Who killed Michael Ferreira? Part Two

Cover art subsequently credited to Dan Jones

Content warning: archaic racist and sexist language.

The racist killing of Michael Ferreira in December 1978 and subsequent protests inspired some local secondary school children to write a play. This was then published anonymously as a pamphlet.

Teacher, writer and activist Chris Searle later explained that the play had been written collectively by his pupils at Langdon Park School in Tower Hamlets:

“We acted out the play in the classroom, and as the campaign grew in East London, to publicise and protest against the circumstances of Michael Ferreira’s death, we decided to use the play in whatever way we could to make a contribution.

I had already met Michael’s mother and told her about the project, and she too thought it would be a useful idea to publish the short play as a pamphlet for young people. I interviewed her and learned some information about her son… and this became the basis for a short introduction.

The play… became a useful vehicle for informing people, in a narrative and dramatic form, about what happened to Michael and his friends.”

Chris searle

Searle had previously caused a furore in 1971 when he published a collection of poems by pupils at John Cass Foundation and Red Coat School in Stepney. The poems were deemed inappropriate and Searle was sacked. Kids at the school then went on strike, which along with some pressure from the National Union of Teachers, led to his reinstatment.

So that probably explains the anonymity of this play’s publication, which appears to have been well justified. When “Who Killed Michael Ferreira?” was included in an anthology in the 1980s, Searle was denounced in Parliament and the play was mischaracterised as being about “a gang of black youths”.

The full text of the booklet follows below. The biography of Michael and a related newsclipping from the last page are placed at the beginning here instead. A scan of the booklet is available at archive.org.

As Chris Searle says, the play was written by “a multi-racial group of 14 year olds” in 1979 and the words used by the protagonists reflect this: “their dialogue is steeped in sexist banter, there is no attempt to idealize them as characters or sanitize their speech.”

Much of the information above is taken from Chris Searle – None But Our Words: Critical Literacy in Classroom and Community (Open University Press, 1998). This also includes many interesting insights into how the pupils worked together to create the play (and a fascinating chapter on the Stepney incident too, amongst others).

With thanks once again to Alan Denney.

Notes:

There are a couple of references in the text that warrant further explanation in 2022:

Chapel Street Market, Islington – This was one of the National Front’s main pitches for selling their literature – as well as intimidating the local community – at the weekend (another pitch being Brick Lane). There is more informaton about this (and the effective physical resistance to it) in Anti-Fascist Actions’s The Battle For Chapel Market, republished at Libcom.

SUS’ – legisation that allowed the cops to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. It was widely used against black youth, and this is often cited as one of the factors that led to widespread rioting in the UK’s urban areas in 1980 and 1981.


MICHAEL FERREIRA, 1959-1978

Michael Ferreira was born in Stanleytown, Guyana in 1959. He died after being stabbed in the liver by a white youth along Stoke Newington Hight Street in December 1978.

Michael, the third child, grew up with his three sisters in the region of Berbice, the scene of a great slave revolt in the eighteenth century. Guyana is drained by huge rivers and covered in tropical forests and savannah, with a cleared coastal area of cultivated land, rice fields and small villages. In the yard of Michael’s parents’ house there were chickens, turkey and hogs, paw-paw and coconut trees- a far cry from the brick and concrete of his later home, Hackney, East London.

When he was six his mother emigrated to Britain, and gradually other members of the family, including his three sisters, left to join her. Michael went to live with his aunt in McKenzie, a mining town inland in Guyana, hacked out of the thick equatorial forest. There he continued his childhood, living near the bauxite mines and spending many happy hours fishing in the rivers and streams that abound there.

His family say that he was a happy, open, fun-loving boy at this stage of his life, even though he was always very small for his age. He never grew much higher than five feet, even when he reached his late teens. But his childhood in McKenzie was cut short in 1971, when he left Guyana to join his mother and sisters in Hackney. When he arrived in such a new environment his personality seemed to close up, and he became quieter and much more shy and withdrawn. It was only after he finally left school and in the last three years of his life that the liveliness and self-confidence of his childhood began to emerge again.

His years at Downsview School, Hackney, were marked by a growing interest in mechanics and practical subjects, and when he left school at 16 he went straight into a job as a motor mechanic. He had a dream of one day opening his own garage. He was never involved in any violence and had a pacific character that always sought to heal conflict rather than provoke it. Even when faced with the knife of the racist attacker he did not think of fighting, but stood his ground trustingly.

Michael’s horrific death, in the face of police connivance and delay, was not an isolated incident. We remember the brutal hounding of David Oluwale, West African, in Leeds in 1969, and the racist gibes and fists of the Leeds police that caused his persecution and death. We remember the young London Irishman, Stephen McCarthy, his head smashed by police against a steel bus stop in Islington in 1971. We remember the lack of inclination of the East London police to defend and support Asians like Altab Ali – murdered on the streets of Spitalfields last year. And we remember Kevin Gately, killed at Red Lion Square, and Blair Peach, an anti-racist teacher from a Bow school, clubbed to death at Southall by the Special Patrol Group.

How much of the reality of a peaceful, five feet one inch black teenager knifed by young white thugs who towered over him and left to bleed to death by London police, truly emerged in the courts? Clearly very little. The truth is still clear: despite a toothless and impotent Race Relations Act, overtly racist groups like the National Front and British Movement give open encouragement to white youths to attack and kill black people on the streets, and they still have the full freedom and protection of the law to continue to prompt them. British racists who publically talk of genocide and ‘one down down, a million to go’ after the murder of an Asian youth are acquitted and congratulated by British judges. The mentality of gas-chambers is upheld and promoted. Michael’s assassin, from the evidence presented in court, carried a knife for the express purpose of ‘having a go at coloureds’ and was a known associate and newspaper seller of the National Front. And yet the court and all-white jury declared that there was no racist motive for the killing.

This short play was written collectively by secondary school children shortly after Michael’s death. They never knew Michael or his friends or his killers, and so clearly the play is their attempt, through their imaginations, to understand the incident and and the characters, rather than a strict documentary drama. The children who wrote the play have their family origins in England, Scotland. Ireland, St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados, Jamaica, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Somalia, Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus and Mauritius. They are a part of the British People who will live and work to carve out a new life in London, and carve through the bigotry and racism that exploits and threatens us all.

1979 article from West Indian World

‘NO JUSTICE’

“There is no justice in this land for Black people.” That’s the way Mrs Ann Moses, the mother of 18 year old Michael Ferreira of Hackney, East London who was stabbed to death by a white thug late last year, reacted to the 5 year sentence passed against her son’s killer by Justice Stephen Brown at the Old Bailey Court, last week.

All White Jury

An all-white jury sitting in judgement of the two accused men, Mark Sullivan, 17 years old and a market street trader of Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, East London and 18 year old James Barnes a meat porter of William Penn House, Shipton, Bethnal Green, returned a guilty verdict on Sullivan and set free his accomplice, Barnes,

The court was told that both men had been involved in a fight with Michael and a group of his friends in Stoke Newington Hight Street late last year when Michael was fatally stabbed by Sullivan. Half an hour after the stabbing Sullivan and Barnes were picked up by the police for questioning and admitted that they had committed the crime. A few minutes after Michael was stabbed, he was taken to St Leonards Hospital in Hackney where we was announced dead on arrival by doctors.

A mass demonstration was organised by the Hackney Trades Council and Black organisations in the area following this and other murders of Black people in East London, with the protestors claiming that supporters of the racialist party, the National Front, were responsible for Michael Ferreira’s death. In the trial however, the judge dismissed any connection with the National Front in the murder and in passing sentence on Sullivan said:

“You used a deadly weapon on a completely harmless young man who had done you no wrong.”

“It must be made plain to all those who go forth with weapons of this kind that they can expect serious punishment if they use them.”

I interviewed the bereaved mother at her home in Rushmore Road, Lower Clapton, last Saturday, and with tears streaking down her cheeks, she said: “I am completely flabbergasted with the sentence. I cannot see Black people given proper justice in the courts of this land. I myself felt like dying when [I] heard that the judge had sent that “murderer” down for just five years. I expected that Sullivan deserved to get 14 years for killing my son.”

Mrs Ann Moses was also very critical of the racial composition of the jury and cast doubts on the integrity of the judiciary for their failure to include a black in judgement in cases of this nature.

After the trial in which the public gallery was filled with supporters of the National Front, a roar whent up in the court room when the judge announced the verdict.

Who killed Michael Ferreira?

Michael Ferreira, a West Indian youth, died during the early morning of December 10th, 1978, in Stoke Newington, East London.

This short play is a collective attempt, written by a class of third year school students from an East London secondary school, to trace the events leading up to his death.

Characters

West Indian Youths:

  • George
  • Dexton
  • Michael
  • Delroy
  • Leroy
  • Tony

White Youths:

  • Mark
  • John
  • Peter

3 policemen

2 ambulancemen

Mr and Mrs Daniels: Parents of Tony and Leroy

Mr and Mrs Ferreira: Parents of Michael

Mortuary attendant

Narrator

PROLOGUE

The evil wings of racism have once again
spread over this country,
The evil that has brought fear—
and I warn my black brothers
stay clear!
The police are racist
the employers are racist
the bosses won’t give you a job
if you’re an Asian called Abdul
or even a West Indian named Bob!
The police pick on us
because we’re black,
they nick us on ‘SUS’
they beat us up
insult us…
Now, there’s a dirty word—N.F.
and when the racists insult us
we have to act deaf.
But we’re not going to act deaf no more
because we know the N.F.
are rotten to the core!

There have been demonstrations
against the N.F.
but that won’t do no good!
The racists are cowards,
they’ve got no sense—
just young hooligans.
If you’re black, brown or even colourless
but red—
the N.F. want you dead!
Get together, let the people know,
there’ll be no fun if the Nazis grow!

WHO KILLED MICHAEL FERREIRA?

SCENE 1: Stoke Newington High Sheet

NARRATOR: The time is 1.15am. A group of youths are walking home down Stoke Newington High Street from a late night disco. The date is December 1978.

Enter George, Dexton, Michael, Delroy, Leroy and Tony. They walk a group down the street, talking together and sometimes staring into lighted shop windows.

LEROY I can’t wait to get home.

MICHAEL Hey—did you see those girls in the corner?

DEXTON Yeh, did you see that one with the big tits?

GEORGE Yeh—weren’t they massive?

DEXTON Monica looked great, didn’t the?

TONY She’s really good-looking—I could fall for her myself.

DELROY Keep your eyes off man, she’s mine!

GEORGE What about that girl with the red straights on – she had a right old pair of knockers.

LEROY But it was a great disco—wasn’t it?

GEORGE Hmmm…. not bad.

LEROY What do you mean ‘not bad’—it was brilliant.

GEORGE It was quite good, but the beer was too dear.

TONY Well—maybe the disco wasn’t very good, but the birds were.

Delroy stops at a shop window.

DELROY Hey, look in this sports shop here. They’ve got those new Adidas boots – hey George, what do they call them now?

GEORGE I don’t know!

TONY They’re called ‘World Cup’ 78′.

MICHAEL Hey—Tottenham lost 7-1 today.

LEROY That’s a lie—who was it against then?

MICHAEL The greatest team in the world.

LEROY Who’s the greatest team in the world then? I thought it was Tottenham?

MICHAEL Tottenham? Bunch of wankers! Liverpool are the best team in the world!

DELROY Hey- I like that track suit.

LEROY Do you lot know what the time is? It’s ten past one already.

MICHAEL Is it? God, my mum’s going to be worried about me man.

DELROY Look-I’m running, otherwise I’m going to get hit man. You coming?

TONY Yeh—I’ll come on with you.

LEROY Me too.

MICHAEL All right, we’ll walk on behind you then.

TONY Okay—see you!

Delroy, Leroy and Tony walk on ahead.

Enter three white youths, walking along the other side of the road, opposite George, Dexton and Michael.

Mark, John and Peter begin to signal and hoot at the boys opposite them.

LEROY Hey, who are that lot over there?

GEORGE I don’t know them, do you?

MARK (Shouting across to the other side of the road.)

Hey, look at that one (pointing to Michael) he must have come from the deepest part of the jungle by the looks of it.

PETER Pity there’s no trees here for him to swing on!

JOHN Ahhhh—there’s no bananas neither.

PETER Funny—I’ve never seen a monkey fight, have you?

MICHAEL (Shouting back to them) Come on then you….

DEXTON No it’s not worth it, Michael. We’ve already had that trouble with the police.

GEORGE Yeh, we don’t want no trouble with them.

DEXTON All right then, let’s move on a bit.

GEORGE (Pointing) I know them boys. I’ve seen them down Chapel Street Market giving out National Front leaflets.

MARK Oi-you black bastards! Get back to your own country before I kick you there!

DEXTON You know, I feel like going over there and smashing their faces in.

GEORGE No, we can’t do that. That’s asking for it. We’ve had enough trouble with the cops – you remember that SUS business?

PETER All you blacks are chickens! If you had any guts you’d come over and fight, you bloody monkey-chasers!

DEXTON Why don’t we go and do them?

GEORGE Cool it man—the Babylon shop’s just down the road.

DEXTON No—let’s go and teach them a lesson.

MICHAEL Look—it’s not worth it, is it? They’ve done us enough times for SUS, we don’t want no more trouble.

MICHAEL But don’t walk any faster because of them or they’ll think we’re a bunch of shitters.

George, Michael and Dexton walk on up the street.

JOHN Yah, look at you lot, running up the road already.

Going home to your mammies are you?

GEORGE Come on, let’s let it.

MICHAEL No, don’t run – just ignore them.

DEXON But they’ve got to learn not to provoke us like this, man.

MARK You bloody niggers! Come and fight us you load of wankers!

GEORGE Come on, don’t take no notice, we don’t want no trouble.

MICHAEL Look – we’ve had enough of the SUS, haven’t we? Just keep walking normally.

The three white boys cross over to their side of the road. They start to sing ‘Go Home You Blacks, Go Home!’

MARK Hey, come on! Three onto three’s a fair fight.

JOHN Yeh, come on you peanut-heads!

DEXTON (Turning) Come on then, come on!

MICHAEL Knock it off Dexton! Keep on walking.

DEXTON No man! They want a fight so they’re going to get a fight – I’m not chickening out of this one.

MICHAEL You’re giving them just what they want, you berk! They’re trying to get you into trouble. Don’t take no notice of them.

DEXTON We could beat them easy.

MICHAEL Look—we’re not chickens, we just don’t want no more trouble.

MARK Come on peanut-heads, what you waiting for?

PETER What? Expect a black to fight back? You must be joking!

JOHN Right—come on, let’s get them!

John, Peter and Mark jump on George, Dexton and Michael.

DEXTON Right—you started it, now you’re going to get it.

GEORGE Watch that one there—he’s got a knife.

JOHN (To Mark) Come on, put the knife away Mark!

DEXTON Look out Michael, he’s coming at you!

JOHN Put that bloody knife away Mark. We don’t need that.

DEXTON Michael, look out!

Mark runs at Michael with the knife. He stabs him in the liver.

MICHAEL AE.E.E.E.E.E.

DEXTON George—he’s bloody knifed him!

GEORGE Bloody hell—Michael!

JOHN (To Mark) I told you to put that bloody thing away. Now look at what you’ve done. Let’s get the hell out of here!

MARK Yeh, you’re right—let’s split!

Mark, John and Peter run off up the road. Michael collapses on the pavement.

DEXTON Michael—come on, you’re all right really, get off the floor.

GEORGE Come on, get up Michael.

MICHAEL Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h…..

DEXTON Bloody hell, that’s all we need now.

GEORGE Dexton, help me get him up. (They support him on to his feet.) We’d better get him to the hospital.

MICHAEL Bloody hell, it hurts…. I’m bleeding all over.

Delroy, Leroy and Tony tun back to see Michael.

TONY What’s going on?

DELROY Hey, what happened to Michael?

GEORGE One of them bloody skinheads knifed him.

TONY Don’t muck about—now, what happened?

GEORGE They stabbed him, I tell you!

DEXTON Don’t stand there chatting—look, he could be bleeding to death.

TONY Where’s the nearest call box? He needs an ambulance.

DELROY It’s just round the comer.

TONY Let’s go then. (Tony and Delroy run off.)

DEXTON (Supporting Michael) It’s all right Michael, we’re going to get the ambulance for you.

GEORGE Yeh, it’ll be here in no time.

MICHAEL Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h it really hurts now.

Tony and Delroy run back, breathless.

TONY The bloody ththg was broke.

DELROY Some vandals smashed the phone in.

DEXTON That’s all we need, isn’t it?

Michael groans, almost continuously.

GEORGE What are we going to do then? He’s really hurt.

LEROY The nearest phone’s in the police station.

GEORGE What—take him to the Babylon shop? Once we’re in there we’ll never get out.

LEROY What choice have we got—look how he’s bleeding.

GEORGE All right then, let’s get him down there.

MICHAEL (Almost delirious) Yeah…. come on…. take me there.

DEXTON Oh Christ, I suppose we’ll have to.

LEROY Bloody hell, I hope it’s all right.

They support Michael to the steps of the police station. They half lift and half drag him up the steps.

GEORGE Come on all of you. Let’s get him up here and find a phone.

End of Scene I.

SCENE 2 In Stoke Newington Police Station

The boys enter the police station. There are two uniformed policemen behind the desk.

POLICEMAN 1 What do you lot want?

POLICEMAN 2 What have you been up to?

POLICEMAN 1 Yeh—what’s going on?

GEORGE Please…. look, our friend’s bleeding. Can we call an ambulance?

POLICEMAN 1 Hold your horses, I want to know exactly what’s going on here.

GEORGE There ain’t time for that—look how he’s bleeding.

POLICEMAN 1 Shut up – now first of all, give us your names and addresses.

GEORGE Look, just phone for an ambulance first, we’ll tell you all about it afterwards.

DEXTON Yeh, he’s hurt, you know.

MICHAEL Please…. help me…. phone for an ambulance.

POLICEMAN 2 Keep quiet son, we’ll attend to you in a minute. I’ve got to take a statement first.

DEXTON Look, I can tell you very quickly. In a few simple words. We were jumped on by three white kids. One of them stabbed him.

OFFICER 1 Where was this?

DEXTON Opposite the park.

POLICEMAN 1 Did you recognise any of them?

DEXTON No, but we’ve seen the all down Chapel Street handing out National Front leaflets. Now come on, please call us an ambulance.

MICHAEL (Groaning) Please…

Enter a third policeman.

POLICEMAN 3 What’s going on here?

OFFICER 2 These boys have been starting trouble.

DEXTON What? We didn’t do nothing, they set on us. Now are you going to phone for a bloody ambulance?

POLICEMAN 3 Watch your language with me Sonny. Now, have you lot been in any trouble before?

DEXTON We were picked up once for SUS.

POLICEMAN 3 Ahhh! So you started a fight eh? Picked on some white boys eh? Then you got the worst of it and come here with your lies about other kids?

GEORGE (Pushing forward) Look – can’t you see how our friend is bleeding. Send for an ambulance!

TONY Yeh—if he gets any worse, you’re to blame copper!

POLICEMAN 3 Be very careful son. Now, what time did this so-called attack occur?

DEXTON I don’t know—about half-past one.

POLICEMAN 3 Oh yeh? And what were you little boys doing out at that time of night?

MICHAEL (Groaning) An ambulance….

DEXTON Look, for the last time—are you going to help him?

POLICEMAN 3 Just answer the questions.

DEXTON Look, we’re not the bloody criminals – they set on us, they knifed our mate. Why all the questions?

POLICEMAN 3 Just answer the questions.

DEXTON All right, we were coming home from the disco.

POLICEMAN 3 A likely story.

DEXTON It’s true for Christ sake, it’s true.

POLICEMAN 3 I don’t want no lip from you Sambo. Now, what street did this happen?

DEXTON This street.

POLICEMAN 3 What street’s this then?

DEXTON Stoke Newington High Street – you bloody well know! Now phone the bloody ambulance.

POLICEMAN 1 (Stepping from behind the desk with Policeman 2) Who do you think you’re bloody swearing at? Up against the wall!

GEORGE Leave him alone!

POLICEMAN 1 You too, up against the wall! (The two policemen throw Dexton and George up against the wall.)

LEROY Look—our mate, been knifed, and you’re not doing nothing to help him.

POLICEMAN 3 There’s nothing wrong with him, just a bloody scratch—you can’t have us on.

TONY Well, let’s phone for an ambulance, then.

POLICEMAN 2 Look, the quicker you tell us what happened, the quicker your mate will see a doctor.

DEXTON That’s bloody blackmail.

POLICEMAN 2 Well, I’m using it on the right people then, aren’t I?

POLICEMAN 3 So where were you when he got stabbed?

DEXTON We’ve said already—Look, can’t you see he’s getting weaker?

POLICEMAN 3 Have you even been in trouble with the police before?

DEXTON I told you- I was picked up on SUS once.

POLICEMAN 3 Ah-well that throws a different COLOUR on it, then, doesn’t it? So you could have been out nicking tonight for all we know.

Michael does a terrible scream, followed by low groans.

DEXTON For Christ’s sake, can’t you see the blood on the floor?

POLICEMAN 3 All right Jack—phone for the ambulance.

Policeman 1 phones. The action freezes.

NARRATOR The boys were interrogated for ten minutes by the police before they called an ambulance for Michael. It took another fifteen minutes for the ambulance to arrive. All this time Michael’s condition was getting worse and his blood was dripping on the floor.

Action unfreezes.

GEORGE Look—can we phone Michael’s mum to tell her what’s happened?

POLICEMAN 1 No telephone calls!

DEXTON Look, come on man, all our mums will be worried sick.

POLICEMAN 1 Are you deaf? I said no telephone calls, do you hear?

LEROY Look, it’s our right to let our parents know what’s happened to us.

POLICEMAN 1 Sonny—you black bastards have got no rights in this country. Just shut up.

Enter two ambulancemen with a stretcher.

DELROY Christ, what kept you—look at our mate.

AMBULANCEMAN 1 Come on, get out of the way. Let’s see him.

AMBULANCEMAN 2 Got him Bill? Okay, let’s have him.

Michael is put onto the stretcher, stiil groaning. The other boys move as if to get into the ambulance with him.

POLICEMAN 1 Where do you think you’re going?

DEXTON We’re going with him to the hospital.

LEROY Yeh—he’s our mate, we want to go in the ambulance with him.

POLICEMAN 3 Oh no you don’t! You’re staying here, I’ve got some more questions for you lot.

DEXTON All right—then let just one of us go then.

POLICEMAN 2 Sit down Sonny—you’re staying here, you’re not going anywhere.

DEXTON For Christ’s sake, he’s our mate! We can’t leave him alone.

POLICEMAN 2 All of you! You’re staying here with us for the night.

POLICEMAN 3 Yeh, you’re holding your mate up now, aren’t you? I thought you said he was bleeding to death?

POLICEMAN 2 (To the ambulanceman) All right, take him away.

The ambulancemen take out Michael as the boys look on. The Action freezes again.

NARRATOR It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to reach the hospital which was only a few minutes drive away. Michael was dead when he arrived at the hospital.
Who killed Michael Ferreira?

End of Scene 2.

SCENE 3 Leroy and Tony’s House

It is 7.15am. Mr and Mrs Daniels are eating the. breakfast. They are both very worried.

Leroy and Tony enter, puffed out.

MR DANIELS Where the hell have you been? Your mother’s worried sick. (He stands up at the table).

MRS DANIELS Boys, I was so sick worrying about you.

MR DANIELS Look-it’s breakfast time. You could have been knocked down, robbed, dead on the streets-how were we to know?

MRS DANIELS I was going to phone the police about you.

TONY Sorry mum, look day, it’s a long story—but to cut it short, Michael got stabbed by a white boy last night, and we’ve been in Stoke Newington police station all night.

MR DANIELS What did you say?

TONY And we only went in there to phone for an ambulance for Michael.

LEROY And they wouldn’t even let us phone you up, or Michael’s mum.

MRS DANIELS What…. Michael stabbed?

LEROY And they kept him in the police station for ages before they called an ambulance.

MR DANIELS Have you told Michael, parents yet?

TONY No—Dexton was going to go round there, but he’s dead scared to go.

MR DANIELS Did you say they kept him there bleeding without even calling an ambulance?

The action freezes

End of Scene 3

SCENE 4 Outside the Mortuary

Mr and Mrs Ferreira are waiting to see the body of their son.

ATTENDANT (Opening the door) I’m sorry, but you can’t come in.

MR FERREIRA Look, we want to see our son’s body, that’s all.

ATTENDANT Well, you can’t come in. The coroner said that no one, only the police, can see the body yet.

MRS FERREIRA (Passionately) I want to see my son…. please let me see my son.

ATTENDANT I’m sorry madam, I can’t let you in.

MRS FERREIRA I brought him into the world-now I can’t see him now he’s dead?

POLICEMAN 1 (Entering) Move along please, we don’t want any more disturbances here.

MR FERREIRA You’ve got our son in there. We want to see him!

POLICEMAN 1 Well you can’t, now move along home or have to nick you for obstruction. (He tries to take Mrs Ferreira’s arm.)

MRS FERREIRA Don’t you touch me! You were the ones who killed my boy. You’ll never hear the last of this.

POLICEMAN 1 You don’t know what you’re on about, you blacks are all the same.

MR FERREIRA You! Racist! Listen to me—we’re going to get all our people together and we’re going to fight your dirty racism! We’re as much a part of country as anyone.

MRS FERREIRA We’ll make a movement to help all the black people, and we’ll clear racism right off the streets of this country!

The action freezes.

End of Scene 4

EPILOGUE

THE NARRATOR reads his final poem:

The boys were coming home,
They had been to the disco
in Stoke Newington—
Delroy, Gocrge, Leroy, Tony, Michael and Dexton.
Along came the blokes
looking for trouble
The racists jeered and insulted,
They crossed the road and used the knife,
the lethal weapon
which took poor Michael’s life.
The thugs shouted ‘Let’s run!’
Poor Michael
He was bleeding but nothing could be done.

His friends took him to the police station,
the cops kept him there—
against his will
as if he was the criminal,
as if they were pulling his hair.
They kept him there for quite a bit—
they treated him like shit.
They killed that kid
just like the police in Ireland,
or Hitler with the yids.

The ambulance took half an hour,
the ambulancemen could have been having their dinner
or taking a shower.
By this time he’d lost a lot of blood,
they said they did all they could.
Michael is gone now
but we’ll remember him.
We hate the one who killed him-
he’s a slut.

After this, there’s no turning back,
Black and white unite
and together we will fight!
To stop these rats from roaming the streets.

THE END

Back cover

Who killed Michael Ferreira? Part One

Michael Ferreira (1959-1978)

At about 1:30am on Saturday 10th December [1978], six black youths were walking past the Astra Cinema in Stoke Newington. They were returning from a party. Three of them stopped to get a drink and the other three waited. While they were waiting, three white men walked past on the other side of the road. They stopped and shouted National Front slogans at the black youths, two of them decided to move off to avoid any aggravation.

One of them, Michael Ferreira, decided to stand his ground. The three white thugs crossed the road, and one stabbed Michael in the chest. He fell and the three ran away.

Michael’s friends returned and carried him the short distance to Stoke Newingtion Police Station. They arrived there at 2am. The police began to question the others about what they were doing out at that time and didn’t seem very interested in Michael bleeding to death. It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. (Shoreditch Ambulance Station is less than ten minute’s drive away.)

Michael was eventually taken to St Leonard’s hospital, where he died at 4am.

Hackney peoples press #40 January 1979

Michael Ferreira was born in Stanleytown, Guyana in 1959. In 1971 he emigrated to the UK to join his parents who had moved here a few years earlier. He was a pupil at Downsview School, Hackney and left at the age of 16 to become a mechanic. Michael was still a teenager when he was killed.

According to Hackney Council for Racial Equality:

“The police were more interested in questioning him, instead of getting him to hospital immediately, although they said later that they called an ambulance straight away. His friends saw that he was rapidly weakening but could not get the police to accept that the most urgent action was needed. When the ambulance eventually came, it was too late. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.”

HCRE quoted in Benn & worpole

1978 – increased tensions in Hackney

Mentioning that Michael’s assailants “stopped and shouted National Front slogans” was significant. The fascist group had been increasingly active in the borough at the time.

  • On April 29th 1978 the National Front (NF) held an election meeting at Whitmore School in Hoxton, which was picketed by teachers’ unions and others. The day after this, the enormous Anti Nazi League “Carnival Against The Nazis” was held in Victoria Park, attended by tens of thousands of people.
  • In June 1978 the first meeting of the North West Hackney Anti-Nazi League was disrupted by an organised gang of 25 NF sympathisers.
  • Also in June 1978, 45 year old Ishaque Ali died of heart failure following a racially motivated attack on Urswick Road, Lower Clapton. According to some accounts, his attackers strangled Ishaque with bootlaces.
  • In July 1978 a ‘Black Solidarity Day’ was organised by the Tower Hamlets and Hackney Defence Committee in response to racial violence and discrimination in East London.
  • In August 1978 a group of NF supporters paid a visit to community bookshop and cafe Centerprise with rolled up union jack flags on ornamental poles and copies fo National Front News. The group verbally and physically abused customers and staff. One of them pissed in the childrens’ play area.
  • In September 1978, the National Front revealed that its new national HQ would be Excalibur House at 73 Great Eastern Street, South Hackney. Thirty NF members attempted to menace a special meeting of Hackney Council convened to discuss the new HQ.

There had been intense protests against large NF marches in Wood Green and Lewisham in the previous year and the NF was building up to a major campaign in the 1979 general election.

Michael’s death also needs to be seen in the wider context of violent racism throughout London at that time, for example the killing of Altab Ali in May 1978 in neighbouring Tower Hamlets – not to mention the day to day casual and institutional racism of the time.

The Communiy Responds

Over 150 people attended meeting on 21st of December 1978 to protest the circumstances of Michael’s death. They agreed to set up an group called Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation. The group held regular public meetings at Ridley Road market and organised picekts of Hackney police stations.

On Friday 12th January 1979, the men accused of being Michael’s assailants appeared at Highbury magistrates court. They included 17 year old Mark Sullivan (a market trader from Kingsland Road, Shoreditch), 18 year old James Barnes (a meat porter from Bethnal Green) and a third whose identity I have not been able to determine.

According to the West Indian Times, the accused had been picked up by the cops shortly after the stabbing and had confessed to their involvement. Sullivan was accused of being the one who fatally stabbed Michael Ferreira. Barnes’ charge was reduced from murder to “disturbing the peace”. His bail conditons included him not setting foot in Hackney “for his own protection”.

Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation arranged for a large turnout at the second hearing a week later on the 19th of January, which was met with suspicion by the authorities. According to Hackney Peoples Press:

  • All black people entering the court were searched, but white people were not.
  • The hearing was adjourned “due to the large black presence”
  • Michael’s mother Mrs Ann Moses, was naturally distressed at the adjournment and shouted “We want justice!” in the court, at which point the magistrate ordered the room to be cleared. Mrs Moses was then taken into police custody and “manhandled and insulted”.
  • A unnamed young black man protesting at Mrs Moses’ treatment was arrested and bound over.
  • A second young black man, Winston James was physically assualted by police in the corridors of the court with no provocation. He was charged with obstructing the police and assaulting a policeman. Hackney Black People’s Association secured Winston a good lawyer and publicised his case.

(Hackney Peoples Press #41 Feb 1979, p8)

Michael’s funeral was the day after the furore at the court – Saturday 20th January 1979.

Hackney Peoples Press

On a cold and snowy January Saturday, several hundred people gathered in Clapton to join the funeral cortege of nineteen-year-old Michael Ferreira, murdered just before Christmas in east London’s fourth racist murder in eight months.

No banners or placards were carried, no chants were raised, no papers were sold. There was just a solemn procession, about equal numbers of black people and white people following a flower-lined hearse, with an enormous wreath reading “SON”, and two black limousines carrying Michael’s family.

As the march moved slowly up Kingsland High Street, crowds of black people gathered at the end of Ridley Road market to pay their respects. Raised fist salutes were given as “We shall overcome” was sung again and again. And a man standing by the side of the road asked: “Who was he? Was it anyone important?”

Of course Michael Ferreira was important. He had a family, he had friends and they have lost a nineteen-year-old son or brother, cut down in a cowardly attack. But there is more to his name now. By his death he has become a symbol of all that is wrong with our racialist society.

This is why the black people on the procession were angry, and why many demanded that they should protest outside Stoke Newington police station, instead of tamely dispersing when the cortege moved off to the crematorium.

This is why the Hackney Black People’s defence organisation has been formed, to demand justice for the death of Michael Ferreira, and justice for the racialist oppression of black people everywhere.

Hackney Peoples Press #41 Feb 1979 p1

Friend of this site Alan Denney was at the funeral and has kindly sent us his haunting photos:

Police officers outside Stoke Newington police station during the funeral procession

Alan described the procession as a:

“Somber occasion”, with a ‘simmering sense of anger and disbelief’.

In conversation with Tom ramsden

Other attendees agreed:

“The funeral became an occasion for a dignified and very large procession through Hackney; an event which specifically focussed a strong sense of hostility on Stoke Newington police station.”

Melissa Benn and Ken Worpole

Teacher and author Chris Searle recalls meeting up with his friend Blair Peach on the day:

“As we walked with hundreds of others behind the cortege through the streets of Hackney, Blair told me how he had been targeted and attacked by local fascists.”

Three months later Blair Peach was killed by a policeman of the Special Patrol Group during an Anti Nazi League protest against the National Front in Southall. His killer was never brought to justice. Peach’s widow, Celia Stubbs, was monitored by undercover police officers for about twenty years afterwards.

Winston James’ trial

Winston James was charged with assaulting two police officers the initial hearing of charges aginst Michael Ferreira’s killers at Highbury Court. The officers had in fact brutally attacked him when he protested agains the treatment of black people attending. Winston’s case is covered in Hackney People’s Press #42 and #43. PC Drew 563 was cross-examined mercilessly by Winston’s barrister about grabbing his client by the testicles. Winston was acquitted of two counts of assaulting police officers, but found guitly of the far less serious charge of obstruction.

The trial of Michael Ferreira’s killers

Mark Sullivan and James Barnes were eventually both convicted of manslaughter at the Old Bailey. It seemed to be widely believed that Sullivan was a National Front sympathiser:

From Flame: Black Workers Paper For Self-Defence #28 July 1979

According to West Indian World, the judge “dismissed any connection with the National Front”. West Indian World also interviewed Michael’s bereaved mother:

“There is no justice in this land for Black people… I am completely flabbergasted with the sentence. I cannot see black people given proper justice in the courts of this land. I myself felt like dying when I heard that the judge had sent that “murderer” down for just five years. I expected that Sullivan deserved to get 14 years for killing my son.”

Aftermath

A class of local secondary school pupils was inspired to write a short play about Michael Ferreira’s death. This was published anonymously as a pamphlet and will appear here shortly as part two of this post.

Michael Ferreira was not the first black person to die following a visit to Stoke Newington police station. As far as I know that was Aseta Simms in 1971. Nor, tragically, would he be the last.

A year after Michael Ferreira’s death, Hackney’s newly appointed top cop, Commander David Mitchell was exposed as an admirer of the National Front.

In November 1982, Hackney Black People’s Association (possibly the next incarnaton of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation?) called for an independent public enquiry into the conduct of the police in Hackney. Their concerns were specifically about corruption, and violence against black people.

On the 12th of January 1983, Colin Roach died of a gunshot wound in the foyer of Stoke Newington police station. Corruption and violence by officers at Stoke Newington Police Station would intensify throughout the 1980s and 1990s – and so would the campaigns for justice by the local community….

Sources / Further Reading

Hackney Peoples Press – issues 32-43. Available as PDFs here.

West Indian World – undated clipping from “Who Killed Michael Ferreira” booklet. (1979)

Melissa Benn & Ken Worpole – Death In The City (Canary Press. 1986)

Policing in Hackney 1945-1984: A Report Commissioned by The Roach Family Support Committee (Karia Press, 1989)

Chris Searle – Remembering Blair Peach: 30 Years On (Institute of Race Relations, 2009)

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

The clipping from Flame: Black Workers Paper For Self-Defence is courtesy of Splits and Fusions Archive.

Newsline 10th January 1989

September/October/November 2021 updates

Ridley Road

The response to the BBC TV series has generally been favourable, which is interesting as militant physical force anti-fascism is not especially en vogue in 2021.

Our friends History is Made at Night and Past Tense have both written some great pieces on the events that inspired the TV series. The Radical History of Hackney piece is here.

There have naturally been some terrible takes from the usual right wing pundits about how the influence of Colin Jordan’s band of Nazis was overstated in the show and that they would never have seized power. This misses the point that neo-Nazi groups can make life miserable for ordinary people on a day to day basis – and they can shift the “overton window” of political discourse to the far right and influence mainstream parties that way.

History Workshop have produced an absolutely cracking podcast about the history and struggles of Ridley Road market:

It includes some great oral history about the fight against Oswald Mosley’s fascists, but the accounts from market traders about recent battles against regeneration are even more interesting. Interviewees include local resident Tamara Stoll, who has published a photo book on the social history of the market and was one of several people to work on the essential Rio Tape Slide Reel book.

December Events

Newington Green Meeting House has a couple of interesting things happening at the moment:

An exhibition on the history of the Gay Liberation Front that runs until December 16th. (Free)

A night of music celebrating working class composers on December 3rd. (Donation)

And finally a film night on December 9th with two documentaries about tenant and community struggles in Islington in the 1970s. (£5)

The Hackney Society are running a talk there entitled “Who Wants To Go To Hackney?” on December 15th:

When proposals for Crossrail 2 (originally called the Chelsea to Hackney line) were first considered by Government Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and the plans were passed in front of her for approval. Her memorable (and deadly) response was reported to be: “Hackney! Hackney! – who wants to go to Hackney?”

Christian Wolmar, the celebrated railway historian and journalist, will talk about the long and tortuous battles for London’s railways.

(Online and also in person at Newington Green Meeting House – £11.25 or cheaper for Hackney Society members)

Good things to read

Undercover Met officers may have infiltrated Hackney CND: Hackney Gazette – more wrongness revealed during the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

Ken Williams, 1953-2020: Anarcho-syndicalist and militant anti-fascist – this obituary published by Kate Sharpley Library includes some great memories of Ken’s time in Hackney in the 1980s.

Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted sheds light on the under-explored overlap between the anarchopunk movement on the 1980s and the rave movement of the 1990s. It is extraordinarily comprehensive and there are a few references to gigs, squats raves etc in Hackney.

Hackney Reggae

The new space outside the revamped Britannia Leisure Centre was named BRAFA square following extensive engagement with the local community. BRAFA was the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – a benefit single and live event inspired by Live Aid – or rather, the lack of black artists involved with Live Aid.

Hackney Museum have produced a useful film about the story of BRAFA and launch of the square:

In other Hackney reggae news, I thoroughly enjoyed the memorial event for veteran dancehall soundsystem operator Ruddy Ranks that Hackney Archives organised in October:

L-R: Golden Eye (aka Red Eye) (Unity Hi-Fi soundsystem), Anthony Burke (Ruddy’s son), Eastman (Kool FM DJ), Etienne Joseph (Hackney Archives), Sterling (British Association of Soundsystems)

The evening at BSix College included the unveiling of a plaque for Ruddy, who attended school there when it was called Brooke House – as well as many memories of someone who was by all accounts a proper Hackney character. The Archives have some film of the event which I am sure they were upload in due course for people who couldn’t attend.

Hackney Slave Traders

The Museum of the Home has issued another statement about its statue honouring slave trader Robert Geffrye. Whilst this statement is an improvement on previous ones, it basically just says that the museum feels bad about the statue being there. It has been surprising to see how much praise this has generated.

I am firmly in camp Vernon on this one and would encourage people not to visit the museum until the statue is removed:

Meanwhile the Council has been quietly getting on with asking local people what they want to be done with the remnants of slave-trading – and then doing something about it. (Like most people I am hardly a fan of the council, but credit where credit is due!)

Kit Crowley

In July, Cassland Road Gardens in Homerton (named after slavetrader John Cass) was rebadged as Kit Crowley Gardens in honour of a local community stalwart.

I was also pleased to see Tyssen Community School near Clapton Common (named after the slave-trading Tyssen family) was putting up some new signs to mark its renaming as Oldhill School:

Just nice things

It’s been a tough couple of years. I think we all need to be reminded that good people in the community have been doing their best to crack on and make things better with very little resources. These two films about grass roots sports in Hackney both cheered me up immensely.

Police spied on Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis

Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis, 1978

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:

This site’s first appearance in court!

(Screenshot from Opening Statement for Tranche One Phase Two on behalf of the co-operating group of non-police non-state core participants.)

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.

The Inquiry, as they say, continues.

Police Spies Out of Lives is the organisation representing Spycops victims.

Tom Fowler’s twitter feed is an excellent source of information, including pithy live tweets from the Inquiry itself (with a legally imposed ten minute delay).

Hackney slave-trader updates

A round up of recent reckonings with the Borough’s colonial and slave-trading past.

Vote held on renaming of Cassland Gardens

Back in December, the Council organised a ceremony for the removal of the sign on Cassland Gardens E9, which was named after slavetrader John Cass:

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 Museum has finally added a page on the statue to its website which states that:

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.

Tyssen School is changing its name

Tyssen School will become Oldhill Communty School and Children Centre in September 2021:

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

The merchant Robert Aske (1619 – 1689)

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.

As comrade Transpontine notes:

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.

Previous posts of interest:

Kick Over The Statues: Slavery and Hackney campaign

Government demands Museum of the Home keeps racist statue against wishes of the community

Outrage at museum’s “racist statue must stay” decision

Hackney’s Museum of the Home says its racist memorial is OK, actually

Have your say on Hackney’s slave-trader statue

Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis (1978)

“We are black, we are white – we are dynamite!”

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 badge

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.

It seems that they organised at least one social event as well as political work:

Hackney Peoples Press #36 September 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.

05:36 Veteran tenants organiser Bob Darke (previously covered on this site here)

07:59 Haggerston Labour councilliors Roger and Ros Tyrrell

11:15 Aiden White from East Ender newspaper

13:13 School Kids Against The Nazis

There is also some great footage of Hackney school kids talking about police racism in the 1980s here.

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.

commplan4

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!

commplanflat

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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