1. Mrs Rogers’ Ayah’s Home [ View On Map ]
26 King Edward's Road
You are standing outside No. 26 King Edward’s Road, which used to be an ayah’s home, established by Mrs Rogers in 1825. British families returning from India would hire ayahs to look after their children on the sea voyage home. On arrival in Britain they were often discharged and left to find their own passage back.
As well as providing shelter to the abandoned ayahs, Mrs Rogers would assist them in returning to India. She would help find them employment and passage with British families travelling there.
By 1910 the home dealt with about ninety ayahs a year. They also supported nurse-maids from China, who were similarly brought over by families, and then required assistance in returning.
2. Sarah Wesker [ View On Map ]
148 Mare Street
In this spot once stood the Polikoff factory (148-160 Mare Street). In 1928 trade unionist Sarah Wesker organised a strike at the factory. It was one of several she coordinated across East London, mobilising in excess of 500 mostly women workers.
Despite being less than five feet tall, Sarah Wesker was a formidable figure in the labour movement. She combined Communist politics with the tradition of ‘Yiddishkeit’ (Jewishness), which Eastern European migrants brought to the East End. In 1929, she became a founding member of the United Clothing Workers’ Union, and was the only female member of its executive committee.
Campaigning during the Great Depression meant Sarah was fighting both employers and male colleagues who believed women should be in the home, not stealing men’s jobs. Despite this she made considerable progress, paving the way for the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
3. Elizabeth Fry Refuge [ View On Map ]
195 Mare Street
No. 195 Mare Street has seen better days, but that does not diminish its radical past. This once impressive town house was built at the end of the 17th century and served as the Elizabeth Fry Refuge (1860-1913).
The refuge gave support to young women who had come out of prison, providing food, shelter, medical support, training and religious instruction. The goal was to return them to a respectable life in domestic service. Admission was highly sought after as the alternative was the workhouse.
The refuge recognised the disadvantages faced by young women coming of age in severe poverty. It understood that they could fall into ‘sin’ as a result of odds being stacked against them. The goal of the refuge was to help them leave their pasts behind, and be free of the stigma of their crimes.
4. Hackney Town Hall [ View On Map ]
Hackney Town Hall
Mare Street, London
Hackney Town Hall has been the sight of radical action, including in its council chambers.View Transcript
Emma Boyce was born in 1867 and was a member of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, working closely with Sylvia Pankhurst. She was also a peace campaigner. At the outset of war she travelled relentlessly around the country, campaigning against conscription and advocating for working class freedom of choice.
In 1918 Emma was elected onto Hackney council, where she served until 1923. From then until her death in 1929 she served as a governor of the London Maternity Hospital.
Nearly 80 years later another influential campaigner rose up in Hackney. Meral Hussein-Ece was elected onto Hackney Council in 1994, and in 1995 and 1996 was Deputy Leader. She was the first woman from Turkish-Cypriot background to be elected to public office in the UK.
In 2010 she was appointed to the House of Lords and took the title Baroness Hussein-Ece. She continues to work tirelessly to promote equality for ethnic minority communities.
Change hasn’t only happened inside the chambers. In July 2016 East London Sisters Uncut marched from this point down to Link Street, where they reclaimed an empty council building. Under the banner – How can she leave if there’s no where to go? – the protest drew attention to the lack of available council housing for women fleeing domestic violence. The Sisters said:
“Social housing is a right, not a privilege. Two women a week are murdered by perpetrators; three more women a week commit suicide. That’s five women a week dying because there’s not enough spaces…”
5. Hackney Greenham Common [ View On Map ]
Dalston Peace Mural
13 Dalston Lane, London
In September 1981 a group of 36 women chained themselves to the fence at RAF Greenham Common. They were opposing the British Government’s decision to allow cruise missiles to be based there. It was the start of a peace camp that would see tens of thousands of women engage in a protest that would last years.
In February 1984 Greenham came to Hackney when a group of local women set up their own peace camp outside the Town Hall. They created an exhibition showing the horrors of nuclear destruction and organised picnics, music and campfires in the evening.
The camp generated a lot of support from the local community, and the Hackney Greenham group grew rapidly in membership. In September that year they organised several coaches to take the women from East London to Greenham.
In 1985 the Dalston Lane Peace Mural was painted and remains an uplifting reminder of the peace movement in Hackney. The mural, created by Ray Walker and painted by Mike Jones and Anna Walker, depicts a parade through a Hackney streetscape, containing anti-nuclear, CND, green, feminist, anti-racist, and pro-tolerance images.
6. Hetty Bower [ View On Map ]
You’re standing in the heart of the community where Hetty Bower was born in 1905. At only ten years old Hetty became a staunch opponent of the war after seeing injured returning servicemen. She recalled:
“I was very patriotic and waved to the men as they set off… but it didn’t take long before we saw those men coming back. They were missing legs and missing arms, totally blind, and war was no longer fun. I think I was 10 years old when my hatred of war began”.
During WW2 Hetty ran a hostel for Czech refugees and went on to become one of the founding members of CND. She once summed up her philosophy as:
“We may not win by protesting, but if we don’t protest we will lose. If we stand up to them, there is always a chance we will win.”
Her campaigning continued beyond her 100th year. In 2011 she spoke at the Hiroshima Commemoration Day in London, and in 2013 she received a standing ovation at the Labour Party conference for her passionate speech. She died a few months later, and her daughter said her almost final words were “ban the bomb, forever more.”
7. Hackney Flashers [ View On Map ]
136-138 Kingsland High Street
Centreprise, the iconic bookshop and community centre, stood in this spot from 1971 until it closed in 2012. In its heyday it was the hub of the community, running everything from chess clubs and drama groups to adult literacy courses.
It was a cross-cultural space, and became a focal point for many artists, including feminists and lesbian groups. One such group was the Hackney Flashers Collective, formed in 1974 by photographer Jo Spence. They described themselves as broadly socialist feminist, and most of them engaged in creative media as photographers, cartoonists and writers. They used visual arts to highlight discrimination towards women.
Their first exhibition was entitled Women and Work. It featured photographs that made visible the hidden role that women played in the economy. It was highly successful and toured many community venues and political events. Their second exhibition focused on child-care provision in Hackney, and was shown here at the Centreprise centre.