Sunday, January 5, 2014

Report of last RaHN meeting, 13th November 2013

Radical History Network of N.E. London (slightly edited for blog)

RaHN activities:

- A brief history of RaHN was given for the benefit of the new faces present [early years].
- We then looked at and approved the notes from the last meeting, including the detailed write up of the RaHN discussion about community action for north east London's green spaces.
- We noted the advanced plans for a new booklet on the radical history of campaigning to protect and improve local green spaces.

- An updated version of the 'McLibel: DIY Justice' pamphlet was circulated ['McWorld On Trial' - by Helen Steel and Dave Morris (the 'McLibel' defendants): The inside story of the inspirational global campaign against McDonald's 1985-2005, including the titanic legal battle during the longest trial in English history.]. It describes the inside story of the successful legal and publicity battle against McDonald's 1985-2005, is now available to be distributed by RaHN and can be viewed [here].

- Alan Woodward's archive: RaHN members present agreed to a proposal that the bulk of Alan's documents go to the Bishopsgate Institute for archiving and public display. This would be for at least 10 years, in lieu of a suitable venue being found for them in Haringey. Alan was a founder and a co-convenor of the RaHN.
- There was a report on the Anarchist Bookfair. Up to 4,000 people attended. Alex helped coordinate a History Zone for the first time at this event, in its 30th year - this zone included an exhibition of radical art, and discussions about WW1 mutinies, the Solidarnosc union movement in Poland, anarchist movement activities in London in the 1960s, and London's Hospital Occupations over the last 40 years. RaHN did a stall, which had a wide range of cheap or free RaHN pamphlets and leaflets and was pretty busy all day.
- RaHN blog/website: [continuing].
- Future meetings: We discussed what subjects people would like to discuss and debate in the coming 12 months. It was agreed that the next meeting would be about 'Radical Youth Movements', with the following other subjects suggested - Political Policing; Decent Homes For All; 1983/4 Miners Strike; Radical Childcare; Resistance to World War 1.

The main subject of discussion and debate was:
North East London's Waterways

- A people’s history of campaigning for access to drinking water, recreation water and navigation systems

Summary: Now available: RaHN on Waterways, a 2-page leaflet.

- The New River is neither new or a river, but is an artificial fresh water course built in the 17th Century to get water for drinking etc. into London from Hertfordshire.
- There had been riots and protests in the 16th Century over water shortages, and over 'theft' of water supplies.
- The New River Company (NRC) was financed by private entrepreneurs who wanted to make money out of Londoners' needs for fresh water - at the time people had to get it from rivers and wells. By 1638 the NRC supplied 10% of London homes. Other companies were also set up to compete, using other sources of supplies. Eventually the NRC became one of the 3 richest companies in the UK. The NRC was an early pioneer of capitalism, industrialisation and the privatisation of formerly public resources.
- Demand (including for drinking, washing, industry and sewers) outstripped supply as London grew.
- Conduits were set up in 'the city' for water distribution, with apprentices hired to collect and distribute. They were an independent and radical lot, and often seen as defenders of public rights. There were protests over ensuring adequate water levels in these conduits and public access to the water.
- Laws were passed to try to keep water purity. The idea persisted among the public that all supplies should be free and for all to use. People accessed the NR along its route, defying laws against this and even a specially-created NRC police force. Some were jailed. Continuous public pressure eventually led to the establishment of public baths and laundries everywhere.
- The London County Council was established in 1889 and bought out the NRC in 1903 to turn the New River into a public resource. Unfortunately it is now run by Thames Water after the UK Government's 1989 Water Act allowed the sell-off of many parts of the UK's water supplies to the private sector.
- However, thanks to all the public pressure, campaigns and direct action to access fresh water over the last 400 years, people still feel that the water supplies belong to all. But this will have to continue to be fought for, here and all over the world, as private companies only care about the profits they can make from our basic needs.

- Walthamstow marshes is part of the Lea Valley - see [See below for some general background details about the Lea Valley as a whole].**
- Not a lot of the natural marshes are left.
- Originally there was a 'lamas' rotation grazing system. Local people tended to rely on grazing rights.
- Rich people bought up the rights to take and sell produce, e.g. the valuable hay crop.
- The developing navigation systems didn't affect the marshes as much as the growth of the railways did as they cut off access from communities.
- Water in the Lea reservoirs supplies a sixth of London's water. It is said that the Lea reservoirs are one of the 2 main human-made objects that can be seen from space (along with the Great Wall of China).
- Original medieval uses of the river included fish, mills (corn and beer etc), willows, water cress etc.
- The Lea was shallow and shifting so pack horses tended to be used rather than boats.
- In 1423 laws were enacted to protect water levels. In 1613 a drinking water system was agreed by Parliament (much still in place).
- Mid-1800s saw the spread of fencing off of whole areas, some Lamas rights removed and marshes fragmented. Walthamstow Commoners (many were wealthy cattle owners though) elected committee to meet up with landowners at the Ferry Boat Inn pub to demand compensation. Millers and bargees often had disputes over navigation options and changes.
- Gradually people were thrown off the land throughout the industrial revolution. Many workers employed tended to be nomadic (Gypsies and Irish).
- Marshes developed more for recreation (e.g. Tottenham and Hackney marshes for football pitches), and much of the land was sold off for housing.
- Profit and greed may have triumphed but people have always wanted access to the marshes.
- Users and campaign groups continue to speak out. There was a week-long tent occupation to try to halt a temporary Olympic facility being constructed which has damaged the spot. Recently the groups have formed a new 'Across The Marshes' network. The Save Lea Marshes group campaigns for Leyton Marsh to be fully restored; for the reinstatement of East Marsh as a green open space; to Keep Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes free from enclosed commercial purposes that damage the land and prevent free open access for people to enjoy; to keep a watching brief and actively lobby against all possible threats to the current land designation as Metropolitan Open Space and particularly the local listed Sites of Scientific and Special Interest (SSSIs).

The valley of the River Lea has been used as a transport corridor, a source of sand and gravel, an industrial area, a water supply for London, and a recreational area. The upper section of the valley is mainly rural, becoming a wide floodplain, and then an increasingly urban transport corridor as it enters London via Enfield Lock, Brimsdown, Ponders End, Edmonton, Tottenham, Tottenham Hale, Clapton, Lea Bridge, Leyton, Hackney Wick, Old Ford, Bow, Stratford, West Ham, Bromley, Canning Town and Leamouth. The river was crossed at several points by fords or ferries, which were eventually replaced by bridges e.g. at Stratford a stone causeway on the Roman road to Colchester was supplemented by bridge in 1100. In 1745 the valley was crossed at Clapton by Lea Bridge.

The valley became very important for London's water supply, as the source of the water transported by the New River aqueduct, but also as the location for the Lee Valley Reservoir Chain, stretching from Enfield through Tottenham and Walthamstow. Much early industrialisation was a result of the availability of water power for numerous mills. In the 20th century the combination of transport, wide expanses of flat land and electricity from riverside and canal-side plants led to expansion of industries. Much industry has now gone, replaced by warehousing and retail parks.

North of Cheshunt the Lea Valley, particularly around Nazeing, is associated with market gardening, nurseries and garden centres. The industry once dominated the area from Ponders End, north through Enfield Lock, Waltham Cross and Cheshunt. In the 1930s the valley contained the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world. In 1948 a commentator described how glasshouses, originally established on the 'warm brickearth soils' of Tottenham and Edmonton in the 1880s, had been progressively driven north into the often poorer soils further north by the growth of London. Today, in most parts south of Cheshunt greenhouses have been replaced by residential areas.

Today Lee Valley Park occupies large areas of the valley. An extensive area of open land, built up using rubble from the Blitz, is Hackney Marshes. By contrast, Walthamstow Marshes is retained as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

- Canal boat owners pay licenses ('MOTs') to British Waterways.
- Have been lots of disputes over access to moorings (official and unofficial sites).
- London Boaters - - formed in 2008 to defend boat-dwellers' existence and 250yr old way of life. Has 200-400 members and produce a newsletter. Their position is: "The boating community is diverse and vibrant with a vast range of unique skills and knowledge. Recognising this potential, London Boaters initially arranged social events and boat based training sessions to harness this knowledge and unite the community. The London Boaters community has been strengthened by a recent British Waterways mooring proposal that threatens the community’s existence. London Boaters has grown in terms of numbers, dedication and community collaboration since the announcement of the proposal. This website aims to act as a community resource for boaters from all sides of the canal towpath to protect the life we love."
- There is a great unregulated tradition of moorings and nomadism. There used to be boaters' pubs and schools.
- Many moorings are occupied/squatted unofficially (not illegal).
- In 1980s the British Waterways charity was buying up river beds and some tow paths aiming for their privatisation. Campaigns successfully defended boaters' rights, and 1995 Act was passed to safeguard this. But some tow paths charge fees as they are no longer common land.
- 7,000 boaters nationally have no moorings. Now a National Boaters and Bargees Travellers Association is forming.
- The relevant authorities often fail to properly maintain facilities for boaters, e.g..drinking water taps.
- During Olympics many boaters were outrageously corralled as 'threat to national security'.

- Friends of Lordship Rec had successfully campaigned for the recent restoration of the River Moselle in Tottenham, and Friends Groups in Haringey collaborated to produce a walk guide celebrating the borough-wide but mostly underground river. There is now pressure on the Council and Thames Water to improve water quality - they and Councils throughout London need to be pressurised to deal with the water pollution in all London's rivers caused by sewer misconnections from domestic, public and commercial buildings.
- The former Lebus furniture factory on the Lea at Tottenham Hale was the largest in Europe and used the river for transport
- Campaigns for access to water and waterways mirror similar struggles over green spaces
- There's a myth that 'common land' meant and still means guaranteed free access or use by all - in reality it was generally owned by 'middle-men' with their own rights and agendas. So we still have to claim and fight for 'ownership' and protect it from development etc.
- Its generally public pressure/protest/direct action, not 'rights', which protect the public interest effectively in the long term. All the spaces, resources and services we value are under constant threat of privatisation or closure, so we need to continue the fight.

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