Hackney Museum: Making Her Mark: 100 years of women’s activism

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Hackney Museum is currently hosting an excellent exhibit in the history of radical women and women’s activism in the Borough. (Obviously if I had my act together, I would have posted this yesterday on International Women’s Day)

The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with the East End Women’s Museum who have details on their website. There is also some information on the Council’s website here.

A visit is recommended – there is a great spread of material from the Suffragettes through to the peace movement and even Nicola Thorp’s shoes.

There’s an interview on East London Radio about the exhibition too:

Hackney Museum, 1 Reading Ln, London E8 1GQ.

  • 9.30am – 5.30pm Tues, Wed, Fri
  • 9.30am – 8.30pm Thu
  • 10am – 5pm Sat

Nearest station: Hackney Central

The Museum is also currently working on an exhibition of black music in the borough and seeking contributions and input.

Hackney Peoples Press, 1976 – opposing the NF

Another instalment in a very occasional series which looks at a year in the life of radical community newspaper Hackney People’s Press. We last saw HPP in 1975, with a focus on health, Hackney Mental Patients Union and lots more.

The paper was itself in good health in 1976, managing to publish four issues after a brief hiatus caused by a lack of people getting involved:

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The May issue is the skinniest at 8 pages, covering:

A demand by the Hackney Nursery Campaign for More Nurseries “There are 4000 children under five years old in Hackney whose parents both work (or in the case of single parent families, whose one parent is at work). To cater for this immense need, there are 379 Council day nursery places at the moment…” the campaign emerged from discussions between Hackney Under Fives, Council nursery workers and the women’s subcommittee of the Trades Council.

As well as more nurseries, demands included:

  • Negotiated pay scales for nursery workers
  • Hackney Council to convert houses and large flats on estates to use as nurseries
  • Speed up long term plans for purpose built nurseries.

This was to be an ongoing issue and was part of the reason for the emergence of radical nurseries such as Dalston Children’s Centre in the early eighties.

Hackney Private Tenants Association“Tenants of private landlords face some of the most difficult housing problems in Hackney. Housing conditions are terrible. 1 in 3 has no hot water. 1 in 2 has no access to a bath or shower. 1 in 3 share a toilet. Only 1 in 5 of the 30,000 plus households living in private rented accomodation have all these facilities. In return they pay enormous rents. Illegal evictions and unlawful harassment are widespread. Often tenants have to fight long drawn out niggling battles to get even minor repairs done.”

“In the words of a local newspaper reporter: ‘It’s a story when someone in Hackney is living in decent conditions’.”

Membership of the association was 5p a year and most of its work revolved around raising awareness about bad housing with councillors and MPs and taking up individual cases. But “we recognise that, in the long run, the housing crisis can only be solved when the economy is run for the people not for profiteers – and landlords become extinct.”

Unfortunately landlords are very much still with us 41 years later, so this sort of campaigning is still sorely needed. Luckily we have Hackney Renters to take up the gauntlet.

Homerton Project: new life in and old library – A centrespread on plans for a community centre being developed in the old library building on Brooksby’s Walk. The old library had been closed in 1974 when the new library opened (it’s still there on Homerton High Street). The Citizens Advice Bureau had been using the old library building but the article mentions an impressive array of plans for educational, social and cultural activities. Many of these did actually take place as the old library reopened as Chats Palace later in 1976.

Plus – The Marsh Mail launched (a magazine started by users of the Hackney Marsh adventure playground), Abortion – opposition to the James White Abortion Amendment Bill, listings of local groups, Hackney Marsh Fun festival announcement. Centerprise five year birthday celebrations,

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Things hot up in July with an expanded 12 pages.

Cover feature / lead story on the National Front in Hackney:

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The piece covers the work of Hackney Committee Against Racialism and also covers NF activity in the borough:

In the general election of 1974, NF candidates received 1044 votes in Hackney North and 2544 in Hackney South and Shoreditch (the latter being almost 10% of the vote). After this they announced that fascist grandee John Tyndall would stand for MP in Hackney at the next election (which he did in 1979, with reduced vote share of 7.6%).

Inevitably, fascists did not just stick to the ballot box. The article also highlights racist stickering, attempts by NF members to get involved with tenants associations, NF leaflets being delivered to Hoxton residents as well as a more general increase in day to day racist abuse on the streets. And worse: “On Colville Estate black tenants have parcels of faeces and burning paraffin soaked rags pushed through their letterboxes. Some black women recently took out a summons against Derek [sic] Day – the local NF boss who lives in Hoxton – for assault. […] In Hoxton market, the locals say that there are some stalls which only sell vegetables to white customers.”

Four hundred local trade unionists and anti-racists marched through Hoxton (taking in the market and Derrick Day’s house). There was a small NF counter protest which stuck to shouting racist slogans.

You can read the full article by clicking on the image above. There was a lot more work to do. In 1978, the National Front opened its headquarters, Excalibur House at 73 Great Eastern Street in Shoredtich.

Also in this issue:

Pollution: The Socialist Answer – a report on the inaugural meeting of the Socialist Environment and Resources Association.

Bad Deal for Backward Kids – a slightly excruciatingly worded article by today’s standards, but obviously well meaning. Cuts to resources and bad planning at the new “Educationally Subnormal School” at Nile Street in Hoxton.

Broadway Market Is Not A Sinking Ship – It’s A Submarine – attempts by squatters and other locals to reclaim some waste ground opposite Brougham Road and Brook Road which was due for redevelopment by the GLC. The hope was that the space could be turned into an adventure playground.

Highway Robbery on the Buses – fares go up, even though there are less buses. A mixed bag of proposals including mention of the Italian “autoreduction” campaign in which unions issued passes to passengers at the old prices, which were endorsed by drivers. Less excitingly there is also talk of trade councils passing resolutions and sending letters of complaint to the London Transport Executive.

Law Centre open – (at 236 Mare Street, where it was for many years before becoming Hackney Community Law Centre and moving to Lower Clapton Road.)

And: Health cutbacks and closures, Claimants Union, appeal to rebuild a hospital in Ky Anh Vietnam to treat victims of the war, listings, Hackney Marsh Fun Festival.

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Another 12 pager, with  a cheeky insert inciting people to bunk the bus fare and arrange and ad hoc credit account with the London Transport Executive:

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Themes from previous issues continue- cuts to health services, unemployment up, nursery provision down, benefits claimants get a poor deal.

Workers Sacked for Striking – The Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre was a Hackney based organisation that helped “ex-mental patients find their feet in society”. Its staff had a number of grievances with the trustees, including no written contracts or pay scales, no grievance procedure, poor communication, etc. They unionised and were about to strike when they were dismissed. There is an account of a discussion with PRA Director John Wilder and some rebuttals to his account from workers. The PRA became the Centre for Better Health in 2010 and is now based on Darnley Road off Mare Street.

The End of the Line for Hackney? – redevelopment of Liverpool Street station including office blocks. Also some proposals for more stations and their impact on the local community.

Hackney Committee Against Racialism reports on canvassing local residents, removing NF graffiti and demanding that the Council ban fascists from using public property to pedal racialism including markets. Gay centres in Shoredtich and Finsbury Park were vandalised by fascists and a Labour Party anti-fascist canvasser was beaten up near Manor House.

There’s a bizarrely fish-themed parody of the Hackney Gazette on the back page:

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Rounding the year off with another 12 pages:

Health cuts:

  • Junior Doctors put out a statement pointing out that the situation is already pretty dire – “Conditions are so bad at F Block, the psychiatric block at Hackney Hospital that the Royal College of Nursing won’t allow student nurses to train there.” 
  • Occupation of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in central London.
  • Health Hierarchy – a more analytical piece about the power imbalance in the NHS and calls for more democratic control.
  • Hackney Abortion Campaign and the effect of the cuts on women.

GLC Tenants in Slum Housing: conditions on the Pembury Estate: “whole blocks of flats empty, boarded up, vandalised and left to decay. One block, Adisham House, has been empty for three years.” Also general disrepair for flats which are occupied – by residents which the article notes are primarily BME, squatters or former squatters.

Exposed! Who Are The Hackney Flashers? A great one page introduction to this feminist/socialist women’s photography group:

People Before Roads – opposition to a new road from Hackney Wick to Highbury.

Christmas Award – for the architect of the Trowbridge Estate for putting a “french window” door into a flat with a 14 floor drop on the other side…

Also – opposition to education cuts, campaign against Dublin anarchists Noel and Marie Murray being hanged for robbing a bank, Regents Canal – a new walk in Hackney, Friends of the Earth forms, Half Moon Theatre, Hackney Women’s Aid asking for furniture etc for new premises, Gingerbread (assistance for single parents) plea for donations.

Today in London’s parklife: 1000s destroy enclosure fences, Hackney Downs, 1875

Essential piece by our comrades Past Tense on struggles around keeping Hackney Downs public. An entry in their London Rebel History calendar – the 2018 version of which is out now and would make a great Xmas present for radical friends and relatives.

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On December 11th 1875, a crowd of several thousand people assembled on Hackney Downs, East London, to take part in the destruction of fences newly built around enclosures on what was traditionally regarded as common land.

By the early nineteenth century Hackney Downs had long been established is custom as lammas land, which gave locals rights to pasture their animals from Lammas Day, August 1st (though this may have dated from August 12th locally), for a number of months – usually until April 6th the next year. The ability to graze livestock on common land was long a vital part of subsistence for hundreds of thousands of the labouring classes in rural society, and its gradual (and later, on a large scale) restriction by enclosure of agricultural land had a huge impact, increasing poverty and hardship, and contributing to mass migration into cities over centuries.

Even…

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Fighting Sus: Resisting and Repealing Stop and Search 1970-81

On The Record concluded an excellent oral history project about Centerprise this year with the publication of a superb book, audio tour and other resources.

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They now have a new project on the notorious “Sus Laws” which empowered police officers to stop and search people purely on the grounds of “suspicion”. The effects of this at a time when the police were institutionally and endemically racist should be fairly obvious. The Sus Laws were infamously used to search 1000 black youth in Brixton as part of “Operation Swamp” in April 1981, triggering the Brixton riots…

On the Record is recruiting a freelance Youth Coordinator for their exciting new project Fighting Sus: Resisting and Repealing Stop and Search 1970-81. We are looking for someone with experience of both youth work and drama production.

Download the application documents here and read the project’s press release here.

Please send queries and applications to us at info(at)on-the-record.org.uk

They are also interested in hearing from you if you are:

– A 16-25 year-old interested in taking part
– Over 25 years-old with memories of the ‘sus’ era
– A theatre, school or community group interested in hosting or helping with the performance.

The press release (linked above and well worth read) starts with a poem from Hackney / Antiguan poet Hugh Boatswain:

‘Hey boy, what have you just done?’
‘Me officer – nat a ting.’
‘Why you running then?
‘Late sa’, gotta meet de dartah?’
‘Sorry son, going to have to take you in,
lots of crimes in this area
come on down to the station for questioning.’
Nex’ morning black boy come from station,
No bookings, no charges, just a heap full of bruises.’

The Sus Laws were also covered by Boatswain’s fellow poet Linton Kwesi Johnson:

Ridley Road oral history project

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https://ridleyroadpostcards.wordpress.com/ 

What does a Ridley Road Book need?

Any suggestions, thoughts or stories are much appreciated.

Tamara Stoll is working on a book about Ridley Road market and is seeking contributions. See the link above for more information and contact details.

From my perspective this kind of “history from below” of working class areas is radical in itself, but Ridley Road also has a history of more explicitly radical activity…

From the 43 Group physically attacking Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1940s, to paper sales by everyone from Hackney Communist Party to the Black Unity and Freedom Party – as well as the multicultural essence of the market simply helping cohesion in working class communities:

What was different about Dalston? Because of Ridley Road Market, which had a lot of West Indian stall-holders and customers, most of the pubs there did not operate a Colour Bar. So it had this strong effect. Partly because of Ridley Road and so on. It was because Dalston was a centre of Caribbean life, because of the market, but also because the pubs there were much more tolerant. And I don’t think people have given enough credence to how institutions like pubs and bars structure the geography of a place. So much as something like an informal Colour Bar that pushed West Indians towards and around Ridley Road, and the pubs around there. Dalston pubs were much more tolerant.

(Excerpt from a Ken Worpole interview courtesy of Hackney Archives.

Anyone with stories or memories of Ridley Road is welcome to contact Tamara.

Dalston Children’s Centre 1982/3

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

The text below sums up its radical ethos:

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

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

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

Direct links to the PDFs are here:

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

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

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

 

History Workshop Journal: Feminist squatting in Hackney

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The current issue of HWJ includes an excellent article by Christine Wall titled “Sisterhood and Squatting in the 1970s: Feminism, Housing and Urban Change in Hackney”.

Fortunately for us non-academics, the piece can be read in its entirety online rather than being stuck behind a paywall:

https://academic.oup.com/hwj/article/83/1/79/3862507/Sisterhood-and-Squatting-in-the-1970s-Feminism

There is a particular focus on the area around London Fields / Broadway Market:

By the late 1970s an estimated fifty women-only households were scattered throughout the streets behind Broadway Market, including one continuous terrace of seven women’s squats on Lansdowne Drive. The majority of these women identified as lesbians.

But squatting communities in Ivydene Road and Amhurst Road are also mentioned, as well as some very readable recollections of feminist squatting culture and activism.