Glam rocker Marc Bolan, music hall star Marie Lloyd and a member of the Windrush generation who never took a day off in 26 years driving London buses are amongst nominees to have Hackney streets named after them.
Their names have been put forward by Hackney residents as part of the “Naming Hub” project – a council-led initiative which hopes to “crowdsource” local heroes, as the borough prepares to re-name streets and parks named after slave traders.
After only a few days, the residents have shared plenty of ideas, which can be viewed on an interactive map. Alongside Bolan there are many high profile figures, such as the founder of Tesco Jack Cohen, Hackney-born writers John Berger and Alexander Baron, as well as Mary Wollstonecraft, the feminist pioneer recently commemorated with a controversial statue in Newington Green.
Bolan was born in Hackney Hospital in 1947. He pioneered the Glam Rock movement of the 1970s with his band, T-Rex. He was a “guitar hero and style icon…bisexual and proud,” according to Hackney residents. One of their biggest hits was the song, Ride a White Swan. Bolan died in a car accident, aged only 29, in 1977.
Sir Jack Cohen
Cohen was born in Whitechapel in 1889. His parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants from Łódź. After returning from World War I, Cohen used his demobilisation money to start trading on Broadway Market, together with his wife, Sarah.
Slowly his business grew, from a couple of trading stalls manned by family members, to Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain.
However, many suggestions include more local heroes and characters obscured by time. One resident has nominated Carol Straker, a ballet dancer who has received relatively little public recognition, despite her dance company – opened in 1988 on Lower Clapton Road – being credited as “a catalyst for black ballet.”
Straker is a member of UNESCO Council of International Dance. Her father, Sam Springer, was Hackney’s first black mayor. Straker has worked to make classical dance more inclusive, by providing accessible classes for children and opening her own dance company, which sought to give opportunities to dancers from minority backgrounds.
Others have suggested James Augustus Boston, “a pillar of community” who moved to Hackney from Monserrat in 1960. He worked as a bus driver for twenty six years and ran the Afro-Caribbean Citizens Club.
James Augustus Boston
James Augustus Boston was a teacher. When he moved to the UK, he was told he could not work in a school as his Caribbean accent would “confuse” children, forcing him to take a job as a bus driver. He worked for the TFL for 26 years, without taking a single day off, despite encountering racism from customers.
For twenty years he ran the Afro-Caribbean Citizens Club in Hackney. Becoming a central figure of Hackney’s Caribbean community.
He died last year aged 97.
Marie Lloyd, the fin de siècle music hall star, who made her debut in Hoxton before gracing the more prestigious scenes of West End, also received a mention. The resident nominating her argued that Lloyd had “a daring spirit, and cut down fences around how women should behave.”
Marie Lloyd was born Matilda Wood in Hoxton in 1870. At just nine years old, Lloyd formed her first minstrel troupe, comprising of her nine younger siblings.
After making her professional debut at in 1885, Lloyd quickly rose to prominence. In the 1890s she became internationally recognised, and preformed in America. Her “risqué” performances attracted the ire of the Social Purity Alliance.
Another lesser known episode in Hackney’s history, pointed out by Naming Hub’s contributors, is the 1873 performance of the African- American a capella ensemble, Fisk Jubilee Singers. According to the resident, Fisk Jubilee Singers stopped in Hackney on their European tour, before performing for Queen Victoria.
Fisk Jubilee Singers
Fisk Jubilee Singers were students at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee – one of the first Historically Black Colleges in the United States. Most of the singers were born into slavery.
In 1871, after the university encountered financial troubles, the ensemble was created as a fundraising effort. In 1873 the ensemble embarked on a tour of Europe, which earned $150,000 for the university.
The crowdsourced name bank is meant to inform the council and developers working on future projects, as well as aid the ongoing Public Realm Naming Review, which was launched by the council in June following international Black Lives Matter protests.
Hackney’s mayor Philip Glanville said: “The Black Lives Matter protests…have caused many of us to reflect and reconsider those figures in our borough’s history who made their fortune from the slave trade or exploitation and how they have been commemorated.”
Since the launch of the review, the former Geffrye Museum in Hoxton – named after Sir Robert Geffrye, former Lord Mayor of London and slave trader – has been re-named as the Museum of the Home.
Next on the council’s re-naming docket are the Cassland Road Gardens and their surrounding roads, named after Sir John Cass, a slave trader and philanthropist. A consultation with residents living on the affected streets is scheduled to take place in January, although the council has already made the decision to rename the streets.
All image credits: Wikipedia