Friday, 30 June 2017

Croydon Labour needs to start listening if it wants to retain control of the Council next May

On Saturday 24 June the Croydon Assembly met to discuss the new political situation following the result of the General Election and the surge in support for the national Labour Party. 

Praise was given to the drafting of the Manifesto by Croydon's Andrew Fisher who works in Jeremy Corbyn and John Macdonald's team. Patsy Cumming, another Croydon Labour member, who had been working in the team during the Election, stressed that the Manifesto is a work in progress and that ideas for improvement should continue to be sent in. It was clear that there was a need to continue to campaign against the Conservative Government and its austerity cuts and other damaging policies, and to promote the Assembly's own Plan for Croydon.

I discussed the problem of the way in which Croydon Labour's administration is a growing problem. This is what I said at the Assembly. 

Gavin Barwell and the Whitgift development

Labour’s snatching of Croydon Central from Gavin Barwell, the Minister for Housing and London, was a triumph.

One of his many contributions to Croydon was the behind the scenes negotiations that persuaded Hammerson and Westfield to become partners for the redevelopment of the Whitgift Shopping Centre, that obscene £1bn plus redevelopment scheme.

These developers are now proposing five tower blocks at the West Croydon end of Wellesley Rd. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower is a reminder of the dangers of tower block developments. It is not just in Council and housing association since among the fires elsewhere was one of those luxury ones in Dubai.

The Grenfell disaster

The Grenfell disaster has pushed the whole issue of social and affordable housing centre stage. The fact that 67 luxury flats have had to be purchased highlights the way in which new housing in London is not meeting the real needs of Londoners. Such flats should be requisitioned.

Croydon Council’s reaction has been excellent starting a number of actions to ensure safety for residents in its tower blocks including the provision of sprinklers and wanting an investigation of the office blocks what were turned into homes without planning permission under the Tories relaxation of planning rules.

The importance of listening to residents

A key lesson from the Grenfell disaster is the importance that politicians, local authorities, Government and officials must listen to residents.

Unfortunately led by Planning Chair Paul Scott Croydon’s Labour administration is obsessed with meeting the housing target required by the Government and the London Plan regardless of whether it will meeting housing need, whether it will provide the right mix of dwellings, whether will maximise affordable housing, and whether it will damage the other aspects of the Plan, such as environment, green spaces, heritage, air pollution and flooding.

The Developer Driver

It has been putting too much faith in the developers who have parasitically seen Croydon as a profitable milk-cow. It is they that have been driving the redevelopment of the Town Centre with its ripple effect on increasing house prices and private rents elsewhere in the Borough.

Too much trust is being placed in developers elsewhere as well. Two days ago the developer at Battersea Power Station announced it would halve the amount of affordable housing there. Let us not forget that the developer and building industries have been pressing for less planning and other regulations.

Brick by Brick

The Council has itself become a developer through its Brick by Brick company. It is alienating residents on Council estates by putting in planning permissions for new blocks on green spaces.

All across the Borough the Council has alienated growing numbers of residents over its planning decisions. The irony is that it plans to erode the Green Belt while at the same time the national Labour Party manifesto promises to protect it. 

Let us not forget that the Green Belt began under Herbert Morrison when the he was Labour Leader of the London County Council in the 1930s and then backed by Clem Attlee’s Government in Town and Country Planning legislation. That same Government introduced National Parks. 50 years ago  Harold Wilson’s introduced Conservation Areas.

Planning and voting

In an article in Croydon Citizen in the lead up to the General Election I argued that those angry with Croydon Council over planning should look at the wider picture when deciding how to vote. They needed to remember that the Tories were planning to loosen planning controls further and if necessary would overrule approved Local Plans.

During the Election period the Croydon Local Plan Public Hearings in front of an independent Planning Inspector took place. I spoke at 18 of the 19 sessions on behalf of the Croydon TUC and Assembly working group on local housing and economy and its Environment Forum, and the Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee. I have submitted to the Inspector a request that he rejects the Plan because it is unsound, poorly evidenced, unsustainable and undeliverable. 

I have also written to all Councillors urging  them to meet together to see what changes they can agree to offer the Inspector, rather than leave it to Officers. Whichever Party wins the local elections in May will have to work to the planning framework of the Local Plan.

Electoral blindness

Paul Scott, the Planning Chair has rejected this idea. He argues that the General Election result shows that people support what the Council is doing. What arrogance and blindness. The way people vote is different in local elections to the way they vote at national elections. May’s Council elections in will be won or lost for Labour in up to six wards depending on the final ward boundary changes introduced by the Boundaries Commission. There is no certainty that Labour will win.

The Executive Leader and Cabinet system

At the root of this arrogance and blindness is the governance model: the executive Leader and Cabinet system. This leads to top down decision making, tokenistic consultation ignoring people’s concerns, and the exclusion of most Councillors from decision making. Croydon TUC has long argued that this system needs to be abandoned and it is a demand in the Assembly manifesto.

That debate needs to be taken into the Labour Party to try and get a commitment to changing the system into its manifesto. It also requires a change in the planning. The outcome is awaited of a series of formal complaints against the Chair about his pressure on a Labour Councillor not to vote against an application.

Campaigns are needed:

(1)    against new developer tower blocks, improvements in safety for existing social tenants, and for tougher action against private landlords;

(2)    to urge the Labour Party to abandon the Executive Leader Cabinet model of governance.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

John Archer honoured at Wandsworth Citizenship Ceremony

From Wandsworth Council website press release

On Wednesday 5 April as biographer of John Archer, Battersea’s Black Mayor in 1913/14, I was invited to attend the special Wandsworth Citizenship Ceremony at which Guy Hewitt, the High Commissioner for Barbados to the United Kingdom, presented the Mayor of Wandsworth, Cllr Richard Field, with an award to be accepted on behalf of Archer.

As he was the son of a Barbadian father and Irish mother, with no direct descendants alive today, the award was presented to the Council.

It is one of 50 being given to recognise the significant contribution of Barbadians to the UK, to remind the community, and future generations, of the need to serve others with pride and industry.

In his speech Mayor Cllr Field said: 

“In John Archer’s time local government was seeing great change and opportunity and Archer set about improving the lives of many in the community, the poor and disabled, and was a passionate campaigner for what he believed was right. He fought hard against social and racial injustice.”

Mr Hewitt said that the award to Wandsworth was to recognise John Archer’s contribution, adding that for a part of his own life he also had lived in Battersea in Cupar Rd not far from where Archer’s house in Brynamer Rd was, and his photographer’s shop on Battersea Park Rd. Both properties have plaques on them, the former by English Heritage, the latter by Nubian Jak Community Trust as part of a project with local schools.
This Citizenship event is one of a  series at which people living in Wandsworth from other parts of the world are given British citizenship. They are officiated by members of the citizenship team Sarah Taylor and Sandra Macniven, both of Barbadian heritage.
Barbados became independent from British colonial rule in 1966. The awards were part of the contribution of the High Commission to commemorating that anniversary.

The full list of the 50 awards cane be seen in The Voice at:

The Council press release on the event can be seen at:

The stamp image on the left of picture is an enlargement of the stamp issue by Royal Mail in 2013.

A copy of a video made as part of the Nuban Jak project can be seen at

To order by biographical sketch of John Archer go to

A Photo by Archer Discovered

An important find in relation to John Archer is a formally posed photograph taken by him of a young man leaning against a table with a painted background of an open window.  Local historian David Ainsworth found it on an auction site. On the back is Archer’s name and the address of his study (208 Battersea Park Road).

The image can be seen in the latest issue of Wandsworth Historian, the journal of the Wandsworth Historical Society. No. 103, Spring 2017.

The new edition also includes articles on:
  • ·       Australian war dead in Wandsworth cemetery
  • ·       Wandsworth the Spanish Civil War
  • ·       Putney Old Burial Ground; with potted biographies of the following people buried there: Stratford Canning, Joseph Lucas, Harriet Thomson, Robert Wood, William Leader, Rev. Daniel Pettiward, Rev. Richard J. St,. Aubyn, James Scarth and Lt-Gen George Porter.

The issue can be ordered through

My history, political and social affairs writings on the internet

I am often asked about what I have published, other than through my publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications, on Croydon Citizen and my blog sites.  

Here are details that can be read on the internet.

  • ·       Politics, Housing, Planning, Regeneration & Utilities

Planning Green Paper (2002 - for bassac):

Housing Needs and Solutions (2002)

Evidence to House of Commons Select Committee

Affordability of Water (2003)

The Threat of Water Price Rises from 2005 (2004)

Community Buildings in Stockwell (2008)

Mutuality and Radical Politics (2009)

Collective action and the sustainable renewal of Britain (2009)

York Rd Library Closure not based on proper needs assessment (2011)

North Battersea Community Audit: Observations (2014),%20WCA.pdf

Croydon Opportuntiy and Fairness Commission (2015)

Submissions on crime, the geography of inequalities, private landlords, annual public health report 2015, fuel and water poverty and energy efficiency, social exclusion and transport, equalities and inclusion.

  • ·       Battersea History

From Exclusion to Political Control. Radical and Working Class Organisation in Battersea 1830s-1918

From Revolution to New Unionism: The Impact of ‘Bloody Sunday’ on the Development of John Burns’ Politics

In History of Riots (2015) (On Google Books)

Battersea and the Foundation of the Worker’s Educational Association

In A Ministry of Enthusiasm: Centenary Essays on the Workers' Educational Association (2003) (On Google Books)

John Archer and the Politics of Labour in Battersea (1906-1932)

In Belonging in Europe - The African Diaspora and Work (2013)
(On Google Books)

Battersea Socialist Women’s Circle

Who was Katherine Low?

Latchmere Estate: Celebrating its 100th Anniversary (2005)

  • British Black History

Paul Robeson’s British Journey

In Cross the Water Blues (2010) (on Google Books)

Black People and the North East

In North East Labour History 2008

Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War
Review of Stephen Bourne’s book.

Black Freemasonry (with Andrew Prescott)

Reflections on Black History Month (2014)

John Archer and the Politics of Labour in Battersea (1906-1932) – as above

  • ·       North East History

Developing Moral and Social Capital in the North East - the contribution of abolitionists (Topic 53)

The Politics of Landscape and Environment in the North East (Topic 54)

Anna & Henry Richardson. Newcastle Quaker Anti-slavery, Peace and Animal Rights journalism (Topic 55)

Reflections on ''The Black Indies' - the North East and Slavery and Abolition (Topic 56)

The Slavery Business and the North East (Topic 863)

All on the North East Popular Politics database:

Black People and the North East (as above)

  • Miscellaneous History

Edwardian Roller-skating

Podcast at

Friends of Labour Loan Societies

Labour in Holborn in the 1930s and 1940s

Monday, 10 April 2017

Thomas Wilson, North East Miner, Teacher, Poet & Antiquarian 1773-1858

On 30 March a blue plaque was unveiled to Thomas Wilson (1773 - 1858), one of the North East's greatest dialect poets.

Organised by Gateshead Local History Society at The Bank, 516 Durham Road, Low Fell, the unveiling was by the Mayor of Gateshead, Alison Ilderton-Thompson. 

The following biographical sketch has been written by Ian Daley  of the Society.

‘Thomas Wilson is considered one of the North East’s greatest dialect poets was born in the mining village of Low Fell on 14 December 1773.

Born into a mining family he began working down the local pit at the tender age of 8 years. He worked his way from trapper boy up to hewer at the age of 19. In the few hours he was not at work or asleep he managed to get a rudimentary education at a school run by Samuel Barrass near Carter’s Well. At the age of 19 became a school teacher at Galloping Green Wrekenton.

Trying his hand at commerce he began to work for Losh, Lubbren and Co, in their counting office in 1803. Only two years later he entered in partnership with William Losh who in turn were joined by Thomas Bell which became the industrial giant of its day the Losh, Wilson and Bell Ironworks in Walker. His fortune was made.

Thomas Wilson was now in a position to demolish his parent’s humble old cottage and build Fell House near Lowery’s Lane Low Fell for his family and where he lived and died in 1858 He is buried in St John’s church Sherriff Hill.  

He is described as being extremely generous donating to any good work irrespective of church, school or chapel, sect or party.
He began to write dialect poems in the 1820’s which were published in local magazines of the day and the respected Gateshead Observer newspaper. His most famous poem was Pitman’s Pay and it was published along with his other poems in book form as the “The Pitman’s Pay and other Poems”. It was widely read and translated into a play by the Dodds sisters (The Little Theatre’s founders) and the Progressive Players toured the Northern region with the play. Several of his poems have been adapted with music and are still sung today especially “The Washing Day “. His poetry is virtually all  in dialect and has been a rich source for the study of the early 19th Century Tyneside dialect.

Thomas Wilson also took his civic duty very seriously and became one of Gateshead’s first Councillors and later as an Alderman until 1853 He never became Mayor even though asked to carry out this honour on countless occasions as he did not relish public appearances.

His most tangible legacy left in Low Fell is the building now known as The Bank Bistro Low Fell (Fell House was demolished in the 1960’s).The Bank building was originally erected for the benefit of residents of Low Fell by Thomas Wilson and fellow benefactors as a local school and reading rooms. Thomas Wilson appreciated the education he had received and wanted his fellow citizens to enjoy the enormous benefits that education can achieve.

The building was used for various purposes including use as a social club established there for soldiers at the end of the 1st World War. The club eventually moved out and founded the Thomas Wilson Working Men’s Club which remains at the southern end of Low Fell in purpose built accommodation to this day. The building was then used as a bank and has now been converted to a Bar Bistro and adopted the name of its last use as The Bank Bar Bistro.

It is very fitting that the plaque to Thomas Wilson should be placed upon the building that he helped into being for the benefit he gave to his fellow man. A local man who did not forget his roots and recognised the importance of Education for all is a person who we believe should be recognised himself in a very fitting way.’

The Wilson Collections

Thomas Wilson left a large collection of papers which are in Northumbrian Collections and Newcastle Local Studies. Listings of these collections are  on the North East Popular Politics database at  

340 Thomas Wilson Gateshead Fell Poem 1824
496 Thomas Wilson Collections Introduction
497-500  Thomas Wilson Newcastle Collection
501-14 Thomas Wilson Gateshead Collection
515 Thomas Wilson Memorandum Books 1819-1853
516 Thomas Wilson Communications 1795-1857
517 Thomas Wilson: ‘The Pitman’s Pay and Other Poems’
941-2 Thomas Wilson Newcastle Collection

There are also details about him in

338 Poetry Tracts

Wilson’s Pitman’s Pay and other poems can be read here.

The photo and images are from the North East Labour History website: 

Note: I am the editor of the NEPPP database.