Labour Borough Council. It is good, but not good enough. With 2,475 families living under overcrowded conditions and with 5,511 houses not reasonably fit for human habitation, the Borough Council housing programme, planning to build 1,100 flats, cannot be considered as a satisfactory solution of Hackney’s housing problem. The Borough Council as well as the L.C.C. schemes are for rehousing of slum areas. We want houses for all Hackney people at reasonable rent. We say to the Borough Council:

Increase your housing programme so as to provide houses not only to replace overcrowding and slums, but also to provide houses at reasonable rents for those thousands of workers who are forced to pay high rents to private landlords. The chief reason for the existence of these bad conditions is the blocking of housing plans by the landlords and their National Government. Our Labour Council, with a strong Labour Government behind it, could soon solve the problem of housing!

Fine Health Achievements

The Labour Borough Council have also improved the Public Health Services. In the face of bitter opposition not only from the local Conservatives, but also from the National Government, the Borough Council has some remarkable achievements to its credit. The result of improved health services is best seen in the death rate. In 1936 the Hackney Borough Council was able to record its lowest maternal death rate. Only four mothers died in childbirth, the rate being 1.2 per thousand, whilst the rate for England and Wales was 3.6. Similarly the infantile death rate reached its lowest point for Hackney in 1935, being 47 per thousand as compared with 58 per thousand for the County of London for the same year. The Labour Borough Council has built a new Child Welfare Centre in Richmond Road and is proposing to build two or three other centres. No doubt it would have done much more but for the policy of the National Government, which puts armaments before social services. For example, but for the Labour Borough Council’s fight against the Ministry of Health, the Richmond Road Centre would not have been comparable with what it is today.

Maternity and Child Welfare Centres
Though, as we have seen above, the Labour Borough Council has made a good beginning in this field, the Maternity and Child Welfare Centres are still, with one or two exceptions, inadequate in some ways. The centres are not open long enough to deal with the number of mothers attending for advice and help, and no privacy exists for consultations with the doctors, etc. We ask that the Borough Council build Welfare Centres (in spite of the obstructionist tactics of the National Government) in all areas, so as to be in reasonable reach of all mothers, and that no new housing estate be built without its own Welfare Centre.

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Maternity Hospital for Hackney
Every year there are 3,000 babies born in Hackney. The majority of them are born of working-class parents whose mothers cannot afford to go into private nursing homes, and who are forced either to have their babies at home (often in already overcrowded premises) or seek confinement accommodation outside of our Borough. This is an intolerable position and we demand that a modern Maternity Hospital be built in Hackney. Our Borough is not a poor Borough; if we can afford to spend £250,000 for a new Town Hall, and also to spend £3,000 on Coronation decorations, and pay 5 per cent. interest on loans to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, surely we can afford to spend an appropriate sum for a Maternity Hospital.

Free Milk for Babies and Schoolchildren
Milk, the most essential body-building food, is absent from many homes in Hackney. It is too dear to buy. Many a mother cannot afford the price of 3 1/2 d. per pint, Yet milk is cheap for industrial purposes. More than 1d. out of 3 1/2 d. you pay goes to subsidise the manufacture of butter, cheese, chocolate and other milk products. These manufacturers get their supplies of milk as low 1/2 d. per pint. London’s milk trade is dominated almost entirely by one huge company, the United Dairies. Over the past 10 years this company has netted nearly £6,000,000. The National Government protects the profits of these huge combines and with its armaments programme forces food prices to go up. The cost of living is rising every day and housewives find it more difficult to get enough, bread, let alone milk. The Communist Party urges the Borough Council to provide every child with at least one pint of milk daily. We ask the Borough Council to provide not only free milk, but also other nourishing foods and medicine to all necessitous mothers, ignoring the Means Test and all other restrictions. This can be done—make the National Government pay the bill. We must also insist that the policy of the Milk Board of cheap milk to industries and dear milk to workers should cease.

Higher and higher prices for food. More and more mothers unable to buy proper nourishment. All the more need to see that full powers are used to give our children cheap milk and free meals!

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Day Nursery
An adequate number of Day Nurseries is urgently needed. Hackney, with a population of over 200,000, has many thousands of working women who go out to work, and there is only one small Day Nursery. Even this nursery is a private concern, though subsidised by the Borough Council to the extent of £200 a year. Therefore we demand that Municipal Day Nurseries be established in every ward and every large housing estate. These nurseries must be staffed by competent and qualified persons.

Education

  1. The C.P. demands the raising of the school-leaving age to 16 years with adequate grants to parents. This would contribute to the solution of the problem of unemployment among youth.
  2. Full opportunity-for every child of access to free education up to University standard.
  3. Limitation of classes in accordance with the National Union of Teachers demands.
  4. Provision of sufficient number of well-equipped modern schools, especially in areas where large new housing estates have been built.

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Hands Of the Unemployment Fund ! Food Before Guns !
In spite of the fact that we are supposed to be living in the time of boom or so-called “prosperity”, in Hackney there are nearly 5,000 on the Unemployed Register and some 4,000 persons receiving outdoor relief. The C.P. realises that the real solution of the problem of unemployment can be attained only under Socialism, but we propose the following as immediate steps to relieve the hardships of the unemployed:

  1. A 40-hour week for all workers. The Borough Council to give a lead to introduce this at once for municipal employees.
  2. A fortnight’s holiday for all with pay.
  3. All the Borough Council building schemes to be carried out by direct labour under T.U. rates and conditions.
  4. Full relief for unemployed at T.U. Congress scales: 20s. each adult, 10s. each dependant, 5s. each child, and full relief for single men and women.
  5. Abolition of the Means Test.

The Means Test was introduced as a means of economy in 1931 by the National Government; the Unemployed Fund has accumulated a surplus of £60 million. The war-mongers’ Government is after this money in order to use it for its arms programme. The C.P. declares that this money belongs to the unemployed and it must be used to increase the scales of relief, particularly in view of the rapidly rising cost of living.

But not with the Food Prices Rocketing!
The cost of living has risen so much that a pound buys less than 57 shillings did a year ago! Meat, bacon, flour, butter, bread, tea, milk—all are going up almost every week ! To catch up with these rising prices, workers need a rise of at least 3s. 6d. in the pound. Not to make them better off, but just so they can eat as well as they did last year!

The workers who are most seriously hit by the increases are the unskilled labourers, unemployed, and old age pensioners.

Who is responsible for this increase? The shopkeepers? The Co-operative Societies? No! The policy of the National Government, in giving subsidies to the Marketing Boards and their price-fixing policy. Who benefits from these high prices? The big trusts and companies who are piling up profits. And it is the deliberate polity of the National Government to raise prices to help pay for the war plans. They make the poor pay instead of the rich, through their food taxes.

How can we fight the policy of the National Government and the Marketing Boards? Communists propose an immediate united campaign by the whole Labour Movement:

To force a reduction in the combines’ profits, and so a reduction in food prices.

To abolish the taxes on our food.

To put working-class representatives on the Food Council, and to make this body publicly expose profiteering prices.

To raise wages to meet the high cost of living. Our Council must help in this by an increase of 5s. to all municipal workers under the Joint Industrial Council. To win an increase of 2s. 6d. in the pound to all those on Public Assistance—and the unemployment scales to those advocated by the Trades Union Council, of 20s. to each adult, 10s. to each dependant, and 5s. to each child. To increase old age and all other pensions. To make the rich pay for these necessities out of their super-profits.

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We Want Cheaper Electricity
“Electricity is cheap in Hackney,” says the Borough Council. But it is not cheap to the small consumer. The scale of charges favours the rich. For example, it varies in price from 1/2 d. to 4 1/4 d. per unit, and for industrial purposes the rate is half that of the domestic rate. For example, in 1936 the industrialists paid an average of 1.09d. per unit and domestic users paid an average of 2.01d. per unit.

We want the unification of the scales of charges, and free wiring installations for all working-class houses to make electricity available to all.

Defence of Hackney Citizens Against Fascism
Whilst new homes and better conditions are essential, it is necessary to safeguard these by defending our democratic rights. Hackney workers have a special problem to face in the growing Fascist menace. Brutal attacks on Hackney residents have been made: people have been beaten up. Fascism is attempting to obtain a foothold in Hackney and is planning to oppose Herbert Morrison [Labour MP for Hackney South] in the coming Parliamentary Elections. The C.P. appeals to every worker who values his home and liberty to keep the Fascists out of Hackney. This can be done by the unity of all progressive elements and more particularly by the unity of all working-class parties in the Borough without exception. As an immediate step to combat the Fascist menace we propose the following:

  1. Banning of all Fascist meetings in Hackney, whether outdoor or indoor.
  2. The closing of the Fascist barracks.
  3. Democratic control of the police to ensure protection against Fascist attacks.

Against War
With the continued existence of the National Government in office the war menace grows daily. Everything goes to prove that the National Government is encouraging Fascist aggression abroad and at home. Spain and China today, and it may be England tomorrow. How can those who are leading us to war be trusted to protect us against war? Can the National Government and their local Conservative allies, who have continually condemned the British working class to ill-health and starvation with their economy stunts, Means Tests and rising prices, be trusted? Can these people be trusted to protect us from air raid attack? Obviously not! We believe that the only defence for peace is the defeat of the National Government and their local allies. We do not think that war is inevitable, but we believe the National Government should be made responsible for the supply of suitable protection equal to that for the rich. Gas masks must be of the very best quality, and the construction of gas- and bomb-proof shelters, under the control of the Borough Council, should be undertaken at once. All air raid precautions should be democratically controlled by the Borough Council and the working bodies in the Borough. The full cost of these schemes must be borne by the National Government and not by the Borough Council.

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Make the Rich Pay!
The proposals as outlined in the preceding pages will, of course, require money. Now, where is the money to come from? This need not come from the rates, but should be borne by the people who are exploiting. Hackney. How can this be done?

  1. End the Derating Act, by which the National Government relieved the rich employers of three-quarters of the rates making the workers foot the bill. Make employers pay their rates in full!
  2. The rating of empty premises. This measure would not only bring in more money from the landlords, who can afford to pay. But it would immediately bring down rents!
  3. Reduction of interest on loans.
  4. Steeply graded municipal tax.
  5. Grants from the L.C.C.
  6. Increased grants from the National Government. Social services must come before armaments. The National Government spends £350 million per year for arms. If they can find the money for armaments, they can find the money for the improvement of the standard of life of the people!

Communists believe that all working people of Hackney want to see the plans outlined in this pamphlet put into action. How can it be done? By a united, determined, Labour Movement, composed of all working class bodies including the Communist Party. United Labour action will not only strengthen Labour Councils everywhere. But will also defeat the National Government and put in its place a strong Labour Government.

A STRONG COMMUNIST PARTY IS THE
SUREST WAY OF GETTING SUCH UNITED
ACTION BY THE WHOLE LABOUR MOVE-
MENT. THEREFORE IF YOU WANT TO
TAKE A HAND IN BUILDING THE NEW,
HAPPY AND HEALTHY HACKNEY – JOIN
THE HACKNEY COMMUNIST PARTY AND
PLAN FOR LIFE.

Published by the Hackney Communist Party, 280a, Richmond Rd., Hackney, E.8, and printed by Marston Printing Co. (T.U.), Nelson Place, Cayton Street, London, E.C.1.

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Hackney Peoples Press – the first three issues, 1973

Hackney People’s Press was a local left-leaning community newspaper published regularly from 1973 until 1985.

An interview with HPP contributor Charles Foster is available elsewhere on this site. As you can see from the masthead below, HPP was formed by the merger of Hackney Action and Hackney Gutter Press, who were both publishing in the early 70s and have also been covered here previously.

Charles has very kindly donated his archive to this site. The plan is to gradually upload an overview of Hackney People’s Press, year by year, alongside the many other things I want to cover.  I won’t have time to scan every single page, and the combination of oversized tabloid pages and the scanner I have occasional access to will mean that some details are missed out. Nevertheless I hope this gives a good flavour of the HPP project and the radical culture of Hackney in the late 20th Century…

The issues below are all large tabloid format – click on the images for a full size version.

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The debut issue – 5 pence, worra bargain! As you can see from the introduction on the cover, the plan was to publish monthly and to hold open public meetings for contributors. The issues I have from 1973 suggests that this schedule was kept to initially. (Although the page count went down from 12 to 8).

We kick off with an excellent lead story on parents in De Beauvoir seizing some vacant land to use as an adventure playground for kids. The author, Crispin Aubrey, was an interesting figure who was later prosecuted under the official secrets act for interviewing a former GCHQ worker.

(The De Beauvoir Association has published an archive of the “De Beaver” newsletter from the 1970s and 80s which is well worth a look and also covers this).

Other contents:

A critical account of a Hackney Trades Council meeting, in which various union leaderships are criticised for not seeing the wisdom of bringing down the Tory government and establishing socialism via the Labour Party. The meeting “erupted into what was at times an extremely violent violent argument between a small contingent from the Socialist Labour League (Trotskyist) and a much larger number of Communist Party (Stalinist) members.”

Learning Exchange: a free service which puts people interested in learning the same subject in touch with each other. (c/o Centerprise).

Support for striking teachers campaigning for an increase in the London Allowance (and concern that rising housing, prices etc mean that teachers were leaving London – just like now).

After Six in Hackney: full page piece on an advice service for homeless people, operating after 6pm every evening.

An article on closing cinemas with the overly dramatic title “Who Raped Our Screens?” – “Hackney now has only 6 cinemas amongst a population of over 200,000, and one of those, the Dalston Tatler, is for members only. The Stamford Hill Odeon closed only a few months ago, largely on the pretext that the Dalston Odeon has been converted into 3 separate screens. At the same time, prices at Dalston have gone up to a minimum of 55p…”

Homes Saved From Ringway: 1,000 properties no longer being demolished because of the collapse of plans for a big road through Dalston and Hackney Wick following protests.

A double page spread on Kingsmead Estate which is critical of the Tenants Association, but more positive about the work of the Claimants Union on the estate – a representative is quoted on their work to get people the right benefits, help make sure repairs are done by the council and demands for police patrols to sort out menacing kids with airguns attacking people. Also: “We would not let anyone on the estate be evicted without one hell of a fight. We will organise barricades, cordon off the estate if necessary. The days when they could come in and evict someone in relative peace are all over.” (did this ever actually happen though?)

Also interesting to see the council criticised for making Kingsmead into a ghetto, concentrating black people, OAPs and benefit claimants there, the implication being that other estates were reserved for white, relatively more affluent types?

Haggerston Food Co-Op is introduced (but more on them below).

Perhaps slightly jarring with the community articles is a press release about the Stoke Newington 5 (originally the Stoke Newington 8).

Tony Soares (who ran the Grass Roots bookshop in Ladbroke Grove) writes about being convicted for “incitement to murder persons unknown“. Which is as mad as it sounds. Turns out Tony had reprinted the Black Panther Party’s “On organising self-defence groups” article: “The police conceded that there probably would have been no prosecution had it not been for a complaint from Jack Backsi, the Community Relations Officer for Hackney”. Backsi apparently referred the publication to Hackney’s then MP Stanley-Clinton David, asking him to raise it in parliament. Soares was sentenced to 200 hours of community service, which suggests that everyone agreed that the threat he posed was minimal – but that this sort of politics was not welcome in the UK.

There’s a story about some black youths being hassled by the police because one of them was carrying a walking stick – and how this was falsely reported as “Mob Storms Police Station” by the Hackney Gazette.

Also two pages of contact info for community and political groups, and a back page piece by Ken Worpole on William Morris and the meaning of May Day.

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Issue 2 leads with a story about a mother and 4 young kids being evicted from an empty house that they had squatted after waiting for 4 years on the council list. The 3 other squatters who helped her to re-occupy the property were charged with assaulting the police.

Hackney Playbus: Fran Crowther on why it’s needed and an appeal for drivers. (Previousl also covered in an issue of Hackney Action, see here for a scan.)

Unhealthy Health Report – NHS understaffing, infant mortality 33% higher in Hackney than the average for England and Wales, drop in ante natal care sessions, criticism of factory inspectors (2,546 factory premises in Hackney!), etc.

Hackney School Students: participated in a demonstration about democratising school councils. Also uproar at Cardinal Pole school about a DIY students magazine called “Vision” – four of the student contributors were suspended. (Any more info on that would be greatly received!)

“1972 – A Year of Increased Repression”: Overview of The National Council for Civil Liberties annual report, with references to state attacks on the underground press (Oz and IT magazines), republican sympathisers, the Angry Brigade trial, prisoners rights, moves to restrict jury trials and the right to protest, increased arming of the police, etc:

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Mike Knowles of Hackney Trades Council is given a full page right of reply to the drubbing they got in the first issue. Alongside the correction of some errors in the original article, the general tone is that it’s alright for lefty activists to hold forth about a general strike and socialism but the real issue is how to actually get there – especially if it’s not possible to organise a one day strike on May Day as was being mooted.

Also groups and contacts:

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The back page is a heartwarming story about some guerrilla street theatre performers and how they were received around the borough:

theatre

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Issue 3 leads with the a story on the closure of the inspiring Haggerston Food Co-op which has been previously covered on this site by this excellent video:

There is an edge of bitterness to the story, the obvious frustration of not being able to get the community sufficiently involved to keep the co-op going when the activist who ran it solo was rehoused elsewhere. (An all to common problem with community politics but getting all narky about it in print isn’t the solution eh?)

Page 2 covers the trial of the squatters featured on the cover of issue 2. Five charges of breach of the peace were dropped as the cops couldn’t produce their lead witness. Two women were found guilty of obstructing the police (the sentence/fine isn’t mentioned). More happily it’s also reported that Anita Keating, the mother who was evicted, was now squatting successfully in Islington with her kids.

Page 3 reports on a Hackney Young Teachers Association meeting on “West Indian Problems” i.e. racism and cultural differences and the detrimental effect they were having on the education of black kids: “The condescending attitude of some middle class educationalists towards the language of working class children and parents, black and white is partly due to a misunderstanding of the theories of Basil Bernstein, which then makes the sad equation that poor language equal working class impoverishment in a never ending circle. This attitude is doubly tragic because it helps to maintain the exam system in all its immorality and because it checks the child-centred advances made so bravely by our infant and nursery schools.”

The centre pages contrast the Matchgirls strike of 1888 with a strike by Ministry of Defence contract cleaners in 1972.

Also:

  • A report on a family of squatters who have had to move 11 times in the last 8 years.
  • An update on De Beauvoir playground which seemed to be doing well despite council indifference.
  • Hackney and Islington World Development Group – concerned with global poverty, development, trade.
  • Workers Education Association music workshop, Learning Exchange, listings.

The back page reports on some incredible community direct action. After getting nowhere with the police or the council, Stonebridge residents move cars which have been dumped on their estate into the middle of Kingsland Road, causing a traffic jam, but resolving the issue!

Echoes of this sort of thing were later seen with Reclaim The Streets, where old bangers were driven into the middle of big roads as a way of blocking them off before a party commenced. Hackney Independent Working Class Association were still shaming the council about dumped cars in the south of the Borough in the early 21st Century.

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Caribbean House, Hoxton 1976-1988

Caribbean House postcard

Caribbean House postcard

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I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Caribbean House prior to watching the Somewhere In Hackney film from 1980 courtesy of the British Film Institute. That film largely concerns itself with Free Form Arts Trust, who decorated the front of the building (see the section from 6:45-8:00 minutes), so I was curious about what went on inside.

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There’s not a huge amount of information about Caribbean House available online, so this post is mainly based on a book published in 1985 by its founder, Rev Dr Ashton Gibson:

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Ashton Gibson – a black Robin Hood?

Gibson was born in Barbados in 1927. By his own account he was “barely able to speak” when he began school at the age of eight and didn’t do particularly well educationally until his father moved him to a fee-paying “prep” school, where he excelled. After school he worked in a variety of different jobs, (teacher, newspaper sub-editor) as well as embracing Catholicism and committing unspecified “anti-social acts”. In 1952 at the age of 25 Ashton’s mother paid for his passage to England to keep him out of trouble.

Like most Caribbean immigrants of this era, Ashton was forced to take up jobs that were more menial than those he done in his home country. He worked as a kitchen hand, a driver and an office cleaner, using his spare time to train as an accountant. The racism of 1950s England eventually got to him. He began to hear voices.

God was apparently speaking to Ashton and informing him that “the Church had money enough to solve the problems caused by poverty among his people”. He began what can only be described as a campaign of radical wealth redistribution, initially by going from church to church and pleading poverty. The resultant funds were then donated to organisations dedicated to the welfare of West Indian immigrants like himself. In the book, Ashton is at pains to say that none of the money he acquired went into his own pocket.

Nevertheless, the authorities took an interest in him. After a couple of referrals for psychiatric treatment Ashton was eventually sentenced to two years in prison for obtaining money by false pretenses. He shared a cell with a safe cracker, and perhaps inevitably put his newly acquired skills to use on release. Church safes up and down the country were relieved of their contents, although once again Ashton states forcefully that any money obviously set aside for charities was untouched and that he never used the loot for his own gain.

After further brushes with authority, Ashton became involved with slightly more conventional community work – volunteering at the Black House set up by Michael X and the Racial Action Adjustment Society (RAAS) on Holloway Road, then launching the Melting Pot Foundation in Brixton (“with £30,000 of his own money”) – a garment factory aimed at giving West Indians work opportunities/experience. The Melting Pot also branched out into finding places to live for homeless black youth.

The book makes it clear that Ashton’s own upbringing and experience of the the alienation brought on by a racist society and education system inspired him to try and improve the lot of black people in the UK.

Westindian Concern Ltd

Gibson resigned from the Melting Pot Foundation when it became more established, receiving funding from Lambeth Council and support from the wider voluntary sector. He was paid off to the tune of £20,000 and used this to set up a company called Westindian Concern. The launch was held in a church in the City of London on 22 July 1975. The emphasis was on black (or West Indian) self-help – a black-run charity which encouraged black people to develop the skills and networks they needed to survive in the UK. Various locations were sought for premises before the right one was found:

“Three derelict buildings were found near New North Road on the borders of Islington, Hackney Boroughs in Hoxton, North London. The three terraced houses, 76-80 Bridport Place, were all adjacent to one another, making conversion into a single unit relatively simple. But the overwhelming advantage to these premises, dwarfing the many problems raised by their unpromising condition, was that they were cut off from the residential area. This meant that the organisation stood infinitely more chance of succeeding in its long term aims, which naturally included acceptance in the local community. In particular there were no neighbours to complain of noise when social or recreational activities took place. As an added bonus, unimpeded view across Shoreditch Park afforded some pleasure to the eye in a heavily built up and neglected area. The London Borough of Hackney, to whom the property belonged, was persuaded to make a gesture to its large Westindian population; a five year lease was granted to Westindian Concern for the proposed community centre and hostel.”

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Caribbean House

After extensive renovation work, undertaken by people from the black church movement, the centre opened during Easter 1976.

Initial problems included funding issues and an article in Private Eye suggesting that Ashton Gibson was using the centre for his own financial gain. More seriously, a fire broke out in the building, gutting 78 and 80 Bridport Place. Arson was suspected, with reasonable suspicion being leveled at supporters of the National Front, which had a lot of support in the area at the time and would open its headquarters in nearby Great Eastern Street in 1978.

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Repairs were made and funding issues resolved. Activities and work undertaken at Caribbean House included:

  • A children’s hostel
  • A family-centred child care service, with emphasis on the reconciliation of children with their parents where there had previously been conflict
  • A social club for the elderly
  • An Education Unit, helping children with school work – as well as courses for social workers, teachers, probation officers to assist them in better understanding of issues faced by black people.
  • Career advice, and a job-finding scheme
  • A food co-op
  • Music workshops
  • Cricket and dominoes teams
  • Westindian Voice – a newspaper (which admittedly only lasted for 7 months)

Bazil Meade gives a flavour of what Caribbean House was like in his book when describing rehearsals of the London Community Gospel Choir there:

“Soon our rehearsals became like mini-concerts themselves. Caribbean House was a busy place where people came to socialise with their friends. When they heard us rehearsing they would wander into the hall to listen, and before long the hall was full and people were spilling out of the doors, clapping and singing along…”

(from Bazil Meade & Jan Greenough: A Boy, A Journey, A Dream. Monarch Books, 2011. P111)

Policing and “Homeward Bound”

Ashton Gibson gave evidence on behalf of Caribbean House and Westindian Concern to the Scarman Inquiry which was set up after the Brixton riots of 1981. His submission is reproduced in the book. He stops quite a way short of saying that the riots were an understandable reaction to a racist society in general and the institutional racism of the police in particular. Instead he sees prejudice developing as a result of two well meaning groups of people who happen to originate from cultures that do not quite understand each other.

Indeed, most of Gibson’s criticism is leveled at the black community. “Badly run late-night clubs” attended by teenagers are singled out as a source of inter-generational conflict and the breakdown of families.  The “black leadership” in Brixton is criticised as being “very poor… Few of the leaders of those organisations funded and supported by the authorities have any grasp of the problems besetting this area.”

To put things in context, It is worth bearing in mind that the police in Hackney were widely viewed as being intensely racist at this time. Hackney Black People’s Organisation had been set up in 1978 as a result of racist violence and policing, specifically the death of Michael Ferreira. (Ferreira was a black teenager who was stabbed by National Front sympathisers in Stoke Newington. He was taken by friends to Stoke Newington Police Station where he was then questioned by the police about the incident rather than receiving medical assistance. Michael eventually died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.) The tensions between the community and the police would increase throughout the eighties with the killing of Colin Roach inside Stoke Newington police station being just one notable flashpoint.

Ashton Gibson receiving a cheque in 1984 from the Police Property Act Fund via Hackney Mayoress Bella Callaghan

Ashton Gibson receiving a cheque in 1984 from the Police Property Act Fund via Hackney Mayoress Bella Callaghan

Six months after the 1981 Brixton riots, Caribbean House launched its “Homeward Bound Fund”, “to enable Westindians with little hope of adjusting to life in Britain to be resettled in in the Caribbean or other region of their choice”. The fund was severely criticised by Hackney Council for Racial Equality, Darcus Howe (then of the Race Today collective) and even Melting Pot, the organisation in Brixton which Gibson had set up. Essentially the critics felt that the fund was a capitulation to the right wing press and “send them back” racists like the National Front and Enoch Powell.

There are some lengthy rebuttals to these criticisms by Ashton Gibson in the book. He suggests that the fund was a purely humanitarian venture that was intended to help Caribbean families who were “at breaking point”. Its critics are portrayed as “White Liberals and their Black lackeys in the Race Relations Industry”. The fund was abandoned shortly after its launch, having amassed £2,000.

The criticism of the fund also included various people demanding that funding for Caribbean House be reviewed. Although it is unclear how successful this lobbying was, it does seems that there were some real difficulties with resources when A Light In The Dark Tunnel was published in 1985. The book concludes with an appeal for funds which notes that the Greater London Council (GLC) was to be abolished in 1986 along with its extensive funding of a huge array of community groups (the London Irish Women’s Centre in Stoke Newington would be just one other example). Coupled with this, other sources of funding from local government were due to expire.

Ashton Gibson seems to have been very talented at courting those in positions of influence and power – the book includes numerous testimonials from politicians, bishops and members of the House of Lords. Unfortunately this did not prove to be enough to sustain his organisations through funding cut backs.

I’ve not been able to find much material about the dissolution of Caribbean House. This Youtube clip suggests that it managed to survive its problems with funding until 1988:

The clip also has some great footage of the interior of Caribbean House. However the comment below is slightly ominous:

THAMES NEWS 6.9.88.CARIBBEAN HOUSE,HACKNEY IS IN DEBT; DR. ASHTON GIBSON,WHO RUNS THE HOUSE,IS ACCUSED OF STEALING THE CHARITY MONEY TO RUN THE HOUSE FOR A HOTEL IN BARBADOS._x000D_

 

Bridport Place now

Bridport Place today

Westindian Concern was wound up as a company in October 1988. King Bee Music Academy were based at 76-80 Bridport Place from 1988 “to provide the urban youth of Hackney with the belief and knowledge that music builds self-confidence, and encourages people to play a positive role in their community… “

The building was listed as “an empty commercial property” by Hackney Council in 2011. And seems to have been sold for £2,861,000 in 2012 (BBC PDF linked from this story). It looks like it was divided up into 8 flats later that year. And the company doing the conversion was busted for health and safety offences in 2014.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to get into the nitty gritty of the funding, administration, or legacy of Caribbean House. Whilst I only have the rather uncritical book which is co-authored by Rev Dr Gibson to go on, I will say that trying to provide essential support and resources for marginalised people in a prejudiced society is a noble aim. I’m sure large numbers of people were helped by the work of Ashton Gibson and the many others who organised and contributed to the activities at Caribbean House.

There are echoes of the controversies about funding, administration and the relationship with the state in the recent furore about Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company.

If you have any memories of Caribbean House, feel free to leave a comment below, or get in touch.

film – Somewhere In Hackney (Ron Orders, 1980)

Screenshot 2015-08-13 20.22.56

http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-somewhere-in-hackney-1980/

A great 50 minute documentary at the British Film Institute site that covers a wide array of the community and cultural groups active in the Borough in 1980, including:

There’s also  lots of great footage of bits of Hackney which have since disappeared or aged gracefully…

Thanks to Good News Hackney on twitter for flagging up this up.

A few screenshots:

caribhouse3

Caribbean House

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens' Aid

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens’ Aid

Centerprise, 1980

Weds December 10th: Activism and the under-fives – Radical History Network meeting

As soon as the women’s movement started, so did campaigns for more and better childcare…

The next meeting of the Radical History Network of NE London group will focus on how pressure was put on institutions and local authorities to provide cheap, good quality provision.

There is also an important story to be told about how alternative provision was set up outside the mainstream, while sometimes the two approaches overlapped.

Come along and share your experiences, and discuss how this connects with campaigns today.

Speakers will include:

Gail Chester – The struggle for council and community nurseries in Hackney from the 1970s onwards

Ivor Kallin – When Islington nursery workers shared a platform with the miners

Andrea Francke – History of nursery campaigns at the Royal College of Art and London College of Communication

+ other contributors from campaigns in higher education and community settings

Wednesday 10th December 7.30 p.m
Wood Green Social Club 3 Stuart Crescent, N22 5NJ

(off the High Rd, near Wood Green tube)

Free to attend, all interested people welcome.

http://radicalhistorynetwork.blogspot.co.uk/

image by Hackney Flashers

1985 TV news report: Police charm offensive in Hackney

Another new upload to the excellent dorlec01 YouTube channel.

This short report covers a lot of ground – the background of the killing of Colin Roach in Stoke Newington Police Station, Hackney teacher Blair Peach being killed by police at an anti-fascist demonstration and of course the general racism and brutality of police in Hackney at the time.

These factors lead to the Hackney Teachers’ Association calling for the Police to be excluded from schools. Their position is summarised in the extremely convincing Police Out of School document which is also available on this site. As you can hear in the report, their proposals were taken up by 18 (about a third) of Hackney’s schools.

The lack of an acknowledgement from police representatives of the deep seated issues in their own force is troubling, but perhaps not surprising: “what has happened to us in the past – is in the past. We must look to the future”.

It’s hard to say in retrospect whether people actually believed that cops spending time disco dancing with kids whose older brothers and sisters still faced daily racism would achieve anything or whether it was a PR stunt. But we do know that serious police brutality and corruption in Hackney continued well into the 1990s.

Hackney Action (1972) – a community newspaper

Hackney Action was founded in June 1972 by Centerprise, who aimed to “promote a people’s paper. One that will reflect the feelings and attitudes of the people in the borough of Hackney.”

To me, it seems more community-minded and less overtly “militant” that the Hackney People’s Paper which had been published the previous year.

There were five issues of Hackney Action. The two I have (courtesy of Charles Foster) are tabloid six-pagers.

Update Feb 2020: You can now view both these issues as PDFs here.

(click on the images below for larger versions)

HA2-1

Issue 2’s front page features the beginning of lengthy article by Centerprise’s Ken Worpole debunking the council’s “Hackney Cares” slogan.

“What is happening in East Bank” looks at the proposal to make the street in Stamford Hill a “general improvement area”. There’s a handy guide to the pros and cons for tenants and property owners:

Also……..

  • “How I started a playgroup” by Barbara Berks
  • Demand for a public enquiry into a recent death from pneumonia and hypothermia at  childrens’ home “The Beeches”.
  • Green Lanes Tenants Association
  • Contacts/Ads (Centerprise, Legal Aid, Off Centre – a consultation service for young people, MP surgeries, Hackney Claimants Union, Hackney Multiple Sclerosis Society, Half Moon Gallery exhibition)
  • An in-jokey “fable” which might be a dig at some local characters.
HA2-5

Page 5 (above) is particularly good:

Daphne Morgan on Hackney Committee Against Racialism: “formed in March 1970 when Enoch (Rivers of Blood) Powell was making racialism respectable and threatening the whiter-than-whites with a rising tide of black babies”. Their activities thus far included producing leaflets, having a presence and banner at various demos – including a picket of a meeting of the far right Monday Club in Islington, and quizzing local election candidates (“none of the Tories replied”).

After the election, the group focused on lobbying the council about improving conditions on “ghetto estates” and challenging institutional racism: “We have still had no satisfaction on the question of discrimination in housing. No official or councillor has been been able to explain why so many immigrant families end up in the worst and oldest estates, whereas more modern ones such as George Downing are almost pure white.”

An article on the Hackney Playmobile (still running in 2014 as the Hackney Playbus!) by Pauline Weinstein. She places the playmobile as part of a wider upsurge in working class communities organising or demanding facilities for children after a freeze in nursery places by the government in 1960.

Pauline has reflected recently on the playbus, the importance of archives (hear hear!) and her life in this article for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust. She is now involved with the Working Lives of Older People archive.

The back page of this issue is an article about Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal in Stratford E15, emphasising its links with the community and funding problems.

HA3-1

Issue 3 came out after a respectable three months gap in October 1972. The lead article is about a rent increase for council tenants of 90p, which will have many of our readers choking on their cornflakes in amazement – but that is about £11 in today’s money. The article names and shames councillors who voted for implementing the rise (31) and those who voted against (27). It also mentions a proposed two week rent strike.

This theme continues on Page 2 with an article by Bob Darke, Secretary of Hackney United Tenants Federation entitled “Fight The Tory Rent Bill – It’s a class act directed against one section of the community – the working class”.

A previous entry on this website covers Darke’s involvement in and rejection of the Communist Party in Hackney in the 1950s. I was pleased to see he was still active in the 1970s.

Also this issue:

  • Poems by black youth Vivian Usherwood
  • Education in Hackney by Ruth Silver (against school closures and selective entry).
  • Two cheap recipes, including “Mackerel egg and sweetcorn pie for five” (a precursor to “A Girl Called Jack” perhaps?)
  • Hackney Trade Council Action Committee: against entry into the Common Market (“a new way of organising Europe in the interests of the Boss Class”), opposing the Industrial Relations Act, campaigning to make “Hackney a better, cleaner, healthier and more beautiful place to live and work in”
  • A back page feature on the Geffrye Museum by its curator Jeffrey Daniels

Page 4 of this issue is given over to notices and contact details (click on the image for a larger version. And apologies for there being a bit chopped off, an inevitable result of some covert scanning at someone’s workplace):

HA3-4

According to the Hackney Archives (who have copies on microfilm), Hackney Action transformed into Hackney Peoples Press in 1973.