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.        

Saturday, 2 November 2013

More Money Needed for Judicial Review of Sale of Riesco Collection Items

The judicial review hearing on the sale of the 24 items of the Croydon  Riesco Chinese Ming porcelain Collection will be heard in the week of 11 November.

A group of residents decided to challenge the sale are raising money towards the costs via their website.  

Charlotte Davies, the Chair of the South Croydon Community Association, has agreed to be the named individual taking the action.  Charlotte explains why below.

Donations continue to be urgently required to reach the target of £20,000.

Donations of all sizes are needed, but clearly if 100 people felt able to contribute £50, then £5,000 could be quickly raised.  For payments through your bank see below.

Do you know

·    any artists who might be prepared to donate a piece of their work for a fundraising auction?
·    anyone on a very high salary who would be willing to make a large donation

If you are active in an organisation which is meeting over the next few days, would you make a collection among your members/audiences? If 1,000 people donated £1 each, that would be £1,000.

Are you a regular in a pub and would ask customers you know to contribute?

For the latest news see:

The Auction in Hong King

Christies are holding an auction of the Riesco items in Hong Kong on 27 November. Their website has not yet put up the catalogue but it indicates that viewing times there will be on each day from 21-26 November. This suggests the items are being shipped there. This suggests they will need to be insured – for how much? And they may need a temporary licence. If the hoped for sale sum is achieved how much of that sum will be taken by Christies fees and commission? If they are sold to an overseas buyer will a permanent export licence be required?

Charlotte explains why she agreed to take the action

The Riesco Collection Judicial Review, why do it?

A group of residents who want to remain anonymous got together funds to challenge the sale, they asked me to front the legal challenge as they saw me as an apolitical community leader – so I agreed.

The challenge came because people who have followed this debate have been shocked by our Council’s attitude towards:

a. The Arts;
b. Local democracy;
c. Compliance with public ethics.

The fund from the Riesco sale is supposed to be going to the Fairfield Halls. It may well be, but as I stated before always ask in Croydon: “who is actually going to benefit”?

Fairfield Halls has two parts to its website:
a. the nearly impossible to follow Arts side:
b. the rather sharper Fairfield Hospitality site:

South Croydon Community Association have visited the Fairfield Halls to look at the facilities and discuss with the management the problems. We have offered to help sort out the communications problems – nothing ever happened. After a bit you start to realise there is no real intention to create a buzzing Arts scene around Fairfield Halls, if there was there would already be:

Arts activities on the forecourt, not a car park;
Community activities, exhibitions, rehearsals going on throughout the building in its many empty rooms and halls;
Attempts would be made to establish a year-long varied programme of  Arts activities combining community groups with a few big name events;
Arts groups and audiences would be welcomed and encouraged – but in fact there are a long stream of complaints about high charges and inefficient management.

Nothing is really being done to make Fairfield Halls a viable Arts venue. It might be going to be invested in with our money – but unless there is a massive change in strategy we will not substantially benefit.

We have to stop Croydon Council believing that they can operate with absolutely no public accountability.

This is a neat open and shut case; documents have been leaked that clearly show the Councillors and the Officers of the Council understood the full implications of their actions before making the decision to go ahead with the sale.  The Museums Association has publicity made complaints about the Council’s behaviour and the breach of the Museum’s Association ethical code. The Arts Council funding agreement has clearly been breached. If we win we will get our costs back.

I urgently need more resources to ensure that we can see this challenge through to the end – please can you make a contribution to the fund. A fund that is basically about ethics and accountability – about opposing anarchy: whether it is people in offices, or rioting on the streets – it is no different it deprives our people of opportunities for development and social cohesion. The fund is being managed by SCCA and contributions can be made to:
South Croydon Community Association (Riesco Fund);
Account no: 11490948;
Sort code: 23-05-80.

Alternatively drop off contributions at my house 17 Temple Road, Croydon, Surrey, CR0 1HU.

Let’s come together to build Croydon into the community that the vast majority of residents desire: one with high aspirations; empowered and informed citizens; and respect for all. 

Charlotte Davies
South Croydon Community Association
2 November 2013