Today in London’s anti-fascist history, 1962: Would-be fuhrer Oswald Mosley gets a kicking, Dalston

The first half of the 1950s was a quiet time for anti-fascists in the UK. The postwar threat of fascist revival, in the form of Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement, had been battered off the streets largely by the Jewish 43 Group, which had physically broken up Mosleyite meetings, attacking and dispersed fascists wherever they found them.

Britain’s prewar fascist leader Mosley had not only failed to make his comeback but had slunk off abroad, humiliated. With little to oppose, the antifascist movement faded away. The most militant of the anti-fascist organisations, the 43 Group, was dissolved in 1950 and the set piece street battles between fascists and anti-fascists soon seemed to belong to a bygone era.
Throughout the 50s, Mosley remained in exile abroad while a small group of die-hard loyalists, led by Raven Thompson, Alf Flockhart and Jeffrey Hamm, kept his Union Movement alive.

But in the mid-1950s the fascists began to rebuild their organisations, gaining support around the 1958 race riots, and by the early 1960s Britain was in the midst of a fascist revival.

From the late Fifties, the far right, while still harping on about Jews, began to target the emerging Black and Asian migrant communities. Local anti-immigration sentiment in areas like Notting Hill led to xenophobic attacks, rioting and racist murders, which the fascists encouraged and attempted to cash in on.

A splintered scene of minuscule fascist groups began to coalesce into more active movements. Fascist activities were most notable in London.

But London also saw the most effective anti-fascist resistance. London was also the place where most of Britain’s Jews lived and the anti-fascist opposition came in its most militant form from a section of the Jewish community who formed the 1962 Committee, (usually known as the 62 Group). During the 1950s there had been very little open fascist activity and correspondingly there had been very little anti-fascist activity, but when the Nazis began reviving, so too did opposition to them.

The 62 Group was largely made up of various left-wingers including people from the Communist Party, Jews and some Black migrants. For around 5 years from the early 1960s, the 62 Group set out to physically confront the fascists whenever they showed their faces. The success of the anti-fascists in disrupting the campaigns of the various fascist groups in the early and mid-60s prevented the Far Right from exploiting the growing racism and forced them to rethink their strategy.

The re-animated nazi corpse attempted to revive their favoured tactic, used before and after WW2, of trying to hold street meetings, often in areas where they had previously attempted to gain an audience or provoke local communities. One of these areas was in Ridley Road Market, Dalston, long at the heart of one of Hackney’s largest Jewish communities.

Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement had been battered in Ridley Road by the 43 Group a number of times in the late 1940s.

Mosley’s reception was not to improve over a decade later…

The Union Movement announced a street meeting in Ridley Road for 31 July 1962: it ended in fighting, after it was attacked by anti-fascists and 54 arrests.

The recently formed 62 Group and other opponents gathered to prevent the fascists from making themselves heard, and the attempted meeting ended with Mosley’s men getting a well-deserved pasting, as reported by the BBC:

“Former fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley has been assaulted at a rally in London’s east end.

He and members of his anti-Semitic Blackshirt group were punched to the ground as soon as his meeting opened at Ridley Road, Dalston.

Police were forced to close the meeting within three minutes and made 54 arrests – including Sir Oswald’s son Max.

A crowd of several thousand had gathered in the area, where Sir Oswald, leader of the Union Movement formerly known as the British Union of Fascists, planned to speak from the back of a lorry.

As soon as he appeared from between two police buses the crowd surged forward and knocked Sir Oswald to the ground.

He tried to fight back from the cobbles, before police helped him to climb on the lorry prepared for his address.

‘Drowned out’

He was met by a hail of missiles including rotten fruit, pennies and stones and people tried to storm the platform.

His speech was drowned out by continuous boos and a chorus of “down with the fascists”.

Scuffles continued as Sir Oswald was shepherded to his car and his vehicle was punched and kicked as it drove off though a gangway cleared by mounted police.

Trouble started long before the meeting began as over 200 police – including 10 on horseback – attempted to clear an area around the lorry-platform.

It took the authorities another hour after Sir Oswald left to clear people from nearby Kingsland High Road.

Those arrested will appear in court tomorrow charged with public order offences.

Amongst the injured were last year’s Mayor of Hackney, Alderman Sherman, and his wife.

They both received medical treatment after being struck with an iron bar.”

Local  paper the Hackney Gazette reported: “Despite a TV appeal by the Mayor for Hackney residents to keep away from Ridley Road, by 7.30 about 1500 people had gathered at the corner of Ridley Road. Immediately he appeared, the crowd pressed in on Sir Oswald. He was pulled to the ground, punched and kicked. Fierce fighting then broke out, combined with shouts of “Down with Mosley, down with Germany.” Mosley disappeared under a group of struggling, punching men and women, only to reappear and start hitting, fighting his way to a loudspeaker lorry. His words were drowned by the shouts of the crowd and the sudden cry of “Sieg Heil”- the victory cry of Hitler. Coins and tomatoes were thrown at the lorry, and Sir Oswald fought his way to a green car, just as the police stopped the meeting. Abuse was hurled at Mosley, but he forced his way into the back seat with a bodyguard on each side. The lorry of his supporters, surrounded by mounted police, made its way into Kingsland High Street. People on board were shouting “Two-Four-Six-Eight, who do we appreciate?” The ensuing cry of “MOSLEY” incensed the crowd, which chased the lorry. Shop windows in the High Street were broken as men and youths, chasing the lorry, clashed with police.” (Hackney Gazette, 3/8/62)

Several times winner of the ‘Worst Fascist Leader Ever’ Award, Mosley also managed to whinge out his own account to the Gazette: “I was approaching a meeting at Ridley Road, Dalston, where I had spoken previously on June 24 to a large audience in conditions of complete order. On this occasion, as I approached the platform, a crowd of men rushed me from my left rear. Several jumped on me and threw me to the ground. There were several of us, it appeared to me, on the ground together.” Sir Oswald went on, “While I wrestled with these assailants on the floor, others kicked me on the head and leg.” After referring to marks which he said he had on the right side of his chin and by his eye – he also had a swollen shinbone – and someone had stepped on his finger – Sir Oswald declared, “I heard others in the group using terms such as ‘Kill him!’ and ‘Put the boot in!’ .” (Hackney Gazette, 3/8/62

That’s the master race, there, whining…

A few weeks later, on September 2nd, Mosley and his acolytes, and other far right groups, tried to hold another rally in Ridley Road and Bethnal Green – with similar results…

Today in London striking history, 2006: Haringey Dustbin Workers Strike begins

Bosses bagged and binned

The Haringey Dustbin Workers Strike, 2006

A contemporary report by Alan Woodward (with a tiny bit of explanatory editing by past tense)

Industrial action by about 50 Haringey refuse workers, based at the Ashley Road depot in Tottenham, began on 31 July 2006. The strikers were out solid for two weeks, ran it themselves through their own strike committee, and won some of the conditions they fought for.

The strike had four distinctive features:

  • It was against the London Borough of Haringey (LBH) contractor Accord and can be seen as part of the general disorder following the privatisation of refuse collection. LBH had apparently “bought off” the dispute a few months previously with a payment to Accord at the delicate time of the council elections. Some later felt that industrial action then would have been a tactical advantage.• It was regulated by the intricate web of legislation by Tory and Labour governments who, following the traditions of the last half century, were seeking to frustrate industrial action by employees and support employers’ rights.
    • The strike called was an indefinite one, unusual in the circumstances and in recent years, and was the end of a long process of delay and distraction.
    • It was against the recommendation of both the Transport and General Workers Union and the site T&GWU shop stewards convenor.

The site

The dispute took place at the large municipal depot, next to Down Lane Recreation Park. This workplace houses several hundred workers, over 100 vehicles (including a mobile library], several maintenance workshops and the bulk of the LBH Refuse department, including street sweepers. Other unions on site are UNISON for clerical and supervisory workers and AMICUS for craft employees. They were not affected but one UNISON member who was a street sweeper refused to cross the picket line and thus became involved.

The workers involved – all men – were those normally dealing with domestic waste wheelie bins, and paralleled that covering the separate trade waste section for which Accord had around 80 profitable contracts over NE London. The household waste workers had functioned under the previous ‘in-house’ arrangements as Council employees, and had suffered in recent years a series of cuts in staffing levels, negotiated as a result of technological improvement like the introduction of wheelie bins instead of just black plastic bags. The dispute – a reaction to the proposal to take two out of twelve vehicles off the collections – originated from LBH insisting on a small print contract clause requiring productivity “efficiency savings” every year.

Despite this, LBH publicly washed its hands of the conflict saying Accord was responsible. This devious tactic was accompanied by a complete silence for ten days, before a minimum programme of public notification was begun.

Accord plc itself, parent company of Haringey Accord, is recorded as having made £53m profit in 2005. Internal managers were reported as complaining that little if any of these came from the LBH contract, so they are likely to have been complicit in the efficiency saving plan. This of course would result in more work for vehicle crews that was dangerous, unpleasant and at unsocial hours. Following the offer or ‘bribe’ of a one-off payment to accept the cuts the T&GWU, on its website, did not use the “more work for a one-off payment” argument and stressed instead that this was a heath and safety issue. Work arrangements have traditionally been job-and-finish, of course.

Solid picketing

The strikers picketed the front entrance from day one, from 6am for a few hours, in numbers well in excess of the TUC’s Code of Practice recommendation of six. The police acted to form – at the start of the dispute chatting to workers, and saving their institutionalised violence for any later crisis. Only on the third Monday when mass meetings were held and supporters turned up in some strength, did they give the lecture about “only six workers on the picket, everyone else move away or you’ll be arrested”. In the end matters were settled peacefully with two meetings in the park and the strikers going past the gates for an instant workplace ballot. Some returned to work that day but most went home, after talking about the experience for a while.

The events of the last weekend were the result of the crisis of the previous five days. Accord’s ultimatum – accept the bribe and return to work – expired as the binmen said all along their aim was to keep vehicle crews together, regardless of incentives. Previously, media statements by local manager Doug Taylor had forced the stewards to issue a brief document correcting the management version. This pointed out that Accord had refused to do a full study of the extra work involved and that new housing developments were constantly expanding the work to be done. The shop stewards pointed out that a six week pilot session was not completed and resulted in over-time being needed – very much against company policy and an unexpected consequence.

Of course this voice of reason was ignored in the manner of media preference for His Masters Voice. Even so television local news began to carry the story, including residents complaints of smell, heath hazards etc. It is unclear if alternative media agencies, like Indymedia, made reports.

Relations with other workers going into the workplace remained cordial. Street sweepers lodged their own grievance about a similar cut imposed on them and separate lengthy strike ballot proceedings were started. Much of the ancillary work was in fact already being done by increasing numbers of agency staff. These were still awaiting the promised full time work status. Agencies began to appear in the picture as a way of the Council clearing the backlog and hence undermining the strike.

Staff cuts and agency workers

The truth about cuts illustrates the reality. Staffing levels of 73 had been reduced to 48 over the previous 5 years, while Accord managers in administration grew from 4 to 14. Even allowing for additional street cleaning management this is a big increase. Vehicle crews dropped from 6 persons on each to 3. So workers had clearly co-operated with extra productivity

The other site entrance at the depot, through the re-cycling centre, was left alone. Other London workers under Accord contracts, like Islington, were apparently contacted, but little could be done legally to support Haringey.

Over the last few days, when threats were made by the management and LBH over replacement labour, dustbin workers visited employment offices to remind them of the legal position – no agency workers to be allowed as strike breakers, under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations of 2003. PCS union stewards in the Jobcentre were not always “available” though whether this was due to management pressure is unknown. Rumours about exactly who was doing the recruiting abounded but what is clear is the government agencies were sending out text messages all over London to get staff. Several people, travelling long distances, showed pickets their mobile phone text messages on the Saturday or Sunday to prove this. Regarding the use of technology in this dispute, at least one striker used the internet to discover details of the victorious Brighton dustbin strike a few years ago, on the libertarian communist website, “libcom.org/history”. He downloaded the information for the picketers.

In the event, this agency recruitment tactic failed. Many unemployed people, kept ignorant of the strike by agencies like Prime Time of 752 High Road, N 17, and others who were given some information by Hayes Agency, were quickly engaged in discussion and turned back by pickets on Saturday 12 August. A blue T&GWU ‘appeal for solidarity’ leaflet was persuasive for this purpose. In practice wheelie bin workers were very difficult to replace. Not only do some require HGV licences but also special training is required for the special RIAS trucks that were used.

A brief digression here. Many pickets remembered two previous strikes from the past. In 1979, in the fabled winter of discontent dispute, the Army camped in the park by the depot and went out to collect the hundreds of smelly black bags to general amusement. In those pre-Thatcher days workers were confident of their strength. In 1987 the popular and militant shop steward Brian Berry was sacked, having previously been active in opposing Labour MP Bernie Grant over the Broadwater Farm disorder. Allegations of racism were made but some saw it as straight forward revenge, as his nominal offence was minor and usually ignored. Socialists attacked LBH for victimisation, which is how workers saw it. Berry went but stayed active in the union.

A settlement?

Back to the strike. As scab labour was being sought, T&GWU full time official
Paul Fawcett was quoted on the BBC website as saying a settlement was close and would be recommended to the men on Monday, 14 August. On the Saturday a few strike breakers slipped into the depot through the other entrance and a picket was then put on there too.

During that day the “trainees” were put through a basic health and safety programme, described by one man as “a complete waste of time”. No HGV holders had been recruited and only a small number of people with ordinary licences came. These, it was presumably envisaged, would drive ordinary small trucks while the luckless unskilled would tackle the growing mountain of black bags. Even if this plan had worked the focus would switch to the local incinerator at Edmonton. The round-the-clock workers there had traditionally been seen as militant, but did not respond to Greenpeace taking direct action over cancer causing emissions – so the situation remained open. Few bag loaders would last long, the picketers predicted, but even this watered-down tactic was not to be tried.

Public support grows

Meanwhile supporters had not been idle. Supporters came every day
to the picket line, only a few at first but then more. Money was collected as at the support meeting called by Haringey Trades Union Council on Wednesday 9 August. Here a dustbin worker explained the case and spoke of management’s misleading statements. A street collection sheet was printed and hundreds of small stickers. It was decided to lay responsibility back on the Council. Everybody would bring black bags of rubbish to the Civic Centre at 6pm on the Friday. This was done with some secrecy in the expectation that the publicity would produce a bigger action.

20 people turned up to oppose the cuts to services and to support the strikers. This gained much publicity and it was envisioned that such protests would be organised regularly. This helped to garner public support, and inhibit any Council and media slide into attacking the strikers.

The Secretary of the Haringey Federation of Residents Associations attended the depot picket and circulated round local groups a true account of the situation. The publicity demanded more services for residents, not less as the Council obviously planned for. The union steward spoke to one local residents association on the Thursday, and that group as well as another association agreed after much debate to back the strike. HFRA publicised the Monday picket without endorsement – but were due to debate the matter at their general meeting the following day. Socialist newspapers carried the story from the start and supported the mass picket, as their sellers pointed out. Local libertarians associated with Haringey Solidarity Group were by this time attending and publicising the picketing.

A tremendous struggle and a partial victory

Monday, day 15, saw the resolution of the strike. While pickets and supporters discouraged several potential strike breakers from going into the depot, a small number of crept through. They were kitted out generously in protective clothing
but were obviously still ill-equipped. Police got out of their three cars and pointed out the law which had been ignored by all up to now. The union Full Time Officer came and called a mass meeting, and supporters took over the picket line. He reported that the plan to cut two teams had been dropped and that there would be negotiations over one vehicle being cut from the trade waste crews. Opinion was heated and divided – “one more week and we’d have won everything!”. The official was sent back to finalise the deal, payments for clearing up the backlog etc.

A second mass meeting was held and after discussion, but no vote, the workers went inside for an instant workplace ballot. This came out 26 to 18 for a return to work. A payment of £600 would be paid when the clearing up was complete, compensation for two weeks lost earnings.

Some of the supporters muttered about a defeat but most workers saw it differently. “We never wanted their money – all we wanted was to keep the domestic crews together, and we got that said a departing picket. A few ex-strikers got straight in the trucks and pulled out. The fate of the lone supporting street sweeper was similar and a collection was held for him, a hero indeed.

Soon the would-be refuse workers came out too and left in their new gear. The rest of us gathered our belongings, and posters, and went as well. Money still came in and £100 from the Haringey Trades Union Council Appeal letter was handed over to the T&GWU steward.

Strikers had used mobile phones, the internet, and were prepared to use cars to follow any strike-breakers. This had been an extraordinary 100% solid strike, perhaps to a script written by LBH, but more likely a classic balls-up for which they are famous. The strike restored some confidence, united supporters to an unprecedented extent, and showed that, despite difficulties by Blair and Thatcher, you can sometimes win on some of the issues,

Author of the above, Alan Woodward was a longtime socialist, Haringey resident, a member of Haringey Solidarity Group, treasurer of Haringey Trades Union Council and convenor of the Radical History Network of N. E. London.
Alan died in 2012… here’s a brief obituary

 

Today in London festive history, 1995: Reclaim the Streets party takes over Angel, Islington

After its first big shindig in Camden High Street had hit the news with a bang in May 1995,
the second London Reclaim the Streets party was held on Sunday, July 23, at the Angel intersection in Islington, North London.

It was much bigger than Camden, with over 2,000-3000 demonstrators participating. Crowds met a mile or so away near Kings Cross, and were then led to the party location, while other activists blocked the road with tripods constructed from scaffolding, placed in the middle of the road: tripods that could be dismantled only if the person who is at the top of them comes down. Two tons of sand were piled in the road to make a children’s play area, (reversing the famous slogan of May 1968, ‘underneath the paving stones, the beach’. On this occasion, the beach spreads out on top of the asphalt)… banners went up to stop more traffic, stalls were erected and a huge tank rolled in with a sound system pumping. The party had begun before the police arrived. The Highbury Islington street party coincided with a week of hot weather and a smog alert. In only two month since Camden, the number of people who took part in the first RTS event increased tenfold.

The following account of the Angel street party was published soon after, written, we think, by the late post-situ writer/provocateur Michel Prigent – published, at least, by his BM Chronos imprint, as an issue of an occasional bulletin on urban space, roads and traffic, The Sprint. We have re-published the account in its entirety, cause we like it…

LIBERATING THE ANGEL

A nostalgic whiff of the future

By 1.30 in the afternoon ‘Street Party #2’ was in full swing.
Already the air smelt better and you could breathe comfortably. Less choking and irritating dirt and dust was blowing around.
Children could walk and run around safely without their parents having to scream warnings or worry about drivers who have long grown insensitive to the vulnerability of pedestrians. The elderly were no longer harassed to cross the road as quickly as possible.
The sound of conversation, dance music, people enjoying themselves and even birdsong displaced the mighty roar of London’s traffic. It was no longer necessary to shout in order to be heard. Gone were the sickening, dull vibrations of passing vehicles. The buildings of Islington became visible once again and urban vistas of more than one kind opened up.
This was the transformation which took place within minutes of us closing Islington High Street and Upper Street to traffic.

The liberation of Islington High Street had never happened before, not even in 1945 when people were officially informed they were free from another kind of tyranny, and took to the streets in London and elsewhere to celebrate the fact. The events of Street Party #2 were an animated critique of modern Britain’s domination by the spectacular commodity economy which seemed to have lain dormant for too long. The reward for being so bold was greater than any great day out.

The greatest One O’Clock Club in the land comes to town

The party started with an assembly of hundreds of people in a disused building behind Kings Cross railway station. All-night dancers, anti-motorway action groups, civil rights groups, cyclists, environmentalists, mothers concerned about pollution-induced asthma in children, punks, ramblers, ravers, squatters, those with disabilities concerned about poor access, travellers, senior citizens’ groups, walkers and many many more extraordinary ordinary people were there.

Being an open affair it was perhaps inevitable that a few individuals turned up for nefarious reasons. One was a member of the security forces dressed in ‘civvies’, unconvincingly clutching a book entitled “British Theatre”.
From the outset many were unaware which streets were going to be barricaded against motor traffic and some police mistakenly prepared themselves to go to Piccadilly Circus. Instead, we went down to the Underground at Kings Cross and assembled on the Southbound platform of the Northern Line where in 1989 people were burnt to death, partly because of the UK Government’s intransigence
in the face of crumbling public transport and unsolved traffic problems on the surface.
Unfortunately this was too much to expect of the Northern Line, but for a change the delays were not caused not caused by the ‘clapped out’ technology of the Misery Line but by members of the Metropolitan Police deliberately obstructing the train doors [An offence under the byelaws of London Underground Ltd.] After 15 minutes we finally moved off.
When the first overheated tube train chugged into the Angel Station, packed with sweaty bodies, it was “Everybody Out!”. We surged onto the new wide platform, and up Europe’s longest escalators to the booking hall on the surface.

The staff at the Angel station set two of the three escalators to travel up and suspended the down escalator so that it could be used by passengers walking up or down. This helped to speed our journey to the surface where we surged onto the road and blocked the junctions of Pentonville Road and Liverpool Road with Islington High Street and Upper Street.
The 2000 to 4000 [2] who actually made it to the Angel did so because they were angered and appalled by the massive deterioration of life in our urban and rural environments due to the corporate and Government-stimulated growth of “…the great car economy…”, plus the new legislation drafted to eradicate legitimate protests, particularly the Criminal Justice Act.

Demo at my Angel

A tank painted pink and covered in anti-car banners drove up and parked in front of the station, blocking the traffic. Banners were strung between lamp posts, a mobile disco and radio station took up its position, a sandy beach was constructed and bands assembled.
Scaffolding tripods occupied by ‘warriors’ soon went up at junctions. Roads were roped off.
“Trapped’ drivers were given snacks and then waved on out of the area.
The five-hour reclamation of Islington High Street had begun and a repressed ‘will to live’ was gratified and flourished. The tarmac became a bandstand, circus, dance floor, forum, kitchen, playground and rest area.

In the hot sunshine and cool breeze a new world took shape. People were relaxing in hammocks and on three-piece suites tastefully and informally arranged on carpets spread over the tarmac. They were cooking gourmet food, making sand castles, dancing in the road, juggling across the street and stilt-walking.
Gifts were exchanged.
An impromptu band consisting of 17 percussionists swelled in time to include saxophonists and guitarists.
At the junction of Liverpool Road and Islington High Street the mobile disco and radio station played to dancers as they reclaimed ‘the black stuff’ as a space for life. The disco unit itself was reclamation in action too, consisting of a matt black, converted ex-military armoured car with speakers mounted on the front.
And it worked! Some of the music was a bit mindless but overall it was varied and danceable – appropriate for anything from a heavy metal, head-banging rave to a sedate tea dance organised to commemorate 50 years since ‘the end of hostilities’ in 1945.
One burst of creativity which attracted a lot of attention from by-standers and onlookers was the construction of Islington Beach which evoked graffito created by the Movement of Occupations in France, 1968: “Sous les pavés, la plage”.
Sand was dumped along the northbound carriageway of Islington High Street just at the point where the bus stops add an extra lane’s width to the road. With great charm toddlers and babies, their carers and parents soon got stuck in with buckets and spades. Water was supplied by hose pipe from nearby buildings. There was no wind-surfing at the beach that day but a lot of mind-surfing.

Some party-goers painted in the road markings for a cycle lane along the High Street which were promised by the ‘progressive’ local authority several years before. In the meantime the same authority allowed many hundreds of thousands of pounds of public funds to be spent on up-grading a few hundred metres of motorway junk on the Archway Road, just north of the Angel, and at the very point where the pedestrian subways were left to rot to such an extent that most pedestrians chose not to use them at all.
One cycling party-goer displayed his prototype for a solar-powered machine designed to carry goods which can revert to pedal power when necessary. In fact the weather was great for harnessing solar energy but use of wind energy was confined to kite-flying in the middle of the road and propagandist leftists on the sidelines.
The groups of homeless people who usually hang around the Angel station all day long joined in. It was probably the only party they had been to all year, and one of the few times when they were not made unwelcome or verbally abused.
Generally the reactions to Street Party #2 were very appreciative.

In “The Islington Gazette” it was reported that “Most local workers supported the demonstrators’ aim to free city roads from traffic.” A barmaid at a local pub who joined in the action was reported as saying: “It was really peaceful and everyone was having a good time.”
A local cafe worker remarked to the author: “Yeah, it was very good. Everybody liked it.” A bus driver trapped right in the middle of the celebrations with his empty bus said: “Isn’t this fucking great? It’s really great. I can’t wait to tell the others. I’m alright, I’ve got my sandwiches, I can sit here all day.” According to “The Independent” “…one bus driver, trapped in a queue of about 20 empty buses, said he was in favour of the demonstration…” “It’s anti-car not anti-bus, so I can’t complain.
And they’ve been giving out free drinks, too.” [3]

On the organisational side of things the marshalls made good use of portable phones. There were some good slogans on banners, placards and lollipops: “Smog Off”, “Let London Breathe”, “Support the Railworkers”. First Aid facilities were not needed. Hardly any debris or rubbish was left behind afterwards because party-goers cleared it up.
The Leftists were there. It speaks volumes that the Socialist Workers Party commandeered liberated road space with stony-faced young party members selling a political newspaper rather than joining in. It seemed like they had missed the whole point. By setting up their bookstall in the road, CND’s contribution seemed only slightly better.

After Eight thuggies

For the street party-goers who stayed till late things ended badly,
or as the “Islington Gazette” correctly put it, “…summer fun turned to horror”.

It is fair to say that ‘soft’ policing started right from the beginning, with a presence of about 80 police standing on the other side of the barricades. It ‘hardened’ up around 16.30 hrs to 17.00 hrs with new shifts. Then the Territorial Support Group (TSG or riot police) moved in between 20.00 hrs and 20.15 hrs when only about 150 party-goers were left.
All this time there were about 15 legal observers from the Legal Defence & Monitoring Group (LDMG) present who wore orange day-glo bibs for easy identification. They were stayed throughout the Party and helped out over-night with those arrested, and on into the Monday. They also issued small leaflets to people involved in the action entitled: “Legal Information for this demonstration”. As a
result of their commitment they need funds and support.
Later on Sunday evening an observer from Liberty (NCCL) told a Jazz FM Radio interviewer that the attacks by the riot police were unnecessary and excessive. He witnessed the beatings and described them as: “trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.”
The police certainly used authoritarian and brutal tactics to finish of a fun day out and an environmental action designed to protest against the damage created by motor traffic. The tactics contrasted starkly with the humour and intentions of people at the Street Party.

The LDMG wrote an eye-witness account [4] of events as they unfolded after 20.00 hrs. It is included here.

“At 8pm a number of uniformed police officers backed up by up to ten riot vans started moving the demonstrators down Upper Street towards the Angel tube station. At this stage the demonstrators numbers had reduced to about 150. The officers were spread across the road. Demonstrators were moving down towards the tube station. The mood of the demonstrators (and the police) was still friendly.
At approximately 8.15pm, for reasons only known to the police, a number of officers from the Territorial Support Group (TSG or riot police) in full riot gear started assisting the uniformed police.
They were supported by at least 10 other vehicles, police in helicopters and video crews positioned on buildings. The mood of the demonstrators was still peaceful. At least 18 police vans full of TSG had been spotted some 50 minutes earlier in a back street near Upper Street. It must be asked why so many officers in full riot gear were on standby so early when the mood of the day had been so peaceful.
The deployment of the police in riot gear made the atmosphere a great deal more aggressive. A small bottle (ONLY ONE) was lobbed towards these riot police. It was NOT aimed at the uniformed police who were some way in front of the riot police at this stage. Within seconds of this happening the TSG drew batons, pushed past the uniformed officers and started assaulting demonstrators with shields & batons. Over approximately the next 90 minutes the TSG violently pushed and beat demonstrators towards, and past, Angel tube station and down Pentonville Rd. At this stage there were some 200 officers in full riot gear backed up by at least 100 further officers in uniform. There were under 100 demonstrators. The riot police pushed demonstrators down Pentonville Rd. They were asked on numerous occasions by Legal Observers from the Legal Defence & Monitoring Group (LDMG) where they were directing people to and to “calm down”. Needless to say their answers were less than helpful. Eventually (at approximately 9pm) demonstrators, whose numbers were less than 50, were moved into Northdown Street where all exits were blocked by police and riot vans. Many people trying to leave this area were searched. The reason the police gave, when pressed, was that there had been a public order incident, missiles had been thrown and offensive weapons had been seen – so they were checking if people had missiles or offensive weapons.
From the moment the riot police took over from the uniformed police indiscriminately and very heavy handedly arresting protestors. In total they arrested 17 people. At least one demonstrator needed hospital attention (head split open by a police truncheon) and two more were knocked unconscious by the police.

Every time a legal observer tried to get details of an arrested person we were threatened with arrest, were physically moved from the scene of the arrest or were assaulted.

Although the actions of the riot police were totally out of control throughout the whole episode we feel a number of incidents deserve special attention:
• One particular officer, in full riot gear, was seen on at least three occasions using his clenched fist to punch demonstrators in the head and face – one of whom was knocked unconscious;
• An articulated lorry was moving through the crowd and the police were violently pushing people past it causing a number of them to lose balance. It was only luck that somebody did not fall under the wheels of this vehicle, Police were asked to stop pushing for a while by legal observers who were told to move or be
nícked”;
• When one demonstrator was knocked unconscious legal observers and other protesters tried to see if he was alright, but were viciously pushed and beaten by the police. Although being told by a person with some medical knowledge that this person should not be moved the police continually tried to move him.

As soon as arrests were made the LDMG tried, with difficulty, to get solicitors to all of those arrested, and to find out information about them. We staffed our office throughout the night and next day receiving numerous calls asking the whereabouts of missing protestors. By 5am we had details of all 17 people arrested.

Charing Cross police station would only release 1 (who accepted a caution) of the 10 arrestees. The rest were held over night and appeared in Bow Street Magistrates Court the following day, which we monitored. Two of those held were refused bail and are presently on remand, at Brixton Prison until 31st July. We feel, the decision to hold them overnight at a police station and in prison was Vindictive and excessive. Three of those arrested were for possession of drugs and all three pleaded guilty.
We have set up a defence campaign for the 13 still facing charges.
Another indication of the state’s attempt to brutalise and criminalise us is the severity of the charges. Most are being Charged with section 2, 3 or 4 of the Public Order Act 1986. Our aim is now to:

X get the two out of prison;
X prove all 13 innocent;
X look into actions against the officer who punched demonstrators;
X and to assist people to sue the police for assault and false
arrest.”

EPILOGUE:

The two demonstrators who were in court on July 31st, after a week in prison, pleaded guilty to lesser charges than the original ‘affray’ charges, and received £100 fines. LDMG provided them with money while they were in prison, but when LDMG solicitors attempted to see them, the police refused allow this unless they specifically asked for them. Presumably unaware of the LDMG solicitors, they both used ‘duty solicitors’. LDMG advises anyone arrested on a demonstration to ask to see their solicitors, who have a record of seeing justice done.”

Lessons

Perhaps the main lesson for all those party-goers who earlier on in the day said that the Police seemed well-disposed to the party is that the sympathies of our polite, yet highly suspicious, police on ‘the beat’, or on ‘point duty’, can hardly be distinguished from those of the uniformed brute in riot gear who wields the latest in baton technology. How can things be otherwise when hard and soft police work hand-in-glove to defend the commodity?
Secondly, the flyers and most of the placards and banners could have done more to link up the separate issues represented by all the different groups who attended the celebrations. We will be ‘picked off’ one-by-one in future if we do not. Closest to the target were: “Pollution is the halitosis of the State” and “Support the Railworkers”, although even these were a bit traditional.
Unfortunately no leaflets giving a sound analytical critique of the whole mess with our countryside, the economy, public health, our towns and transport infrastructure were circulated.

It is a fine thing to proclaim a street “Car Free” or a High Street “Pollution Free”, but there is an urgent need to reclaim life as a whole from the clutches of an ideology which is anti-life. A radical social change is needed which abolishes the spectacular
commodity economy as a whole. The fallout from one spectacular commodity cannot be dealt with effectively on its own; in isolation
Although an anti-car stance is understandable it does not confront a salient fact of the modern capitalist system: its inability to foster the appropriate and wise use of any technology for the benefit of people.
Perhaps the biggest lesson for party-goers is that defenders of this modern phase of capitalism no longer pretend otherwise about their intention to force us all to accept the domination of the spectacular commodity system, regardless of its catalogue of
damage: social alienation, industrial accidents, the thinning of the ozone layer, the production of


‘Greenhouse gases, the lead poisoning which still continues, the incidence of asthma which is increasing, massive cleaning bills, road accidents, soil erosion, profligate use of oil and resources, the destruction of urban and rural communities and environments, atomisation, photochemical smog and noise, vibration damage to buildings and human activity. The modern capitalist system seems hell bent on messing up the planet and taking us with it.

Conclusion

Street Party #2 embraced all kinds of people, including the marginalised and most proletarianised. This is something that the dominant culture of modern Britain is incapable of.
The action was straightforward and even verged on the simplistic. But judging from the different people who took part it could never be called a single issue-based action.
Those who came along had a biting critique, enormous energy, guts, imagination and spontaneity. This is just what it takes to make the transition to an economic and social system which serves important humans needs and does not jeopardise public health, social life, the culture of human settlements, and our natural environment.

References

“the Guardian”, 24 July 1995 p 5 by Alex Macnaughton.
“the Independent”, 24 July 1995 p 2 by Tony Buckingham.
* the Times”, 24 July 1995, p 2.
“A-8 London Street Atlas”
“Green Line Magazine”, No 127, September 1995 pp 13 – 15.
“Islington Gazette and Stoke Newington Observer”, 27 July 1995, p 23
Completed January 1996
Editor: c/o BM Chronos, London WCIN 6XX

Endnotes

2. “The Times” 24th July 1995 p. 2 printed an article entitled “Anti-car protest ends in riot” which included five lines on the peaceful party in Islington High Street and twenty lines on the riot. This article gave an estimate of 2000 people. The LDMG gave the same figure. The author and a friend estimated 4000, perhaps more.

3. “Independent” 24 July 1995, pp 1-2. The article, “Riot police mop up anti-car protesters”, put emphasis on the riot too,

4. “Green Line Magazine”, September 1995, pp 13-15. This is a bi-weekly environmental publication. In the interests of accuracy the article is included just as it appeared in issue No 127, complete with ‘typos’.

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A few days after the Angel party, RTS saw a prime opportunity for another action, visiting Greenwich, SE London, where parents and children with asthma were going to the High Court to force the Greenwich Council to close its main through road at times of high pollution. (At this time if I recall right, central Greenwich was calculated to be suffering the worst traffic pollution in London, possibly the UK). On Friday, August 4, RTS closed Greenwich down, blocking the major arterial in morning peak-hour traffic for two hours with scaffolding tripods. Pedestrians joined in and the local coffee shop delivered free coffee, tea and biscuits to the demonstrators. Even many of the drivers held up in the traffic jam that day came out in favour of the action.

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Postscript:

What follows is the text of a Leaflet written for distribution at a 1996 Reclaim the Streets occupation of the M41 motorway, looking at the limitations of such occupations in the broader context of the capitalist restructuring occurring at the time.

Returning to Upper Street a week or two after July ’95 “Reclaim the Streets” was unsettling and strange. Heavy traffic now roared through the area where a children’s sandpit previously was and where a settee and carpet had been too.

Reclaim the Streets is a hundred times better than the average boring demo, trudging along between rows of cops to a “rally” where we’re talked at by no-hope politicians and union bureaucrats. By seizing territory and using it for our own purposes, our own party, it’s already a victory (whereas every union/Leftist campaign is already a defeat).

Still, Reclaim the Streets has its limitations, most obviously in time and space. The actions are usually strictly timed; the minority who held on after the official end last time were abandoned to our fate; a police riot. And it was bizarre the way in Islington last year diners carried on their meals outside Upper Street restaurants only a hundred metres from the blocked off street and police lines.

The use of space in the street party was highly imaginitive. The kids sandpit and grown-up’s settee in the middle of the road were a good bit of fun, demonstrating the opposition between rising traffic and human relaxation and play. The action was also one in the eye for the ‘radical’ left-wing Labour council of Islington, who try to make themselves real representatives of the local ‘citizens’. Still their attempts to do this don’t always go to plan.

At the anti-Poll tax demo at Islington town hall in early 1990 the council showed their direct democratic principles and closeness to their electors by miking up the council chamber and relaying the sound to a PA outside so anti-Poll tax demonstrators could hear the process of democracy. This backfired quite a bit though as what we could hear was the Mayor saying things like “Can the demonstrators in the public gallery stop throwing missiles into the council chamber”! Fuck their democracy and their pseudo-radicalism! We weren’t letting them screw the Poll tax on us! We were penned into a small area just outside the town hall, surrounded by cops. The first violence I saw was when a few youngsters (10 to 12 years) started throwing bottles at the cops. When the cops dived in to arrest them we couldn’t do much to save them, just throw a journalist in the cops way to try and slow them down. The main trouble started when the demo was breaking up. I didn’t see exactly what happened, but a mini-riot started and we were chased all the way from the town hall down to the Angel: to the exact spot where Reclaim the Streets was last year and where the cops started chasing us from, when that finished!

There is more to the conflict between state and protesters over roads than just a growing environmental consciousness. The expansion of the road network has been a key element in capitalist political strategy for over two decades.

The defeat of fascism, and victory for totalitarian democracy in the West, and Stalinism in the East, marked a new phase in capitalism. Both east and west did their best to integrate the proletariat (people without social power or social wealth) through high employment and a high social wage (unemployment benefit, free healthcare and education etc.). This strategy was always a bit creaky in the east with its weak capital, but in the west combined with consumerism it helped bring relative social peace through to the late 60s.

But even in the rich west, not every section of the proletariat could be bought off, even temporarily. The first break with the post-war deal came from sectors normally ignored by, and incomprehensible to, the workerist left. First of all came the struggles by blacks, including many of the poorest and oppressed amongst all proletarians. Then developed a new wave of women’s struggles. Certainly both of these had their contradictions; they took time to find their feet and also the racial or gender basis, rather than specifically proletarian, made them especially wide open to co-optation. But even so these were important struggles, the first thrashings of a waking giant. As the sixties progressed, struggles spread amongst students in many countries. After several days of rioting around the Sorbonne in Paris in ’68, these “marginal” struggles kicked off a weeks-long general strike and occupation movement with strong revolutionary overtones. This strike sent reverberations around the world, with related struggles echoing in Mexico, Italy, Poland, Britain, Portugal, Spain and many other places over the next few years.

These struggles shook capital to its foundation but never became an authentically internationalist revolutionary movement. Capitalism’s knee-jerk response was to move investment from areas of successful proletarian struggle to more placid zones (or more fascistic ones). This original “flight of capital” was quickly developed into a coherent strategy. Industries or industrial areas with strong traditions of struggle were deliberately run down. Mass unemployment was used to slash wages, including the social wage. This was blamed on “the recession” as if this was some natural disaster. Capitalist production was dispersed and internationalised so as to make any revival of proletarian class power more difficult.

This dispersal of production naturally leads to greater need for communication, transport and co-ordination between the different elements of production. This strategic attack has had a major effect on the composition of the proletariat. In the UK for example, since 1981 job cuts in mining and utilities have amounted to 442,000; in mineral and metal products 435,000; in transport 352,000; in construction 307,000. All cuts in traditional areas of class power. The biggest growth areas have been information technology with 916,000 more jobs; as well as social work with 450,000; hotel and restaurants 334,000; and education 247,000. The biggest cuts have been in traditional industry, the biggest growth in IT, connecting together the new dispersed production system. This reorganisation has been carried out with the deliberate aim of atomising our struggles. So instead of using efficient rail transport, the new model has relied instead on road transport with massive state investment in road programs. The use of road transport against class struggle became crystal clear at the News International dispute in Wapping in 1986. The typographers’ jobs were replaced by computer technology and the rest of the printers sacked and replaced by scabs. Up till then, the Sun and Times had been distributed using British Rail. But Rupert Murdoch knew he couldn’t rely on BR’s workers to distribute scab papers. Part of his winning strategy was to use his own fleet of lorries instead of rail transport. Part of our struggle against Murdoch was the blocking of roads around Wapping to try and prevent the papers getting out.

Road building is a conscious strategy of capital against proletarian struggle. Reclaim the Streets sits in a long line of struggles including Wapping, The Poll tax, even May ’68.

Capital’s strategy has undeniably been fairly effective. Workers struggles in Britain reached an historical low a couple of years back. Most workers’ struggles remain trade union style disputes in the ever diminishing state sector. The newer sectors of the workforce have yet to make any major collective struggle. For the workerist left, this is a truly depressing time. But the increasingly politicised struggles outside the workplace; the interlinked struggles of the anti-roads, anti-Job Seeker’s Allowance, anti-Criminal Justice Act etc., are much more than so called single issue campaigns. These struggles are consciously linked and determinedly expansive. Their effectiveness is certainly limited, compared to the potential of a wave of wildcat strikes or riots, but who can say that these struggles won’t play the same role as the struggles of the blacks’, women’s and students’ movements in the 60s; first skirmishes of a new revolutionary movement.

This is a version of a leaflet that was written in Summer 1996, for the ‘Reclaim the Streets’ party on/occupation of, the M41 motorway in West London, UK. For various reasons, it the leaflet was not produced at that time. This slightly revised version is made available here as the comments on restructuring and recomposition have a continuing relevance. Taken from the Antagonism website.

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The story continues: some later RTS street parties:

M41 motorway party, 1996 

Brixton, 1998

J18, 1999

Today in London’s radical history, 1549: An Enclosure Riot at Enfield

As previously recounted, residents of Enfield had a long tradition of defending common fields against enclosure by landowners, their agents or developers on the make… resistance to enclosure on Enfield Chase occurred and re-occurred for several hundred years.

During what some have called the ‘commotion time’ in the summer of 1549, when anger at enclosure and the increasing despoiling of and denial of access to the commons led to rioting and armed revolt from the southwest to Norfolk, Enfield was not spared from trouble. Being close to London, the beady eyes of agricultural improvers and land-grabbers was often cast on the large open spaces of Enfield Chase and its environs, and the general climate of rage sweeping the country against the greedy spread here.

On 13 July 1549, more than twenty armed men rioted in Enfield, destroying the fences, ditches and grass of lands belonging to Sir Thomas Wroth. These inhabitants of Enfield threw down hedges and filled in ditches surrounding a twelve acre piece of land called the ‘Rabbettes mores’ and a seven acre pasture known as ‘welgate lease’, leaving the lands ‘to lye open as a waste & comen grounde’.

This matter was considered serious enough to warrant the attention of the Privy Council (already up to their ears in aggro, what with Kett’s Rebellion against enclosures in Norfolk, and everything else that was kicking off) in late August 1549, and for four of the ringleaders of the Enfield riot were committed to prison. An entry in the Acts of the Privy Council for 27 August reveals that the Council heard a complaint of riot made by Sir Thomas Wroth against the Enfield tenants, and it upheld that an earlier decree made by Sir William Paget (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1547-52) ordering the four ringleaders to be imprisoned and six lesser rioters to be bound over to keep the peace. Two of the 1549 rioters’ are named: Edward Boynyerde and Robert Whyte.

It seems that this direct action was a last resort on the part of the participants, after an initial legal settlement of the dispute around the enclosure, apparently favourable to them, had failed to work or had been broken.

Robert Wood, gentleman, and other tenants of Durants manor, Enfield, had lodged a complaint against Sir Thomas Wroth in the Court of the Duchy of Lancaster in autumn 1547, concerning a long-standing controversy over rights of common pasture on certain of the manor’s lands. On 6 May 1546, the manor court had agreed that Wroth could enclose the twenty-four acres of the demesne of Durants manor between ‘horshowe garden’ and ‘welgate lease’, on the north side of his house, but was ordered to leave to the tenants, on the south side, a right of way and a pasture called ‘welgate lease’. He was further permitted to enclose two crofts called ‘hoggescroftes’, three crofts called ‘Rabbettes mores’ and a field called ‘Crouchefelde’. In return for their surrender of common right on these enclosed lands, Wroth was ordered to pay 6d. per acre to the inhabitants of the town. Additionally, he was to allow them to enjoy common with all beasts on other lands he owned, where they had traditionally done so. The Enfield tenants took the agreement to the Duchy of Lancaster to be ratified (in order to force Sir Thomas Wroth to accept it as legally binding), since the manorial court proceedings were ‘bare matters in wrytting and not of Recorde’. In this way they hoped possibly to ensure that Wroth neither carried out further enclosures nor denied them their due payment, according to the settlement.

This was an apparently generous settlement for the residents – yet it was the hedges around ‘welgate lease’ and ‘Rabbettes mores’ that were cast down during the July 1549 riot. Had the 1547 settlement broken down? Did Wroth renege on the agreement in some way?

Enfield boasted a strong tradition of resistance to enclosure stretching back to 1475, much of which was associated with the enclosing activity of the powerful Wroth family, whose connection with Durants Manor dated back to at least 1401. Successive Wroth men occupied the positions of power in the parish of Enfield – they were MPs and JPs for generations, and dominated politics and social and economic life locally from the 15th to the 17th century. They also played varied parts in London and national politics: in fact the 1540s-1550s represented the height of their power: Sir Thomas Wroth himself being a friend of king Edward VI, a gentleman of his Bedchamber, and a member of his Council.

Anger at enclosures in Durants manor fills local accounts through the sixteenth century in particular. Politician and ‘ardent Protestant’, John Wroth of Durants had been accused in 1514 of enclosing forty acres and barring cattle from his fields in open seasons; in 1589, Sir Robert Wroth (son of the villain of 1549) was reported to have been ‘the greatest encloser of common fields in the parish’.

The July 1549 ‘riot’ may indicate an interesting connection with the anti-enclosure riots at nearby Northaw (just the other side of the Hertfordshire-Middlesex border) and Cheshunt in Hertfordshire the previous year, and with the 1549 commotions at Tyttenhanger. Many of the Northaw rioters were identified as coming from Enfield. Several families, including the Cordells, Wilsons, Smiths, Forsters and Woodhams, feature amongst rioters active both at Northaw in 1544 and 1548 as well as at Enfield in 1549.

The open common in the south of the parish of Northaw formed part of Enfield Chase, a large expanse of land stretching across the Middlesex border, whilst the parish of Ridge, where disorder broke out at Tyttenhanger in 1549, lay on the border between the counties of Hertfordshire Middlesex. The warren belonging to the manor of Tyttenhanger adjoined Enfield’s ‘Crouchfield’ to the west.

Earlier anti-enclosure protests around nearby Northaw in May 1548 may well have encouraged anti-enclosure action at nearby Enfield, and that both episodes formed part of a wider protest aimed at redefining local communities through common rights. In 1548-9, as at other times of widespread rural revolt, news of resistance and collective action in one area rapidly spread to neighbouring parishes, often through these kind of family and community connections; since local grievances were often similar in nature across many communities, hearing about actions elsewhere could easily help fire up people to get active on their own issues. Large-scale times of crisis from the Peasants Revolt to the Swing Riots spread like wildfire in this way…

Enfield commoners attached a huge importance to their common rights, both in their own parish and in neighbouring ones where they held some rights of pasture, etc. In 1548-9, they were involved in fighting for their common rights in Northaw Common, to retain their rights in Saysmarsh, Edmonton, and other areas of Enfield Chase.

‘Intercommoning’ – neighbouring communities or parishes both sharing right to pasture animals on the same common lands – undoubtedly also helped forge strong links between communities such as Northaw, Cheshunt, North Mimms and Enfield, which contributed to what has been described as ‘cultural communal defensiveness’ – the willingness of locals to go to the aid of other communities facing enclosure and restrictions on common rights. At other times, intercommoning could often lead to disputes between residents of different manors. For instance, in May 1548, some Northaw tenants were trying to exclude ‘strangers’ from their common – this seems to have included some Enfield residents. Disputes like this could rumble on for years, resulting in court cases, petitions and sometimes confiscation of cattle… in 1572 a petition suggests agro had revived: “there ys a place callyd the acre bredthe in whiche place by the auncyent custom the tenantes of Enfield dyd putte their hogges eveiy yere in fawnyng tyme by reason of whiche place beinge a comon we had intreest of comon within Northall or Chesthonte wood so that yf the hogges or cattail of eny tenante of Enfleld had strayed into any of those woodes or commons they had them agayne quyetly.”

Enfield tenants were said to have had ‘so large a skope of common’ within Northaw and Cheshunt woods’; after the enclosure of Acre Breadth any of their cattle which happened to stray into these woods or commons were ‘imedyatly impownded, harryed vexed and grevowsly hurte’.

The widespread nature of protest against enclosures in this area of North Middlesex and neighbouring parts of Hertfordshire over the ‘commotion time’ led the government to suspect not only co-ordinated protest but a shared leadership – the secret hand of an organisation or leadership – maybe the old ‘outside agitator’ again. One figure they saw as being a possible part of this was one ‘Captain Red Cap’. In an entry dated 20 April 1550, the Acts of the Privy Council recorded that “Captaine Redde Cappe, one of the rebelles of the last yere, having been in prison at Westminster, was nowe sell at libertie, and of late had been in sundrie places of Middlesex wheare the commons had feasted him.” Interestingly, while ‘Captain Red Cap’ is obviously a pseudonym, he isn’t named under a real name – did the authorities not find out his identity? Not consider it important? In any case, he might not simply have been let go – it appears that someone or a group of rebels may have sprung him from prison, to the irritation of the Privy Council.

It’s unknown what role Captain Red Cap played role in the Middlesex ‘rebellion’ of 1549, though he was clearly popular with the local commons, who feasting him at various places in Middlesex. Perhaps he had acted as a ‘charismatic leader’? Also significantly, the authorities seem not to have re-arrested him later, unless records are lost…

Possibly the authorities considered him either no longer a threat, or were even themselves sympathetic to anti-enclosure agitators – not unusual at the time (bearing in mind the Lord Protector in 1549 – effective ruler of England – the Duke of Somerset, was himself thought to be sympathetic to anti-enclosure rebels: his slowness to put down the 1549 revolts in fact caused the Privy Council to depose and imprison him late in that year)

However, the government had, only a few months before Redcap’s release, had the leaders of the East Anglian and South-Western anti-enclosure rebellions executed, and disorder was in fact still continuing in Kent. It’s worth noting that there was personal interest in the events at Enfield from the Privy Council, as the powerful Sir William Paget, member of the Council, and  Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was also Master Forester of Enfield Chase in 1549.

Early this morning in London radical history, 1891: enclosure notices around Ham Common torn down

What later became known as Ham Common may have originated as a grant of land to the manor of Ham, in compensation for parish lands enclosed by king Charles I to create Richmond Park in 1637. Ham Common formed part of an arc of common land belonging to several manors – Petersham Common, Richmond Common and Mortlake common, all of which bordered one on another. Parts of all of these lands were shaved off to be included in the king’s new playground, acquired partly by persuasion, bribery and bullying of landowners and local villages.

The enclosure of Richmond Park was one of Charles’ numerous unpopular acts that contributed to the unrest leading to the English Civil War.

This act of basic royal landgrabbery itself caused centuries of resistance, and the privatisation of Richmond Park was eventually overturned in the 1750s.

Of the several manors plundered, Ham lost the most land to the new park. Prior to the enclosure, the common land of Ham extended much further eastwards than the current Ham Common – as far as the course of the Beverley Brook and the boundary with Roehampton. Of the total 1,000 acres enclosed by the park, 895 acres previously fell within Ham’s boundaries and, of that, nearly half – 400 acres – was common land, the rest being agricultural land in private ownership or already owned by the crown.

Opposition in Ham to the loss of their lands was so vocal, the king had to appoint a commission to treat with “the proprietors and other inhabitants.”

As a result, Charles I was pushed into paying compensation to the commoners of Ham for their loss, and granted them a deed of gift of the remaining unenclosed common land for all time. so far as the manors of Ham and Petersham were concerned. By an indenture dated 22nd December, 1635, the residents gave up to the king 483 acres in the former parish and 265 acres in the latter, in return for £4000 and the reservation to themselves and their heirs of “all theire right and interest of Comon in all and every other the wast-grounds of or belonginge to the said severall manners of Ham and Petersham that are not to bee inclosed within his majesties said newe Parke his mtie. being well pleased that neither his majestie. his heires or successors nor any of his or theire Farmours of the said manors or either of them shall from henceforth have make or take any benefitt or profitt in or out of the residue of the said Wastgrounds of the said mannors or either of them soe left out of the said intended newe Parke but that the said Tenants respectively have the sole benefit and profitt of the same.”

This ‘Deed’ was held from the very start to give some residents rights of access and protection against enclosure and exploitation of resources for profit by landowners. Though legal opinion was for centuries divided over the actual legality of any such guarantee, both the local villagers and the lords of the Manor recognised that it restricted the rights of the lord.

Apart from area of the present day Common, other common land existed around the enclosed farm land of Ham. Commoners also enjoyed lammas rights on large areas of enclosed farmland along the river Thames, on what later became known as Ham Fields.

Ownership of the common land generally lay with the lord of the Manor and, from the mid 17th to the early 20th centuries, in Ham, this was held by the Earls of Dysart – the aristocratic Tollemache family. However, the indenture’ of Charles I seemed to guarantee the Ham commoners control over the Common. The Dysarts smarted under the perceived restriction on their powers compared to many other manorial lords, and as William Harland put it, were “ever on the look out to find ways in which to encroach on the rights of the villagers and filch back some of the power and land the estate lost even before they owned it.”

Nearly a century and a half after king Charles acquired part of the manor’s land, Ham Common was itself to become the subject of a battle over enclosure, when the landowners, the Dysart estate tried to fence off the wood and declare it private.

The Dysarts’ ancestors had lived in Ham House, Richmond, since the 1630s; the family’s staunch support of the royalist cause during the civil war gaining them the lordships of the Manors of Ham and Petersham.

By the late 1870s, the father of the 9th Earl of Dysart had amassed huge debts. His heir inherited an estate in disrepair and financial precarity. The trustees running the estate on his behalf (several of his posh relatives) needed to exploit the lands to raise some ready cash.

Through inheritance and canny purchases the Dysarts owned about 70% of the land in the Ham and Petersham area. With building land in demand as London expanded, and agriculture becoming relatively less commercially attractive, the estate looked to two main avenues for money-making: developing land for housing, or digging gravel to sell to building companies. The Dysart holdings in the adjacent former manor of Canbury were extensively developed for housing as Kingston expanded northwards. However, in Ham, the potential for gravel extraction from the common lands (and also the lammas lands) was high.


The management of Ham Common, as with most commons, moved from the manorial courts to a locally appointed vestry (effectively a parish council). Disputes, offences and problems came to the attention of the Vestry and were recorded in their minute-books. As with many commons, typical recurring issues included regulating the removal of gravel, loam, turf and furze (the Common was a major source for these resources), ‘encroachment’ (which could include adjacent land-owners trying to enclose bits of land or use land they weren’t entitled to: grazing of animals by non-local owners included one incursion of a flock of 200 sheep from Kingston), squatters, usually on marginal land (who might subsequently gain right of residence or even ownership, through ‘adverse possession’) – generally seen as a burden on the parish), camping travellers, gipsies and tinkers… As well as over-grazing by those entitled to feed their livestock on the common, nuisance caused by geese, pigs rooting and blocking drains, or damage to turf from exercising horses…

Alternately tussling with and making accommodations with the Dysarts’ attempts to take or withhold resources and control parcels of land took a notable part of some Vestry meetings. But the meeting minutes always show the Vestry taking to itself control over the Common lands, on behalf of the inhabitants. In contrast to some commons, simple proven residence within the manor seems to have been the deciding factor for recognition of the right to ask to access resources, where copyhold, freehold or leasehold title of some kind was often required… On occasions, when disputes and complaints about over-grazing, who had rights to herbage etc became difficult, general meetings of inhabitants of Ham were called to discuss and come to some decisions on use, which tried to reflect a fair use of resources for all inhabitants who needed them. This didn’t mean some people didn’t try to sneak some advantage to themselves, but a system was in place to at least try to manage the Common fairly.

This reflected the general feeling, expressed wit relation to may commons and woods, that open space belonged to the community. Often this belief flew in the face of so-called legal ownership, by the lords of the manor etc; at Ham it was clearly in evidence that the locals felt they had been granted the Common by King Charles’ deed, and thus had an even stronger claim.

This was to be important when the Dysart family decided to try to press for enclosure and greater exploitation of the common lands.

Ham Common was protected by gates to prevent animals straying off: there were Gate houses near each corner of the western section of common, one on Ham Street by what is now St Thomas Aquinas Church, Ham, and two on the Upper Ham Road, to the north by the New Inn and one to the south of the common.

In the 1830s and 40s, Ham Common was home to a vegetarian socialist commune.

Surrey Comet Journalist William Harland, active in the campaign against the attempt to enclose Ham Common, later suggested that the powers of the Vestry had been stripped by “the establishment of a ‘Local Board’ [with powers over sanitation and other amenities] in 1862… a real death-blow to the control  exercised by the villagers over the Common under the old regime.”
The new urban sanitary authority established in 1864 “never rose to its duties in relation to the fine open space which was its fairest heritage”.

The Vestry had been relieved of its former powers of spending money out of the poor rate for the administration of the Common and the Local Board did not, “as it undoubtedly should have done as soon as the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866 was passed, take the proper steps in conjunction with the Kingston Rural Sanitary Authority to render itself the controlling power.”

If the Local Board had taken their eye off the ball somewhat by not registering the Common under the 1866 Act, at first the Dysart estate was also indifferent. However, the need for cash as the estate fell into debt caused greedy eyes to be cast on the Common…

Lord Dysart and the Dysart Trustees sought to exploit the agricultural land of Ham and in particular the lammas land. “The Trustees began by helping themselves copiously to the gravel for Ham House, which be it noted is outside the parish, thus exercising an alleged right the use of which by other people, they say, injures so much the beauty of the Common. And yet for nearly eighteen months the Trustees removed gravel at the rate of from eighteen to twenty cartloads weekly.” (Harland)

In April 1891 the Steward of the Dysart Estate erected six notice boards on the Common warning that those removing “gravel, turf, etc without having obtained the license of the Lords of the Manor” would be liable for prosecution.

“NOTICE.

By Order of the Lords of the Manor

Of Ham.

HAM COMMON

Notice is hereby given that any person or persons found digging or removing gravel or sand or cutting or removing turf, gorse, furze, mould or other substance from this Common or killing or taking therefrom any game or rabbits without having obtained the license of the Lords of the Manor or their

Steward for the purpose will be liable to be prosecuted.

A. Bertram,

Steward of the Manors

34, Norfolk Street, London.

January, 1891.”

They also erected notices on the lammas lands, claiming the common fields and footpaths were private property:

“NOTICE

By Order of the Trustees of the

DYSART ESTATE.

This Land is private and all Persons found trespassing or committing damage thereon are hereby warned that they are liable to be ejected and will be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the Law.

A. Bertram,

Steward.

34, Norfolk Street,

January, 1891. Strand, London.”

However, these high-handed actions were not to go un-opposed. From the start of the Dysarts’ removal of gravel from the common for use at Ham House, locals claimed that this was ‘outside the manorial right’, as Ham House itself lay within the neighbouring manor of Petersham.

Opinion within the village of Ham took the general view that access and use of the Common had been managed by the villagers in their own interests for two centuries, based on the ‘Deed’ of Charles I, and this should at least continue, albeit in the hands of a ‘proper authority’.

Edward Radford

The erection of the noticeboards sparked outrage, resulting in a mass meeting being held on Ham Common. The initiator of agitation against the attempted enclosure was one Edward Nicholas Radford, (veteran of the Crimean war, a butler at Bute House & a lay preacher), who
“summoned a meeting on the Common for Sunday, June 21st, to consider the matter. The gathering was enormously successful, from 1,500 to 2,000 people attending, including a large number of sympathisers from the adjacent towns of Kingston, Richmond and Twickenham. A resolution was unanimously passed protesting against the action of the Trustees and intimating that unless the objectionable notice boards were removed within a fortnight they would be cut down. A Vestry meeting was also held on June 26th, at which a committee was appointed to ascertain if the erection of the boards was legal or illegal and if the latter to wait on the Trustees and demand their removal.

An investigation committee was likewise appointed by the meeting on the 21st.”

With a sly dig at the tendency of ponderous local worthies to found organisations and committees, Harland later commented that:

“In order to dispose of both these bodies at once it may be as well to say that neither contributed much towards the ultimate settlement of the dispute. The latter, called the Ham and Petersham Common Rights and Footpaths Committee, chiefly concerned itself with the re-opening of the footpaths around Ham House, closed by order of the Trustees, though it also drew up a short and useful report on the whole question which was made public at the end of July. The other body, known as the Vestry Committee, really shifted all its duties on to its fellow and did nothing.”

While busybodies dithered, others were prepared to take some direct action:

“The Trustees ignored the decision of the meeting on June 21st and accordingly on July 5th another big demonstration took place. The issue at this gathering unluckily got somewhat confused and though the mass of local opinion was clearly in favour of the mandate of the first meeting being enforced the voting on the resolutions submitted got mixed and the people dispersed irresolutely without pulling down the boards. Radford, though feeling sure of his ground and of the support of the inhabitants, did not wish to run the risk of promoting a disturbance, especially as a large force of police was present, and accordingly it was decided to wait till early the following day and then do the vital work.” (Harland)

The offending notice boards which sought to restrict the rights of the commoners came under attack early the next morning; four notices were chopped down.

Shadrach Hopkins

“At four o’clock in the morning Radford accompanied by George Hall, Shadrach Hopkins, William Piggott, all labourers, and myself, proceeded to the Common and sawed down four posts out of the six. The delight and excitement amongst the villagers were tremendous when the fact was known a few hours later and ample proof was forthcoming that the decision to take prompt and bold action had been the best possible under the circumstances and was ratified by every resident having the welfare of the Common at heart. The remaining three notices were cut down at another public meeting on Wednesday, July 15th. The next day summonses were taken out against Radford, Hopkins, Hall and Piggott only for that they did “wilfully and maliciously damage certain notice boards on Ham Common there situate the property of the Trustees of the late Earl of Dysart, doing injury thereto to the amount of £ 8 .” (Harland)

Radford, Shadrach Hopkins (Groundsman at Sudbrook Golf Course!), and labourers William Piggott and George Hall were arrested, and prosecuted for felony.

Their defence was led by Harland, a journalist with the Surrey Comet, aided by the aged Cornelius Greenwood (who must’ve been knocking on in age, as he had been  ‘ploughman to Farmer Hatch’ in the 1830s…!) and George Rooke.

Apparently one of these two blokes in Cornelius Greenwood, stalwart of the defence committee… Not sure which one!

“The Prosecutions Defence Committee, as a matter of course, was constituted at a public meeting held on the Common on Monday, July 20th, the members who served all the way through the long contest being Albert Voysey, Jacob Claridge, James Masked, James Coombes, Edwin Leatham, Albert Edward Hall, William Venn, Walter Tulett, George Darnell, James Berridge, Alfred Parker and myself. Voysey acted as Chairman and Claridge as Treasurer, whilst I filled the post of Secretary. No time was lost in getting to work. A public appeal for assistance was issued, most of the metropolitan journals backing up the villagers and Mr. George Eaton Hart, then proprietor of The Kingston and Richmond Express, rendering invaluable aid locally by allowing his paper to be used as the organ of the agitation.

The services of Mr. Henry Prince, of Lewes and Brighton, were secured to defend Radford and his companions before the Kingston County Bench on Thursday, July 23rd, and the result of the hearing — a protracted one lasting over three hours— was the committal of the defendants to the Surrey Quarter Sessions the following October, the magistrates deciding that the question was one only a jury could properly settle. In the interval the Defence Committee worked very hard. They held meetings, organised concerts and entertainments, left no likely sources of revenue untouched and lost no opportunity of acquainting the public mind with all the facts.”

The Prosecutions Committee raised most of its funds to fight the case locally, and according to Harland was based among the local working class:

“the members were practically working men and any notice of their labours would be incomplete without the fullest recognition of their enthusiasm, self-sacrifice and loyalty. They were in truth the salt of the hamlet.”

A by-product of the defence campaign was the uncovering of other encroachments on the manor’s common lands:

“One of the most notable and interesting occurrences they arranged was the beating of the bounds of the Common Fields, or the Lammas Lands as they are sometimes called, on Michaelmas Day. As far as possible the old frontiers were traversed and encroachments and enclosures carefully noted by a large band of villagers. In this connection it may be as well to quote from the report of the Ham and Petersham Common Rights and Footpaths Committee the result of their investigations respecting grabbing in these semi-open lands: “The Fields consist of nearly all the land bordering on the River Thames from Cold Harbour near Ham House to the One [Mile] Tree near the Albany Club [Kingston] , and are bounded on the land side by a number of small enclosures adjacent to Ham Common and Ham Street. The Lammas rights, though somewhat curtailed, are still exercised over the greater part of this area, but during the last thirty years a number of these Common Fields have been enclosed so as to prevent the people exercising their right of turn-out. A list of these is appended and they are described by their number on the 25in. map of the Ordnance Survey — {a) Back of All Souls’ Lane, Nos. 27, 28, 29, 30, supposed to have been enclosed by the late Mr. Hatch, now underlet in two instances, (b) Two fields near the New Road, Nos. 84 and 85, enclosed about eight or ten years [ago] by the late Mr. Scott when he came into possession of them, (c) Part of a field. No. 78, hedged off the Lammas Lands about twenty-eight years ago by Mr. Willing and sold to Mr. Scott, with the other enclosed land to which it was added, (d) The Meadlands near Teddington Lock, enclosed thirty years ago by the late Mr. Hatch, (e) Two fields near the parish yard, known as Stoney Lands, Nos. 107 and 109, always hedged, but used to be thrown open at Lammas-time. Nos. 107 was stopped by the late Mr. Warner, and No. 109 by a Mr. Nye, about twenty years ago. (/) The Headland Acre, part of No. 119, near the Upper Ham Road, enclosed by the Dysart family about twenty-five years ago, and thrown into Church Farm, together with a large piece adjoining it on the Kingston side, now occupied by Mr. Walker, (g) A field. No. 87, thrown into another by gradual breaking down of the parting hedge between Nos. 87 and 88, in the time of the late Mr. Hatch. The Common Fields not yet enclosed are Nos. 5 (open meadow), 78 (part), 72, 112 and 119 (part).” The present holders of land in the Lammas Fields are Messrs. Horace and Arthur Saunders who have 100 acres ; Mr. James Walker, of Ham or Church Farm, who has 25 acres; and Messrs. John and Harry Hatch, of Manor Farm, who have about 200 acres.”

Beating the Bounds was an old tradition used to keep the knowledge of a parish boundaries alive, but it also had a customary use for establishing where illegal enclosures had been made, and was sometimes employed to legitimise direct action against enclosure fences etc. (A 1751 engraving exists showing Richmond parishioners, led by the vicar, breaking down a section of the wall around Richmond Park, during the agitation against the denial of access to locals by its royal owners.)

The Quarter Sessions in 1891 were held at Newington (near the modern day Elephant & Castle). The trial of Radford, Hall, Hopkins and Piggott took place on Thursday October 22nd , 1891, before the Deputy Chairman, Mr. Henry Yool.

The four men were acquitted, despite the prosecution being led by no less than the Solicitor General, Sir Edward Clarke QC.

“Hall broke his leg a fortnight before and lay in Richmond Hospital whilst the issue was being decided – Mr. C. F. Gill defended and Sir Edward Clarke, then Solicitor-General, prosecuted. It is needless to go into all the details of that memorable action for many of them must be yet fresh in the minds of those who took any active interest in the matter. Mr. Gill called no witnesses but relied solely on the plea that the Trustees by taking criminal proceedings, whilst the civil courts were open to them, were attempting to turn honest men into felons merely for asserting what they believed to be their inalienable rights.

The jury promptly returned a verdict of not guilty and so gave the commoners their first victory in the modern struggle with the Dysarts.”

The journey home from court seems to have turned into a celebratory travelling party:

“No one who participated in the return home of the party — besides the three defendants able to attend, numbers of the villagers went to London to personally hear the case – will ever forget the wild enthusiasm with which they were welcomed. The journey by break from Richmond to Ham through Petersham, was practically a continued ovation.

The villagers — men, women and children — apprised by telegram of the result, greeted the defendants with cheers and shouts and the waving of aprons, evergreens and anything else that happened to be handy when the carriage passed along. Windows, doors and garden gates contributed their quota of spectators to the witness of the triumphal return that finally terminated in a brief meeting at which the excitement of the day found a fitting culmination.”

The Defence Committee dissolved itself at a public meeting on December 1st, 1891 “though it was recognised that the recent trial had by no means settled matters and that the people would have to be on the watch to resist further agressions on the part of the Trustees.”

As with many struggles against enclosure, the dual approach – legal campaigning on the one hand, and some direct action on the side – seem to have effectively scuppered the Dysarts’ immediate plans.

But Harland’s comment that “it was recognised that the recent trial had by no means settled matters and that the people would have to be on the watch to resist further aggressions on the part of the Trustees” was prophetic: the 1891 acquittal was not the end of the struggle over common land in Ham.

The Dysart trustees had not given up. In July 1892 they tried to invited a selected group of “freeholders and copyholders of the manor, residents upon the Common and others”, to a meeting, where they tried to persuade them to agree to a set of rules “submitted practically abolishing all the rights of the villagers and asserting in full the claims of the Trustees which had proved before to be so objectionable and so unwarranted. As a result of the proceedings a committee was appointed to go further into the matter but its labours came to nought through the insistance of the Trustees on their assumed rights as Lords of the Manor. There were one or two staunch commoners on the committee and sooner than admit the demands of the Dysarts they very properly retired…”

Gravel was again quarried from Ham Common by Baron Sudely, one of the Dysart trustees; meanwhile a local labourer, Walter Miles, was prosecuted for also taking some gravel. This sparked the revival of a Ham Common Defence Committee, which took a hand in the legal defence of Miles and the case was again dismissed.

The question of the management and control of the Common and the lammas lands would be largely transferred to attempts to  enclose the latter by Parliamentary bill.

In 1896 the Dysarts promoted The Petersham and Ham Lands Footpaths Bill, seeking to enclose the 176 acres (71 hectares) of lammas lands in the manor, also known as Ham Fields. The bill slyly included sops to local opinion, in its proposal to grant Petersham Meadows and Common to the public ‘in perpetuity’: in exchange, as it were, for being allowed to get on with developing the Fields. The Bill was opposed by the commoners of Ham, by the London County Council, and by the Society for the Preservation of Commons and Open Spaces; a number of petitions were launched against it, and a vigorous debate ensued in the House of Commons. The bill was defeated by 262 votes to 118 in Parliament, as it was deemed to contravene the Metropolitan Commons Acts.

In December 1896, a local enquiry was established with the Board of Agriculture to consider a scheme for the lammas lands under the Metropolitan Commons Acts. However, the Board determined that the provisions of the acts did not apply in this case, effectively giving a green light to the Dysarts to begin plotting how to dispose of the lammas lands again.

The Metropolitan Commons (Ham) Supplemental Act 1901 established a Board of Conservators to manage Ham Common.

In 1902, another Private Bill, the Richmond Hill (Preservation of View) Bill, was brought. Although it was substantially the same as the 1896 Bill (still aiming at the enclosure of the lammas Fields), it was cleverly reworked to appeal to campaigners around access and preservation. Clauses were inserted for improving public access by providing wider and more extensive riverside footpaths. The new title played on the then very public concern among Richmond residents that the view from Richmond Hill over the river was threatened by developments.

This bill passed in Parliament (179 in favour to 79 against).

Its passage did transfer the Dysarts’ residual manorial interests in Ham Common and vested them in Ham Urban District Council (which had now replaced the Local Board). The Board of Conservators was now dissolved, and Ham Urban District took over management of Ham Common. The Dysart Trustees also gave £3000 to be invested for the upkeep of the common and any residual money to go to almhouses or other local charitable purposes.

The 1902 Act was, however, double-edged: part of the inclusive settlement with the Dysart Trustees extinguished the remaining lammas rights in Ham, thereby freeing up the agricultural land for development, to the profit of the Tollemaches. The arrangement was not without critics. MP Henry Labouchère observed that Lord Dysart “… would get possession of 176 acres of lammas land and secure valuable building rights, notwithstanding that Parliament had decided that no common lands within a radius of fifteen miles of London should be built upon.”

The Dysart estate were thus eventually successful in extinguishing lammas rights on the 176 acres of open farmland in Ham. Instead of building though, much of the former lammas land was leased from 1904 to the Ham River Grit Company, and the area exploited for gravel extraction to feed the demand from construction. Millions of tons of river gravel were extracted from the pits up until 1939.

Postscript: Later history of Ham’s Lammas Lands

These days, the lammas lands, or Ham Fields, are themselves designated Metropolitan Open Space.

From Teddington Lock downstream to Petersham, a quarter of a mile of open lands stretch from the Thames bank, covering about 200 acres in all. About 72 acres form Ham Lands Nature reserve.

A grit lorry removing gravel from Ham Lands, 1930s.

Again it was local campaigning that prevented much of this space from being developed and pushed it toward its present status as a place for wildlife to flourish and people to wander.

Most of Ham Lands had been excavated for gravel in the early 20th century then filled in from 1939 to the early 1950’s. After the war, most of the pits were filled with bomb-damage rubble from London. The pits operated until 1952, after which some of the land was used for subsequent housing development. Local resistance to further development led to the area being designated Metropolitan Open Land, preserving Ham Riverside Lands as a nature reserve.

Struggles to prevent further building on the edges of Ham Lands continued through the 1960s to the 1980s.

It’s well worth reading William Harland’s account of Ham Common and the Dysart family’s relations with the locals

There’s a great Ham local history site with oral history recordings including lots about Ham Lands

Also worth checking out, the Friends of Ham Lands

This week in UK history, 1981: uprisings and riots all over the country

“Britain is a paradoxically closed yet ‘open’ society ruled over by a patrician but condescendingly populist elite possessing the most remarkable cunning and duplicity well versed in a token recuperation of everything from below that raises its head in protest… Yet over the last decade the UK has lived through profound social turmoil. Mingled with the seemingly never ending hopelessness of drugs, drugs, drugs, drink, drink, drink, the place is alive with an unfocussed rebellion…

There is a path that leads out of this wasteland and during the summer of 1981 the unemployed started to travel its length unaided. The totality of desperation and misery produced its opposite – The nights were young and though the pubs had called time the firewater was freely circulating. In the space of 10 days in early July 1981. England was transformed. It will never be the same again. Every major city and town was rocked with youth riots. Bored youngsters ranging from 8 to 80 excitedly got ready for an evenings burnin’ and lootin’. Even Army recruits on leave joined in. If the grandkid did the hell raising, grandma helped out with the free shopping. In Manchester an 8 year old was arrested for setting fire to a bike shop and in Bristol a paraplegic pensioner was wheeled obligingly into a supermarket so he could get in on the lootin’ too.”
(Like a Summer With a Thousand Julys, BM Blob, 1982)

Rioting swept many parts of Britain’s cities in the summer of 1981. Tension across many communities built to a climactic series of eruptions in the first week of July.

Policing, especially violent paramilitary policing of inner city communities, and most particularly racist policing used against black and Asian young people, was the immediate spark in most places. But behind this, poverty, desperation and alienation were widespread across the UK, and in many cities work was becoming increasingly scarce as manufacturing industries declined and thousands ended up on the dole. Young working class people could see little was on offer but being skint and treated like shit, and for many smashing things up was the only solution.

If rage at police harassment, boredom and alienation at a society that seemed to offer young people nothing, and skintness and hostility to authority generally were common elements, local conditions produced different results on the ground.

Below is a chronological record of some major incidents, marches, confrontations, demonstrations, disturbances and gatherings that made the headlines in the seven months from March 1981. It is far from comprehensive and nay contributions to update it, suggestions for longer accounts to link to etc would be welcome…

Bristol Riot 1980

However, many would point out that the April 1980 Bristol Riots in St Pauls and Southmead could be seen as the opening skirmish, an initial battle over the same issues and flashpoints, if a year earlier.

We’ve linked to longer posts or articles on some of the events where we can…

The New Cross Fire and the Black community response to it are crucial to the context to much of the 1981 insurgency.
On Sunday 18th January 1981, 13 black youths, all between the ages of 15 and 20 years old, were killed in a fire at a birthday party during a birthday party for Yvonne Ruddock (aged 16) and Angela Jackson (aged 18), at 439 New Cross Road, in the heart of the South London neighbourhood of New Cross. The police initially concluded that the fire was caused by a firebomb, and many believed that it was a racist attack – not unreasonably, as racial attacks and racist fire-bombings had been endemic against black and asian communities throughout the previous decade. Family members and the local black community felt the attack was ignored and belittled – there was little serious press coverage or official sympathy. And police quickly then discounted the racist attack theory and treated survivors and witnesses with suspicion. Anger grew in the area and among black people wider afield, and an action committee formed to co-ordinate a response. The result was the Black People’s Day of Action…

Monday, 2 March
London
Between 3,000 and 6,000 people, most of them black, took part in the Black People’s Day of Action, a demonstration organised by the New Cross Massacre Action Committee to protest against the police handling of the Deptford fire investigation. The demo saw some sporadic agro, but the self-confidence, anger and unity of the Day of Action were a watershed moment for British black communities; subsequent police attacks would be stoutly resisted…

While police and scared commentators were keen to label the events of 1981 as all about race, this was not the case in every riot and in many of the uprisings, whites fought alongside Blacks and Asians in many cases. But racial violence towards black and Asian people, from police and from racists (organised and unorganised) was one of the major triggers.

Racist attacks were endemic across the country in early 1981: Malcom Chambers was killed in Swindon in April during an ‘anti-black riot’; Satnam Singh Gill was murdered by skinheads in Coventry. In the same month a Sikh temple was petrol bombed and the Indian and Commonwealth Club was hit by an arson attack. In June Fenton Ogbogbo was killed by racists in South London.

Kicking off the 1981 events was a major riot in Brixton, South London, where the area was repeatedly invaded by an army of police to ‘crack down on streetcrime’ (code for harass, arrest and beat up black youth). The Met’s ‘Operation Swamp ’81’ backfired spectacularly on them, however…

10-13 April
Brixton, South London

On Friday night (10 April), police were attacked by 40-50 youths. During the next three days, violence flared, rioters set fire to 26 buildings, one fire engine, and 19 cars, between 145 and 165 police were injured, there were nearly 200 arrests and there was a total of 226 casualties. Petrol bombs were thrown at police and estimates of damage vary from £2 million to £10 million. By Monday evening some violence continued but no further arrests were reported.

Read firsthand accounts of the April Brixton riot

Easter weekend, 17-20 April: The ‘Seaside rampages”
The Daily Telegraph reported mods, skinheads, punks and rockers ‘on the rampage’ at numerous seaside resorts. the bank holiday riot-beanos were already a bit of a ritual annual fixture to some extent, but it added to the sense of youth uprising, even if some accounts reckon skins, some of the nazi persuasion, were involved in some of the easter shindigs. However, many outside observers couldn’t tell a nazi skin from any other variety of skin, and at the time there was a considerable blurring of such boundaries.

Southend
A large number of skinheads gathered for the weekend, shop windows were smashed and 170 people arrested. Apparently there were ‘reports of British Movement and November 9th Society (neo-Nazi) involvement’.

Margate
Thirty-nine arrests. One policeman and one skinhead injured.

Hastings
Twenty people arrested after clashes between rival gangs.

Brighton
All police leave cancelled as 1,000 mods arrived. Ninety-two arrests over the weekend.

Great Yarmouth
Forty arrests.

Scarborough
Seventy-eight arrests

Fairground riots
Around the same time trouble broke out at several London fairs, mainly involving black youth.

Finsbury Park
A reported 500 black teenagers attacked shops and fought police outside a fairground after it closed early. Eight police and twenty civilians were injured, 40 people were arrested and £1,000 worth of electrical goods were looted from a shop owned by the Asian vice-chairman of Haringey Community Relations Council.

Ealing Common
Three hundred black youths smashed shop windows and damaged police vehicles.

Wanstead Flats
‘Dozens’ of youths ‘went on a rampage’.

Saturday, 23 May

Coventry
Violence broke out during a march by 8,000 Asians protesting against the number of racist attacks in the city. The marchers were heckled by about 200 skinheads shouting Fascist slogans, marchers later fought with 1,500 police patrolling the march. Paving stones and banner poles were used as weapons. Over 70 people were arrested. One policeman was stabbed.
Some images of the Coventry demo 

Late May

Enfield, North London
A white man was killed by a mob of skinheads.

Brixton
Late May: A confrontation between police and youth nearly erupted again but police withdrew in the face of a gathering crowd.

Monday, 1 June

Thornton Heath, South London
Local black youth attacked the Wilton Arms pub in Thornton Heath, looking for National Front supporters after a spate of racist attacks. Later, a white youth was stabbed and killed in the street outside.
More on the Wilton Arms incident and racism/anti-racism in Thornton Heath

On the same night eight police were injured in a clash with black youths at a shopping centre in Lewisham, Southeast London.

Tuesday, 2 June

London
More trouble at Lewisham. Police who arrested a girl at the shopping centre were attacked by black youths. Ten people were arrested. Later 100 youths gathered outside the police station shouting abuse. The incidents were described as ‘a near riot’ {Observer 7/6/81).

Saturday, 20 June

London

Various papers reported 400 to 1,000 black youths ‘rampaging’ at a fairground on Peckham Rye Common in South London. Thirty shop windows were smashed in nearby Rye Lane, and merchandise stolen. Twenty-eight people were arrested.

Friday, 3 July

Southall, West London
On 3 July, Southall erupted when a group of racist skinheads were bussed into the area (with a predominantly Asian and Black population) for a concert by the band Oi at the Hamborough Tavern: the skins marched through the High Street smashing windows and racially harassing people as they went. Asian youths, organised by west London’s Asian Youth Movement, laid siege to the pub. The police intervened, and there were over a hundred casualties, sixty-one of them policemen.
In the rioting that broke out petrol bombs were thrown and the Hamborough Tavern, venue for the concert, was burnt down.
An account of the 3 July Southall Riot

Liverpool
At about the same time as the Southall disturbance was occurring, police in Liverpool 8 (aka Toxteth) chased and arrested a black motorcyclist. He fell off and they caught him, but he was then rescued by a crowd of about forty black youths. Bricks were thrown, and a two-hour battle with police developed.

Police with riot shields face a group of youths during riot in Liverpool 8

Saturday, 4 July
Liverpool
Late Saturday night violence broke out again in Liverpool 8. police were lured to Upper Parliament Street by an anonymous report of a stolen car, then attacked. A crowd of nearly two hundred youths, both black and white, some in balaclava helmets, built barricades, threw petrol bombs and used vehicles as battering rams to break the police lines. A school and several shops were burnt down and other shops were looted.

Sunday, 5 July
Liverpool
The night of the worst violence in Liverpool. On the Sunday the rioting went out of control with the police calling in reinforcements from all over the North West to make up a force of 800, but they were still overwhelmed by a crowd of black and white youths. In the meantime the local community poured out to loot everything they could. They were pushing shopping trolleys and prams and filling them up as they went. They drove vans into the area like a regular shopping trip, picking up refrigerators, electrical goods, carpets, the lot. CS gas was used to disperse rioters in the early hours of Monday morning.

An account of the riots and the background to the eruption in Liverpool

And another

Monday, 6 July

Liverpool

Some violence continued in Toxteth but of a lesser intensity than the previous two nights. Newspaper reports and photographs show both white and black youths involved in the rioting, and the majority of looters appeared to be white people of all ages. Over the entire weekend a total of 255 police were injured. Seventy people appeared in court on Monday and 77 on Tuesday. Most of them were white and some were as young as thirteen.

London
200 youths ‘ran wild’ in Wood Green, North London. Those involved were reported to be mainly Black and Greek Cypriot. This outbreak was widely regarded as a ‘copycat’ riot.

Tuesday, 7 July

Cop chases skinhead down West Green Road during Wood Green riot

Wood Green, North London
Between 400 and 500 youths attacked police and looted shops in Wood Green.
The Times reported that in Wood Green ‘the trouble began when a group of between 300 and 400 black youths began to gather near Turnpike Lane Underground station and marched along the High Road… The Special Patrol Group was called in. Police carrying riot shields attempted to drive the youths from the High Road. They had started fires in waste bins, and police cars were stoned…. In one men’s outfitters, a gang of black youths even took time to strip every window model of their trousers. Mr Mel Cooper, the owner commented: “They looted thousands of pounds worth of stuff, most of it trousers and shirts”‘ (Times, 8 July 1981).

The incident was reported on the 10 o’clock news and the crowd soon increased to 500. 35 shops in Wood Green High Road were looted or had their windows broken. Reports in the press and by various individuals claim that 26 policemen were injured and 50 civilians arrested.

Trouble in Moss Side

Manchester
Rioting broke out in Moss Side, Manchester. James Anderton, the chief constable, was generally considered a rightwing ultra-christian reactionary; after an attempt to ignore the riots as if they would go away, his solution was to send fifty-four vans speeding through the area on the third night of rioting, with their back doors hanging open and filled with snatch squads in crash helmets who leapt out to crack heads and drag their targets away. ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger – oi, oi, oi’, the cops shouted as they went, beating their truncheons on the side of the vans. In spite of the new tactic, the disturbances took until the Saturday to quell. The violence spread round Greater Manchester during that time, leading to a final tally of 475 arrests, of whom the majority were white.
A blog on the 1981 Manchester riots

Wednesday, 8 July

Wood Green
Youths gathering on Wood Green High Road in north London the morning after the riot there, loudly played back tape recordings of news reports just to goad the police. Chris, a 17-year-old Greek Cypriot said “I hope this gets us in the papers. I hope this counts as a big riot like Liverpool.”

Manchester and Salford

One thousand youths stormed Moss Side police station, police and ambulancemen were injured, petrol bombs thrown, vehicles overturned and shops looted. There were other outbreaks of violence throughout the area and three policemen were injured.

Thursday, 9 July

London
Crowds were on the streets in various parts of London with sporadic clashes with police:
On the sixth consecutive night of widespread civil disorder there were disturbances in Woolwich, Tooting, Fulham and Dalston.

Woolwich, Southeast London
‘London police quickly quelled what threatened to be a riot early yesterday evening in Woolwich, south-east London. About 200 black and Asian youths ran through the town centre smashing 15 shop windows and overturning two cars. There was some looting. The youths were outnumbered by police who quickly dispersed them. 27 arrests were made…’ (The Times).
The Woolwich events seem to have been provoked by rumours of a racist skinhead invasion to attend a gig at the Tramshed (a similar occurrence had led to the riots in Southall in the previous week). According to the Deptford and Peckham Mercury (16 July 1981), people initially gathered on the streets to defend local venues thought vulnerable to racist attack – groups were reported at local Sikh temples in Calderwood Street and Masons Hill (where an Anti Nazi League meting was taking place), a mosque in Thomas Street, and the Simba project (an African-Caribbean community group). An (untrue) rumour that the skinheads were arriving on the Woolwich ferry prompted hundreds of mainly young people to run down Powis Street, and it was here that shop windows were broken and cars overturned, with a tobacconist shop being looted.
A briefing from the F4 division of the Home Office (responsible for links with security services, Special Branch etc) gives more details: ‘At 7:24 pm 100 black youths and 50 white youths were reported at Woolwich, but there was no trouble… at 8.42 pm disturbances broke out at Woolwich, with youths throwing stones and overturning vehicles. Serials had previously been deployed to the Woolwich area for the Anti-Nazi League meeting and these, supplemented by the Special Patrol Group and Urgent Response Units deployed from Operations Room, moved into the area to prevent trouble…’
It’s worth noting that Nazi attacks were a very real daily threat in Woolwich. The fascist British Movement had been very active in the area in the run-up to these events, carrying out racist attacks, including a horrific incident the previous year led by notorious British Movement skin führer Nicci Crane. (Later in 1981 Crane was jailed for four years for his part in an ambush on black youths at Woolwich Arsenal station).

Lewisham, SE London
In Lewisham, eight youths were arrested after clashes in which goods were looted from Chiesman’s department store. About 100 black youths in Deptford threw bottles at a police car.
The trouble in Lewisham seems to have been fairly sporadic, prompting some self-congratulation from the police in the South London Press: ‘Lewisham has escaped almost trouble free from a week of rioting in Britain’s inner cities thanks to sensitive policing and public co-operation, a police chief said yesterday. Apart from a window being smashed at Chiesman’s in Lewisham High-St, and a minor stone throwing incident in Sydenham on Saturday where three people were arrested, there have been no repeats of the mass looting and rioting which has hit many areas.
However, there was controversy in the area when police warned that a planned New Cross Massacre Action Committee fundraiser couldn’t go ahead for licensing reasons at the Evelyn 190 Centre in Evelyn Street, Deptford (‘Clash over fire victims’ disco’, Mercury, 16 July 1981).

Dalston/Stoke Newington, North/East London
3 days of trouble began in these neighbouring areas of Hackney. Twenty youths were arrested in Stoke Newington after bricks and bottles were thrown at the police… Several hundred youths were moved on by police from Dalston, east London. The youths, black and white in about equal numbers, gathered in Kingsland High Street and Dalston Lane. Several hundred police patrolled the streets. (The Times, 10 July 1981)
A longer account of these three days of rioting in Stokey and Dalston

Fulham, West London
Street fighting broke out last night in Fulham with minor clashes between police and youths. Seven youths were arrested, six black and one white’ (The Times)

Moss Side

Manchester
More violence reported in Moss Side.

Friday, 10 July

London

Brixton once again became the centre of attention – several hours of fighting with police erupted after the arrest of a local black DJ. Cars were set alight and shops looted. Four police and four civilians were injured, and 90 people were arrested.
A longer report on this Brixton riot

Several other areas of London also went off on the Friday night:
Southall
There were outbreaks of ‘hooliganism’ (as described by the police). Reports claimed 1,500 Asian youths threw bricks and looted shops. Southall blazed again with burning cars, while black and Asian youths stoned the fire engines trying to reach the fires.

Battersea, South London
A block of flats was set on fire and a fire station was attacked by a crowd of youths. 17 arrests were made in Queenstown Road and Falcon Road area.

Dalston
70 youths threw firebombs at police. Three policemen injured.

Stoke Newington
500 people threw stones at the police station. Firebombs were thrown and 29 people were arrested.

Hounslow, West London
11 skinheads were arrested after a group began stoning cars.

Peckham
A 15 year old youth was arrested in Rye Lane, Peckham, for allegedly throwing a petrol bomb at police (South London Press, 14 July 1981).

Balham, South London
Around 35 shops along the High Road were damaged in a wave of violence which started shortly after midnight when some 200 youths roamed the streets. ‘Worst hit was the Argos Discount Store where hundreds of pounds worth of goods were stolen’ (South London Press, 14 July 1981).

There were also smaller disturbances on Friday night in Clapham (cars overturned), Streatham (sporadic looting), Penge (petrol bombs), Camberwell (two cars were overturned in Daneville Road) and Slough.

Outside London

Trouble was reported on the 10th in a number of cities including Preston, Hull, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, and Reading.

Birmingham
In the Handsworth district of Birmingham, 400 ‘black and white youth, mostly Asian’ stormed the police station, threw bricks at police, driving them out of the area, and then turned on the local fire station and a British Legion club. There were 329 arrests.

Not sure what day, but ‘at the end of riot week’ possibly Friday, in Walthamstow (NE London) ‘a riot of Asian youth’ broke out, after the funeral of Mrs Doreen Khan and her 3 children. 100 youths were involved in fighting with police.
The Khans died as a result of a petrol bomb attack on their home on 2nd July, during a wave of racist incidents in the area. Her husband was badly burned. The police, adding insult to injury, detained for questioning friends and relatives of the victims, repeatedly grilling them hoping to shift the blame for the tragedies on to them.

In Hull on Friday night a battle between skins and bikers turned into a united 150 strong battle against the police.
Hull reflected some of the contradictions during the riots between collective social rebellion and aggro:
“Hull epitomizing some of the worst aspects of skin activity. In addition to wrecking the city centre rival gangs of skins, punks etc set upon each other. Symbols of wealth like the Leeds Building Society plus a number of large stores, including Binns, were trashed. But excepting anti police verbals (one guy was jailed for shouting “kill the pigs”) class-consciousness generally rose no higher than the Humber riverbed.

Shouting football slogans some rioters nutted ordinary people standing in bus queues. One youth threw a concrete block through a bus window while passengers were still inside.

This chaotic response not surprisingly created amongst some Hull transport workers a passing sympathy for the police. The local TGWU official with the backing of the rank and file made preparations in concert with the police and the transport management to close down the Ferensway bus station at the centre of the riots. The Hull Daily Mail rubbed its hands in glee as workers, management and police clasped hands throughout this mid summer week of countryside proletarian insurgency.

Over the past ten years the Hull working class have exhibited a notable radicality, even as recently as the Winter of Discontent, which makes this understandable reaction doubly sad. They are not by nature hostile to class violence and sabotage. For instance during the 1972 dock strike in the UK some Hull dockers cut ships, moored at the disputed container wharves up river, adrift. But they didn’t then go on to root out innocent crewmembers to give them a thrashing as local skins might have done if their performance throughout riot week is anything to go by.”
(Like a Summer With 1000 Julys)

In Nottingham rioting developed on the Friday, in response to a huge build up of police presence…

Saturday and Sunday, 11-12 July

Leicester

In Leicester, police from four counties had assembled close to the Highfields area during the Saturday that evening to try to prevent trouble, but ‘300 to 500 people in their early twenties, West Indian and white mixed, with a few Asians, kept them out of the area using petrol bombs and burning barricades’; the fighting continued for two more evenings, with ‘people in the flats joining the rioting, leaving their doors open so that people could escape from the police’.  Six police were injured and there were 30 arrests.
“Armed with bricks and stones, they confronted lines of police in riot gear who stood between them and their objective – Charles Street police station… Reinforcements were quickly brought in from Lincolnshire, Staffordshire and some 230 officers from the Metropolitan Police. A wooden telegraph pole was ripped from the ground and used as a battering ram against the police. Cars were set on fire or overturned and nearby shops were trashed. Stores in St Peter’s Shopping Centre were smashed and looted and there was a failed attempt to set the post office in St Stephen’s Road ablaze. At the same time as the Highfields riot erupted, the violence continued in the city centre, as mobs of skinheads went on the rampage in Gallowtree Gate, smashing shop windows and stealing anything they could lay their hands on.” (Leicester Mercury)
A short report here

The Bradford 12

Bradford
On 11 July 1981, the “Bradford 12” — a group of Asian youths, members of the United Black Youth League — were arrested for manufacturing petrol bombs, to protect their community from a rumoured fascist attack. (At the subsequent trial, they were acquitted by a jury, on the grounds of self-defence)

Huddersfield

One hundred black and white youths broke shop windows.

London

Battersea
‘A gang of youths attacked four policeman on Sunday afternoon [12 July], striking them to the tarmac floor of the roller skating rink in Battersea Park. Two PCs – Robert Smith and Brian Tullock – were rushed to hospital with serious head wounds. PC Smith needed 13 stitches. “It all started when we answered a call saying a car had been overturned in the park, said Det. Con. Larry Lawrence, “Four of us were in plain clothes but as soon as we identified ourselves we were attacked by about 20 youths carrying hockey sticks and wooden staves. The blows rained down on PC Smith and PC Tullock was given a severe kicking”. Mr Lawrence said a crowd of 200 stood watching. “The only human touch there was a girl who took off her cardigan and wrapped it around PC Smith’s head as he lay bleeding”. A crowd of youths carrying hockey sticks and wooden staves ran through the park during the early evening damaging two cars and throwing petrol bombs at the police’.

‘Later in the evening three policeman were injured in Francis Chichester Way when 35 youths hurled missiles and fire bombs at police lines.’ (South London Press, 14 July 1981).

Leeds
In Chapeltown ‘the police weren’t strong enough to cope’ after ‘all types of youth, black and white’, responded to racist attacks and a police raid on a black club by ‘stoning, throwing petrol bombs, burning cars, setting fire to police vans’.

Bolton
‘300-400 Asians and anti-racists hijacked a milk float and attacked police with bricks, bottles, stones, driving the police 200 yards back … The police got a hammering …’

Luton
Black and white youth began by attacking racists, and then moved on to attack the police and the Tory Party HQ, throwing stones and petrol bombs, breaking windows and looting shops; there were 102 arrests.

Nottingham
Rioting continued from Friday: on the Saturday night racists from outside the town had attacked blacks under the cover of the riots; the fighting began as a confrontation with the police using stones and petrol bombs, with shop windows only being broken ‘accidentally’ – but looting developed later. The rioters were ‘always of mixed races, ages, employed and unemployed’.
Nottingham Police Inspector Colin Sheppard was moved in awe to say…“There was no end to the imagination of the mob used to vent their feelings on the police.” (The Daily Telegraph July 14th 1981) adding, they were “Nottingham’s blackest ever days.”

Derby
Police forced mainly white youths running amuck in the smart city centre into the ghettoised Normanton Road and Peartree area. This tactic came unstuck because a battle ensued involving white, black and Asian youth who more or less fought the police together. A police traffic office was set on fire.
‘At some point during the riots in Derby a group of Asians were seen carrying a large cross through the streets. The cross was later recovered but Our Saviour had been nicked. But this was no Islamic anti-image jag, more probably it was a protest against a band of young Catholics who marched with all the sensitivity of an elephant through Derby’s semi ghettoised district singing “We Shall Overcome.” ‘ (Like a Summer With 1000 Julys)

Trouble was also reported over the weekend in Southampton, Halifax, Blackburn, Preston, Birkenhead, Ellesemere Port, Chester, Stoke Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton, High Wycombe, Newcastle, Knaresborough, Sheffield, Stockport, Nottingham, Maidstone, Aldershot and Portsmouth.

A total of 1,000 people were arrested over the Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, 13 July

Rioting hit Leicester for the third successive night. There were also reports of disturbances in Huddersfield, Derby and Nottingham.

Tuesday, 14 July

All parts of the country were ‘relatively quiet’ for the first time in eleven days.

Wednesday, 15 July

Brixton
An early morning police raid on several Railton Road properties was followed that evening by renewed violence. Three hundred black youths confronted 800 police, eight cars were set on fire and nine police were injured.
This raid caused some bickering even in Parliament – MPs and even some government ministers thought the cops had been unwise to batter their way into the various homes raided, given the atmosphere, and that the raids may even have been unlawful.

At some point in the ten days of rioting in early July,  apart from the events mentioned above, there was also trouble in Romford and Upton Park (East London), Sutton (south of London), Stockwell in South London, Shepherds Bush, Acton, & Chiswick (all in West London), Golders Green (North London).
Hammersmith (W London) saw some somewhat anti-social, unfocussed agro:
“During riot week, some black youths in Hammersmith post office menaced a long queue of black and white unemployed people waiting to cash their giro’s by shoving everyone aside to be served first. Edgy mounted police had been stationed outside the post office in case of trouble and these young blacks, outta their skulls with hope, were looking for any occasion to provoke a riot. But in their understandable eagerness they were well out of line and this silly action only served to put everyone against them in the airless and crammed post office. Even so, the cops were scared of dealing with them.” (Like a Summer With 1000 Julys)

Sunday, 26 July

Liverpool
Seventy black and white youths threw bricks and petrol bombs at police in Toxteth.

Tuesday, 28 July

Liverpool
In the heaviest night of rioting in Toxteth since the first outbreak four weeks earlier, 22-year-old David Moore died after being hit by a police vehicle being used to disperse the crowd. Thirty-four police were injured. There were 22 arrests.
Two police officers were charged with the manslaughter of David Moore but cleared in April 1982.

Saturday, 15 August

Liverpool
A protest march took place demanding the removal of Kenneth Oxford as Chief Constable of Merseyside. Two thousand people took part in the march, watched over by 3,000 police. There was some trouble… Fifteen police were injured, two of them receiving stab wounds, but no arrests were made.

Sheffield
A crowd of 500 youths, most of them black, fought with police at a shopping centre. Three police were injured and seventeen people were arrested.

Bank Holiday weekend, 30-31 August

Brighton
There was a serious outbreak of violence and disorder when 300 mods stoned police and passing cars and threw petrol bombs. Nine youths were arrested. On Monday night police had to separate rival gangs of mods, skinheads and punks.

London

The two days of the annual Notting Hill Carnival passed almost entirely without incident despite earlier predictions of violence and sabotage, and the usual suggestions that it should be called off (forty year later this is still an annual chorus). The only trouble occurred late on Monday night as the carnival was finishing (since the seminal 1976 Carnival Riot, trouble at the end between revellers and police had been pretty normal). Some youths threw bottles at police but were quickly dispersed. Three people suffered stab wounds and four police were injured. Altogether there were 40 arrests during Carnival.

State responses to the riots

The police were undoubtedly, in some areas, nearly overwhelmed by the riotous upsurge; particularly in Liverpool, Manchester and parts of London.

Well over 2,500 people had been arrested for involvement in the riots by the end of ‘Riot Week’. An already overcrowded prison population, and an ongoing work to rule dispute by prison screws meant, however, that there was little room in the jails (there were abortive proposals that they be accommodated in overflow army camps). Some were however jailed on short sentences with little or no defence. There were a number of longer sentences – a number of people were given between 5 and 8 years, mostly for criminal damage or molotov cocktail related actions… Local defence campaigns were set up in some places (eg in Brixton) to support the arrested and imprisoned.

Legislative and strategic ideas for dealing with the riots and threatened future riots abounded. Proposals to revive the defunct Riot Act to allow anyone found present at the scene of a riot to be jailed automatically without a jury trial, however, fell foul of objections by judges (more jealous of their prerogatives than sympathetic to insurrection, possibly…?) Panicked proposals to arm the police routinely also came to nothing in the short term.

In the longer term, however, the riots played a part in influencing shift changes in the legislative armoury the justice system had to use against collective violent challenge. The Tory government already had a strong ‘law ‘n’ order rhetoric, and along with the ’78-79 Winter of Discontent, the experience of the 81 riots became central to Conservative myths of the ‘enemies within’ (trade unionists, strikers and riotous urban youth, later to be joined by lesbians, gays and loony lefties) which demanded increasing development of repressive institutions of the state.

Toxteth, 6th July

Alterations to police powers came over the next few years aimed at updating legislation to deal with public disorder. 1981, and the miner’s strike 1984-85 – in particular the Battle of Orgreave in June 1984 – were very much the driving force behind this. The mass disorder during the riots and the miners’ strike led to the government concluding that new public order arrangements needed to be made. Specialist uniforms, helmets and riot shields, as well as other equipment, were made available to the police and significant training was developed to help officers control public order situations (eg the Association of Chief Police Officers Public Order Manual). This new style of paramilitary policing rapidly became the norm, and this modernised style of policing needed a new legal structure to support it. The SPG was upgraded, rebranded as the Territorial Support Group.

New policing bills reinforced this. Some concessions were made to move deckchairs around – eg the hated ‘SUS’ law was quickly repealed, and the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) brought in new codes of behaviour and a new Police Complaints Authority. But behind the window dressing repressive legislation was also being brought in. PACE also re-introduced beefed up Stop and Search powers which allowed police more discretion and clauses which specifically enabled greater control over ‘public order’ situations – from riots, to demonstrations and picket lines. PACE also brought in powers to cover police actions such as tactics which had been used in ’81 but with doubtful legal basis – eg more powers to raid and search ‘suspects’ homes.

The Public Order Act 1986 replaced reliance on various relevant common law offences, and on the Public Order Act 1936, and brought in new offences which could be levelled at people taking part in not just riots, but demonstrators, pickets, anyone involved in any crowd activity…
More on the 1986 Public Order Act in this ‘Short History of Public Order Acts’.

In parallel to beefing up repressive weaponry, the government was urgently investigating why this was all happening, On a pragmatic level – they knew fundamentally that people don’t riot in their tens of thousands without reasons, and someone had to be seen to be at least looking like they were doing something more than nicking people.

The government commissioned the Scarman report two days after the April Brixton Riots (ironically, he finished his report on Brixton right in the middle of the July riot week!) Scarman’s terms of reference for the enquiry were “to inquire urgently into the serious disorder in Brixton on 10–12 April 1981 and to report, with the power to make recommendations”. Scarman basically concluded that ethnic communities in UK inner cities felt they had little stake in UK society, and that their relationship with institutions, especially the cops, had broken down, and that changes had to be made to integrate disaffected ethnic minorities, and stop being so obvious about targetting young black people. Fundamentally, though, Scarman cleared the police of having sparked riots by their tactics.

When it came to addressing decline and social collapse in some areas, the government was tempted to abandon some cities, more or less. Government documents released at the end of 2011 (under the ‘30 year rule’) revealed that some of Thatcher’s advisers considered government social and economic intervention in Liverpool “to be a ‘doomed mission.'” Government ministers also opposed “‘massive injection of additional public spending’ to stabilise the inner cities” and claiming that it would be “‘pumping water uphill.'” Instead, they urged a policy that “‘managed decline'” in Liverpool.

Many residents of many areas of UK cities might be forgiven for thinking managed decline has been pretty much continuous since the 80s…

A plethora of urban programmes, public private partnerships and regeneration projects were, however, launched in the years after ’81. However, many were aimed at dragooning young unemployed people into crap training schemes or lowpaid jobs; mickey mouse projects like the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and similar schemes were brought in for school leavers. Most of these schemes enabled employers to exploit school leavers for cheap labour without much in the way of real training or education. YTS later provoked its own day of youth rebellion in 1985.

Some theoretical responses to the 81 riots

A few interesting perspectives on the ’81 events: causes, implications, fallout, the social and economic context…

Like a Summer with a Thousand Julys
The ‘Post-Situationist’ (?) Wise brothers epic take on the riots, the background, British society, race, police, capitalism… A glorious full on charge of a read. Well worth a look.

The Impossible Class
An anarchist take from 1981, which positions the riots as the response of an increasingly autonomous new class that was developing in UK inner cities.
(See also Past Tense’s more recent comments on this text: Impossible Classlessness)

You Can’t Fool the Youth
Black Marxist writer and historian Paul Gilroy’s Autumn 1981 analysis of the uprisings.

From Resistance to Rebellion
A Sivanandan
Putting the riots into the context of the Black struggles of the previous decades

The Summer of 1981: a post-riot analysis
Chris Harman
Socialist Workers Party bigwig Harman puts the riots in historical context, spending quite a bit of time attacking autonomous organising by black activists, but some interesting bits despite this…

You’re Miles Better Off Here – the Wood Green Riot

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Thanks to the Radical History of Hackney, transpontine, Revolt Against Plenty and others who we looted some of the above info from.
Some bits also came from an old Commission for Racial Equality timeline of the riots

Three days of rioting kick off in Dalston and Stoke Newington, 1981

“Blood! Blood! Spilled by police tactics. They batter them, batter them in a tha head.”

Rioting swept many parts if Britain’s cities in the summer of 1981. If the first Brixton riots in April kicked it off, tension across many communities built to a climactic series of eruptions in the first week of July.

3 July saw aggro in Southall as skinheads arriving for a gig provoked angry resistance and fighting in Liverpool between police and young black folk. Over the following days uprisings broke out all over the country: in Liverpool, Manchester, again in Brixton, Bristol, Southampton, Leicester, Luton, Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Bolton, Preston and Teesside, and across London from Acton to Walthamstow, from Haringey to Clapham… The whole country seemed on fire.

In Hackney, East London, trouble had been building for weeks: some of it turned against the police, some of it aimed at shops, and some turned (sometimes anti-socially) on anyone…

Police vs Black people in Hackney pre-1981

“The community hated us and we hated them…” (Hackney police officer)

In the early 1980s local policing in the Hackney area was violent and racist, almost in outright war against local black community. Complaints or racist attacks taken to the police received indifference, contempt and abuse. As in other inner city areas, SUS was used to harass black people and falsely accuse them of crimes.

Police had been accused of targeting black people locally for several years.
Just a few examples: In May 1971, Aseta Simms died in Stoke Newington Police Station in suspicious circumstances
In December 1978, Black teenager Michael Ferreira was stabbed during a fight with white teenagers in Stoke Newington. His friends took him to the nearby police station, where the cops seemed more interested in questioning them than assisting Michael, who died of his wounds before reaching hospital.

This incident led to the setting up of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation.

On 24th April 1979 Hackney resident Blair Peach was killed by police, hit over the head during a protest against the National Front in Southall. Peach was killed by an officer from the notorious Special Patrol Group. The SPG’s lockers were searched as part of the investigation into the death, uncovering non-police issue truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather cosh. One officer was found in possession of a collection of Nazi regalia. The failure of the police to properly investigate the murder of Blair Peach – and their general harassment of youth, led Hackney Teachers’ Association to adopt a policy of non-cooperation with the police.

November 1979: A conference of anti-racist groups in Hackney called for the repeal of the “sus” laws that allow police to stop and search anyone they are suspicious of. In 1977 60% of “sus” arrests in Hackney were of black people – who made up 11% of the borough.

February 1980: Five units of the Special Patrol Group began to operate in Hackney with no consultation. When the Leader of the Council criticised the police for this, Commander Mitchell responded by saying “I don’t feel obliged to tell anyone about my policing activities”.

1981

Events in the weeks leading up to what later became called ‘Riot Week’ (3-15 July 1981) indicated a ratchetting up of tension towards what seemed inevitable eruption.

On 20 April, towards the end of a bank-holiday fair at Finsbury Park, hundreds of youths went on the rampage with sticks and bars, smashing up stalls and mugging people.

On the night of Tuesday, 5 May, about a hundred youths, most of whom had just come out of Cubie’s, an Afro-Caribbean disco off Dalston Lane, gathered round while some of them ripped out a jeweller’s window and stole jewellery worth £500. The retreating crowd threw bottles at the police.

In the early hours of Wednesday, 24 June, gangs of youths roaming the streets, again after chucking-out time at Cubie’s, smashed the windows of a travel agency and a fish-and-chip shop, grabbed the till of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Kingsland Road, and mugged three pedestrians.

London Transport bus crews, fearful of trouble, had been refusing to pick up passengers from Cubie’s for some months, thus leaving large gangs of black youths to walk home, along streets lined with shops, in a mood of anger and frustration.

As rioting spread elsewhere, on Wednesday, 8 July, two officers on patrol in Stoke Newington were attacked with stones, and towards midnight four police cars were damaged by missiles. The next evening, (July 9th) police were out in force, on foot, around Dalston, skirmishing with a couple of hundred youths on the move. Five shop windows were smashed and one policeman injured by missiles.

Police presence in the area was increased dramatically throughout the week.

On 10 July, fighting increased:

“The clashes in Dalston and Stoke Newington between police and local people on the weekend of 10-12 July were the culmination of several days of tension, caused mainly by police tactics.

Local traders had been told repeatedly to board up shops because the police were expecting trouble, and this created an unreal siege-like atmosphere in both Kingsland and Stoke Newington High Streets. There were also a number of raids on Johnson’s, a West Indian cafe in Sandringham Road, which was to become the focus for the worst disturbances.” (Hackney Peoples Press)

The junction of Sandringham Road and Kingsland High Street became a focus; unsurprisingly. Sandringham Road led down into what was then the heart of the most populous Afro-Caribbean area in Hackney. It was sometimes called Dalston’s ‘frontline’.

Johnsons Cafe, early 1980s

At the top of the road, the Argos showroom windows gleamed with consumer   products. On the right, Johnson’s cafe, a haunt favoured by black youth. Police targetted Johnson’s constantly, accusing young people gathering there of being involved in crime; there were frequent drug busts and raids in pursuit of ‘dips’ (pickpockets), accused of gathering there after escaping from their favourite hunting-ground, nearby Ridley Road Market.

Days of fighting elsewhere had ben splashed across the news… The mood of insurrection was emerging from the constant tension.
The trouble on 10th July began around 5 p.m. when a group of youths robbed a jewellers’ shop in Kingsland High Street.

“Trouble became inevitable when the police tried to prevent people going down Sandringham Road, to gather outside Johnson’s…”
The police closed down Johnson’s cafe and moved on groups that formed outside: a few bricks and bottles were thrown. Then larger groups of youth began to congregate.

“At around 7.30 p.m. two fire-bombs were thrown: one at the Argos showrooms, followed by looting; and one at a policeman in Arcola Street, site of the main social-security office in Stoke Newington. The police charged down Sandringham Road, but were pushed back by the youths for a distance of about 40 metres before making a successful counter-charge. Just before midnight bricks were thrown at the police stationed at the mouth of Sandringham Road, from the barrier railings outside the Rio cinema, opposite. Under attack, exhausted from working days of fourteen and sixteen hours around London’s riot areas, some officers lost their cool. A unit of helmeted police charged across the road, truncheons drawn, and used them to `disperse’ the crowd at the railings. One girl suffered a head wound and was rushed to hospital.”

Hackney copper, snapped shortly before whacking a Hackney People’s Press reporter

There were at least two baton charges by police to clear Sandringham Road. Police lashed out wildly with truncheons – many people were injured, including a Hackney People’s Press reporter, who was standing in the doorway of the Rio Cinema. He was taken to the Hackney Hospital, and had three stitches in a scalp wound.

“There was an atmosphere of Sweeney and Starsky and Hutch. It was just after the stoning incident, and police Rovers, Escorts and blue-and-white vans packed with men were using Kingsland Road as a race-track, hooters wailing and lights flashing, in pursuit of the suspected assailants. For the meanwhile, the protection of property took a back seat, and I watched for half an hour as menswear shop, Mr H, was looted down to the last button and buckle. The window smashed a few seconds after I had walked past it: there was no one in sight but a young black boy of about thirteen, looking a picture of innocence. A few minutes later five or ten youths, black and white, began to arrive, clambering over the railings from the road, then leaning against them and looking around themselves with great caution before acting. One boy set the example, snatching a white sweatshirt and stuffing it down the front of his jacket. The others helped themselves, each one walking away in a relaxed manner calculated to allay suspicion. Mr H’s alarm was ringing noisily: but so were many others. After a lull more wardrobe hunters arrived, and some of the first wave returned for second helpings. The first time they’d snatched anything that came to hand. This time they were more discriminating, checking sizes and colours and discarding unsuitable ones.
Three whites in their late twenties stood opposite, smiling benevolently and shouting ‘Police’, with the accent on the first syllable, whenever men in blue came near. A skinhead in a long Edwardian jacket, attracted by the Victoria Wine off-licence next door to Mr H, wrapped a brick in a paper bag and hurled it at the window with all his might. It bounced off. A boy slipped on the glass outside Mr H, and cut himself badly, and the others gathered round to help. The looting proceeded, while at the back, thieves were smashing their way through security bars and looting the racks inside. Some of the earliest looters had the opportunity to saunter by five or six times, while the skinhead persisted in his increasingly desperate attempts to smash the off-licence window, the only effect being to leave a dusting of brick powder on the glass.
At about 1 a.m. a big black bearded youth in a long leather raincoat took out a pair of model legs from the window and threw them into the middle of the road. Police vehicles had passed the scene at least forty or fifty times, but this act finally attracted their attention. A van screeched to a halt, a dozen officers leapt out, and one of them stayed behind to stand guard over what, by now, was a totally empty window.”

Compared to the riot the same day in Brixton, and the week’s events in Liverpool 8 and Moss Side, the events in Hackney were said to be relatively minor, In all forty premises were damaged that night and sixty arrests were made. The score of injuries was even: twenty-three police, twenty-three members of the public.”

The Hackney People’s Press reporter injured by police truncheons described the scene in Hackney Hospital:

“The casualty ward of the hospital was like a battle-field. A number of people were being treated for head wounds. I spoke to two 16-year old white youths who had been attacked. One of them had been truncheoned and kicked while outside the Rio, at the same time as me. Another had been attacked with a group of friends while on his way home to Stoke Newington. With his head bleeding from a wound, he and his friends walked all the way from Sandringham Road to Hackney Hospital. While at the hospital I saw uniformed and plain-clothes police writing down the names and addresses of people being treated. They were being helped to do this by at least one member of the administrative staff.”

Just up the road in Stoke Newington, the same night saw repeated use of violent police tactics to clear the streets of people, mostly against bystanders and spectators. Transit vans full of police were driven very fast down narrow roads and up onto pavements.

“Coachloads of police would suddenly rush out of their buses and chase off local people, lashing out wildly with their truncheons. HPP knows of a number of people who were attacked and arrested on that evening.” (Hackney People’s Press)

The following day, Saturday, 11 July, “far worse was expected. Shoppers stayed away from the High Street and the Wimpy Bar owner complained of his worst Saturday for business in twenty years. But the shopkeepers had their minds preoccupied in other ways. From Dalston Junction to Stamford Hill, they were measuring and sawing, drilling and screwing, fitting and hammering. According to means, great panels of corrugated iron, wood, plywood, chipboard, hardboard and cardboard were being battened up by those who did not already have armour-plated glass, grilles and shutters. Builders’ merchants were running out of supplies, security firms doing more business than they could cope with, employees and friends and relatives were dragooned into a frenetic race against time to put up their protective walls before the expected confrontation of the late afternoon and evening.”

But less trouble than expected in fact panned out…  There were further disturbances during the afternoon, particularly in the Sandringham Road area. Police moved in a pincer movement to try and clear the streets – this just led to the fighting spreading into gardens (St. Mark’s Rise residents reported groups of police chasing youths through their gardens through the afternoon).

At some point, Johnson’s cafe in Sandringham Road had its window smashed in – seemingly by the cops.

“All the glass wall and glass door at the front of the shop was kicked in, kicked in by the police – bash! and smash!”  “Police came into the cafe using truncheons, slashing them in… a them head…”

Journalist Paul Harrison described the atmosphere on the Saturday:

“Up at the end of Sandringham Road, the atmosphere was High Noon. The police were scattered, in twos and threes, all down the High Street. About fifty black youths, with the merest scattering of whites, were sitting along the railings and on the wooden fence of the petrol station and crowding outside Johnson’s cafe. I talked to many of them and the grievances bubbled out, against unemployment, racialism, but above all against the police.

A pretty girl of seventeen, with four grade ones in the Certificate of Secondary Education, out of work for ten months, said:

‘I go down the temp agency every morning. There’s only been two jobs going there all week. Since Thatcher’s come in, everything’s just fallen. She needs a knife through her heart.’

Her nineteen-year-old friend continues:

‘I got three O-levels and that’s done me no good at all. A lot of my friends are having babies. If you haven’t got a job, you might as well have a baby.’

Vengeance for colonialism and slavery, rebellion against discrimination, redress for police abuses, all mingled together as a group of boys pitched in. They were angry, agitated.

‘You can’t win,’ said a tall youth worker:

‘If a black person drive a nice car, the police say, where you get the money to drive that? You wear a gold chain, they say, where you thief that? We like to gather in a little place and have a drink and music, so what the police do? They like to close it down, so we all on the street instead. And what happen when they get hold of you? They fling you in the van, they say, come on you bunnies [short for ‘jungle bunnies’]. They play find the black man’s balls. They treat us like animals, man, they treat their dogs better than they treat us. They kick the shit out of us and put us inside to rot. They think they are OK in their uniforms. But if that one there was to walk over here naked now, we’d kick the hell out of him. Somebody said, black people will never know themselves till their back is against the wall, well, now our backs is against the wall. I’m gonna sit right here, and I ain’t gonna move.’

A boy of eighteen in a flat corduroy cap said:

‘I was driving down from Tottenham to Hackney once, I got stopped seven times on the way. Four years ago, they came to my house searching for stolen goods and asked me to provide a receipt for everything in my house. We’ve been humiliated. It’s time we show them that we want to be left alone.’

‘We’re fighting for our forefathers,’ said the seventeen-year-old secretary:

 ‘We’ve been watching Roots [the film series on American slavery]. They used us here for twenty years, now they got no use for us, they want us out.’

An eighteen-year-old boy in a green, red and black tea-cosy hat went on:

‘The police can call you a fucking cunt, but if you say one word at them they’ll take you down. They don’t even like you to smile at them. You try to fight them at court: you can’t fight them, because black man don’t have no rights at all in this country.’

There was a lot of military talk, for this was not seen as a challenge to law, but a matter of group honour: the police, as a clan, had humiliated young blacks, as a clan, and clan revenge had to be exacted.

‘Since they got these riot shields,’ said a boy of twenty, ‘they think they’re it. We can’t stand for that. Tonight we have to kill one of them, and now there’s a crowd of us, we’re gonna do it. If they bring in the army we’ll bring in more reinforcements and kill them.’

One boy in sunglasses, sixteen at the oldest, launched into a lecture on guerrilla tactics:

‘If you come one night and they make you run, then the next night you bring enough stones, bottles and bombs that they can’t make you run: you don’t run, they run.’

He smirks, as if he has just stormed their lines single-handed:

‘But look at everyone here. They’re all empty-handed. Last night they were wasting their petrol-bombs, throwing them on the street. It’s no use throwing one without a specific target. Look at that police bus: one bomb at the front, one at the back, and that would be thirty-two or sixty-four police less. You got to have organisation, like they got.’ “

 At 6 p.m. the police decided to clear the streets, moving on the group gathered at the petrol-station fence, pushing them down Sandringham Road. At the same time another cordon of police began to walk up Sandringham Road from the other end. An escape route was deliberately left open — the alley of Birkbeck Road — and the cordons let through most of those who wanted to get by.

But many of the youths believed the police had trapped them in a pincer with the intention of beating them up. Several of them started to break down the wall next to Johnson’s café to use the bricks. As one young boy explained:

‘When they come smashing you over the head with a baton one night, the next time you know you’ve got to get something to defend yourself with.’

… The police closed in to forestall the brick-throwers, there were scuffles, one policeman was injured, and five arrests were made.”

The expected explosion did not occur…How come a “full-blooded riot” didn’t really get going In Hackney, as deprived and angry as Brixton?
Partly Hackney had no single centre like Brixton, and its heart, Railton Road, The numbers required to start a large-scale disturbance never came together.
Also, the police had learned tactics, from the experience of Brixton to learn from, “they did not offer a static, concentrated defensive line that was a sitting target for missiles. And they split up the opposition into smaller groups and kept them moving down separate side roads, preventing any larger crowds from forming.”

The main motivation of rioters was, quite simply and straightforwardly, hatred of the police among the young and the desire to hit back at them for humiliations received. A spot of looting never does any harm either…

By the Sunday, the situation was a lot calmer, but there was still a massive police presence on the streets. Coachloads of cops were permanently parked in Sandringham Road, and Transit vans, with iron grids over the windscreen to prevent them being smashed, lined up outside Stoke Newington police station.

The organisers of two local festivals held that weekend at London Fields and Stoke Newington Common, were asked by the police to cancel their festivities. Both of these refused to call the events off –  there was no trouble at all.

Over 100 people were arrested over the few days of fighting: magistrates sent a fair few to prison. The Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HDLC) was set up to assist those arrested.

After ‘81

Anger at collective reaction against racism and police violence didn’t dissipate after July 1981 – it was in fact to peak in the area two years later.

In December 1981 Hackney Police arrested and assaulted a black mother and two daughters — the Knight family. This was one of many such incidents in Hackney. Others include the wrongful arrest and assault on the White family who got over £50,000 compensation and the wrongful arrest of Newton Rose for murder.

By 1982 there was demand for an enquiry into policing locally, coming from the community.

Colin Roach family campaign demo, 1983

In January 1983, Colin Roach, a local black 15 year old, died from gunshot wounds in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station. Police said he shot himself, but there were highly dubious circumstances, and signs of a police cover-up. Colin’s family was treated very badly. The death, and the way the Roach family were dealt with, provoked a huge local upsurge of anger; mass pickets of the Police Station ended with arrests and a mini-riot. Numerous protests and community organising followed; the mass response to this death sparked collective activity that lasted several years.

Eventually an inquest verdict of suicide was brought in on Colin, but it was critical of the police response. Many community organisations ended up in effect refusing to co-operate with the cops at all. A campaign to defund the police was initially backed by Hackney Council (though it was eventually ruled illegal).

Police brutality continued into the mid-80s, with the vicious beating of Trevor Monerville, the death of Tunay Hassan in custody in Dalston Police Station, and other cases. The community campaigns that formed from these cases eventually came together with the founding of Hackney Community Defence Campaign (HCDA).

HCDA stepped up the pressure on the police locally, setting up a database of violent, racist and corrupt police and those involved in harassment and deaths etc, following up cases, going to court, running campaigns, uncovering police corruption and drug-dealing. Eventually they forced the transfer of eight officers, another committed suicide, others jailed for nicking money from victims and dealing…

In return they experienced harassment, were followed by unmarked cars, received threats… Special Branch’s Special Demonstration Squad sent undercover police to infiltrate the Campaign at the Colin Roach Centre. Mind you, this was in keeping with police traditions – SDS officers had also previously spied on a number of local groups and campaigns, including Schoolkids Against the Nazis.

Sandringham Road E8 1983

Some amateur and unique footage of black youths hanging out on “The Frontline”.

Part one includes some police-community relations including an arrest at 6:40 and a cop getting lumped at 7:05 – after which his helmet is used as football.

Part two is a bit more relaxed and includes a visit at 5:58 from reggae royalty Dennis Brown (of “Money In My Pocket” fame).

More context about the policing and community of Sandringham Road available in Hackney Community Defence Association’s “Fighting The Lawmen”.

There’s an audio guide to Sandringham Road as part of A Hackney Autobiography.
https://www.ahackneyautobiography.org.uk/trails/food-and-frontline/9

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Mush of the above was shamelessly lifted from the Radical History of Hackney, many thanks to them, go check their excellent blog.

Today in London rebellious history, 1381: Barnet folk are still staunch in the Peasants Revolt

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 played out on a ‘national level’ – that is, huge armies gathered, marched on the capital, and caused a brief crisis and threat to the power of the feudal system and the aristocracy, monarchy and church establishment, who benefitted from the feudal labour of serfs all over the land.

But the revolt also found local focus all across the south-east of England. The grievances that led to the revolt were not uniform; many and varied oppressions sparked anger and rebellion, and outbreaks of trouble generally saw particular hated lords targeted. Some bands of rebels erupted at the poll tax collectors trying to extort cash from them; some sorted out some local grievances before marching on London; many never marched to London at all but busied themselves with the local powers-that-be.

Major targets of local action were the manor rolls and the court rolls – basically, the records of the feudal services local villeins and serfs ‘owed’ to their lord, and the records of disputes, refusals, fines and arguments over the extraction of these obligations. Long before 1381, these unpaid duties towards your feudal superior caused constant friction; the labour shortages resulting from the Black Death of 1348-9 gave the serfs a greater power to negotiate, despite royal action against their freedom to leave home to look for better situations.

When the 1381 rebellion broke out, many manor houses were attacked, and the manor rolls seized and burned, both as a symbolic gesture and a practical attempt to erase the record of what the lord could demand of his tenants.

One local example: the men of Chipping Barnet played a rowdy role in the area of Middlesex around St Albans and Barnet; this is captured by the horrified St Albans chronicler.

The Abbey of St Albans was the most powerful landowner in the area; successive abbots’ attempts to maintain the rolls and demand the full duties ‘owed to them’ had increasingly got the Abbey’s tenants’ backs up. The revolt provided inspiration and opportunity to even up the scores…

According to his account, on entering London on 13 June, the Kent and Essex rebels sent a message to St Albans via men from Barnet, and the next day Barnet men were again prominent in the St Albans contingent which headed to the capital and returned with the message that ‘there would no longer be serfs but lords’.

The Gatehouse at St Albans Abbey – stormed by the 1381 rebels

During the following week the rebels attacked the symbols of the abbot’s lordship, broke into his prison, woods and warrens, and burnt the hated court rolls. They also engaged in what sounds like some provocative and near-blasphemous agitprop, staging a mock mass, but placing torn-up documents instead of communion bread on the tongues of the (un?)faithful.

The rebels forced the abbot to issue charters for each village; not only in St Albans itself, but also areas further afield where the Abbey’s writ ran. ‘The people of Barnet came with bows and arrows, two-edged axes, small axes, swords and cudgels and obtained a similar charter of liberties as those of the people of St Albans, including free hunting rights, fishing rights, and rights of erecting hand mills’ (milling was the lord’s monopoly).

After this they demanded’ a certain book made from the court rolls’ so they could burn it because it contained evidence that’ almost all the houses of Barnet were held by the rolls’. The abbot prevaricated’, promising it within three weeks, and thus saved the book for posterity.

The revolt was over in London by 15 June, but total suppression further afield took longer.

On 28 June royal commissioners arrived in St Albans, but there was still some resistance: ‘300 bowmen from the surrounding villages, especially from Barnet and Berkhamsted’ gathered in arms to continue to assert their demands.

On 15 July king Richard II arrived in St Albans and annulled all the abbot’s enforced concessions, and on 20 July received oaths of fealty from all the inhabitants of Hertfordshire.

The defeat of the Revolt was far from the end of resistance to the power of the Abbey locally. The abbot’s tenants had concentrated on specific grievances, but since these were suppressed, not addressed, tensions soon began to rebuild. Illegal land transfers continued, and in 1417 there was another violent revolt; royal justices eventually had to be sent to intervene, because ‘the bondmen and tenants in bondage of the abbot of St Albans at Chipping Barnet have leagued together to refuse their due customs and services’.

Many of those involved in 1381 were not peasants at all, but men of substantial property. The Barnet rebels in 1417 included twelve freemen, among them a citizen of London. During the 15th century, serfdom and the associated services and indignities – which had provoked the fierce struggle between abbot and tenants at Barnet – was gradually phased out.

Today in London striking history, 1968: Injection Moulders lock-out begins, Queensbury

In June 1968, 85 machine operators were locked out of the Injection Moulders factory in Queensberry, North-west London, as a year-long struggle for better wages and conditions came to a climax.

Here’s an account of the dispute, reprinted from an article from Solidarity’s west-London newspaper from 1969

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This article is an answer to those dockers (and other workers) misguided enough to swallow the racialist nonsense of Enoch Powell. It is about a dispute in which a bulk of those involved were Pakistanis and West Indians. It should help explode the myth that immigrant workers are prepared to accept wages and conditions that British workers wouldn’t touch.

The article also shows how a relatively ‘new’ labour force, unfamiliar with the tortuous and time consuming channels of ‘official procedure’ (and lacking cynicism bred of repeated ‘betrayals) can immediately resort to radical methods of action and – through sustained solidarity – achieve worthwhile results.

The lock-out involving 90 men at a small factory in Queensbury should be studied by socialists and industrial militants. It illustrates a rather neglected feature of monopoly capitalism.

We are all too familiar with the usual results of takeover bids: closures and sackings. But in other cases smaller units swallowed up by the Big Boys are in fact kept open. Having studied this article the reader will know why.

It is taken for granted by those with scant knowledge of industry that certain standards are adhered to regarding working conditions and hygiene. Many believe that wages, if not generous, are at least adequate. This dispute should be an eye-opener to them.

Injection Moulders Ltd. is part of the giant Guest Keen and Nettlefold (GKN) empire (total capital £240 million!). It is situated on the small Queensbury (Middx) Industrial Estate. The factory produces plastic mouldings for a variety of industrial products (switches, insulators, etc.). It became a subsidiary of GKN’s last year (1967). The firm held a long reputation for being anti-union. Prior to the takeover, it had been engaged in recruiting immigrant labour to such an extent that Asians and West Indians comprised over 90% of the labour force. Tis recruitment has been continued by GKN. One would like to think that this was a philanthropic gesture by a liberal management, eager to prove itself a pioneer in industrial race relations. However, it is more likely to reflect the firm’s experience with ‘cheap labour’ in South Africa and Rhodesia. Incidentally, GKN is one of the biggest contributors to the Tory Party funds.

Language difficulties and lack of industrial experience limit the area of work open to Asian immigrants. To shrewd managements, these men appear ‘attractive propositions’. But capitalists frequently fall for their own lies: the cheap labour myth was the one Injection Moulders management swallowed. This illusion and many others have taken a knock during this dispute. Workers, irrespectively of race, have to pay the same prices in shops. Asian and West Indian immigrants often fork out a lot more for rent. Therefore acting as cheap labour just wasn’t on.

’Something out of Dickens’

At 5/5.5 an hour for machine operators, the wages at Injection Moulders are among the lowest in the area. In order to take home sufficient to live on the men often exceed a 70-hour week! At the rates GKN are paying, they can afford any amount of overtime.

Only the management can understand the bonus scheme. Errors are often made. The chargehands say ‘We’re only human’ – a claim that no one who has worked for them would endorse.

The working conditions remind one of a story out of a Dickens novel. The shop floor is dusty and hot. Sanitary arrangements are primitive: filthy wash basins, no proper drinking water, only four W.C.s (one of these had to be used as a urinal). Any operator wishing to visit the toilet had to get someone to ‘stand in’ for him. Several workers have been refused permission. The discomfort and indignity caused by such callousness can be imagined. There are no tea-breaks at Injection Moulders. If you do have tea, you drink it while you work. Operators often work from 7pm to 2am without a break. It isn’t surprising that some of them decided things couldn’t continue like that.

The factory has never been trade union organized – and it seemed unlikely that Asian and West Indian immigrants could manage to do what their white colleagues had failed to do in 25 years. Yet this is precisely what they did. It is a remarkable achievement considering the difficulties they faced. Several Pakistani and West Indians had some trade union experience. Several were well educated but due to the colour bar in the jobs they had entered industry – poetic justice indeed! It was extremely difficult to organize openly, but despite this some men were recruited into the AEF. Encouraged by this, the North London Area Organizing Committee of the AEF leafletted the factory.

The management sacked one man who was active in the union – for breaking a moulding pin valued at 6d! Stewards were victimized by being forbidden to talk to their fellow workers. One steward was told not to talk to the men because ‘it could reduce output’. As the number of men joining the union grew to 50% the management decided to use the age-old ‘divide and rule’ policy. They conferred staff status on the setters. Despite this, by March 1968 95% of the machine operators were in the union. They prove to be no mere card holders, but men determined to struggle for better pay and conditions.

Speed-up began after the Time and Motion people had visited the machine shop, The ‘experts’ would study a machine and its operators for 30 minutes (the machine had to be operated 12 hours!). Machine rates were increased and so were the minimum job rates necessary to earn a bonus. One machine set at 65 cycles an hour was speeded up to 90. Not surprisingly, no one could make it pay.

The ‘granulating’ question

Excess plastic from mouldings is trimmed off and re-processed by granulating. This job has always been done in a separate room. The management decided to fit each machine with a granulator. Each operator would have to run this machine as well as his own. Quite apart from the extra work involved, the men objected to the health hazards. The grinders were dusty and anyone drinking or eating would be lucky if he didn’t swallow the dust. Many got sore throats and lost their voices.

The management refused to discuss with the shop stewards using the pretext that they hadn’t been officially informed of the stewards’ names. Negotiation eventually began but one steward was excluded because his name had been misspelt. The management appeared to concede that granulating was a separate job and that lack of space was their problem. But they didn’t seem in any hurry to solve it!.

On June 18, 1968, the steward informed the bosses that their members were no longer willing to operate the granulating machines – until talks began. The management made no reply. The lads worked normally – i.e. refused to do the granulating. On June 24 a Works Conference was held. The bosses refused to negotiate unless the operators did granulating.

That afternoon the manager called one of the day shift stewards into his office (the other steward was ill at home). While the manager and steward were talking, the supervision were busy in the machine shop. They approached the operators and tried to get them sign a book – this would commit them to operating the granulators. This crude attempt to cut off the men from their stewards failed. The lads refused to be intimidated. They wouldn’t discuss anything in the absence of their elected representatives. The management told the men to go out and informed them that they were sacked.

Solidarity

The locked-out workers sent for a night shift stewards, then waited until 7pm for the night shift men to appear. A meeting was held and it was decided that the night shift would go in and work as usual. On entering the factory the night shift workers found no clock cards in the rack. The stewards told the bosses that the men would be willing to work but not to granulate. Within minutes the police arrived and ejected the workers. They came from Wembley, some miles away. It looked as though the whole operation was planned.

Two weeks later the locked-out men received a letter informing them that they were dismissed. They refused to collect their cards. The bosses then sent them to the Labour Exchange.

The North London District Committee of the AEF met on July 1st and decided to support the Injection Moulders workers. Eight days later the Union Executive gave official backing. This encouraged the men – their loyalty and faith in the union is fantastic (it will no doubt take a knock in the future). The slow machinery of officialdom churned into action, soon overtaken by the solidarity of local militants. Collections were held in nearby factories. Workers from Simms Motor Units, Hoovers, Rotoprint, Phillips and Ford, Hilger and Watts joined the marches in solidarity. They also put pressure on to ensure that products from Injection Moulders were ‘blacked’. Students joined the picket lines and were present every day of the dispute.

Many of the locked out men had purposely saved some money for such a dispute. The not so well off were taken care of. Stewards would gather the men around them and ask if any of them had a pound note. Two groups would merge: the haves and have nots. The money was the shared out without a murmur either of protest or gratitude. There was a silent understanding between them.

‘Integrated’ scabbing

The blacking wasn’t extensive and the factory continued some production. The management succeeded in persuading some other workers to do the operators’ jobs. Chargehands would operate fork lift trucks in the road, although they had no license. Alf Payne, local brach AEF branch secretary, got onto the local police. They ‘checked’… but the work continued. The quality of the work produced by the scabs wasn’t up to much. Frigidaires, Fords and Rotoprint rejected much of it.

An American firm called ‘Manpower Ltd.’ supplied 30 scabs. They were a cosmopolitan crowd: white, Asian and Negro. Some were students. One drove his Union-Jack-bedecked motorcycle right through the picket line. Policemen standing nearby ignored the incident. ‘Manpower’ received 11/6 per hour for each scab supplied, out of which the scabs received 7/6 an hour. Obviously Injection Moulders could well afford to give its operators a rise.

Does the P.I.B. know about scab rates which involve less productivity – and bad quality at that? It was nauseating to hear student scabs rationalizing their disgusting behaviour. Another nasty taste was the fact that two white workers who had at first supported their colleagues took money from the strike fund and then went in and scabbed! It was a bizarre situation: black and white students and workers were inside the factory scabbing; black and white workers and students were outside – manning the picket line!

Drivers would be stopped by pickets and told that an official strike was on. TGWU card holders would ring their district officials and were told ‘we know nothing about a dispute’. So much for official help. A sympathetic driver would sometimes be persuaded to come into management’s office ‘to use the phone’. After a few seconds, he would emerge and proceed to unload his lorry. It is not known what passed between them in the office – but it is unlikely to have been a discussion on business ethics!

No mention of the workers’ case appeared in the local rag. It referred to Injection Moulders and peddled lies about the role of ‘professional demonstrators’ (the people referred to were industrial workers and students of International Socialism and Solidarity who were able to assist workers). The article also referred to the coloured workers’ who remained loyal’. White legs?

The bosses start to crack

The AEF officials put pressure on manpower Ltd. who withdrew their men. This was one of the first signs of victory. The bosses no doubt surprised at the assistance the immigrants received from other workers and perturbed at the phenomenon of political groups helping their employees started to talk with the union. Bill MacLaughlin (a dissident CPer) and his assistant Les Elliot met the management who offered 1/- an hour rise but declared that they reserved the right to exclude persons they considered ‘undesirable’. A meeting was held outside the factory and this ‘magnificent’ offer was turned down flat.

The spirit of solidarity had to be seen to be believed. Unlike other groups of workers these immigrants had little choice of jobs – they couldn’t afford to chuck a job in and move on. They had their backs to the wall. They were determined to fight and win. At one meeting in the Queensbury swimming baths the Brent C.A.R.D. people attempted to recruit the locked out men, but were unlucky. The locked out men wanted practical help – they seemed unimpressed by C.A.R.D. claims that 9 out of 10 problems could be solved by union officials or local MPs. C.A.R.D. could have assisted by dealing with the black scabs, or picketing, rather than by trying to recruit members.

Political groups

For a considerable period political groups have joined picket lines (Shell Mex House, the Barbican, etc.). This has often either been resented by strikers or has taken an artificial character – substitution for the lack of real working class support (May day March). The Injection Moulders lock-out saw the emergence of a different kind of student. These were comrades who have now considerable experience of factory leafletting, etc. – they had access to valuable information and time to assist. I.S. comrades and one or two Solidarity members who weren’t on holiday turned up to join the picket line. Leaflets were produced informing local factory workers of the dispute and appealing for funds. Shop stewards were contacted. Posters were made. For a change these comrades formed part of a team: too often students seem to ‘know better’. This time they listened and offered help.

Victory!

On Wednesday, August 14, the management conceded defeat. Tea breaks would be allowed. Improved amenities for meal breaks were promised. A rise of 1/7d per hour was offered (with bonus a rate of 8/6 hour was this guaranteed) and accepted.

The men had planned to resume work on Monday 19th. But on Thursday 15th the stewards discovered that the management had decided to put the machine operators on a 3 shift system (the scabs and setters were to remain on a 2 shift basis). This was rejected by the men as another way of dividing them. Despite the gains already made they decided to stay out until this idea was dropped. It was. A weary and utterly defeated management caved in. The men went back on Thursday, August 22.

This is a victory for rank-and-file trade unionism. It is also a victory against the lies of racialist who spread the bilge about immigrants undercutting British workers. In this dispute a small number of men fought against tremendous opposition. They thought perhaps that they would be alone in their struggle; so apparently did the Injection Moulders management. They both proved wrong.

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The strike at Injection Moulders also helped to inspire a dispute a year later at the nearby Punfield Barstow Works.

Nicked from the excellent Angry Workers

 

We Remember: John Olday, gay anarchist revolutionary, artist, insurrectionist…

John Olday (1905 – 1977), born Arthur William Oldag, was an anarchist revolutionary, artist, cartoonist and writer, active in Germany, France and Britain in the 1930s and 1940s and resided in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. Returning to London in about 1970, he remained active in anarchist groups until his death in 1977.

Accounts of his life below are reprinted from a Freedom anarchist newspaper supplement, September 1977, and added to from some sources elsewhere…

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JOHN OLDAY, proletarian revolutionary and artist, has died in London at age 72, his much-abused body failing to support his still fertile, rebellious mind. His fighting record began as far back as 1916, when he was but one of the starving women and children of Hamburg, Germany who exploded in savage bread riots as the Kaiser strode toward defeat and ruin in the First World War. The 1918-1919 sailor-worker revolt followed, in which John, at the age of 13, served as an ammunition feeder for a Spartakus machine-gun post where all were killed but he, though he was captured and nearly executed. In the early ’20s he took part in mass expropriations, joined and was expelled from the Communist Youth, fought in the abortive worker uprising of 1923 in an Anarcho-Spartacist guerrilla unit, and was an agitator in the French-occupied Ruhr.

Born Arthur William Oldag, illegitimate son of a German mother and Scottish father, John became an important cartoonist and expressionist artist under that name in Weimar Germany. He renewed his guerrilla activity shortly before the Nazis took power, producing, then a powerful series of anti-Nazi cartoons and slogan stickerettes which were miniaturised and secreted into booklets of official postage stamps distributed throughout the Reich.

Between 1925 and 1932 in fact, he had not been involved in revolutionary activity at all, concentrating on furthering his career as an artist. This was to stand him in good stead later when, returning again to activities with the Spartacist group in the early 30s, he continued to pose as a crazy homosexual artist, but using his position among the intelligentsia and upper-class Nationalists to gather information which he passed on to the underground. He was even able to continue with this dangerous game after the Nazis came to power by doing a deal with them (they wanted to show the world that satirical cartoons could still appear in Germany) – until the price became too high and he had to get out. In 1938 he escaped a Gestapo trap and fled to England, where he published Kingdom of Rags, an anti-fascist documentary illustrated with the horrifying sketches he had brought from Nazi Germany.

Receiving financial backing from an anti-Chamberlain faction in Parliament, Olday (his new underground name) co-ordinated from London and Holland the sinking of a Nazi munitions ship, murdered a Jewish renegade working for the Nazis in Antwerp, parlayed with dissident German Communist exiles in Paris, and wrote the script for an appeal to the German workers to sabotage the Nazi war machine which was read over Radio Strassbourg. Olday’s wife, Hilde Monte, for whom a memorial museum in Israel is named, was an anti-Nazi Jewish resistance fighter who, along with John, did much of the groundwork for the 1939 Munich Beer Hall bomb explosion which nearly killed Hitler. She was shot by the SS in 1944 on the Swiss border while on a resistance mission.

With the outbreak of war, refusing to work for British intelligence or to mute his call for class war, John was press-ganged into a British Army punishment corps from which he deserted. Until 1944 he remained underground in London, editing and cartooning the anarchist War Commentary and circulating clandestine soldiers’ letters among British troops, Calling for revolutionary anti-militarism and the formation of worker-soldier councils, which were beginning to have effect in war industry and various war theatres, this effort brought the wrath of the Government and the imprisonment of anarchist militants,

Olday’s drawings gracing the cover of WW2 anarchist journal War Commentary

The IWW in the USA came strongly to the support of Olday on his arrest and trial in 1944-45. John had worked closely with IWW seamen in the underground fight against the Nazis, and maintained contact with Hamburg through the war via Scandinavian Wobbly seamen shipping into Nazi Germany. His powerful drawings from the March to Death collection were featured in the Industrial Worker regularly during the war, along with letters, poems, and reviews of his work. Released from prison in 1946, Olday was thrust back into a military punishment unit. There he organized German POWs into the Spartakusbund, Gruppe Bakunin, the direct heir of the Anarcho-Spartacists of 1918-40. On their return to Germany, these young revolutionaries established 60 Spartacist groups, primarily in the East Zone. They were liquidated to the man by the Stalinist secret police in late 1948,

Released, Olday worked for a time with the anarchist Freedom, then emigrated to Australia, where he became the most notorious artist and cabaret performer of the ’50s, Returning to Germany in the late ’60s, he worked with student and gay-liberation groups, then went to London to work with Freedom, followed by Black Flag, before founding his own International Archive Team.

These last two years John was a member of the IWW General Defense Committee. Though a councilist to the end, his firm advocacy of the IWW-GDC in Mit-Teilung (the German-English newsletter he produced);  his contact with dissidents and prisoners in Germany, Italy, France, and Japan; his translations of IWW and GDC material into German for our new members there; and his striking drawings and cartoons, featured in the Industrial Defense Bulletin, were a tremendous aid to the IWW.
He was a fighting rebel to the last.
(GARY JEWELL, IWW Toronto.)

Footnote: The above tribute to John Olday is taken from The Industrial Worker (July 77)… Incidentally the army unit, the Pioneer Corps, is not a punishment corps as Gary describes it, but a corps which does the labouring work for the fighting units.

Recollections of the Wartime Years

THOUGH I had not seen, nor been in touch with, John (‘Jo’) Olday for the past twenty-five years at least, news of his death filled me with sadness and a feeling of personal loss and I can only explain this by saying that not only did we have a close and positive friendship for a number of years but that, certainly in the 1940s, his personality was such that once having met him it would have been difficult ever to forget him.

I just cannot recall how and when we met. We started to publish his cartoons in War Commentary in 1942 (signed XXX and not in his name – the triple X would seem to be a Germanic tradition, for Max Nettlau did likewise in his unsigned articles in Spain and the World) and I do know, from personal involvement, that he was ‘on the run’ for almost two years before being picked up in December 1944. I assume he had joined the army as a volunteer and that we met at the Freedom Press offices in Belsize Road, Swiss Cottage, London in 1942.

Drawing from Olday’s ‘The March to Death’, 1943

However, what I am not vague about are the army leaves he spent with Marie Louise (Berneri) and me in our flat in Chalk Farm (London) and what good company he was. He was also the ideal guest: you never felt that you had to entertain him or minister to his needs (he was an excellent cook who, from his experience of living in post-World War 1 Germany, excelled in the art with our basic wartime rations). As soon as he came through the door (in uniform, with pack and rifle !) he became part of our household, a small detail which I feel is worth mentioning, because Jo was a complex personality-on the surface the bohemian, the artist, the romantic, but underneath the disciplined, neat and tidy person. He was no Soldier Schweik; his uniform was immaculate as was all his equipment, his boots as polished as he was trim, pink and streamlined physically; his gestures and gait reminded one of a dancer, light and svelte. He was more at ease squatting on the floor than seated in a chair. He was a chain smoker and went for spirits, with a preference for rum. He talked about other drugs that he had taken but never produced any in our company.

To my mind Jo above all wanted to be a successful artist as opposed to a political cartoonist-and to the extent that he never achieved public recognition for this he failed. He also wanted to be a successful writer and playwright. To these ends he was always seeking for a dedicated band of followers to stimulate and support his artistic bent.

Being homosexual, it was a succession of young males who stimulated his undoubtedly great talent but in due course abandoned him to make their own way and mostly not in the anarchist direction. And then suddenly in the ‘fifties one learned that Jo had emigrated to Australia !

Drawing from Olday’s ‘The March to Death’, 1943

Whether he joined the British army in the first place to fight the Nazi regime, I don’t know and cannot recall any discussion on the subject. However when he contacted us he was obviously in a strongly political anti-war phase and there were at no time any differences between us on the question of opposition to both sides in the military struggle. Thinking back, I am amazed that his decision to desert the army came so soon after his contact with the FP group. He had come on a long leave and was staying with Marie Louise and me at the flat when he announced his decision. It meant that he would have to change his identity, dispose of his uniform and weaponry and find somewhere to live and an Identity card in order to eat and move around-and of course money. All the necessaries were found for him and at the latter stages of his two years on the run a sympathetic employer whose name I think was Griffen, in the engineering spare parts business, gave him employment. But before that, apart from a few of us who had made ourselves responsible for him, he had the unstinted support of that delightful, lovable, interesting and eccentric old lady, Winifred Smith, a New Zealander who though brought up in the strict traditions of her time and married to a parson, had seen the Rationalist light in her fifties with such force that not only had she succeeded in liberating herself from the tentacles of the Church but, more important, had persuaded her husband to abandon his calling. No mean achievement and a victory for women’s lib. But Jo was more than her match ! She loved his gentle bullying and provided us with the wherewithal to pay his rent and more besides, as well as contributing to Freedom Press funds.

Jo could well have seen the war through in his hideout but for a blunder which not even an amateur revolutionary would be expected to make. He had been offered a big office typewriter which he needed in connection with his propaganda to the armed forces. In order to save a taxi fare he hired a handcart and collected the machine and trundled it across London… in the middle of a war! Needless to say, he was stopped and asked for his papers. The police were less concerned that he might be a deserter than that he had stolen the typewriter. They took him into custody, checked on his Identity Card and found that it belonged to someone in Southend who had reported its loss ! So began weeks of drama with Jo refusing to reveal his identity either to the police or at his appearances in Court. For us to make any moves on his behalf would have only provided clues as to his real identity and it was obviously his wish not to say who he was (though it was of no real assistance to him since it meant that he was duly remanded in custody after each appearance in Court). However we did try to cover up his traces so far as War Commentary (which the Freedom Press group was publishing every fortnight) was concerned, assuming that our readers included the Special Branch.

This meant continuing written features by Olday such as From the Ranks and a regular strip cartoon depicting a trio of Schweik-like soldiers and their apparently ‘irresponsible’ pranks in case the diligent Special Branch sleuths might link their absence with the man without an identity in Brixton. It was a good comrade from the West Country, Ron A, who produced the fake strips which were so good that not even Sherlock Holmes, let alone our Whiteheads and Joneses of the SB, would have had his suspicions aroused !

Jo’s undoing was a chance encounter in Brixton Prison with a Special Branch officer who remembered having interviewed him when he came to to this country in 1939. Once his identity had been established the spiteful magistrate made him pay for all the ‘trouble’ he had caused and sentenced Jo, in January 1945, to one year’s imprisonment for ‘stealing by finding’ an Identity Card, a ‘crime’ which was normally awarded a month’s imprisonment.
On his release from Brixton after serving eight months of his sentence the Military Police, needless to say, were waiting for him outside the gates and whisked him off to the Prestatyn Depot of the Pioneer Corps where, after being held for several weeks under arrest, Jo was charged as a deserter and brought before a Court Martial. In spite of his anti-Nazi record in Germany, and the time spent in prison in connection with the Identity Card charge, he was given a two years Detention Sentence.

Fortunately the Freedom Press Defence Committee which had been set up following the arrest of four members of the Freedom Press early in 1945 was not wound up after the Old Bailey trial in April of that year but was enlarged in scope and renamed the Freedom Defence Committee, publishing its first Bulletin in July. Herbert Read and George Orwell were chairman and vice-chairman respectively, George Woodcock secretary and Tony Gibson its treasurer. I say fortunately because at that time the only other organisation allegedly concerned with civil liberties was the NCCL (National Council for Civil Liberties), then, unlike now, a Stalinist-dominated set-up which had, among other things, refused to defend the four anarchists on trial because by 1945 our Stalinists were more pro-war than the military and for them all those who opposed it were ‘fascists’.

The Freedom Defence Committee made representations to the War Office on two occasions as well as publicising the case. When it seemed that nothing was moving a letter was received at the Freedom Defence Committee in April 1946 from the War Office informing them that our comrade had been ‘released on suspended sentence’ having served only three months of a two-year sentence.

This was the second success for the FDC in a matter of two months, the first being the even more ridiculous case of Philip Sansom being called up for medical examination for Military Service the moment he was released after serving a nine months’ sentence for ‘conspiring’ with his comrades to seduce soldiers from their allegiance, etc. …! On January 10, 1946 he was sentenced to six months for refusing to attend the ‘medical’. By the second week in February he was released, thanks to the FDC’s uncompromising campaign and the support received from the then Manchester Guardian and the late Daily Herald (sadly transformed over the years from Lansbury’s radical Herald that devoted an editorial to the threatened deportation of Malatesta in 1912, to Murdoch’s girlie Sun of today that exposes everything other than inequality and injustice), not to mention a number of journals and an editorial comment by that notorious political fence-sitter the late Kingsley Martin in the New Statesman !

And when they were both released we had a memorable welcome-back party in Tom and Elizabeth Earley’s flat in Bloomsbury which for me, a reluctant party-man, will rank with Lilian Wolfe’s ninetieth birthday celebration at Tom and Joan Currie’s home, Tony Gibson’s fiftieth birthday party, the first Anarchist Ball in Fulham Town Hall and, much earlier, the social at Conway Hall in the ‘forties when we hired the large and small halls (as well as the kitchen) and packed the building in a Friends of Freedom Press Campaign to raise funds for War Commentary and our publications.

Drawing from Olday’s ‘The March to Death’, 1943

For that Social the walls of the Hall were lined with drawings and collages by Jo illustrating Freedom Press’s publications and activities over a period of sixty years. They represented weeks of patient, dedicated cutting and pasting and arranging. Most of it was done at Jo’s West London hideout, on the floor, the artist in his socks, sustained by tobacco, alcohol and simple food (uncooked bacon sandwiches were a favourite but he eschewed all salads). Some comrades may recall those collages and posters which alas have completely disappeared as have the originals of his cartoons in the course of Freedom Press’s many moves over the past thirty years.

I feel competent to write about only a very few years of a relatively long life (Jo was 72 when he died) and certainly a very full one. He has himself provided us with his Memoirs describing both a childhood spent in post-World War 1 Germany and his anti-Nazi activities in Hamburg up to 1938 when, feeling his arrest was imminent, he decided to leave the country and to this end rightly made use of his dual nationality to obtain a British passport which in the event stood him in good stead. ‘Slowly the train moved out of the station and gathered speed. I was safe !’ – the last sentence of Kingdom of Rags , John Olday’s autobiography, published by Jarrolds in 1939. It is an interesting, personally revealing document.

As I have already pointed out, I know nothing of the past twenty-five years which included his emigration to Australia where he lived with his adopted son (this was news to me). When we met him in 1942 he told us that he had married Hilde Monte, a typical hard line German Marxist intellectual, in order to provide her with British citizenship, but in the years of our association with Jo she was just one of a group publishing a very serious Marxist magazine, the title of which I cannot recall though I am almost certain that it was published from an address in Soho Square, London.

Olday’s first contribution in the February 1942 issue of War Commentary was a typical horrific, macabre, drawing, the figures were not real, they were ballet dancers, just as was the skeleton soldier in the March 1942 issue. It is really only in 1943, after he had deserted the army, that one has an awareness of the political cartoonist. I think I am right in suggesting that the inspiration, the ideas, for the outstanding cartoons and drawings in War Commentary and The March to Death from 1943 onwards came from Marie Louise Berneri. Many of his drawings illustrated editorials written by her and which she had discussed with him. She also edited a feature Through the Press and from the accumulated material came the plan for the production of John Olday’s outstanding collection of drawings, The March to Death .

Published in May 1943 by Freedom Press in the middle of a fratricidal war, it exposed the hypocrisy of the whole enterprise by quoting from the most respectable sources (on the left hand page) and illustrating them on the facing page with John Olday’s telling cartoons. The first edition of 5,000 copies printed on our old machine in the building facing our present premises in Whitechapel was soon sold out and another 5,000 copies run off and disposed of by the end of the war. Thinking of the difficulties we have experienced since the end of World War II to persuade booksellers to stock FP literature, I am still amazed by the sales through booksellers made by our two ace ‘salesmen’, Laurie Hislam (tragically killed in a motor accident less than ten years ago) and Philip Sansom.

At that time there were no Alternative booksellers, We sold to W H Smith and Boots and other wholesale and retail booksellers. I suspect that among bookshop managers at the time there was a high proportion of pacifists. [Probably – but also they were only too pleased to have anything to sell from their half-empty counters !]  After the war he reverted once more to the macabre. His collection of lithographs The Life We Live the Death We Die was not our cup of tea but we published it to please him as we felt such a gesture to him was called for, especially in view of the great success of The March to Death. But it was the end of his collaboration with Freedom Press and the beginning of a new phase in Jo’s tormented life.

Drawing from Olday’s ‘The March to Death’, 1943

He secured a basement flat in the Westbourne Park area in London where in due course he held an exhibition of his work which did not however include his political cartoons. At the time he became very friendly with Charles Duff (author of the Handbook on Hanging) and his wife Peg. They did a lot for him with introductions to Charles’ innumerable friends and acquaintances and by their warm hospitality, and encouragement in his artistic endeavours.

Jo was much too complex a personality ever to be a happy man. I am not even sure that he was specially concerned with being ‘happy’. But I am sure that his attitude to life affected his potentialities as an anarchist propagandist. But then I am not sure that he ever saw himself as such ! Having expressed my doubts may I add that I still think that The March to Death is one of the most telling pieces of anarchist anti-war propaganda. And that I still recall Jo in those exciting and challenging years of the early 1940s as the most loveable and reliable of friends and comrades.
(VERNON RICHARDS)

LIKE Vernon Richards, my working association with John Olday was exclusively during the latter end of the war. In 1944 I was living in a ramshackle studio in Camden Town, situated in a quiet enclave behind a church and reached by a short leafy lane. The other studios were occupied by middle-aged artists who quietly got on with their work, minding their own business, while the war thundered on around them. It was an ideal place to have a clandestine press, and soon after I was invited to join the Anarchist Federation I was asked if a certain comrade could come and live with me. I sometimes think that it was my tenancy of the studio that led to my invitation to join the closed membership of the AF in the first place!
The certain comrade was John Olday, then a deserter from the Pioneer Corps, whose marvellous cartoons had inspired my own poor efforts, but whose identity had until then been a complete mystery to me.
The articles and cartoons that John was at that time contributing to War Commentary were the public tip of the iceberg of work he was doing, for he it was who was building up the network of contacts that we had with soldiers, sailors and airmen in barracks, army camps and airfields around the country
Every serving member of the forces who wrote in for literature received, in due course, a copy of John’s Forces Newsletter which spelt out in greater depth and detail the subversive anarchist anti-war message.
These newsletters were produced on the kitchen table in the studio. Drawings were reproduced on a small, neat lithograph stone which John brought out from under the bed once a month, and collated together with duplicated sheets. None of the casual visitors who came to the studio from time to time had any idea of the seditious material that flowed out from there to about 200 members of His Majesty’s forces, for the work was produced as quickly as possible and all traces cleared away immediately it was finished.
This was why, in fact, very little of it could be used by the Special Branch when they attacked Freedom Press in the Autumn of 1944. I had left London at the beginning of October on the book-selling four mentioned by VR which took me all over the country. When I returned in the middle of November, the balloon had gone up in all directions. The threatened split in the movement had exploded in bitterness and violence; John Olday was in custody – but still not identified – and Freedom Press offices and the homes of several comrades had been raided. Including my studio in Camden Town where, thanks to John’s meticulous destruction of all the traces, no evidence of the Forces Newsletter were found. Indeed, the clever Special Branch seem not to have associated him with that address at all – or surely I would have been charged, when they finally caught me, with harbouring a deserter ?
However, as VR explains, the connection with Freedom Press was finally established, and it was John’s wish at that time to be called as a defence witness at the Freedom Press trial.

In his own words, his intention was ‘to use the court as a platform of aggression, profess responsibility for the seditious propaganda and, so to speak, openly declare war on war’. But we all thought otherwise. None of us ever thought of ourselves as martyr material and held that all of us were more use to the anarchist movement out of jail. In a document I have in which John Oiday speaks of himself in the third person, he writes: ‘The accused comrades kept him deliberately out of the trial, to spare him harsh and long sentences, They themselves got nine months each. Jo never forgave them for having missed the opportunity to defy and denounce the Government in the spirit of traditional anarchist anti-militarism.’

As it was John got 12 months in another court for ‘stealing by finding’ an identity card to be followed by another two years’ sentence in detention barracks (the notorious Stake Hill) on his being handed back to the army.

He did not serve much of this second sentence, but before his release he made many contacts among German prisoners of war on which he was to build the network which became the Anarcho-Spartakusbund, Gruppe Bakunin, in East Germany. He claimed a network of 60 groups, which eventually felt strong enough to emerge in the Communist East German state (against his advice) -and were promptly liquidated.
(Philip Sansom)

Unfortunately the anarchist movement in Germany was depleted by war and emigration. Those who had survived the repression and the concentration camps were physically and mentally at a low ebb. In this context the noted German anarchist Rudolf Rocker began to advance the idea that anarchists should participate in all forms of “mutual aid” which included the reformist unions, municipal administrations, and decentralised small industrial and consumer cooperatives.

John Olday was one of the harshest critics of this line, saying that this was a reformist road and that Rocker had forgotten the revolutionary ideas of the anarcho syndicalist FAUD. He was one of the first to revive the old revolutionary slogan of All Power to The Workers and Soldiers Councils.

Against Rocker’s call for a Libertarian Federalist Alliance Olday advanced the idea of a Spartacist Alliance, on anarchist-communist principles, which united anarchists, council communists, and other anti-authoritarian socialists. He built up a network of sixty groups, mostly in East Germany. This included the Proletarischer Zeitgeist group in Zwickau. However in 1948 the East German secret police moved against these groups and smashed them.

Olday’s Information Bulletin now only appeared in small numbers. He changed the title of the bulletin from Anarchist to Council Anarchist, but the repression in East Germany and the poor state of the movement in West Germany saw Olday suddenly stop all anarchist activity. Without the driving force of Olday, the network faded away.

At the beginning of 1950 Olday emigrated to Sydney.

John Olday meeting South Australian Attorney-General, C D Rowe at the Immigration Week arts and crafts exhibition in the Adelaide Town Hall, 1956.

There he undertook work with a group of Yugoslav anarchist exiles in contact via the network. He then moved to Adelaide where he continued his artistic and cultural activities. There he worked as an attendant at an art gallery.

From there he moved to Melbourne where he got a job as a hospital worker and continued his artistic-cultural-political activities. From there he returned to Sydney. John’s time in Australia enriched the counter-cultural scene there with his adult education classes, mime shows, recordings, radio broadcasts and exhibitions and his advocacy of gay liberation.
(Nick Heath)

His later criticism of the Freedom Press tactics at the trial seems not to have taken account of the fact that if we had allowed him to play the self-sacrificial role he wanted, he would certainly have gone to a civilian prison for a very long time and his future work among German POWs would have been impossible, while much of his later work in Germany would have been much more difficult, too.

John Olday was always very much a ‘loner’. In the strict tradition of the him by his years in the anti-Nazi underground-his attitude even to his conspiratorial underground anarchist-a role, after all, imposed upon closest comrades was always the very sound one of ‘what you don’t need to know you don’t need to know !
He was absolutely dedicated to his work, and especially to the work which he saw as something that only he could do. As in others we know in and around the anarchist movement, this can make for intolerance and certain difficulties in common work ! But John could maintain friendship and indeed, as his Australian years showed, could express his many talents in writing, drawing and painting in channels unconnected with ideological revolutionary activity. I write ‘ideological’ as I am convinced that the cabaret and theatre work which John carried on in Sydney was subversive in its own way-after all he had learned that art in the cabarets of Hamburg in the twenties and thirties !
Around such characters, myths are bound to accumulate, and I am not putting him down when I say that John Olday himself was not entirely guiltless of allowing his own view of events to colour his recounting of them. How could it be otherwise, when so much of his kind of work had to be unrecorded and underground? But for John the function of the myth was for inspiration, not glorification to inspire others, not to build up his own cult of the personality. And for an artist-and artists are notoriously egotistical !-this was the measure and the strength of his anarchism.
(Philip Sansom)

Armed struggle…

BY 1974 John Olday was one of the legends of the anarchist movement; and justifiably-for his periods of direct action were during some of the most terrible and excited periods of the century: the Germany of the Spartacists and Noske’s Freikorps, the Social Democrats’ republic and the period of Hitler’s rise to power through the betrayals of the left and the opportunism of international capitalism.

For John the answer was always armed struggle, since the anarchist movement is by definition committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the state. He saw individualism and “anarchist-pacifism” as bourgeois infections of the movement, but was at the same time aware that armed struggle when utterly divorced from a general class struggle could degenerate into mere terrorism.

Apart from a brief, and completely casual meeting in Australia, around 1957, my first real meeting with John was when Albert Meltzer brought him to the basement at Hemmingford Road where I was printing the current issue of Black Flag. Few people carry their years so lightly – John was at that time about 68, a slight but wiry figure, polite, at times almost courtly, and as we subsequently discovered possessed of an extra-ordinary capacity for work. He contributed articles and cartoons to Black Flag, the IWW Defense Bulletin, and carried on a voluminous correspondence with comrades and groups across the world. Towards the end of 1974 he established the International Archive Team (1.A.T.) with the object of disseminating news and information within the movement. We were mainly concerned with those divisions within the international movement that tended towards legalism and economism and therefore diluted the revolutionary struggle, Personally I believe that he placed an excessive value on armed struggle as a single tactic, although this was preferable to those who elevated their tactical disagreement into a matter of principle.

He did valuable work in establishing contacts with comrades throughout the world and there are many who will remember his quiet astuteness and his powerful compassion. I mentioned before his, in my opinion, over-emphasis on the single tactic of armed struggle; he might well be right, but I am fairly certain that anyone who lived through the destruction of the revolutionary left in Germany without being cowed or participating in the sell-out that the CP dignified by the name of Realpolitik might have felt as he did. Those who remember our joint criticism of RAF and 2nd June Movement in Germany will know that his support for armed struggle could be critical. And he was quick to detect and condemn revolutionary elitism and vanguardist gestures.
(TED CAVANAGH)

John performing his anarchist cabaret at Centro Ibérico anarchist centre, Haverstock Hill, North London, mid-1970s

After the turbulent events of our wartime collaboration and separation, I saw little of John before he went to Australia, and indeed very little until two months before he died, I paid one visit to his cabaret when the Centro Ibérico was in Haverstock Hill and found it rather sad. One does not have to think in terms only of what is ‘fashionable’, but at least any form of self-expression must relate to styles and attitudes of its timè to strike home. Sadly, he hadn’t forgotten the cabarets of Hamburg either!

One day last February, Ted Cavanagh, who had been working with John on Mit Teilung phoned me to say he was very ill. Having fallen out with all the other anarchists he had worked with here in London he was very much on his own. Gary Jewell had been staying with him from Toronto, but was having to go back. Could I do anything to help?

I went round to his flat in the seedy area off the Harrow Road that he had always liked and was shocked to see the frail white-haired invalid who opened the door. He could hardly walk and had difficulty even in talking but he was still writing-feverishly, as if he knew he hadn’t much time. He said he was glad to see me and said he was sorry about a rather frosty meeting we had had two years before. I don’t think he knew it, but he was in the terminal stage of cancer and all he could eat, he said, was smoked salmon, Stylish to the end! I obliged by getting him some, and fortunately a young Japanese comrade, Kori Yoro, turned up who was a great source of comfort and help to him. But all he wanted to talk about was his work. He was producing page after page of minute writing an autobiography in detail going right back to his earliest revolutionary days in the Spartacist uprising in Germany. But other work as well-a dissertation on Oriental and Occidental Objections to Anarchism and the work which Gary Jewell mentions on the 1918-23 revolts in Germany: Spartacus and Insurgent Anarchism, defending a revolutionary tradition in Germany.

I have received from Gary the first draft of the first part of this last work. The last paragraph of the introduction reads: ‘I am fully aware of the subjectivity of my recollection. If this book helps to remove misinterpretations and dissolve old animosities, still recurring in the circle of the new generation of revolutionists, I shall consider myself amply rewarded.’
(PHILIP SANSOM)

‘…a most gentle man’

JOHN OLDAY had already entered the world of legend when I met him. One knew the drawings and one knew the books and one assumed that he belonged to that elusive heroic past. It was when I began to receive his unsolicited letters that I was aware that here was a man active, cheerful and witty and I looked forward to the answers to my own letters. We met for the pub crawl and there within his flat was the documented wealth of his amazing life. The drawings, the cartoons, the books and the gramophone records all marked with his brilliant talent.

He spoke of pre-nazi Germany, of the world of the political cabaret, of the poet beaten and broken in the first of the Nazi concentrations camps shuffling back into the defensive world of the German militant left that sought a refuge in John’s cabaret. And of that dying tortured world John recorded in firm swift brutal lines the agony of those hours. And we went for our pub crawl from one side of London yea even to Earls Court and John Olday tall and slim, with his white hair streaked with grey, clad in his tight fitting blue jeans loped along beside me with the grace of a young lightweight boxer and always he talked and I listened to political history made manifest to the artist who had had to practise his art one step ahead of the political police in country after country.

The artist is beholden to no man for in those few square inches he stamps his credo and his conscience for all men to bear witness and no-one, be they editor or subscriber can tarnish the visual image. He can only be rejected and in that act of rejection lesser men become that much less and what they offered in exchange is the forgettable dross of history. Turn the pages comrades and it is only the work of the artist that lives in those grey columns be it a week or a century ago. John gave much to us and the tragedy, for us, is that the brilliance of his pen was allowed to lie idle on the unmarked paper. Time will judge John Olday’s work and judge it well and history will ask who broke the pen and why. Of my life I shall remember him with pleasure, a most gentle man, witty and soft spoken, kind in his dealings with me and always blue jeaned, grey haired loping along London’s nighttime pavements.
(ARTHUR MOYSE)

I had the honour of working with John during January and February of this year in London. He was dying, and a weaker man would have surrendered to death; but he kept fighting and producing in spite of incredible pain and dire poverty. IWW Toronto will soon follow our publication of his polemic on guerrilla warfare, Trotz Alledem (‘In Spite of All”) with an important historical work, Spartacus and Insurgent Anarchism’: The 1918-1923 Revolt in Germany. Other material, including drawings and lumpenproletariat poems, also will appear.
John, you tough, querulous old bastard: farewell,
With much love
(GARY JEWELL)