June updates

Newington Green Meeting House published a short video about Anna Laetitia Barbauld to celebrate her birthday on 20th June:

They have also published a calendar of forthcoming online events, including an “Alternative Statue Tour” on 7th July which takes in some of the Borough’s more progressive residents – old and new -that might be good subjects for future statues. This is followed on 21st July by an event on the Meeting House’s roots in Unitarianism and its connection with dissenters.

Horrid Hackney is a new site by Lucy Madison that promises “a new blog entry every day”. Which sounds exhausting. Entries posted already include some overlap with topics covered here, such as the IRA “bomb factory” on Milton Road, the 43 Group duffing up fascists in Dalston and the Angry Brigade arrests in Stoke Newington. Indeed, the site’s post on the 43 Group coincidentally includes exactly the same video interviews as our one from 2018.

The difference between “horrid” and “radical” is that Lucy’s site includes a lot more about grisly crimes, their victims and perpetrators. Generally these entries are pretty good, but I guess there is a risk of sensationalising murders and murderers and flattening all kinds of activity into an amorphous “extreme” history. It’s unclear, for example, why Lucy feels the 43 Group were “horrid” rather than heroic..

There is a dispute at the Rio Cinema with the Save The Rio group accusing the Board of pursuing unnecessary restructuring amongst other issues. The group has proposed an alternative temporary Board to be convened before an AGM can be called at which members would vote for a new Board. Members of the Rio are being asked to thrash this out via proxy voting. There is a petition for non-members.

A reminder that you have until 3rd July (Friday) to comment on the future of the statue of slave trader Sir Robert Geffrye in the grounds of the Museum of the Home.

Our neighbours and comrades at Reclaim EC1 have published a list of memorials in the City of London linked to colonialism and racism as well as the first installment of a series of posts on the City’s involvement in the slave trade. They also note the recent removal of the memorial bust of former Hackney resident John Cass from St Botolph’s Church, Aldgate High Street on 18 June.

Finally our south London comrades at History is Made at Night posted this video of Luton’s Exodus Collective running a soundsystem on Hackney Marshes as part of a larger free festival in 1998. I assume I was at this, but my memories of that summer are a bit foggy for reasons that are probably best not speculated about…

Have your say on Hackney’s slave-trader statue

Geffrye made his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company

Last Thursday, the Museum of the Home launched a consultation on the statue of Sir Robert Geffrye in its grounds. The consultation is being promoted by the Council. It closes on 3rd July.

In our last post, we identified Robert Geffrye as one of three people who are memorialised in Hackney who profited significantly from the slave trade.

Last year the museum began the process of removing Geffrye from its name, which is encouraging as is this statement:

Homes should be welcoming places of shelter and security, love and comfort. This is what we want our museum to represent.

We know that for many the statue of Robert Geffrye on our building represents abuse, oppression and the history of thousands of enslaved people torn from their homes and families and forced to work in appalling conditions. 

Sonia Solicari, Director of Museum of the Home

The short duration of the consultation suggests that they are not expecting much controversy about this, but I would urge people to complete it all the same. It’s a five minute job and you never know if there will be some sort of rabid right wing “write in campaign” in the current climate.

The Board of the museum will make a decision about whether or not to keep the statue in place in late July. The museum itself is closed because of the Coronvirus lockdown but hopes to open later this year. They have some great online content for people in the meantime.

Astrid Proll – on the run in Hackney

Astrid Proll: under arrest in Germany

In Germany

Astrid Proll was a household name in the 1970s along with her comrades Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and other members of the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction – aka The Baader-Meinhof gang).

Astrid’s older brother Thorwald Proll introduced her to the circle of radicals that would become the RAF – indeed, she would be one of its founders. The group’s politics were broadly anti-imperialist: opposed to the Vietnam war and outraged by the prominence of former Nazis in West Germany. The state would brand them “anarchist violent offenders”, but most anarchists I know would categorise them as Maoists (and point out that urban guerilla movements with no connection to the working class do not end well).

On 2nd April 1968 (before becoming the RAF), the group had organised arson attacks on two Frankfurt department stores. This was in revenge for the killing of Benno Ohnesorg (a protestor shot by a policeman during a demonstration opposing the Shah of Iran’s visit to West Berlin. The killer would eventually be revealed as an East German Stasi agent) – and also against the ongoing Vietnam war. Days later, Baader and several others including Thorwald Proll were caught by the police and imprisoned.

Baader was eventually freed by armed members of the group during a staged interview with Ulrike Meinhof at a library on 14 May 1970. Astrid Proll was the getaway driver. She was also involved in bank robberies around this time to raise funds for the RAF’s operations and underground existence. She became one of the most wanted women in West Germany.

Proll and RAF member Manfred Grasho were stopped by the cops on 10 February 1971 but managed to get away under police gunfire. It was falsely claimed that she had shot at the two officers attempting to arrest her. However in Hamburg on 6 May of the same year, Astrid was finally caught after a pump attendant at a petrol station recognised her from a wanted poster and alerted the authorities. She attempted to flee but was surrounded by armed officers and arrested – and then charged with offences including attempted murder and robbery.

In November 1971, Astrid Proll became the first of several RAF members to be held in solitary confinement in the new “dead wing” of Cologne-Ossendorf prison. She was 24 years old. The “dead wing” or “silent wing” was an ingenious facility of six cells in which the walls and furniture were painted entirely white. A bare neon light turned on 24 hours a day was supplemented by meagre daylight through a narrow slit too high to see out of. The cells were designed so that no external sounds could penetrate them. It was forbidden for prisoners to hang pictures on the walls.

These conditons amount to torture and would be one of the factors that led subsequent RAF prisoners to go on hunger stirke. Proll spent two and half years in solitary confinement (four and half months of which were in the dead wing). She developed circulatory problems, difficulty breathing, panic attacks and was sometimes unable to walk.

On February 4, 1974 Astrid’s trial was adjourned because of her ill health, and she was granted bail. Shortly after this she fled West Germany under a false passport. After spending some time in Italy, she arrived in London in August 1974.

Astrid in London

I fled to Britain […] and realised how overtly ideological and misguided the German left had become. In Britain the left was more pragmatic and had more realistic goals; it was also more tuned into the real world. A concept as deluded as “armed struggle” would never have come to pass here.

Astrid Proll, The Matured Spirit of ’68

Precise details of Astrid’s early time in London are hard to pin down. She seems to have moved around a lot, living in Holland Park, Mile End and Kilburn as well as several addresses in Hackney. In interviews she has mentioned the support she received from feminists, squatters and Hackney members of the libertarian marxist group Big Flame.

Using her false passport, Astrid got married to Robin Puttick at Stepney registry office on January 22, 1975. She took the name Anna Puttick. This is generally believed to be a marriage of convenience as she was on the run – and a lesbian. As she told Iain Sinclair “I had to have papers, I was so German.”

Living in Hackney

“Solidarity was the precept of the counterculture. The squats were the material basis and preconditon for the emergence of political activism, art and alternative life. These houses, removed from the circulation of capitalist valorisation, were open spaces for experimentations of all kinds towards a life lived without economic constraints”

Astrid Proll, Goodbye To London

So where did she live?

Several contributors to the Kill Your Pet Puppy website mention her being hidden away in the squats of Brougham Road near Broadway Market (the street would later be an epicentre of anarchist punk activity in the 1980s).

Court documents from the time mention her “first squat” at the end of 1974 being 25 Marlborough Avenue E8. Astrid herself in Goodbye To London recalls “squatting with a female friend in a former shoe store in Broadway Market” and she told Iain Sinclair:

“When I heard about the death of Ulrike Meinhof in Stammheim Prison, I lived in a street that no longer exists, Lamb Lane. Beside London Fields. I lived around Broadway Market a lot. There was a huge women’s movement thing, a whole scene.”

Meinhof died in mysterious circumstances on 9 May 1976. The general trajectory of the RAF after Astrid left Germany had been increasingly desperate. Life in exile would have been stressful, but must have seemed like the better option.

There was a thriving alternative scene in the capital at the time and Astrid mentions attending women-only dances as well as suppoting the striking Asian women workers on the picket lines at the Grunwick dispute in West London. But the past was never far away…

Writer Philip Oltermann suggests that Proll and “a group of lesbians from Bow” were in the crowd of 80,000 at the free Rock Against Racism / Anti-Nazil League gig in Victoria Park on 30 April 1978. He mentions her “panic rising” when she saw the RAF logo onstage on the t-shirt worn by Joe Strummer of The Clash:

Joe Strummer’s Red Army Faction t-shirt at Victoria Park Rock Against Racism gig 30 April 1978

(Incidentally the burgeoning “punkademic” industry seems inexorably drawn to making connections between the RAF and punk. Personally I think it’s clear that Strummer was a poseur with a nice turn in protest music and social observation, but he was sorely lacking in political analysis. Tom Vague concludes his RAF book with a fantastic photo of Sid Vicious and John Lydon posing in front of a Baader-Meinhof wanted poster in Berlin in 1977. In the same year anarchist punks Crass pasted up a poster near Covent Garden’s Roxy club with the slogan “Germany got Baader-Meinhof, England got punk but they can’t kill it”. I’d say one t-shirt, one photograph and one poster were slim evidence, but I’m not a lecturer with a quota of publications to fill. I’d be much more interested to hear about what other gigs Astrid Proll and her social circle were going to in mid-70s London…).

“I always knew that a photo of me could give me away and destroy my London life. So I avoided being photographed. When the book ‘Hitler’s Children:The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang’ was released, female friends went out and stole the book off bookstore shelves or tore out the pages with my photograph”

Astrid Proll, Goodbye To London

Friends from the time mention her being a good neighbour and putting down roots:

“The children would be in and out of her house at the weekends, she’d be delighted on the occasions they stayed the night there because she revelled in their company and because it left me free. [She put] all her energy into her work, into friendships, into the squatting and local communty as a whole.”

Anonymous friend quoted by Friends of Astrid Proll

This lifestyle and support network would do a fine job of keeping Proll out of sight of the authorities… for a while.

“Women Work In Hackney”

Astrid’s work in London is better documented than where she lived. Each of her three jobs had a Hackney connection.

In the Spring of 1975 she was employed as a gardener by the council:

“I went to get a job with Hackney Council. I was a park keeper. In Clissold Park, my favourite park. I was working with an Irish guy, raking, mowing. They threw us both out, him and me. After six months. […] I had Clissold Park. I had London Fields. I had a little park which was in Shoreditch. It was around a church, a little garden. I had to go out in the morning and open it.”

Quoted by Iain Sinclair

Hackney Council also paid for Astrid to train as a car mechanic:

[…] in 1976 [she] enrolled on a government training course in car mechanics at Poplar Skill Centre. She left the course with a City and Guilds Certificate and, [had] taken an evening class in welding […] She had obtained all the necessary qualifications; national insurance card, union card and driving licence in the name of Senta Puttick.”

Court documents

She was apparently the only woman on the training course. Car mechanic was an unusual profession for a woman in the 1970s and especially one trying not to attract attention. Not to mention being photographed for an exhibition:

Alleged photo of Astrid Proll by The Hackney Flashers

I’ve used this image before in a piece about radical photography collective The Hackney Flashers and hadn’t noticed the connection. The exhibition was in 1975 and is interesting as it connects Astrid Proll with the radical feminist groups of the time.

“I did not live underground in England,” she insists. “I lived with other youths who also read Marx and idealised the working classes. I worked on the shop floor and as a car mechanic. This attitude was very admired in the Seventies.” 

Quoted by Tina Jackson

Her new skills got her nicknamed “Anna the Spanner”. She put them to good use, running a car maintenance class for women and in 1977 got a job at the iconic Lesney factory next to Hackney marshes. Lesney’s made “Matchbox” toy cars and was a big employer in the borough. She started as a fitter’s mate and was eventually promoted to be a supervisor. She was a member of the Amalgamated Electrical union. (Speculation – the Big Flame group were quite big on this sort of shop floor activity?)

“At work, Anna had to cope with the suspicion, ribaldry and loneliness that comes with being the only woman in a traditionally male job. At Lesney’s some of the men wouldn’t work with her because she was a woman, and one of the supervisors was always really down on her. Anna is an inspiration to me, and to other women, in her determination to fight this sex discrimination and not let herself be discouraged.”

Anonymous friend, quoted by Friends of Astrid Proll

In late 1977 she got a job training young offenders as mechanics at Camden Enterprises on Finchley Road, West Hampstead. Accordng to journalist Tina Jackson she subverted the training programme by “showing some of her students how to use the skills she’d taught them to steal cars”.

It would be her last job in London for some time…

Arrest

On 15 September 1978 a couple of uniformed policemen visited the Camden Enterprises workshop. Astrid’s manager Vincent Wilcox assumed they wanted to speak to him about a motoring offence. He soon realised he was off the hook:

“The next moment about ten plain clothes officers from Scotland Yard came in and took her up to the recreation room, pushed her up against the lockers and searched her.”

Quoted in BBC: On This Day

Proll did not resist arrest. It is heartening that she doesn’t seem to have been grassed up by anyone in the London counterculture:

“I was most likely recognised by a policeman when I accompanied a young man who was always stealing cars and getting into trouble to the police station. As the officials from Scotland Yard took me away from the garage, the young men looked at me, stunned. I just said ‘I won’t see you again’.”

Astrid Proll, Farewell To London

She quickly released a statement through her solicitor: “I have lived in England for the past four years – I have no contact with the Red Army Faction and I have tried to settle down as best I could in the circumstances.”

The RAF women had long been salivated over by the media and so Astrid’s arrest was predictably sensationalised. Her contacts were interrogated by reporters and every aspect of her lifestyle picked over:

Tabloid press cutting reproduced in Tom Vague’s Televisionaries: the Red Army Faction story

Proll would later tell journalist Kate Connolly “The British tabloids were one of the most terrifying things I have experienced.”

Campaign

"Free Astrid Proll" graffitiin West London from Christopher Petit's film "Radio On"
“Free Astrid Proll” graffiti in West London from Christopher Petit’s film “Radio On”

Whilst Proll was being held and questioned at Paddington Green police station, her support network sprang into action:

Graffiti backing her rapidly appeared. Lee Nurse and a friend cycled late one night down to Old Street where they painted ‘No extradition for Astrid Proll’ across the top of the large ventilation shaft in the centre of the roundabout. It remained in place for many years and only disappeared when the new ‘silicon roundabout’ appeared as part of the transformation of the area into a ‘technology hub’

Christine Wall

One of the most remarkable things about the story of the RAF is the widespread support they seemed to have had in West Germany at the time – with some estimates suggesting 10,000 sympathisers. Similarly in London, the “Friends of Astrid Proll” solidarity campaign appears to have been sizeable and multifaceted.

Poster for November 1978 benefit gig

“The Passions and the Nips, Shane MacGowan’s pre-Pogues group, appeared at a Rough Theatre benefit for the defence fund of Astrid Proll of the Baader-Meinhof gang”

Tom Vague

“We actually helped to organise the Astrid Proll thing because she was a friend, we knew her as Anna and she worked as a mechanic teaching young people at a youth project in North London. I remember her being very interested in my old Vauxhall and then later reading about her Baader Meinhof exploits, it seems she was their getaway driver! I also remember Crass phoning up and desperately wanting to play at the gig (being anarchists I suppose they would), but there wasn’t space on the bill for them. They were very disappointed. It was a good gig, well attended if I remember correctly.”

Richard Williams, drummer for The Passions

The gig was followed by a discussion at the Scala Cinema and a film benefit at the Womens Art Alliance, showing “Shirin’s Wedding” – which is about the unfortunate life of a young female Turkish migrant to West Germany:

Discussion advertised in anarchist newspaper, Freedom 14 October 1978
Benefit notice from feninist magazine Spare Rib #77

Singer Nik Turner (most famous for his time in Hawkwind) was inspired by Proll’s plight (and apparently her time squatting in Brougham Road?). The first single by his new band Inner City Unit was originally called “Solitary Astrid”. However “to avoid controversy” the song was given the title “Solitary Ashtray”. Which does beg the question why the b-side was called “SO T RY AS I D” (“so try acid”)?

Before performing the song in Bristol in 2016, Nik told an amusing tale of donating to the Friends of Astrid Proll support fund – and because of all this being raided himself by Special Branch for drugs and terrorist materials.

This cultural solidarity provided the funding and wider context for the political work being done. Astrid was transferred to Brixton prison shortly after her arrest. Friends of Astrid Proll organised pickets of the prison and protests at Bow Street Magistrate’s Court where her case was being heard:

The Times 10 April 1978
Demo notice in Freedom, December 1978.

Brixton was – and remains – a male prison. There were two other female prisonsers at the time: Iris Mills (an anarchist arrested as part of the “Persons Unknown” case – who would be acquitted) and young Palestinian activist Khloud al Mugrabi (who may have been Iraqi or Lebanese? And spoke no English). All three were “Category A” prisoners – requiring maximum security.

Proll was allowed visitors though – and was able to write letters to supporters that were used in their literature.

Naturally one of the objectives of the campaign was that Astrid be transferred to the female Holloway Prison in North London. Alongside this the main demand was that she should not be extradited on the grounds that she would not get a fair trial in West Germany and that the new anti-terror laws there were draconian.

She was understandably terrified of returning to Germany as she was still suffering from the trauma resulting from her imprisonment in the “dead wing”:

“Not even today, six years later, have I completely recovered […]. I can’t stand rooms which are painted white because they remind me of my cell. Silence in a wood can terrify me, it reminds me of the silence in the isolated cell. Darkness makes me so depressive as if my life were taken away. Solitude causes me as much fear as crowds. Even today I have the feeling occasionally as if I can’t move.”

“I do not expect to survive if I return to Germany.”

Astrid Proll quoted in Friends of Astrid Proll literature

Three leaflets from Friends of Astrid Proll are available as PDFs here.

Extradition and Trial

Various attempts were made to thwart the extradition process including Astrid applying to be a British citizen by dint of her marriage and several years of residence. This was a longshot – complicated by her using false papers to get married and the lack of affection for her by the British state and media. The case is still cited today in legal textbooks.

The legal battles were eventually exhausted and Astrid returned voluntarily to Germany in June 1979. Her trial there commenced in September and went a great deal better than anyone was expecting.

The most serious charge was of the attempted murder of police officers during an attempted arrest back in February 1971. This was dropped when it emerged that the state had evidence all along that she hadn’t opened fire.

Astrid Proll leaving her trial in Germany 1980.

In February 1980 Astrid Proll was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for bank robbery and falsifying documents. But as she had already spent more than two thirds of her sentence in British and West German jails she was released immediately. She was 32 years old.

Freedom and aftermath

The British Home Secretary banned her for life from entering Britain. After a lengthy legal battle she was allowed to return in 1988.

She studied film and photography in Hamburg and subsequently worked as a picture editor for the German magazine Tempo and The Independent newspaper in London.

Her 1998 book Baader-Meinhof: Pictures on the run 67-77 apparently documents the pre-London years (and is now prohibitively expensive).

In 2010 she contributed to the exhibition “Goodbye To London: Radical Art & Politics in the 70s” and edited the accompanying book which includes some excellent material about squatting, LGBT culture, Hackney Flashers, Grunwick etc – as well as an essential foreword by Proll that is quoted above.

Sources / Plagiarism / Further Reading

Anon – The Passions: Frestonia, Fiction and Friction (The Passions website)

Jean Barrot – Letter on the use of violence (1973)

BBC “On This Day: 15 September” – 1978: German terror suspect arrested in UK

Kate Connolly – Astrid Proll’s journey to Terror Chic (The Guardian 6 October 2002)

Friends of Astrid Proll – The Court Situation (1978)

Friends of Astrid Proll – Freedom For Astrid Proll (1978)

Friends of Astrid Proll – The Case Against Her Extradition (1978)

A. Grossman – “State-Fetishism”: some remarks concerning the Red Army Faction (1979/1980)

Tina Jackson – The Terrorist’s Family Album (The Indepedent 8 October 1998)

Andre Moncourt & J. Smith – The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History volume 1 Projectiles For The People (Kersplebedeb & PM Press 2009)

Philip Oltermann – Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters (Faber & Faber 2012)

Astrid Proll (ed) – Goodbye To London: Radical Art & Politics in the 70s (Hatje Cantz 2010)

Astrid Proll – The Matured Spirit of ’68 (The Guardian 19 March 2011)

Iain Sinclair – Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report (Hamish Hamilton 2009)

Nik Turner / Inner City Unit performance, The Louisiana, Bristol 25 August 2016 Youtube

Tom Vague – Euroterrorism: Well It’s Better Than Bottling It Up (Vague #201988)

Tom Vague – Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story 1963-1993 (AK Press 1994)

Tom Vague – Westway Psychogeography Report 3 (Colville Community History Project #13, October 2015)

Christine Wall – Sisterhood and Squatting in the 1970s: Feminism, Housing and Urban Change in Hackney (History Workshop Journal #83 Spring 2017)

Various – Brougham Road, Hackney, London E8 (Kill Your Pet Puppy 15 May 2008)

Legal documents

Puttick v. Attorney-General and Another 1979 April 30; May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 http://uniset.ca/other/cs4/puttick1.html

Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Puttick 1980 Oct. 31; Nov. 14 http://uniset.ca/other/cs4/puttick2.html

Puttick Orse Proll v Secretary of State for the Home Department Immigration Appeal Tribunal 9 August 1984 https://www.refworld.org/cases,GBR_AIT,3ae6b6571c.html

Hackney People’s Press 1977

Part of an excitingly sporadic series, charting the radical history of Hackney through its community newspapers…

HPP started 1977 as a quarterly A4 newsletter and finished it as a tabloid monthly. This meant that an impressive six issues were published.

You can now view all six editions from this year in full as PDFs on archive.org  (and all the ones from 1976 too)

Each issue included listings for community and political groups which make fascinating reading.

Here are some other highlights from 1977:

HPP23-Feb-77cov

Issue 23‘s cover includes some dizzying references to price increases – Hackney People’s Press itself undergoing a two pence increase to 7p – and unhappiness about the rent on Hackney’s 26,000 Council homes going up by £2.50 a week. Whilst inflation means that these increases were fairly dramatic at the time, what is more interesting is that people felt that price increases should be apologised for – or resisted. These days they are often seen as a natural phenomenon like rain or the sun rising. Indeed the centre pages include a detailed account of several Labour councillors resigning – or being expelled – from Hackney Labour over protesting the rent rises.

Other bits in this issue:

  • An expose of the prospective GLC election candidate for Hackney Liberal Party, his connections with the National Front and views on immigration.HPP congratulates John Pilger on his cover story for the Daily Mirror on the state of Hackneys hospitals – including “fungus on the walls”
  • Hackney Women’s Aid open a new refuge.
  • Chats Palace – a new community centre in Brooksby’s Walk
  • Hackney Law Centre – a critical review of its first year.
  • An emergency supplement about the prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act that would become known as the ABC Trial. Crispin Aubrey, a founder of HPP, was one of the three journalists prosecuted.

Finally, a great cartoon on the back page encouraging people to get involved:

HPP23-Feb77-back

Issue 24 lead with a story on the forthcoming GLC elections and included a handy centre-spread on who not to vote for (National Front). Joan Margaret Morgan, Labour candidate for Hackney South was campaigning on a platform including “A Chelsea – Hackney Tube line” which sounds a bit like the Dalston Overground (opened 2010):

HPP24-May-77cov

Also in this issue:

  • “March Against Beynon’s Bill – Tory MP (and Hackney property owner) William Beynon wanted to restrict the upper limit to abortion to 20 weeks. (It is usually 24 weeks at the moment)
  • Hackney Homeworkers organise
  • More on Crispin Aubrey’s official secrets prosecution
  • Rio Cinema – “a concerted effort is being made to buy the Rio Cinema in Kingsland High Street. The idea is to turn it into a Centre for the arts and entertainment for the people who live in and around Hackney”
  • Hackney Marsh Festival
  • “Winkling” – property developers putting pressure on tenants to vacate
  • A letter from the allegedly racist Liberal Party member exposed in the previous issue
  • Concern about plans for a new lorry park in the borough
  • Friends of the Earth campaign for more allotments
  • Expansion of Haggerston Park – could some of it be given over to Gypsies?
HPP25-May-77-cov

The main story in issue 25 was a report on a demonstration opposing an election meeting held by the National Front in Shoreditch School on 30th April. At the time schools and other council buildings were obliged to allow their use for election rallies. An advert for the meeting in the Hackney Gazette lead to a walkout of journalists. Teachers, parents and other locals picketed the meeting. According to Dave Renton (in Never Again: Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League 1976-1982), there were about 500 protestors. Later that summer the NF would face serious protests when attempting to march through Lewisham.

An irreverent “Page 3” focussing on the cost of the Royal Family

Also in this issue:

  • Squatters under attack by the council free-sheet The Hackney Herald. The council rep interviewed by HPP doesn’t want to comment on how many empty homes there were in Hackney at the time.
  • Tenants on Morningside Estate getting a raw deal in the run up to the widening of Morning Lane.
  • Tenants on Frampton Park win control of their own community centre.
  • Looking back on the Metropolitan Hospital 1836-1977.
  • Hackney Teachers fight compulsory transfers
  • Poems from Hackney Writers Workshop (Centerprise)
  • A look back at “The People Take Back The Land” story from HPP issue 1.
  • Programme for Hackney Marsh Festival.

The September issue (the last of the bi-monthlies) leads with an arson attack on Centerprise – just two days after the National Front tried and failed to march through Lewisham.The article mentions other attacks on community bookshops at the time. Six weeks previously the shop had been vandalised with racist slogans and the locks glued.

Also:

  • “After Lewisham” on the anti-NF protest and its implications.
  • Critical support for the council’s “Health in Hackney” guide, distributed to all households – but reservations about funding cuts and rundown facilities
  • Fire Station on Brooke Road, Stoke Newington to become a community centre
  • An epidemic of apathy at Hackney Hospital Radio
  • Evening classes – Hackney Workers Educational Association
  • “Hackney Gasbag” – 8 page insert produced by Hackney children – squatting, hooliganism, skateboarding, Centerprise, National Union of School Students, Hackney history, live music reviews, puzzles, fashion – all the good things in life, basically.

November marked the first tabloid edition of HPP in a new monthly format – along with an apology for another price rise, up to 10 pence! The cover featured Hackney’s biggest march against racism and the National Front. This would be a long (and of course ongoing) battle – the NF opened up its National HQ in Shoreditch in the following year.

Other stories:

  • Homelessness – proposal for the formation of Hackney Community Housing Action Group to survey empty homes in the borough
  • Lenthal Road print workshop’s funding difficulties.
  • Latin America Centre opens in Hoxton Square.
  • Kingsmead tenants fight for renovations
  • Campaign to restore Wiltons Music Hall in Stepney
  • Longsight News, a community newspaper in Manchester being sued for libel by a policeman
  • Walking down the River Lea

1977 finished up with issue 28.

Lead stories on the Fireman’s strike, the council collaborating with anti-abortion hostel on Kyverdale Road, Stoke Newington, the possibility of a £5m grant for Hackney and Islington from central government – HPP is sceptical of the council’s ability to seize this opportunity.

And:

Cuts to pensioners organisation, Task Force, homelessness, criticism of John Pilger’s coverage of Hackney hospitals (also notes that the infant mortality rate in Hackney was 25% higher than the national average – “a crime against the people of Hackney”). Looking back at the first year of the Food For All on Cazenove Road (still there!) and the opening of a Womens Centre in the same building. Kids review comics.

Previously on this blog:

Hackney People’s Press: interview with Charles Foster

Hackney Peoples Press, 1976 – opposing the NF

Hackney Peoples Press, 1975 + Hackney Mental Patients Union

Hackney Peoples Press issue 10 1974

Hackney Peoples Press – the first three issues, 1973

Hackney Action (1972) – a community newspaper

Hackney Gutter Press 1972

Hackney Peoples Paper: 1971

“Who Killed Colin Roach?” a film by Isaac Julien

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.’”

(Isaac Julien, Riot, MOMA, 2013, pp27-29)

The London Community Video Archive has published a fascinating interview with Julien where he talks about the film as well as his East End childhood (including problems with the National Front in Hoxton – and meeting members of the libertarian socialist group Big Flame):

Further reading:

Portraits from ‘A Hackney Autobiography’ exhibition

portraits from a hackney autobiography invite

Regular readers of this blog will remember my enthusiastic support for the A Hackney Autobiography project which documented the Centerprise radical bookshop, cafe, meeting place, community hub.

Well as you can see from the image above, the project continues with an exhibition of photographs “of people who worked at or frequented Centerprise and archive material related to their work”.

 

November 1990: Hackney leads poll tax non-payment league

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After the riots, Hackney was the number one borough for non-payment of the Poll Tax too.

An article in the Guardian on 1st of November 1990 stated:

The latest survey by the Guardian shows almost half of eligible residents in Hackney have not paid the poll tax.

The east London borough of Hackney has replaced Liverpool as the bastion of non-payment in the Guardian’s latest monthly survey of the community charge in 20 local authorities.

Forty-four per cent of residents liable for the poll tax have so far paid nothing, compared with 42 per cent in Liverpool.

But Hackney has managed to obtain more revenue than Liverpool, which has pulled in only 30 per cent of the money it ought to have received by now, and is heading for severe financial problems.

Hackney has reached 55 per cent of the target.

This is partly because Liverpool, after political and printing delays and an industrial dispute in the poll tax department, has only just started to issue 93,000 final notices to non-payers and has not yet started taking people to court.

Hackney, however, has obtained more than 4,000 liability notices from magistrates, and has already asked bailiffs to take action in 2,000 cases. Some other Labour authorities, by contrast, are using bailiffs as a last resort, or not at all. […]

Poll Tax

A proud legacy!

People burning their bills, Clissold Park

People burning their bills, Clissold Park

film – Somewhere In Hackney (Ron Orders, 1980)

Screenshot 2015-08-13 20.22.56

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

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

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

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

A few screenshots:

caribhouse3

Caribbean House

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens' Aid

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens’ Aid

Centerprise, 1980

Audio: Radical community arts centres in 1970s and 1980s Hackney – what legacy?

Below is a recording of some talks and discussion at Open School East in 2013:

It covers the origins of spaces like Centerprise (Dalston, 1971-2012), Chats Palace (Homerton, since 1973) and Cultural Partnerships (De Beauvoir Town, 1983-1999) and current projects geared at recording or re-presenting their histories.

OSE_SS

Open School East is based in a former library in De Beauvoir and describes itself as:

a unique space that brings together:

  • A free study programme for emerging artists;
  • A multifaceted programme of events and activities open to all.

Open School East was founded in 2013 in response to spiraling tuition fees and student debt. It was instituted as a space for artistic learning and production that is experimental, versatile and highly collaborative.

Central to Open School East’s approach is a commitment to foster cultural, intellectual and social exchanges between artists and the broader public. We do this by opening our study programme outwards, responding to our locality and providing an informal environment for the sharing of knowledge and skills across various communities – artistic, local and otherwise.

The OSE archive also includes recordings on of other past talks on topics including “Architecture of the De Beauvoir Tow Estate: A discussion between Wilson Briscoe and Owen Hatherley”

They have a whole bunch of interesting activites planned, including a talk by anthropologist Nazima Kadir on “The Dutch Squatting Movement and Self-Organised Groups” on Thursday 25 June 6.30-7.30pm.

Well worth keeping an eye on and supporting.