England & Wales Communities and society, Welfare and equalities

Raising new monuments: London’s first Black mayor John Archer

Mayor John Archer, via Wandsworth BC

As we open Black History month, Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia writes about the launch of a new campaign by the council and the community to raise a monument to John Archer, the first black mayor in London. 

This week we launched a campaign to create a fitting tribute to John Archer who was elected as Mayor of Battersea in 1913, in response to calls from local community group Love Battersea.

Our aim now is to unveil the statue in a high-profile location in Battersea in 2022 with the council’s £10,000 representing the first steps in what will be a public subscription effort to raise the remaining costs.

John Archer was a true pioneer and one of the earliest role models of black achievement in London and in local government. We are immensely proud that he represented our borough and our hope now is to ensure that his legacy lives on.

His priority was improving the lives of many in the community, the poor and disabled, and he was a passionate campaigner for what he believed was right. He fought hard against social and racial injustice.

Mr Archer, who had both Irish and Barbadian heritage, moved to Battersea in the 1890s with his wife Bertha and initially served as a councillor in Latchmere ward, successfully campaigning for a minimum wage of 32 shillings a week for council workers.

His rousing victory speech upon being elected Mayor included these words:

“You have made history tonight. For the first time in the history of the English nation a man of colour has been elected as mayor of an English borough.

“That will go forth to the coloured nations of the world and they will look to Battersea and say Battersea has done many things in the past, but the greatest thing it has done has been to show that it has no racial prejudice and that it recognises a man for the work he has done.”

In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union and chaired the Pan-African Congress in London. He left the council in 1922 to act as an agent for one of the first MPs of Indian heritage – Shapurji Saklatvala, in North Battersea, but returned to the council in 1931 when elected once again to represent the Nine Elms ward. He served as the deputy leader of Battersea Council until his death a year later at the age of 69.

The borough has a long tradition of celebrating Mr Archer’s achievements.

In 2013 celebrations were held locally to commemorate the centenary of his election as Mayor, and in 2017 a ceremony was held at the town hall, attended by the High Commissioner of Barbados, as part of a campaign to recognise the significant contribution of Barbadians to the UK.

The council also supported the installation of an English Heritage Blue Plaque that has been placed on his home in Brynmaer Road, Battersea.

And he was given wider national prominence in 2013 when the Royal Mail chose to feature him on a stamp commemorating ten Great Britons.

A report considered by councillors who approved the £10,000 grant stated: “Erecting a statue as a new installation in Battersea in honour of John Archer would recognise his achievements, allow us as a borough to celebrate him, and inspire our communities.”

Raising new monuments: London's first Black mayor John Archer
Cllr Govindia, Wandsworth BC

The local community will be at the heart of this project, with extensive engagement with grass-roots organisations, arts and community groups, places of worship, employers, schools and colleges. We believe that John Archer can be used a learning focus for young people, around aspiration, democracy and inclusion, so school leaders will be among the first to be consulted on the direction of the project.

We also plan to work with local and wider art specialists will be drawn into the project, including representatives from the Royal College of Art which has a base in our borough. A suggested legacy of the project could be to support the Royal College of Art to bring more artists of an African Caribbean or African heritage into sculpture work.

Local champions will be identified to support the project and engagement will be made with key local organisations, which could include the Black Heroes Foundation and leaders from Black Majority Churches. Businesses and key agencies will be engaged.

With racial equality and justice still at the forefront of people’s minds, my view is that a high profile statue celebrating his achievements and honouring a man who paved the way for future generations of politicians from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, is one way we can show our support for what he stood for.

We sincerely hope that the public will support this endeavour so that we can raise a permanent memorial to this famous son of Battersea and mark his achievements forever.

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