Good to see our main local paper covering some radical history and mentioning current struggles around spycops. Hackney Community Defence Association and the Hackney Trades Union Support Unit were both based at the Colin Roach Centre.
This pamphlet was produced by Hackney Communist Party, probably in 1937 – prior to the London County Council elections that year. This page in the Amiel Melburn Trust Internet Archive suggests that similar pamphlets were produced for 28 London boroughs.
1937 was twenty years after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and one year into the Spanish Civil War. But there is a disappointing lack of revolutionary zeal (or even mention of communism) in the text below – the focus is on critical support for the Labour Party and commendable bread and butter working class issues like health, housing and wages instead. This is partly down to Lenin, whose “Left Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder encouraged British communists to work with the Labour Party rather than taking a hardline extra-parliamentary position as suggested by Sylvia Pankhurst and others.
So, whilst the General Strike of 1926 gets a mention, the Battle of Cable Street which had taken place in the previous year does not – even in the section on combatting fascism.
Some of the demands have resonances with today – landlords exploiting tenants with high rents and poor conditions, a lack of social housing or affordable childcare, poor people struggling to make ends meet etc.
But there are also some differences, which are arguably as a result of past campaigning victories – paid holidays for employees, raising of the school leaving age to 16 and decent maternity facilities in Homerton Hospital. Until fairly recently we also gained access to free education up to University standard and free milk for school children…
All the Hackney constituencies and Stoke Newington (which was then a separate borough) returned Labour councillors in the 1937 elections.
The future development of Hackney Communist Party is covered elsewhere on this site:
Bob Darke’s disaffection from the Hackney CP in the 1950s.
A Hackney Communist Party banner from 1952.
Hackney Needs Socialism – a similar pamphlet from 1978
Of related interest is a look at Lenin in Hackney.
The full text of the pamphlet follows below. I have amended some of the grammar, particularly some hyphenation that annoyed me. Scans of the original text are included too – you can click on the images to see a bigger version.
If anyone has a copy of Communist Plan for Life in Stoke Newington, please get in touch!
WHO OWNS HACKNEY?
Hackney’s nearness to the City of London has influenced its development from a country manor to a suburban town and finally to a part of London. With the growth of the City of London and the rise in influence of city merchants we see a change taking place also in Hackney. The ownership of Hackney passes from the landed aristocracy into the hands of the city merchants, with the result that [in] about 1700 Mr. Tyssen, one of the merchants, became the Lord of the Manor. Today, descendants of this Mr. Tyssen still own large parts of Hackney. Among other large landowners of Hackney today are of course the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, St. Thomas’ Hospital Estate and the Spurstowe Trust.
Our Fine Record
With the growth of London we see workshops and factories rising in Hackney. Among the earliest known industries in Hackney were paint, and boot and shoe manufacturing, and as industry developed, so did working class activity! Hackney played its part in the famous Chartist Movement. Our workers providing a fair quota of Chartists, while the Lord of the Manor and his brother helped the Government to organise special constables in the attempt to prevent the demonstration of April 10, 1848. But this demonstration did meet – and elected delegates to present to Parliament the famous “Six Point Charter”, claiming political rights for the workers.
The working people of Hackney were among the pioneers in the trade union organisation, some of London’s oldest trade union branches being in Hackney. Just as in the past, so today the people of Hackney are in front wherever there is a need to defend the people’s rights. They actively participated in the General Strike in 1926. They helped the miners both morally and financially. They assisted the famous Hunger March in 1934 by providing shelter to the Tyneside marchers. There isn’t a single working-class activity in London from which the workers of Hackney are absent.
Growing industry and the rise of factories and workshops have changed Hackney from an area of open spaces to a densely built-up town. It has also brought a big rise in the population. In 1807 there were, in Hackney, four persons per acre, whilst now we have an average of 64.5 persons per acre! This growth has been chaotic and unplanned, causing very serious hardships for the workers and people of Hackney. It is the object of the Hackney Communist Party to discuss some of the more important questions concerning the life of the people in Hackney, and to give some positive proposals for the solution of these questions.
Win Better Factory Conditions !
Looking at Hackney today one sees a large industrial centre with 1,268 factories and workshops, some factories of worldwide repute, employing many hundreds of workers. There are firms in Hackney which have expanded from small beginnings to large millionaire establishments. Lewis Berger is a good example. This firm originated in Hackney and today is a worldwide firm whose profits for the last five years amount to £470,000. (The chairman of this company is Viscount Greenwood, who, as Sir Hamar Greenwood, let loose the Black and Tans in Ireland just after the war.)
There are many other factories, particularly in tailoring, where conditions are absolutely appalling. Speed-up is the predominant factor in production, and the conveyor belt, known among the workers as the ” chain-gang,” is in operation. Labour [i.e. the workers] is mainly juvenile owing to its cheapness, one particular factory connected with Hector Powe [tailors] has been a source of grievance not only to the workers in the factory but to the clothing workers in general.
A large number of factories have sprung up in the last few years in the Hackney Wick area where trade union organisation hardly exists and juvenile labour is predominant. The conditions are such that last year we had strikes taking place at Ingrarns, Bouts Tillotson, Morris’s, Bloom & Phillips, and other factories. Only complete trade union and shop organisation can secure improvement. Every year a large number of young people are crippled through accidents whilst working without proper protection. This barbaric system could be prevented if an adequate number of factory inspectors were maintained.
Organise the Out-workers!
Whilst the conditions of the workers in factories are very bad, the conditions of ‘the workers who subcontract out and take the work home is far worse. This out-work is largely seasonal and even at the height of the season very few earn a decent wage for a working week of anything up to 100 hours. According to the Medical Officer of Health’s Annual Report for 1936 there are 1,565 out-workers in Hackney. These are on the register, but in reality this number can safely be doubled. Apart from the large factories and workshops there are, of course, a very large number of workshops employing a few workers each where exploitation is again very high, because of the lack of organisation.
Make the Transport Combines Give Us Better Travel!
Thousands of our workers have to travel long distances to work. Their life is made a bigger burden by the lack of trains, buses, and trains. In many cases they have a 10 or 20 minutes walk to get to one of these services and then they are invariably dangerously and unhealthily overcrowded.
The transport problem would not be difficult to solve were it not for the monopolist control by the London & North Eastern Railway and London Transport Board. These companies, anxious to maintain their profits, prevent any improvement being made in this vital service. The people of Hackney are entitled to better travelling facilities. This can be achieved by building an underground railway to the city, by adding more buses on existing services as well as by introducing new services where needed. There is now a favourable opportunity through the present extension of the underground railway from Liverpool Street to Woodford, passing through Bethnal Green, for Hackney to have a branch line giving speedy travel to the city and other parts of London.
We often hear it said that in Hackney the housing conditions are not so bad as in other boroughs. There is some truth in this. But we say, without fear of contradiction, that in Hackney housing is still in a deplorable state. Here are some facts from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health:
(a) Overcrowding. The Public Health, Department discovered that at the end of 1936 out of 61,615 families visited, 2,876 families were living under overcrowded conditions;
(b) Unfit Houses. Out of 11,380 houses inspected for defects under the Public Health Act 5,067 were “found not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation,” and in addition there were 344 houses found to be in a state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation (suitable for demolition). 5,511 of 11,380 unfit for human habitation! If this is not bad we would like to know what bad housing conditions are!
Many thousands of houses in Hackney are nothing more than boxes placed one upon the other. These are the kind of “houses” that our landlords want us to live in and pay high rents for. At the Local Housing Inquiry the landlords’ agents put up a strong resistance against any clearance schemes of the Borough Council. Here are some arguments used against the demolition order:
“To demolish these houses will be a most wasteful proceeding, the families who are now happy and comfortable under quite good sanitary conditions will have to be rehoused, and they cannot afford to pay the rents charged by Local Authorities.”
“These small houses each contain a living room, a bedroom, and a scullery. They are ideal homes in a neighbourhood like Hackney, in the centre of London, for a married couple with one or two children. It is true that the heights of the rooms are not so much as the present regulations require, but that is really a very, unimportant detail.”
“The houses are quite equal to the standard prevailing in the district. The drains have been reconstructed and are quite sanitary.”
“There is only one defect that can be alleged against them—they have no backyard and no back windows. As to this, it is counteracted by the fact that if the front door is opened and the front window on the upper storey is opened, a current of fresh air is at once set up, and this operation can be put in motion as often as possible.”
The Labour Borough Council have made a good start, during the last three years they have cleared some of the blackest spots. Their 1935 Housing Programme provides for clearance of 31 acres containing 570 buildings and further clearance schemes are in hand. Compare this with. the Municipal Reform (Conservative) record. Their 1930 five-year programme provided for the clearance of 16 areas containing 277 buildings. The Labour Borough Council has built new flats at Clapton Common and Rossington Street. The new Hindle Street scheme provides for 205 flats to be built in blocks with perambulator and cycle sheds, also a communal laundry fitted with electric washing machines. A communal hall is provided for the use of residents. The rents of the Borough Council Flats compare very favourably with rents for private houses and they are much lower than those rents originally fixed by the Conservatives for their Council flats. For example the rents of the new Rossington Street flats are: 4s. 6d. one room; 7s. 6d. two room’s; 10s. 6d. three rooms.
Keep the Rents Down!
Rents today are too high. But now every tenant is threatened with rents actually being put up! For the Rent Restrictions Act, which protects tenants from profit-grabbing landlords ends early in 1938! This Act must be renewed, and extended to protect every working-class house. But will the landlords’ National Government do this? Not unless the people themselves act, in support of our Council. Tenants’ Defence Leagues in many parts of London have won better conditions from landlords. Hackney needs such a League, if the coming struggle for rent control is to be successful, and we urge our Borough Council, with other Boroughs, to bring immediate pressure on the National Government.
Labour’s Good Start
The Communist Party fully appreciates the advance made by the Labour Borough Council. It is good, but not good enough. With 2,475 families living under overcrowded conditions and with 5,511 houses not reasonably fit for human habitation, the Borough Council housing programme, planning to build 1,100 flats, cannot be considered as a satisfactory solution of Hackney’s housing problem. The Borough Council as well as the L.C.C. schemes are for rehousing of slum areas. We want houses for all Hackney people at reasonable rent. We say to the Borough Council:
Increase your housing programme so as to provide houses not only to replace overcrowding and slums, but also to provide houses at reasonable rents for those thousands of workers who are forced to pay high rents to private landlords. The chief reason for the existence of these bad conditions is the blocking of housing plans by the landlords and their National Government. Our Labour Council, with a strong Labour Government behind it, could soon solve the problem of housing!
Fine Health Achievements
The Labour Borough Council have also improved the Public Health Services. In the face of bitter opposition not only from the local Conservatives, but also from the National Government, the Borough Council has some remarkable achievements to its credit. The result of improved health services is best seen in the death rate. In 1936 the Hackney Borough Council was able to record its lowest maternal death rate. Only four mothers died in childbirth, the rate being 1.2 per thousand, whilst the rate for England and Wales was 3.6. Similarly the infantile death rate reached its lowest point for Hackney in 1935, being 47 per thousand as compared with 58 per thousand for the County of London for the same year. The Labour Borough Council has built a new Child Welfare Centre in Richmond Road and is proposing to build two or three other centres. No doubt it would have done much more but for the policy of the National Government, which puts armaments before social services. For example, but for the Labour Borough Council’s fight against the Ministry of Health, the Richmond Road Centre would not have been comparable with what it is today.
Maternity and Child Welfare Centres
Though, as we have seen above, the Labour Borough Council has made a good beginning in this field, the Maternity and Child Welfare Centres are still, with one or two exceptions, inadequate in some ways. The centres are not open long enough to deal with the number of mothers attending for advice and help, and no privacy exists for consultations with the doctors, etc. We ask that the Borough Council build Welfare Centres (in spite of the obstructionist tactics of the National Government) in all areas, so as to be in reasonable reach of all mothers, and that no new housing estate be built without its own Welfare Centre.
Maternity Hospital for Hackney
Every year there are 3,000 babies born in Hackney. The majority of them are born of working-class parents whose mothers cannot afford to go into private nursing homes, and who are forced either to have their babies at home (often in already overcrowded premises) or seek confinement accommodation outside of our Borough. This is an intolerable position and we demand that a modern Maternity Hospital be built in Hackney. Our Borough is not a poor Borough; if we can afford to spend £250,000 for a new Town Hall, and also to spend £3,000 on Coronation decorations, and pay 5 per cent. interest on loans to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, surely we can afford to spend an appropriate sum for a Maternity Hospital.
Free Milk for Babies and Schoolchildren
Milk, the most essential body-building food, is absent from many homes in Hackney. It is too dear to buy. Many a mother cannot afford the price of 3 1/2 d. per pint, Yet milk is cheap for industrial purposes. More than 1d. out of 3 1/2 d. you pay goes to subsidise the manufacture of butter, cheese, chocolate and other milk products. These manufacturers get their supplies of milk as low 1/2 d. per pint. London’s milk trade is dominated almost entirely by one huge company, the United Dairies. Over the past 10 years this company has netted nearly £6,000,000. The National Government protects the profits of these huge combines and with its armaments programme forces food prices to go up. The cost of living is rising every day and housewives find it more difficult to get enough, bread, let alone milk. The Communist Party urges the Borough Council to provide every child with at least one pint of milk daily. We ask the Borough Council to provide not only free milk, but also other nourishing foods and medicine to all necessitous mothers, ignoring the Means Test and all other restrictions. This can be done—make the National Government pay the bill. We must also insist that the policy of the Milk Board of cheap milk to industries and dear milk to workers should cease.
Higher and higher prices for food. More and more mothers unable to buy proper nourishment. All the more need to see that full powers are used to give our children cheap milk and free meals!
An adequate number of Day Nurseries is urgently needed. Hackney, with a population of over 200,000, has many thousands of working women who go out to work, and there is only one small Day Nursery. Even this nursery is a private concern, though subsidised by the Borough Council to the extent of £200 a year. Therefore we demand that Municipal Day Nurseries be established in every ward and every large housing estate. These nurseries must be staffed by competent and qualified persons.
Hands Of the Unemployment Fund ! Food Before Guns !
In spite of the fact that we are supposed to be living in the time of boom or so-called “prosperity”, in Hackney there are nearly 5,000 on the Unemployed Register and some 4,000 persons receiving outdoor relief. The C.P. realises that the real solution of the problem of unemployment can be attained only under Socialism, but we propose the following as immediate steps to relieve the hardships of the unemployed:
The Means Test was introduced as a means of economy in 1931 by the National Government; the Unemployed Fund has accumulated a surplus of £60 million. The war-mongers’ Government is after this money in order to use it for its arms programme. The C.P. declares that this money belongs to the unemployed and it must be used to increase the scales of relief, particularly in view of the rapidly rising cost of living.
But not with the Food Prices Rocketing!
The cost of living has risen so much that a pound buys less than 57 shillings did a year ago! Meat, bacon, flour, butter, bread, tea, milk—all are going up almost every week ! To catch up with these rising prices, workers need a rise of at least 3s. 6d. in the pound. Not to make them better off, but just so they can eat as well as they did last year!
The workers who are most seriously hit by the increases are the unskilled labourers, unemployed, and old age pensioners.
Who is responsible for this increase? The shopkeepers? The Co-operative Societies? No! The policy of the National Government, in giving subsidies to the Marketing Boards and their price-fixing policy. Who benefits from these high prices? The big trusts and companies who are piling up profits. And it is the deliberate polity of the National Government to raise prices to help pay for the war plans. They make the poor pay instead of the rich, through their food taxes.
How can we fight the policy of the National Government and the Marketing Boards? Communists propose an immediate united campaign by the whole Labour Movement:
To force a reduction in the combines’ profits, and so a reduction in food prices.
To abolish the taxes on our food.
To put working-class representatives on the Food Council, and to make this body publicly expose profiteering prices.
To raise wages to meet the high cost of living. Our Council must help in this by an increase of 5s. to all municipal workers under the Joint Industrial Council. To win an increase of 2s. 6d. in the pound to all those on Public Assistance—and the unemployment scales to those advocated by the Trades Union Council, of 20s. to each adult, 10s. to each dependant, and 5s. to each child. To increase old age and all other pensions. To make the rich pay for these necessities out of their super-profits.
We Want Cheaper Electricity
“Electricity is cheap in Hackney,” says the Borough Council. But it is not cheap to the small consumer. The scale of charges favours the rich. For example, it varies in price from 1/2 d. to 4 1/4 d. per unit, and for industrial purposes the rate is half that of the domestic rate. For example, in 1936 the industrialists paid an average of 1.09d. per unit and domestic users paid an average of 2.01d. per unit.
We want the unification of the scales of charges, and free wiring installations for all working-class houses to make electricity available to all.
Defence of Hackney Citizens Against Fascism
Whilst new homes and better conditions are essential, it is necessary to safeguard these by defending our democratic rights. Hackney workers have a special problem to face in the growing Fascist menace. Brutal attacks on Hackney residents have been made: people have been beaten up. Fascism is attempting to obtain a foothold in Hackney and is planning to oppose Herbert Morrison [Labour MP for Hackney South] in the coming Parliamentary Elections. The C.P. appeals to every worker who values his home and liberty to keep the Fascists out of Hackney. This can be done by the unity of all progressive elements and more particularly by the unity of all working-class parties in the Borough without exception. As an immediate step to combat the Fascist menace we propose the following:
With the continued existence of the National Government in office the war menace grows daily. Everything goes to prove that the National Government is encouraging Fascist aggression abroad and at home. Spain and China today, and it may be England tomorrow. How can those who are leading us to war be trusted to protect us against war? Can the National Government and their local Conservative allies, who have continually condemned the British working class to ill-health and starvation with their economy stunts, Means Tests and rising prices, be trusted? Can these people be trusted to protect us from air raid attack? Obviously not! We believe that the only defence for peace is the defeat of the National Government and their local allies. We do not think that war is inevitable, but we believe the National Government should be made responsible for the supply of suitable protection equal to that for the rich. Gas masks must be of the very best quality, and the construction of gas- and bomb-proof shelters, under the control of the Borough Council, should be undertaken at once. All air raid precautions should be democratically controlled by the Borough Council and the working bodies in the Borough. The full cost of these schemes must be borne by the National Government and not by the Borough Council.
Make the Rich Pay!
The proposals as outlined in the preceding pages will, of course, require money. Now, where is the money to come from? This need not come from the rates, but should be borne by the people who are exploiting. Hackney. How can this be done?
Communists believe that all working people of Hackney want to see the plans outlined in this pamphlet put into action. How can it be done? By a united, determined, Labour Movement, composed of all working class bodies including the Communist Party. United Labour action will not only strengthen Labour Councils everywhere. But will also defeat the National Government and put in its place a strong Labour Government.
A STRONG COMMUNIST PARTY IS THE
SUREST WAY OF GETTING SUCH UNITED
ACTION BY THE WHOLE LABOUR MOVE-
MENT. THEREFORE IF YOU WANT TO
TAKE A HAND IN BUILDING THE NEW,
HAPPY AND HEALTHY HACKNEY – JOIN
THE HACKNEY COMMUNIST PARTY AND
PLAN FOR LIFE.
Published by the Hackney Communist Party, 280a, Richmond Rd., Hackney, E.8, and printed by Marston Printing Co. (T.U.), Nelson Place, Cayton Street, London, E.C.1.
Both of these issues are about 3 quarters A4 size. The May issue is 12 pages and the July one (below) is one sheet bigger at 16 pages.
The May issue is essentially “the health special” with pieces including:
Abortion – opposition to a private members’ bill seeking to disallow abortions except where a doctor agreed that there was a risk to a woman’s life or health. (Like a lot of these bills, it didn’t go anywhere. Hard to say whether that is through resistance or lack of support). Also the lowdown on the difficulties faced by women seeking abortions in Hackney.
Hackney Helps Hoteliers – on the huge subsidy (£450,000 a year) paid by the council to the owners of bed and breakfasts so they could house 155 homeless families. Hackney was the top borough in London for this at the time. The article rightly points out that the money would be better spent on building or acquiring council houses. Nearby Camden had purchased several thousand homes for this purpose over the previous few years, compared to 189 by Hackney in 1974 – and 37 in 1973.
Hackney Reading Centre – a new joint adult education venture between Centerprise and City and East London College.
Centerprise – funding difficulties and a deficit had built up. The council had refused to increase its £1000 a year grant.
Hackney Health Guide – a four page feature on health facilities in the borough – and also the issues they faced.
Stop The Road – opposition to proposals for a huge new road from Dalston to Hackney Wick.
Marsh Festival – taking place in July with a “Hackney Marsh on Sea” theme – Punch and Judy, donkey derby, etc.
Groups / Contacts – everything from Gamblers Anonymous to playgroups and 3 branches of Hackney Young Socialists.
Also a feature on Hackney Mental Patients Union, which was then based in a “democratic community”-run house at 37 Mayola Road, Lower Clapton. The group named the building “Robin Farquharson House” after the mental health activist of the same name who had recently died as the result of an arson attack on his home in Kings Cross:
There is a wealth of information about Hackney based mental health campaigning at Andrew Robert’s website:
(There is quite a lot of text on the page so you will need to press CTRL + F on your keyboard and do a search for “Hackney” – or anything you fancy…). The following is of interest:
Friday 6.5.1974 4.30pm: First meeting of Hackney Hospital MPU
“Alan Hartman explained what kind of things the mental patients union does. Refusing treatment, cruelty to patients, clothes grants, fighting against being discriminated against in jobs… Alice ill-treated by nurses…”
“Resolved that a branch of the Mayola Road M.P.U. be formed in Hackney Hospital. proposed Alan Hartman, seconded Alice. 15 for – none against. Alan Hartman elected chairman..”
The meeting was adjourned after the senior nursing officer attempted (unsuccessfully) to break it up.
Hackney Gazette 6.8.1974 MENTAL PATIENTS UNION IS NOW RECOGNISED
The Hackney hospitals branch of the Mental Patients Union is the first in the country to achieve recognition. Psychiatric wings in both the German and Hackney Hospital are affected.
The MPU aims to bring about a better deal for patients in mental hospitals, and improved status.
Mr Andrew Roberts, of the Hackney branch, claims that several patients in Hackney Hospital psychiatric wing had spoken of better treatment by staff since the branch was recognised on July 18.
People’s News Service 1.6.1974 “MENTAL PATIENTS’ UNION MEMBER ESCAPES COMPULSORY DRUG TREATMENT.
Last week Tony O’Donnell moved into the house of the Mayola Road Mental Patients Union in East London after a long struggle to find a place where he could live without having to undergo injections of modicate, an extremely strong drug used on people diagnosed as schizophrenic…”.
Joan Hughes recalled Robin Farquharson House in 2006:
We ran the Robin Farquharson House in Mayola Road for three years. This was divided into individual rooms that were entirely under resident’s control, but it also had an office which served as a crash pad in emergencies. We often had people staying who were going through a crisis and who were supported by other residents. We also helped and advised people by telephone and letter, and there were any visitors from all over the country as well as from abroad.
The July issue is still a bargain at 5p – especially with the extra pages! Features this time on:
Hoxton Hall – 80 years of its role as a hub for working class culture and education.
Stop The Road – the proposed Dalston to Hackney Wick road was refused by the council, but there was concerns it could still be pushed through by the GLC.
Barbauld Road: Cheaper to Stop the Bulldozers – Opposition to the demolition of houses in south Stoke Newington. The argument was that it would be £2million cheaper to renovate the existing homes. (I assume that this advice was ignored and that the estate on Barbauld Road is what happened?)
Health on the Cheap – a critical article about the reorganisation of Hackney hospitals by an anonymous doctor who had worked in them.
Abortion: the fight goes on – report on a demonstration against the proposed amendments to abortion law covered above. And the general lack of access to abortions for women in Hackney even without it.
Hackney Women’s Aid – short feature on women’s refuges etc. The absence of funding from Hackney Council is very troubling.
Nursery Nurses Win – negotiations culminate in an agreed 36 hour week and backdated pay rise.
Repairs: Who carries the can? – The state of the 26,000 council homes in Hackney. HPP conducted surveys amongst tenants in De Beauvoir and Stonebridge – a number of issues were identified.
Also groups and contacts (pretty much as above, but now includes Hackney Committee Against Racialism), a call for help with the paper, various upcoming events.
A round up of housing news including housing association / council skullduggery and some properly horrible stories about housing situations people in Hackney had to endure.
Plus! Music on the back page!
Music makes money. The star system produces glamorous performers on the one hand and passive consumers on the other. It’s not just that the music industry is a business – ruled by profit – the star system corrupts everybody learning or creating music. The motivation for learning or making up music is too often dreams of fame or fortune, not creating something for our friends, workmates or comrades to express the realities of our lives.
I’m not sure they would have been fans of the X-Factor… I should point out that I don’t agree that music fans are necessarily passive consumers (some of them put quite a lot of effort into it, whether “it” be active listening, involvement in fan communities or simply dressing the part when they go out). I also think that whilst music that expresses the “realities of our lives” is needed, that it would be quite boring if that was the only music around. Sometimes we need sounds that help us escape, or imagine new realities…
Having said all that, Hackney Music Workshop looks like it did great work!
(At some point I would also like to cover the Hackney Musicians Collective and their now unaffordable 1981 LP – any info welcome…)
Issue 19 would appear in May 1976…
This just in from The Broadway Bookshop, 6 Broadway Market…
WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN:
A TALK with DANIEL RACHEL
in conversation with KEN WORPOLE
Wednesday 7 December 2016 at 7 p.m.
We are delighted to announce that Daniel Rachel will be appearing at the shop on Wednesday 7 December to read and talk about his new book WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN (published by Picador).
Daniel’s remarkable oral history – which brilliantly captures the mood on the streets of British cities before and after the epoch-changing rise of Rock Against Racism – will be introduced by writer Ken Worpole, who remembers when Hackney’s streets were on the front line.
Tickets £3 (includes glass of wine). For booking please RSVP: email@example.com or call 020 7241 1626. For further information please see below.
About the book:In August 1976, Eric Clapton made an inflammatory speech in support of Enoch Powell and ‘black’ repatriation, sparking an anti-racism campaign that would soon radicalise an entire generation. The following sixteen years saw politics and pop music come together as never before to challenge racism, gender inequality and social and class divisions. For the first time in UK history, musicians became instigators of social change; and their political persuasion as important as the songs they sang.
Through the voices of campaigners, musicians, artists and politicians, Daniel Rachel charts this extraordinary and pivotal period between 1976 and 1992, following the rise and fall of three key movements of the time: Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone, and Red Wedge, revealing how they both shaped, and were shaped by, the music of a generation.
Consisting of new and exclusive in-depth conversations with over 100 contributors, including Pauline Black, Billy Bragg, Jerry Dammers, Phill Jupitus, Neil Kinnock, Linton Kwesi-Johnson, Tom Robinson, Clare Short, Tracey Thorn and many more, Walls Come Tumbling Down is a fascinating, polyphonic and authoritative account of those crucial sixteen years in Britain’s history, from the acclaimed writer of Isle of Noises.
Walls Come Tumbling Down also features more than 150 images – many rare or previously unpublished – from some of the greatest names in photography, including Adrian Boot, Chalkie Davies, Jill Furmanovsky, Syd Shelton, Pennie Smith, Steve Rapport and Virginia Turbett.
“We were trying to change the world in our tiny way by stopping the rise of fascism amongst youth with the power of music.” – Red Saunders, founder of Rock Against Racism.
‘An amazing oral history’ Billy Bragg
Daniel Rachel wrote his first song when he was sixteen and was the lead-singer in Rachels Basement. He was first eligible to vote in the 1992 General Election and now lives in north London with his partner and three children. Daniel is the author of Isle of Noises: Conversations with Great British Songwriters – a Guardian and NME Book of the Year – also published by Picador, and a regular guest contributor on BBC Radio 5.
Ken Worpole is a writer and social historian, whose work includes many books on architecture, landscape and public policy. He is married to photographer Larraine Worpole with whom he has collaborated on book projects internationally, as well as in Hackney, London, where they have lived and worked since 1969.
Ken is Emeritus Professor, Cities Institute London Metropolitan University, and has served on the UK government’s Urban Green Spaces Task Force, on the Expert Panel of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and as an adviser to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.
Next week sees the launch of a new exhibition at Hackney Museum which looks well worth checking out:
People Power: Black British arts and activism in Hackney 1960s-2000s
4 October 2016 – 21 January 2017
This exhibition explores aspects of Black British arts and activism which have developed in Hackney since the 1960s.
There is another exhibition running until the new year which should also be of interest:
Sharing Our Stories: Jewish Stamford Hill 1930s-1950s
13 September 2016 – 9 January 2017
A display of local people’s stories by Teen Action, a Chassidic Orthodox Jewish organisation for young women, and Hackney Museum.
Opening times, contact details etc can be found here.
A small (A6ish) pamphlet published by the Black Unity and Freedom Party in 1972. There is an overview of the history of the BUFP by Professor Harry Goulbourne here. Ken Worpole mentions the group having regular street sales in Ridley Road market.
Aseta Simms is one of an inexcusably large number of people to have died in suspicious circumstances in Stoke Newington police station. Mrs Simms’ death was also a front page story in Hackney Gutter Press.
Aseta Simms is often mentioned in lists of deaths in police custody but it’s harder to find the context. The text is reproduced below (with some small corrections for consistency etc) alongside the original pages so you can see the presentation of the original.
Will we ever know? Mrs Simms was certified dead in Stoke Newington Pig sty. It is very strange that of late, people seem to be leaving everywhere else to die and end up on a cold slab in the Pig-Sty. For our part, the answer is very simple. There is a plot to commit Genocide against our people. The pig-police hands are stained with the blood of our people. They are the hatchet men of the racist fascists.
Printed and Published by Black Unity And Freedom Party c/o 31, Belgrade Road, Stoke Newington, ISSUE No.1. London N.16. 1972.
Her Daughter Speaks
“My mother was picked up outside the gas station (Manor Road), at approximately 11.30pm. She was brought to the local police station (Stoke Newington), and died at approximately, between 12.00pm and 12.30pm [Hackney Gutter press (link above) report this as having happened on 13th May 1971. The later times in this sentence should probably read 12:00am and 12:30am, i.e the early hours of the 14th May – Radical History of Hackney note].
Here the police stated that she was too drunk to find her way home, and she could not tell the police where she lived. But a white girl who live in one of her houses in Brighton Road, Stoke Newington, had a piece of paper on which my mother had written my sister’s name, her telephone number, her addresses etc. The police claimed they did not see this note. WHY NOT?
The girl, Mrs Archer, said she saw my mother fall. WHERE? She also had my mother’s bank book. Where did she get it from?
On the same day, my mother had a rental Tribunal Case with the Archers. The Tribunal gave them a week in which to leave the house.
Mrs Archer said that my mother was drunk. How did she know? Mr. Archer said that my mother and his wife left the house at the same time and went to the Off Licence. He said further that my mother bought a bottle of Whisky and his wife bought a bottle of Guinness. He showed me the bottle of Guinness. But in the afternoon my mother had bought a bottle of whisky. So therefore; she couldn’t have bought a bottle of whisky when Mr Archer said so.
The police said they laid my mother on her tummy, so if she was sick, it would not stifle her. They said they watched her until she died. What did she say before she died? NO ONE KNOWS!
The coroner’s Hearing St. Pancras
Police Doctor from WOOD GREEN
“I examined the body of this coloured woman, and found that she was a well-nourished woman. There was swelling above the right eye and bruising below. There was deep bruising over her head but no fracture, but the brain was swollen. The heart was not the cause of her death. There was no barbitrates in her organs. There was alcohol in the blood stream. It is arguable that some people might die with this level of alcohol in their blood stream; but we have had people with much higher levels who are still alive today. The bruising was consistent with someone falling about or with someone who had been beaten. There was very little evidence that she had inhaled vomiting, but this was not the cause of her death. I cannot truthfully say what was the cause of her death.”
DOCTOR FOR Police commission
“I received two samples said to be taken from the body of this dead coloured woman: Samples of blood and whisky. The blood samples showed 479ml grammes of alcohol and this concentration may be considered lethal; but there is no firmly established level to equate with death. The level found in the blood samples could only have arisen if a full bottle of whisky was drunk quickly.”
EIder DAUGHTER Says
“I saw my mother last alive at 2.00pm on 13/5/71, it was polling day of the local council elections. She was sober and alright. She had eaten some fish and chips earlier on. About once every other week my mother would buy some drinks. My mother was fine and healthy. I knew my mother died while in police custody. I saw her at St. Leonards hospital after she was dead, and noticed that she had a lot of bruising over and below her right eye, which she did not have before.”
“She came by my place about 1.30pm on the day she died. We then left and went to Archway and then to Tottenham. She ate some fish and chips. She did not drink before she came to my place. But while we were out the day before 12/5/71, she bought a bottle of whisky on the way back to my place at about 5.00pm. We had two drinks each that evening before she left for home, leaving the whisky behind with me. On the day that she died, she took the bottle which was 3/4 full and put it in her bag and left at about 9.00pm to go and look after her children. She had some grown up children and another four aged from 12 years old down-wards. She often came round to my place to leave money for her daughter to pay the mortgage. She had a tribunal case on that day. I have never seen her drunk. When I went to the police station the drinks (whisky) was not there, but I was shown an empty bottle. I cannot say what has happened to the 3/4 bottle of whisky which she left with, for she never drank in the street. It is still a mystery to me where she could have been between the time she left and when I saw her body in the police station. The woman (Mrs. Archer) who lived upstairs had her bank book”
The coroner, Douglas Chambers interrupted quote “We can-not take such evidence.”
THE BIG COVER-UP!
Mrs B. Archer
“I have lived at 47, Brighton Road, for over a year. Mrs Simms and I never did get on. I have seen Mrs Aseta Simms worst for drink before, but I cannot really say when. When I returned from the tribunal hearing I saw Mrs Simms..”
The coroner interrupted and said “This is the period which the daughter cannot fill in.”
“I saw Mrs Simms fall near the Post Office in Brighton Road, we picked her up and I went into the Off Licence. She did not bang her head or anything. She then got onto the bus stop, she would have got a shilling fare to go home. She was walking unsteadily. I last saw her at about 10.30pm. She didn’t buy anything in the Off Licence; but when she fell, I saw a bottle of whisky fall out. I have never seen her so drunk.
Mrs Archer was taken to and from the coroner’s court in a police car.
STOKE NEWINGTON POLICE
“I was a passenger in a police car, we were following a bus; as we went over the junction, I saw a coloured woman lying on a forecourt in Manor Road, N16. She was shouting and supporting herself on one arm. I went to pick her up; She became terrible violent, grabbed my belt and began twisting it, after a struggle, we got her into the van. We lifted her into the van and laid her out onto the floor; she was still kicking out. She forced herself onto her bottom. I then held both her wrists and P.C.227, held her ankles. She was still being violent.
At the station, we carried her into the charge room and placed her on the floor. She was not capable of standing; her knees were badly bruised. I didn’t see any bruising over her eyes; come to think of it, I did see bruising over her head. We then put her on the floor in the cell. I couldn’t get through to her. She was left semi-prone, she was calm and snoring quite loudly. While in there the snoring began to diminish, I thought she was asleep.
I went back to arouse her, but I could not. Sergeant Barker and I then tried to give her respiration but failed. An ambulance was then sent for. We did not send for any doctor. She was not lying on anything; just the bare floor.”
“I was with officer G.196. She was lying between cars and swearing, she appeared to be drunk even from a distance. She kicked me two or three times. We lifted her into the van and she fought her way back onto her feet. In the charge room I was to accept that she was very violent. Two hours later, I went back to where we had picked her up and found a whisky bottle leaning against a wall with some whisky in it.”
“I was on patrol duty in another vehicle when I received a radio call for assistance. When I got to the scene, I saw her on the floor of the van with two officers holding her arms and legs. She was very violent. At the station several of us carried her into the station. Inside I tried speaking to her but she didn’t understand. I did see bruises on her head.
I saw her body later in the back of an ambulance, well she was very drunk. I cannot say exactly when the doctor arrived, but about shortly before 11.45pm.”
“I was on duty earlier on in the evening, I was driving a car in the Stamford Hill area. I received call for help. I went there and saw her being restraint. I didn’t see any injuries. I saw her being carried into the charge room kicking and struggling; she could not stand. She was crawling about on the floor. Mrs Simms, as I now know was incapable of doing anything. I assisted P.C. G.196 to carry her into the charge room. I held her by the left arm, she was struggling. She was breathing normally, I then left. I returned later and saw P.C. G.196 sitting outside-on the stairs with head in hands and he told me that Mrs. Simms had stopped breathing. I immediately commenced respiration until the ambulance came. The police doctor arrived and examined the body.”
WOMAN POLICE H.345. LEMAN STREET
“I got to Stoke Newington police station at 11.45pm, I went into the cell and saw lying face downwards; I was then called away. I was then told that she was dead.”
“I was on duty and I saw events as stated and knew. I did not know the deceased. The doctor was sent for at 11.55pm. Doctor arrived same time as the ambulance. It was normal procedure to have drunken people in that manner. Tries were made to get other doctors before but this failed. ”
The CORONER retired with the jury
“She was violent. She died with an amount of alcohol in her blood stream. The Home office says that the coroner has a choice to sit or not to sit with the jury in special circumstances. There are special circumstances in this hearing, therefore under the Home office rules for coroners’ courts, I shall sit with the jury .
How, when, where or why the person or persons should be charged with murder or manslaughter; under the circumstances, there is no such accusation. No question of the verdict to have civil liabilities . A rider could be put in to prevent repetition of this kind of deaths. Some reasonable people would assume that the bottle found, was the same one from which she had consumed whisky until she was found between the cars. She could not be charged because she could not have understood.”
“The verdict is death by misadventure, there is no rider.”
WE DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE PUBLIC ENQUIRY IN TO THE BRUTAL RACIST ACTIVITIES OF THE POLICE AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE.
We know this Black sister Mrs Simms was murdered by the racist police. This much we have no doubt of. In the face of the evidence given at the coroner’s court held on 10/6/71, at St Pancras. The coroner, Douglas Chambers went and sat with the jury; claiming he had power to do so under some unknown Home Office rules. Now ask yourselves, why did he found it necessary to sit with the jury? The smell left from this inquest bears too potent a stench to be tolerate, even by the greatest appeasement inclination.
BLACK PEOPLE IN BRITAIN MUST WRITE TO THEIR LOCAL MPs, DEMANDING AN IMMEDIATE PUBLIC ENQUIRY INTO THE DEATH OF MRS. SIMMS AND INTO THAT OF THE BEHAVIOUR OF CORONER DOUGLAS CHAMBERS DURING THE INQUEST.
This is only the beginning of the campaign. We shall not rest until the pig-police who have murdered our sister, Mrs Simms are weeded out punished. We shall organize, demonstrate and use any means necessary.
IF WE ARE SO FOOLISH TO ALLOW THIS BRUTAL MURDER OF OUR BLACK SISTER TO GO UNPUNISHED: SURELY AS DAY FOLLOWS DAY: WE SHALL BE MURDERED IN OUR BEDS.
UNLIKE THE JEWS IN GERMANY, WE HAVE NO INTENTION OF LYING IDILY BY. WE SHALL RESIST AND COUNTER ATTACK EVERY INCH OF THE WAY TO THE GAS CHAMBERS. [NB: I don’t think this point is well made – there was significant Jewish and other resistance to the Nazis. Also, as a bad as 1970s Hackney was, a comparison to Nazi Germany, gas chambers etc is well over the top – Radical History of Hackney note]
WE HAVE A DUTY TO OUK CHILDREN , OURSELVES, BLACK PEOPLE THE WORLD OVER AND TO HUMANITY TO STRUGGLE CEASELESSLY UNTIL THESE RABID, RACIST POLICE ARE DEALT WITH.
NO RIGHTS – NO OBLIGATIONS.
Hackney People’s Press was a local left-leaning community newspaper published regularly from 1973 until 1985.
An interview with HPP contributor Charles Foster is available elsewhere on this site. As you can see from the masthead below, HPP was formed by the merger of Hackney Action and Hackney Gutter Press, who were both publishing in the early 70s and have also been covered here previously.
Charles has very kindly donated his archive to this site. The plan is to gradually upload an overview of Hackney People’s Press, year by year, alongside the many other things I want to cover. I won’t have time to scan every single page, and the combination of oversized tabloid pages and the scanner I have occasional access to will mean that some details are missed out. Nevertheless I hope this gives a good flavour of the HPP project and the radical culture of Hackney in the late 20th Century…
The issues below are all large tabloid format – click on the images for a full size version.
The debut issue – 5 pence, worra bargain! As you can see from the introduction on the cover, the plan was to publish monthly and to hold open public meetings for contributors. The issues I have from 1973 suggests that this schedule was kept to initially. (Although the page count went down from 12 to 8).
We kick off with an excellent lead story on parents in De Beauvoir seizing some vacant land to use as an adventure playground for kids. The author, Crispin Aubrey, was an interesting figure who was later prosecuted under the official secrets act for interviewing a former GCHQ worker.
(The De Beauvoir Association has published an archive of the “De Beaver” newsletter from the 1970s and 80s which is well worth a look and also covers this).
A critical account of a Hackney Trades Council meeting, in which various union leaderships are criticised for not seeing the wisdom of bringing down the Tory government and establishing socialism via the Labour Party. The meeting “erupted into what was at times an extremely violent violent argument between a small contingent from the Socialist Labour League (Trotskyist) and a much larger number of Communist Party (Stalinist) members.”
Learning Exchange: a free service which puts people interested in learning the same subject in touch with each other. (c/o Centerprise).
Support for striking teachers campaigning for an increase in the London Allowance (and concern that rising housing, prices etc mean that teachers were leaving London – just like now).
After Six in Hackney: full page piece on an advice service for homeless people, operating after 6pm every evening.
An article on closing cinemas with the overly dramatic title “Who Raped Our Screens?” – “Hackney now has only 6 cinemas amongst a population of over 200,000, and one of those, the Dalston Tatler, is for members only. The Stamford Hill Odeon closed only a few months ago, largely on the pretext that the Dalston Odeon has been converted into 3 separate screens. At the same time, prices at Dalston have gone up to a minimum of 55p…”
Homes Saved From Ringway: 1,000 properties no longer being demolished because of the collapse of plans for a big road through Dalston and Hackney Wick following protests.
A double page spread on Kingsmead Estate which is critical of the Tenants Association, but more positive about the work of the Claimants Union on the estate – a representative is quoted on their work to get people the right benefits, help make sure repairs are done by the council and demands for police patrols to sort out menacing kids with airguns attacking people. Also: “We would not let anyone on the estate be evicted without one hell of a fight. We will organise barricades, cordon off the estate if necessary. The days when they could come in and evict someone in relative peace are all over.” (did this ever actually happen though?)
Also interesting to see the council criticised for making Kingsmead into a ghetto, concentrating black people, OAPs and benefit claimants there, the implication being that other estates were reserved for white, relatively more affluent types?
Haggerston Food Co-Op is introduced (but more on them below).
Perhaps slightly jarring with the community articles is a press release about the Stoke Newington 5 (originally the Stoke Newington 8).
Tony Soares (who ran the Grass Roots bookshop in Ladbroke Grove) writes about being convicted for “incitement to murder persons unknown“. Which is as mad as it sounds. Turns out Tony had reprinted the Black Panther Party’s “On organising self-defence groups” article: “The police conceded that there probably would have been no prosecution had it not been for a complaint from Jack Backsi, the Community Relations Officer for Hackney”. Backsi apparently referred the publication to Hackney’s then MP Stanley-Clinton David, asking him to raise it in parliament. Soares was sentenced to 200 hours of community service, which suggests that everyone agreed that the threat he posed was minimal – but that this sort of politics was not welcome in the UK.
There’s a story about some black youths being hassled by the police because one of them was carrying a walking stick – and how this was falsely reported as “Mob Storms Police Station” by the Hackney Gazette.
Also two pages of contact info for community and political groups, and a back page piece by Ken Worpole on William Morris and the meaning of May Day.
Issue 2 leads with a story about a mother and 4 young kids being evicted from an empty house that they had squatted after waiting for 4 years on the council list. The 3 other squatters who helped her to re-occupy the property were charged with assaulting the police.
Hackney Playbus: Fran Crowther on why it’s needed and an appeal for drivers. (Previousl also covered in an issue of Hackney Action, see here for a scan.)
Unhealthy Health Report – NHS understaffing, infant mortality 33% higher in Hackney than the average for England and Wales, drop in ante natal care sessions, criticism of factory inspectors (2,546 factory premises in Hackney!), etc.
Hackney School Students: participated in a demonstration about democratising school councils. Also uproar at Cardinal Pole school about a DIY students magazine called “Vision” – four of the student contributors were suspended. (Any more info on that would be greatly received!)
“1972 – A Year of Increased Repression”: Overview of The National Council for Civil Liberties annual report, with references to state attacks on the underground press (Oz and IT magazines), republican sympathisers, the Angry Brigade trial, prisoners rights, moves to restrict jury trials and the right to protest, increased arming of the police, etc:
Mike Knowles of Hackney Trades Council is given a full page right of reply to the drubbing they got in the first issue. Alongside the correction of some errors in the original article, the general tone is that it’s alright for lefty activists to hold forth about a general strike and socialism but the real issue is how to actually get there – especially if it’s not possible to organise a one day strike on May Day as was being mooted.
Also groups and contacts:
The back page is a heartwarming story about some guerrilla street theatre performers and how they were received around the borough:
Issue 3 leads with the a story on the closure of the inspiring Haggerston Food Co-op which has been previously covered on this site by this excellent video:
There is an edge of bitterness to the story, the obvious frustration of not being able to get the community sufficiently involved to keep the co-op going when the activist who ran it solo was rehoused elsewhere. (An all to common problem with community politics but getting all narky about it in print isn’t the solution eh?)
Page 2 covers the trial of the squatters featured on the cover of issue 2. Five charges of breach of the peace were dropped as the cops couldn’t produce their lead witness. Two women were found guilty of obstructing the police (the sentence/fine isn’t mentioned). More happily it’s also reported that Anita Keating, the mother who was evicted, was now squatting successfully in Islington with her kids.
Page 3 reports on a Hackney Young Teachers Association meeting on “West Indian Problems” i.e. racism and cultural differences and the detrimental effect they were having on the education of black kids: “The condescending attitude of some middle class educationalists towards the language of working class children and parents, black and white is partly due to a misunderstanding of the theories of Basil Bernstein, which then makes the sad equation that poor language equal working class impoverishment in a never ending circle. This attitude is doubly tragic because it helps to maintain the exam system in all its immorality and because it checks the child-centred advances made so bravely by our infant and nursery schools.”
The centre pages contrast the Matchgirls strike of 1888 with a strike by Ministry of Defence contract cleaners in 1972.
The back page reports on some incredible community direct action. After getting nowhere with the police or the council, Stonebridge residents move cars which have been dumped on their estate into the middle of Kingsland Road, causing a traffic jam, but resolving the issue!
Echoes of this sort of thing were later seen with Reclaim The Streets, where old bangers were driven into the middle of big roads as a way of blocking them off before a party commenced. Hackney Independent Working Class Association were still shaming the council about dumped cars in the south of the Borough in the early 21st Century.