Godwin School ( boys ) log 1 - 1883 - 1984, the origins

Friday, 13 January 2017

We have been given access to an invaluable document that offers a fascinating insight of 100 years of Forest Gate history - and many of the people who lived here - from a worm's eye view.

Godwin - 90 years after opening
It is the school log of Godwin School (boys department only, initially), from its inception in 1883 until the latter days of the last century. This is, effectively, a diary kept by the head - until 1995 a statutory obligation on the post holder.

We are deeply indebted to local resident, Karen Higgins, for transcribing the school log - a task undertaken as part of her history degree -  giving us such free access to its content and allowing an edited version of her work to be published on this website.

Our debt to the various heads of the school who meticulously maintained the log is enormous and our gratitude is extended to them.

The school was established as an early initiative by the recently established West Ham School Board (see here for details of early formal education in Forest Gate and the establishment of the School Board).

The school was opened in 1883 in temporary accommodation in nearby Essex Street, while the building in Godwin/Cranmer Road was being constructed.

For most of its life it was run as two separate schools - a boys and a girls - as was the case with many schools during the early years of state education. Evidence of this can still be found in the more modern entrance sign outside the school in Godwin Road (see photo).


1950's style entrance to the school, 
lettering showing clear distinction
between Girls (and infants) Department
 and Boys Department (sign no longer evident)
Unfortunately, only the Boys' Department records appear to have survived; but it presents a great picture of:

  • local life and death for the century 1883 - 1984
  • changes in educational standards and practice
  • the impact of national and international events on Forest Gate, and its young
  • local pleasures and pastimes
We believe the content is intriguing and detailed enough to spread (with a little editorial comment - italicised in brackets - photographs and newspaper extracts) over a number of chapters. We will alternate the posting of these with other posts of Forest Gate interest, over the next few months.

The chapters are:

  • The nineteenth century origins (1883 - 1900)
  • Pre World War 1 Godwin school and Forest Gate
  • The impact of WW1 of Forest Gate and the school
  • Between the wars (1919 -1939)
  • WW2 and its aftermath for Godwin and Forest Gate
  • Into the modern era (1950 - 1984)
This first post, dealing with the school's origins, highlights:

  • the early cultural development of the school (e.g. introduction of homework and library);
  • the state of the accommodation, and the rapid growth of the school population;
  • the judgments of early schools inspections, by HMIs;
  • local celebrations, entertainments and events and their impact on the school and its attendances;
  • some pretty brutal corporal punishment - one member of staff seems to have been dismissed for it, although perhaps corporal punishment was not as commonplace at Godwin as popular mythology would have it;
  • attempts to move away from rote learning by the introduction of more stimulating teaching methods;
  • impacts of pupil illnesses on absences;
  • the almost mono-cultural nature of the school's roll.
Some of the language in this post may seem offensive to the modern reader.

We have not flinched from using it, as we believe it provides an accurate view of how, for example disabled, Jewish and Black people were viewed at the time; any attempt to "refine" the language used in the school log would diminish the impact of descriptions of prejudice faced by such minority groups of people at the time.

The Log

1 Oct 1883 - The school was opened without ceremony this morning at the Century Hall, Essex Street. The staff consisted: Henry Herbert - headmaster (certified teacher, second class) (ed: the 1881 census showed Henry Hubert to be aged 23 and living at 38 Godwin Road - now demolished - so when the school opened he would only have been in his mid twenties. This is similar to Desmond and Francis' sister - see here, who was also a West Ham Board school head in her twenties. Perhaps the School  Board was a far-sighted employer - or possibly just desperate. The area certainly seems to have offered good opportunities to young teachers.), Albert King (certified assistant), Charles Aspinall (ex pupil teacher) and James Morrell (monitor). (It is interesting to note that this new school opening did not merit a line of copy in only the local paper, the Stratford Express, as far as we have been able to see).

2 Oct 1883 Homework has been commenced in all classes and the parents appear very willing to co-operate with the master in this matter.

24 Mar 1884 To encourage regular attendance and good work, the master offered a prize to each class for the boy obtaining the highest number of marks before Easter.

1 Apr 1884 The attendance today has been greatly affected by the consecration of Saint Saviour's church. Many of the boys were kept at home.


St Saviour's church, Macdonald Road (1975).
 The consecration of this church 90 years
 before the photo taken greatly affected
attendance at the school
21 Apr 1884 The school reassembled this afternoon. 143 boys were present.

30 June 1884 The attendance today has not been good. Several boys are ill and others are away in the country with their parents (ed: for fruit picking or hop trailing in Kent? -  a popular "holiday" for many East Enders in the second half of the nineteenth century).



Hop trailing in Kent - along with hop
 and fruit picking a little later in the
 year - traditional "holidays"
for many East London families.
15 Oct 1884 The master asked the boys in the upper standards to assist him in forming a library. The idea was taken up with great earnestness.

5 Nov 1884 The master gave each of the teachers a syllabus for the next five weeks. The usual fifth of November excitement has lowered the numbers considerably today.

13 Dec 1884 HMI report: The accommodation here is very poor. The progress made in this department (ed: boys), in the face of many difficulties, may, I consider, be fairly characterised as excellent.

13 Apr 1885 Godwin Road school. These schools were opened this morning at nine o'clock by the chairman of the School Board, W Coleman. ... The boys who formed the school in Essex Street were then drafted into the classrooms and commenced their work under the direction of the assistant teacher. (It is interesting to note that this new school opening did not merit a line of copy in only the local paper, the Stratford Express, as far as we have been able to see).

17 Apr 1885 316 boys are now on the roll. (ed: the size has more than doubled in a year, thanks to its move to the new location).

30 Apr 1885 The master examined the homework throughout the school. It will be seen once a week by the master, and all satisfactory books stamped. The boys are assembled on the lines in the playground and the state of boots, hands and faces looked into daily. This is producing good results.

3 Jul 1885 The master examined the homework throughout the school ... Many of the parents object to it being done.

10 Sept 1895 The attendance was good this morning, but owning to the visit of the Lord Mayor and Corporation to West Ham Park, it was greatly affected in the afternoon. Homework was excused.


Visit of Lord Mayor of London to West Ham
 Park greatly affected attendance at
 Godwin school. A testimony to both
 deference and the fact that such a visit
 should be seen as a "big event", in
 an era of simple public "entertainment"
23 Sept 1885 The master received a note from Mrs Wise, complaining that Mr Wood had struck her son. The master called the teacher's attention to this breach of regulation.

11 Nov 1885 This afternoon 80 boys were absent. The majority had permission from their parents to attend a circus.

29 Jan 1886 Mr Aspinall was absent from school this morning. He attended a party on the previous night and was unfit for his duties.

25 Jun 1886 The master took about 250 boys to the Industrial Exhibition at West Ham at the close of afternoon school.

11 Nov 1886 Mr Atkins called and complained that Mr Wood had pulled his boy's ear some fortnight ago. He further complained that he had boxed his ears today. The master cautioned the teacher to be more careful in his actions with the children.

23 Dec 1886 The school closed this afternoon for the Christmas vacation. The master gave each boy an orange on leaving.

31 Mar 1887 (ed: following further complaints of physical violence towards pupils) Mr Woods left today.

7 Sept 1887 Mr Boyle visited the school this morning. The scholars were photographed.

5 Dec 1887 At the close of the school this afternoon the master allowed the 1st and 2nd classes to remain behind to hear a description of the astronomical part of their geography. This was illustrated with a fine set of diagrams exhibited by means of the Magic Lantern. The boys were very attentive and a clearer idea of the different phenomena was imparted by this means than it is possible to convey by ordinary diagrams.

9 Feb 1888 Mr Shearman from the South Essex Band of Hope gave a short address to the older boys on alcohol and the human body. The master received a letter from Mr Larter asking the master to visit his little son, who is ill. The child having expressed a wish to see him.


Photo of children from Godwin
 school, dated July 1898
27 Jul 1888 The school was closed yesterday for an excursion to the Alexandra Palace (ed: "The People's Palace", opened originally in 1873, then again, after a fire in 1875, as a public recreation, education and entertainment centre in north London. This trip took taken place nine years before the opening of the Forest Gate - Tottenham Railway). The school closed today for the summer holidays.


Alexandra Palace, at the time
13 Oct 1889 Percy Randall has been absent eleven weeks with Chicken Pox and sickness and may require exceptional treatment. ... As an incentive for the boys to work neat and accurate papers, the best are stuck up in a prominent place in the school.

14 Jan 1890 HMI report: all three departments of this large school are in excellent condition.

21 Mar 1890 The attendance today has been greatly reduced by a circus in the neighbourhood. George Smith, Standard 7, has left to go on the Great Western Railway.

29 Sept 1890 Fred Cotton was admitted this morning. He has come from Germany and is not familiar with English. He is placed in 1st Standard. Alfred Cundell returned to school this morning. He is a very backward boy and the difficulty he finds with his work in Standard 4 causes him to play truant.

27 Nov 1890 The government examination begins today. The boys were examined by sample. 459 were present out of 469.

23 Apr 1891 The first class commenced this week to read from the 'School Newspaper', with a view to make the reading lessons more interesting and prepare for unseen tests.

25 Jun 1891 Mr Ashbridge, silversmith of Commercial Rd and Mile End writes asking the master to send him a lad.  He writes: "My apology must be that the two lads you have recommended are doing so well we are desirous of obtaining another lad from your school."

1 Sept 1891 School re-opens this morning. (ed, following 1891 Education Act, free education for all scholars takes place from today. Two years later the leaving age was raised to 11, and then 13).

11 Nov 1891 Bernard Biddle was found smoking on coming up the stairs. When spoken to, he was both insolent and insubordinate and the master has punished him. The lad has been several times to the truant school (ed: Fryant Truant school for boys opened in 1885 at Fyfield, near Chipping Ongar, in Essex. There was accommodation for upto 80 boys who spent time drilling and working in fields gardens and piggeries . In 1907 it closed, and opened as an Industrial School)and it is only by isolation that his influence can be kept from contaminating the other lads similarly returned and other boys inclined to truancy.

26 Jan 1892 HMI report: The tone and order are excellent. High and intelligent aim and systematic work characterise the school.

18 Mar 1892 (ed: this is one entry to illustrate several similar incidents, happening at approx 6 months intervals) Mr Barnes called this afternoon, to let the master know that his little boy had died in the morning from a fit which seized him on Wednesday. (ed:  four days later)..The master sent a wreath for the funeral of Cyril Barnes, as a mark of sympathy from the teachers and scholars at the school.

7 Jul 1892 With a view to keep the old boys together and bring some influence to bear upon them, an old boys football club has been formed, called 'Old Godwin'.

11 Nov 1892 A great many boys absent today. Sanger's Circus was the attraction. (ed: this was probably on the Flats. See advert - dated 1896 for Sanger's circus and "amphitheatre, and of "Lord" George Sanger a flamboyant showman of the late Victorian era, who was murdered by one of his disgruntled employees!).


Contemporary advert for Sanger's circus
 "and amphitheatre"

... and the showman: "Lord" George Sanger
17 Jan 1894 HMI report: The school fully maintains its high character for intelligence and accurate work. The tone and discipline are excellent.

12 Sept 1894 The numbers still high 506 were present this morning. (ed: having trebled in a decade).

10 Dec 1894 Sixteen boys have been sent to Upton Lane school this week to relieve the crowded state of the school.

24 Oct 1895 Mr Earle was allowed to leave at eleven , for the afternoon ... to play (ed: football) for London against Suffolk.

18 Dec 1895 Punished George Carpenter for writing disgusting language on his slate.

14 Feb 1896 S Barnard crept upstairs shortly after 2 o'clock and stole an overcoat.  (ed: three days later) ... The parent of the boy who lost his coat prosecuted the boy Barnard. He was remanded to Holloway for a week.

3 Nov 1896 New school at Whitehall Place opened (ed: this later to become Forest Gate Community school). Several boys living in this neighbourhood have gone to this school.

9 Nov 1896 A great number of boys are away to see the Lord Mayor's show.

26 Jan 1897 HMI report: The energy, thought and devotion given to the work, especially by the headmaster, deserves the greatest praise.

14 Feb 1897 Preliminary meeting of Old Boys was held here for the purpose of arranging social gathering of 'Old Boys'. It was a very pleasant matter to see how readily the idea was taken up. A strong committee was formed consisting of staff and 14 'Old Boys'.

18 Jun 1897 Boys assembled in girls' playground, sang some songs and concluded with the National Anthem, all 3 departments singing together. The school was closed for one week in commemoration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.


National celebrations for Victoria's Golden Jubilee

... and a contemporary portrait of the
 queen, commissioned for the jubilee
17 Oct 1898 Two of our old boys had unfortunately lost their lives on board the Niohegan, an Atlantic liner, which ran on the rocks off the Lizard on Friday night.

7 Jan 1899 HMI report. The school has done a good year's work ... the doing of some homework by the older boys is a good feature.

3 May 1899 This evening the choir that took part in the Stratford Music Festival (ed: This was founded by John Curwen - see here about his role, in Earlham Grove - in 1882). gaining second prize was entertained at tea. In the evening the parents of the boys were invited to a concert given by the choir. The whole passed off very pleasantly and both boys and parents were delighted.
John Spencer Curwen, sponsor of the
 Stratford Music Festival at this time

27 Jul 1899 An excursion with the All Saints Sunday School has greatly affected attendance today. 

The next episode of the Godwin story - 1900 - 1914 will be posted in a couple of weeks time.





















Forest Gate Industrial school - The 1890 inquest and background to its 1906 closure

Monday, 2 January 2017


We have written previously about one of the earliest significant institutions to built in Forest Gate: the Industrial School, on Forest Lane. See here for a general history of the school, here for an account of the devastating fire that suffocated 26 boys under the age of 12 on New Year's day, 1890, and here for an account of conditions in the school on Christmas Day, 1897.

This post provides more detail on two key aspects of its history: a brief account and sketch of the early stages of the inquest into the 1890 fire, and a detailed account of the circumstances resulting in its closure - largely through the efforts of some very effective Guardians, who themselves had experienced Industrial School life, and wanted better for future generations.


Site of the former Forest Gate
Industrial School, Forest Lane
The institution was established on former Samuel Gurney land in the mid 1850's, as a school for the children of paupers kept in the Whitechapel workhouse. It later also took in children from Hackney and Poplar workhouses; and at its peak accommodated 600 children, as boarders.

It closed in 1906, became an extension of the Poplar workhouse for a few years, then a general infirmary and ended its public service life as Forest Gate Maternity hospital, from 1930 - 1986.  It is now the Gladys Dimson housing development.


The inquest


We have provided harrowing and graphic contemporary accounts of the 1890 fire in previous posts - see above.


Artist impression of fire at the school, January 1890

We have recently come across a copy of The Graphic, an illustrated weekly newspaper, dated 11 January 1890 offering more details to our understanding of the inquest of the fire - complete with a sketch composed at it.

The Graphic - 11 Jan 1890 'The disastrous
 fire at Forest Gate district school,
 the relatives of the victims at the inquest'
Below is the coverage the paper gave to the inquest, of particular interest is the section that reads:


It seems clear that an over-heated stove pipe was the origin of the mischief. The tragedy is rendered more affecting by the fact that the children, who in such an institution unavoidably lead such monotonous lives, had on the 31st been taken to see the pantomime at the Stratford Theatre, and were looking forward to New Year's Day as an occasion of great festivity.
Our sketch represents the scene at the inquest, which opened on January 2nd by Mr CC Lewis, Coroner of South Essex, in one of the girls' school rooms at the institution. Among the persons present, besides the officials connected with the schools, were twenty or thirty relatives of deceased children.
The principal witness examined on the first day was Mr Charles Duncan, the superintendent of the institution. He endeavoured to put out the flames with a "Fire Queen" (a chemical extinguisher), and partially succeeded. Indeed to his courage and promptitude the preservation of the other parts of the building is due, but he was eventually driven back and almost suffocated by the dense smoke.

Excerpt from The Graphic, 11 Jan 1890

Circumstances and context around its closure

The school survived the fire and continued in service for a further decade and a half.

A good understanding of the reasons for its closure, and relocation to Hutton, Essex, can be gleaned from the memoirs of the chairman of the Board of Guardians at the time of its closure - Will Crooks (From Workhouse to Westminster - the life story of Will Crooks MP, by George Haw 1907).

Crooks was born into poverty in Poplar in 1852. His father was disabled (or "a cripple" as the biography states in the language of the time), unable to work, following an industrial accident and forced onto parish relief.


The family of eight were paid two or three shillings a week (10p - 15p) outdoor relief, by the time Will was eight years old (1860), which barely kept them from starvation. The Poplar Board of Guardians then determined that the family should be sent to the workhouse, down by the Millwall docks for a period.

According to Haw: 
The lad was ravenously hungry all the time he spent in the workhouse. He often felt at times as though he could eat leather; yet every morning when the "skilly" (ed: a very watery porridge/gruel) was served for breakfast, he could not touch it.
For two or three weeks the Crooks children were kept in the workhouse before being taken away in an omnibus with other boys to the Poor Law school at Sutton. Then came the most agonising experience of all to Will. They parted him from his younger brother.
In the great hall of the school he would strain his eyes, hoping to get a glimpse of the lone little fellow among the other lads, but he never set eyes on him again until the afternoon, when they went home together."
The Crooks family, about the time they
 were sent to the workhouse.  Young
 Will is second from the right,
leaning on his father's shoulder
Every day I spent in that school is burned on my soul", he has often declared since.
It was from this house that he saw a bread riot in the winter of 1860, when he got the first of many impressions he was to receive of what a winter of bad trade means to a district of casual labour like Poplar."
Sights like these of his childhood, with the shuddering memories of his own dark days in the workhouse school made him register a vow, little chap though he was at the time, that when he grew up to be a man he would do all he could to make better and brighter the lot of the inmates, especially that of the boys and girls.
This traumatic experience and lasting memory was later to have a profound effect on the future of the Forest Gate Industrial school, on Forest Lane.

Crook's career projectory was dramatic, given his humble origins. As a dock worker, he was a prominent figure in the famous 1889 London Dock Strike (known for its demand to get "The Dockers' Tanner" - an hourly rate of 2.5d per hour).


Crooks, on the way up the social
 scale - from workhouse, to Parliament

In the days before the establishment of the Labour Party, Crooks was elected, under the Progressive banner, as a member of the then London County Council, in 1892.

Within three years, he was elected the first working class member of the Poplar Board of Guardians, where he was soon joined by fellow local progressive politician, George Lansbury. Crooks was appointed chairman of the Guardians in 1897 and set upon a series of dramatic reforms.

He dwelt on his own memorable experiences as a workhouse child to introduce significant changes in the Poplar Union, and at the Forest Gate Industrial school, in particular.

We draw heavily on the Haw biography to explain what Crooks did to change conditions at the Forest Gate - including abolishing uniforms and improving food - and how this eventually lead to its closure and transit to Hutton, in Essex.
The Guardian's school at Forest Gate lay four miles from the Union buildings in Poplar .. with five or six hundred children always under training in the school.
He helped banish all the suggested pauperism from the Forest Gate school. The children were educated and grew up, not like workhouse children, as before, but like the children of working class parents. With what result?
Marked out in their childhood as being "from the workhouse", they often bore the stamp all of their life and ended up as workhouse inmates in their manhood and womanhood.
Under the new system they were made to feel like ordinary working class children. They grew up like them, becoming ordinary working-men and working-women themselves; so the Poor Law knew them no longer.
If I cant appeal to your moral sense, let me appeal to your pocket", Crook once remarked in a Guildhall Poor Law Conference. "Surely it is far cheaper to be generous in training Poor Law children to take their place in life as useful citizens than it is to give the children a niggardly training and a branded career.
This latter way soon leads them to the workhouse again, to be kept out of the rates for the rest of their lives."
How far the principle was carried out at Forest  Gate may be judged from the (undated) report made by Mr Diggard, HM Inspector of Schools, after one visit.  Thus:
"There is very little (if any) of the institution's mark among the children ... Both boys and girls are in a highly satisfactory state, showing increased efficiency with increased intelligence on the part of the children ... They compare very favourably with the best elementary schools."
In all that related to games and healthful recreation Crooks agreed in giving the scholars the fullest facilities. The lads were encouraged to send their football and cricket teams to play other schools. The girls developed under drill and gymnastic training, and became proficient swimmers.
In fact, the scholars at Forest Gate began to count for something. They learned to trust each other and to rely upon themselves. They grew up with hope and courage. The learned to walk honourably before all men. In consequence thousands of them have emerged in the great working world outside, self-respecting men and women.
 I met Crooks looking elated one evening and he told me that he had just come from the Poor Law schools' swimming competition at Westminster Baths.
There were three trophies" he said "The first, the London Shield was for boys. Poplar (i.e. the Forest Gate school) won with 85 marks ... The second was the Portsmouth Shield.. our girls won that with 65 marks. The third was the Whitehall Shield, for the school as a whole with the highest number of marks also won. I feel as pleased as though I had done it myself.
The best administration in an out-of-date building is always hampered. Forest Gate belonged to the old order of Poor Law schools known as barrack buildings. Although the Guardians made the very best of the school, there structural defects that hindered the work seriously.
It was therefore decided to build cottage houses at Shenfield in Essex (the Hutton school), where special effort is being made to train girls as well as boys in rural pursuits in order to keep them out of the over-crowded cities.

This transfer took place in 1906, and lead to the closure of the Forest Lane establishment as a school and transformation to an annexe for the Poplar workhouse.
The new "extrvagently
 designed" school, at Shenfield
By this time, Crooks had become the first working class mayor of Poplar, in 1901, and elected as MP for Woolwich in 1903.


Will Crooks, MP for Woolwich

The improved conditions that Crooks and the other Guardians brought for workhouse children did not go unopposed. They were accused of extravagance and squandering public money - for providing decent food and living conditions at Hutton. Crooks, himself, as an MP, had to face a Parliamentary Committee in 1906 to explain these "extravagances".  He and the Guardians were largely exonerated.

He remained an MP for Woolwich until his death, on 5 June 1921. Unlike other early Labour MP's, he was a jingoistic supported of World War 1.

His legacy, however, will be more defined by the transformation of the lives of workhouse children - many from Forest Gate, that he enabled.  Also, for laying the foundations for the kind of radical defiance that his former colleagues on Poplar council exercised to get major changes to Poor Law funding, from almost the moment of his death, from 1922.


Will Crooks' tombstone,
Tower Hamlets cemetery


Forest Gate: scene of Rock Against Racism's first gig

Monday, 12 December 2016

We have just passed the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Rock Against Racism, and its first gig at the Princess Alice pub, on Romford/Woodgrange Roads.


Princess Alice - venue of first
ever Rock Against Racism gig
A recently published book: Reminiscences of RAR - Rocking against racism 1976 - 1982 tells the tale and  celebrates the remarkable story of the organisation that so successfully fused politics with popular culture and helped mobilise youth against the rising tide of racism in Britain, at the time.

The book features over 60 sets of personal recollections from people and the roles they played within the organisation. We rely on, and are incredibly grateful for,  a small number of these for what follows - an account of yet another important part Forest Gate has played within the history of popular music and modern political culture  within the UK (see footnote for details of the book).


The cover of Reminiscences
 of RAR - Buy it!

Context


Racism was on the rise in Britain in the mid 1970's. The National Front vote was increasing and their thugs tried to terrorise Black and Asian communities by provocatively marching through them, protected by the police, as they chanted threatening, intimidating and racist abuse at their targets of hate.

There was resistance from left groups, and brutality and fights were not uncommon. A number of Asian and  demonstrators/defenders were badly injured, and some killed in protecting Black and Asian communities and their rights to a peaceful life in their chosen town and country of settlement.

Then, in the summer of 1976 at a gig in Birmingham, a drunken Eric Clapton - dubbed by many at the time as "God" because of his guitar supremity - roamed about the stage, calling for Black and Asian immigrants to "Go home", in extremely racist terms. He also proclaimed that "Enoch was right"  (reference to Tory politician Enoch Powell who in 1968 had said that unless the "tide of immigration" was halted Britain would be drowned in "rivers of blood" ).

Clapton had recently revived his flagging career  with an enormous hit with Bob Marley's Who shot the sheriff, which to Marley was a revolutionary song.

Ironically, Clapton owed almost all of his fame to his reworking of Black music - Blues, some Rhythm 'n Blues and Reggae.


Roger Huddle and Red Saunders,
 at the book launch in Conway Hall
He was not alone among rock idols in expressing such appalling sentiments. David Bowie on another occasion - probably drug-fuelled - strutted around Heathrow airport in Nazi dress, and later proclaimed an admiration for fascism and Adolph Hitler -  sentiments he quickly later repudiated.

Appalled at this turn of events, a small number of Socialist Worker Party activists wrote to all the music and left press condemning the racism of some of pop culture's heroes.  The PS to the letter concluded: "Who shot the sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn't you"

The results were remarkable, as large numbers of shocked pop music aficionados joined forces with political activists, committed to a better future, and formed: Rock Against Racism.

This is the story of its opening  Princess Alice gig, through the words of some of them.

Contributors

The extracts from the book, reproduced below, are from the following key people:

Roger Huddle: one of the three most influential early figures in RAR. He was a print worker and is today one of the two editors of the book.


Red (left) and Roger,
in Hackney in 1980
Red Saunders: the author of the letter to the music and Left press, following the Clapton outrage that proved to be the catalyst that lead to the establishment of RAR. The other co-editor of the book.

Steve Cedar: a student activist from the North East London Polytechnic (in Stratford), in the SWP at the time.

Carol Grimes: the headline act at the Princess Alice gig. Her first band was  The Race, a Blues and Folk based band, played mainly in London. She is still singing, writing and performing.

Bob Light: lived in Plaistow at the time and worked in the Royal Docks - which he described as a "war zone", because of a number or pro-Enoch Powell demonstrations and racists sentiments displayed.

The Princess Alice tale


Roger Huddle
We held the first RAR gig at the Princess Alice in East London on 12 November 1976, with Carol Grimes and the London Boogie Band... It was very important that we pitched our propaganda with a very high visual language. Dave King, a brilliant designer, who Red  knew through the Sunday Times colour magazine was asked to design a logo and the RAR star was born. Later he also designed the Anti Nazi League (ANL) arrow.


A near-contemporary
 photo of Carol Grimes
 the headline act
 of the first RAR gig
 at the Alice
Red Saunders
The first gig we did was with Carol Grimes. She was pub rock. In fact she was benefit rock. She did more benefits than anyone I knew. She'd say she was a Blues singer.
 Roger Huddle said we need to do gigs in east London, where the NF were. So we booked the Princess Alice pub in Forest Gate. We'd organised things before, so we weren't frightened. We got some socialists from the dockers' union to do the security. I remember putting up the banner onstage. The banners came from the other side of our sixties background - Agitation.
We loved artists from Alexander Rocdchenko and Andy Warhol.
So, the gig was a success, and it snowballed quickly.

Steve Cedar
The Princess Alice, an unremarkable pub in Forest Gate, E7, an unremarkable district of East London, was the venue for the first Rock Against Racism concert, organised by 3 or 4 unremarkable lefties from the area, myself included, perhaps in terms of musical tastes, the most unremarkable of all.

Steve Cedar - today
I fucking hated racism in all its forms, and even I, whose only social activity at the time was selling papers and going to the pub, had heard of Eric Clapton's disgusting comments about foreigners touching his wife and David Bowie's irresponsible antics at London Airport, dressed in Nazi gear and seig-heiling from a limousine. He, at least had the dignity to admit that he was being a tosser at the time. ...
So, I was very proud to be part of the organisation of the first ever RAR concert in that pub. To be honest, I don't remember very much about the concert. I remember the rubbish fighting and the rubbish sound system, but the reggae band was good and Carol Grimes topped the bill and sang some great classic rock.
I spent most of the time with a pint in my hand and an eye on the cash till, and reckon about 200 people came to the event, a great success, seeing as the posters advertising it were hand printed on a stencilling machine in our living room in Plaistow, as everything was in those days, from demos to public meetings.

Cover of the first edition of
 TempoRARy Hoarding,
 the magazine of the movement

We also made a heavy profit with more than enough to pay for the drinks we bought for the bands (cans of light ale and cheap whiskey, I remember it very clearly) and that's where my memory becomes sharper.
Every story of success has its downside. After the concert we were tidying up and the landlord came upstairs to check on everything, when he saw the cans of beer and empty whiskey bottles and went totally apeshit. He wanted to break my head open with one of the empty bottles and take all our profits for "corkage", a new word for me then, which meant the difference  in his earnings due to the gift to the musicians. I pleaded total ignorance and made sure we got well behind Bob Light and Pete Goodwin, two of the other organisers at the great event.
We calmed him down, eventually, by me accepting a lifetime ban from the Princess Alice and appealing to his Irish origins in search for solidarity with a movement that was against racism in the British Empire, but I think the lifetime ban clinched it. So, I walked the mile home clanking with change in a metal cashbox, feeling proud to have launched my showbiz career for a worthy cause. ...

I think the RAR movement opened up politics and political action to hundreds of thousands of young people who would not have been involved through the traditional politics of the left.

Carol Grimes: What follows are extracts from a Black Echoes and London Jazz News interview with Carol Grimes, the week after the Princess Alice gig.


Carol Grimes, today
Carol Grimes and the Boogie Band once again delivered a rocking set to a delighted crowd who had turned up and put their money where other put their mouths. A tight hard working seven-piece band who enjoy a good blowing, funky evening, as much as the audience, they should be seen by more people, especially as they are fronted by one of the best female blues/soul singers the country has yet produced.
The repertoire was mostly songs from her Memphis album, recorded with the Memphis Horns, and she sounded good, giving the Frederick Knight compositions a good shakedown. ...
The event is worth noting as well. Instigated to set up a fund to combat racism (from whatever source), it is hoped to make it a regular event, although not necessarily in the same venue (they have plans for Ackham Hall and the Roundhouse). It is hoped also to get the services of Soul and Reggae bands, as well as rock musicians, and the success of the venture will eventually be measured by the ratio of black and white and vice versa in the audiences, one of the worthwhile grass roots objectives this could achieve.
At this gig it was predominantly white, but that was due to the lack of advertising (Black Echoes?). I'm not sure of the role that politics takes but I'm sure that the Socialist Workers' who got this thing on, will realise that racial harmony is far more important than any political party.
The venture deserves support from anybody who cares, as the World is in need of Love today - Fred Rath
Bob Light
The very first RAR gig ever - held in the Princess Alice, Forest Gate. Compared to the achievements of the epic carnivals, this was an almost absurdly small initiative. I think it is fair to say that even the imaginations of Roger and Red had not yet grasped what RAR would achieve.


The Clash at the huge RAR gig,
 in Victoria Park, April 1978
But for most of us who lived in Newham (and I lived about a mile from the Alice) even  small scale anti-racist events threw up the problem of security. The NF considered the East End as their 'patch', and the BM (ed: British Movement) held their weekly covens at a different pub a couple of hundred yards up the road. At least one of the local pubs was a no-go area for anyone with more than a millimetre of hair (ed: Earl of Essex?).
I can't recall the exact reason was made to have the first RAR gig in an unlikely and fairly inaccessible place like Forest Gate. Hackney, Camden, even Central London would have all seemed more obvious choices. But looking back, I would guess that it was Forest Gate precisely because the Nazis thought it was their own little Reich. We were taking the fight to the belly of the Beast.
I can recall going to book the pub. The Alice was not one of the regular pubs we used for meetings - it was generally too big and a bit expensive. On top of that one of the none-too-imaginative tactics the Nazis regularly used was to frighten off a pub landlord either with a threatening phone call or a bomb threat.
So, we needed to forewarn the publican the gig might be a bit 'warm', to give us some guarantee that it wouldn't be cancelled. In the event, despite our fears, it turned out the landlord was an Irish Republican who told us that as long as there was no fighting actually inside his two bars, he didn't give a fuck about the Nazis. Which seemed fair enough.


Demonstrators/gig attendees en route
 from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park, April 1978
We knew we could promise that because one big advantage the Alice had over other venues was above the function room was above the pub approached by a wide staircase with its own door to the street.
I cannot remember a thing about the publicity or anything else about the actual organisation of the gig itself. But I do remember only too well that we knew the gig would be in serious need of protection. Our plan wasn't exactly D-Day - we knew if the bad guys came we had to stop them on the stairs. If they got into the room, it would be bloody chaos, the police would be called and London's Finest would take the chance to beat up and arrest some Lefties, while letting their Fascist soul mates get away to their cars.
So, on the night, we had women and men placed on all four corners of the junction with the Alice stood on to warn us if the Nazi hordes were coming, and we had a reception committee waiting for them at the top of the stairs. Just in case that proved inadequate, we had six pick axe handles in a cricket bag and several cans of pepper spray that I had bought at a motorway service station in France.
In the event, the Nazis bottled it (I'm pleased to say they usually did) but for me the evening developed a rhythm that would become all-too-familiar in the RAR days. You could summarise our evening under the headings Tension, Apprehension and Frustration.
The Tension was driven by fear - the fear that the Nazis would coming streaming up the stairs, fear that I would get seriously hurt, fear that I would let my fear get the better of me. But as the minutes and hours passed that turned to Tension - we knew we had to keep our guard, we knew we had to keep our guard, we knew we had to keep everyone on their toes, we knew we couldn't afford to drink, we knew we couldn't relax, we knew we couldn't enjoy the gig.
Then, as the gig inside was turning into a glorious celebration of anti-racist fun, courtesy of Carol Grimes and her band came frustration. Frustration that we had not been able to enjoy the evening and even more frustration that we had not been able to give the Nazis the fucking good hiding they certainly would have got.

What came next for RAR

- courtesy of Mike Symonds, who compiled a far more comprehensive time-line of RAR's history for the book.


The logo that supported a
political/cultural movement
- May 1977, the National Front and National Party attract a large following in local elections in London, Leicester and Blackburn.

- November 1977, launch of the Anti-Nazi League.

- April 1978, massive RAR/ANL festival in Victoria Park, when 80,000 attendees marched from Trafalgar Square to Vicky Park, in support of threatened East End communities, to see X-Ray Spex , The Tom Robinson Band and The Clash. A life and political changing moment for many there.

- June 1978, Fascist gangs run amok down Brick Lane, to terrorise the local Asian community (so very reminiscent to Battle of  Cable Street, almost 40 years previously).

- September 1978, second London RAR festival, in Brockwell Park.  35,000 see Aswad, Sham 69, Misty in Roots, Elvis Costello - among others.

- The summer of 1979, the police deploy multiple thousands of officers to defend pitifully small National Front marches in a number of British cities (echoes of Cable Street, again).

- July 1980, 4 racists stab Atab Beg to death in East Ham High Street. This was followed by a number of racist attacks on pupils and teachers at Plashet school. These events prompted the foundation of the Newham Youth Movement, spearheaded by militant local Asian youth (remember, Unmesh Desai?).

- April 1981, riots in Brixton, followed later that summer by riots in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester. Less serious disturbances also broke out in Bedford, Bristol, Edinburgh, Gloucester, Leeds, Leicester, Wolverhampton and elsewhere.

The book and its launch

A very successful launch event was held for the book, at Holborn's Conway Hall on 5 December - organised, almost inevitably by Roger Huddle and Red Saunders. We were all looking a bit greyer than in those heady days, but a good time was had by all. Roger and Red have lost none of their organisational skills.


The ever-fresh Tom Robinson,
 at the book launch
The event was a mixture of reminiscences and music, notably featuring Tom Robinson - in as fine and angry a voice as ever. A good night - down memory lane. As many of the speakers noted, the most appalling racism of those days is thankfully behind us, but the threat of racism is ever-present, as much of the post Brexit mood has shown.

Finally - BUY THE BOOK! It's a great read for those who remember those days and even more so for those who want to find out more about an important part of our recent political/cultural heritage.

Footnotes:

1. Reminiscences of RAR - Rocking against Racism, 1976 - 1982, published by Redwords, £15. ISBN 978-1910-885-36-9. We are grateful to the publishers, editors and contributors for enabling us to compile this blog.  We highly recommend the book to all interested in RAR, and modern political culture.

2.A second book - this time mainly of photographs has recently been published on RAR, which is highly recommended: Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism, published by Autograph, £20.

3. Were you at the Princess Alice gig? Do you have any mementos of either it or the whole Rock Against Racism movement, if so, a website is being established that would love to hear from you: www.rockagainstracism.uk. It is under construction, but contact gregory.ruth@gmail.com for details.