The murder of Altab Ali 1978

Photos by Paul Trevor in Four Corners Gallery

I highly recommend a visit to the exhibition Brick Lane 1978: The Turning Point. It’s on at Four Corners, 121 Roman Road, London, E2 0QN until 10th September 2022.

The National Front, a far right political party, was founded in 1967. A year later Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP, made his inflammatory “Rivers of Blood” speech attacking levels of immigration into the UK.

Racism was on the rise in the early 1970s. I remember NF and swastikas being daubed on walls in the East End.

Paul Trevor lived close to Brick Lane and started photographing the local people from 1973. The exhibition displays his photographs showing the run up to, and the aftermath of the murder of Altab Ali. It’s a must see exhibition of national and local significance.

1978 Police Poster - Altab Ali murder
1978 Police Poster on the back page of the exhibition booklet

Some of the photos on display have never been seen before. Paul Trevor said it was always a future project  to expand the material into a more extensive narrative. In 1978 he really got in close to his subjects and shot extensive coverage. He said it wasn’t obvious at the time that this was a turning point, but he noticed that: ‘“The atmosphere in the neighbourhood was charged with new energy.”

There is a free catalogue/booklet available in the exhibition. It’s 40 pages long and really sets out the context.

Everyday Racism - a page from the Brick Lane 1978 booklet
Everyday Racism – a page from the Brick Lane 1978 booklet

I read that in 1969 15 year old Altab Ali arrived in London and found work stitching leather garments in Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane. When he was 24, on 4th May 1978 he was stabbed and murdered. There were local elections that night and in East India ward the National Front gained more votes that the Conservative Party.

The exhibition and the booklet cover skinheads, “Paki-bashing”, everyday racism, housing conditions, violence, resistance and more. There are accounts of attacks on Bengali’s where the police charged the victims, not the perpetrators.

Rock Against Racism - a page from the Brick Lane 1978 booklet
Rock Against Racism – a page from the Brick Lane 1978 booklet. The top two photos were taken on Old Ford Road.

I lived through those times, but had forgotten half of what went on. This exhibition is a real eye opener.

It’s brilliant that Paul Trevor spent the time photographing what was happening within a mile of where he lived.

Four Corners Gallery is diagonally opposite Globe Town Market, a five minute walk from Bethnal Green Tube. The Gallery is open Tues to Sat 11am – 6pm, and until 8pm on Thurs. There are a couple of talks you can book on Eventbrite.

2 Comments

  1. Sounds well worth a visit.
    You have your dates wrong. NF founded in 1967, not 1977; and the Rivers of Blood speech was 1968. Obviously that alters the context/timeline significantly.

    1. John thanks for the quick reply. I think I just got muddled up and made a typo. About to correct it.

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