Friday, 5 August 2011

Article - The summer of 81 and there's a riot in The Green... but is it racial or 'an excuse to jump on the bandwagon'? (Hyson Green)

THERE are those who think the Hyson Green riots were an explosion of racial hatred and others who believe they were over something and nothing.

In the summer of 1981, cities across England saw a sudden eruption of street violence. Brixton, in London, and Toxteth, in Liverpool, saw the worst incidents, blamed on a combination of racial tension and inner-city deprivation.

Hyson Green became Nottingham's battleground – especially the decaying warren of flats built 20 years earlier.

But was the violence black against white or just a copycat outbreak?

Whatever the cause, which is still a subject of lively debate, everyone agrees the violence changed the face of Hyson Green forever.

Lifelong resident Deborah Burton, 56, chairman of BOBs, a residential association covering Bridlington, Oldknow and Brown streets, said: "It was over something and nothing, an excuse to jump on the London bandwagon, to cause as much trouble as possible for the police.

"The police were much tougher in those days. They had to be because so many problem families had been pushed together in the flats.

"They wanted to get back at the police and it all escalated from there."

Chris Cope, 44, who lived in Fisher Street, said: "It didn't come as a surprise. London was happening and it was copycat stuff.

"It wasn't racial, it was just the young against authority. In those days, there was only black and white and they clubbed together."

Former police constable Steve Eley, 60, who was on the front line during the riots, remembers the moment the trouble broke out.

"We were already out and about, around a dozen officers with riot shields and protective clothing.

"A man was distributing leaflets calling for meant 'burn down the police station'.

"He was arrested and it kicked off. He and the officer went through a shop window and that was it.

"Within half an hour it was bedlam. We were being attacked with bottles, poles, concrete blocks, anything and everything.

"We backed up against a church wall, across the road from the Cricket Players pub. They threw a load of what we thought were petrol bombs at us. Fortunately, it was paraffin and it did not ignite.

"One of our lads, Ross Davies, was on his first operation. He was knocked out by a house brick, which scratched my visor as it came past me."

It would be 14 days of 12-hour shifts before PC Eley and his colleagues were told to stand down.

They were helped through the ordeal by the support of law-abiding Hyson Green people.

"They came out and gave us tea and sandwiches. They were lovely people, salt of the earth, and they didn't want the trouble any more than us."

There are many stories and legends that have grown up from the riots – like that of the Nottingham City bus driver who was en route to Hyson Green just as the trouble was flaring up on that Friday night in July 1981.

As his double-decker nosed its way through the trouble-strewn streets, trouble broke out on his bus.

According to local legend, a youth attacked a woman on the bus but, led by the brave driver, passengers grabbed the young thug and threw him off.

In a night of running battles, hundreds of youths attacked police, fire-bombed vehicles and looted shops.

Rachel Bennett, 40, was ten years old at the time. "The riots changed everything," she said. The looting ruined the south side of Radford Road and I don't think it has ever really recovered.

"The night before the riots, I can remember youths piling up bottles on the flat roof behind the Cricket Players. They had planned it for a couple of days."

Now, a major project is under way to sort the myth from fact and build a social history of Hyson Green during those troubled times. It has been launched by the city-based Partnership Council with a £43,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant. An exhibition based on people's memories is planned at the end of the year at the Museum of Nottingham Life, in Brewhouse Yard and everything the researchers collect will be lodged with Leicester University's oral history archive and Nottinghamshire's public archives.

If you would like to take part in the Hyson Green flats project, contact Helen Bates at the Partnership Council, Unit C, Tennyson Buildings, Forest Road West, Radford, NG7 4EP; telephone 0115 970 8200, or e-mail

If you have a story about living in the flats, or memories of the riots, contact Andy Smart at Bygones, Nottingham Post, Castle Wharf House, Nottingham, NG1 7EU or e-mail

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