Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Wandsworth Council Commemorates John Archer

At its meeting on Wednesday 4 December the Tory and Labour Leaders on Wandsworth Council jointly proposed a motion to commemorate John Archer being Battersea’s Mayor for the year from November 1913. 

The following was unanimously approved at the meeting:

That this Council:

a) record its appreciation of the life and work of John Archer on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his election as the Mayor of Battersea and as the first black mayor in London;

b) commend him not only for his service to Battersea Borough Council, but also for his commitment to many charitable causes, including establishing a relief fund for families of those enlisted in the First World War and providing assistance to the poor, disabled and elderly through the work of the “Wandsworth Guardians”;

c) acknowledge his work as a Trustee of Sir Walter St. John’s School and Battersea Polytechnic and as President of the Nine Elms Swimming Club, and his involvement more broadly in health, welfare and educational issues including at the international level;

d) note with pride the Royal Mail’s issue of a commemorative stamp bearing the image of John Archer in the “Great Britons” series, and the installation by English Heritage of a “Blue Plaque” to his former home at 55 Brynmaer Rd, SW11;

 e) thank the present Mayor for holding a special citizenship ceremony in John Archer’s honour, including her special address at that ceremony dedicated to his life; and

f) encourage residents and others to visit the exhibition on John Archer’s life which will tour the Borough’s libraries and acknowledge the contribution of his biographer and former Wandsworth councillor, Sean Creighton, in the material used for the exhibition.’

The decision to do something was a personal one by Ravi Govindia, the Tory Leader. In his speech he stressed that Archer was a small business man and an aspirational example. In due course a video of the meeting will be loaded up on A page about John Archer is also included in the December issue of the Council’s magazine Brightside – so thousands of people in the Borough will get to know something about him. The excellant display put was together by GLL Heritage Library archivist Ruth MacLeod and the Council design team. 

Ravi Govindia’s Speech

‘John Archer was a man of many parts.  On one occasion he said that he was a Lancastrian born and bred, which for a man born in Liverpool will be accurate.  His father was from Barbados, but it was as the Battersea man that he became well known. 

John Archer was not always welcome within his party and at one point was told by the Battersea Vanguard, a publication of the Battersea Labour Party “Should take a trip around the world to improve his political judgement”.  Of course he was not always a winner, for in 1909 he lost, following internal squabbles.   John Archer was also not the first black Mayor in Britain, that honour went to somebody who became Mayor of Thetford in 1904. 

When I first got interested in local politics and subsequently joined the Council I knew nothing about John Archer.  I guess many others would have been the same.  Therefore I am grateful to Sean Creighton who, through his diligent research, has filled that gap for me and many.

What is important about John Archer is that he was a character who spotted opportunities for himself and made the most of them.  Self improvement was obviously a mark of his character.   He was a small businessman and ran a photographic studio in Battersea.  For him things did not end there,  he was also committed  to improving the lives of others.  For us in local government these days, we are mainly involved in managing a local authority, however, in John Archer’s time local government was a power for change.  For me what is important is that John Archer should be a role model for young men and women in our borough.  As we embark on our ambitious regeneration plans for the two Battersea estates we want to see a vast improvement in the lives of the residents, they have a golden chance to make the most of these opportunities.  In his day, John Archer in improving the lives of others, opened up opportunities and I am sure he would expect, as I do, that people should make the most of the opportunities opened up for them.’ (Re-constructed by Ravi Govindia from his notes.)

To be kept informed by future activities about John Archer, 
including talks and walks, up to November 2014
 please contact
Sean is available to give talks to organisations in Wandsworth and elsewhere

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Croydon and Wandsworth Councils - What a Contrast

What a contrast in Councillor behaviour there was between the Council meetings of Croydon on Monday 2 and Wandsworth of Wednesday 4 December.

Croydon Councillors were unruly and noisy each side trying to drown out the other. The  Mayor had difficulty keeping order. She also failed to be impartial. She allowed personal attacks on Labour Leader Tony Newman without giving him the right of reply even when that was demanded by someone in the public gallery.

While there was the usual party political point scoring the Wandsworth Councillors were well behaved and there were even some good quality speeches on both sides.  The Mayor had an easy job.

The adrenalin level at Croydon’s meeting is no doubt fuelled by the fact that there is a lot at stake for both parties in the elections in May. In Wandsworth on the other hand the Tories have now been in control for over 35 years. There is no way Labour is going to win enough seats to gain control. There may be changes in seats in the Tooting area which explains why so much attention was paid to Tooting issues at the meeting. 

While both sides in Croydon welcome the Westfield/Hammerson deal, they disagree over how to get maximum benefits for the residents of the Borough. There were three examples of bi-partisanship at Wandsworth. The first was on the need to review how the Council could act to give further protection from development threats to pubs valued in the community, the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of John Archer being Mayor of Battersea, and the investment in the York Gardens and Winstanley estates. 

I attended the Croydon meeting in the hope of learning a little more about the sale items from the Riesco Collection. The answers to the questions submitted by members of the public and Councillors were informative on such matters as street litter (see my blog). I attended the Wandsworth meeting because of the John Archer commemoration.

Croydon Labour still fails to adequately address the continual allegations by the Tories of their record up to 2006.  Both Labour Groups are failing to make a robust case about the effects of the cuts, enabling both ruling Tory groups to say that the cuts are having no real effects. 

To contact author:

Croydon Street Lighting Up-date

Clearly Croydon Tories are embarrassed by the problems experienced with the street lighting replacement programme. Labour’s Cllr Bonner told the Council meeting on 2 December that there had been ‘delays, technical issues and persistent problems with no street lighting for sometimes weeks on end.  Despite previously published timetables for the installation on a ward by ward basis there now seems to be a scattergun approach to the programme’.

Cabinet member Phil Thomas did not provide the information Cllr Bonner requested of ‘details for every ward that show when street works commenced/will commence, when they are/were due to be completed, the percentage that have been successfully connected, the estimated completion date and the number of complaints received during the installation process’.

Thomas simply said that the ‘core investment programme continues to progress around the borough by a ward by ward basis. Unfortunately due to unforeseen engineering difficulties upon UK Power Networks cable network this has caused a delay in the completion of this work in wards such as New Addington and Fieldway. These wards are due to be completed by the end of December 1913.’

Complexity of Programme

The street lighting replacement programme is a complex one. This is partly due to the fact that existing street lighting runs on two different systems.

Cllr Thomas told Labour’s Stuart Collins  ‘The street lights in the northern two thirds of the borough so Purley northwards is connected to a dedicated cable network known as “Croydon Cable Network” this is a switched network which needs to be abandoned during the replacement programme, to abandon such a network is a logistical challenge as it needs to be decommissioned section by section which involve a number of streets at a time.’

Why Old Columns Remain as Stumps

‘(T)here are a number of stump columns remaining in-situ as these act as feeder pillars for the neighbouring streets which have not been replaced as yet. Once the limb of the old network is no longer needed this will see the corresponding  feeder pillars being removed. Skanksa, UKPowerNetworks continue to work on the stump decommissioning programme and every effort is being made to minimise the time in which feeder pillars are kept in-situ.’  ‘At this present time it is not possible to say on a feeder pillar basis when exactly they will be removed…’

Work Programme Stages

The replacement programme involves  several stages of work. What follows is an attempt to explain it based on answers to questions at the Croydon Council meeting on Monday 2 December, the experience in Oakhill Rd in Norbury, and explanations supplied by Skanksa to affected Oakhill residents.

Stage 1. A leaflet informs residents of the approximate time period when the street light replacement works will commence.

Stage 2. The approximate location of the new columns are marked in with a cross yellow circle.

Stage 3. Residents concerned about the placing of columns against their boundary walls/fences should contact the Council and Skanska to discuss the matter and negotiate the columns to be nearer the kerb. This was the outcome in respect of 2 lamps in Oakhill Rd and the moving of a third nearer the entrance to the local community hall.

Stage 4. Holes and dug and the new columns put in.

Stage 5. A hole is dug by each column in order to given UK Power access to its electricity cable so it can instal a junction box to connect the new columns to its electricity cable. The new column lights start operating. The old street light will continue to work.

Stage 6. The hole is then backfilled and concreted.  This ‘Usually takes up to three days after the LC are removed/Jointed for the reinstatement to commence. The reinstatement will be done over three phases, Backfill, Concrete & Mastic. The last two may take longer than usual due to current weather conditions.’ (Marc Zahra, the Public Liaison Officer for Skanska, email 27 November.)

Stage 7. The concrete is then tarmaced (mastic).

Stage 8. ‘The new street lights then start to operate alongside the old ones. ‘Once the associated new lights have been energised and connected to our CMS system we can then turn off the old street lighting.’  It takes ‘approximately 100 hours burn time for the lamps to achieve their correct level of illumination. Decommissioning of the old lamps will not affect the new lighting.’ (Mark Zahra)

Stage 9. The old street light columns will either be removed or cut down to a stump – see explanation above.
Stage 10. Any pavement repair needed because of the removal of columns will be carried out.

Stage 10. The stumps will be removed and final pavement repairs carried out.

Addiscombe Street Lighting Failure

On 13 November the street light of several streets in Addiscombe failed. Cllr Thomas told the Council meeting that  a Croydon Cable Network cable fault in Addiscombe Court Rd caused the problem. The failure was reported the same day to UK Power Networks, and the fault found and rectified on 19th November. He had ‘tasked officers to escalate the Councils concern with UK Power Networks to see if the service can be improved.’

Christmas Lights

The former Labour Council (to May 2006) stopped funding festive decorations around the borough as according to Cllr Thomas because Labour ‘were keen for local businesses to fund them.’

‘However through our street lighting contract we will provide the mechanism for the businesses to attach the decorations on the street lighting columns, maintain them while they are up and remove them at no cost. The councils street lighting team sent out a reminder to all district centres some weeks back asking if they wanted to arrange for festive decorations to be installed this year and no response has been received from the businesses from South Norwood High Street, so no decorations are planned to be installed.’ Similarly no response was received from the businesses in London Rd except for a request from the Town Centre BID to install decorations in London Rd from West Croydon Station to Oakfield Road, which have been installed.’


The Minutes of the joint  Street Lighting Joint Committee with Lewisham Council held on 16 October have not yet been posted onto the Council’s website, therefore it is not yet publicly known what they decided. The progress report considered at the meeting can be seen at Unfortunately a lot of the information combines figures for both Boroughs rather than separately. 

Previous Postings on this issue:

To contact author: 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Croydon Street Litter and Fly-tipping Issue Hots Up

North Croydon Streets Commission.
To submit evidence go to its website at

The state of litter and fly-tipping in Croydon’s streets was a running theme throughout Monday night’s Croydon Council meeting, showing how both parties see this is a major issue leading up to the local elections in May.

Attack on Labour Leader Newman

A question from a member of the public Andrew Stevenson enabled Cabinet Member for Highways & Environmental Services Cllr Phil Thomas to personally attack Labour Leader Mike Newman alleging that he had stated he would not report fly-tipping.  This one of several personal attacks on Newman. Failing to act as an impartial Chair the Mayor did not give him a right of reply, even when requested from the public gallery.

Allocation of Additional Resources

 Thomas’s written answer to Stevenson’s explained the allocation of additional resources to tackle fly-tipping and other environmental violations.

·     £200,000 has been allocated ‘to increase the capacity of the Enforcement team in order that they may increase the attention given to fly tipping offences and other environmental violations. The Council is currently undertaking a restructure to fulfil this objective. It is expected that this additional money will allow for 4 additional officers.’
·      A further £30,000 ‘will be spent on staff overtime and a specific fly tipping programme which establishes a number of preventative measures including additional CCTV cameras, alley gates, additional bins and other preventative measures.’

 Fly-tipping in Waddon

Joy Prince, one of Labour’s Waddon prospective candidates for the local elections Joy Prince submitted a question about fly-tipping between Borough Hill and Harrison’s Rise and wondering what proactive action’ the Council intended to take ‘to catch, or at least deter, the persistent officer(s).  Cllr Thomas explained that the Area Enforcement Team (AET) had visited the area and made arrangements to get the area cleared. ‘Both of these roads are swept weekly, and as such any items would be removed as part of this cleans. The team will undertake regular patrols though to ensure that it stays tidy and try and identify anybody that is depositing waste illegally.’ While the area ‘does not flag up as a particular hotspot for fly tipping … we will keep this under review through the ongoing patrols and if there is a regular pattern emerging at this location the team can employ a number of measures a such as signage, door knocks and letter drops to inform residents of the correct way to dispose of their waste and seek further information on who may be responsible. If necessary the team can also undertake surveillance and install CCTV.’

North Croydon Streets Commission

Part of the Party wrangling has been triggered by Croydon North Labour MP Steve Reed setting up the Independent Streets Commission. Labour Leader Tony Newman asked Tory Leader Mike Fisher when he would plan to give evidence to Croydon’s independent streets commission. Fisher denied it was independent.
·     ‘I am aware that the Labour Member for Croydon North, Steve Reed MP, has sponsored a commission in North Croydon, the website for which states that he is also a panel member.’

·     ‘I understand that this same commission is being promoted by Labour Councillors and do, correct me if I am wrong here, this is the same commission that Councillor Newman said in this very chamber would “shame the Tories into action”.’

·      ‘I am aware of that commission but I am not aware of an independent streets commission.’

The Pilot Role of Kingdom Security

A series of Councillor tabled questions have enabled Cabinet Member for Community Safety & Public Protection Cllr Simon Hoar to explain the purpose and results so far of the 6 months pilot scheme using Kingdom Security for six months to issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for such offences as litter. This contract started in August, with the company’s workers operating in the Town Centre.

Hoar explains:
·     that the pilot increases the number of officers on the street and helps to keep the Borough clean at no cost to the Council’s existing Area Enforcement Officers (AEOs) have not been replaced and are still issuing Fixed Penalty Notices for littering and fly tipping.

·     It is ‘additional to the AEO’s and is designed to be cost neutral to the Council.

·     For each £75 FPN that is legitimately issued the Council pay the contractor £45. Each monthly invoice therefore varies due to the number of FPNs that have been issued’

·      ‘The pilot clearly supports both parties’ interest as we are receiving additional enforcement officers to help keep Croydon clean and save money on clearing up litter.’ 

Number of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs)

1,571 FPNs were issued in the Town Centre by Kingdom: cigarette litter 1,446, dog control order offences 3, food waste 13, and other litter/printed material 109.

The AET has issued 232 FPNs since 1 April, including one dog control order offence and 40 for fly tipping.

‘1030 of these fines have been paid to date although many of the fines issued in the last few weeks will legitimately not have been paid yet as people have 28 days to settle the fine. The monthly payment rate is consistently around 65%. In total 255 appeals have been received with 15 of those upheld and the fine written off.’

‘The low level of fines’ of for dog control offences ‘reflects how difficult it is for officers to catch people letting their dogs to foul and not clearing up after them.’ ‘Any funding that it available after Kingdom has been paid for their work will be used to fund prosecutions against people who have not paid the FPN. It is too early in the pilot to determine whether there will be any surplus income in addition to this but if there is it will be reinvested in environmental projects and improvements such as signage, bins or preventative activity.’

‘The Council have now appointed solicitors to act on its behalf, prepared the case files, and will be prosecuting the first batch of 50 people in early December.’

‘There are plans to deploy’ the Kingdom ‘team to various district centres by early December.’

How to report problems

Finally Cllr Phil Tomas explained that Councillors can report fly tipping, potholes, etc in their Wards in the same way as members of the public.

·         Tel: 020 8726 6200

·         Via the report it section on

‘The Council is also about to launch a reporting ‘app’ for use on mobile phones whereby many requests can be photographed and uploaded and will be automatically passed on to the correct team for a response.’

‘For more complex or longstanding issues Councillors should continue to go directly to the relevant officers so that they can investigate and ensure that the service is providing the best possible response.’
Meanwhile in Norbury Ward
The four local residents associations are continuing to work with Council officers to reduce the amount of non-contract trade waste and other letter left on the pavements, re-location and provision of extra bins, the refuse disposal problems of residents living in flats over shops and other issues.  A walk along Norbury High Rd stretch of London Rd took place on Saturday November.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

How Can the Rest of the Riesco Collection Be Safeguarded?

Now that some of the Riesco Collection items have been sold what can be done to protect the  remaining Riesco Collection from further sales.  

A Formal Council Resolution? 


‘In view of the disappointing  result of the auction of some of the Riesco Collection and the wide-ranging concern by residents and others, this Council agrees:

(1)           that it will not approve the sale of any further items from the Collection

(2)           that a resolution the same as in (1) be presented at the first Council meeting      following each set of local elections for approval for the subsequent                  four years

(3)           that the officers consult with interested parties in the heritage and arts            world how to improve the display of the remaining items of the Collection 
               within the context of the historical periods they come from and the links          between Croydon and China through the Eats India Company.

(4)           that some of the proceeds of the sale of Collection items be earmarked to        cover any expenditure arising out of the decisions taken following (3).

(5)           that the officers re-open the previous examination of creating a charitable        trust to preserve the remaining Collection.

A Manifesto Commitment?

There could also be a manifesto commitment not to sell any items in the future by both major parties.


In relation to (3) above a re-presentation of the remaining collection in its historical context is argued for in my blog posting ‘A Radical History Perspective on the Riesco Collection’ at

The Riesco sale – the commercial and legal confidentiality problem

‘On the basis of the information I have been provided and the independent legal advice commissioned, it does not appear to me that the Council is acting unlawfully in its proposed actions, or that the actions proposed are ultra vires. I have not, therefore, identified a reason for me to interfere with the decisions of the democratically elected Members of the London Borough of Croydon.’

So concludes Paul Grady, Croydon’s District Auditor working at Grant Thornton UK LLP, in a letter to me dated 28 November in response to my request that he review whether the Council acted properly or not. The text of the letter set out below. 

Unfortunately Mr Grady is not able publicly to explain matters in fuller detail because he has to be seen to be both independent of the Council, because he regards my request  as being from a private individual (as a local elector), and because he has to be careful not have his independence compromised by the way what he says may be used by those who oppose the Council.

So his reply therefore is worded in a way that does not compromise ‘confidentiality’ and ‘independence’.  This is just another example of the ‘confidentiality’ requirements that plagues the public discussion of the tendering of public services and sale of public assets.
‘Confidentiality’ even constrained the Arts Council from saying whether or not it approved temporary and permanent export licences for the Riesco Collections ale items to be shipped to Hong King for the auction.

In an email  to me dated 19 November James Morrison, Export Licensing Manager, Arts Council England, stated:

 ‘For reasons of legal confidentiality, I am not able to confirm or deny whether a licence application for any or all of the Riesco ceramics has been received.  Under UK and EU law, details relating to a licence application are bound to be treated as confidential.
 I understand that Christie’s are taking questions on this so I think if you contact them you will be able to have your questions below answered in full.’

I emailed Christie’s but have not received a reply.

The Council has also used the grounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’ for not releasing some information about the award of the tender to Christie’s for the auctioning of the Riesco items.  You can see the reply of the Council to Steve Downes’ Freedom of Information request on the award of the tender to provide auction services for the Riesco sales items at:

Money from the sale of the Riesco items is supposed to be invested in Fairfield Halls.  Steve Downes has also been told by the Council in a response to another Freedom of Information request that the Council says that it is ‘commercial confidentiality’ that prevents it releasing publicly a report on the Fairfield Halls and London Mozart Players. The reply can be seen at

The ability to hide information in the public interest behind ‘commercial’ and ‘legal’ confidentiality means that citizens across Britain cannot be sure that everything is above board.

The lack of transparency means that the public can have no confidence in what may go on behind the scenes. The more ‘commercial confidentiality’ is used to withhold information from the public, the more cynical of Government and Councils people will become, regardless of which political party is in power.

This is the text of Mr Grady's letter

Mr Sean Creighton
6 Oakhill Rd
SW16 5RG

28 November 2013

Dear Mr Creighton

Croydon Council – Sale of 24 pieces from the Riesco collection

I write in response to your previous correspondence dating back to 18 August 2013, in respect of the London Borough of Croydon (the Council) and its proposed sale of 24 pieces from the Riesco collection. I would like to thank you for your patience whilst I enquired fully into this matter before replying to you.

During this period, I noted the launch and subsequent withdrawal of the judicial review application. Following the commencement of court proceedings for judicial review, I paused my work on this matter pending the decision of the court. With the withdrawal of the application for judicial review, I have now completed my work on this matter.

My investigation into this matter included review of a significant volume of documentation obtained from Council officers, including confidential legal advice received by the Council, minutes of committee meetings (including Part B papers) and other relevant documentation, and discussions with various officers, including the Chief Executive, Director of Finance and the Monitoring Officer. I also sought and obtained my own legal advice on the matters in question.

Overall conclusion

On the basis of the information I have been provided and the independent legal advice I
commissioned, it does not appear to me that the Council is acting unlawfully in its proposed actions, or that the actions proposed are ultra vires. I have not, therefore, identified a reason for me to interfere with the decisions of the democratically elected Members of the London Borough of Croydon.

I set out below a summary of my consideration of the matter and my responses to the points that you raised in your correspondence.

Summary consideration

In your original correspondence, you noted that you were unclear whether the Council had the legal right to sell the items and, if they didn't, that the sale could be unlawful.

Legal advice was previously obtained by the Council in 1978 and 1997 in relation to the basis on which the Council holds the collection, and hence its rights to dispose and use proceeds of sale. This legal advice, together with the legal documents concerning the transfer agreement of the collection into the Council's ownership, dating from December 1959, were all recently re-reviewed by counsel in June 2013, when the Council obtained up-to-date legal advice before taking any decision to sell the items in July 2013. I have reviewed in detail the legal advice received by the Council and considered whether in my view the Council's actions are reasonable:

· in respect of the process it has followed in arriving at this decision; and
· in light of the legal advice they have received.

The Council has sought legal advice on its proposed actions and made available to counsel the relevant legal and other documentation pertinent to the matter in hand. The Council has proceeded with its proposed actions following consultation with stakeholders and following a decision made by the relevant Cabinet Member, based on a majority recommendation from the Corporate Services committee. The Council has received legal advice and my review of that advice has not identified any evidence that the Council's position is not legally justifiable. Accordingly it is not, in my view, unreasonable for the Council to proceed in the way it is proposing, given the legal advice it has received, the consultation with stakeholders it has carried out, the democratic decision that was
taken by Members, and the steps the Council has taken to confirm its actions are intra vires.

You noted in your correspondence that "the plan to sell was taken before the historic documents of how the Riesco Collection came into the care of the Council". I am informed by the Council that no documents or evidence have been uncovered recently, meaning that the legal advice obtained by the Council in June 2013 considered all relevant documents. The plan to sell was approved on 24 July 2013 following receipt of that legal advice and after a period of consultation with stakeholders. I am not aware of any information that has recently been made available that was not considered by
counsel in forming their legal opinion on the Council's proposed actions.

The Council’s view, based on the legal advice they have received, is that the sale is legal and not ultra vires. The Council is proposing to continue with the sale on this basis. My review of the way in which the Council has reached its decision and the conclusion that it has reached has not identified any grounds on which their decision to sell the 24 pieces from the Riesco collection might be considered unreasonable.

I also reviewed whether the proposed sale, bearing in mind the Council's Museum Collections Development Policy 2013, would be unlawful on the basis of a breach of legitimate expectation. I obtained my own independent legal advice on this matter which concluded the Council has acted in accordance with the public law doctrine of legitimate expectation, which essentially allows a public authority to resile from a representation where there is a good public interest reason for doing so.


I have reviewed the Council's proposed actions. In my view, the Council is not acting
inappropriately and I have not identified a reason for me to interfere with the decisions of the democratically elected Members of the London Borough of Croydon. On the basis of the information before me, I have seen nothing which I believe requires me to take action as the Council's external auditor in respect of the Council's decisions to date and proposed actions in this matter.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank-you for taking the time to write to me and raising your concerns with me. Should you feel there are any further matters that should be brought to my attention, please do not hesitate to write to me.

Yours sincerely
Paul Grady
Grant Thornton UK LLP

(Grant Thornton UK LLP
Grant Thornton House
Melton Street
London NW1 2EP
T +44 (0)20 7383 5100

Thursday, 21 November 2013

English Heritage Unveils John Archer Plaque

(c) English Heritage 2013

On Wednesday 13 November English Heritage unveiled a plaque to John Archer at his former home 55 Brynmaer Rd in Battersea. The actual unveiling was performed by Wandsworth Mayor Angela Graham. I gave a short talk as follows: 

Having been working on John Archer’s biography for a long time and having lobbied for the plaque today, it is a privilege and a challenge to try in a few minutes to convey the main aspects of his life and the essence of the man.

Born in Liverpool in July 1863 to a West Indian ship’s steward and an Irish woman, virtually nothing is known about his life until he is in his 40s, apart from the fact that he and his Black Canadian wife Margaret settled in Battersea in the early 1890s. She is a mystery because her maiden name is not known, nor indeed when and where she died. They had no children.  

What detail we do know comes from 1900 when he attended the Pan African Conference and became a member of the Committee set up to campaign for black rights around the Atlantic. Here at No. 55 John and Margaret looked after the elderly Jane Roberts, widow of the first black President of the independent state of Liberia, in her final years up to her death in January 1914.

By 1906 he had become a professional photographer based on Battersea Park Rd. He was that year as a Councillor for the labour and liberal Progressive Alliance. In the Tory rout of the Alliance in 1909 most Progressives lost their seats, but John was elected again in 1912. While he did not stand again in 1922 he was active in Council affairs particularly on health, welfare and educational issues including at international level. He became an Alderman in 1925 and elected again as a Councillor in 1931.

He had married again in 1923 to Bertha, but by 1931 she had left him for a younger man.
In November 1913 he was made Mayor for a year. He chaired Council and Town’s Meetings, undertook civic duties for local charities and organisations. The last three months were dominated by the start of the First World War. He set up a  relief fund for families whose men had enlisted. His duties increased tremendously so that after his period of office ended the Council and local activists thanked him with special presentations.

He was also a member of the Wandsworth Guardians which administered help to the poor, disabled and elderly. He championed those regarded as ‘undeserving’, shone the light on abuse by officials, and fought cuts in the level of financial support, especially after the War when so many ex-servicemen could not get work.   

In December 1918 he was elected President of the newly formed African Progress Union. He attended both the 1919 and 1921 Pan African Congresses.

He was a key figure in setting up new local Labour organisations when the existing ones fractured in the face of what was regarded as betrayal in May 1926 by Shapurji Saklatvala, the Battersea Party backed Communist MP. As election agent he helped William Sanders replace Saklatvala as MP in 1929.  In his final years John’s premises in Battersea Park Rd where the Nubian Jak plaque is were used as Party offices.

John Archer is there not only an important figure in the story of the Black contribution in Britain but as a black man representing Battersea's white working class in the early part of the 20th Century. 

He was well read, there is evidence that he loved music and he supported local sports activities including swimming. He served as a Trustee of Walter Sinjun School and Battersea Polytechnic. 

What stands out for me about John Archer is that he knew which side of the political argument he was on: against injustice whether on racial or class grounds.

His life resonates with today. He too saw massive cut backs in public spending in the early 1920s and again following the Wall St crash in 1929. Used to being in a political culture where open air mass meetings and demonstrations were part of normal experience, being a strong believer in the public service role of the local Council, and being a supporter of working class access to higher qualifications, I think it is clear what his views and actions would be today.