The obituary above appeared in Direct Action vol 7 #3, in March 1966. Direct Action was the newspaper of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which operated from 1950 until the late 1970s. The SWF then became the Direct Action Movement before changing into the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – an organisation which is still active today.
Who was he? Everything starts with an “E.”
It’s easy to understand that a Jewish immigrant revolutionary might want to keep their personal details secret. Googling “E. Michaels” produces some good results in the anarchist archives, but that is only half of the story…
Fortunately there is only one “E. Michaels” listed in the death records for Hackney for 1966:
Was born in Plock, central Poland on 25 Sep 1890 (near enough to 1891 listed above?)
Emigrated to England at the age of ten in 1900.
Married Rosie Kitman (3 Apr 1892 – 14 Jan 1963) at Mile End in 1914.
Had four children (including Harry, as in the Freedom clipping above, which is reassuring)
Worked as a Tailors Presser.
Died 12 Feb 1966.
This seems to fit quite well with what we know from the obituaries above and the sort of lives that radical Jewish anarchists would be leading at this time. But I’m not an expert, so if any historians or genealogists out there have spotted any errors, let me know!
Update: a comrade has kindly supplied a passport photo of the handsome Michaels.
Anarchy in the East End!
Most of comrade Michaels’ political activity seems to have been in the East End of London in the first half of the 20th Century. He was involved with setting up a “free school” at 62 Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, which also hosted The Worker’s Friend Club and the East London Anarchist Group. He was also the secretary of the prisoner support group the Anarchist Red Cross and is listed as a donor in a few issues of the London anarchist newspaper Freedom in the 1910s.
According to census data he lived at the following addresses too:
1911: 25 Hungerford Street, Commercial Road
1921: 73 Sutton Street
1939: 163 Jubilee Street E1
But what about Hackney, eh?
Michaels seems to have remained active up until his death. Sparrows Nest Archive has scans of some his letters from 1958 to 1964. Most of these are addressed to Ken Hawkes, the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation. Many of them mention meetings at Circle House, 13 Sylvester Path, E8. I’ve written about the Workers Circle and Jewish radicals in Hackneypreviously.
Michaels’ letters are largely administrative – donations, exchanges of publications, details of meetings etc. But the letterheads are invaluable:
Firstly, they tell us that Michaels was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish radical organisations Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labour) and Rudolf Rocker Publishing Committee. (Rocker was a German Gentile who became heavily involved with the Jewish anarchist movement).
Secondly, the letters show us where Michaels lived in Hackney. (This is my assumption, based on the nature of the addresses listed and that meetings etc seemed to take place at Circle House and not those on the letterheads). So it looks like Michaels lived at 12 Cranwich Road in Stamford Hill during the 1950s and then moved to “Morley House” N16 in 1961. Which no longer exists…
But! According to this useful blog, Morley House was one of the council blocks at the east end of Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington and was renamed Nelson Mandela House in 1984. There is a quote from Mandela on the side of it which can be seen here.
A diversion down Cazenove Road
According to Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Morley House was built in 1937-1938 “with a meanly detailed exterior, although the planning of the individual flats was generous at the time”.
Fourteen years after Emanuel Michaels’ death, the flats and exterior would see further anarchistic action.
Hackney Peoples Press reported that Morley House was due for renovation, which meant that:
“All the council tenants were moved out between 1978 and autumn 1979, and the estate was left almost completely empty.”
Perhaps inevitably some tenacious local people seized this opportunity:
“In November 1979 the first squatters started to move in, even though vandalism and thieving had reduced the building to a dilapidated eyesore.
By February 1980 approximately 80 flats were occupied and some residents approached Hackney Community Housing Resource Centre to ask about licensing the house. (A licence to occupy premises does not imply tenancy as such but makes the occupation authorised by the Council.)
They suggested a direct approach to the Council, and three Council Officers were invited to visit the estate and talk to same of the residents. These officers submitted a report to the Housing Management Committee on 31st March this year, and suggested the granting of a license through Hackney Community Housing (HCH). The Committee however, rejected the recommendations and decided to evict the residents – offering the property to HCH as short term housing instead.”
What followed was a bit of a standoff, with the Council refusing to back down and the squatters getting more organised:
“They held weekly meetings, formed themselves into an Association, cleared up rubbish, and met a number of councillors to discuss the matter. They also formally presented a deputation to the Housing Management Committee asking once again for a licence.”
That all probably seems pretty amazing to people who’ve tried squatting recently, but even in 1980, this was simply delaying the inevitable:
Six months later, the Council’s heavy squad made the 200 squatters homeless:
“Following two dramatic dawn raids by police the Morley House squat in Cazenove Road has had all its electricity and gas supplies cut off. At least 25 people were arrested, mainly on charges relating to the stealing of gas and electricity, but the police indiscriminately smashed through the doors of all the tenants on two of the blocks on the estate.
The first raid took place on 14 January and was made by a large number of police, accompanied by police dogs and gas board officials. The police carried no warrants and yet made extensive searches for drugs and stolen goods. Many doors were broken down in the raid, while others had 6-inch nails driven into their hinges to prevent tenants from re-entering their flats. Whilst searching the rooms the police took many photographs, presumably to be used later in evidence.
Using the excuse that many of the tenants were not paying for gas, the supplies to the estate were cut off, although electric cooking rings were brought in by the Gas Board for those who complained that they were in fact paying their gas bills. But in the early hours of the following morning, the police arrived again, this time with Electricity Board officials, and electricity supplies were cut off under the pretext that all the wiring on the estate was in a dangerous condition.
As a result of these raids about half of the 150 people who lived in the squat have been intimidated into leaving. Speaking to residents of Morley House HPP has discovered that these raids follow several months of police harassment. It is estimated that some 50% of the residents had been picked up by the police prior to the raids. Morley House has been a licensed squat for over one year. In that time Gas and Electricity officials have visited the estate several times, but have not ordered any repairs.”
I hope that Emanuel would have approved of the squatters, but you never know. It’s interesting that the block was subsequently renamed Mandela House – Hackney Council in the 1980s was eager to promote social struggles thousands of miles away, but renaming the block after Emanuel Michaels or celebrating the courageous battle of the squatters was off-limits…
If anyone reading this has more information about either Emanuel Michaels or the Morley House occupation, please do leave a comment or drop me an email.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
West Indian Youths:
Mr and Mrs Daniels: Parents of Tony and Leroy
Mr and Mrs Ferreira: Parents of Michael
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
At about 1:30am on Saturday 10th December , 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.
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:
Alan described the procession as a:
“Somber occasion”, with a ‘simmering sense of anger and disbelief’.
“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:
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.”
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….
There was a poll for Hackney residents to vote on options for a new name for the space. The Council’s Review, Rename, Reclaim initiative crowdsourced some suggestions and identified four black former residents of Hackney to choose between:
S.J. Celestine Edwards (1857/8-1894) – activist, editor and campaigner on anti-colonial and anti-racism.
Kathleen ‘Kit’ Crowley (1918-2018) – respected Cassland Road working class resident.
Francis ‘Frank’ Owausu (1954 – 2018) – arrived in Hackney as a child political refugee. Teacher and co-founder of the African Community School (a “supplementary school” similar to the one shown in a recent episode of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” TV series).
Ralph Adolphus Straker (1936 – 2013) – union activist, anti-SUS law campaigner, Hackney Community Relations Council, African and African Carribbean arts patron.
There is a nice PDF with photos and biographical information about the four people here.
Voting on this has now closed and the new name will be announced in May.
(After a similar consultaiton and poll, the square outside Britannia Leisure Centre will now be renamed BRAFA Square after the Hackney-based 1980s British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal.)
#GeffryeMustFall/ Museum of the Home
In other racist memorial news, I was amused to see the Museum of the Home on the scrounge for cash for a new green roof:
The roof of the museum also features its infamous statue of slavetrader Robert Geffrye. If the Museum thinks that sticking some flowers up there will distract us from Geffrye’s blood-stained stone hands, then they are sadly mistaken. Far be it for me to suggest that getting up on the roof is an opportunity for an unfortunate masonry based accident…
The Board and Museum team are continuing to review, discuss and explore options for the statue.
In the meantime we will reinterpret the statue honestly and transparently to tell the history of Geffrye’s career and his connections with the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. And we will acknowledge that the statue is the subject of fierce debate.
We will confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the Museum buildings, and fulfil our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
My position remains that the statue should be removed and that people should not visit the museum until it is.
This is due to the dubious past of the Tyssen family; who the school is currently named after. As part of the Review, Rename, Reclaim Project, Hackney Education informed the school that the Tyssen family played a part in the slave trade. The local authority has, consequently, supported the school to change their name. After consultation with our families and the local community, we decided on the new name Oldhill Community School and Children Centre.
The link above includes a crowdfunder to help with the changes, including new uniforms and tablets for pupils in need.
There is more information on the Tyssen family and its connections to Hackney and the slave trade in a previous post.
Robert Aske and Hackney
Aske Gardens (Pitfield Street, Hoxton) is laid out on land bought in 1690 by the Haberdasher’s Company with money left by Robert Aske.
And where did Aske get his money from? Well, as our colleagues at Reclaim EC1 note, a large portion of his fortune came from his significant investments in the slave-trading operation known as the Royal Africa Company.
According to historian William Pettigrew, the RAC ‘shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade’ (Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752, 2013) including more than 150,000 slaves forcibly transported to the British Caribbean.
Geffrye, Tyssen and Cass are identified as “contested figures” as part of the Council’s Review, Rename, Reclaim initiative. But Robert Aske is not mentioned.
More promisingly, schools named after Aske in New Cross and Elstree are reported to be considering a change of name. A statement issued by the schools’ sponsor, the Haberdashers Company, states:
‘The Haberdashers’ Company and its Schools in Elstree and South London have become aware that Robert Aske was a shareholder in the Royal African Company (RAC). All are clear that the role of the RAC in the slave trade was deplorable and sits in stark contrast with the values which underpin the activities and philosophy of the Company, its schools and beneficiaries today. The schools are already engaged in comprehensive reviews of culture, values and their brands and this matter will be included. The outcome of these fully consultative deliberations, including the future use of the Aske name, will be communicated when conclusions are reached and decisions made. The Haberdashers’ Company is proud of its ethos of benevolence, fellowship and inclusion, and the diverse nature of its membership’.
I hope this sensitivity and momentum can be maintained and that a more appropriate name for Aske Gardens can be found – as well as for the other memorials to Aske in Hackney identified by Reclaim EC1:
Obviously the name of Aske Gardens requires change. It seems likely that nearby Aske Street (N1 6LE postcode) is also named for the merchant Robert Aske and if this is the case it should be changed too.
Likewise, given Aske’s strong association with the Haberdashers’ Company we’d like to see the names of the nearby Haberdasher Estate and Haberdasher Street changed – it should also be noted that the Haberdashers’ Company is closely associated with slave trade figures such as the lord mayor Sir Richard Levett, who will be addressed in part 8 of this series.
A Zen internet page dedicated to Aske’s Hospital and Almshouses is among the places that note this listed building has been converted into flats and is now called Hoffman Square (N1 6DH), but there are stone panels at the front entrance detailing its history (relevant webpage here) that should be removed or at the very least amended to record Aske’s investment in the slave trade.
Latest Salvo in the Culture Wars
Toyin Agbetu is one of the participants in the removal of the Cassland Road sign shown at the top of this post. As a representative of the Ligali organisation he has talked a great deal of sense on Hackney’s colonial legacy and how this might be addressed. Hence him being invited by the Council onto their Review, Rename, Reclaim initiative and Sadiq Khan’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. He also has a fascinating history in music as a street soul artist.
The Conservative Party is rabidly opposed to any nuanced consideration of colonialism. A previous post on this blog looked at Minister for Culture Oliver Dowden’s interference with the Museum of the Home’s public consultation on the future of the Robert Geffrye statue. So it is hardly surprising that the Tories have subjected individuals on the Mayor’s Commission to intense scrutiny.
Initially Toyin came under fire for having heckled the Queen back in March 2007, during a Westminster Abbey church service held to recognize the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Reader, it may not surprise you that this only made my affection for Mr Agebtu grow.
We all have skeletons in our cupboards and perhaps inevitably the Tories kept going until they found something more damning. Some brief comments by Toyin about the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine, which were unwise in my view, were blown out of proportion in the right wing press.
Some comments discovered by Jewish News are very troubling however, and have led to Mr Agbetu resigning from the London Mayor’s Commission. Toyin’s statement to the Hackney Citizen gives his side of the story and announces that a more developed response will be forthcoming after the elections in May.
For squatters this is a simple extension of the logic of turning empty buildings into homes. Here are people in a strange country with very simple and urgent needs: somewhere to live and something to eat. Here is a borough with a record for keeping properties empty and here are some activists willing to crack a few buildings. Simple.
82-90 Stoke Newington Road was a Magistrate’s Court from 1889. Barbara Windsor may have attended with Ronnie Kray when he was done for receiving stolen goods. The court would naturally be one arena where the oppression of working class residents of North London played out and it is gratifying to see that it was also a site of resistance to this:
The building is now St John’s Court (flats). As Alan Denney notes – a large “Police Court” sign was removed before the conversion, as presumably state-sadism is not a good selling point. St Johns Court is now a listed building. A one-bed flat can be rented there for £1,321 a month at the time of writing.
But… between the building being a court and becoming ‘luxury” flats, it was put to better use…
1996 was the last gasp of John Major’s Conservative government before New Labour were elected in the following year. On February 5th 1996 the Tories cut off benefits to asylum seekers who did not apply for asylum at the port of entry, and to those who lost their application but were awaiting an appeal.
Contrary to the bullshit spouted about asylum seekers “taking our jobs”, they were actually legally prevented from working. As London freesheet ContraFlow put it:
With no possibility to work legally, and now no way of getting any other money, increasing numbers will be left to starve, in the hope that they’ll return to wherever they had to flee from, unless we do something about it. Because of this situation, and the fact that the Refugee Council, who had money to open a hostel, hadn’t, a large squat was opened up in Hackney as an emergency shelter, and to highlight the situation, a squat called ARCH – Autonomous Refugee Centre Hackney.
The building was the old Magistrates Court in Stoke Newington Road, empty for years and with steel doors and windows but with an open window on the first floor that had been tempting the locals for ages.
According to anarchist magazine Black Flag, ARCH “was set up by local squatters, The Refugee Support Group from the Colin Roach Centre and others” and was supported by “local Kurdish and Turkish Groups, some churches and local shops”
Squatters’ magazine Squall interviewed some of the organisers:
Chris Locke of ARCH explains: “We wanted to provide homes for refugees affected by the Social Security changes. On the way we found lots of other stuff to do; ranging from getting decent solicitors for people to finding them clothes and food.” Warren, another member of ARCH, states the group’s intention to create alternative solutions: “We understand these people are alienated, some come from war zones and oppressive regimes to the big city. Providing bedding, conversation and a good meal is enough to give the basis of what they need; the dignity to keep their sanity and keep on living.”
ContraFlow went into more detail on the logistics:
The first mistake was going in before checking who owned it – it was assumed that as it was still for sale it still belonged to the state, which would’ve made it appropriate and make procedings predictable.
In fact it had been bought by Harinbrook Properties, a small property company connected to Eugena, a building outfit, who liked to pose as security guards, bailiffs and anything else. They tried three illegal evictions, which were foiled by physical force, with great assistance from the local Turkish and Kurdish community, and the cops. The cops only tried once to force their way in, but were eventually convinced that their legal position was rather dubious.
All this made the situation rather stressful and tiring, as 24-hour watches were kept until the owners finally decided to go to court.
After ARCH was evicted, Squall spoke to some of the people that needed its help:
Meanwhile in a Stoke Newington pub, two ARCH volunteers stroll in with a couple of young refugees; Varben from Kosovo in former Yugoslavia and Antonio from the Angolan enclave of Cabinda.
Antonio, a doctor from Cabinda, tells his story: “I left because of the civil war. I was afraid I would be killed. I had many problems because I was treating people from all the different parties who are at war. Some parties didn’t like me helping all sides but I am a doctor, I must help anyone who needs it. They put me in prison for a long time. Then I escaped and came here.” Antonio had no idea he had to apply for asylum as soon as he arrived and is currently waiting for the Home Office to process his asylum application. On average this takes nine months.
Varben hitch-hiked to England in a lorry from Macedonia: “When I got to London I slept out on the streets at Victoria Station for three days. I met an African who told me to go to the Home Office.” Varben says there were at least ten other refugees sleeping at Victoria whilst he was there: “I don’t know what happened to them, they didn’t speak English.” The Refugee Council referred him to a hostel for five days and then on to a church. He believes that squatting is a logical solution: “Why have houses empty? Why have people sleeping in the church?” He is looking forward to an English course organised for him by ARCH and the Churches Refugee Network. He too awaits a Home Office decision.
The ARCH crew eventually squatted a house for refugees further north in Stoke Newington. I vaguely recall from a radical history walk a few years back that this was somewhere around Manor Road/Lordship Park?
Before that, there were some lessons learnt and some reflections to be had, as ContraFlow put it:
The second mistake was thinking that the problem of accomodation could be dealt with separately to all the other problems faced by refugees. It was assumed that other groups and networks would step in and take over all the social work stuff, but the first refugee showed that it wasn’t so easy, and that being in a strange country with a strange language makes it pretty damned hard to do anything for yourself, apart from whatever stresses and depression you might bring with.
Anyway, a few people found themselves taking on a whole lot of social work, and running around finding groups that might be able to help out. After three weeks the centre was evicted and plans to move on to a new place immediately were postponed to give time to work out what was actually needed next, and because the squat centre, where some of those involved lived and which was generally used as a base, was also being evicted.
But work continued, with a local church network and community groups, sorting out places for people to stay as well as working on other aspects of the struggle, and support for those refugees who found their way to the network.
The Refugee Council, who had been desperately calling for churches to make space available, stopped referring refugees to the church network because of their connection with ARCH, but the churches remained supportive, and a house was eventually opened up. which is now housing a number of refugees, and one non-refugee for support. Many contacts were made, and networks are being organised around London to try to open up houses and centres in other areas, but it isn’t easy.
One of the vague ideas behind ARCH was that it would take off and become autonomous, that space would be created for refugees to take up their own fight. It hasn’t happened yet. partly because of the low numbers involved so far, and because it will always be easier for activists, who will always have to be around, to give support. The skills are out there, to find and provide what’s needed, if we can bring them together.
This isn’t just another benefit attack to be tagged on to our fight against the JSA. It’s not just another attack on housing adding to homelessness. It’s an attack on the ability of ordinary people like us to escape unbearable conditions created by the global (but still hierarchical) squeeze on our conditions, by local states’ attacks on behalf of global, asylum seeking capital. If money is going to zap around the world looking for cheaper labour and better investments, it can’t allow us to wander off looking for higher wages and better conditions. At best we’ll be allowed to be guestworkers, with our families and the costs of reproduction left behind, and with no rights to settle, organise.
This is an attack on London and its beautiful cosmopolitan mix of cultures and people, an attack on the communities here and on our history of refuge and struggle. In a way it’s a last chance for us to act locally and globally at the same time, to carry out direct actions that make us part of the world instead of just acting against increasingly localised political structures, with occasional solidarity actions to protest at the nastiness of other states. It is also a chance for us (the vast majority of ContraFlow readers, and writers) to break of our ghetto of our European “alternative” scene, and discover the world that is collected together in our cities.
For me ARCH is an inspiring example of practical solidarity being provided to those most in need by people with scant resources. For all its problems, this was direct action at its best. Since 1996 the pace of gentrification in Hackney has accelerated to the point where there are very few empty properties and this increase in value has been reflected in some changes to the law on squatting too. Nevertheless squatting is still happening, but generally in a less open manner. The veterans at the Advisory Service for Squatters are still doing a excellent work in difficult circumstances.
The support mechanism for migrants in the borough have been professionalised and there are obvious advantages to that, although I am sure that the constant worries about funding and simply not having the resources to do what needs to be done must be very stressful: Hackney Migrant Centre is seeking donations and volunteers.
Police violence against Hackney’s afro-Caribbean community in the 1980s and 1990s is a matter of historical fact, but of course the cops’ racism and criminality didn’t end there…
In 1989 over 4,500 refugees had come to Hackney fleeing the war in Kurdistan. They joined another twenty to thirty thousand Turkish-speaking workers in east London. Almost none of these workers were unionised and no major union had thought to change this. For example, none had ever appointed a Turkish speaking official. But some of these refugees had brought revolutionary traditions from the cities and villages of Turkey and Kurdistan – and they arrived in Hackney at a point where a lot of people were open to political struggle and solidarity.
The 1991 census figures showed that 10,500 people in Hackney worked in manufacturing (as opposed to 12,000 manufacturing jobs solely in the clothing industry in 1981 – and just 3,000 in manufacturing in total in 2019). Many of these jobs were in the textile sweatshops which were dotted around the borough. (See our previous post on working conditions in these for women in the early 1980s)
1989: Protests Against Deportations
On Monday, February 27 1989, the police raided a number of factories in Hackney and arrested 38 Kurdish and Turkish workers. By the next day, seven had been deported and a further fourteen were under threat. This action came in the wake of a wave of raids across North and East London.
The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) clothing branch alongside community and political groups organised immediate protest action: a mass picket of Dalston police station on March 4th. This was followed by a 3,000 strong march the next day and an International Women’s Day march through Hackney under the slogans ‘No Worker is Illegal’, ‘Right to Settle, Right to Work’, ‘No More Deportations’ and ‘No to Police Raids’.
Hackney Union News reported at the time:
Factory bosses have used this background [of anti-immigrant sentiment and police harassment] to intensify exploitation. They have been met by increasing struggles over the right to organise in trade unions, and over wages and conditions.
These struggles have led to the formation of the North and East London TGWU textile branch no. 1/1312. The branch will require committed support from the TGWU against the attacks it will face, including trade unionists being shopped to immigration authorities by employers, and in the battles that lie ahead over recognition.
Hackney Union News May/June 1989
1/1312 branch was formed at the initiative of the political organisation, the Union of Turkish Workers, with the assistance of Hackney Trade Union Support Unit and Service Workers Advisory Project (SWAAP). One year later, it had recruited almost 600 workers locally…
1990: Bacton Fashions strike
Bacton Fashions in Someford Grove, Dalston, was a relatively large clothing sweatshop employing up to 90 workers. It was located in an industrial unit along with other clothing sweatshops. Workers from the different firms used the same entrance to go to work.
Most of Bactons workers were Turkish or Kurdish, had been living in Britain for less than a couple of years and were waiting for a Home Office decision on their rights to remain in the UK. Within the factory there were some members of TGWU’s new 1/1312 textile workers branch.
A series of small-scale strikes had led to a union recognition agreement being signed at Dizzi Limited in nearby Well Street. There were regular leafleting sessions of factories and meetings on workers’ rights at community centres.
The workers at Bacton Fashions had many complaints about low pay, long hours, terrible health and safety conditions, no holiday or sick pay, victimisation, continuous lay-offs without pay and a management prepared to act dictatorially.
When eight workers at Bacton Fashions refused to accept being ‘laid off’ they began picketing. Appeals to other workers to respect their picket line were met sympathetically, but little else. The employer, Mustafa Dill, was sufficiently embarrassed to re-employ the workers and to agree to lay off pay during slack periods. However, he kept breaking his word and there were almost daily walkouts over the next few weeks, as agreements were reached then broken once again.
During a longer strike, it became traditional at the end of the working day for workers from all the firms in the industrial unit to join with the strikers and jeer and handclap the boss and his managerial team as they left work. There was no violence, although tensions were clearly running high and up to 400 people were involved in this daily humiliation of the boss and managers.
The TGWU itself was unhelpful.
On February 26th 1990 the evening picket of about 100 people was attacked by the paramilitary Territorial Support Group of the Metropolitan Police. There was a fierce fight, during which the police were initially chased from the scene, before re-grouping and attacking the pickets and their supporters.
Four pickets (all Kurdish refugees) were arrested and charged with riotous behaviour and actual bodily harm. They faced possible deportation if convicted.
Around 150 people picketed Dalston police station until 5am in the morning.
Only ten people crossed the picket line the next day, forcing Bactons to close.
A campaign to defend “The Bacton 4” was launched at a demo of 400 on April 7th. The campaign helped to secure ‘not guilty’ court verdicts for all four arrestees when their case came to trial in October 1990. It emerged that Special Branch had visited Bactons and showed the security guard photographs of recent demonstrations in London against a visit of Turkish leader General Evren – these photos apparently originated at the Turkish Embassy.
One striker later received a five figure sum in damages for what had happened to him during the police assault.
Bactons was eventually forced to close permanently, only to re-open under a different name and at a different location later. Picketing and a refusal by workers to work there led to its closure again.
As Mark Metcalf of the Colin Roach Centre put it:
While the workers lost their poorly paid jobs they achieved a degree of success showing the employers that they could not do everything they wanted and needed to take the workers needs into account when making decisions. The workers established a pride in fighting back; they closed down the factory and demonstrated they had the power to not only damage the employers’ profits but get rid of it!
1991: Solidarity Strike
On January 3rd 1991 over 2,500 London textile workers took solidarity action with their fellow workers on general strike in Turkey on the same day.
As Socialist Organiser reported:
“Factories in Shacklewell Lane, Somerford Grove, Victorian Grove, Tyssen Street, Tudor Grove and Arcola Street were virtually empty as workers refused to cross picket lines.
At 1.15pm, four vans were driven at speeds of over 70mph to the Halkevi community centre on Stoke Newington High St, and officers jumped from the vehicles to race into a crowd of around 120. Five people were grabbed and when friends tried to stop their arrests, around 20 police officers drew their truncheons and batoned people to the ground, arresting them as they fell. One woman meanwhile went to St Barts hospital with a broken leg.
At 2pm a crowd of 150 went to protest outside Stoke Newington police station and when in protest 30 sat down, on the other side of the road to the station, the police paramilitaries of the Bow TSG rushed across the road and violently arrested dozens of people. Others fled, but were pursued by the police in all directions.
Many people were arrested with the police paying special attention to those with cameras, and one young Kurdish man was rugby tackled to the ground, beaten, and his camera taken away.
62 people were arrested with four being taken by the police to Homerton hospital. Access to the casualty department was denied by police at the entrance.
At 6.30pm over 300 people, mainly Turkish and Kurdish, returned to Stoke Newington police station and remained outside singing and dancing until their friends were released. 29 people have been charged with a serious public order offence.
Many were beaten whilst in police custody. The arrestees were helped by Hackney Community Defence Association, which noted several incidents of TSG violence in Hackney the Summer 1991 issue of its newsletter Community Defence. HCDA characterised the January 3rd arrests as revenge for the confrontations at Bactons – and a raid on a gig at Chats Palace as revenge for the Hackney poll tax riot in March 1990:
The facts speak for themselves. TSG officers have an image of themselves as an elite force, and they behave as if answerable to nobody but themselves. There is a certain inevitability that wherever they go, trouble is sure to follow.
Two of the arrestees, Haci Bozkurt and Baki Ates, both 34 and from Stoke Newington, received a great deal of press coverage when their cases eventually came to trial five years later. Both had been granted political asylum after fleeing Turkey to escape police violence and persecution:
“The court was told that in January 1991 the men had been part of a group outside a community centre in Stoke Newington. They had gone to the centre to get news of the general strike then taking place in Turkey. Police were dispersing the crowd when disorder broke out.
Mr Bozkurt asked why a young man was being violently arrested, the court heard. He was then kicked and punched and dragged into a police van. Mr Ates complained about Mr Bozkurt’s treatment and he was grabbed and punched in the eye by PC Michael Fitzpatrick, the jury was told. “It felt like my eye exploded,” he said. He too was put in the van, where he was assaulted again. Both were handcuffed. Mr Bozkurt was also punched by PC Fitzpatrick, tlie court heard, and his nose was fractured. He received multiple injuries, Police said that he had fallen flat on the pavement during the fracas.
Both men were taken to Stoke Newington police station and were eventually seen by doctors. They were sent to hospital, where Mr Ates was found to have suffered a lacerated eyebrow and severe bruising to his eye, which was described by the doctor as a classic boxing injury.
The two men were charged with violent disorder. At Highbury Corner magistrates court in May 1991 no evidence was offered against Mr Bozkurt. Mr Ates was acquitted.”
Guardian Weekly June 23rd 1996
The jury found that the men had suffered false imprisonment, wrongful arrest and assault. Both were awarded £55,000 exemplary damages. Mr Ates received an additional £22,000 compensation and Mr Bozkurt £18,250. A total payout of just over £150,000.
Their counsel, Ben Emmerson, remarked:
“This country should have been a safe haven, but they were arbitrarily arrested, beaten and injured and then prosecuted on trumped-up charges”. Predictably, no disciplinary action has been taken against any of the officers involved and they remain on duty.”
Guardian 14.6.96. Quoted in Statewatch
With thanks to Neil Transpontine and Mark Metcalf.
The wider pattern of police criminality and corruption at Stoke Newington Police Station in the 1990s – and the campaign against it – is covered in our pages about Hackney Community Defence Association.
Veteran anarchist Stuart Christie died back in August. He was probably most well known for his regrettably failed attempt to assassinate Spain’s fascist dictator Franco in 1964. But that was merely one aspect of a life dedicated to radical politics and publishing. His autobiography Granny Made Me An Anarchist is an essential read.
Stuart was also one of the people arrested in connection with the Angry Brigade bombings in the early 1970s – who became known as The Stoke Newington 8. However he did not live in Stoke Newington – he was picked up by the cops when visiting the flat at 359 Amhurst Road where several of the other defendants lived. He was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Some videos about his arrest and the trial have resurfaced after his death:
The Council website has a very boring web page about Black History Month 2020. Perseverence is rewarded by the discovery that this year’s events include a free online film screening of African and Caribbean History in Hackney on October 7th:
Join Hackney Museum for an online screening of a new film which gives an overview of African and Caribbean history in the local area. The film features stories from our collections, displays and exhibitions, creatively woven together by spoken word artist and performer, Bad Lay-Dee. Followed by a Q&A.
Local residents are being given the opportunity to vote on the name of new public square outside the new Britannia Leisure Centre and the options are… really good actually:
Bradlaugh Square – Charles Bradlaugh was an atheist and freethinkiner in the 19th Century who was prosecuted for blashphemy and (on a different occasion) for obscenity for republishing a pamphlet advocating birth control.
Humble Square – named after the Humble petition of Haggerston residents demanding votes for women in 1910.
BRAFA Square – British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – set up in 1985 as an afro-centric response to the Band Aid charity single.
McKay Square – Claude McKay was a Jamaican socialist, writer poet and activist.
Rab MacWilliam was editor of N16 Magazine which I have to say was never really to my taste (probably because it never strayed too far from Church Street). But he is by all accounts a good guy and his forthcoming book looks really interesting:
Stoke Newington has long been one of London’s most intriguing and radical areas. Boasting famous residents from Mary Wollstonecraft to Marc Bolan, it has always attracted creative types. In the 1960s and 1970s ‘Stokey’ was becoming a somewhat disreputable neighbourhood, but in recent years its appeal has led to its gentrification and the arrival of a wealthy middle class. The area’s history is a fascinating one. This book reveals, through a combination of anecdote, historical fact and cultural insight, how this often argumentative yet tolerant ‘village’ has become the increasingly fashionable and sought after Stoke Newington of today.
I mentioned Nottinghan’s Sparrows Nest Archive of anarchist material last time but hadn’t spotted that they had uploaded a PDF scan of newsletter from the Hackney Anti-Fascist Committee. I doubt it is too much of a wild leap to presume that this group was some kind of split from the main militant anti-fascist group of the day, Anti-Fascist Action.
The usual update of recent radical Hackney films, books, campaigns and other things that have caught my eye over the last month…
Above is a lovely life-affirming film of John Rogers‘ walk from Hackney marshes to Stoke Newington earlier this year. John is the author of The Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City and worked with Iain Sinclair on his London Overground film. The walk includes his compelling commentary about the areas he is navigating and his Youtube channel has a bunch of great films to check out.
This month I have also been enjoying two beautifully produced publications from Rendezvous Projects:
Lightboxes and Lettering: Printing Industry Heritage in East London looks at the premises, processes and people who printed all sorts of things in Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Clerkenwell. There are excellent chapters on radical and community presses (inlcuding Hackney’s Lenthal Road and Calverts) as well as a look at the changing gender roles in the industry. More generally the book is an intriguing overview of the changing face of work in East London.
Sweet Harmony: Mapping Waltham Forest’s dance radio stations, record shops & venues, 1989-1994 is obviousy less focussed on Hackney, but should be of interest to ravers old and new. Many of the pirate stations covered will have had listeners in Hackney and the Dungeons venue on Lea Bridge Road was the site of many a messy night for Hackneyites.
Both publications include a tonne of quotes from people and are lavishly illustrated wth maps, photos, graphics etc. You can order them here.
The Happy Man Tree on Lordship Road is under threat of destruction by property developer Berkeley Homes. The tree appears on the Ordinance Survey map of the area from 1870 and so is at least 150 years old.
As the community campaign to save it points out:
This beautiful London plane tree grows on the public pavement on the North End of Lordship Road on Woodberry grove London N4.
It has survived a century and a half of building development, two world wars, road widening schemes with the arrival of the motor car and, so far, Berkeley Homes. But now, in this latest intervention, this majestic and much – loved tree has been condemned to be cut down by Berkeley homes & Hackney Council.
There is an alternative plan.
Viable alternative plans developed with local people would have allowed the development to go ahead whilst keeping the tree. These were rejected by Berkeley Homes as either too expensive or too complicated.
I’d certainly recommend a visit to the tree and a conversation with the campaigners – or a visit to https://www.thehappymantree.org/ where you can add your name to the petition and find out other ways give your support.
There is currently a petition, a legal challenge and perhaps the prosect of more direct action orientated protest, judging by the nice tree house.
Colin Roach was a 21 year old black man who was killed by a gunshot in the lobby of Stoke Newington Police Station on the evening of January 12th, 1983.
Amazingly nobody in the station seems to have witnessed the incident. The coroner declared it death by suicide, despite the police surgeon putting forward a number of serious anomalies that contradicted this view.
The Roach Family Support Committee organised its own enquiry, the outcomes of which were published as a book in 1988. They also organised a number of protests outside Stoke Newington Police station. The police response was typical of the times – Colin’s own father was arrested at one of the protests as were a number of other participants.
Isaac Julien is probably best known for directing the superb “Young Soul Rebels” (1991) a film about London youth culture in 1977. It includes a pirate radio station in Dalston (as well as a bunch of footage from Hackney if I remember correctly). The film is also notable for tackling the issue of homosexuality in the black community. It’s great, check it out.
Julien’s first film was “Who Killed Colin Roach?” (1983). It was made while he was still a student at Saint Martin’s School of Art:
“I stumbled into the story of ‘Who Killed Colin Roach?’: I was coming out of an East End jumble sale one Saturday when a march passed by protesting a death in police custody. It turned out that Colin Roach, the young black man in question, had lived quite near my home. Which meant, of course, that Mrs. Roach could have been my mother, that his family could easily have been my own.
This took me back to the radical workshops of my teens and the whole idea of the camera as a street weapon. So I wanted to make work that would embody dual perspectives. One of these would be inside the black families’ reactions to this death. The other would show responses to black community organizers. I insisted that my camera be engaged in the politics, so it was positioned very deliberately opposite traditional media.
This was at a time when video was still finding its language, when video art was still somewhat undefined. Yet I was determined to appropriate those early video-art techniques to make my campaign tape. I wanted to utilize this camera taken out of an art school context and repurpose its technology for the street.
I wanted to redirect the gaze of the ruling media. My real aim was to turn that gaze on the police, because in Colin Roach, they are the people rioting. That piece, in one way, was very much a local response, but it was also meant to contest some things I was being taught. Specifically, it was in reply to a tutor who had told me, ‘Isaac, no-working-class person will understand these films.’ Of course my works back then were just experimental films, scratches on film, really – and they were indeed quite arty. So part of me had been forced to think, Well…maybe she is right.
Colin Roach, however, was my demonstration against her view. It was made to say, ‘I can do the same work as you and I can tell a tale. But I can also make quite experimental things.’”
“I can’t help feeling that Freddy has had great injustice all through his life.” – Eleanor Marx
Frederick Demuth 1851-1929
Frederick’s Demuth’s story is a convoluted one which is contested by a number of historians – and tainted by hostility or deference to his alleged father. This bias makes it difficult to do justice to Demuth himself.
People have strong feelings about Karl Marx, so I’ll put my cards on the table from the outset and say that reading his books has helped me to understand the world. I would thoroughly recommend David Harvey’s lectures about Capital which can be viewed on Youtube or downloaded as mp3s. As an individual Karl seems as charming and annoying and brilliant and messed up as the rest of us – if not more so. More on that later.
We have some travelling to do before we reach Hackney, so please bear with me…
Marx – married and on the move
Karl Marx married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. They had been engaged for seven years and had known each other since childhood. In October 1843 the Marxes moved from Jenny’s family home in Kreuznach (near Frankfurt) to Paris. It was a busy time. Karl wrote for a radical journal, met lifelong comrade Friedrich Engels for the first time and began his expansive study of political economy that would be the basis for Capital. The couple’s first daughter Jenny Caroline was born in 1844 (the convention is to use the second name to avoid confusing the Jennys, as we will see).
The Marx family were kicked out of France in 1845 and headed to Brussels. Jenny Marx’s mother was worried about them and sent her housekeeper Helene ‘Lenchen’ Demuth to help. Lenchen stayed with the Marxes for the rest of their lives.
Jenny Laura Marx was born in Brussels in 1845. The Marx family and Lenchen decamped to London in 1849. The two junior Jennys were followed by Edgar (1847); Henry Edward Guy (1849); Jenny Eveline Frances (1851) and Eleanor (1855). That’s six children born to Jenny senior in 11 years. But that wasn’t quite the end of it…
Helene Demuth gave birth to Frederick Demuth on 23 June 1851 in the Marx home of 28 Dean Street, Soho. She was not apparently in any kind of “respectable” relationship at the time, so young Freddy was fostered out. The Marx children assumed (or rather, were helped to believe) that frequent visitor Engels was responsible. But Helene never spoke about her son’s father.
It is now generally (but not universally) believed that Karl Marx was actually Frederick Demuth’s father. This means Karl was shagging Helene whilst his wife was pregnant with Jenny Eveline. His letters from the time mention that he went into hiding in the British Library for many days when Lenchen’s pregnancy would have been discovered.
Frederick Demuth in Hackney
Freddy Demuth as a dashing Hackney lad
Frustratingly little is known about Frederick Demuth’s life compared to his birth. (If you know more, or where to find out more, please leave a comment!)
Freddy was fostered by a family named Lewis in East London. He trained as a skilled fitter and turner (lathe operator – possibly gun-smithing) and left his foster family and “rough childhood” as early as possible.
In January, February or March 1873 Demuth married the Irish gardener’s daughter Ellen Murphy (b 1854). The couple lived in Hackney in the early 1880s and had a son, Harry (aka Frederick confusingly) in 1882.
The tomes of Marxological correspondence show that Eleanor Marx maintained a friendship with Freddy from at least the 1880s onwards.
When Karl Marx died in 1883, Helene Demuth became Engels’ housekeeper (Jenny Marx senior had died a few years previously). Harry Demuth would later recall his father taking him to visit granny Helene at Engels’ Regents Park Road home.
Eleanor continued her efforts to bridge the gap between Freddy and his presumed father Engels:
“Freddy has behaved admirably in all respects and Engels’ irritation against him is as unfair as it is comprehensible. We should none of us like to meet our pasts, I guess, in flesh and blood.”
Perhaps because of this Freddy was invited to Engels’ 74th birthday party in November 1894. But there was no time to develop things further – Engels died the next year. He left nothing in his will for Freddy, but the “legitimate” Marx children were included and are said to have given him regular support. There are contested suggestions that Engels confessed that Marx was actually Freddy’s father on his deathbed.
One account states that Eleanor Marx introduced Freddy to Clara Zetkin as “my half brother” during the Second International’s Congress of 1896 in London’s Queen’s Hall, Langham Place.
In February 1888 Freddy joined the Kings Cross branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers as a skilled fitter. The ASE would shortly become the third largest union in Britain and embark on a lengthy strike for an eight hour day. (Workers’ struggles around the length of the working day was one of the themes Karl Marx tackled in volume 1 of Capital which had been published in English in 1887.)
When Helene “Lenchen” Demuth died of cancer in 1890 she left all her worldly goods – including ninety-five pounds – to Frederick Lewis Demuth of 25 Gransden Avenue, Hackney.
The site of 25 Grandsden Avenue
That side of Gransden Avenue is now a building site, but our comrades at Past Tense have written about the area as part of their essential Hackney Walk:
Sidworth Street was the site of a V2 bomb during the war and in the 1960s and 1970s industrial unties built.
In 2010 one block (13018) was squatted as Urban HapHazard Squat. Some buildings around Sidworth Street and Mentmore Terrace are currently squatted, some with the knowledge/permission of the property owners.
Properties round here bough by local council after WW2 (bomb damage & slum clearance) and in the 1970s. During this time there were several traveller sites on Lamb Lane, Gransden Avenue and Mentmore Terrace. In the 1980s a site on Gransden Avenue/London Lane was being considered as a permanent local authority traveller site.
Freddy’s son later recalled that they inhabited the first floor of the “ramshackle” house, with the Clayton family on the ground floor. Henry Clayton worked with Freddy at Paterson and Cooper, a firm of electrical engineers and scientific instrument makers based at Telegraph Works, Pownall Road, Haggerston.
The 1891 census has the family of Frederick, Ellen and Frederick jnr still at Gransden Ave. Freddy is listed as engineer and fitter. But by the 1901 census only the father and son remained.
In 1892 Freddy’s wife Ellen had left him to run away with a soldier. She also nicked most of his possessions, as well as £29 belonging to a workers’ benevolent fund that comrade Demuth had been entrusted with. Ouch. Eleanor Marx pulled some strings and bailed him out with the assistance of her siblings.
Freddy posing with Hackney Social Democratic Federation comrades
Harry Demuth told journalist David Heisler about his father’s political activity increasing around this time, including being an avid reader of the socialist newspaper The Clarion and his membership of the Hackney Social Democratic Federation, attending their meetings at the Rendezvous Cafe at 155 Mare Street and the British Oak Tavern on Lea Bridge Road. There is also mention of Freddy being one of the founders of the Clapton Park and District Co-Operative and Industrial Society at 28 Brooksby’s Walk in Homerton. Harry recalls his father studying the works of Marx and Engels and having their pictures on the walls of their family home.
We also know that Freddy was a founder member of the Hackney Labour Party. (When was this? The Labour Party was founded in 1900, but its first showing in Hackney parliamentary and council elections is 1922. Separate Hoxton ran a Labour candidate in the 1919 council elections though).
54 Reighton Rd
By 1911 Freddy was boarding at the slightly more upmarket 54 Reighton Road in Upper Clapton. `His profession is listed as mechanical engineer – working with fountain pens. He was boarding with the Payne family. Alfred Payne had also been a founder member of Hackney Labour Party and went on to become mayor of Hackney between 1919-20.
Harry lived elsewhere at this point, working as a cab driver before briefly emigrating to Australia.
Freddy (front and centre) convalescing from a period of illness, 1912
In 1914 Freddy started working at the Bryant and May factory in Bow, initially as a fitter and then as a foreman. He’d previously had roles at Gestetner (Lea Valley) and stamp printers De La Rue (Bun Hill Row). In 1924 he retired at the age of 73. He was still a member of the Hackney branch of Amalgamated Engineers Union.
Freddy died of heart failure in Upper Clapton in 1929, outliving all the other Marx children. At that point he shared a house with Ellen “Laura” Payne, the widow of Alfred Payne. Freddy’s son Harry was for some reason named as his nephew in his will – he got the surprisingly large sum of £1971 12s 4d. Rachel Holmes suggests that this inheritance may have been a product of the financial support Freddy had received from the Marx siblings.
Yvonne Kapp has Frederick Demuth’s last address as 13 Stoke Newington Common:
13 Stoke Newington Common
The hazards of moral judgements and historical perspective
“[Karl] did not love the boy, the scandal would have been too big.” – Louise Kautsky
There are two very polarised perspectives on Frederick Demuth and they are both entirely wrong.
Socialists and Communists generally gloss over Freddy’s existence as an unfortunate event that is either an interesting footnote or something that demonstrates the steps that the workers’ movement had to take to defend itself from attacks in the media.
Generally, if he is ever mentioned at all, Freddy is one weapon in an arsenal of tools used to attack his father. If you listened to conservative commentators you would know that Karl Marx was a terrible person who never worked a day in his life (in fact he was paid as a journalist and author) sponged off factory owner Engels (partly true – although Engels was more than willing to help out his objectively more talented comrade) and more seriously raped his servant. The latter claim is of course impossible to prove or disprove now.
The few accounts we have of life in the Marx family household seem to indicate that there was a great deal of mutual affection between Karl, Jenny senior and Helene. That said, there is clearly a power imbalance between employer and employee which makes it difficult to know how complete consent can be in a sexual relationship which takes place in that context.
We also know from accounts of the Marx household and the wider historical context that finances were tight (and often desperate) – and that “respectable” families did not include children born out of wedlock.
Karl Marx shouldn’t have shagged his housekeeper. But he did. Is this a stain on his character? Yes it is. Does it undermine his ideas? Not really, but it is a black mark for sure.
They think only of two individuals and forget the family. They forget that nearly every dissolution of a marriage is the dissolution of a family and that the children and what belongs to them should not be dependent on arbitrary whims, even from a purely legal point of view.
On a Proposed Divorce Law, 1842
The change in a historical epoch can always be determined by the progress of women toward freedom, because in the relation of woman to man, of the weak to the strong, the victory of human nature over brutality is most evident. The degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation.
The Holy Family, 1844
The nucleus, the first form of [property] lies in the family, where wife and children are slaves of the husband. This latent slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property …
The German Ideology, 1846
In the above quotes, Marx recognises the unequal status of women in capitalism and the effect that the dissolution of a family can have on children. He would also have been only too aware of the differences in class between him and his housemaid – and the consequences of their relationship being discovered.
Marx and Engels’ vision for a new world included some laudable words about women and relationships:
It [communist society] will transform the relations between the sexes into a purely private matter which concerns only the persons involved and into which society has no occasion to intervene. It can do this since it does away with private property and educates children on a communal basis, and in this way removes the two bases of traditional marriage, the dependence, rooted in private property, of the woman on the man and of the children on the parents.
Communist Manifesto, 1848
But the world of 1848 (and 1851 when Freddy was born) was even further away from that than we are now. Marx fostered out Freddy because that is what most people in that situation would have done at the time – and because a public scandal about his family would undermine the work he was doing. He behaved in accordance with his class, which meant oppressing his servant even more than usual when the chips were down.
I am not married. I am writing this whilst my daughter does her school homework at the same table. I am able to do this without controversy because of the work done by feminists and the workers’ movement over the last 167 years to loosen the strange-hold of conservative values on the family and child rearing. Marx’s contribution to this process of social change cannot be ignored.
The personal remains political. Which brings us back to Frederick Demuth.
If you subtract the question of his father from the equation, Freddy’s life remains interesting and worth celebrating. He escaped a harsh childhood and a horrendous marriage breakup and still managed to retain his humanity – his capacity to care for others. His years of union work and political activism are the quiet, patient building blocks out of which we will construct a better world.
Notes and sources
I first heard about Frederick Demuth during a talk given by Barry Burke and Ken Worpole at Pages Bookshop in 2015. So thanks as ever to them for all the work they did on Hackney’s radical history before I even got started.
I have used the following for this piece:
Eduard Bernstein – What Drove Eleanor Marx to Suicide (1898) – includes a number of letters from Eleanor `Marx to Freddy that demonstrate he was her main confidante towards the end of her life.