Croydon’s Suburban Press and the ‘graveyard of commerce’

Suburban Press, produced in Croydon in the early 1970s, was one of the most distinctive papers of its day. The principle output of a collective that also produced a wide range of other campaign materials for the non-aligned libertarian left, the paper was a consistent and tireless critic of free market urban planning and its impact on community life in the town. It was also where the political artist Jamie Reid, best known now for the artwork he later produced for the Sex Pistols, cut his teeth as a DIY graphic activist.

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But although Reid’s design experiments in punk montage were essential to the paper’s identity, its most distinguishing features were the density of its text and the fury of its argument. Simply typed and packed into whatever space each page could afford, Suburban Press was not the most approachable alternative paper, but its editorial line was probably the most sustained.

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The critique of capitalist development in central Croydon for example, a theme doggedly pursued over 20 pages in Suburban Press no 5 (1972), owed much to Situationism: ‘We are left dwarfed in the streets by huge towers of bureaucracy. An architecture and environment of commerce has been created to manipulate our lives. Our communications with each other are limited by urbanisation. There is nowhere to meet our meeting places have been demolished. The people… have been made to perform in an urban environment of commerce and administration’.

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Domestic commerce was relentlessly savaged: ‘On Saturdays the pedestrian shopping precinct ‘show piece’ of Croydon, the Whitgift Centre echoes with the hysterical whine of shopping neurosis. Reverberating between the facades of plate glass and concrete. You cannot move for shoppers, busily replenishing their property, everyone seems dazed and determined. The instant sandwich bars have specially designed stalls and tables so as to make you feel uncomfortable after ten minutes, to force you out, back it the buying arena. There is always someone to replace you, another coffee and sandwich, another sell’.

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The architect Max Peintner’s satirical drawing, ‘Nature still draws a crowd’ was perfectly suited to Suburban Press’s critique of the reduction of nature to consumer spectacle by Croydon’s planners. Coincidentally, Peintner’s drawing has more recently been an inspiration to the Austrian artist, Klaus Littman, who is in the process of installing Peintner’s dystopian forest in an actual football stadium: https://forforest.net/en/

Suburban Press was not a community newspaper in the sense that Bush News, Leeds Other Paper or Liverpool Free Press certainly were, but a full-blown assault on the destruction of communities and the rise of business enterprise and real estate in their place. As a direct consequence of uncontrolled commercial development since the 1950s, the paper argued, ‘no-one really lives in Croydon itself’, it’s a bit like the City, people just work there’. While former working class streets were cleared and houses flattened to make way for high rise office blocks and shopping centres, communities were relocated to alienating and badly served garden city settlements like New Addington on the borough’s periphery: ‘In Croydon, they create a skyscraper tomb town, dedicated t the soulless pursuit of commerce and administration… while on the Surrey hills, hidden away out of sight, they built an estate called New Addington… “a dumping ground for the working class”. WE WILL EXPOSE THE MYSTIC OF THE “THEY“‘, the paper promised.  New Addington was fully critiqued in issue 4.

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Remembering the Back Street Bugle: Oxford’s counter-cultural news

By Kevin Eady

 

The Back Street Bugle, Oxford’s Other Paper, began its life at a packed meeting in Uhuru Cafe on the Crowley Road in East Oxford in the autumn of 1977.

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Issue 1 of the Bugle: November 1977

The Bugle was always on the libertarian/anarchist/hippy end of the political spectrum, almost an attempt at a local version of International Times, the London-based underground broadsheet, with a hint of Private Eye thrown in. Most of the participants were newcomers to Oxford, some ex-students, recent school leavers and other incomers. Indigenous working-class residents of a left-wing persuasion were more likely to be Labour/Communist/Workers Socialist League, but some of the readership were truly local at the younger end of the scale. In part this was because the Bugle featured lots of cultural activity, music, films, etc.

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A headline from March 1978: Twenty-three hunt saboteurs arrested for disrupting the Christchurch Beagles

 
The Bugle was centred around East Oxford without a doubt and the counter-cultural end of things, Uhuru Wholefoods and Café, EOA Books and Rainbow’s End, the Mayfly festival, as well as the emerging punk and music scene at the Oranges and Lemons in St Clements.

The Bugle was printed at first by Pauper’s Press, a worker’s co-op in Bullingdon Road, who let us use their premises when preparing each edition, until their demise in May 1979. Initially the paper came out fortnightly, but had to move to monthly by the end of 1978.

In retrospect one of The Bugle’s greatest coups was to get the now-renowned graphic novelist Alan Moore to contribute. He lived in Northampton, but was introduced to me by some friends who had recently moved to Oxford. He turned up one Saturday morning with the first edition of St Pancras Panda (loosely inspired by Paddington Bear) which became an irregular comic strip in the paper. This also explains why a bugle-blowing Panda ever since appeared on the front page. (Or did the bugle-blowing Panda inspire Alan Moore)?

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Bugle #22 – with Alan Moore’s bugle-blowing St Pancras Panda on the masthead
The Bugle was dominated by the pre-occupations of the Left at that time: squatting, dope and bust news, the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism, anti-nuclear campaigning and the like. There was also a considerable element of ecological and green-ish content, as well as local news of strikes and boycotts and any other anti-establishment activity of any kind.

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The Bugle in 1981: At the height of CND and END’s resurgence, exposing ‘secret’ government planning for nuclear war offered rich copy opportunities for local alternative newspapers across the country.

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Busting undercover policemen: a Bugle scoop

Another of the Bugle’s accomplishments was the outing of Vince Gates, a Special Branch/Drugs Squad undercover cop who frequented East Oxford and Jericho.

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There were never that many regular contributors, but you might not have thought so as pseudonyms such as Titus Groan, Vastan Bulbous and Fred Bakunin might or might not have belonged to one and the same person.

One of the most contentious issues was over pornography, a gaping chasm emerging between those who thought it OK and those who saw it as oppressive. This became more acute in April of 1981 when a Private Shop selling sex aids and porn opened not far from Uhuru Wholefoods, a bastion of radical feminism. After controversy on the letters pages some outlets for the paper stopped retailing it and the readership fell off a bit more.
It all came to an end in the Autumn of 1981 when the stress and strain became too much.
Needless to say, this is all my own personal recollection and others may have slightly different takes on the whole enterprise.

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Four years on: The Bugles’s final edition

Peace

Kevin Eady

Ned/Nell Gate: if you don’t hit it, it won’t fall

Billy Ridgers on the Notting Hill radical newspaper 1972-1974

Ned/Nell Gate – the name is a giveaway. It was based in Notting Hill Gate, with a militant egalitarian stance, a sentimental attachment to the politics of sabotage and a wicked sense of humour. It was December 1972, North Kensington was ‘burning’, we were on the edge of revolution, there was stuff going on everywhere, in the streets, in the schools, outside the council chambers, in front of police stations, in the courts, around the clubs, in the pubs – revolution was just round the corner.

The spectre of a world that could be free’ (Marcuse)

In some senses to call Ned/Nell Gate a community newspaper is not accurate, it was not in the traditional sense, deeply embedded in the community, although some of the activists on the editorial collective were involved in more ‘democratic’ community organisations in the area – squatting, claimants union, housing campaigns etc. The flavour of the newspaper was politically libertarian, i.e.promoting an ideal of freedom where freedom was something that could only be achieved and experienced collectively.

The content of the paper dealt with local community issues but it also had a strong ‘internationalist’ and anti-capitalist flavour and although the imagined audience was local people it was probably, more truthfully, aimed at activists in the area – because North Kensington was flooded with activists of all political hews. And that feeling of being in a political powder keg encouraged the small editorial group that put the paper together to be politically very ambitious.

Publication begins

Politics is what affects our lives, our living conditions, the cost of food, the closing of schools, play space, our wages. Politics is organising to start to control these things ourselves…. (Editorial in issue No.1)

The language of the articles is urgent, contemptuous of authority, distrustful, but with a strong identification with the working people of the area. But most of all the writing in the paper is politically opportunistic. The housing plight of an Irish family is an opportunity to talk about the ‘troubles’ in Ireland and what they meant at a personal level; a spate of evictions from the multi-occupied housing that blighted the area justified a full page spread on rent strikes and on the back page of issue No.1 there is an A3 poster ‘Danger Property Speculators at work’. (Within days, the poster was everywhere.)

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OK, so Ned/Nell Gate was one step removed from deep community involvement and depended for its political oxygen on the various organisations that were much more deeply rooted in the community. The real community paper was ‘The People’s News’ produced by the Notting Hill People’s Association, and which was produced by John and Jan O’Malley. They had arrived in North Kensington with the first wave of political activists after the race riots in the mid 60s and stayed to set up an enduring community organisation. People’s News was a flimsy A4 bulletin that came out weekly, or more frequently if necessary and could be gestetnered-off as required. It had links to the Labour Party, mainly the left caucus, and also with the small but active communist party. They really were a thorn in the side of the local Council, but the K&C Tory controlled council had a very effective control strategy – do nothing. This was a visible and highly frustrating strategy. And that was the single reason why there was so much pent up political frustration in North Kensington, and Ned/Nell Gate fed off this frustration

The editorial group

I suppose provoking anger was the editorial strategy and which bought together this highly motivated group of politicos and activists. The core editorial group was made up of eight regulars. Pete was a London graduate who lived in Powis Square, Vicky ran the local Notting Hill Community Press recently renamed Crest Press, Kate was a student and campaigner, Billy was a university graduate doing his PhD on housing in North Kensington and a member of the Counter Information Services (CI) collective, ‘Scalpel’ Stan was a squatter activists and a roadie for local band Hawkwind, Meela was a feminist activist, as was Lynn, and Yvonne was homeless. The paper was produced from December 1972 to May 1974, as a monthly, and there were 12 issues as well as a flow of A3 posters on ‘property speculation’, school strikes, May Day, end of school special etc. Each issue was sold for 3p and distributed by hand. By mid 1973, as many as 2,000 copies were being printed, they were sold in local shops, newsagents and pubs as well as in the streets outside tube stations, in the Portobello Market and at the various events happening in the area.

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It was generally well received, and selling it outside the tube stations or in pubs was good fun, with a lot of banter, as it was populist enough to have some local gossip and a small column on the local football team QPR.

Producing a paper like this, in A3 format, would have been out of the question if we had not had access to the facilities at Crest Press. [You can read about that print collective here].

The editorial group met in a basement on the corner of Portobello Road and Cambridge Gardens, but the contact address was Crest Press. There was no shortage of editorial material, each person came with stuff they had encountered that month – any issue or cause would do – an expulsion from school, an eviction, a hospital strike, a police raid. But just as much effort went in to keeping abreast of national and international political events, and the way they impacted on the local community.

As we were all part of a range of political networks, editorial material, photos and cartoons came in from colleagues all over London and all over the country.

As we were all part of a range of political networks, editorial material, photos and cartoons came in from colleagues all over London and all over the country. I worked for Counter Information Services and used to funnel stories on UK multinationals, property developers and UK companies investing in South Africa, whenever there was a local link. This opportunism provided a substantial part of the editorial, but there were always local stories, mainly because there was so much happening in the area.

Despite the crucial role played by Kensington and Chelsea Council in the politics of the area, unlike many of the other organisations in North Kensington, the Council was not the main target of Ned/Nell Gate’s invective. It had a much more broadly anti-capitalist agenda.

When the council was addressed it was in terms of The Mayor Causes a Riot or to cover the Siege of Notting Hill. This was when a dozen or so Tory Councillors and Council Officials attending a local people’s consultation, were locked in the local community hall all night by 60 or so activists, until they agreed to re-house a family that faced eviction that day. Now that was a feeling of power. The family were re-housed but the councillors never set foot in North Kensington again.Ned 5 1973 or 4 Grenfell Tower in distance

So I suppose the editorial group had it relatively easy. It wasn’t initially embedded in the community and it didn’t feel the need to build and involve a loyal constituency. Much more in the style of Iskra (Spark), it saw its role as a catalyst, to take the political struggle to the next level. So maybe, the main target was those who were already politically involved, the political activists, trying to get them to ratchet up their revolutionary credentials, to be less reformist, more angry.

Having said that, if you read through the various issues you do discover a strong desire to make a connexion with women and families in some of the many deprived areas around North Kensington and Shepherds Bush. The best expression of this ‘immersion’ politics was the Red Spot Market, where activists went early to Smithfield market to get meat which was cut and prepared by activists and tenants and sold at cost, at the foot of Trellick Towers and later around the high rise Edward Woods Estate. This community activism expressed a strong identification with the most vulnerable people in the area, families who never in a thousand years would ever come to a political meeting or imagine that a more radical democracy was in any way relevant to them. Personal letters from people in trying to make ends meet start to appear. You could feel the politics changing.

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In the editorial of issue No.9, it’s recorded that the collective attended a conference of community newspapers. This coincided with the papers move to new premises in a house on the edge of the Edwards Woods Estate, where suddenly editorial meetings were advertised and thrown open to the public. There were invitations to a social centre, where local issues could be discussed, film shows were organised and people were encouraged to use the press and organise their own actions. And yet the content of the paper continued to be libertarian and anti-capitalist.

And then it was gone.

Politics was getting harder, more frustrating. The exuberance that had propelled Ned/Nell Gate into existence was gone. There was more factionalism, more dynamic but exclusive feminism, less humour. The magic was gone. And so did we.

Crest Press: memories of a West London print collective

Vicky Hutchin on setting up Crest Press in West London in the 1970s, the radical publications it printed and the Angry Brigade

In 1971 the Notting Hill Press (NHP), which had been set up three to four years before by various active community organisations getting together in North Kensington, was about to dissolve and go bankrupt.  The machinery belonged to the community organisations and was only leased to the press so that should this sort of thing have to happen, the press would continue.

By 1971 the press was in a basement underneath an opticians in Ladbroke Grove and consisted of a Rotaprint 30/90,  a Gestetner Offset Litho which only printed A4 size and also comprehensive layout facilities, storage space, darkroom, plate making and photographic facilities. The two women who ran the Press, Beryl Foster and Linda Gane, now had babies and were finding it increasingly impossible to run the Press.

The Peoples Association and West London Community Workshop put a call-out to find new people to run the press.  My close friend Carola and I, having just finished university, were looking around for something to do locally – this was it!  Beryl and Linda gave us intensive training and handover for a week and it was then over to us.

We started a new company, bought off the shelf.  We took on the regular orders which the NHP had on their books – publicity for local left-leaning events, newsletters, Peoples News and the Communist Party local branch, trade union meetings and pamphlets, and other local, national and international journals on all sorts of issues.

Access to the Press for anyone wanting something printed was usually over the backyard wall, at any time of day or night.  No-one wanting commercial printing ever came to us.

Within a couple of weeks local activists in the People’s Association such as the O’Malleys, were aware that we were very green in local politics and needed a support base. Within no time a small group of local activists who could see the potential in the press came forward and we became part of a collective of six and then seven people, with very radical action backgrounds. Carola and I were the printers who did the work and ran the business but decisions were to be made collectively on what we would and wouldn’t print etc.  We called the Press ‘Crest Press’ – named after the crest used by the claimants union which we adopted and adapted through plenty of collective discussion about what it should portray. First, making one of the workers Black. The next adaptation adding a woman and two children came later through the birth of Ned/Nell Gate.

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We continued to print a wide range of local publications from posters for music and community events to newsletters from the Trades Council, trade union branches, Troops Out, Communist Party, Peoples News (who did their own thing on their own machine!) posters for flyposting about demonstrations, radical academic papers for an interesting collection of organisations, booklets and magazines and Squatters News. We also printed Undercurrents for several issues.

Access to the Press for anyone wanting something printed was usually over the backyard wall, at any time of day or night.  No-one wanting commercial printing ever came to us.

This was the time of the Angry Brigade campaign. The original collective set up to run the press was pulled apart after a few weeks, as most of the members, except for Carola and I and John (who came to us via the Claimants Union), were picked up by the police and incarcerated for months.  In fact none of them were ever charged with Angry Brigade offences but some were imprisoned without trial for nine months or even more. Two were deported.

Carola and John also left after six months or so, to pastures new, but there was always someone ready to help.  It was a new collective of local radical activists with similar far left credentials who formed the next iteration of the Crest Press Collective and this was when Ned Gate was born (1972).  During the most active period of my time at Crest I worked with Yvonne Clark.  She and I kept the place running, in spite of her mental health issues. Senta Kandler came to help when Yvonne could no longer work there.  She continued to work at the press, from the late 70s to the 2000s with Mike Braybrook.

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I suppose one of the really significant things about the paper for me was not only the excitement of putting it together and printing it but also the distribution – it got us out and about talking to locals of all sorts, those who disliked what we were doing as much as those who were on our side and those who wanted just to talk.

This was a very exciting time – so much constantly going on – local action as well as national campaigns, the three day week, strikes and so much more.

In the early days Kate Truscott and I used to go around London to all the lefty bookshops distributing their ten copies of the paper and picking up returns.  I even seem to remember that we went to Foyles in Charing Cross Road. And we did all the local general stores and newsagents who were happy to take it as well as the tube stations. It was from this interaction with locals that the Red Spot Market – as a way to engage locals with their issues and start discussions with them about inequality and power. [You can read about Ned/Nell Gate here].  And the flyposting too – late at night with a slopping bucket of wallpaper paste – posters/leaflets of all sorts about meetings/events/demos/actions – and not getting caught.

This was a very exciting time – so much constantly going on – local action as well as national campaigns, the three day week, strikes and so much more.

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I continued to work at Crest Press until 1974, for no pay, occasionally needing to go and get work when the state refused to pay unemployment benefit any more. During that time we also printed community newspapers for other areas too – I am sure we printed Islington Gutter Press in its early days, we printed the first issues of Suburban Press (Croydon) – which we continued to have a strong relationship with for all of this period and longer, and a Wandsworth community paper called Pavement.  There must have been others too but I can’t remember.  We had meetings from time to time with other lefty presses – sometimes to talk about what to do about those that ripped us off, but especially about the politics of what we were doing!

In about 1975, the Press was moved out of its dark smelly basement where we paid rent, to a screen print workshop run by Mike Braybrook a few streets away – with the same old machinery stripped down and rebuilt by Mike who took over running the press with Senta Kandler.  It continued to operate until early 2000s (I think) after another move to under the Westway off Portobello Road.  I am not sure what it printed in the later years but Mike did go to Germany to buy an old Heidelberg press which he brought back in pieces and re-assembled! There is an archive which has been assembled from the materials collected by Mike until he died in 2007. The archive now resides in the British Library (or should do soon).

Bristol Voice: ‘A platform for people not usually heard’

by Hedley Bashforth and Ian Bild

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Bristol Voice was founded by a group of Bristol housing activists in the 1970s. The aim of the paper became to publicise the campaigns and activities of people involved with the range of community politics that found little publicity in the established media, but which took on an ever important role in the local politics of the time. The paper appeared monthly and was produced and distributed on a voluntary basis.

Apart from housing, it also covered workers’, employment & claimants’ rights, the growing Bristol feminist movement, anti-racism & anti-Nazism, and the developing community arts in the city. The newspaper was linked to the many community papers in other parts of the country, and also had close contact with the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers, particularly to the local publishing co-operative Bristol Broadsides.

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A number of activists who had been involved with Bristol Voice also went on to found Full Marks, the socialist and feminist bookshop based at Stokes Croft. Though covering a whole range of opinions, ideas and strategies, taken together, these organisations attempted to provide a platform for people not usually heard. With the rise of Thatcherism, the cuts to public services and the attacks on the trade union movement, these community organisations offered a vibrant, grass-roots based alternative voice.

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Like other radical local publications of the time, Bristol Voice was a channel for stories that the established local media would not cover. Housing stories – about squats, campaigns and challenges to the market, such as the Self-Help Community Housing Association, were a regular feature of the Voice. Sometimes these involved ‘scoops’ that local media might have picked up, but Voice, with its radical editorial stance, was often the only channel interested.

For example, towards the end of its life in 1981 Voice was handed a list of the first 15 houses in Bristol to be sold under the Tories’ Right to Buy legislation. The list showed the market value of the houses, together with the discounted price. The Voice article showed that the houses most likely to be sold off were the better quality, higher value ones, leaving the council with a smaller stock of lower quality dwellings.

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This is the story of council housing in the last 40 years, though Bristol where housing costs are relatively high still has 27,000 council owned dwellings. Most of the stock that has been sold has not been replaced because of government rules preventing councils from using the receipts from sales to build new homes, and hardly any new council houses have been built. These rules have been relaxed recently, and councils are building again, but on a much smaller scale. As for the Right to Buy, that remains in force for the time being.

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‘We never intended to become a radical newspaper’: The story of Cwmbran Checkpoint

by Mel Witherden
Cwmbran Checkpoint, October 1977

In 1974 the local charity Community Projects Centre launched Cwmbran Checkpointas part of a government-funded project to foster community spirit and tackle social problems caused by explosive growth in the Welsh new town of Cwmbran.

Checkpoint then was a cosy A4-format newssheet consisting of articles about community groups and a popular events listing. 3500 free copies were distributed monthly through public buildings. After two years the grant ran out, and it would have closed without the intervention of eight volunteers who saw Checkpoint’s value and took over the operation.

Continue reading “‘We never intended to become a radical newspaper’: The story of Cwmbran Checkpoint”

‘A community newspaper means something different to everybody’: The early years of Bath Spark

by Steve Poole

What did we mean by the phrase, ‘community newspaper’ in the late 1970s? In Here is the Other News, the Minority Press Group distinguished ‘community/participation’, papers from others more readily identifiable as ‘radical populist’, ‘counter cultural’ or ‘labour movement’. But given the evident overlaps, and the tendency for some papers to drift between categories over time as production personnel changed, were these distinctions really any use?

Continue reading “‘A community newspaper means something different to everybody’: The early years of Bath Spark”