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.

Common Land and Squatting in London Fields, Hackney: A Historical Wander

Hidden Histories: Common Land and Squatting in Hackney

Intro
This walk was made on 17 July 2011 by about 40 people, some of whom had personal experience of squatting in the London Fields and Mare Street area of Hackney, London, from the 1970s to the present. It was researched and organised by Melissa Bliss with contributions from others including Past Tense.

This seemed like a good time to highlight the squatting history of the area: the government had recently signalled its intention to criminalise squatting; the Olympics, only 12 months away then, had led to a massive increase in property speculation; and the London Fields area was experiencing rapid social and structural change.

We selected 8 sites on the walk which showed different aspects of squatting in different decades. There were many other squatted sites we could have chosen so this walk is not comprehensive.

This account is not comprehensive and we are always looking for more information about this area.

Two more radical history walks were done around the same time in other parts of Hackney, (one from Dalston to Stoke Newington, and another around Stoke Newington), put together by some of the people involved in this walk: we are working on re-constructing them, and will post them up on this blog at some point.

A brief history of squatting in the London Fields area

Squatting in London Fields goes back decades. The earliest references we found were in the late 1960s but it is likely there was individual and organised squatting before then.

London Fields has experienced a high level of squatting for several reasons:

•  Housing need caused by poor housing and rising rents which priced people out of private rented accommodation

•  Loss of housing through bombing and neglect

•  Intensive top down planning intervention – wartime requisitioning, slum clearance and compulsory purchase – leaving whole areas to become run down and left empty

•  Deindustrialisation as businesses moved further out of London leaving empty industrial buildings such as factories, workshops and warehouses

•  Organisation among squatters which led to large scale squatting and, for some, licensing

By the end of the Second World War Hackney had lost about 5,000 homes and 7,000 people were on the housing waiting list. The London County Council (LCC) accelerated its slum clearance programme, buying up properties and moving people out of London. The Metropolitan Borough of Hackney used compulsory purchase powers to buy up properties which had been requisitioned during the War: 1,767 properties, containing 3.317 homes, including around the west side of Mare Street .

Hackney’s population has declined since the 1910s until 1981. Between 1931 to 1961 it declined by about a third. Despite this there was also considerable homelessness due to poor housing stock and rising rents. Organised squatting increased in the 1960s.

During the 1970s there were continual struggles around housing centred on homelessness, slum clearance and redevelopment plans. Rapidly rising house prices in the early 1970s led to a shortage of cheaper private rented housing and speculators leaving properties empty.

The Greater London Council (GLC) and London Borough of Hackney (LBH) had plans to develop the Broadway Market and London Fields east side areas respectively to preserve local employment. But they proceeded so slowly that the areas were blighted and many properties were left empty. Squatters moved in.

Organised and individual squatting increased. Public sector landlords and property owners responded in a variety of way: smashing up properties, licensing squatters or encouraging squatters to regularise themselves in housing co-ops or housing associations.

Smaller changes like the removal of caretakers from housing estates by the early 1970s allowed squatters to move into flats undetected.

From the mid 1970s the GLC took some moves to regularise squatters by getting them to form housing coops.

In 1977 the Conservatives regained control of the GLC and started selling their housing to individuals through the policy of homesteading and housing associations. They also gave squatters an amnesty and offered them tenancies in hard to let properties.

In the 1980s LBH suffered a number of crises including severe funding cuts from central government and, perhaps most crucially, when GLC was abolished, being forced to take on the GLC housing stock, much of which was in poor repair. This doubled LBH’s housing. Cuts in funding from central government and internal council crises meant the council was unable to deal with its housing. In 1981 Hackney had 2,300 empty properties.

During the 1990s the Council was able to regain more control over its property. Many homes had been lost to right to buy and funds were coming through from central government and the European Union to redevelop the area.

In the 2000s squatting continued in the area but in a less organised way and more commonly in industrial buildings. As the area became gentrified, land values increase and less properties were available for squatting. There were also occupations in protest at the ways in which regeneration was being brought about, in particular with the sale of Council properties to property developers and speculators.

Squatting continues in the area but mostly in building awaiting redevelopment, often from industrial to residential uses.

LONDON FIELDS LIDO

1998 – 2003 

The Lido was built 1932 by the LCC, partly as compensation to Hackney for military use of Hackney Marshes during the First World War. Like many other lidos in London it lasted well till the late 1970s when it was transferred by thy GLC to LBH. It then began to be run down by the Council, closing finally in 1988 amid plans to turn it into a car park.

In 1990 Tower Hamlets managed to bulldoze Victoria Park lido and replace it a car park. This spurred local people on to continue to fight to save London Fields Lido, even standing in front of a bulldozer in 1990 to prevent demolition. Local people led campaigns to reopen the Lido and cleared away vegetation. The children’s paddling pool which was closed in 1999, was reopened by local people for summer seasons.

In 1998 the Lido was squatted for housing, a café and communal events. London Reclaim the Streets held their weekly meetings here for a while. In August 1988 there was the Carnival of the Dispossessed, a benefit for Reclaim The Streets. The Lido was squatted for a second time 2002-2005. Here’s a nice story of that time from Ms Marmite Lover.

[Your past tense typist remembers the time well. Especially the benefit for RTS mentioned. Which might have been much less pleasant… A couple of days before, the deep end of the empty pool reflooded up to a depth of several feet, as the drain leading from the lido had become blocked. Since the deep end was the prospective stage for the upcoming gig, this was bit of a problem, unless a floating stage was an option…  Your friendly neighbourhood squat plumber/radical historian was woken from his sleep in a far off part of south London, grabbed his drain rods and was rushed to the spot, and after some expert rodding the somewhat skanky watter drained away, in time for the pool to dry out and the gig to take place.]

LBH, rather late in the day discovered an enthusiasm for the Lido it was eventually evicted, and finally reopened it in 2006. it is now a source of pride for the Council which uses it frequently to promote the borough. But it would not be here now except for the concerted campaigns by local people and squatters.

Walk through London Fields and Trederwen Avenue to Brougham Road

BROUGHAM ROAD

1970s – ?1987 Housing

Dave Morris spoke about Brougham Road, using this text he wrote in 2008

“Well I was squatting in 64 Brougham Rd from 1974-1980. I was a postman in Islington. The house was very run down, with an old outside toilet and a sink for a kitchen. But we decorated the inside with posters, murals, press cuttings and inspiring slogans etc.

I shared the place with Alan, a really decent and quiet young bloke who became an alcoholic in the late 1970s. Alan once got nicked when drunk at a train station wearing my post office jacket and wheeling about a post office trolley with bags of letters on it. This led to a raid on the house and some laughable police hysteria about him and me being in an anarchist train robbers gang… I testified in court that I had known nothing about it (and that probably nor did Alan), but he still got 6 months suspended (Mentioned in Albert Meltzer’s autobiography, I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels). After I left I think he went downhill, and last I heard he tragically got run over by a bus.

The other bloke we shared with was Des Kelly from Ireland who I recall was writing a book… I have a mad photo of him trying to ride his bike UP our staircase. I did bump into him in Hackney 15 years later but can’t remember what he was doing them.

Spanish Elizabeth was next door I think. Zoundz folks moved into my place or next door after I left. I vaguely recall a guy (Bruce?) living at No 66 who did animation and who told me he was working on an amazing path-breaking new film called ‘Star Wars’.. it didn’t sound to me like it would get anywhere with a crap name like that…

There was a very strong Broadway Market Squatters Association (with maybe 50+ homes in it from the area) which met regularly for mutual solidarity and campaigning. I remember we decided to boycott an amnesty offered by the GLC (London Authority) to squatters if we would accept licenses… the Association saw it as a sell out and divide and rule – we were all pretty militant and independent. But eventually many did accept licenses and then formed housing co-ops in order to keep together and survive.

There were lots of radical feminists in the area, many squatting – I admired them a lot.”

There’s a link to a great article on the 1970s London Fields women’s squat scene, written by a participant.

“Some were involved in the Women In Manual Trades group. Former German urban guerrilla Astrid Proll did apparently spend some time in the area and many people in the area helped form the Friends of Astrid Proll to campaign for her after she was arrested.
Astrid’s sojourn there inspired a song by Nik Turner of Hawkwind fame

I think a building which had been squatted at the south end of the street sometime in the early 70s became a collectively run playcentre..

There was a revolutionary socialist guy who was a tenant in the tower block at that end of the street and had had some run ins with NF fascists.. I vaguely remember getting involved in anti-fascist stuff in the area, painting out nazi slogans etc…

There was a good community, with squatters, tenants, feminists, anarchists and all age groups and nationalities all mixing and getting along pretty well.

There was famous graffiti on a wall at the end of the street by the market which survived for over 10 years: Broadway Market is not a sinking ship – its a submarine.’ It has been restored in recent years, but unfortunately gentrified a lot. It was amazing to go back there last year after decades away and visit Tony’s cafe which had been there when I was there I think, been evicted in order to be ponced up, and then re-occupied as a high profile squatted political centre opposing gentrification in the area (by some anarchists and ‘Hackney Independent’ activists.. see the Hackney Independent website for full info on this).”
Dave Morris

More about Brougham Road

At some point the streets west of London Fields passed into the hands of the GLC – possibly after the Second World War. The GLC had plans to redevelop the wider Broadway Market area to encourage employment but left properties empty for a long time.

The east side of Brougham Road was squatted from at least the early 1970s. Some became licensed through Patchwork Housing.

A building was occupied and run as a nursery by a black group, becoming the Market Nursery, whose patron was Benjamin Zephaniah. The Market Nursery is still going in Wilde Close.

Behind Brougham Road was the old Dalston Bus Garage (on the site of a military barracks) which closed in 1981 and was replaced by Ash Grove bus garage. The bus garage was occupied by travellers in 1981-82. This may have been “uber hippy travellers the Ukrainian Mountain Troupe, who had occupied an abandoned bus garage near Brougham Road in Hackney” according to Alistair of Kill Your Pet Puppy…

This area was later redeveloped as housing by LBH: Suffolk Estate (1960s-1971) and the Regents Estate (1980-88), Grand Union Crescent & Dublin Avenue (1980s).

LBH approved the GLC’s development plans for the Broadway Market Area in 1975 but not much happened other than the building of Ash Grove bus station on Mare Street and Ada Street Workshops (1992).

Walk along Brougham Road and Benjamin Close to Broadway Market. No. 34 is straight ahead, No. 71 is to the left.

BROADWAY MARKET

1970s – 2000s

Main speaker: Jim Paton

Broadway Market used to be a thriving shopping street and market. This declined until the 1970s when many of the shops were closed and the properties shuttered with corrugated iron. Some of the properties were owned by the GLC and LBH but some were privately owned (for example, in 1983 Prudential Insurance owned no. 53-61). The GLC’s plans to develop the area stopped other development happening.

Flats in the blocks around Broadway Market were also left empty, rented under the hard to let scheme and squatted including Warburton House and Jackman House.

The Council has various schemes to revive the area but little came of them. The GLC built Ash Grove bus station on Mare Street and the Ada Street workshops in the early 1980s.

In the early 2000s LBH was determined to revive the area by selling of the shops and flats above. Some leaseholders were able to buy their properties but many were sold at auction to overseas investment companies at less than market prices. Two sales were particularly contentious.

No.34, Francesca’s Café, was run by Tony Platia for over 30 years. He asked the Council if he could buy the property several times but was turned down. In 2004 the building was bought by Dr Roger Wratten along with the properties on either side of the café and other properties and land in the local area (including 2, 4, 6, 30, 32 Broadway Market; land to the rear of numbers 26-36 Broadway Market; 27 Marlborough Avenue). It seems that Wratten grew up in No. 36 next door.

Tony was evicted at the end of 2005 and the property was occupied to prevent the building’s demolition and as a protest against the wholesale sell-offs. The café was finally evicted in February 2006.

Tony now runs a juice stall in the market (which started in 2004). No. 34 still stands derelict.

No. 71, Nutritious Food Gallery, was run by Spirit who lived above with his family from 1993. When he starting renting it from LBH, the building was semi-derelict and he spent his own money doing it up and running a successful food shop. As leaseholder Spirit should have been given the first option to buy the property. But in 2002 when he went to the auctioneers and left a cheque he believed he had bought he building. But it was later sold at the auction to an offshore investment company for less money than he had offered. This company then raised his rent by 1200% with the clear intention of getting him out. Spirit attempted to pay this rent but ran into arrears and was finally evicted in October 2006.

No 71 is now the FIn and Flounder, a posh fish shop
[At this point on the 2011 walk, ‘some words’ were exchanged with the hipster fish shop owners who had bought Spirit’s old shop. Some people on the walk knew Spirit and took the piss out of the fishy folk. But are such middle class who buy into gentrification just tiddlers, just prawns in a larger game? Cod knows…]

Walk through Broadway Market & London Fields to the Warburton Estate garden

WARBURTON HOUSE & DARCY HOUSE

1970s – 2000s

Darcy House was the LCC’s first block in Hackney (1904), on the site of Dr Carbureting’s Asylum (1830s-1850s) and Pacifico’s alms houses for Sephardic Jews (about 1851). Warburton House was built slum clearance in 1935-38.

The Warburton Estate is typical of several estates in the local area (like Goldsmiths Row and the Haggerston Estate). Under the GLC it became run down and flats emptied. Some were squatted and some were let under the Hard To Let scheme.

2011: It rained heavily.

Walk through Mentmore Terrace, Sidworth Street to junction with Lamb Lane

LONDON FIELDS EAST:
Mentmore Terrace, Sidworth Street, Lamb Lane, Gransden Avenue

Sidworth Street was the site of a V2 bomb during the war and in the 1960s and 1970s industrial units built. In 2010 one block (13018) was squatted as Urban HapHazard Squat. Some building around Sidworth Street and Mentmore Terrace were squatted, around 2011, some with the knowledge/permission of the property owners.

Properties round here bought by the local council after WW2 (bomb damage & slum clearance) and in the 1970s. During this time there were several traveller sites on Lamb Lane, Gransden Avenue and   Mentmore Terrace. In the 1980s a site on Gransden Avenue/London Lane was being considered as a permanent local authority traveller site.

Walk down Lamb Lane (note Elizabeth Fry Way) & Mare Street

195 MARE STREET: NEW LANSDOWNE CLUB

2009 (September) – 2010 (August) Communal / social centre

This building was built in about 1697, probably for a wealthy merchant, Abraham Dolins. It is the second oldest house and third oldest building in Hackney (after St Augustine’s Tower and Sutton House). For the first 160 years (1697-1860), it was a merchant’s family home. For the next fifty-odd years (1860-1913), like many big houses around this area, it was turned over to institutional use. It became the Elizabeth Fry Refuge for Reformation of Women Prisoners. It housed women released from jail where they learnt the skills to go into domestic service. For ninety years (1913-2004), it became a liberal/radical social club – the New Lansdowne Club. During this time a new building was built out the back with a bar and a stage. After a long period of decline it finally closed in 2004.

In 2005 it was bought for a Vietnamese community and cultural centre but stood empty since then.

In 2009 the building was squatted as a very active social centre. Events included London Free School, benefits, skills sharing and film nights.

In May 2010 this company went bust and ownership passed to the Dunbar Bank which finally evicted the centre in August 2010. Currently (July 2011) on sale   for £1 million.

“Opened at the end of 2009, it got evicted in August 2010. In the meanwhile, it hosted a considerable amount of weekly workshops and skill-sharing, but also theatre plays, gigs, movies, benefit parties, meetings, art exhibitions and performances, gardening and even a pantomime! The building is one of the oldest house in Hackney, its front part is the oldest (grade II listed) and there is a more recent back part that includes a stage. At the time squatters moved in, it was owned by some developers company who simply wanted to demolish part of it and build flats. But the developers got bankrupt and their bank, Dunbar Bank, took over. They evicted the squatters, redone the facade and nothing else, and are now selling it out…”

NAUTEANESS – 197 Mare Street

2011

This was then squatted and open on Sundays – we dropped in to get dry, drink tea & play music. An ex-diving shop, it was owned by property developers. [Not sure what happened after this- Ed]

Some people went on to Well Furnished11 Terrace Rd, opposite Well Street

Well Furnished was unfortunately evicted not long after (26th of August 2011). It was “located in Well street, Homerton, a vibrant area where locals seem to have established strong links with each other. The St John Hackney Joint Charities Trust owns a lot of properties on this street and have decided to increase the rents by up to 300%, forcing people to leave their buildings. The WellFurnished collective occupied some of these buildings in early summer 2011, and organised lots of events: benefit cafes/dinners/gigs, exhibitions, painting/dancing/yoga workshops, meetings etc.”

Walk down Mare Street to London Lane / Belling Road

LONDON LANE/ELLINGFORT ROAD

1980s – 1994

The Victorian terraced housing in this area was not built to a very high standard. After the Second World War the Council compulsorily purchased some buildings in the area.

In the mid 1970s LBH planned to create an Industrial Improvement Area between Mare Street and London Fields in an attempt to stem the loss of employment. The Council compulsory purchased more buildings and got rid of existing residents and businesses. It was not keen to hand housing over for short life in case it slowed down development.

Squatters moved into the empty buildings and travellers into the yards (the earliest reference we found was to 1979 but may have been earlier). Artists organisations Acme and Space persuaded the Council to hand over some buildings for studios and living but many of the other properties were squatted. Space leased a building in Martello Street since 1971 and Acme had buildings on Martello Street and Mentmore Terrace.

In 1985 the Council proposed demolishing all the buildings in Ellingfort Road, London Lane and Mentmore Terrace. Between 1885 and 1992 some of the short life housing co-ops left and more houses were squatted.

In 1995 the Council announced its intention to create a fenced off industrial area between Mare Street and the railway, taking in London Lane, Ellingfort Road and Mentmore Terrace. In 1997 the Council got EU funds for this scheme but it was bitterly opposed by local people who wanted a mixture of housing and small scale workspaces.

Some of the squatters had by now acquired ownership of their properties.

Some of the people living in the two streets, both squatters and people in housing co-ops, got together to form a housing coop to take on the redevelopment. In the end eight houses were handed back to the Council for development for live/work units and the rest remained as a co-op.

A former resident said “21 Ellingfort Road was the home of two Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Belladonna and Mother Mandragora. Sometimes they hung out on the street in full habit and no one batted an eyelid and came home on the 55 bus in full habit too. We once went to the ‘pub with no name’ next to the hackney empire in full habit to a gig”.

Walk up Mare Street to the Town Hall

Past:
282 Richmond Road, squatted in 2002 as a community art space

Great Eastern Buildings on Reading Lane built for railway workers) deteriorated, run as a hostel, squatted ?around 2005.

270 Mare Street – former Methodist Hall

1988 and 1995–1996

Spikey Thing with Curves

no 270 was possibly originally the Mothers’ Hospital of the Salvation Army 1884-1913, then a Mission Methodist Hall.

In March 1988 it was occupied after the mass eviction of many squats on the Stamford Hill estate.

In 1995 and1996 it was squatted as a social space, Spikey Thing With Curves. A large mural was painted on the outside and parties were holed there.

HACKNEY TOWN HALL

The Town Hall was the site of many demonstrations against Council policies. In the 1980s squatters were many and organised, and about 90% of squats in council properties so there was regular conflict:

  • 1987: “Hackney Squatters Army””disrupted every monthly council meeting
  • 1988: Stamford Hill Estate evicted, Town Hall & Methodist Hall opposite occupied by evicted squatters.
  • May 1989:The Town Hall was occupied after squatted centre Lee House eviction was resisted.
  • In 1993-94 Council started cracking down on squatting, offering short life & tenancies to some, evictions to others.
  • A 1994 protest against the Criminal Justice Act here ended in arrests and heavy charges.

Some info handed out on the walk:

Totally Independent (Newsletter of Haringey Solidarity Group) Issue 20 Summer 2011

Leaflets from Hackney Housing History project

Links

The Radical History of Hackney blog

Kill Your Pet Puppy: many interesting pages, this one on Brougham Road

Lost Boys of the Lido | Ms Marmite Lover:

Hackney Society: New Lansdowne Club

The New Lansdowne Club in 3D

Today in London policing history: cops shoot Harry Stanley dead, Hackney, 1999

Harry Stanley was a 46-year-old Scottish painter and decorator, who lived in Hackney, East London. In September 1999 he was recovering from a successful cancer operation.

On September 22nd Harry left home, went to visit his brother, who had been fixing a table leg after it had been damaged earlier in the year. On his return home he went for a drink in a local pub.

Another punter in the pub, mistaking Mr Stanley’s accent for Irish rather than Scottish and noticing that he was carrying ‘something long in a bag’, telephoned the police to say that a man with an Irish accent was leaving the pub with a sawn-off shot gun in a plastic bag.

Within a few minutes PC Fagan and Inspector Sharman, an armed response unit from the Metropolitan Police service specialist firearms unit SO 19, arrived in the area. The officers approached Mr Stanley from behind. They shouted, “Stop, armed police!” Mr Stanley (who had no reason to imagine that the police wanted him or having any idea that they were police officers) did not stop at that command.

The police say that they shouted again, to which Mr Stanley responded by turning around. The police officers opened fire, killing him. One shot hit Harry Stanley in his head, the other hitting him in his left hand.

In the bag he was carrying was the repaired two-foot table leg, which he had collected from his brother.

Surrey Police carried out a criminal investigation under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority (which was replaced in April 2004 by the IPCC).

In June 2002, after the CPS decided the officers should not face criminal charges, an inquest was held. HM Coroner for Inner North London Dr Stephen Chan refused to allow the jury at the inquest into the shooting by Metropolitan Police officers of Harry Stanley to consider Unlawful Killing as a verdict, they returned instead a unanimous “Open” verdict rather the only alternative left to them of “Lawful Killing”.

This verdict was, however, quashed by the High Court and a second inquest was held in October 2004. The second inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, but this was also later quashed by the High Court.

However, the officers were arrested by Surrey Police in June 2005, after new forensic evidence emerged. The damage caused to the rear of the left shoulder of Harry Stanley’s jacket indicated that the fatal shot DID come from behind him before entering the left side of his head, above his ear.

When Surrey Police and the officers obtained expert opinions about the new forensic evidence a reasonable doubt was nevertheless raised that the officers and Harry Stanley both had time to perceive a threat to each other before the fatal shot was fired. Therefore, in October 2005, the CPS announced that they had advised Surrey that there was insufficient evidence to charge the officers with any criminal offence, including perjury. Both officers had claimed Harry Stanley had pointed the table leg at PC Fagan in a threatening manner – neither inquest jury accepted this, and neither did the IPCC.

Harry Stanley’s widow Irene and other friends and family organised as the Justice for Harry Stanley campaign. The campaign succeeded in getting the initial inquest’s “open verdict” overturned. In November 2004 a new jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”.

The two officers who shot Harry Stanley were then suspended from duty. This resulted in a protest from fellow armed Metropolitan Police officers, 120 of whom handed in their gun permits. Since the stare really can’t afford to piss of its own armed wings, this lead to a “a review of procedures for suspending officers” concluding that the two officers could return to work, although on for “non-operational duties”.

In May 2005 the verdict of “unlawful killing” was itself overturned in the High Court, reinstating the original “open verdict”.

The two officers were arrested and interviewed, but in October 2005 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges because there was insufficient evidence to contradict the officers’ claims that they were acting in self-defence.

Evidence, like a chairleg, perhaps?

The investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission also recommended that no further disciplinary action be taken against the two officers, but was critical of the way that they had conferred in the process of making their notes about the shooting. Indeed the IPCC recommended that police officers should give video recorded statements immediately after events rather than making their own notes in collaboration with others.

How many more?

Mainly taken from Inquest’s briefing on Harry Stanley

You can read the very lovely self-justification of the cops who shot him. You really couldn’t make this up…

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An entry in the
2016 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London squatting history: Vortex jazz club squatted, Stoke Newington, 2007

“On Sat 6th Jan a group of local people, along with others, occupied 139-141 Church Street with the intention of opening it up as a social centre. Previously the home of the famous Vortex jazz club the building is set to be demolished by notorious landlord Richard Midda to make way for a Starbucks on the ground floor with luxury apartments above.”

A new squatted social centre opened up in January 2007, in Stoke Newington, North London, in the empty building formerly used by the Vortex jazz club. The new space featured a daily cafe, radical cinema, club nights, talks, workshops and meeting space for various groups (the club proving especially popular). The centre garnered some support from some local folk, particularly as plans for the vacant building mainly featured demolition and redevelopment for the (oh yes of course) obligatory luxury flats and a branch of Starbucks. Thousands signed a petition to keep the building reserved for community use…

“The Vortex Jazz Club had had its origins in an art gallery set up in 1984, which became a secondhand record and bookshop and then started outing on live jazz. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Vortex established itself as an essential destination for contemporary music in London, noted for its community atmosphere and groundbreaking performances, with music every night of the week. David programmed all the music himself, with the exception of nights run by musicians or friends of Vortex. In the early 1990s saxophonist Elton Dean (1954-2006) started Rumours, a weekly Avant-garde music night. At around the same time, Jazz Umbrella also started as another regular night to help promote young musicians, fostering talent such as Christine Tobin and Julian Siegel.

Programming at Vortex also diversified in the early ‘90s with the arrival of Pirate Jenny, a weekly night of opera, cabaret and song, featuring the works of composers such as Gilbert & Sullivan and Kurt Wile. When it came to programming music, David said the best nights would come from musicians who had projects they were really excited about. “These great musicians would come to me with ideas and I’d let them do anything they liked, and it was always brilliant . . . I’d tell them there was no money in it, but they’d say that was fine.” In 1996 Derek Drescher, who then worked as a producer at the BBC, began to record sessions at Vortex for the program Impressions on Radio 3.

However, by 2000 there was trouble on the horizon. The lease for the building on Church Street was approaching expiry, and given the burgeoning competition for property in the increasingly fashionable area, it became apparent that Vortex might need to move to a new location. A large-scale new development, Ocean, was in the planning stages nearby at 270 Mare Street. The Ocean project proposed to build a vast new arts centre housing three live music venues, however the developers lacked the local community networks required by Arts Council funding application criteria. A marriage of Ocean and Vortex seemed like an ideal solution to secure a future for both organisations. In the discussions that followed Vortex was offered full-time usage of one of the three venue spaces and with the help of Vortex team the Ocean project managed to secure funding from the Arts Council. But differences between the two organisations led them to part ways and for the time being Vortex remained on Church Street.

The Vortex Jazz Foundation was set up in November 2001 to protect the Church Street venue, and the initial plan was to raise funds to purchase the building. Efforts included a comedy fundraiser in 2002, which included performances by prominent comedians like Jenny Eclair and Johnny Vegas. The fundraiser was held for free at the Union Chapel in nearby Islington. However, in the end the building was purchased by another buyer in what was perhaps a blessing in disguise, for in 2003 Vortex began discussions with Hackney Co-Operative Developments, who were seeking tenants for their new Dalston Culture House development.

The club took a one year hiatus while the Dalston location was being completed and in 2005 Vortex moved into its current location in Gillett Square where it has been at the heart of Dalston community and culture through the Gillett Square partnership.”

Meanwhile, the prospect of the now abandoned building being replaced by the dreaded Starbucks had not only outraged Stoke Newington’s keenly localist middle classes; also woke up the slumbering local squatting scene, a long standing feature of the area. Admittedly by that time squatting was seriously dwindling as the well-to-do had long bought up all the old run-down victorian houses and were well underway with turning Church Street into the sheeshy and hideously expensive boutique/coffee bar heavy tedium it is today (with a couple of exceptions).

With the support of locals, they managed to repel an eviction attempt by private goons on Jan 26th (photos and video at indymedia.org.uk)… 

Despite several attempted (unlawful) repossession attempts being seen off, the Vortex was of course evicted:

“The Vortex social centre in Stoke Newington, London, was evicted earlier this week. First thing in the morning high court bailiffs and police moved in and turfed everyone out, eventually removing the one enterprising soul who’d hid in the attic and begrudgingly allowing most of the equipment inside to be removed.”

Around 40 people protested later that week on Church Street in solidarity with the ex-Vortex Social Centre. Many of the ex-residents and local supporters were present, as leaflets were handed out to the community explaining the reasons for the occupation and the plans for the future. Church Street was closed to traffic for at least five minutes (maybe 10) whilst those present took to the road to walk from the meeting point to outside the (now well and truly) ex-Vortex.

The chant of “What do we want … free space” was the call of the day and discussions were rife about plans for the future.

The Vortex occupation in some marked what to date seems like a possible final hurrah for the Stoke Newington squatting community – once a massive part of the area’s culture, a reflection of a collision of a long dissident ethos and lots of run-down housing…

For many centuries an area populated by religious non-conformists, due to being outside City parishes and jurisdiction, Stokey developed a dissident ethos. From defeated republicans and rebels after the English Civil War, radicals and Unitarians…

The area’s religious dissidence lasted into the nineteenth century; hence Abney Park cemetery, where large numbers of non-Anglicans were buried, including Chartist socialist Bronterre O’Brien… (On the other hand, also interred here are the repulsive William Booth and his family, founders of those vultures on the vulnerable, the Salvation Army).

Run-down houses and council near-collapse in housing, led to mass squatting here from the late 1960s. Hundreds of houses were occupied, and many larger buildings used as social centres, music venues, artspaces, and much more. Squatting not only offered people cheap places to live when times were hard, but lots of the local culture, music, creativity was built on squatting.

Another development also characterised Stokey: a growing afro-Caribbean community, which faced battles with racism, especially from the police. Stoke Newington police became notorious for racially motivated arrests, beatings, and killings, and later for fitting people up for drug-dealing, either planting substances, or dealing themselves through protected sources. The local community resisted in many ways – there were riots in 1981, and the organised resistance against racist murders, police harassment…

Local poverty, police attacks and resistance, hand in hand with an alternative and counter-cultural vibe, persisted into the 1990s. But in common with many other areas of London, this has been changing, for decades now.

The process generally labeled gentrification covers a number of different, if linked, processes. In Stokey, the area’s bohemian ethos attracted middle class dropouts, some of who in turn helped change the area into the kind of place they wanted to live in. Gradually this attracted less boho middle class people, and so on in turn. If middle class people had broadly wanted to leave the city for decades, from the 70s on this went into reverse; by 2007 much of the area was virtually unrecognisable.

So in recent decades, the neighbourhood has slowly filled up with media types and green petty-bourgeois social workers with pinched, locally-sourced eating-disorder faces. And Church Street with artisan bakers, extortionate kids clothes boutiques and chain-store wholefood porn like ‘fresh and wild’. Which is neither fresh nor wild, but has fooled the muesli belt into imagining themselves radical alternative and right-on.

Mind you, the rest of Hackney, which until recently had remained largely working class, is now facing an invasion of the bistro snatchers; hipsters, artists and rising rents are spreading like piss in a pool, while older communities face gradual eviction and dispersal under new benefit rules.

Interestingly in Dalston’s Gillett Square, where the original Vortex moved to, regeneration is broadly substantially more genuinely based in the local black community than much of what usually passes for cultural regeneration projects, which can often often be mere window dressing for gentrification; and the square does have some independent character, though how long that will remain as the area is being rapidly colonised by new developments for young trendy white things…

After the Vortex squat eviction – did the building’s owner. parasitic property developer Richard Midda keep his promise to locals to that any new tenant in the property would reflect the character of Church Street, a busy shopping area made up almost entirely of independent traders?

Er, no. As a local commentator pointed out:

“To be fair the writing was on the wall after he tore down the building to rebuild it, without planning and breaking his other promise to keep the original facade of the place in tact.

And now, to howls of outrage from the genteel residents, battery chicken peddlars Nandos have opened up.

…one blogger repeatedly lied about the social centre, needlessly and repeatedly called the old bill and generally made a tit out of herself.  Strangely enough the very same blogger then went on to whinge about Nandos moving in, when she was so helpful to Midda whilst the building was occupied.  Seems some people want it both ways.

But that’s by the bye, you can read about the whole ex-Vortex saga here.

Back to Nandos, a local campaign established to oppose the corporate take over of Church Street.  Nevertheless Richard Midda ran roughshod over local sentiment in the name of making a quick buck.

Now the plight of Hackney’s middle classes is hard to get too upset over, the latte slurpers took over that part of Stoke Newington a long time ago and even the Angry Brigade couldn’t save it now.

But it does offer a timely warning to the ciabatta munching chinless ones.  The final stage of gentrification is that the big corporations move in and that lovely little deli becomes a Tescos and the simply wonderful Thai restaurant turns into Pizza Express.

That’s capitalism folks.”

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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

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

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

Even in the vicinity of the growing industrial cities of England, well into the 19th century, grazing of the one or two animals a family might have could supplement wages to make a substantial difference to meagre incomes.

Hackney, on London’s northeastern edge as late as the mid-19th century, contained large amounts of common land, stretching from Hackney marshes to Well Street and Stoke Newington. But such suburbs were under threat of development, with London spreading out in all directions. In the 1850s and 1860s, campaigns to preserve what remained of open space in the London area, and to form new parks for leisure and entertainment, led to much agitation and protest over building. Although commons grazing and lammas rights were becoming less vital economically, the customs and traditions that had been established over centuries also had a powerful emotional call, where landowners had not been successful in enclosing land and depriving the lower orders of access. In the late 19th century this feeling that access to common lands was a right was also being seasoned with both radical ideas – that the land should belong to all who worked it, not the rich – and (among more respectable elements) that open spaces should be maintained, controlled and brought into some form of public ownership to ensure it could be used for leisure. The latter was not entirely from public-spirited feelings: while many of the well-to-do were genuinely disinterested and wholeheartedly believed in green space for all, there were elements who felt that working class people needed morally improving, and that properly landscaped parks and genteel pastimes would help to uplift them. Also many workers were unhealthy and you can’t carry on with a sick and pasty workforce/potential army cannon fodder.

Attempts to enclose or restrict access to parts of Hackney’s lammas land had led to disputes, direct action and rioting in the past. In 1837, a Mr Adamson was renting 20 acres of the downs and was growing a corn crop. and issued a notice calling on parishioners not to send cattle onto the downs until the corn was cleared. Angry Hackney locals resented this notice and on Lammas Day, cattle were turned onto the downs prior to the crop being harvested and some of the corn itself was seized. Adamson turned the cattle back out of the fields and two parishioners, Mr Neale and Mr Ambrose, were arrested, but the case was left undecided. The enclosure struggle led to a general attack on Adamson and his property.

The word spread that the downs were indeed now open and that the crop still growing there had passed into the common ownership of the parish at large. Adamson attempted in vain to stop a crowd invading his land:

‘He was knocked down…Crowds of persons collected from all parts of the town, consisting of parishioners, and some of the lowest characters, who committed a simultaneous robbery of the property.

However, subsequently, a judge ruled that Adamson’s notice for parishioners not to use the lammas lands after August 12 was legally unenforceable, and the established custom for the downs to be turned over for pasture at that date. Rioters got off with relatively light punishment as a result.

This battle, and the unruly memory of it, shows a strong and stroppy sense of ownership of the common lands at Hackney Downs, which resurfaced four decades later.

During the 1870s Hackney was once again a focus for direct action and fence breaking. The District Board had organised a petition for the enclosure of 180 acres of common at HackneyDowns under the Metropolitan Common Acts (1866) and it was vested in the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1872. The lands were Clapton common Stoke Newington common and South Mill fields, Hackney Downs, Hackney or Well Street common, London Fields and strips of waste in Dalston Lane and Grove Street (later Lauriston Road).

Some of these areas were still operating as traditional lammas lands, but others, notably London Fields and Hackney Downs, were increasingly used for recreation, which was blamed for damage to ‘herbage’ there. London Fields in particular was no longer suitable for pasture, and had became infamous as a haunt of “roughs… the scene of the most dissolute practices imaginable… itinerant preachers, not the ordinary itinerant preachers, but people who get up discussions.” (well I never…?!) As well as “vagrants, gypsies and prostitutes.” As elsewhere, the disorderly nature of open space was often used as a public focus point for calls to enclose, landscape and sell off common spaces. Through the 1860s, respectable Hackney citizens had been demanding a clean-up of the areas open spaces.

But there was a division of powers over the common land: the Metropolitan Board Of Works only in fact had jurisdiction over the footpaths and rights of way over Hackney’s open space. The Hackney and Shoreditch parish councils hoped to turn London Fields into a park, so it could be landscaped, made respectable, in order to attract “a more respectable class of society”. (As had been done, for instance, in the 1850s at Kennington, where the old common had been landscaped and fenced to prevent repeats of the vast 1848 Chartist demonstration… or at Camberwell Green, to aid in repression of the annual fair, a notorious gathering of the rowdy lower classes… to name but two examples.) But the Vestries could not get their inhabitants to agree about how the building of the prospective park should be paid for, and what body should run it… Proposals to rent parts of the land to raise money for the costs were vocally resisted by many locals. The vestry boards hoped the Metropolitan Board of works would add the commons to their growing London responsibilities, and also expected the Lord of the Manor, William Amhurst Tyssen Amherst, to cheerfully hand over the land without charge… A view supported by local anti-enclosure campaigners, who denounced the idea of paying any compensation to landlords and relied on the defence of traditional common rights as a bulwark against any development of the land.

Arguments about how Hackney’s common land should be regulated continued for several years, with Vestry councilors undecided as to whether to take on the land, sell some for development… the situation was complicated by the individuals and institutions who held part of the land as freeholders or copyholders for the remainder of the year outside the lammas grazing months… who also demanded compensation for loss of the revenue from their holdings. The web of lammas rights and of these other rights made this a much more complex prospect for takeover than other opens spaces the Metropolitan Board of Works had yet taken on. And William Amherst also refused to consent to any scheme, standing on his claim to all the rights to exploit the soil, gravel, clay sand and other minerals, or to grant licenses for it – a hugely lucrative holding.

In 1872, the Metropolitan Board took over the management of much of Hackney’s common land. Many residents and those with interests in the common held their fire to see how this would affect them, But the lord of the manor saw the Board’s plans as threatening his interests, and demanded that they buy him out. Specific bylaws the Board planned to pass did restrict the right of the lord to carry out what he regarded as his rights on his own property (though the Commons Preservation Society and other campaigners felt, after much study, that much of this was merely customary and would not necessarily stand up as legal rights).

Amherst determined to provoke the Board, probably to force their hand into paying him large amount of dosh to relinquish his ‘rights’. But the Board’s scheme for the commons in the area specifically barred them from buying him out. So works, such as digging for gravel and other exploitable minerals, were ordered, in defiance of the Board’s bylaws, and the Board wasn’t sure how to respond. This enraged locals set on keeping the parks of residents to use, and sparked protest meetings in 1874, with speakers denouncing both Amherst (‘The Downs are in the Hands of the Spoiler!’), and the Board for not keeping the lord of the manor in line (Although the Board had in fact acted to issue a writ against the digging in April ’74). Amherst’s solicitor admitted that the digging had been intended to prod the Board into buying the rights out

In the Autumn, parts of the Downs were fenced off and angry protest again followed.

In summer 1875, digging of gravel and sand on the Downs near Downs Park Road sparked protests, coagulating by November into public meetings on the Downs, called by the Commons Protection League, a working class based group, dedicated to defending open space, led by John De Morgan, an Irish socialist and secularist agitator, heavily involved in the ‘land question’ by the mid-1870s.. While more moderate elements in the local branch of the Commons Preservation Society launched a lawsuit in Chancery against the lord of the manor, de Morgan’s public meetings were attracting 3000 people by 21 November, and resolutions were passed to use every means necessary to preserve the Downs as open land.

On December 11th 1875 a large crowd assembled on the Downs, at the latest of five weekly demos. de Morgan addressed the crowd, ‘described enclosures which had recently been made, and which he asserted were wholly illegal, at the same time adding that their removal would be a perfectly legal act… The fences which they saw before them had been erected in defiance of popular feeling, and rights of way were being stopped which had existed from time immemorial. In these circumstances the only remedy that remained for the people – the only means of getting back their rights was to remove the fences without delay’.

Some 3000 had gathered; led by four or five ‘working men’, the crowd demolished fences hat had been erected around diggings.

“The people advanced to the iron railings where they were first obstructed by about thirty constables [. . .] and seemed as if they were about to protect the enclosure. The superintendent, however, said a few words to them. The staves were put up and the crowd allowed to proceed with the work of demolition.”

All traces of the fences were destroyed, and set on fire. The next day another large crowd assembled to celebrate.

Reports of the breaking down of the fences at Hackney Down were widely reported but vary little in their accounts.

‘A Lord of the Manor had stolen some portion of a metropolitan common known as Hackney Downs. On December 11th, 1875 upwards of 50,000 people assembled on Hackney Downs to witness the destruction of the fences. The police numbered in force and seemed prepared to resist the Commoners. Mr De Morgan warned them that their lives were in danger if they opposed and wisely did the police withdraw. The fences were then destroyed and burnt. the fire lasting until four o’clock in the morning’.

The event was also satirised in Punch magazine, for some reason written in early modern spelling:

‘A FYTTE OF ITACKNEY DOWNS.

It was open walking where Hackney Downs
Lies green beneath the skies.
From a time whereto man’s memory
Runneth not contrariwise.

The Lord of the Manor hath made essaye.
To enclose and build thereon.
And a blessing upon the Board of Works.
That to law with him have gone!

He planted postes and set up rayles.
And hedged hym yn the grounde.
The churl mote have waited at least until
Ile law on hys side had founde.

For the Lord, the Hackney Commoners said.
To collar our common land.
Never sticking so much as to ask our leave.
Ytt Ys more than we will stand!

What right hath he that land to cribb?
And a curse upon his crown!
No more to set fences and palings up.
Than we have to pull them down. ‘

‘So fourth to those iron rayles they went.
To tear them from the land;
When they were’ ware of thirty stout knaves,
of Bobbies blue a band!

The Bobbies. they drew their good ash staves,
for to guard the railings fain,
But a word their Superintendent spake,
And they putt them up agayne.

Then went the commoners to their work.
With many an hundred mo.
They seized the fences on Hackney Downs,
And laid the enclosures low’.

In the aftermath of the ‘riot’, William Amherst’s lawyers threatened to pursue identifiable ‘leaders’ of the events, and De Morgan was charged with inciting the action; moderate preservationists dissociated from his tactics.

But the demos, torchlight processions (with bands!) and public meetings continued, and by February 1876 the digging on the common had halted.

The fallout from the ‘riot’ also included more of the interminable wrangling that had characterised discussions over the Down and other Hackney common lands. De Morgan and his supporters, meanwhile, attempted to widen the struggle out, calling attention to other enclosures (eg at Lea Bridge on Hackney Marshes), and supported legal cases. For instance: in 1877 a group of local inhabitants charged with grazing cattle on Stoke Newington Common were defended by a solicitor associated with de Morgan, and a number of elderly residents gave evidence that the practice was traditional and longstanding. The magistrate declared this didn’t come under his jurisdiction, and the claim was abandoned.

Notices put up by the Grocers’ Company restricting entry to lands they owned on the Downs were also torn down in 1877.

But despite the stout resistance, the court of Chancery upheld the lord of the manor against the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1879. As a result his rights in the Hackney lands were purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works, under an Act of 1881 and those of other freeholders under a further Act of 1884. It is debatable in the end whether the riot of 1875 did in fact ‘save’ Hackney Downs, although the agitation did raise the faltering profile of the issue.

……………………………..

The 1870s were a high point of anti-enclosure struggles in the London area, following on from a decade of (mostly, though not exclusively) peaceful campaigns to prevent large open spaces being developed in the 1860s. Wanstead Flats in 1871, Chiselhurst Common in 1876, Eelbrook Common (Fulham) in 1878, all saw direct action against fences, as part of long-running resistance against the theft of common land.

John de Morgan himself would be jailed after leading probably the decade’s most spectacular enclosure battle, which emerged into mass rioting and the destruction of large scale fencing around land at Plumstead Common, in July 1876.

Many of these struggles were characterised by the large-scale involvement of radical movements, as London radicals, secularists and elements who would later help to form socialist groups made open space and working class access to it a major part of their political focus. Radical land agitation, notably through the Land and Labour League, was beginning to revive the question of access to land as a social question, and within cities this manifested as both battles to defend green space, and propaganda around the theft of the land from the labouring classes.

In contrast to the mainly legalistic approach of bodies like the Commons Preservation Society, the working-class protests organised by figures like De Morgan retained a strongly radical character and employed “direct action” tactics that brought them into open confrontation with the police and civil authorities. “They were also characterised by a vigorous use of language, knowledge of the lore relating to the appropriation of land during the Norman Conquest, and hostility to the police, that served to set them apart from the activities of their middle-class counterparts. Most of these features are displayed in accounts of opposition to the enclosure of Hackney Downs.”

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There is an interesting element to Hackney Downs and hackney common lands as a whole: one which we might want to think about, in our own times , as funding for the public open spaces we love and often take for granted is pinched and pressures to find ways to pay for their upkeep is leading to a drift towards commercial exploitation.

In the 1870s at Hackney, a large official body (the Metropolitan Board of Works) was taking over management of the lands, and to what extent it could live up to the expectations of the local residents. The pressure from many Hackney inhabitants was for an opening up of the land to more use for leisure, and this was clearly in conflict with the intention of the lord of the manor to exploit or grant rights to extract minerals, and of many of the freeholders or copyholders to fully profit from the rights they had purchased. But the Metropolitan Board was also up to a point at odds with both interests. They were suspicious of the campaigners, not only the ‘radicals’ like de Morgan, but also the more moderate and legalistic Commons Preservation Society. Their bylaws not only infuriated Amherst by restricting his profits; they also severally curtailed the more autonomous and unruly uses of the commons, and were in some ways closer to accommodation with the smaller holders’ interests than a broader sentiment that the land should be open for all. This disconnect remained even after the rights in the lands were bought from the lord of the manor; conflict over use and management of open space are still legion.

Centuries of hard fought battles saved many beloved places from disappearing, and laws currently protect parks, greens and commons. But times change… Pressures change. Space in London is profitable like never before. For housing mainly, but also there are sharks ever-present looking to exploit space for ‘leisure’. And with the current onslaught on public spending in the name of balancing the books (ie cutting as much as possible in the interests of the wealthy), public money spent on public space is severely threatened.

Many are the pressures on open green spaces – the costs of upkeep, cleaning, maintenance,
improvement, looking after facilities… Local  councils, who mainly look after open space, are struggling. Some local authorities are proposing to make cuts of 50 or 60 % to budgets for parks. As a result, there are the beginnings of changes, developments that look few and far between now, but could be the thin end of the wedge.

So you have councils looking to renting green space to businesses, charities, selling off bits, shutting off parks or parts of them for festivals and  corporate events six times a year… Large parts of Hyde Park and Finsbury Park are regularly fenced off for paying festivals already; this could increase. Small developments now, but maybe signs of things to come. Now is the time to be on guard, if we want to preserve our free access to the green places that matter to us.

Already space in the city is being handed to business – London’s Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park and the Broadgate development in the City are public places governed by the rules of the corporations that own them.

It may seem like parks, and other green spaces are givens; things that can’t be taken away. But what seem like certainties can be lost before we realize. Look at way social housing have been dismantled over the past 30 years. In the 1960s council housing was taken for granted as a right by millions: it has been reduced to a last resort. Or the way the NHS is being parcelled up into private providers… there are many who see green space as a luxury and something that can be got rid of or at least shunted off into the hands of some quango… Whatever gains we have, whatever we win,
whatever rights we enjoy, came from long generations of battling – the moment we stop, rest on our laurels, powerful forces start pushing back against everything we have won.

The main thing to take from the numberless historical struggles to preserve open space is that people won because they considered the places they were defending to be theirs, to belong to them, even when that sometimes stood in opposition to what might have been judged legal ‘reality’… Although sometimes relying on traditions and common rights as the basis for legal argument didn’t work, often when it acted as a grounding, a shared belief forming a backbone for direct action and a collective campaigning approach, this sense of the commons being ‘ours’ could overcome all the power of law, profit and parliament.  The difficulty with entrusting our green space to public bodies is that they do not necessarily share our view of how they should used, and with councillors and leading officers in many councils hand in glove with developers all over London, co-operating over the selloff of social housing, the risk is that open space may also be up for grabs. And up for sale, or increasingly at least, for fencing off for profit.

This is a lesson worth taking when we think about how we view open space: although we can take many inspirations from our history, reliance on the past can not be a defence, we need to be re-forging a sense that the resources of the world are for all of us, for people’s enjoyment, not for the profit of a few.

We need to be redefining what is ours, collectively, in opposition and defiance of the laws and fences built to exclude us; and not just when it comes to green or urban space, but for the whole world. In the midst of 21st century London, a whirlwind of global profit, backed by a government with a
determined ruling class agenda, is uprooting  communities, altering the landscape, destroying or severely hamstringing any right to social housing, welfare, health, education, for increasing numbers of us.
What are we going to do in response?

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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For more of past tense writings on enclosures, open space and resistance, check out:

  • Down With the Fences: Battles for the Commons in South London.
  • The Battle for Hyde Park: Radicals, Ruffians and Ravers 1855-1994.
  • Rights of Common: The Fight against the Theft of Sydenham Common and One Tree Hill
  • William Covell and the Troubles at Enfield in 1659.
  • Kennington Park: Birthplace of People’s Democracy

 • Symond Newell & Kett’s Rebellion: Norfolk’s Great Revolt against Enclosures, 1549.

Most of the above are available to buy in pamphlet form from our website

Today in London anti-fascist history: anti-semitic nazi march opposed, Clapton, 2015

On Saturday 18th April 2015, more than 100 local residents and anti-fascists turned out at short notice to bar the progress of a short march by a tiny but toxic group of hard core Nazis in Clapton, East London, a demo which included former 1970s/80s National Front leader Martin Webster.

The Nazi march was organised by Eddie Stampton, a longtime face of the skinhead far right, since the late 70s at least, (though it has been suggested that he also keeps the security services and journalists informed on some of his fash mates… he doesn’t seem very popular even in nazi circles these days…)

Nice Mr Stampton had invited a collection of individuals from an assortment of fascist and racist groups: Britain First, the British National Party, the National Front, the English Defence League and others. But altogether the turnout numbered just 22, carrying banners reading “Rights for Whites” and denouncing “Jewish power”.

They claimed to be marching in protest at the local Jewish community in Stamford Hill being allowed their own “police force” – in fact a private security outfit hired to protect the mainly hassidic community from anti-Semitic attacks, from the friends and associates of Messrs Stampton and Webster, and increasingly from right-wing migrants from Eastern Europe living in nearby areas of North London.

Stampton had wanted his rally in a park in Stamford Hill right in the middle of the local Jewish community but police redirected their march from Clapton station in the opposite direction to a corner beside the Lea Bridge Roundabout.

The walk was only a couple of hundred metres but it was long and slow as energetic and noisy young anti-fascists blocked the way and had to be forced back inch by inch by police while the Nazis were surrounded by scores of police to protect them from angry local residents.

Martin Webster launched a vitriolic attack on Jewish community defence organisations (while standing almost on the spot where, in the 1960s, a synagogue was destroyed by arson perpetrated by members of the Greater Britain Movement – of which Martin Webster and his then colleague John Tyndall, later NF and BNP leader, were members at the time).

A group of six Polish fascists invited by Stampton arrived just as the Nazi meeting was finishing.

Radical Jewish group Jewdas took part in the counter-demonstration. Alongside other activists and local community members, Jewdas claim that they were kept in a police containment area whilst the group were escorted down towards a local mosque at Lea Bridge roundabout; they accused the police of ‘facilitating’ the nazi march. Which is not the first time thats been suggested…

While Webster and his mates have been poncing around on the lunatic fringe for decades, failing to launch a thousand-year reich, but inspiring racist attacks when they could, the more recent influx of Polish racists has jacked up the fash level in North London a fraction. A few months before this (admittedly piss-poor) march, Polish nazi skins attacked a local music festival in South Tottenham, a couple of miles north of Clapton. About 20 Polish far-right nationalists attacked Jewish members of the audience at Music Day, held in Tottenham’s Markfield Park, rushing the stage, assaulted several members of the crowd and events team, and left one man in hospital with stab wounds. The crowd managed to push the skinheads back into a small corner of the park, before four riot vans turned up to shut down the melee and arrest several people for breaching the peace.

Footage shows festivalgoers and the far right exchanging missiles, including flares. Another video shows a man getting arrested wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan, “Wielka Polska”, meaning “Great Poland”. The attackers were from a group of far-right Polish immigrants known as Zjednoczeni Emigranci Londyn (Emigrants United London), a relatively small but hardcore group”, made up of ultra-nationalist Polish immigrants, who had some 350 members on Facebook, sharing ultra-nationalist iconography, racism and links to videos and stories about Polish football hooliganism. Lovely.

The brief hegemony of the British National party as the largest far-right party in the UK, achieving a near-respectability in electoral terms, was followed by chaos and near-collapse as UKIP nicked the ball and ran off swivel-eyed but less overtly violent, to achieve even greater heights of xenophobia and nationalist bollockery. (Though as usual the Tories act as the parliamentary arm of the racist backwater whenever they feel they can get away with it, so UKIP may now flounder).

As ever the BNP’s stumble was followed by a veritable smorgasbord of loony right splinters. Though the violent activity of many of these groups is supposedly denounced by others including UKIP, truth is there is more of a spectrum, with individuals and groups merging, arguing, moving from one to another, and reinforcing each other. Brexit, Trump, Alt-right developments can only help to reinforce such movements, and while they may be seen as a minor problem compared to more corporate forces, these are encouraging times for nazi fuckwits. Support/get involved in your local anti-fascist group…

https://antifascistnetwork.org/

https://www.facebook.com/londonantifascists/

https://northlondonantifa.wordpress.com/

http://jewdas.org/

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s squatting history: Hackney Social Centre squat opens, Lower Clapton, 2008.

The Hackney Social Centre grew out of meetings through the Northeast Squatters Network, which was working to strengthen solidarity and skill-sharing locally between the squats in north-east London. The decided to occupy the former Chimes nightclub at 231 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, to create a non-commercial social space, planning activities such as free language lessons, a donations-only cafe, a free shop, meetings of local groups, skill-share sessions and a bike workshop – “a place to imagine and build alternative futures for our neighbourhood. This building is a small step, but we make the road by walking.”

After squatting the building, the group faced three weeks of violent attacks and attempted illegal evictions – twice by the owner of the property, and once by the police – before the Hackney Social Centre opened on February 14th 2008.

“We’ve opened in spite of early challenges because we’re tired of yuppie maisonettes forcing up to housing prices, while buildings are empty and affordable housing is eaten away. We’ve opened because we’re set to resist and oppose the threats posed by gentrification, capitalism and the upcoming Olympic Games. We’ve opened because Hackney needs free spaces – spaces to escape the divisions of capitalism and the profit-hungry rat-race… After four weeks in the building we were shocked by two sets of violent attacks – first by purported representatives of Howun Estates Ltd (the company the owns the property) and then by the Hackney Metropolitan Police! The attacks of last week (on the 22nd and 23rd of January) definitely shook the building and its occupants, but have only left us more convicted and committed. Within 11minutes of the first attack nearly 30 members of the local activist community had arrived on the premises. Our network is strong, and we look forward to many many days exploring the potential and possibilities of Hackney’s newest autonomous zone.”

Meetings, a feminist gathering, discussions, film showings, regular meals and benefits, graffiti workshops, open mike nights, practical workshops on many topics, self-defence classes, were just a few of the numerous events the centre hosted in its few months of existence…

The Social Centre’s scheduled eviction was successfully resisted on Monday 21 April by over 60 people – both inside and outside the building.

The Hackney Social Centre was eventually evicted on May 16, 2008, after two unsuccessful eviction attempts in April. Many of the people living at the Social Centre have since returned to their countries, others are still in London, involved in different projects. The Social Centre was a brief but valuable experiment in active resistance and active defence of a large autonomous space in Hackney.

Read more

The centre has since re-opened as the White Hart pub…

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

Today in London’s anti-gentrification history: Tony’s Cafe re-occupied, Broadway Market, 2005 

In the rolling juggernaut that is gentrification, in London, we are mostly losing. Since the 1970s, the middle class who once fled the capital and left the inner city to decline and collapse, have been returning, sometimes singly, sometimes en masse, and transforming neighbourhoods to resemble themselves. Behind them comes big money, for this is not an individual process, though individuals are crucial to it – it is a colonisation, with ideological aims, and economic imperatives.

In the last few years many local groups and campaigns have arisen to combat the process of being forced out of areas they or their families have lived in so that a better class of persons can bump up property values. On inspirational campaign that had an impact on some that followed was the Broadway market fight in 2005-6 which centred around Tony’s Café and Spirit’s shop.

On Boxing Day 2005, early in the morning, Café Francesca in Broadway Market, Hackney, was re-occupied, after being evicted a few days before. Local residents, protesting against gentrification and the cut-price selling of publicly-owned property in the area to developers, had been occupying the cafe since November, holding many protests and public meetings and generating support and interest in London and beyond.

Sicilian-born Tony Platia had been evicted from the cafe he had run for 31 years, having tried to buy the property from Hackney Council, but been shut out, as the Council was working in collusion with property developer Roger Wratten to guarantee that Wratten would get the building. Multi-millionaire Wratten, who had bought up several properties in the street, and evicted other long-term traders, had plans to develop the café site and neighbouring buildings… Evicted in July 2005, he had re-occupied the café with supporters in November.

Similarly Lowell ‘Spirit’ Grant had been threatened with the same treatment. Rastafarian Spirit built up his Nutritious Food Gallery from 1993, selling fresh fish and veg. Like Tony, he tried to buy the shop he had rented from Hackney Council, in December 2001, presenting the council’s estate agents with a deposit cheque for £10,000. Mysteriously, it was later sent back to him, unused. He turned up at the auction the same day. In a spectacular coup for Hackney’s Equal Opportunities policy, the only black Rastafarian to have attended the sale was summarily barred, due to ‘concerns’ that he may not have been able to pay.

Tony & Spirit were popular local figures who ran shops used by local working people who couldn’t afford to use the new boutiques and upmarket cafes that were springing up in Broadway Market. Their situation was the consequence of Hackney Council’s pro-big business policies – over the previous decade the council has been selling off its commercial properties to rich investors at knock down prices often leaving long term leaseholders in the lurch.

Aiming to get out of the red in the second half of the 90s, Hackney flogged £30 million of its own property, in keeping with a series of privatisations among London councils at the time. Nurseries and libraries tumbled to the ground, swimming pools evaporated, and all manner of voluntary advice and advocacy groups shut up shop.

But still the council wasted cash. A botched attempt to outsource social security benefits left it £36 million out of pocket. And its failed ‘Transforming Hackney’ programme of institutional change led to an accounting cock-up which, we’re led to believe, meant that when the auditors arrived in 2001, they found a financial ‘black hole’ of £72 million.

From then on, central government turned the screw, the funding cuts got deeper, the sell-offs accelerated At the same time, with a still burgeoning London population, newly-extended underground line and the 2012 London Olympics shimmering lucratively on the horizon, Hackney’s streets began to seem paved with gold.

The effects of this – still continuing -process can also be seen across Hackney as former public buildings have become reborn as yuppie flats.

Sheriffs and Police had broken into Tony’s Café on December 21st, injuring one of the occupiers and allowed Wratten’s men to start demolishing the building immediately. However, campaign supporters squatted the half-trashed café on Boxing Day, and began rebuilding and reinforcing it (your blog editor/typist did some plumbing…)

On re-taking the café, the occupiers stated: “We have now undertaken an ambitious reconstruction scheme and are rebuilding the cafe almost as fast the wreckers smashed it down. (We plan not one but two floors – but no exclusive penthouse apartments or concierge on this development!).

“We are loath to describe this as regeneration but it’s probably closer to it than anything Wratten or Hackney Council have been capable of so far.

“We still have lots of work to do, so if you have building skills or just would like to help out, we’d be glad to see you. We urgently need more bedding, food, heat, and other provisions. Anything you got for christmas and don’t want would be gratefully received. Please come down if you would like to help out keeping the place occupied.

“As promised, we are going to go on fighting for Tony to get his place back and to defend Spirit’s shop. The fact that new people were willing to come forward and carry on this community occupation only shows how strongly many in this area feel about the sell off of Tony’s and Spirit’s places and the wider process of social cleansing affecting long-term working class areas like Broadway Market.”

The astonishing re-building of the cafe on Boxing Day after the developer evicted protesters and tore it apart demonstrated the power of collective action. This defiant act strengthened the resolve of those involved and made them more confident.

Locals also organised two public meetings where Councillors were exposed to people’s anger about the sell-offs in Broadway Market. These well attended, highly charged events were a long way from the meaningless ‘consultation’ sessions that New Labour love to talk about.

This popular pressure forced Hackney Council to re-open investigations into its commercial property sales… the campaigners also visited Wratten’s home village in Kent to leaflet his neighbours…

What was most powerful about the occupation of Tony’s Cafe was that ordinary working people have been central to its success – not just the ‘activist’ types usually associated with this kind of protest. Some people involved spoke about what moved them to act.

“I’ve lived in Hackney all my life. Tony’s was a place I used around here. Loads of pensioners liked using the place. Tony was pushed out as he didn’t fit in with the ‘new’ Broadway Market. I’ve made real friends in this group who are working together for something they believe in.” Betty, Grandmother, aged 76, Regents Estate

“Before I just existed where ever I was and not been conscious of what’s been going on around me. This has expanded my social awareness and I’ve made so many new friends in the area. It’s also been a great experience, fighting against property development and corruption. I’ve never been involved with anything like this before”. Mother of 3, aged 42, Regents Estate

“I’d been really unhappy about the changes in Broadway Market for ages. When I kept meeting Tony in the street and saw how his life had been messed up I felt like enough
was enough and it was time that people took a stand against the developers and the council. It’s been brilliant and we’ve been amazed by what we accomplished” John, aged 34, Ada Street

“This is where I was born, I’ve seen the changes going around. People have come in and taken over everything and local people are moving out. My family has been pushed out right and left. What those people did to Tony & Spirit is totally out of order. If all of us had got together in the first place this would never have happened. If you don’t like whats happening around you have to stand up and be counted. It’s been nice to see those responsible having to look over their shoulders as everyday people take over”
Floyd, aged 45, Broadway Market

Tony’s Café was in the end evicted again, a few weeks later, and despite a long and complex legal and public battle, Spirit’s shop was also taken away from him. Although the campaign was a bright and inspiring episode, it is worth noting that Broadway market today is very much lost to the middle classes, a haven of artisan olivery and poncy boutiques, including the repulsively expensive Donlon Books, where you can spend £50 on superficially alternative DIY self-published pap; and the posh fish shop which replaced Spirit, from where the stink of money wafts like gone-off dover sole…

Ironically Broadway Market would very likely not have survived into the 21st century to be gentrified, if it wasn’t for the mass squatting of houses around the surrounding streets in the 1970s-80s. The Greater London Council (GLC) and London Borough of Hackney (LBH) had plans in the 70s, to develop the Broadway Market and London Fields east side areas respectively to preserve local employment. But they proceeded so slowly that the areas were blighted and many properties were left empty. Squatters moved in, created new communities, and campaigned to prevent demolition and development. Otherwise, the majority of the 19th century houses and shops would have been replaced by more modern blocks and maybe a mall, which would have left them much less attractive to the Hegemonising Borg[eois] Swarm. Many of these squats became co-ops and tenancies over the years… For a brief glance into this area’s squatting past check out this walk past tense took part in.

and there is there any truth to the muttered aside that in many cases, anti-gentrification campaigns in London represent one wave of the middle class takeover resisting the next wave? Ho hum… a discussion for another post…

Since 2005, Hackney has in many ways been utterly transformed… Broadway market was only one of a number of entering wedges… Tis fucking mad to see Dalston now, of an eve, white bourgy hipster central, if Ridley Road market is still resolutely diverse and unrepentant in the daytime. LIke Brixton, a few years further down the sanitising/respectable/business-friendly road, Hackney remains a battleground… We still live here and we’re not going quietly. 

Read: Some posts relating to the campaign from the time.

and more info here

Yez can also watch a film made about the struggle

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London health care history: Workers occupy St Leonards Hospital, Hackney, 1984.

In 1979, despite opposition in the form of a day of action and a march attended by over a thousand people, St Leonard’s Hospital Accident & Emergency Department was closed.

By the early 1980’s the future of the whole hospital was looking bleak; by late 1983 the Health Authority was actively looking to close the hospital under pressure from a Conservative Government keen to make cuts.

At a Health Authority meeting to ratify the cuts and closures at Hackney Town hall on 26th September 1983, the Health Authority and its multi millionaire, Jockey Club chairman Louis Freedman were overwhelmed in a turbulent day of protest, (later described as a “riot”) which ended with them being forced to abandon the meeting after the town hall was surrounded by thousands of angry locals opposing the closure plans. Freedman refused to use his casting vote to settle the closure issue; demonstrators demanded increasingly vocally that he use his vote to save the hospital.

As he dithered, the doors to the Council chamber were barred and padlocked, and after a 20 minute stand off he was escorted out of the building with the help of local Labour MP Brian Sedgemore.

Freeman, who lived in a central London penthouse, and had private health insurance, said in the Daily Mail “We might as well be living in a dictatorship”.

The incident was labelled a riot in the Evening Standard and Daily Mirror, though no-one was reported as being injured on either side. Admittedly there was an attempt to keep the Board members in the meeting and to stop them voting in private…

The disturbance was carried on all the main news channels that night and newspapers the next day and ensured health moved nationally up the political agenda.

On the 7th June 1984 Norman Fowler, Tory Secretary of State announced his decision to close all wards and remove all beds at St Leonard’s and leave just a first aid unit and a handful of community based services.

In response a small working group was established by the staff and Hackney health emergency to look into the possibility of the 180 staff working at St Leonard’s organising an occupation or work-in of the hospital. A decision was made to occupy the hospital on the 3rd July 1984. The occupation was ratified by a staff meeting of eighty staff on 4th July.

But by the 5th July (NHS Day) the management had somehow managed to secure and issue writs and summons against the key stewards. As NUPE had not made the occupation official, and fearing an injunction (similar to that used against the Miners) NUPE officers removed NUPE placards and began to distance themselves from the occupation.

Despite this thousands of people in Hackney were supportive of the occupation.

On the 16th July management repossessed the hospital, sending in security staff and bailiffs (probably illegally) to end the occupation. In the next three days management systematically interviewed staff and reps and suspended key stewards. Disciplinary action was taken against Andrea Campbell, a shop steward for COHSE, and Geoffrey Craig, a NUPE shop steward. They were dismissed as a result of that disciplinary hearing, and they then appealed.

However, local trade unionists organised a 24-hour picket line outside the hospital and the drivers from the London Ambulance Station refused to move the patients out.

On top of targeting union representatives and other members of staff involved in the occupation, the management also made life uncomfortable as possible for the patients remaining in the hospital (who refused to move) by threatening legal action. Frail, elderly patients were bundled out in the early morning or late at night, driven to other hospitals, torn away from staff they knew and their possessions being sent on much later because they hadn’t been told they were to be permanently moved.

After the Occupation was smashed, management employed a whole private army of security guards to ‘protect’ the building, costing the Health Authority almost £1,000 a day, money clearly better spent this way rather than used to maintain the crumbling local health services.

Much more on Hospitals occupations can be found in past tense’s pamphlet, Occupational Hazards, available from our publications page.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: demo against racist immigration controls, 2005

Hackney: a demo against racist immigration controls, and for the freedom of movement for migrants, took place on April 2nd, 2005.

About 500 people joined the march starting from Clerkenwell Green. It was originally planned to go to London Fields in Hackney, but police only agreed to allow it as far as Haggerston Park where a rally took place.

En route, a petition was handed in at the home office ‘communications house’ at old street, where asylum seekers have to sign on regularly and often enter the building not knowing whether they might be forcibly deported. . Imagine fleeing torture and repression and then being forced to go every two weeks to building not knowing if your about to be detained and returned to your abusers? No spokesman from the centre would come out to talk to the delegation despite workers being clearly seen at the windows.

The march and rally attracted a wide cross-section of people and generations united in protest at the unjustness of immigration laws that discriminate against the poor and that are clearly racist in their result.

Along the march, the ubiquitous ‘rhythms of resistance’ samba band (with some support from Sheffield) kept people’s steps light and attracted attention to the protest with their rousing and loud rhythms.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online