Big trouble in little Wycombe (the trouble of having short memories…)

The riots and uprisings that took place around the country and to a lesser extent in Castlefield, High Wycombe are rich pickings for a writer like me. You see the true side of people and commentators both locally and nationally baying for blood in a frenzy of blame and shame. As I said on Facebook,Twitter and in the press we should not be fanning the flames we should be asking what caused the fire in the first place. As an ex youth worker in the town I’ve added my own views from some of the work and observations from the ground (my partner in crime Zia Ullah were out to midnight one night talking to young people)

Yup moral outrage has been the flavour of the last few month and the local blogs in the Bucks Free Press have been full of people queuing up to add their indignation to the mix. As part of the research of the novel I have been looking at the industrial history of the town and going through old newspaper cuttings and photos (big shout out to Paul Burnham) and reading articles about disputes and strikes. There is a rich history in this little town of standing up to power and privilege going back to 17th/18th Century and in the last century action against factory owners by workers in 1913-14 –

Found this extract from the above article which is quite revealing:

“Tuesday last brought the most disorderly scenes… it was evident that the attacks made upon a number of chair-manufacturers was pre-arranged. The disturbances started at mid-day when a workman was set upon immediately on leaving the factory. He was very roughly handled, blow upon blow being rained upon him. Directly afterwards a number of men deliberately marched into the factory of Messrs. Randall Brothers. They preceded their entry with a volley of stones on the windows… the hooligans entered some of the workshops and smashed a couple of chairs to atoms… the rowdies did not leave until they had smashed quite 50 windows in the factory. A furious storm of stones and other missiles was showered upon Messrs. Bartlett’s buildings lasting some minutes… Not only windows were broken, but window frames smashed, and the front of the property was considerably defaced. Afterwards the quantity of stones lying both inside and outside the factory gave ample evidence of the fury of the attack… An eye-witness to these incidents described the scene as “Hell let loose”, and declared that the girls in the procession cheered heartily at the destruction. To the strains of music from the Band the wreckers smashed up shops in the West Wycombe Road”

South Bucks Free Press 7th February 1914

We have had strike action and pickets in more recent times – the Pinzi Plastic Strike in 1987 which was a battle to gain union recognition and better pay.The troubles in 1988 when there was action from predominatly young blacks in the town in the Multi-Racial Centre against racists in the local pub and where there was looting of a local camera shop and other places. So all that trouble took place in Castlefield has to be placed in this context – the target in this case was the police and against a background of the high number of stop and searches and due to the deaths in custody of people like Habib Ullah and Marcus Cottoy there is understandable anger and some serious grievances that need to be addressed otherwise there will be more comeback. In the words of Jean Paul Sartre in the introduction to Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon he writes:

“It is the moment of the boomerang; it is the third phase of violence; it comes back on us, it strikes us, and we do not realize any more than we did the other times that it’s we that have launched it.”

West Richardson Street has been written with all this history central to it’s plot and narrative. I feel that Black communities in this country exist out of history – local history/national history and our experiences and stories become ahistorical. With this novel I am making my contribution to putting our voices and narratives central to the stories of towns and areas like Wycombe.

No wonder my fav Star Wars film was always the Empire Strikes Back!


Saqib D, October 2011


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