Matt Norman: Imagine you’re a young man in the 1970s. The week is over. It’s a beautiful autumn night. You’re dressed to impress, taking your girlfriend out to a popular ballroom in Leicester. You’ll meet friends, dance, and enjoy being young and free.
Music pours out onto the street as you walk up to the door. But then you’re stopped at the entrance. A man steps out from inside the door to block the way and says you can’t enter.
There must be some sort of misunderstanding, since you’re sober, dressed sharply, and haven’t done anything wrong. You politely ask what the problem is, but the man at the door refuses to tell you why you’re being stopped.
After an uncomfortably long wait, he finally agrees to let your girlfriend enter. You don’t want to cause trouble, so you pay for her to go in and find your friends, who can come out and clear things up.
Your girlfriend comes back with your friends. They’re all upset and frustrated. You won’t be allowed in, and no member of staff will give you any reason why.
You don’t make a scene. You keep your emotions to yourself. You know what this is.
Your girlfriend is white. Your friends are white. You’re Black, and the dance hall is unlawfully discriminating against you because of the colour of your skin.
You walk away tonight, but you aren’t going to let this go. The law didn’t stop these people from trying to humiliate and exclude you, but it will stop them from getting away with it. You may only be 19, but you’re smart, you’re determined, and you know how to use the legal system to protest the small injustices that add up to a constant shadow of racism.
These are the events that led Lorne Horsford to file a formal legal complaint against the Mecca Palais in 1973. The Race Relations Act had only been passed a few years earlier in 1965, with increased protections added in 1968. For the first time in Britain, this act made it a civil offense to refuse services on the grounds of colour, race, ethnicity, or national origins in public places….or to incite racial hatred.
But legal change and social change often happen at different paces, and public places like the Mecca Palais continued to discriminate.
That said, the law did provide a means for Lorne Horsford and others like him to protest their treatment through official channels.
In this episode, we’ll be using our records here at The National Archives to investigate two stories of Black people in Britain using the legal system to protest discrimination and prejudice.
You’re listening to On the Record, a podcast by The National Archives that uncovers stories you’ve never heard before and takes a closer look at the stories you think you know. I’m Matt Norman, and in this three-part series, I’ll be joined by my co-host Katie Fox as we examine stories of protest.
Here at The National Archives, we’re the guardians of more than 11 million historical government and public records spanning a thousand years of British history. We’re the paper trail of a nation, and our original documents have some incredible stories to tell…if you know where to look.
Katie Fox: Matt, Lorne Horsford’s story isn’t that well known. If you search online, you’ll get almost nothing. Why, of all the discrimination cases filed after the Race Relations Act was passed, are we looking at this one?
Matt: Like I say in the intro to this show, our archives hold the paper trail of a nation. Some of the most exciting documents we hold are about the everyday heroes that fought injustice. And we’re uniquely positioned to tell Lorne’s story because we have his handwritten complaint as well as the records that reveal what happened after he asked the law to hold the Mecca Palais ballroom accountable.
Ok. Katie, you’ve done most of the interviews for this mini-series on protest, but lucky for me I got to take this one and sit down with Sarah Castagnetti in our staff reading room and uncover this story. Sarah is the Design, Photographs and Art team manager here at The National Archives.
Sarah Castagnetti: We’ve got two files. One is listed as duplicate file and court proceedings. And that’s actually quite heavy. So I’m just gonna push that one out of the way. And the one that I’ve got is the original file. And I can also see a coffee stain on it. But luckily that doesn’t obliterate any of the information that we’ve got here.
Katie: Matt, please tell me it wasn’t anyone here at The National Archives that spilled coffee on this document.
Matt: No, don’t worry, we’re not indicting anyone with this podcast. Like so many of the records we hold, these were working documents before we got them. The file Sarah showed me is about 50-60 sheets of paper, all of which would have been pored over by the Race Relations Board as they investigated whether the ballroom had broken the law. Maybe the coffee spill happened at the end of a long day of work. I imagine an afternoon deliberation running on for a long time, requiring an extra cup of coffee placed in a rare empty spot among the reports spread out on the table.
Katie: What was the Race Relations Board and what kind of power did they have to address discrimination?
Matt: The Board was established in 1966, the year after the first Race Relations Act was passed, and it was active for ten years until it was merged with the Community Relations Commission.
Before any complaint ever made it to the Board itself, it was reviewed by a regional conciliation committee, which tried to reach a settlement between the offending party and the complainant as well as assurance that the offender would stop discriminating.
If that settlement didn’t happen, the committee would refer the case up to the Race Relations Board, who could decide if it should be prosecuted in court. We have a file in our records called “Counsel’s Opinions and Court Judgements” that lists all the cases the Board considered taking to court.
Katie: The years around Lorne’s case, which was brought in 1973…
Matt: Right, so from 1968-1975, the regional committees referred 366 cases to the Board. 90% of those were settled out of court. While most of the cases featured White people discriminating against racial minorities, the board also reviewed cases in which Black people were accused of inciting racial hatred against White people.
Katie: The fact that this apparently anti-racist law could be used to prosecute racial minorities reveals that the story is a bit more complicated than “In 1965, Britain passed a law to prevent racial discrimination”
For more on the context and intention behind the Race Relations Act, I dropped by the office of Kevin Searle. Kevin recently joined The National Archives as our first ever Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Records Specialist.
Kevin Searle: The act did come in for some criticism amongst anti-racist activists. It was seen at the time by anti-racist activists as going hand in hand with tighter immigration controls, so the government could appear to be non-discriminatory while raising the drawbridge further.
This was certainly the case in the mid-sixties with the exodus of British passport holding Kenyan Asian migrants. And then the ‘68 Act, which allowed entry of what were called patrial Commonwealth migrants. So those with a father or grandfather born here. So effectively the descendants of White immigrants.
Katie: So that’s the larger context for Lorne’s experience of discrimination at the Mecca Palais and his appeal to the Race Relations Board.
I’m curious how he argued his case to the Board?
Matt: Let’s look at the handwritten complaint he turned in, where he lays out in detail what happened and why he believes it was a case of racial discrimination.
Sarah: So at the top of this complaint form, it’s headed up with “Race Relations Act 1968 – Complaint of Unlawful Discrimination.” So Lorne Horsford has got hold of this form, and he’s filling it in to complain about what happened to him. He’s age 19. He lives in Leicester. He’s declared that he was born in Antigua, and that he came to the UK in 1960. As it explains on the reverse of the form where he’s written his story he felt he’s been victimised because of his race. It’s very calm. It’s very measured.
But if I just read you a little bit. He talks about when his friends who were already inside came out, he says, “All these persons then proceeded to the entrance where a discussion ensued with the manager and other members of staff. All the members of staff refused to comment as to the reason why I was refused admission. The manager stated that he had to support his staff’s decision, and at no time during the argument was there rudeness or abuse. I can only say that I felt refused of admission was purely on grounds of racial discrimination as other people were admitted, and therefore the premises were not full. I conformed to the rules of admittance by wearing a jacket and tie, as did some other coloured couples who have also been turned away. Thank you for enduring my long and boring letter, but at the same time, I hope you will be able to do a small bit about it.”
Katie: And what happens when he submits this form?
Matt: Well, first, it goes to the regional conciliation committee.
Sarah: Somebody called Miss Atkin from the East Midlands Conciliation Committee arranged a meeting with herself and also with a regional manager from the Mecca Company and the manager of the actual Leicester ballroom where the incident had taken place.
If you can bear with me, I’ll just find a report that Miss Atkin wrote following her meeting. Ok, so this is part of the report that Miss Atkin, the conciliation officer wrote. She said that Mr. Preedy, who was the regional manager, Mr. Preedy had said that, assuming Mr. Horsford was properly dressed and had not been drinking, then the only reason he could give for Mr. Horsford being refused entry was connected with an incident which had taken place a fortnight earlier in the top floor disco.
Katie: A fight had broken out between two groups of young men, one group Black and the other White. So basically he’s insinuating that Lorne Horsford was stopped because they thought he was connected to this fight that had happened two weeks earlier.
Matt: The manager’s solution, as told to this Ms. Atkin, is really telling and reveals some very blatant discrimination. After the fight, he instructs his staff to turn away anyone who looks even remotely as though they were connected with the incident.
Katie: Which we can assume definitely didn’t mean turning away the young White men and their girlfriends who made up the venue’s main customer base.
Matt: As Lorne Horsford pointed out, other Black men had been barred entry as well. The manager was using the fight as an excuse for blanket discrimination.
Katie: They aren’t admitting to any fault though, despite incriminating themselves in their defence.
I want to know what happens next. Does our paper trail keep going?
Matt: Why, yes it does.
Sarah: What we’re looking at here is the letter that was written to the general manager, Mr. Lakin after the meeting that they had, and it’s from Catherine Atkin, and she says, “Dear Sir, I’m writing to you about the complaint of unlawful discrimination made you made against you by Mr. L. Horsford. At their recent meeting, the East Midlands Conciliation Committee considered this matter and formed the opinion that unlawful discrimination had occurred.”
The Mecca Palais disputed this. Their chairman Eric Morley, he wrote back saying “The company does not and will not practice unlawful discrimination. We will, however, continue to exercise our right to refuse admission to people for any reason whatsoever, except that of colour, race, or creed. It is our duty to protect our patrons and our staff and that we shall continue to do. To accept the Race Relations’ contention that we can refuse admission to White people, but not coloured is placing us in a position which we are not prepared to accept.”
Katie: They’re digging in their heels, and basically saying, “We aren’t discriminating on the basis of race, we’re simply turning away anyone who might cause trouble or put our patrons at risk.”
Matt: Except that, by all appearances, they have an unwritten policy that all Black patrons should be seen as risks.
Katie: And it says something about the attitudes of the Mecca Palais management that they thought this was a good defence.
I hope I’m about to hear that they lost their appeal and faced some sort of penalty…
Sarah: So initially the Mecca management don’t accept that they have broken the law here. And at one point they try and offer an olive branch, and they offer Mr. Horsford and anyone he chooses to bring with him a free evening [laughing], a free evening at Leicester Mecca dance hall. Mr. Horsford, funnily enough, is not persuaded that it’s worth giving up his fight just for that. Another offer is made of of five pounds, which is kind of around 35 to 40 pounds today. So not a huge amount, but interestingly, he says “I have decided that the sum of five pounds would not be sufficient to cover any inconvenience and embarrassment. Therefore, I have decided to ask for a more ridiculous sum of 20 pounds.”
That’s quite lovely, isn’t it? That 20 pounds is a ridiculous sum.
“At this sum, Mecca would be less likely to settle and they would be forced to do what I want them to do and fight the case. The publicity I could give this case is worth far more than five pounds.”
I love that. I love the fact that he’s saying, you know, I’m just not interested in five pounds, but actually I’m not really interested in your money at all. I want to make it awkward for you so that you feel you have to fight this case. And I can show everyone, you know, that you are not applying the Race Relations Act as you should be and that you are still being discriminatory.
Katie: Lorne seems to have realised that a small fine wouldn’t make the Mecca Palais stop their racist entry practices, but shining a bit of publicity on them and making them argue their case in court might at least expose them to the public as law-breakers and racists.
Sarah: The file that I do have in front of me has some cuttings in it that show that Mr. Horsford did win the case. So the Mecca company was found guilty of race discrimination. And in fact, I believe that they had a number of cases running at the same time. So it was a problem that they had in their establishments.
Katie: So Lorne got his court case and his publicity?
Matt: He did. The Board decided to take the case to court and it was heard in Nottingham County Court in June 1975 with a judgement given six months later. Lorne was awarded £40 and the newspaper clippings in the file show at least some publicity around the case.
Katie: Did the ballroom stop discriminating?
Matt: I highly doubt it. We have other clippings that show entrance policies were abused at multiple locations of the chain. We also have a copy of the Mecca company newsletter, where the Chairman rants about how unfair a position he’s been put in, so I think we’d be hard pressed to argue he had a change of heart. But hopefully, this case forced them to discriminate less and, combined with other cases like this that ended up before the board, it may have motivated other venues to toe the line.
Katie: Unfortunately, this kind of discrimination hasn’t been relegated to the archives, as our BAME records specialist Kevin Searle pointed out.
Kevin: So far from these being dusty materials, exploring archaic theme somehow occupying a post-racial present or more enlightened era, the issue of racism in clubs is still unfortunately ongoing with numerous reports of black people–and women in particular–being turned away from West End clubs. And in a similar way that one could comment on the irony of a club called the Mecca Palais not letting people of colour in, in Lorne Horsford’s day, one could comment on the contradictions of clubs playing music by Black artists, not letting Black people in today. So this also demonstrates that resistance to racism is still ongoing.
Katie: Lorne Horsford’s story is a great example of using legal methods as a protest tactic, but our next story, which takes place a few years earlier, is about a group of Black men and women who turned a case against them into publicity in the fight to stop discriminatory policing.
Because the attitudes of the Mecca manager were not an anomaly at the time, Black people in 1960s and 70s created their own spaces for socialising and community.
Frank Crichlow opened one such venue in 1968. Crichlow’s restaurant, The Mangrove, quickly became a hotspot for creatives, intellectuals, and activists. It was a safe place for Black people to gather without having to keep one eye out for racist managers like the one Lorne Horsford encountered.
That should be the end of the story. People had a nice restaurant and liked to gather and talk to friends.
But while the Race Relations Act made it illegal to refuse service on the basis of race, there was a long way to go for equality in the legal system.
I interviewed Vicky Iglikowski-Broad, our Principal Diverse Histories Record Specialist here at The National Archives, to learn more about how police persecution of The Mangrove restaurant led to protests, arrests, and the famous trial of The Mangrove Nine.
Vicky Iglikowski-Broad: The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill was a real hub of the community at the time. It was frequented by quite a lot of celebrities, political activists. The Mangrove had been unfairly targeted repeatedly by police. There were accusations of drugs being found on the premises, but nothing was found.
Matt: Police keep raiding The Mangrove on the pretext of looking for drugs, even though there’s never any evidence to support their claims of illegal activity.
Katie: And Frank Crichlow was actually known for his anti-drug stance in the community, which further discredits the raids on his restaurant.
Matt: In other words, the only “evidence” of drugs the police had was that Crichlow and his patrons were Black. Reminds me of the logic used by the Mecca Palais to refuse Lorne Horsford’s entry.
Vicky: Frank Crichlow was refused his license 1969 and so he writes into the Race Relations Board complaining about the situation.
Katie: Like Lorne, Frank Crichlow fills out a Race Relations Board complaint form and sends it in to the two-year old Board. We have that handwritten form here in our collections, and one particular line jumps out: “I know it is because I am a Black citizen of Britain that I am discriminated against.” You can also see his frustration with the potential loss of his livelihood channeled into the complaint. He underlines “unlawfully” when describing raids on his restaurant by the police.
Vicky Iglikowski: He writes in on more than one occasion to the Race Relations Board but gets nowhere.
Katie: While Lorne’s story illustrates how the Race Relations Act could actually hold some people accountable for racial discrimination, the story of the Mangrove Restaurant reveals the Act’s limited effectiveness.
Kevin: Its arguably symbolic nature can perhaps be seen in its ineffectual response to Frank Crichlow’s original complaint, which led Crichlow and the Mangrove Nine, to draw on the political and cultural resources of the broader Black diaspora, the civil rights and Black Power struggles in America, the anti-colonial movements of the Caribbean and the struggles of Black people in Britain that had come before
Vicky: In support or Frank Crichlow and the Mangrove restaurant, there is a kind of a community solidarity protest in 1970. That protest is around Notting Hill. It’s very much a kind of localised protest. There’s lots of solidarity from various socialist organizations at the time. But the main is there’s about 150 people protesting in favour of the mangrove restaurant, but a disproportionate number of police at the time. So there’s about 200 members of the police there. And this causes clashes. And these become the kind of the key protests of the Mangrove Nine case.
Katie: Of the many protesters arrested, nine cases were prosecuted, and these individuals become known as the Mangrove Nine.
Vicky: So the Mangrove Nine were arrested for various counts of affray and rioting. There were clashes with the police. The police massively outnumbered the protestors. So some of the photographs we have are very powerful and visual and show some of the physical kind of scuffles between police and the protesters, people being held down, being arrested.
Although everything says that they were intended to be peaceful and there was no violent intent. Although that is very much what then gets discussed at court.
The photos that we have show the huge numbers of people protesting, the signs they’re holding, but also things like the outfits they’re wearing. They seem to be quite inspired by the American Black Panther movement, wearing berets and things like that, which were very kind of typical of the movement. So the photos give us a real insight into what was happening at the time.
Matt: So things are escalating. The police target The Mangrove, supporters of The Mangrove protest, and the police respond with force and arrest activists.
Katie: But if the idea was to silence the protesters, these arrests were not very effective. Remember it was the best and brightest of London’s Black intellectuals and campaigners who frequented The Mangrove.
Vicky: The Mangrove Nine were Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Crichlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Rothwell Kentish, and Godfrey Millet. Those individuals are interesting for multiple reasons. Several of them were members of the Black British Panther movement at the time. Altheia Jones-LeCointe is widely regarded as the female leader of the movement, although they weren’t strictly hierarchical, so it’s a position she kind of claimed. These were an interesting crowd of people. But also it contained a couple of really strong notable black women from the era who were fighting their own cause.
So most of the individuals were already activists at the time. In the police files you can see that that certain individuals had evidence gathered against them and it’s thought it’s because of their existing political leanings and evidence of involvement in political campaigns.
Matt: So these were politically savvy individuals who already had experience fighting racism, several through their connections to the British Black Panther movement. Many were also from the Caribbean and because of this, some were involved in and took inspiration from anti-colonial movements there as well. The British Black Panthers had some links to the more well-known US Black Panther party, but they were an independent movement that played an important role in the British civil rights struggles.
Katie: It’s after the arrests that this story gets really interesting. Even though it’s the Mangrove Nine on trial, they make the courtroom into a legal theatre that draws attention to the injustice of their situation, taking full advantage of the publicity of the trial to stage an even larger and more nuanced protest campaign.
Vicky: The Mangrove Nine used many methods in their campaigns. So, one of the main methods was this key march through Notting Hill. They went to several police stations that they believed had been part of the targeting at The Mangrove restaurant. They kind of filled the streets with plaque cards. Barbara Beese carried a pig’s head. Some of the signs say interesting things like “Hands off The Mangrove.” And really they were fighting a kind of wider culture of oppression at the time beyond just The Mangrove restaurant.
So that was one of the ways they really fought at the time. But they also fought through kind of literature. The British Black Panther Movement published black people speaks. Some of the evidence that’s gathered in police records are the fliers that were handed out outside of court. So we’ve got one that says “Battle for freedom at the Old Bailey” with a picture of eight of the nine Mangrove Nine protestors. So that was another way that they were able to fight things. And then also very much through the courts.
So the Mangrove Nine are really interesting because they become a really poignant case that encapsulates the situation, the racial tensions of the era in the late sixties and early seventies. So the Mangrove Nine go to court. Two of them defend themselves, Altheia Jones-LeCointe and Darcus Howe, and that’s very powerful as a message at the time. And they also are supported by a very strategic legal team that help them to use the Magna Carta as a defence mechanism to argue that they should be judged by a jury of their peers. So they argue for an all Black jury, which they don’t get, but it’s a very powerful gesture to try and get. And it delays the deliberations in court for some time.
The Nine make a bit of a show trial out of the Mangrove Nine experience and they get a lot of newspaper coverage, support from celebrities. And it becomes a really key moment in political history at that time.
Katie: The Mangrove Nine use every opportunity to turn an attempt to silence their voices into a platform. Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a Trinidadian physician, scientist, and Black Panther leader, used her closing speech to lay out, in detail, the ongoing police persecution of the Black community in Notting Hill.
Vicky: So the actual trial or the Mangrove Nine lasted 55 days. The final verdict was reached by jury after eight and a quarter hours of deliberation. And so it really took quite a long time, and it was really quite a spectacle, and ultimately succeeded in winning popular support.
The vast majority of charges are dropped. So it’s kind of seen in the eyes of history that they ultimately, the Mangrove Nine won overall the case.
And what is very significant as well is the closing remarks of the judge. So the judge actually says…I’ve just got the words in front of me, “what this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides.”
And that was actually a really powerful statement at the time. It was one of the first times that it had been acknowledged that there was potentially racial bias on the side of the police at the time. So it was kind of a watershed moment.
Matt: “Racial hatred on both sides,” that doesn’t sound like a huge victory from today’s perspective.
Katie: But as Vicky pointed out, there had never been any official acknowledgement of racism and racial discrimination in the police force before this. And the judge said there was clear evidence of racial hatred.
Matt: So the Mangrove Nine not only resisted police attempts to shut down the restaurant …they also managed to expose this oppression to such an extent that the White judge couldn’t ignore it and had to call it what it was.
Matt: What should we take away from these stories? What do we want our listeners to remember?
Katie: I think that question is best answered by Kevin:
Kevin: One of the things that I think the stories really powerfully highlight is that Black people clearly were never passive victims in the face of this hostility that they faced, and the ways in which the Mangrove Nine drew on the political and cultural resources of the broader Black diaspora, eventually getting the majority of the charges dropped. And that this happened in the face as well of the judge’s comments, the legal response, which as you’ve pointed out, was critical of the police, although very problematic in itself as it presents the incident as a clash of two equal hatreds and misses the point of power. Clearly Black people don’t have the machinery of the state behind them, the system of agencies that implements power to convert what feelings, whatever feelings they may have had into fully fledged racist action. Obviously they weren’t the ones raiding the local police station as the police repeatedly were The Mangrove.
Katie: Let’s end with the actual words of the protesters. We have the typewritten Demonstration/ Political Statement created by The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove and the British Black Panthers. This open letter was written by Anthony Mohipp, one of the organisers of the protest during which the Nine were arrested. The Statement announced the demonstration and set out community grievances. It was sent to the Home Office, the Prime Minister, and the High Commissioners of Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, and Barbados.
Kevin: “We, the Black People of London have called this demonstration in protest against constant police harassment which is being carried out against us, and which is condoned by the legal system.
In particular, we are calling for an end to the persecution of the Mangrove Restaurant of 8 All Saints Road, W. 11, a Restaurant that serves the Black Community.
These deliberate raids, harassments and provocations have been reported to the Home Office on many occasions. So too has the mounting list of grievances such as raids on West Indian parties, wedding receptions, and other places where Black People lawfully gather.
We feel this protest is necessary as all other methods have failed to bring about any change in the manner the police have chosen to deal with Black People.
We shall continue to protest until Black People are treated with justice by the Police and the Law Courts.”
Matt: The stories we’ve looked at today are just two among hundreds that can be found in our files from the era of the Race Relations Board. There are more stories to be told, stories that you can’t Wikipedia or look up anywhere else.
Katie: And beyond these files, we have thousands and thousands more that hold the stories of everyday people. Stories of people fighting back, stories of people trying to change their world for the better, and stories of people just trying to survive and make a better life for themselves.
Matt: If you’re interested in telling their stories, in getting your facts straight from the handwritten and coffee-stained sources, come to The National Archives. Our collections are for the public and open to the public. Anyone can come and ask to see any document. That’s why we’re here.
Katie: And what you do with the true stories in those records….that’s up to you.
Matt: Thanks for listening to On the Record, a production of The National Archives at Kew.
This is the end of our mini-series on protest, but it’s not the end of the podcast. We’ll be back with more episodes in a few months. Subscribe to this show in your favorite podcast app or follow The National Archives on social media so you don’t miss the next mini-series.
If you like this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review. To find out more about this story, the documents we used to uncover it, and The National Archives, follow the link from the episode description in your podcast listening app or visit nationalarchives.gov.uk
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Thank you to all the experts who contributed to this episode. This episode was written, edited, and produced by Hannah Hethmon.
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