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.

The Struggle for Wanstead Flats 1946-47

Saturday, 3 December 2016


Local historian, Mark Gorman (Twitter: @Flatshistorian), celebrates a key date, and significant anniversary in the fight to keep Wanstead Flats the open space so many of us enjoy today.

Seventy years ago this month saw the climax of a local struggle with a very contemporary theme. On one side developers citing a desperate housing shortage, and planning the development of a large estate, on the other local campaigners, determined to defend their open spaces. But in this case the developers were local councils, and their opponents were the people of east London. The centre of the struggle was Wanstead Flats.

This was 1946, where wartime bombing raids had caused large-scale destruction across east London. The docks and industrial areas had been primary targets, and in West Ham alone 14,000 houses had been destroyed, worsening a pre-war housing crisis. Building had been almost at a standstill throughout the war, and many old and worn-out slums remained from before the war. 


Blitz damage in Eric Road, Forest Gate, 1940

Up to 1939 the open spaces of the Flats had drawn large numbers of East Enders annually, for fairs, circuses, football and other sports, providing the open space that they lacked near their own homes. During the war the Flats were pressed into use for military purposes. Anti-aircraft batteries and prisoner of war camps had been located there, and by 1945 large areas were covered by rusting barbed wire, bomb and rocket craters, the remains of gun emplacements and buildings. 

Much of the Flats had been dug up for allotments, or churned up by vehicles and military boots. In addition the local boroughs of East Ham and West Ham had claimed sections of the Flats for temporary “prefab” housing.

Meanwhile the British population had increased by over one million during the war, and this was followed by the post-war baby boom. The need for housing was immense; in January 1945 the government estimated 1,250,000 new houses were required.
  
Housing was the key issue of the July 1945 General Election. The Archbishop of York said he “could not imagine anything …more likely to cause bitterness among the men in the Services than to find when they came back that there was no possibility of the home to which they had looked forward so keenly”.

In the General Election campaign the Labour party promised 5 million houses in the shortest possible time, but after Labour’s election landslide the queues for homes seemed only to be getting longer.

This was the background against which in 1946 the County Borough of West Ham proposed to acquire a large tract of Wanstead Flats by Compulsory Purchase Order, to re-house local residents made homeless by wartime bombing. On the face of it, West Ham had a strong case for seeking to build housing on the Flats. 

It was expected that as evacuees returned, together with demobbed service personnel, housing pressures would reappear. West Ham Council was determined to provide adequate housing for the post-war population, and the open land of Epping Forest next door to boroughs which claimed serious housing shortages was an obvious target for development.

Despite the first warning voices raised against the potential damage to open spaces if councils started requisitioning land for housing, an editorial in the Stratford Express declared “as for ‘borrowing’ part for temporary houses pending the construction of permanent dwellings, there is far more to be said for than against the plan”. Bombed out residents “deserve all the consideration that can be shown them”.

However by early 1946 West Ham’s plans were viewed with increasing concern. The Walthamstow Guardian published a letter stating “that once temporary houses are erected on Wanstead Flats, the land will be lost to the public forever”. 


West Ham Council prefabs
 on Wanstead Flats c.1944

Longer term plans for development of the Flats also began to emerge. East Ham Council introduced a proposal to build two “modern” (senior) schools and a technical college at the eastern end. Then in April 1946 West Ham applied for 163 acres of the Flats to house up to 7,400 people. The new plans would mean that much of the central area would be covered with houses and shops.

West Ham Corporation received strong support from the newly-elected Labour Government, which was determined not to repeat the failure to provide decent housing after the end of the First World War. The Government even considered land nationalisation to prevent private landlords blocking housing development. 

There was a demand for action, and the Minister in charge of the housing programme, Aneurin Bevan, declared that landowners’ interests must be secondary to “the housing needs of the nation”. Referring to the specific case of Wanstead Flats Bevan declared “I regret very much that we have had to do it, but the people of East Ham must have shelter…The Commoners of Epping Forest must surrender to the overwhelming needs of the people of East Ham”.

Bevan’s own sympathies were made even clearer when he added the “property owner, like the vulture, cannot desert the carrion…and insists on hanging on to the land”. In a radical policy departure, the government therefore proposed to give responsibility for housing to local authorities, who would become the driving force in the housing market. 


Campaign leaflet published by the
Wanstead Flats Defence Committee. 

However, the argument was far from over as far as local people were concerned. As the plans became known through the local press alarm grew; a letter to the Stratford Express expressed a characteristic viewpoint in declaring that Wanstead Flats was not being taken from a wealthy landowner ”but from the working man and his children”.  This was echoed by another describing Wanstead Flats as “a recreation ground of incalculable value to the people, particularly the youth of thickly populated districts of East London”.

A group of residents of Park Ward, on the Lakehouse and Aldersbrook Estates north of Wanstead Flats, became the core of the opposition. An organisation already existed on the estate, the Park Residents’ Society, which had begun life in 1945 as the War Damage Organisation, to help local people whose homes had been damaged by bombing.
  
Led by a hardworking secretary, Stanley Reed, a West Ham schoolteacher, a Defence Committee was formed, which launched a petition and held public meetings.  A Defence Committee was formed, which launched a petition and held public meetings, organised by its hard working secretary, Stanley Reed, a West Ham school teacher. Reed, also a keen film maker (in 1948 he made the excellent Neighbourhood 15, about the rebuilding of West Ham), was later to go to the British Film Insititute, becoming its Director in 1964.  There, he helped kick-start the careers of the likes of Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Jack Gold and Kevin Brownlow.

The Committee brought together local resistance, urging opposition in particular from the residents of both East and West Ham, since Stanley Reed correctly foresaw that “objections from Wanstead were certain to be represented by the West Ham politicos who initiated the scheme as arising from snobbish fears among the Wanstead well-to-do of working class penetration into their preserves”.


Stanley Reed, later in life, after
 he had become Director of
The British Film Institute

As the furore grew the debate became increasingly bitter.  A public meeting convened in Leyton by the Defence Committee drew 250 people in July 1946. Leah Manning, MP for Epping, told the meeting that, if all legal means failed, “we have pickets and bands of people to take up positions on the Flats and prevent the first step to build. I am prepared to spend as many nights as you like on the Flats”.

Leah Manning’s involvement in the protest campaign was particularly significant; as Epping’s first Labour MP, she might have been expected to be in favour of the building proposal. Indeed, in the following year she worked equally hard for housing development in Harlow New Town in face of a local protest campaign. In her autobiography she wrote “…at that time, the need for housing accommodation was desperate and urgent. The bombed-out in London were living in conditions of unparalleled squalor and over-crowding…”, and this she felt should override the need to preserve “the natural beauty of village country life”.

At another protest meeting a local Councillor raised an issue central to the protestors’ case when he said that powers were being claimed which infringed on public rights. If they were able to build on one part of Epping Forest it would be the beginning of the end for the whole forest. “Therefore”, he said “they were approaching the methods which Hitler adopted when he used the law to carry out his schemes, and when the law did not fit he made it fit”.

This was strong stuff; West Ham Council’s response was equally robust. The Chairman of West Ham’s Housing Committee wrote an open letter to the Stratford asking protestors to “look at the problem from the point of view of the thousands of homeless or badly housed men, women and children” for whom the scheme offered the “only practical prospect” of housing in the next two-three years.  To these people, she said, “the ‘Hands off the Flats party’ might appear as indifferent to their needs”.

Nor was the general public unanimously opposed to the scheme. A writer to the Stratford Express said that the Flats were “an eyesore”. Servicemen who had fought through the war deserved homes of their own, “not… to live with relatives”. Another correspondent to the Walthamstow Guardian wrote “blocks of luxury flats, trolley bus routes, public lavatories, riding school tracks, all add to the ‘amenities’, but…dwellings for the labouring class of East Ham or West Ham apparently cannot be allowed even under the sacredness of socialism”.

However the general feeling locally was strongly against the proposals. Even other local boroughs, whose support for a major housing scheme might have been expected, were highly critical of their neighbours’ action. The Leyton Town Clerk commented sarcastically “if West Ham want to build houses they might consider using a park of their own”. 


Cartoon in a local paper on the housing plans. 

By the summer of 1946 the controversy was at its height. The story made the national press, becoming a test case for the preservation of open spaces against housing needs, the Scotsman among others reporting support for the protest campaign from all over the country. As the Stratford Express put it – “There can be no compromise…the question is simple; is the …need for more housing so acute that such an irrevocable step has to be taken?”

A public inquiry was ordered by the Minister for Town and Country Planning, to hear West Ham Council’s application for a compulsory purchase order. Apart from the petition with 60,000 signatures presented by Leah Manning to parliament, the Council received 379 formal objections to their proposal. A formidable array of groups opposed the application, not only the City Corporation but also including Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the National Playing Fields Association, and Ilford Trades Council.  


The Inquiry got national coverage:
report from 
The Scotsman
December 1946

The inquiry opened on 3rd December 1946. Amidst catcalls and shouts the inquiry heard West Ham’s Town Clerk declaring this was a battle of “the haves and the have-nots”; he bitterly accused the protestors of prejudices against people from West Ham coming to live near them. West Ham Council knew that the scheme would be opposed, he said, “because the land was an open space and they knew the type of English mind which said that because a thing had been used for years for a certain purpose it was wrong to change it.”

West Ham acknowledged its falling population, but claimed that 80,000 people needed re-housing. Citing people in urgent need the Town Clerk went on to declare that Wanstead Flats was a large “flattish, bleakish and unattractive open space”. This statement brought more shouts of protest from the audience, which grew when he went on that “only a lunatic” would travel from the surrounding areas to play football on the Flats.

Objectors pointed out that West Ham’s plans were at odds with the government’s own Greater London Plan, which emphasised keeping as much open space as possible. In support of this evidence the tireless Stanley Reed, who had been given unpaid leave of absence by his employers – none other than West Ham Corporation - to attend the inquiry, presented the petition of 60,000 names.

The most effective testimony was, according to Stanley Reed, from a bus driver who “told a graphic tale of his dismal progress through Hackney, Homerton and Leyton to the point at which the houses ended and he and his bus emerged into the light and air of Wanstead Flats, with their trees, grass and grazing cattle: Sam Weller himself could not have done better”.


Leah Manning, Harlow’s Labour MP,
 threatened to lie down
 in front of the bulldozers

The Inspector duly reported back to the Minister for Town and Country Planning, whose verdict was given in April 1947, rejecting the application for housing. However the Ministry did not accept that Wanstead Flats was protected from compulsory purchase for building.  Acknowledging West Ham’s “very urgent housing problem” the Ministry stated that the Epping Forest Act “does not exempt this land from compulsory purchase”; the rationale for rejection was that shortage of labour and materials meant that West Ham would be limited to building on the land it already had. 

He continued, “it is most undesirable to permit building on the Wanstead Flats…it is not necessary to contemplate sacrifice of some of this open space for housing…”

Instead the Ministry proposed to make land available to West Ham in the outer country ring or beyond, where new towns were being started, under the Greater London Plan, which provided a blueprint for comprehensive redevelopment of the whole London area.  Indeed the Minister borrowed a key concept of the Plan in his judgment, talking of the Flats as “part of a well-established wedge of public open space extending into the densely built-up area of London”. 

The Council declared itself without the means to appeal, saying it would “loyally accept the decision”, and at once set about pressing the Minister to help them find alternative building land.

There were merits on both sides of the argument. A large number of east Londoners were in dire need of rehousing, and this was a priority both by the Government and wider public. However, it was equally clear that the Flats were for many east Londoners precious open land, especially for those for whom it was their only green space. Despite West Ham Council’s accusation that the campaign against the scheme was run by well-to-do middle classes against housing for workers, many protestors were from the very people the Council claimed to be helping. 

It was also realised that the outcome of the battle for the Flats would have far wider implications, for if housing needs were seen to take priority over open space on the Flats, other open land in or near areas of scarce housing would be vulnerable. An old story with very modern echoes.